Plastic Politics

UPDATED BELOW: More Democracy news…  or its opposite.

In a stunning victory for the plastics industry that funded the initiative, Seattle voters yesterday voted to overturn a twenty cent surcharge on plastic bags previously passed by the city council.  Thus, a product so intrinsically crummy that it’s incapable of holding a box of cereal or a tube of caulk long enough to get to the parking lot will continue to grace Seattle’s trees, fill its landfills, and threaten regional wildlife, and an industry that gave us poison water bottles, vinyl siding, and many other blights is popping the champagne corks right now.  I don’t know why such cash-and-carry democracy still makes me so angry, but it does.

As the current debate on health care shows, corporations of dubious social value have invested wisely in their purchase of the US Congress, so why oughtn’t they buy the initiative system, too?  After all, it is for sale, as we’ve seen time and again, evidenced by the teabagging lady who accosted me in the park a while back.   Still, although her anti-tax initiative was pro-corporate and designed to transfer wealth upward, it was at least put forth by a bunch of notorious “activists,” not a single polluting industry to allow it to continue to pollute.  The news clip on the radio blandly stated, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, that the initiative had been “financed by the plastics industry.”  Knock me over with a feather.

The ironic part, of course, is that the initiative system that prevails out West started out as a “progressive” reform to counter the outright purchase of state legislatures by railroads and other powerful interests, who then were able to dictate who would be sent to “represent” that state in the US Senate.  It seemed like a neat idea, letting citizens recall nonperforming officials, overturn harmful laws, and propose new laws to correct problems the politicians were ignoring.  Of course, engaged and informed voters, honest debate, and only local interests battling it out were assumed to be the key to making the system work, something that seems pretty laughable to assume these days.

The most egregious example of this phenomenon here in Oregon was the long-running battle Portland General Electric waged against Oregon voters over its disastrous Trojan Nuclear Power Plant.  Plagued by design flaws, bogus energy use projections, and a long string of shutdowns for hazardous safety conditions, it was just as apparent to PGE as it was to the voters that Trojan was a dreadful mistake.  All through the late 70′s and eighties, however, PGE defeated multiple citizen-driven initiatives to shut the plant down, spending stupendous amounts of money to convince a rapidly diminishing majority of voters to “save” the dangerous 400 foot behemoth looming over the Columbia in Rainier, Oregon, about 40 miles from Portland.

As it ever is with astroturf campaigns, new scare tactics were trotted out and abandoned, “ordinary citizens” were coached to deliver the corporate talking points, and PGE outspent its opponents by multiple factors every time.  Right after the last, most uncomfortably narrow “victory,” PGE then simply went ahead and shut down Trojan, whose very name had become a clear liability, “voluntarily.”  Why the sudden change of heart?  Well, the ballot initiatives all pointedly put the costs of decommissioning PGE’s hubristic error onto shareholders, rather than ratepayers, whereas PGE’s magnanimous voluntary closure saddled the ratepayers with the costs, a trick so neat that it must have been one of the reasons that Enron fell in love with, and eventually married, PGE.  A match made in heaven, I’d say.

Of course, today PGE touts its windmills and such as a newly minted “green” company, and therefore made ratepayers cough up the cash to tear down the increasing dark and scary-looking, long-decommissioned plant a couple of years ago, tossing the whole unfortunate episode down the memory hole, once and for all, except, of course, for the radioactive waste which still languishes at the site, forever.  Just not as visibly as a plastic bag.

Ain’t democracy grand?

UPDATE: The WaPoo just published a poll wherein 51% of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, you know, the “good” war.  Yet 7 years on, it’s escalating even as it is inexorably deteriorating, and Iraq, the “bad” war that we were told would end, is a good trillion, and many years, away from being over, either . Never mind.  Unlike health care, these imperial baubles are worth the cost because they’re Important.  To somebody.

Cindy Sheehan is going to Martha’s Vineyard to picket Obama for the mindless continuation of these dual atrocities, and I applaud her for it.


  1. heru-ur says:


    Democracy sucks. That is the truth.

    Anyway, on to your story of the plastic bags. I am asked at the store each time I go if I want paper or plastic bags. I always say paper. I always return the bags to the recycle bins along with any foam I have from the store.

    It is the people of your state that are trashing up the environment; the stores just give ‘em the ammo.

