New Alaskan Fishing Syndicate: Forgotten Lessons of Statehood
April 18th, 2006
On Sunday April 9th, during public comment on Gulf Ratz, Groundswell asked the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to stand in salute of the American Flag, carried into the room by a veteran. Unlike fishermen and native representatives present, nearly all of the Council and NMFS and State staff did not stand. We value the First Amendment, too; but couldn't that be considered civil disobedience?
After all, those not standing were the ones on federal and state salaries, per diem, and who'd just finished eating a nice taxpayer provided silver-domed luncheon. I was flabbergasted after their failure to salute our Nation's flag.
Yet at Groundswell, we are strong proponents of an America where diverse opinions may be publicly aired. And as the courts have ruled under the First Amendment, "there exists freedom to express publicly one's opinions about our flag, including those opinions which are defiant or contemptuous." So, how could the Secretary of Commerce ever discipline them for "freedom of _expression?"
Yet in this case, it was all the more difficult to continue with the public comment because Chair Stephanie Madsen had just interrupted and in effect had directly signaled the entire staff and council and others not to stand. She also had questioned if it was even my option to use public speaking time for a flag salute. Since she's a representative or paid lobbyist for the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, largely made up of foreign-owned fishing processors, it appears that we now have to consider her loyalties and deeper intentions. And whether or not she also values the First Amendment and our rights to salute the Flag.
We also question why there are never any Alaskan and American flags on prominent display at each of these federal Council meetings. Observing that led to our introducing the flag this time. Obviously, the hotels provide them at no cost. So maybe the real question is why those flags are not present - especially during a time of war. Surely the hotel banquet manager has usually asked the council staff if they'd like to have the flags, just as they do for other public events where state or federal officials are present.
At international halibut meetings, both the Canadian and American flags are present behind the chair. US delegates say it is a privilege to be there, looking straight at the flag and representing our Nation. And if the ill-mannered likes of state senator Ben Stevens can preside over the Alaska Senate with the flags present, and open with a prayer to guide the Senate in its business, one would think that the State employees present could have stood last Sunday, as well. But nearly to a man, they too didn't.
However, what's a governor or the Secretary (or the President) to do in a case like this? In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (U.S. versus Eichman) that even flag-burning is a protected form of political _expression. Justice Brennan wrote for the majority, "Punishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered."
The role of Groundswell at these meetings is to protect public rights, especially the access or privilege of fishing on precious natural resources entrusted to this Nation for its care. We believe in the rights that are guaranteed to Americans, both civil and political rights. And we'd like to remind fishermen that the Framers established those rights as an _expression of a fear of government power.
They are rights designed to protect each and every individual from wrongful acts by government and to provide those citizens with ways to participate in public affairs. And one of the key rights that President Franklin D. Roosevelt again reminded the World of in 1941, was the right to have freedom from fear. Chair Madsen obviously has a different take on the rights of citizens to speak out freely, and that may be the real issue at hand.
It takes but a few hours at a North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting to note that it is a plunder-happy council, intent on privatizing national fisheries for the sake of a few. The conflicts-of-interest loom large, and it is gut wrenching to sit and watch various "factions" who are not concerned with the Public good fight for their own shares of the plunder. The reason it is so difficult to watch is that it goes against the grain of every fiber of an American's civic soul.
This Nation's constitution and rights were designed to protect us from the mob, from the rule of factions, and to provide for what our Framers called 'the Publick Weal.' Instead, the council has been on a decade or longer run to harm the Public, give away rights to national resources, and plunder for the sake of private greed. That the Councils wrap up all this piracy in fancy words and elaborate but meaningless studies serves as a facade behind which is a battleground where individuals lie trampled and the Public's Weal is decimated.
When you add in the Groundswell concerns about abusive Transfer Pricing and the billions gone missing from illicit bookkeeping in cross border trade, which the Council blatantly ignores, then you have a real picture of the backstabbing, claim-jumping Frontier where a few carpetbaggers are after all the gold for themselves.
The Council ignores us because it must ignore the Truth, in order to proceed with its buccaneering. And to the once-independent fishermen present, it can hardly be denied that the Director of NOAA, along with Senator Ted Stevens, has granted the Council the requisite "letters of marque" to plunder unabatedly. Pollock, crab, and now all species of the Gulf of Alaska.
