|The Whatcom Excavator||
In all honesty, WE don't know what the backstory is, but it appears that recent Port of Bellingham candidate Renata Kowalczyk with eschewed devotion to this area vamoosed it back to the Big Apple. Her Facebook page now says that she lives in New York, New York, and this seems to be supported by the change of her Facebook cover photo on April 27. Maybe she'll find a pot of gold back there under the end of the rainbow at JP Morgan Chase helping them, finding hidden sources of cash in their communities.
Without question, the Excavator consistently leans toward freedom first in all things: free speech, free markets, free thinking, free choice and above all, WE lean toward liberty (make that Liberty with a capital "L"). And if an adult wants to waste himself or herself on whatever, if the"whatever" doesn't intrude into others' lives okay fine. At the end of the day, a higher power will sort it out. WE don't need the Nanny State on patrol in the grocery store any more than in our bedrooms or dens (or even dens of iniquity), much less peering down on our homes and yards from airplanes and sending out snoop-squads to rat out landscape ordinance violators. [And that is what goes on here, with eco-nazis yanking Whatcom County's chain.]
WE were a little surprised to see this somewhat cautionary (if not critical) piece on the Babbage Science & Technology blog at The Economist which, with its European bent, is far from a "conservative" rag. WE laugh as much at Reefer Madness as everybody else, but found this pretty sobering.
April 16, 2014 - The Economist
LATER this month, Washington will hold an unusual lottery: it will select 334 lucky winners of licences to sell recreational marijuana in the Pacific-Northwestern state. If all goes to plan, some of those pot shops will be serving stoners (who in Washington can already possess small recreational quantities of the drug) by early summer. Colorado permitted existing medical-marijuana outlets to start selling recreational pot on January 1st, although brand new recreational retailers will not open until October; so far the state has issued some 194 licences. And even though marijuana is still technically illegal nationwide under the Federal 1970 Controlled Substances Act, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently said he is monitoring Washington’s and Colorado’s experiences, and “would be glad to work with Congress” to re-categorise marijuana as less dangerous on the Controlled Substances List.
Hans Breiter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Chicago’s Northwestern University, worries that the rush to promote recreational use is reckless, and that not enough thought is being given to the balance between costs and benefits. In a study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, Dr Breiter and a group of researchers from Northwestern, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that the size, shape and structure of parts of the brain are changed in teens and young adults who smoke weed as little as once a week. Earlier studies have focused only on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main psychoactive component of pot) affects the brains of animals or intensive, dependent human users—and found evidence of impaired learning, memory, attention and decision-making. But those studies did not consider the effects of casual use.
Those effects appear to be significant. Dr Breiter and his team used high-resolution MRI scans to examine the brains of 20 young people aged 18 to 25 years old who smoked pot recreationally—but who were not, according to psychiatric testing, addicted to it. Twenty pot-free controls in the same age range were also studied, and all participants were closely matched in terms of age, sex (nine males and 11 females in each group), race and years of education. Each pot user was asked to estimate how much, and how often, they used the drug over a three-month period. And everyone was rated for cigarette and alcohol use—pot smokers drunk more—and the study controlled for these.
Although THC takes its toll on several parts of the brain, animal studies of prolonged exposure to the compound have shown that two regions—the amygdala and nucleus accumbens—are especially likely to be affected. The amygdala helps regulate and process emotions (such as craving) and emotional memories. The nucleus accumbens helps assess what is bad or good (such as a drug-induced “high”) in a person’s environment, and makes decisions based on that. Physiological changes to these regions could therefore mean that an individual’s ability to make pleasure-related decisions—such as deciding to stop smoking pot—may be impaired.
The researchers’ MRI scans showed a number of such physiological changes. It found structural abnormalities in the density of grey-matter (which constitutes most of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies), in both the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, along with changes in their volume and shape. In addition, their analysis of marijuana users showed reduced grey-matter density in other regions of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. Numerous previous studies have shown that dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex is associated with decision-making abnormalities in addiction. And other functional-MRI and magnetic-resonance-spectroscopy studies have confirmed that marijuana use may affect how this region functions.
All this matters because both scientists and policymakers continue to distinguish between “heavy, addictive use” and “recreational use” among the 19m Americans who, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Mental Health, report recent marijuana consumption. A similar distinction is made by other countries too. The new research suggests that this is at least a shaky line to draw, as even modest recreational pot-smoking seems to set the brain on a path to addiction—and perhaps to other types of cognitive impairment found in earlier studies. The same, of course, goes for alcohol and tobacco, but the risks there are widely advertised. Time, perhaps, for a similar marijuana-related educational campaign before more states go to pot.
by P.H. (at the Economist), Washington D.C.
Reports on the intersections between science, technology, culture and policy, in a blog named after Charles Babbage, a Victorian mathematician and engineer
Note: WE didn't ever quite take a position pro or con on the marijuana initiative, though we thought folks should question the big-government tax issues and the coming legal and bureaucratic bungle-battles that have played out pretty much as described.
In a breathtaking maneuver last Tuesday evening, the Whatcom County Council showed that the sleazy tactics used in the last election were in fact indicative of their true colors.
We saw this in the underhanded way candidates for the Ferry Advisory Board were selected. A new applicant was added without due process, and the voting process was weird, to say the least. Consider what happened, as reported at Saturday Morning Live...