  2. cocktailhag says:

    Actually, Portland is even more lefty, and particularly green, than Seattle… It has ever been thus. Seattle was timber, too, but also had Boeing and Bethlehem Steel. Sadly, they still have a double-decker freeway on their waterfront, where we have a park that replaced a single-decker one. But I don’t really blame most citizens, who dispose of their trash carefully; it’s mostly the homeless that set bags aloft, but they do get away sometimes from others, because of their airy shittiness. Most people here carry their own bags; the stores sell reusable ones for almost nothing, and give you a discount for “no bags.” Carrot vs. stick, I suppose.
    Democracy, overwhelmed by corporate ad dollars, does indeed suck, which was the point of this post. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I think it could be done better.

  3. sysprog says:

    Richard Ellis wrote a book about what’s wrong with the initiative/referendum/recall process, and how to maybe fix it.

    Paul Rosenberg wrote about how Ellis says it’s a myth that there was ever a golden age of good initiatives in Oregon and California, but there is a better model, in Switzerland, where the Swiss national and cantonal legislatures have both the incentive and the power to respond to initiatives by modifying them.

    [...] Ellis says that initiatives failed to work as intended from the very beginning—but sometimes recovered and sometimes got much worse.

    “The delusion is that an initiative is an unfiltered pure version of the people’s will and somehow the people speak more clearly or purely through the initiative process than the legislative process,” Ellis explained. “It ignores who controls the forces surrounding the working of the initiative process. In California as in most states, it’s the special interests and the politicians.”

    The initiative got its start in Switzerland. But there, it’s reserved for major, constitutional matters, and most initiatives are withdrawn after legislatures respond to the pressure by carefully crafting legislation that meets conflicting popular demands.

    In America, there were two early visions. One was as a safety valve, “The gun behind the door,” was the image that was used, Ellis said, “used to clean up the corruption,” like the railroads in California. In some states, it actually works that way. “But, in states like California and Oregon,” he said, “it’s not the gun behind the door. It’s the Uzi on Main Street.”

    The other vision—embraced by labor activists and populists alike—was that initiatives would radically transform politics and sweep away the power of wealthy special interests. But with wealthy donors funding Schwarzenegger’s initiatives, that’s not how things have turned out.

    “The idea was that this would be something different, something other than politics as usual,” Ellis said, summarizing the hopes of those early visionaries.

    “Really this is politics as usual picking whatever instruments are at hand to beat on the other side. He’s doing exactly the opposite of what they envisioned.” In the final analysis Schwarzenegger’s use of the initiative process, while sitting as governor with all the power of the veto, is the antithesis of what the people envisioned when the populist reforms were created. Once again the tools of democracy are being used by those who least believe in the process, while being heralded as populist reform.

    - – Paul Rosenberg

    • cocktailhag says:

      That piece exactly captures my thinking on this, sysprog, having lived my whole life enduring these things and their consequences. Aside from Death With Dignity, the only progressive successes of the system were defeating right-wing ones, a horrendous depletion of resources just to stay in the same place. Clever, huh? You can’t help but hand it to those righties, who were clever enough to put a (successful) anti-gay marriage measure on the ballot in time to turn out the crazies for Bush in 2004.
      That part’s even worse; cynically putting hot button issues on a local ballot to get out the vote on national issues, which are of course where the money is.
      I’ll be getting that book right away.

    • rmp says:

      Thanks Paul. Your example is so typical of how our legislators state and national go after symptoms instead of the real core problem. It is systems that must be fixed, if we want real and lasting solutions. By going after systems, you don’t have to blame individuals or parties.

      Then when the Repugs come up with their negative nonsense on things like health care reform, the response can be I don’t see how what you are saying does anything to fix a broken health care system. Do you or do you not agree that our system is broken and needs to be fixed? If you agree it is broken what changes do you want so we can create a much better system and what will the consequences be as a result of that fix?

  4. sysprog says:

    And meanwhile, unhindered by direct or indirect democracy of any sort . . .

    A new report suggests restrictions on bag usage in the world’s most populous nation have saved the equivalent of 1.6 million tonnes of oil, in the year since it was introduced.

    Just ahead of the first anniversary of the ban, the China Chain Store and Franchise Association estimated it had saved the country 40 billion plastic bags.

  5. rmp says:

    On plastic bags, its people that created this island. We have tremendous amounts of plastic in our landfills and a lot is being recycled. Yet, this monstrous island was still created.

    Expedition To Explore an Alaska-Sized Plastic “Island”

  6. cocktailhag says:

    The size of Alaska. That’s nice. Maybe Sarah Palin could move there and keep an eye on Russia. Thanks for the link, RMP.

