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SB 619 captures tug of war between big government and the citizenry

SB 619 is PA state senator Gene Yaw’s fix to a problem that should not even exist. And yet, this bill is being greeted by so-called environmental advocates as some sort of “attack” on environmental quality and environmental protection.

Senate Bill 619 is about one simple thing: Making Pennsylvania state government regulators spell out exactly what is, and what is not, an environmental spill that is so bad that it contaminates waterways and is a violation of our state “clean streams” law.

You would think that in late 2019, 243 years after the founding of America, all state governments would be run by responsible adults who are committed to the wellbeing of their fellow citizens first and foremost. A commitment like that would first and foremost be to the rule of law and the due process rights that undergird and frame everything that is American representative government. Simply put, the government cannot willy nilly decide for itself, based on ambiguous, general, opaque, undefined, arbitrary standards, what is an environmental contamination, and what is not an environmental contamination.

In representative government, We, The People are entitled to know our boundaries, where the borders are to our behavior, and where the government gets to step in and correct us. This understanding keeps us from making decisions in good faith that end up getting us entangled with government enforcers who hit us with fines and penalties for making an incorrect decision.

Presently, and unbelievably, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has no clearly defined standards for what qualifies as a reportable spill and contamination into a waterway. PA DEP’s entire standard is, get this, for real: “We will know it when we see it.”

Folks, I am not exaggerating, I am not making this up. This is how much infinite latitude the state government has now and wants to maintain. This means that literally every time something – a cup of coffee, a can of paint, a bucket of mine sludge, or any miniscule part thereof – falls from its original container into the environment, and into or next to a waterway, it must be reported to PA DEP. And PA DEP reserves the right to fine whoever is responsible, irrespective of whether or not that spill involved anything dangerous, toxic, or at such a small dilution that it is de minimus in its effect.

In practice, this means that PA DEP both chases its tail going after ridiculously unimportant “spills” that pose no threat to anything, which underserves the citizenry who underwrite PA DEP’s budget, and that the agency also holds a huge arbitrary hammer over the head of every single citizen, contractor, and industrial or commercial operator in or passing through the Commonwealth. While being arbitrary is bad enough, reports from the field – you know, the little people who actually work outside getting stuff done for the rest of us consumers – is that plenty of PA DEP staff use that arbitrary standard in capricious ways. These PA DEP staff are, simply put, empowered to be vindictive and petty little tyrants whenever they want to be.

To their shame, the opponents of SB 619 are acting as if the bill is some sort of assault on environmental quality, when it is not, not even close. The PA Fish & Boat Commission is actually on record opposing SB 619 because it allows for “interpretation” in the law. This is embarrassingly bad government to say things like this. Needless to say, the private sector opponents of SB 619 say even worse and less accurate things than the PFBC has written.

Can you imagine something so horrid as there being two sides to a story, some “interpretation” about what happened, and not having just one omnipotent government agency position, take it or take it, because you can’t leave it, because the government agency has 100% of the say in what happened, and you can’t figure it out until some government employee tells you? Is it really so terrible to rein in our government agencies and require them to live by defined standards like the rest of us have to live? Like our Federal and State Constitutions require? Like a whole bunch of other states already have?

SB 619 simply asks PA DEP to establish criteria and standards so that the citizenry and the industries they work in can know when they are following the law, and when they are not. It asks government employees to live by the rules everyone else must live by. It asks government to not engage in arbitrary and capricious behavior, which undermines everything our Republic and our Commonwealth are about. You know, that liberty and freedom stuff that seems so insignificant to the self-appointed guardians of environmental quality. One thing is clear: My fellow environmental professionals may care about the environment, but they do not care about democracy or good government.

This bill is not about environmental quality, it is about democracy, the role of government, good government, government transparency and accountability, and limits on government power. It represents the tug of war going on nationwide between people who want unfettered big government power, and those of us who want government to live within the Constitutional boundaries everyone else lives in.

SB 619 needs to be implemented now.

(c) 2006 Bonnie Jacobs

“Red Flag” ERPOs are violent, dangerous, un-American

In the 2002 movie “Minority Report,” police identify and swiftly SWAT-team-style arrest potential criminals before they have committed a crime, even if they are not in the act of committing the crime. That lack of due process, the discarding of the American core value of the presumption of innocence, and the mis-use of quacky, uncertain technology to concretely deprive citizens of their liberties for crimes they did not yet commit, and possibly only imagined, is at the movie’s heart.