This council also bent over backward to accommodate marijuana production as "agriculture," with huge grow and processing operations popping-up all over the county in places where business of this type and scale wasn't being conducted during the Growth Management Act (GMA) "bright line" year 1990. No such breaks will be given to other citizens, who had bloody well better stay inside the lines that have been drawn tightly around them in rural areas, ag zones, and LAMIRDs. And this council continues to haggle to make small livestock processing operations as restricted and miserable as possible. Seem like a double standard? Special privileges for the favored?
We have rules and protocols to ensure that the citizens have their voice, and a state constitution to ensure everyone gets fair and equal treatment under laws - that is, if elected officials actually follow the Constitution, not outrageously ignore it.
Washington State Constitution, Article 1,
Of course, audacity is a powerful tool. You've heard the expression, "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission." Forgiveness may be divine, but we mortals should let the county council know we saw what they did, and we do not approve.
Send your emails to all council, firstname.lastname@example.org or individually,
What a crazy world it is when WE humans find ourselves feeling akin to endangered species, victims all of bad science and the constant contradictions brought on by clueless and unaccountable bureaucracies. This tale seems quite similar to what we've seen and suffered for years up here in Whatcom County where, like our little buddies fish and fowl, we find ourselves more endangered by ill conceived programs than what ordinary life throws at us. WE see crazymaking practices year in and year out, cast widely like abandoned river nets, and the slaughter of starlings, geese, beaver, and all manner of critters - by whom, and for what? Rural folks and farmers are being pinned down and put off their land, as a benefit to what? Only the out of touch could believe these agencies are worthy to wield such reckless power.
Gophers, artillery, and US Fish & Wildlife
by Glen Morgan
The Official Blog, Freedom Foundation
April 17, 2014
The Freedom Foundation has written extensively about the Thurston County Mazama Pocket gopher saga. This was another Endangered Species Act (ESA) story about a little rodent that through no fault of its own has become a symbol of the abuse of people by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other government agencies and special interests. On April 9th, the USFWS officially listed the pocket gopher as an endangered species, and the residents of Thurston County, Wash., get to enjoy the restrictions and harm this listing will bring to them.
It could have been worse. The original habitat maps used inThurston County for the Western pocket gopher included about 150,000 acres covering thousands of farms, homes and businesses. The final habitat maps issued in the USFWS are much more limited, and the property restrictions issued by the Federal government appear far less onerous than the bizarre restrictions enthusiastically invented by the Thurston County Commissioners and their Central Planning department. Communities near the delta smelt, sage grouse, or spotted owl have paid a far higher price for ESA-induced regulation.
However, as an example of government incompetence, the disregard of science, squandering of tax dollars, and just plain silliness, the pocket gopher saga shows what is repeatedly occurring throughout the United States. Our tax dollars fund this abuse of the ESA, and the consequent harm to our society.
Let’s start with the little rodent at the center of this controversy. Until recently, the pocket gopher in Thurston County had only two tangible enemies. The first was the usual plethora of predators – weasels, coyotes, owls (when the burrowing rodents are above ground), and feral cats. The second was human. The pocket gopher, true to its nature, likes to feed on the roots of plants and trees – particularly newly planted fir trees in forests. The larger timber operations recognized that to improve their replanting efforts they would need to address the pesky rodent that was killing their trees. The US Forest Service (USFS) was happy to help, and for decades sponsored both trapping and poisoning efforts. It was determined that eradication was very difficult and that gophers are hardy creatures. An interesting point here is that Ken Berg, the current director of the local USFWS appears to have been employed by the USFS during the time it sponsored trapping and poisoning of gophers in Thurston County and elsewhere.
Times change. The Forest Service stopping poisoning and trapping the gopher in the early 1990s, and a movement began to instead list the gopher as a “threatened” species. The initial problem was that nobody really knew how many of the gophers were around or where they lived. Early in the survey process, it was discovered that the largest concentration of pocket gophers lived at the Army’s Fort Lewis. And the gopher didn’t live just anywhere on the base, it preferred the artillery impact range. Since World War I, this is probably the most churned, burned, and impacted piece of land in Washington State, yet the hardy pocket gopher thrived among the fires, explosions, and change. The second largest concentration of gophers was at the Olympia airport in Tumwater, Wash. – hardly an example of pristine wilderness.
Common sense would suggest, based on these findings, that the gophers were doing fine living alongside humans (not to mention artillery and a busy airport). Instead, the regulators decided to “save” pocket gophers from things like tractor tire vibrations, kids on bicycles, cats, dogs, and playground equipment. Inconvenient facts just never seem to bother the self-appointed defenders of nature as they scramble for grant dollars to fund their studies, not to mention their livelihoods. Everyone from the Thurston County Commissioners to the leadership of the local Thurston County Democrat Party were convinced that a burrowing rodent which thrived among exploding artillery shells was bound to go extinct if rural residents were permitted to install big toy play sets in their backyards or move dirt in their fields.
Responding to this nonsense, the Freedom Foundation worked with citizens to launch a local education effort called “Stop Taking Our Property (S.T.O.P.) Thurston County.” We engaged hundreds of people to show up and testify at multiple public hearings, confront elected officials, put up yard signs, and expose the truth. This effort delayed state and local efforts to use the gopher as a regulatory tool and likely prevented some of the most harmful restrictions from becoming law. However, the die was cast years earlier, and neither citizens nor science could dissuade the regulators from their power grab.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists actually raised questions about both local and federal efforts to list the gophers as threatened or endangered. The state’s scientists pointed out the lack of DNA evidence to show that different gopher groups were really “sub species” in need of their own separate listings. These questions and doubts were suppressed, along with any other information that might fail to support a federal USFWS listing under the ESA.
