With all the hubbub of the State Department hearings in Lincoln yesterday, Leavenworth Street thought you would enjoy a one-person view of the proceedings.
So we asked Gerard Harbison a/k/a The Right Wing Professor, a blogger in his own right and a frequent commenter here on L.St., to give his “What I saw” account. Here is the man-in-the-stands view from the UNL Chemistry Professor:
This was going to be great come-from-behind play for Bold Nebraska, the long bomb with time running out, the Hail Mary pass that would wrest victory from defeat at the hands of TransCanada, and, well, they fumbled the snap.
When I turned up at Pershing at 11 a.m., there was a small crowd outside the front door. Emphasis on small; a few dozen union pro-pipeline guys in orange teeshirts…
…and a motley crowd of maybe 100 Bold Nebraska Types— hippies, students, and retirees — waving maybe a dozen signs.
None of the signs was funny or eye-catching. Their best idea was a big black worm, supposed to represent the pipeline, glued together from plastic trashbags.
The two sides stood around, looking warily at each other.
A couple of the Boldie organizers with a megaphone tried to get chants going, standard “The people united will never be defeated” stuff, but hardly anyone was joining in. They had a drummer playing tom-toms, and a guy who evidently fancied himself as a sort of rap folk singer, but even that high quality entertainment wasn’t getting the crowd warmed up.
The best moment came when they inflated their petrochemical plastic worm with a fan driven by a portable oil generator, while the Boldie chanteuse was trying to start a “We don’t need your oil” chant. Yes, I’m afraid you do.
After about 20 minutes watching a whole lot of nothing, I decided to wander off in search of my quarry, a big honking gas-guzzler sporting a ‘stop the pipeline’ sticker. I knew there had to be several of them, but they wouldn’t park them next to Pershing, so I hunted a couple of blocks south, and there it was, in all its glory, an ugly old Chevy Suburban 2500 4 door, that probably gets 12 mpg when all tuned up, sporting not one but several eco-stickers.
Yeah, we don’t need your oil.
When they finally opened the auditorium doors, most of the Boldies stood in line so they could sign up to speak. The union guys just marched in and sat in front of the stage, filling up the center section and more. Smooth move. It took the Boldies about an hour to get signed in. When they were finally done I did a quick head count. The Boldies were mostly dressed in red and were sitting together around the periphery, a nice safe distance away from the union guys, who were in orange with a few in lime green. It looked like a Husker-Cowboys game, but definitely in T Boone Pickens stadium, because the Cowboy fans had better seats. I estimated there were about 250 on each side.
About 12:15 a.m. it started, and the Boldies discovered to their chagrin that the first 14 speakers had all been signed up in advance and 13 of them were pro-pipeline, mostly big-wigs in nice suits. There was Senator Jim Smith of District 14; a former Chief of the State Patrol; a former Adjutant General of the Nebraska National Guard; the board chairman of the Southern PPD; spokesmen for a couple of industry groups; former speaker Mike Friend (now with Americans for Prosperity); and Ron Kaminsky, head honcho of the union.
All these early speakers were clearly experienced at giving public presentations, all were well prepared, and all took their full five minutes, so the Boldies were treated to a full hour of carefully reasoned arguments for the pipeline: national security, safety, the desirability of cheap oil from a friendly neighbor, and so on. They hated it.
After about the third speaker, they lost whatever manners they had ever been taught and started to shout down the speakers and boo them after their presentations. The only anti-pipeline speaker in the first 14 was Senator Ken Haar, who compared Keystone XL with Fukushima Daichi (mispronounced, of course). If there’s ever a tsunami on the Platte, I will apologize for thinking Senator Haar a moron. But finally the Boldies weren’t being forced to listen to a viewpoint different from their own, so they gave him a big round of applause.
The union guys, in contrast, were polite throughout. They applauded their own side, but didn’t boo the others. Nice going, Boldies, out-mannered by a labor union.
Then came the Boldie speakers, and after about two of them, I was feeling overwhelmed with a mixture of boredom and pity. A rancher from St. Paul told us that water moves. Over and over again he said water moves. When you drill a well, and then another one near it, the first well goes dry, and that’s because water moves. He learned that at UNL 40 years ago, and ever since then, he’s noticed that water moves.
Then there was a ‘milkweed entrepreneur’ from Ogallala, who has a 1942 John Deere that he uses to harvest milkweed pods. He likes TransCanada, because they’re entrepreneurs like him. They sell oil. He sells milkweed. The only thing we didn’t find out about milkweed is what you do with it after you harvest it. Sell it to monarch butterflies, I suspect.
A cute little 12 year old from Bellevue who had just won the Science Olympiad in ‘Aquifer Studies’ gave a cute little presentation about why the pipeline is bad, and only spoiled it slightly by pleading she would have to live with the pipeline 30 years from now, when most of the rest of us would be dead.
After a while, they started to blend together. The Original Evil Keystone Pipeline has had 12, no 13, no 14, no 30 leaks. Indigenous Canadians have been sickened. All the oil is going to China. We should get oil, like our drugs, from Mexico, not Canada. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is against Keystone XL (well there goes the Nebraska Buddhist vote). The boreal forests are being ruined. Sacred aquifer. Clean pure water. Birds. Flowers.
A lot of the speakers were elderly, and as elderly people tend to do, they often spoke more about themselves than about the pipeline. One guy gave us a whole long story about how he had met Harry Truman and did black ops for NASA (I didn’t know NASA did black ops; it must be how they faked the moon landing). He told us oil, when it leaks, flows downhill, clear down to Texas. Well, turn the map upside down, I thought, and we’ll teach those darn Canadians a lesson!
Tony Fulton showed up, and gave a wishy-washy speech. Pipeline – love it! Jobs –love them! Sandhills – love them! Pipeline route – hate it!
By 2:15 p.m., there were only about 100 Boldies left in the auditorium, while most of the union guys were still around (they’ll be there until their bus comes by to pick them up), but a lot of them were outside in the warm sunshine. The Boldies were barely bothering to boo or applaud anymore, let alone shout anyone down. Mind you, the only guys now speaking for the pipeline were union, and the Boldies may have been afraid to boo them. And I gave up, feeling sorry for the poor State Department employees who would have to sit through four more hours of this crap, and suddenly looking forward to the sheaf of homework to be graded back in my office.
I remember the seventies, when a dozen of my Trotskyite fellow students would march around downtown with a big banner, calling on students and workers to unite to smash the system, and the workers would stand and laugh at them. Today was more pathetic than that. Worst political event EVAR! Seriously, you’d think a MTV-trained lass like Jane K could do better.
And that’s 210 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
Thanks RWP! Outstanding stuff. (And better you than us…)
We will have a few more notes on the goings-on in Lincoln later today.