2014-08-22 / Letters

Will is lost

To the editor:

In 1973 author Robert Heinlein wrote, “Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How’s that again? I missed something. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let’s play that over again too. Who decides?”

For the past 41 years I have been pondering this question and have only recently found the answer. Who decides? … the South Portland City Council.

On Wednesday, July 9 and then again on Monday, July 21, the South Portland City Council determined that it can and will make a decision that is wiser than that of the electorate by overturning the choice of the people from the November 2013 election. Forty-five percent of the city population voted on the Waterfront Protection Ordinance and it was defeated 51 to 49 percent, a margin of less than 200 votes. Yes, a tight election, but nonetheless an election with a definite outcome. A referendum put forth by the people, and rejected by the people.

The audacity of the South Portland City Council in rejecting the will of the people is without precedent. The outcome of an election is not for a city council (a legislative branch of government) to decide. Election results are not a legislative issue. An election result may be challenged by the people through the court system, the judicial branch of government.

If a city councilor candidate were to lose an election by a few votes, would the council reject that election as being divisive and change the results? No, the results might be challenged in court, but the city council would not and could not change the results. If a city bond were defeated in an election would the city council float the bond anyway? No, either it would simply go down to defeat or a new bonding issue would be put before the people. This is what happened a few years ago with the bond to expand South Portland High School.

If the city council was not happy with the results of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance their choice was to put it before the voters again, not change the results after changing and broadening the questions. At the very least the action of the South Portland City Council can be classified as audacious, at most it can be looked at as malfeasance.

Perhaps the most frightening part of this decision is the reason it has become an issue in the first place. The reasoning behind the development of this entire proposal is based on emotion and has little to do with fact or rational thought. Let’s look at what the group who first proposed the Waterfront Protection Ordinance is really saying and why the South Portland City Council seems to have given up all sense of reality by broadening the question and passing it after its initial defeat by the electorate.

When broken down to the base common denominator, the South Portland City Council and Protect South Portland created this entire proposal based on two selfish feelings, not rational and researched thoughts. Those feelings are:

• I’m scared.
• It may not look pretty to me.

The fear expressed by this group is based on a lack of knowledge and a zealotlike belief that science, engineering and progress in general are frightening. They believe that change is bad, and anything feared must be stopped.

The zealotry of Protect South Portland flies in the face of the rational need to transport oil. Not just transport oil, but transport it by the two safest means possible, pipeline and marine shipping.

What is most telling about the Protect South Portland organization is that the spokesman of the group, Sister MJ Ferrier, is a nun, a religious leader. The arguments she and the group bring to bear are actually religious arguments, based on fear and aesthetic values, not science and actual facts.

This makes sense, as fear and aesthetics are easy arguments to make. They require little thought, reason, research nor understanding to accept. The arguments appeal to feelings, not thoughts, and one cannot counter emotion with logic. Emotional decisions can also be made to appear logical, based on inductive reasoning and without proof. A negative hypothesis cannot be proven.

Quackery has been set forth for thousands of years and obviously still is today. Many examples can be cited but there is no need. Critical thinking, true scientific study and research into historic facts are the only means to avoid the self indulgent emotional zeal brought on by the seemingly rational arguments of quackery. Unfortunately these steps were not taken by the South Portland City Council.

Case in point, prior to casting her vote on July 9, City Councilor Linda Cohen demonstrated that her decision to support the ordinance was based on fear, not fact. She said “I don’t want tar sands in South Portland. It scares me.” Then she voted for an ordinance that would ban not just oil that some describe as “tar sands” but all crude oil transported by pipeline to depart the waterfront.

Cohen and the rest of the city council were converted to the proselytizing doctrine and religious-like arguments of Protect South Portland. The emotional ploys frightened her and enough of the other members of the city council into passing an illogical ordinance.

Why illogical? As recently reported in a local daily newspaper, The United States of America is now the world’s leading oil producer. The USA’s oil production is now greater than that of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and any other single country in the world. As a nation we have set a goal to become oil independent since the oil crisis of the 1970’; we are finally reaching that goal. Unfortunately organizations such as Protect South Portland do not want oil to be transported even in the safest manner possible.

The goal of Protect South Portland is not just to stop oil from being transported through the South Portland waterfront, but to stop the use of oil completely worldwide. On Saturday, July 12, in an interview with Arthur King on WGAN’s radio show “Inside Maine,” Sister Ferrier made it clear that she and her group are afraid of, and opposed to, not just oil from Alberta, but any and all crude oil that might be brought to South Portland via the pipeline. She claimed that all unrefined oil is dirty and how the use of oil should be stopped.

As a citizen I have no love of oil companies. I have no affiliation with “big oil” of any sort and on many occasions I find the politicking of these companies abhorrent. But as the adage says “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.” In the case of oil transfer in South Portland, the oil companies are dealing with facts and not making emotional decisions as did the South Portland City Council.

Yes, there is danger, environmental and other, in the extraction and transportation of oil. There is a level of fear that is rational and it should make us do what we can to assure the safest transportation methods are being used. Like flow through pipelines and marine transfer. But banning the safest methods of oil movement is not the answer.

This is not being written to denigrate religion, emotional decisions, or Protect South Portland’s proselytizing actions in any manner. As Heinlein also said:

“History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.”

People, including the South Portland City Council and Protect South Portland should be able to fiddle with their religious beliefs all they wish, as long as they do not force them on others, even if through a democratic process, no matter how corrupt.

Micah Engber
South Portland

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