The USFWS regularly rejects, ignores, or tries to avoid science. A recent example from Eastern Washington was the recent attempt to list the White Bluffs Bladderpod. In that case, USFWS squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessary studies while pleading poverty to avoid conducting a DNA test. When a private agricultural group paid the $25,000 themselves, the DNA test confirmed there was nothing to distinguish this plant from others just like it spread all over the Western United States.
Most of the time, USFWS just lists the animal absent any serious science or technical review. It does this in collusion with organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in a practice called “Sue and Settle.” The scam goes like this: First, CBD identifies or invents hundreds of critters that it claims are scarce. CBD then sues USFWS because these animals, bugs, or plants are not yet listed as endangered. USFWS initiates the listing process and negotiates in a kind of legal kabuki theatre to make it look like a real lawsuit and to run up CBD’s soon to be reimbursed legal costs. Then USFWS throws up its hands and "surrenders," listing the species as endangered regardless of science, truth, or harm to people. The bureaucrats get more power, the environmentalists get their way and taxpayers pay everybody’s legal bills.
Public pressure does sometimes make a difference, even with the USFWS. In public hearings the USFWS held last year about the pocket gopher listing, there were big, pretty signs claiming the USFWS “supported agriculture.” The actual USFWS proposal, however, was that no crops could be harvested, no fields tilled, no tractors driven anywhere near suspected gopher populations except between the months of November and February. Farmers and agricultural folk openly ridiculed the USFWS for proposing to only allow farming in the winter. It was loud, funny, and anyone with even elementary education about agriculture knew the farmers were obviously correct.
The ridicule and embarrassment was enough that even USFWS modified their final restrictions to exempt normal agricultural practices. This is great for the farmers who were boisterous and engaged, but if you happen to be a residential property owner or non-farm business in the affected locations, you will be burdened by the ESA gopher listing. No more sheds, barns, or outbuildings without federal approval (and additional fees, of course). Most landowners don’t even know this has happened to them, but they will learn soon enough.
Some have already experienced a similar process thanks to theThurston County Commissioners’ gopher-based property restrictions (see Pocket Gopher Deed-2014 as a “deed” restriction called a “gopher deed”).
Of course, it isn’t about the gopher. It is about control and restricting the land use of rural residents. Most bureaucrats involved in the process know this. If any of these government agencies actually wanted the gopher to explode in population, they would pay farmers to raise the rodents and we would have gophers by the millions. Such an effort would direct both the money and the power away from government and to regular people, it would solve "the problem," and it would be successful. Of course, there is no goal to solve any of these "problems." Why? Like so many other things in life, finding the answer is as easy as following the money. And even with the ESA listing bringing federal involvement, it is unlikely Thurston County will back off since they gain both power and revenues from these regulations.
A lot of money has been passed around between government agencies and special interests over just this one kind of gopher. There are grants for the county, the state, and even some nonprofits to “study” the animal. There are tens of millions of dollars for “mitigation” and “habitat” purchases. There is money to be made for consultants, planners, and other courtiers. All this money is taken from the people and used to grind down the local citizenry in a process that is designed to punish regular people not on the grant money train.
If you don’t think this matters to you, you probably won’t have to wait long before you get to experience something similar. “You might not be interested in government, but government is interested in you,” as the saying goes. Unless you live in an urban core, there is most likely a critter, insect, or plant near you being considered for listing by the USFWS. If it isn’t the gopher, a butterfly, a bird, or a plant, it might be a slug. The USFWS is currently paying people to count slugs all over Western Washington. Inevitably some of them are in your yard. Of course, John Davis, former editor of Earth First! was famously quoted as saying “…Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs…” I’m sure the Center for Biological Diversity would agree with that statement. In fact, it appears that slugs, like pocket gophers may have far more value to these folk than people. We live in a relatively free country where they can believe this nonsense, however, we should not have to support it with tax payer dollars. Defunding and dissolving USFWS would be a good start towards stopping the insanity.
Until then, the pocket gophers will continue to thrive alongside exploding artillery, and the USFWS will continue to destroy people’s lives and communities, ignoring science and helping to pay off their special interest friends.
For those who want to see how local elected officials sell this type of scam to those who actually believe them, read their editorial in the local paper here.
If you want to listen to how a local Representative - Republican JT Wilcox thinks of this type of legislation, you can listen to my interview here.
Comrades of Bellingrad, those of you who missed "Earth Hour" from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. "local" Saturday night, March 29th - it's not too late to sit in the dark for an hour of your choosing to contemplate your sins - that is, the environmental impacts of your merely being. WE missed this! It came and went under our radar. Our bad and boo-hoo (bah humbug!). [Get out the nets.]
Night Falls on Civilization
Posted by Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog
March 29, 2014
The World's Fair to Earth Hour marks the journey of a civilization across the sky from light into darkness. In our new post-civilizational time, we no longer celebrate human accomplishment by seeing a vision of the future, instead we turn off the bright lights of civilization and sit in the dark for an hour to atone for our electrical sins.
Earth Hour stigmatizes human accomplishment as the root of all evils and treats the lack of accomplishment as an accomplishment. For all the pretense of activism, environmentalism celebrates inaction.