One of our Founders, George Mason believed that "No free government, or the blessings of liberty can be preserved to any people, but by frequent recurrence to basic fundamental principles." It has been said, "the American experiment in self-government is an adventure in ideas." As the English economist, John Maynard Keynes noted, "in the long run, it is ideas, and not men who rule the world." And observers have said, "Ideas have consequences, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil." Moreover, another Founder said, "What is the usefulness of a truth in theory, unless it exists constantly in the minds of the people and has their assent?"
Groundswell has often acted before the Council in a way quite similar to that Chinese fellow who faced down the tanks rolling toward him, because we also believe that individuals have not only the right to exercise moral authority when injustices occur, but carry an obligation as a citizen to do so.
One deeply upset state employee later suggested that bringing in the flag was "a political stunt." Well, it certainly was not a stunt - that would have involved bringing the TV cameras there to record it (but we never imagined they would not stand!) - but it was a procedural matter (a reminder of proper meeting decorum) and was most definitely political.
Political rights were provided by our Founders precisely to allow us to participate in our own governance. We are deeply saddened that each of the individuals in the room on April 9th did not believe enough in their own selves and protect their individual right to challenge an unjustly imposed authority that prevented them from saluting their flag. But not only does Groundswell embrace forgiveness with a charity of heart, we also stood with a firmness of purpose not unlike Voltaire, when he said, "I may detest what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."
Would that Chair Madsen have equally understood our rights. As for the others in the room, who failed to find the courage to stand and salute our Nation alongside the fleets and communities, they are entitled to their own embarrassments. When U.S. Coast Guard commander Michael Cerne ignored the chair's indiscretion, snapped to attention and proudly saluted the flag, it should have given every one present the proper instruction to rise in respect of our Nation.
For the next several days at the meeting, most of the Council and State employees repeatedly looked at me with disdain, as if they expect me to actually value their interpersonal opinions after they had demonstrated where they really sat on important matters. All I could think of was how sad their displaced angers were, and that if only they could devote some small fraction of that energy to actually looking out for our Nation, how much further ahead we'd all be.
But, there you have it: "Children, go to your room until your father gets home." A reprimand often works as well as - even better than - a spanking. But surely the Secretary of Commerce, NOAA director Hogarth, and the governors of the states of Alaska, Washington and Oregon, and the Congress itself, may see things differently upon learning of the lack of patriotism present that Sunday, on the part of people currently on the public payroll and expense accounts. It might be a good thing that the Department of State and Interior representatives were not present.
Maybe this situation should be considered when designing the new training for the councils in MSA reauthorization, and that a regulation be inserted that would ensure the American flag always stands watch over our Nation's fisheries.
Here's how it happened.
Public Comment - Groundswell Fisheries Movement - Item C-5 GOA Groundfish Rationalization at NPFMC's 176th Plenary Session, Anchorage, AK. 4/9/06.
"Mr. Secretary, Madame Chair, and Council Members:
I'm Stephen Taufen of the Groundswell Fisheries Movement. We're a public watchdog group and advocate for both harvesters and their communities and the citizen-taxpayers of this Nation.
We the People have noticed a shortfall in all of the Council meetings, and so we have provided an American flag here today. And I would like you all to join me as we stand and say a Pledge of Allegiance to this Flag."
Chairwoman Stephanie Madsen (interrupting): "Mr. Taufen, you can. But I am not sure that that's your option to use your minutes that way."
Taufen stood and led the salute: "I pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All. Amen."
(Then sitting down, I continued.) "Thank you, Madame Chair.
The GOA groundfish rationalization 'Problem Statement' mentions a "new management regime." We find that interesting wording, because it is appropriately named. A regime is 'a system of rule by a government, who considers itself in power. A regulated course to attain some result' - who's result?
The problem statement also contains words about who will benefit from 'additional economic incentives that may be provided by rationalization.' So we would ask that, in the end, you fit who really should benefit from this privatization.
We noticed earlier in the week that Ms. Parks from Fishermen's Finest, Jubilee Fisheries and others, came up and mentioned, "missing the forest for the trees." Well, trees build houses. And actually what we are missing here are the rooms full of billions, just for the pleasure of raiding what's left in Alaska's kitchen in the little cookie jar. That's what Groundswell's "Abusive Transfer Pricing" talks about.