Like the 1949 book 1984, in Minority Report an an all-seeing, all-controlling government squashes individuality, individual rights, and free thought by criminalizing “thought crimes,” even thoughts that have not actually been implemented in the physical world. The gist of both the 1949 book and the 2002 movie being that coercive government power can be easily mis-used and that it is at the core of illegitimate governance that justifies civilian resistance and disobedience.

So, welcome to Minority Report and 1984 in your life, right now, in the form of “Red Flag,” “Extreme Risk Prevention Order” and the politically named “Gun Violence Restraining Order” (there is no such thing as ‘gun violence’). These risky programs are being slowly enacted and implemented in states across America in the name of safety.

Theoretically, both ERPOs and GRVOs are designed to get out ahead of a gun owner and send in the SWAT team before that gun owner possibly commits a crime with a gun. Like the ill-fated “No Fly List” bar to gun ownership, both ERPOs and GRVOs are designed to empower police to quickly bypass the natural due process safeguards our federal Constitution explicitly grants to each citizen, behind a screen of secrecy and unaccountable government employees, in the name of immediate if poorly defined security.

The problem with these programs is that they are failing everywhere for reasons that anyone with a shred of common sense had been and would normally employ when assessing the possible risk-benefit value of laws encouraging police to go all cowboy on people who have not actually committed a violent crime. In every place where ERPOs and GRVOs have been implemented, police have aggressively gunned down in cold blood totally innocent citizens, often in their own homes, and always in circumstances where the citizen was either not armed or was only armed because the police had acted like violent, illegal home invaders that an armed citizen would normally resist.

Their results have been exactly the opposite of stopping violence, as ERPOs and GRVOs actually encourage violence; but it’s by the government against the citizen, which ERPO proponents want.

These programs are the anti-gun activist’s dream come true, as the true purpose of ERPOs and GVROs is to generally stigmatize all gun ownership and all individual gun owners by creating an automatic suspect class. Almost all of these programs enable pretty much anyone to call the police and “SWAT” some gun owner the person doesn’t like, doesn’t agree with politically, has a property line dispute with, wants to make an example of etc. “SWATTING” is where someone calls in a bogus threat to a local police department, identifying someone who is actually innocent and unsuspecting that in mere minutes his door is about to come crashing in with a heavily armed SWAT team who thinks he is holding a hostage with a gun to the head.

  • ERPOs and GRVOs are the legalization and encouraging of SWATTING.
  • ERPOs and GRVOs are dangerous; they promote violence, especially against innocent people.
  • ERPOs and purposefully anti-gun-named GVROs are a direct threat to all American citizens, because due process is thrown out the door from the very beginning.
  • These are back door channels to criminalizing gun ownership, mass intimidation and big government control over peaceful, law abiding gun owners.
  • They are purposefully vague, potentially random, and are more than anything a NAZI Gestapo tactic to bully law abiding gun owners into relinquishing their guns out of fear of being dimed out for some imagined, fake crime.

Why are ERPOs and GRVOs happening? They are becoming popular because due process has gone out the window since Obama was elected in 2008. Obama ran an increasingly abusive government without a shred of respect for the rule of law or due process, and his big government admirers everywhere followed in his step. The result has been that any part of any government anywhere, at any level, that is controlled by Democrats has 360 degree unfettered reach and scope. And on the flip side, any part of government run by Republicans is automatically suspect and subject to endless questioning and investigation and blocking by over-reaching federal judges and bureaucrats.

It is how the Mueller investigation has worked, with its vague accusations of “obstruction” against people who had not and could not have committed any crime in the first place. Without a crime, there can be no obstruction. Roger Stone has been bankrupted for the ‘crime’ of being a political supporter of a president Mueller hates.

This is how the communists took control of Hungary and probably other European nations. They used unproven accusations, which became procedural abuses, to ensnare political opponents, who were then railroaded in the criminal justice system. Just as Mueller has done to his victims.