Don't build, don't create and don't do-- are its mandates. Turn off the lights and feel good about how much you aren't doing right now.
Humanity is what is wrong with the world. It began with fire, then the wheelbarrow, the lever and the ax, the mason, the carpenter, the scientist, the visionary. It can end with you.
Just turn out the lights.
Environmentalism has degenerated from valuing how much the skies and the oceans, the butterfly and the beaver, the still lake and the blade of grass, enrich our humanity into a conviction that all human activity is destructive because the species of man is the greatest threat to the planet. Each death, each act of undoing and unmaking, each darkness that is brought about by the cessation of humanity becomes a profoundly environmentalist activity.
Kill yourself and save the planet. Put out the lights, tear down the city and let the earth revert to some imaginary primeval paradise free of all pollution; whether it is the carbon breath of men, dogs and cows or the light pollution of their cities.
Embrace the darkness.
While we take electric light for granted, being able to read and write after dark is a technological achievement that transformed our civilization. Animals are governed by day and night cycles. Artificial light made it possible for us to work independently of the day and night cycle. And that made our literature and our sciences, our civilization, possible.
Like all environmental gimmicks, Earth Hour is self-defeating as anything other than an assertion of identity and faith. Far more energy is consumed promoting it, than is saved by practicing it.
Websites switch to black, even though displaying black on television sets or monitors consumes more energy. Turning off electricity to entire buildings after working hours and then turning it on costs more than letting it run. And getting 90 million people across the country to turn their power on and off at a scheduled time is an energy savings disaster. And since power companies draw down on their more expensive 'green' generators first, Earth Hour actually shuts down 'green' power.
But its sponsors don't claim that Earth Hour saves energy or prevents us from polluting the globe. Like every environmentalist stunt from flying rock stars around the world on jet planes to carving thousands of statues made of ice and then leaving them to melt in a public square, Earth Hour is described as spreading "awareness".
Spreading awareness is the sole purpose of most environmental activism. Awareness spreading doesn't improve anything, but spreads the ideology that humanity is evil to make people feel guilty, outraged, hopeful or some combination of the appropriate political sentiments in the face of an imminent armageddon that can only be fought by convincing everyone to be deeply concerned by it and disdainful of everyone who stands outside their Chicken Little consensus.
It is a religious ritual for a secular religion that has no god, but whose devil is the gear and the microchip, the milk cow and the imported banana, the skyscraper and the lathe.
The WWF, Earth Hour's godmother, has learned that shrill attention seeking is a reliable fundraising method. One of the WWF's more memorable fundraising methods was an ad showing hundreds of planes headed toward the World Trade Center, to highlight just how much more important their work is than fighting terrorism. Franny Armstrong of Age of Stupid, which was promoted by the WWF, ran a 10:10 campaign in the UK, whose ads featured environmentalists murdering dissenters, including a group of schoolchildren. The ads are just ads, but London's leftist former mayor, Ken Livingstone had said of Age of Stupid, "Every single person in the country should be forcibly sat down on a chair and made to watch this film."
That is the dark side of environmentalism. The most active non-Muslim domestic terrorist group is environmental. The undercurrent of violence finds easy purchase in environmentalism's creed that the only real problem with the world is people.
No amount of turning off the lights is enough. Eventually you come around to having to turn off the people.
The Nazis were among the most enthusiastic environmentalists of their day, even the term 'Ecology' was coined by Ernst Haeckel, whose racial views served as precursors to Nazi eugenics. But while Nazi environmentalist believed that we were all animals, they insisted that some animals were better than others. Modern environmentalists believe that we are all worse than animals. In their view we are both natural and unnatural. Natural because we come from the ape and unnatural because we are intelligent. We live on the planet, but our intelligence excludes us from ever belonging to it.
Tools are our crime against nature. We make things. And we make things better. Earth Hour is our reminder to drop our tools and stop. Stop thinking. Stop doing. Just stop.
The incompatibility of productive man with the natural world is a fundamental tenet of the environmental movement. Everything we do is destructive because of what we are. We are tool builders, inventors and producers. And the environmentalist movement is aimed at convincing us to stop being these things. To turn off the lights, make do with less and march back to the caves with a few clever ad campaigns and a catchy tune.
Not only mankind must go, but all the animals that man has domesticated and bred-- cows, dogs and cats. That is why PETA kills thousands of dogs and cats a year, promotes the euthanasia of wild cats and pet spaying and its staffers have even been known to kidnap animals and then kill them. It is why the Global Warming crowd has made cow emissions into their whipping bovine.
It's not enough to kill man, tear down his cities and put out his lights. His cats and dogs and his cows and sheep must die along with him.
Environmentalism is not motivated by a love for all creatures, but by the fanatical belief in the purification of the earth from all traces of human civilization. The political leftist romanticizes the noble savage over the civilized man and its environmentalist arm romanticizes the jungle over the thousand acre farm. It prefers the the swamp to the garden, the wolf to the dog, and the tiger to the house cat.
This preference is not scientific, it is emotional, rooted in an antipathy to industrialization and human development. It wraps itself in the cloak of science, but it is a reactionary longing for a romanticized nomadic past that never existed. A way back to the lost eden of noble savages free from morality and guilt.
In the environmental bible-- man is the source of all evil. The transition from the nomadic to the domestic, the village to the city, and the craftsman to the factory, is its version of original sin.
