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Posts Tagged → transparency

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? 

PGC: Great, Old Agency Unused to Modern Limelight

If there is one take-away from my many years in federal and state government jobs, it is that agency staff cultures change slowly.  In Pennsylvania, a great example of this is one of my favorite agencies, the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  PGC is an agency that is used to doing things the way it wants, often relying on its impressive history as evidence for its present day independence and independent culture.

PGC is presently in the headlines because of a $200,000 payment to its former executive director, Carl Roe, now very recently departed of the agency.

I thought it was an amicable departure; maybe not.  PGC staff say this is a settlement to avoid a possible lawsuit.  Critics of the payment include the governor’s office, the PA Comptroller, the PA attorney general, and many elected officials.  They say this is a sidestep around the state’s prohibition of severance payments, made between a board of directors and an executive director who were actually very cozy with one another.

This is sad, because PGC is a storied agency, a trend-setter in the area of wildlife management, wildlife science, habitat management, and public land acquisition.  Something I like is that PGC has uniformed officers who stand in front of Hunter Trapper Education courses filled with 10-18-year-old kids, and tell them that they have a Second Amendment right to own firearms.  Few states in America have such a wonderful role for their uniformed law enforcement officers.  We are fortunate to have this agency with this culture, and it is for this reason that I oppose merging PGC with DCNR.  Ranger Rick and Smokey Bear are not going to purvey that valuable message.

The flip side of the culture is what is often described as a “bunker mentality” among the agency’s staff, and this payment to Roe probably fits in with that view.

Most agencies are careful to avoid controversy, especially controversy that does not have a strong basis.  This payment does not appear to have a strong basis, so it is an unnecessary controversy that is likely to damage the agency’s standing among lawmakers and executives, as well as the general public and hunters who otherwise happily buy hunting licenses to support their favorite agency.  It comes at a time when the agency is already under the gun from oversight legislation (HB 1576, which does not address actual problems, but rather imagined problems unrelated to PGC and PA Fish & Boat Commission).

Don’t get me wrong, I like Carl Roe, and PGC has also driven me nuts at times.  I clearly recall the day he was brought on to the agency as an intern.  Me, then PGC executive director Vern Ross, PGC biologist Gary Alt, Carl Roe, and senior PGC staffer Joe Neville drove together up to Bellefonte to participate in the swearing-in of a new PGC commissioner.  Carl struck me as a bright, quantitatively-oriented, inquisitive, experienced manager.  Over the years since that day I have had many opportunities to meet with Carl, and he has always impressed me as a stalwart and intelligent promoter of PGC, hunters, trappers, and wildlife conservation.  This huge payment lightning rod situation just does not make sense in that context.

But on second thought, this payment does make sense if the insular agency culture managed to eventually penetrate into Carl’s otherwise solid judgment.  That has been a phenomenon witnessed among other new PGC staff; the broad “something-is-in-their-water” observation that people’s personalities changed dramatically once they joined PGC. Other evidence of an insular culture was recently brought to my attention: Four of the agency’s biologists (all of whom have some or all of the deer program’s oversight) have graduate degrees from the same school and they studied at the same post-graduate field station.  And no, they ain’t from Penn State, or any Pennsylvania university, for that matter, dammit.

I fear for PGC, because at a time when the agency is already under scrutiny from HB 1576, this new payment debate threatens to add fuel to the flames, and add a straw onto the camel’s back.  Part of the culture driving these problems is the same kind of culture that can cause the roof to suddenly come down.  Careful there, boys, careful.

*******UPDATE:

So, as has happened before, these essays get read, and I get phone calls and emails.  People calling me usually do not want to post on the blog, being afraid of attribution, and frankly, what some other people want to post here is not always worth keeping.  So here is the gist of what came over the transom in the past half hour: Things between Carl Roe and the PGC board were not chummy.  The payment to him is seen as a real money-saver.  I am unsure how an at-will employee like an executive director has any real legal recourse, unless he is fired for his religion or political views, things that are a) hard to prove and b) unlikely.  Also, I neglected to mention that Roe had, indeed, given away about $300,000 in agency funds to Hawk Mountain (GREAT PLACE, but not necessarily deserving of big PGC money) and other groups. This unaccountable and unapproved largesse caused real friction between Roe and the board, not to mention the rest of the stakeholders whose donations to and purchases from PGC are expected to be spent in a pecuniary fashion.

Benghazi…the Government failure that just won’t go away

President Obama calls the uninvestigated, unrequited, unavenged murders of unprotected American embassy personnel in Benghazi, Libya, a “false scandal.”

Benghazi isn’t going to go away. It is a far worse scandal than the 1980s Iran-Contra arms smuggling scandal. Benghazi is worse because it involved illegal gun-running by American staff, and because now staff with direct knowledge of the events surrounding Benghazi are being submitted to monthly lie-detector tests to make sure they are not leaking information.

Obama will learn that it’s the attempted coverup that is usually worse than the original crime.

And what’s with a guy who pledged transparency and accountability in 2009, but now has so much illegal wiretapping and snooping against American citizens going on that he has to run around jailing people who want to whistleblow on his illegal actions?

What happened to Carter Ham and Admiral Gaudet?

American liberty hangs by a thread, and I find it distressing that so many people are much more loyal to a single political party than they are to the US Constitution.