Democrats today are employing the same exact tactics as the European communists to gain political power the voters would never grant them at the ballot box. These tactics should be illegal and punishable by existing law, but the opposition party, the GOP, is spineless and weak, filled with self-dealing careerists. The culture change following in the wake of Obama’s anti-individual rights big government power grab has shifted in favor of anti-freedom control freaks. They like ERPOs and GVROs, because they suit their tactics, and the Republicans either enable them, empower them, or sit out the fight because there is no money to be made in it.

Do not allow ERPOs, GRVOs, or their derivations into your community or state, because these are undemocratic breaches of the public trust in a government that is supposed to serve its free people.

As a post script, the other big problem is what happens with someone’s legally owned guns when they are confiscated by police. Quite often they are stored under terrible conditions that either badly damage or destroy the firearms. And often the police refuse to honor the law and return the firearms to the citizen after he has been cleared. Moreover, the police often steal or sell confiscated guns, and there is little or no recourse for the citizen to be justly compensated for what has been essentially an unconstitutional taking of private property by government.

America should be going in the direction opposite of ERPOs, GRVOs, and their secret courts where accused people have no right to defend themselves and are presumed guilty. Our founding principles of limited government power, government transparency, and government accountability demand it.

Galileo before the Inquisition’s Secret Court. Is American due process really going backwards to the Dark Ages? 

My letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions

April 12, 2018

Honorable Jeff Sessions, Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Sessions,

When you recused yourself from a potential 2016 Russia collusion investigation, you did so out of a sense of respect for the American justice system. It was an honorable thing to do. Good for you.

Now, however, the American people see that the entire premise of the Russia collusion investigation is false. It is based on lies and deceit, law breaking and deep corruption at the highest levels of the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This investigation has become an open-ended fishing expedition, a political witch hunt, a farce. Nothing about it is justified. In fact, the actual criminals are walking free, and apparently their known crimes are not being investigated. America hangs on a precipice.

That an illegal warrant to wiretap a political candidate and then president-elect was obtained through the fake “dossier,” which was created by the Hillary Clinton campaign in collusion with Obama administration appointees at DOJ and FBI, is unthinkable. It is an enormous crime. It is the biggest political corruption scandal in America’s history.

Text messages show that FBI Agent Peter Strzrok is a corrupt public servant. Why is he still employed at the FBI? Why isn’t he being investigated for his obvious corruption?

The FBI will not cooperate with Congress. FBI staff will not release documents to Congress that the FBI Inspector General already has. A huge cover-up is under way, right in front of us, the American people. Why is FBI Director Wray allowed to remain in his position and behave this way, in complete defiance of everything that America stands for – transparency, the rule of law, and official accountability?

Knowing all this, why are you still recused? You are needed in this fight.

This is not the same “investigation” that you thought it was in early 2017. It is clearly wrong, unjust, un-American. Mr. Mueller is a rogue and illegal force, covering up evidence of crimes from the previous administration and attacking people who are trying to shed light on those crimes. His work is purely political retribution, disconnected from any legal justification. If anything, Mr. Mueller must be investigated for his role.

I am asking you to un-recuse yourself and get directly involved in this situation. America needs your strong and aggressive leadership, your firm hand, passionately seeking actual justice based on facts. Every day that this blatant injustice is allowed to continue America gets weaker. If you cannot get back in the fight for America’s life, then I beg of you to resign and allow someone with strength and courage to take your place. I feel like you are dithering away our nation’s most precious moments, our last breaths as a free republic.

Thank you for considering my request,

Josh First

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Pentagon Papers II receive a cold reception

What is the modern equivalent of the Pentagon Papers is receiving an unusually cold reception from the establishment media, from people who have not even seen or read it yet, and yet who already have talking points and criticisms of it, without actually knowing what is in it.

Back in the early 1970s, what became known as the Pentagon Papers were leaked from secret government files to the Washington Post, a news-paper that used to operate in Washington DC.

Those Pentagon Papers helped build a public case against the politicization of official government duties, and they formed the basis for investigatory reporting by something called news reporters, an extinct animal that has not been seen since.

When the Pentagon Papers reporting was done, a sitting president was impeached and forced from office, because the public was disgusted by his obvious mis-use of public power.