The environmentalist began with a distaste for human civilization and the fetishization of the rural farm life of the peasant. The champions of this "naturalism" were invariably urban artists and writers from the upper classes who were enthusiastic about being in touch with nature. After them came the "Nature Fakers" crafting myths about the high moral standards of wild animals. Domestic animals in such stories were always wicked and dumb, while wild animals lived deep and spiritual lives out in the woods. And so the animal kingdom was subdivided into the noble savage and the uncle tom.
The world was divided into two polar opposites, the green and the gray, in an apocalyptic struggle. Either man would drown the world in industry, or he would return to a natural way of life through a lethal virus (Mary Shelley, The Last Man, 1826), a devastating war (H.G. Wells), oppressive social policies (Edward Bellamy) or eco-terrorism (The Monkey Wrench Gang). The more civilization grew, the more apocalyptic the scenarios became culminating in the two great environmental myths; nuclear winter and global warming. These apocalyptic myths have served the same purpose for environmentalists as apocalypses do for all religions. They predict a time when the sinful order is overturned and the earth is renewed to make way for the faithful.
Man is the environmentalist's devil. He must be beaten, broken and subjugated. Even the animals he has bred, who are the spark of his genius, must be taken out and killed. Take away his food and his power. Blame him for the natural cycles of the planet and the inevitable extinction of species that goes on whether he is there or not. Take away his technology and his inventions. Tell him that the humblest bacteria is better than him for it is dumb and follows its natural instincts while he insists on using his mind. Take away his primacy and his learning. And then leave him in the dark.
The environmental movement is tenacious, fanatical and deceptive. Its creed is the undoing of all human progress.
There is money to be made from that, as there is in all revolutions, but beneath the inconveniences of living under an environmental regime, from dirty clothes to high taxes, while being forced to listen to the hypocrisies and false pieties of the Gorean clergy of environmentalist activists heating their mansions while the poor freeze in energy poverty, is the darker reality that environmentalism is an anti-human movement with a vicious hostility toward man and the civilization he has built.
Whatever he has built, it must destroy.
FOOTNOTE: Alternatives for penance are, however, available. For the pittance of a couple of hundred thousand dollars a share, environmental sinners can belly up to a local mitigation bank and buy an indulgence. Or, perhaps trade-off "development rights" for eternity - imposing conditions on the use of the land - through a TDR (transfer of development rights). Better still, pick up some quick cash through a PDR (purchase of development rights) program, or from the publicly subsidized land trust at the expense of your neighbors. Ka-ching! The priests and priestesses of planning have their money-changing tables out, ready to do business at the temple, bless the local politicians...
The Excavators' focus is devoted to local issues, and sometimes it takes a mighty strong grip on the steering to keep stories close to home. WE're diverging only an itsy-bit by sharing this brief but brilliantly written history lesson. Think about about how incestuously nanny local and state programs have become. The truth of this article is self-evident. If you've followed local politics an iota (left or right) you may recognize how history repeats (or politics work), with the new control-happy majority at county council in post-election payback mode, joined at the hip to the ideological moonbats who have run Bellingham threadbare.
This article is about far more than the Affordable Care Act. It's about the wages of growing the public addiction to "subsidized" programs* that weaken the foundation of society itself, and calling it progress.
*On March 25, Whatcom County Council approved expanded definitions for the use of "economic development investment" (EDI sales tax) funds for the construction of private single and multi-family homes under the figleaf of "affordable housing." Freddie and Fannie What, here we come.
Dependence Day: The corrupting effects of Obamacare
Jay Cost - February 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23
On February 4 the Congressional Budget Office dropped a bombshell. Analysts there found that Obamacare’s structure will create an enormous implicit tax on work, such that people on the lower end of the economic scale will have an incentive to quit their jobs or scale back to part time to maximize their premium subsidies. In an earlier study, CBO had estimated that this disincentive to work would destroy the equivalent of less than a million full-time jobs. Now, it projects that an equivalent of more than 2 million jobs will be lost as people voluntarily leave the workforce.
Many liberals celebrated this development. They trumpeted the new possibilities: Parents will have more time to spend with their children, young people more time to go back to school, and so on. As liberal pundit Matthew Yglesias wrote, “If Obamacare really does cause millions of people to voluntarily leave full-time employment, that shows us how much avoidable suffering the earlier system was causing.”
But conservative critics have the better argument. Perhaps the best rejoinder came from Keith Hennessey, former director of the National Economic Council and now a lecturer at Stanford University. At his blog, he finds that the law can trap people just as easily as it can liberate them. A family of four making $35,000 a year would face a steep implicit tax by adding income from a part-time job; in that scenario, the family isn’t working less for the sake of the kids, but “because the government raised [their] marginal effective tax rate and made work less financially rewarding.” This is an excellent point, and speaks to the potential damage that this implicit tax will wreak.
The economic arguments against this disincentive to work, while significant, are not the entirety of the case to be made against it. Indeed, they may not even be the strongest. There are important civic ideals at stake that, while often overlooked, get to the very heart of the nation’s experiment in republican self-government.
What does it mean to be a citizen of a republic? For centuries, philosophers have generally concluded that citizenship has two essential qualities—freedom and equality. In other words, nobody in a republic is your master or lord, and nobody enjoys a higher civic status than you. The state, insofar as it compels you, does so on behalf of everybody. Governmental coercion is legitimate only if it is on behalf of the public good.