  7. Karen M says:

    A wonderful example of the interplay between post and comments… many thanks to all!

  8. dirigo says:

    Sen. John Ensign (R.- Nev.) issued a breathtaking and brazen statement today in his first public appearance in Nevada since his juicy sex scandal broke into the news. It’s something that you just have to let roll around in your brain for a nanosecond and then let go.

    For some reason, he got a standing “O” at a chamber of commerce lunch near Reno (perhaps the locals have a sense of the man as a profile in courage?).

    Then, significantly (and bizarrely) he reportedly opened by apologizing for having an affair with a friend’s wife, but then leaped to compare himself favorably to Bill Clinton by saying he hadn’t done “anything legally wrong” while bonking the woman in question.

    He didn’t do anything “legally wrong.” It was only a “distraction,” he said.

    Oops! – but he’s a better man than Bubba.

    That’s all we need to know.

    • cocktailhag says:

      That excuse sure is a catchall, no? Back during the height of the Clinton scandals, a place I designed and built got a spread in the Oregonian and to my considerable pleasure, my nephews thought I was famous, because I was in the newspaper. Just like Clinton, but for different reasons.
      Dang that horny bastard. He’ll give libidinous righties a handy excuse for years to come.

      • dirigo says:

        The Republicans are more full of shit more consistently I think. No sense of irony. They stretch their rubber masks much more into freak characters, and without any apparent awareness of how distorted they appear.

        Tom De Lay, while claiming today in an interview with Chris Matthews that he was threatened a while back by gun-toting attendees at his former Speakership’s town halls, is preparing to dance for the nation.

        Talk about cheek!

        • cocktailhag says:

          Which cheek are you talking about? That calls to mind an interview with Carol Burnett about censorship on TV; a skit they had involved the discussion of a dance at a nudist colony, and someone asked, “How do you dance at a nudist colony?”
          Carol’s character said, “Cheek to cheek.” The censors let it slide.

          • dirigo says:

            I hear Tom’s pretty good at the rumba, which requires the crunch of certain anterior muscles.

    • Karen M says:

      Oh, please! What a slimeball!

      I don’t recall Clinton’s parents trying to bribe anyone he had an affair with, much less trying to buy off any husbands. Nor did anyone LOSE a job or income for fooling around with Clinton. If anything, it was the other way around.

      Not so for Ensign’s victims.

      • dirigo says:

        Yeah, that’s the other shoe which drops at the sound of the name Ensign, right?

        Mommy and Daddy to the rescue!

        • Karen M says:

          Yeah, just like Dubya! I don’t ever remember Clinton playing the mommy or daddy card. Not to mention their bank cards.

          All of the newest GOP slogans seem to begin with some version of “well, it could be worse,” “it’s Clinton’s fault,” or “at least I’m/we/it’s not as bad as [something in the Democratic Party's sphere]”

          How tiresome!

  9. sysprog says:

    Re: Update

    about   3 and ½   years ago :

    Dept. of Defense / Quadrennial Defense Review

    The United States is a Nation Engaged in What Will be a Long War
    [...] This 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review is submitted in the fifth year of this long war. The QDR is part of the continuum of transformation in the Defense Department. Its purpose is to help shape the process of change to provide the United States with strong, sound and effective warfighting capabilities in the decades ahead. [...]
    – - Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, February 2006


    about   2 and ½   millenia ago :

    Sun Tzu

    There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.
    - – Sun Tzu, circa 2500 BCE


    • cocktailhag says:

      Homey wisdom from the “quaint” past. 911 changed everything, sysprog; weren’t you here? Thank heaven I have no children or grandchildren to offer up.

  10. I just love the CHNN lounge. Interesting new drinks (h/t Karen) and even more interesting digressions. Who could have guessed that a discussion of witches knickers and the initiative and referendum process could lead to:

    1. An unequivocal condemnation of democracy.

    2. Tom Delay’s rumba.

    3. Chinese conservation.

    4. Swiss conservatism.

    5. Schwarzeneggery.

    I absolutely cannot wait for karaoke night.

  11. timothy3 says:

    Re your update; you know, I’ve never felt myself to be a particularly militant person and I’m constantly amazed that I live in one of the most militant nations on the planet.
    What to make of this?
    I recall, as a child, singing songs (remember song-singing time?) that were aggressive by definition. sysprog cited the Quadrennial Defense Review that had the imaginative “The United States is a Nation Engaged in What Will be a Long War,” to which I say–when have we ever been at peace?
    My entire life–the entirety of it–has been one of warfare, and I know the same is true for others here.