Fast forward to February 1, 2018, and we have a similar situation unfolding in Washington, DC. Reams of text messages, emails, and document analysis have recently uncovered a clear conspiracy among FBI agents and DOJ officials to unfairly exonerate Hillary Clinton of obvious crimes, and to unfairly target for illegal spying and criminal prosecution a presidential candidate and then president-elect, Donald Trump.

None of this behavior by the FBI and DOJ staffs is legal. None of it is OK. None of it is acceptable. It is the very essence of corruption and misuse of government power.

The Mueller “investigation” is exposed as an open-ended political witch hunt and fishing expedition based on a fake “dossier” bought by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, illegally used to obtain a search warrant used to illegally spy on a political campaign and then the president-elect, all for political purposes.

Despite knowing this first-hand himself, Mueller continues with the only thing he has, fake “process crimes,” like alleged obstruction of justice. Evidence is clear that FBI agent Peter Strzok (and many others) used his official position for partisan political purposes, and Mueller removed him from his witch hunt because of it. But Mueller himself does not have the integrity to call off the entire farce, most of which is based on Agent Strzok’s previous activity.

Now there is a concise memo about this illegal government activity, by an obscure Congressman Nunes from California. This memo lists the data sources and how they were analyzed to uncover this criminal conspiracy, and it is being provided to the sitting president. This is standard protocol. This is how representative government works.

Instead of retrospection and respect for the rule of law, however, the opposition party and their communication arm AKA the media are in full out assault against the memo and its author.

Instead of taking the memo and reading it, sharing it with the American public, and shedding light on government abuse so the American people can make informed political choices and hold political officials accountable, the media are doing the opposite. They are doing everything they can to protect the prior administration, the Hillary Clinton campaign, and the current opposition party, despite knowing full well what illegal things they did. They take attacks by members of that opposition party and report them verbatim as fact. They ignore or denigrate the information in the memo.

Which makes one wonder about the whole Pentagon Papers thingy way back when.

Was that really news reporting in the public interest, or was it the first successful take-down of a sitting president by a partisan media?

After all, President John F. Kennedy had plenty of naughty, unethical, immoral and illegal behavior going on in his administration (as did his successor, LBJ), and yet the media treated Americans to nothing but close-ups of fake smiles by JFK’s long suffering wife and of his fakey white smile.

For the enterprising media watchdog, the JFK administration had lots to chew on, if the desire was but there. Obviously it was not. Lying, cheating JFK was promoted as a hero, and his misdeeds were swept under the rug for decades.

“Camelot” the charade was called. Oh golly, the shivers!

The press’s treatment of the Kennedy Administration became a model for how the media would subsequently treat the administrations of JFK’s political party: The president is always brilliant, kind, heroic. Never mind that he is selling our uranium stocks to our biggest enemy, and lots of private money is changing in public hands. On the other hand, the Republican presidents are always portrayed as evil, stupid, a foolish dullard, a tool of outside interests.

Looking back, it is now evident the Pentagon Papers served as the press’s first big political hit, a model which the media have tried to employ about every four years ever since. They never fail to have an “October surprise” for Republican candidates, and hardly vet or investigate Democrat candidates at all, always protecting them from public scrutiny.

A new movie about the Pentagon Papers is out starring serial sexual harassment enabler Meryl Streep and my once-favorite actor, Tom Hanks. This movie glorifies news reporting as a sacred duty and core function of a free republic, which it is. But it also puts the partisan news reporters of the Pentagon Papers on an unassailable pedestal. Judging by today’s openly politicized, partisan media, no such credibility or accolades are currently warranted, and now we realize they probably were not warranted back in the 1970s, either.

The subjects of this new movie, former Washington Post employees Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, remain openly and unrepentant political partisans to this day, their purportedly fair-minded views relied upon as though handed down by Moses on Mount Sinai by a fawning younger generation of partisan media communicators.

And this is how the entertainment-media industrial complex creates fake news, fake heroes, fake election results, and protects a government rotting from within, starting with the very people sworn to uphold the law.

Release the Nunes memo, Mister President, and let the accountability begin. This, not the hoarding of power, is the role of government.

My impression of Paul Mango, candidate for PA Guv

Three weeks ago I spent half an hour on the phone with Paul Mango, newly declared candidate for Pennsylvania governor.