In practice, this ideal has been exceedingly difficult to realize. History has shown time and again that republics are often, if not inevitably, corrupted by factional forces who capture the government and twist it toward their own, selfish ends.
The Constitution, with its labyrinthine system of checks and balances, is an effort to mitigate this danger. Importantly, the anti-Federalist insistence on a Bill of Rights was seen as an extra safeguard against corrupting influences. By their reckoning, even if government fell into the “wrong hands,” it would be limited in what it could do to you, and by extension to the republic itself.
Nowadays, we are wont to correlate liberty with dynamism. A free society is one where risk takers can innovate, create new solutions to problems, and make everybody better off. There is no doubt that all of this is true. Even so, it would be anachronistic to see the Founding generation as making the same arguments. Liberty was essential primarily because of its civic benefits, above all as a bulwark for true republicanism against the despotic pretensions of the likes of King George III.
We cannot reconcile these republican notions with Obamacare’s disincentives to work. If we take the Framers’ hard-earned lessons seriously, the sort of clientelistic relationship that exists under Obamacare is incompatible with authentic citizenship. The problem arises from two different directions.
First, a government captured by factions will simply have more power than it previously did. Once people come to depend on those benefits, they will have little choice but to abide by whatever strings the government chooses to attach.
Second, the government will now have less to fear from its opponents. Dependency degrades the capacity of the citizenry to operate as a check on the antirepublican tendencies of the government. As Madison and Jefferson argued toward the end of the 1790s, this was the last, best hope for true republicanism. In their telling, a junto of financial elites from the Northeast had seized control of the government, perverting public policy towards their own, selfish ends. The only recourse was the ballot box, where they hoped to mobilize the people at large to stand up for the public interest. If the government has turned citizens into clients, how will the citizens then stand up to the government should it misbehave?
All of this might sound far-fetched, but these very dangers arose in the 1880s and 1890s, as the government began dispensing pensions to Civil War veterans. The Republican party essentially captured the votes of the pensioners and forced them into an alliance with the manufacturing and financial sectors of the economy, against the agricultural interests with which many pensioners might otherwise have been affiliated. It was, in a word, a massive logroll. The pensioners voted for ever more generous benefits, but they also voted for protective tariffs and the gold standard. These economic policies socked it to the poor farmers in the South and West, and the gold standard probably would never have survived had it not been coupled to the pensions and the tariff. The sum total was an electorally unbeatable coalition that was nevertheless of questionable public utility; yes, the economy developed during this period, but its development was highly uneven, with poor farmers left on the outside looking in. The South in particular would not see any real benefits from economic modernization until after World War II.
There is a similar dynamic today, though it is less pernicious. The entitlement state is unsustainable in the long run. Eventually, it will wreck the public finances of the nation, yet it remains unreformed because a vast array of groups are dependent on the status quo. It is difficult to expect citizens to rebuke the government when supported by it. This makes it harder, not easier, to realize the public good.
This is not to say that we should hold these republican values above all others. In practice, we have rightly made trade-offs; senior citizens who can no longer care for themselves, or vets too sick to work, are tended to. There is a broad consensus that people who cannot depend on themselves for food, shelter, and medical care should depend on the government, concerns about republican citizenship notwithstanding.
But note: This is not what Obamacare does. Its disincentives to work are not geared toward the sick, the elderly, the disabled, but toward working-age, able-bodied adults. These are people who can work, but who will choose to substitute governmental dependence for self-reliance. This runs contrary to the broad consensus about the appropriate boundaries of the welfare state.
Who is to say that some coalition will not gain control of the government to leverage the Obamacare clients for their own political gain, just as the Gilded Age Republicans did with the Civil War vets? And, should that happen, how can these people be expected to do their duty as citizens to stand up for the public good? It is worth noting that the Republican regime of pension benefits, protective tariffs, and the gold standard did not fall apart until after most of the vets had passed away.
On any given policy question, it is easy nowadays to overlook the civic implications. We take our civil society for granted; we can hardly imagine our government turning against its own people, so we just assume that this republic we inherited will be here for generations to come.
But the Founders understood better, and history shows us differently. Republican government is easier to philosophize about than to maintain. It requires, above all, an active, engaged, and independent citizenry that can be called upon to vindicate the public good when it is threatened by factional designs. While we admit of important exceptions to this principle, Obamacare nevertheless violates it by encouraging dependency among citizens. This is a dangerous development for a republic such as ours.
Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.
In the dark of night, while most folks were sleeping - oblivious - a piece of legislation that only had its "first reading" in Olympia twelve days ago passed by a vote of 93-5. This little slip of a bill, a mere three pages, will kick the principles of justice and liberty as we know them closer to the proverbial cliff.
That sounds mighty dramatic, maybe over the top. What's this bill about?
Waal... HB 2454 is a bill that paves the way for "water quality trading" in Washington State. Painted as accommodating and innovative, and dressed-up as so many bills are nowadays in predictable, wolf in sheep's clothing buzzwords like "voluntary" and "market-based," the legislature is setting up tables in the temple of environmental justice for the sale of Get Out Of Jail Free cards. Instead of nabbing those who pollute, and correcting real problems appropriately, this bill says:
Trading programs allow facilities facing higher pollution control costs to meet their regulatory obligations by purchasing environmentally equivalent or superior pollution reductions from another source at a lower cost.