    • heru-ur says:

      No, we will never be at peace until we are defeated. History shows that the American is a mad dog killer; but you might want to verify that with the natives.

      We will destroy ourselves, or some other people will destroy us. That event will mean that the world then has a very tiny window of opportunity to find a way to harmonize with the Dao and find peace. Very small chance of that happening, finding peace that is, but we should hold out hope that mankind will awaken and realize peace, compassion, and voluntary cooperation is the key to worldly happiness.

      Over the long haul, the USA has shown itself to be pure evil. Don’t look at the words we use; look at the actions we take. It is not as if torture was an invention of the Bush Administration, even if they did seem to take inhuman pleasure in inflicting pain. (but then our society has become sadistic on all levels)

      So, look to yourself and purify yourself. To save the world, one must first harmonize one’s self with the Dao.

      PS: That Lao Tzu fellow took the whole Dao De Jing from my father Horace. And those who say Horace stole his myths from the land of Summer have never proven it in court! (let them try to show “standing” — hehehe)

    • cocktailhag says:

      I did think for a while, after Vietnam, that we might stop having wars, but then Reagan and Bush I discovered “vanity wars,” and here we are. It is nauseating, since they’re all so pointless, never mind the carnage and cost. Once war became “patriotic,” all bets were off.

      • heru-ur says:

        After Vietnam we did slow for a short while, but Jimmy Carter was doing covert/proxy wars. We hid the criminal acts for a while, and then when back to open brutality with Ronnie Raygun and Granada. Blah!

        I was raised in the solid Democratic south. The people folks here often call “mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers” were Democrats in those days — and that sort of people may well be Democrats again in the near future.

        Democracy has simply failed to bring peace and prosperity to all in this land. History documents that statement. Does anyone really think another election or two will change anything?

        I screwed up and posted at UT today. Reflex action. I’ll stop with that last bit. Same here, but for different reasons.

        I’ll be reading though.

        • cocktailhag says:

          Please do, Heru. I put a lot of work into this joint. (I’m about to put up another architecture post…)

          • heru-ur says:

            You know I love those posts the best. Please do one on the old school buildings around your berg — I love the old ones.

          • cocktailhag says:

            I’ll do that, Heru. The only good buildings on the whole PSU campus, where I live, are former schools, Shattuck Grade and Lincoln High, where Mel Blanc went to school. My old high school, Grant, where my nephews now attend, was once so beautiful that it was in a movie, but has since been ruined by window replacement. We also have a high school, Franklin, that looks like something out of colonial Philadelphia. Next time I’m in that area I’ll get a picture.

  12. retzilian says:

    Nahh. It’s never about ideology, really. It’s pretty much always about greed. It’s so banal and pathetic. I’d have more respect for them if they really had ideology, if they had real convictions, but they don’t. Neither side does in any meaningful way.

    But, I’m not going to slide into nihilism because I fancy I have more power than that and I’m not giving up without a fight. And, I do have children and now a grandchild (my daughter just had a baby) and I have a stake in this. I doubt that I’ll ever be asked, but just in case one day one of my grandchildren ask me what I did to make things better, I’ll have some good stories to tell.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Congratulations, Retzilian… Maybe Karen will knit a little something to commemorate the occasion…..

      • Karen M says:

        Oh, it’s so hottt, ‘Hag!

        I’m nearly finished with this gift, an afghan that’s turning out pretty nice, but I can barely stand to take it out of the bag, because that much yarn is just too warm.

        I’m thinking of going to a bookstore or somewhere else cool, just so I can finish it… but that means I’d be off-line, too. [sigh...]

        And, I still have a backlog of UFOs (unfinished objects).

        • cocktailhag says:

          Well, it was 97 here yesterday, so I can certainly sympathize… But baby things are awfully small and easy; the grandchildren’s births got Joan back into knitting, which she continued because she was worried about Alzheimer’s.
          Hope you find a cool place…

          • Karen M says:

            Looks like I’m stuck at home tonight. I’m going to stretch out and let someone online read to me while I try to feel cool. Maybe an ice pack…

  13. rmp says:

    On your Update, here’s a way to try and at least get an exit strategy for Afghanistan. During the presidential campaign and after becoming president, Obama has said we must have an exit strategy and so far all we have is the nebulous when al-Qaeda is no longer a threat to the U.S.

    Join me (Laurie Creasy, American Friends Service Committee) today in urging Congress to require a U.S. exit strategy for Afghanistan. (Afghanistan page)