We talked about his candidacy, his background, political issues, economics, hopes and challenges, etc. We then followed up with several back and forth emails, each one of his expressing specific appreciation and thanks for how the exchange had benefited him in a certain way. He is a new candidate, new to politics (other than as a very generous donor to Republican candidates), and he is digesting a lot of new information and ideas, new ways of thinking.

Last week I met Mango at his formal campaign announcement at the Twin Ponds sports and fitness center in Camp Hill\Mechanicsburg.

Twin Ponds previously served as the region’s HQ for primary and general election candidate Donald Trump, who won Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes by a margin probably accounted for just by the simple dedication of Central PA’s “normal Americans” in both political parties. The big facility is run by a pretty, petite firebrand of a woman, Mrs. Patton aka General Patton.

Here are my impressions of Mango (and yes, I know, he’s just getting started):

He is impressive in several key ways: His family background and values, his education and military service, and his high level professional work experience.

Paul Mango is a very smart, confident, and empathetic man, who comes across as a reserved, reflective, nice person, and a responsive, good listener.  He is positive and genuine.

I questioned him in person about how he will compete against candidate Scott Wagner, who has spent years battling in the trenches with a lot of conservative voters and activists, against entrenched establishment political hacks in politics for personal financial gain, and who has thereby built up credibility with many politically active citizens who value bravery and honesty.

When I pointed out that Wagner has also alienated a lot of people (including many of his former supporters) in that process (because Wagner seems selfish, arrogant, and unappreciative), Mango responded that he will not say anything negative because he has never seen valuable leadership succeed except through “inspiring people.”

That is a very high bar to set for one’s self, much less one’s political competitors, but it is worthy because it says Mango has integrity. The Wagner campaign has already criticized Mango for supporting Cruz first, and then Trump later, though I got the impression that is what Scott Wagner did, too, like a lot of us did in last year’s Republican primary. Here we go, the mud is already flying!

Well, to start, if Mango is going to inspire voters, then he needs to increase his positive speaking energy, his intensity, his passion. The other night he came across as a little nervous, and definitely way too deliberative, almost plodding, at his formal announcement. His prepared speech was long and the delivery was very, very slow.

Recall that Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg is so hard hitting because it was not long and plodding, but brief and hard hitting.

Despite serving in the 82nd Airborne and actually being a warrior, Mango’s even-keeled demeanor does not seem warrior-like, while his main competitor, Wagner, did not do military service and yet is a proven culture and fiscal political warrior.

Though he wore jeans, work boots, and an Oxford shirt, Mango is the very definition and personification of “corporate,” which will probably look or smell like moderate RINO to the trench warfare grass roots conservatives. Time will tell if that first impression is accurate.

His approach to fixing government is his approach to fixing businesses, about which it is best to just quote my activist friend Ron:

The problem with these guys [corporate/business/ Chamber of Commerce GOP candidates who compare running government to running business] is they all have plans to fix government by running it like a business. This is not a unique viewpoint and it has never worked. This is politics, not business. Took me a while to accept that.  He can have the greatest plan ever but it won’t matter because politicians don’t care [about people, policy, economy etc.].  They care about themselves and getting re-elected.”

It is a fact that careerist politicians in BOTH PARTIES do not act like corporate employees, because there is almost no accountability in politics. The old quip about the only accountability in politics resulting from being “found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy” probably doesn’t even apply today.

Like him or not, candidate Scott Wagner goes right to the key policy battles: Corrupt blood-sucking unions, ridiculous regulations that violate our federal and state constitutions, wasted and stolen taxpayer money.

That is where the rubber meets the road in the culture war for America’s soul and the war for a middle-income economy.

This is the battle front between America as it was founded and as we knew it, and America as a bastion of totalitarian socialism and politically correct thought police, envisioned by the Left.

Candidate Mango will probably arrive here at the same battle front, eventually, because the leftists’ violent street battles across America tell us that nice words alone don’t work, and Trump’s improbable win says it all (JEB! was also the quintessential corporate nice guy, and GOP voters utterly rejected him).