How convenient. Instead of confronting and solving water quality problems (and let's call a spade a spade here, bad water quality means POLLUTION, are WE right?) the Conservation Commission and Washington Ecology will be tasked with exploring ways to trade these sins away. HUH? Figure it out. Dense places that pollute the most can buy their way out of trouble by locking down large expanses of clean land, agriculture, or better still pay for trendy recreation and renovation projects whether they're useful or not. That would suit a lot of city obsessives, particularly the growth management lobby. The "restoration" industry will go for it, along with the land trusts, water trusts, and mitigation banks like this new one - all so anxious make sales. Lock-down land, grow bureaucracy, pick-up big contracts, and accommodate deep pocket polluters through perpetual extortion - what a deal!! Is that not what the EPA and 17 states have been selling? It looks good in booklets, but it is what it is - typically out of proportion and not solving much.
Whether we need it or not, "environmental protection" is one whale of a lucrative business around here. The potential for corruption and exaggerated "environmental needs assessment" is real; that's obvious. WE ask - how much does this kind of thing achieve in making Whatcom County or Washington State a better place? A cleaner place? More productive, healthier? And, how can greed be kept out of these institutionalized staff-driven goldmines? WA Commerce has been promoting regional TDR's (transfers of development rights) between counties to help grow cities that don't keep their own acts clean.
As things are already, good and decent stewards of healthy rural land find themselves thanklessly hobbled like lambs tied to stakes - cautioned not to turn a shovel of dirt, or farm without a plan. It's the devil being spied on and watched over, having to obtain say-so first from the lairds and keepers. Is there no end to the scope and scale of this state's "environmental" lock-downs and the institutional coveting of ever-more private property? Water quality - uh - pollution trades... What a load of hypocrisy.
WE have reported on quite a few stories just like this in the last couple of years, like the abysmally vague and scientifically vacant "natural resources marketplace," the greedy interests that underpinned and promoted the DNR reconveyance, and how local watershed planning has been hijacked by a greedy local monopoly and the Puget Sound Partnership. There's little question that the growing web spun by bureaucrats and bankers (and the barking left) have no intention of giving up. The road back has got to be guided by common sense.
Mann v. Steyn. Have you heard of it? It's a defamation lawsuit that some are calling the Trial of the Century. Given the classic wisdom, "The best defense against libel is the truth," who will prevail? This is a fascinating story on numerous levels.
According to Wikipedia, "In 1998 Michael E. Mann, Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K. Hughes developed new statistical techniques to produce Mann, Bradley & Hughes 1998 (MBH98), the first eigenvector-based climate field reconstruction (CFR). This showed global patterns of annual surface temperature, and included a graph of average hemispheric temperatures back to 1400. In Mann, Bradley & Hughes 1999 (MBH99) the methodology was extended back to 1000. The term hockey stick was coined by the climatologist Jerry Mahlman, to describe the pattern this showed, envisaging a graph that is relatively flat to 1900 as forming an Ice hockey stick's "shaft", followed by a sharp increase corresponding to the "blade". A version of this graph was featured prominently in the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR), along with four other reconstructions supporting the same conclusion.The graph was publicised, and became a focus of dispute for those opposed to the strengthening scientific consensus that late 20th century warmth was exceptional."
(WE should emphasize that to the best of our knowledge, Michael Mann is no relation to Whatcom County Councilman Ken Mann.)
This controversy has risen to the surface once again, because Michael Mann is suing Mark Steyn, opinion contributor for National Review along with the Competitive Enterprise Institute for questioning the veracity of Mann's claims. This is significant because throughout history, at least since the Age of Enlightenment, science has always been a process of discovery in which formulators and promoters of hypotheses have the burden of proof, and skeptics and critics are necessary to question any aspect of it. The proof involves the development of reproducible experiments which can be run by other scientists to either confirm or discredit the hypothesis. When the science has evidence of corruption, falsification of data, or any agenda apart from discovering nature's own truth, then it is the responsibility of all of us to question the purity and quality of the work.
Much has been made of the fact that the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming has been peer reviewed, and the consensus is that the hypothesis is valid and therefore, real. However, science doesn't work that way. The hypothesis must agree with nature, and not necessarily with other scientists. This can only be done through reliably repeatable experiments. (Note: computer models are not experiments!) Peer review can merely verify that the experiments were of a valid design, and conducted according to accepted procedures, and accounting for errors where they're detected. This can be a decades-long process. As technology improves, errors can be discovered that could completely invalidate a hypothesis, or render it incomplete. This happened in the late 1800s when Newton's laws of motion began showing discrepancies, and Einstein finally explained ca. 1905 what some of the problems were, with his special and general theories of relativity. Einstein's theories are still being refined and extended. In each case, ongoing skepticism, experiment and peer review gets us closer to nature's truth.
This process of critical review has been corrupted by politics in the climate sciences. There's too much money and power at stake, and honest scientists find it very difficult do honest research, at the risk of losing their government grants or their jobs researching politically correct theories at universities, should they start publishing unpopular results. And since climate scientists have shown evidence that they won't do their jobs honestly (cf., Climategate), a few (very few) editorial writers who are still watchdogs and not lapdogs, have written critical reviews on the subject. Some scientists don't like this. They feel it is libelous. They fear for their jobs, or their reputations. And they want to sue these critics for having the temerity to question the integrity of the process and the profession.