It's funny that others in the industry are also coming up with similar numbers of about $2 billion missing every year (from Alaska seafood's value).
There has been a lot of talk lately designed to marginalize some of the communities by calling them a "vocal minority." Back when I was in college, in criminology classes we learned a little bit about con artists, and a time in the history of the United States when they would assist each other in going around the country in order to know which towns to prey on.
But certain places they called "Blue River Land" - that's a place for all cons to avoid because the people living there were savvy to those cons. And I can guarantee you that Kodiak is not a vocal minority, but it is indeed - along with Sand Point, King Cove and other places - a Blue River Land.
In 1976, I joined this industry, and by 1977-78 at NEFCO, we were doing groundfish analysis about this industry. Today, we believe that in your wording here that when dealing with government regulation there is supposed to be a 'market problem' that you actually address.
"That regulations owe their existence to the idea that a market failure exists and is correctible by government. But over the past few decades, much regulation - even of the health and safety variety - has been shown not to protect the public interest, but to merely transfer wealth to politically effective groups." These are the words of a former aide to Senator Lugar of Texas, Mr. Clyde Wayne Crews, who is quite an expert on coercive monopolies.
It is interesting here today to hear talk about FCMA cooperatives and mergers and this sort of stuff. My grandfather and other relatives formed and/or participated in farm coops. Those were harvesters who owned those, and operated their own grain elevators. But that whole process has also been turned on its head back there in wheatland - (with the introduction of corporate-dominated-coops) - and now coop is the kind of word that will get you rolled in honey and wheat chaff and sent out of town with a spanking.
Real coops are different. It should not be processors who own boats belonging to their own cooperatives and things like that - things that only "tassel" the program up (dress regulations up to look acceptable), and I think that you are going to have to deal with that one, as you know.
I found it interesting also that here we are continuing - although I understand the GOA privatization process will be winding down for a while - without first just stopping and looking at the recommendations of the Governmental Accountability Office. The GAO said these council practices here do not reflect core principles, nor do they include an implementation strategy, and that public comment is not an effective way to share information, as it does not lead to a two-way dialogue.
And we say that it makes no sense for skippers, crews and communities to let our Council go forward until this process is fixed nationwide in our Nation's regional fishery councils.
I see the yellow light is on, so let me just read another quote from Clyde Wayne Crews, - and I believe this is what we heard here earlier in this week from people who actually own assets in this industry, about coercive monopoly - he said,
"Coercive monopoly power does not emerge from the transitory outcome of voluntary exchanges which comprise the marketplace. Coercive monopoly power derives from government restriction of entry, from the outlawing of competitors; and a real antitrust law worthy of that name would be one that eliminated government granted monopoly powers such as tariffs, quotas, licensing restrictions and exclusive franchises."
Thank you all, again."
# # # #
As always, no questions were asked. So much for the presence of any "two-way dialogue."
But in the end, Groundswell must still respect their rights to protest, though it fails to foster protection of the Public Weal. In 2000, on hearings about a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban flag desecration, Senators pointed out, "our country has achieved greatness in its two centuries of existence because . we value tolerance above all else. Yes, we are tolerant of everything that is rotten, and we are intolerant of many things that are good."
As Colin Powell said during the Persian Gulf War, "We are rightfully outraged when anyone attacks or desecrates our flag. Few Americans do such things, and when they do, they are subject to the rightful condemnation of their fellow citizens. They may be destroying a piece of cloth, but they do damage to our system of freedom, which tolerates such desecration. I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will still be flying proudly long after they have slunk away."
In 2000, the Chairman of the Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights, a highly decorated amputee, former Marine Gary May, said, "The honor veterans like me feel it is not in the flag itself, but in the principles the flag stands for and in the people who have defended them." And an ACLU counsel stated, "Our freedom is founded upon the right to make known our opinion without the threat of government interdiction - Old Glory is the ultimate, tangible _expression of this national belief." And that is why Groundswell proudly introduced the Flag at the Council on April 9.
Yet it appears that it was also why Chair Madsen found it necessary to remind us that government has indeed interdicted against the Public Weal. And that she is one of its dictatorial gatekeepers. We, a tolerant Groundswell, remain convinced that the Congress will eventually do these fascist privateers one better.
But for those who followed Chair Madsen's lead, they must ask was their contempt for the Flag itself, or was it just against Liberty and Justice for All? Themselves included.