Mango’s steady personality seems to avoid conflict, which though commendable and reassuring in so many other settings, can send the message to some voters that he may be like a zillion other mainstream RINOs who are unwilling to dive into the bar room brawl that needs to happen for America to be set right. These careerist RINOs don’t want to get their hands dirty waging political war, which tells voters that they really just don’t care very much about political or cultural outcomes.

Mango is smart enough to see these facts and voter trends. Whether he arrives at that messy policy battle front sooner or later is the question. If he finds a way to comfortably voice his quiet intensity, his passion, his compassion for working Pennsylvanians, then he will overcome the potential impression that he is another empty GOP suit (I was told that PA GOP kingmaker Bob Asher has NOT supported Mango, which appeals to the conservative, independent-minded base).

I like the guy and I am looking forward to seeing him develop over the next six months, because, again, he is new to politics and just getting started.

PA House Bill 1576 pulled, for now

Pennsylvania House Bill 1576 would have dramatically changed the way PA regulates and manages endangered, threatened, and rare species of plants and animals.  It went overboard in so many ways, too numerous to recount now, and missed an important opportunity to actually bring a needed level of professionalism and accountability to the way the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission interact with and serve citizens.

Legislation setting timetables for the agencies on permits and regulatory actions is a good start.  Allowing citizens to recoup legal costs from successful lawsuits against the agencies would be fair, as the agencies occasionally get that bully’s “Go ahead and sue me” attitude, so inappropriate for any government agency.

HB 1576’s proponents bit off more than they could chew, probably a result of making an emotionally charged effort, rather than a carefully calculated and strategic effort at reining in government behavior that is sometimes seen as failing to serve citizens in the ways they deserve.  Advocates for the two agencies, myself included, should be asking how HB 1576 came up in the first place – what kind of agency over-reach, or failures to serve – resulted in elected officials from both parties becoming so frustrated that they decided to drop that bomb.

Now, HB 1576 is not on the next list of proposed legislation to get a vote.  There is talk in both parties about getting more finely tuned and focused legislation passed, and I certainly support that.  Government’s role is not to dominate citizens, but to serve them.  Protecting vulnerable plants and animals is a way of serving citizens’ interests, but there is also a way to do that without unnecessarily damaging the people who are supposed to benefit.  That includes ensuring that the two agencies have sufficient funding and staff to implement their respective missions.

and then there is that political aftermath…

Well, ya win some and ya lose some, right?
My hope is that Harrisburg mayor-elect Eric Papenfuse will deliver on his promises, although the gun control stuff is a waste of time. I am no fan of Harrisburg losing its assets and still not being out of debt. My opinion is that Harrisburg’s investors made a bad investment, they were sold a bill of goods by the bondsmen, and the accountability for rectifying that goes back to the guys who issued the bad bonds. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for the municipal debt debacle. This race was marked by the impact of tons of cash, artificial legal shenanigans, and the purposeful delay of justice so that the one candidate standing in Eric’s way could not get his footing, until just weeks before Election Day.
That’s not good for democracy.
In Susquehanna Township, one again hopes that outcomes will not be as bad as they appear to be. Voters who vote against their interests intrigue me. The township school district appears headed toward even worse infighting and more losses of good staff. Property values correlate with public schools, so….. Good luck!
And finally, congratulations to judge-elect Bill Tully, a highly qualified, hard working, earnest man who will be an outstanding judge for all citizens of Dauphin County.
Vic Stabile won his seat on the PA Superior Court, congratulations!
And I am so pleased that the election season is now behind us, so I can get out and do some more hunting and fishing.
–Josh

Say what?

“Never put in writing something you aren’t ready to see and defend in a newspaper,” is an old adage governing good government.

In other words, be prepared to be held to what you write, especially if it’s in government emails.

If there’s one thing I am proud of, it is my willingness and ability to stake out earnest policy positions. Nothing wishy washy on this blog. But don’t ever expect to find racism or personally belittling comments here. Or in my emails.

It’s often painful to see people held accountable for their mistakes. Then again, it’s often a necessary result of having caused unwarranted pain to other people.

With great power goes great obligation and responsibility. When these basic rules of conduct are forgotten, inevitable chains of events are uncorked.

Now that we’ve seen it here in Pennsylvania, wouldn’t it be pleasing to see it in Washington, DC, too?