Robert Tracinski at Real Clear Politics opines,
The global warming hysteria is disastrous enough in its intended goal, which is to ban the use of our cheapest and most abundant fuels and force us to limp along on "alternative energy" sources that are insufficient to support an industrial civilization. But along the way, the global warming campaign is already wrecking our science and politics by seeking to establish a dogma that cannot legally be questioned.
Steyn and the others are being sued for criticizing Mann's scientific arguments. In the case of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, for example, they're being sued for Rand Simberg's complaint that Mann "has molested and tortured data." (See a summary of the case here.) Frankly, I'm not sure how I escaped this lawsuit myself. I shall have to review what I have written and see if my language was not sufficiently inflammatory. Perhaps I don't have pockets deep enough to be worth looting. Or perhaps I'm not a big enough target to be worth intimidating and bankrupting. Note the glee with which the left slavers at the prospect of taking out a prominent voice on the right, with one leftist gloating that "it's doubtful that National Review could survive" losing the case.
But wait! There's more!
Here is the point at which we need a little primer on libel laws, which hinge on the differentiation between facts and opinion. It is libel to maliciously fabricate facts about someone. (It is not libel to erroneously report a false fact, so long as you did so with good faith reason to believe that it was true, though you are required to issue a correction.) But you are free to give whatever evaluation of the facts you like, including a negative evaluation of another person's ideas, thinking method, and character. It is legal for me, for example, to say that Michael Mann is a liar, if I don't believe that his erroneous scientific conclusions are the product of honest error. It is also legal for me to say that he is a coward and a liar, for hiding behind libel laws in an attempt to suppress criticism.
We have a water controversy going on here in Whatcom County. It should be resolved through the local watershed Planning Unit, which allows concerned parties to thrash it out fairly and in the light of day. However, sensing power (or the possible loss of it), rogue government players have been scrambling for position outside of legally prescribed mechanisms to monopolize water resources.
WE're sure these planners would love to implement all those grand schemes they learned about in poli-sci planning school -- but for one important detail: a free society doesn't work that way. In America, government is empowered by the citizens, and not the reverse!
For example, listen to this. That's right, it's Jack Louws asserting at a State Auditor's Office (SAO) audit exit interview on Jan 30 that Whatcom County Council granted him "legislative authority" through an inter-local agreement, to "make decisions" and act without taking policy direction or being accountable to council. Wha... wha... what?! WE were always taught that such "powers" were not transferable between the branches of government. If they were, what would checks & balances and the separation of powers even mean? It trashes our bicameral home rule Charter.
WE have said this before: we have a runaway executive department. Is the council even aware of it? Are they okay with that? Do these people know what the powers of the government branches actually are?
The executive grudgingly acknowledged that his "legislative" actions must be open, but wants self-selected administrative "staff teams" to meet to plan on their own, as secretly as they'd like, beyond the constraints of the Open Public Meetings Act so only a few can manage water issues beyond public scrutiny. It’s chilling to see how far the five party* "Joint Administrative Board" junta (which claims to be operating under RCW 90.82) has strayed, contemptuously, away from the heart and purpose of the state Watershed Planning Act, which says,
Anybody listening to what executive Louws and his staff teams say can’t believe they hold any of these principles in any regard whatsoever. They appear to be operating under the principle that it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. That's certainly true if the citizens let them get away with it. Are we going to let them get away with it?!
*The five big dogs on the "joint administrative board" who claim to manage the whole watershed are Merle Jefferson (Lummi tribe), Bob Kelly (Nooksack tribe), Steve Jilk (PUD #1), Kelli Linville (City of Bellingham), and Jack Louws (county executive). Everybody else including council, outta the way.
Update: WE have added another audio clip from the same meeting with the reference to "legislative authority". Executive Louws very deliberately used this phrase twice, so WE believe it was no slip of the tongue. It was more likely very carefully chosen; scripted even. If his words were ill-chosen, then that needs to be corrected ostentatiously. Because the overreach implied by those words is quite a corruption of well established government principles.
The Excavator has repeatedly raised alarm in the last three years about the Puget Sound Partnership's expanding and pushy presence here in Whatcom County, which is on the "Salish Sea" but far north of Puget Sound's central basin. Just last Thursday night, it (or they, whomever they really are) went so far as to submit a last-minute recommendation for 20-year population growth here in our county - both city and rural - having provided absolutely zero science that we know of that would justify or support that recommendation.
It was sheer coincidence that Freedom Foundation has just released a new report that exposes the Puget Sound Partnership's notorious history of nepotism, incompetence, and patronage. This synopsis will ring a bell if you've witnessed PSP's slick "facilitation" tactics here (like the WIT, glad-handing funds to county departments, and liberal palm-greasing to preferred vendors and grant recipients). How can we rid ourselves of their cronyism and bureaucratic fleas? (Ideas and comments welcome, below.)
Why we must abolish the
Puget Sound Partnership Scam
Liberty Blog, Freedom Foundation
January 10, 2014
Unfortunately, it’s not very difficult to find evidence of incompetence and waste in most government agencies. But that alone isn’t why we are calling for abolishing this agency.
By Washington state standards, this is a small operation, consuming less than $20 million in state taxpayer funds this biennium. There are bigger financial problems in Washington state government.
We are calling for abolishing the Puget Sound Partnership because if ever an agency deserves to be dissolved, this is it. If our elected officials are unable to redirect our limited tax dollars away from such an obvious waste of resources, then we should question whether it is possible to do it under any circumstance.
We are calling for abolishing this agency because a message needs to be sent to all government agencies in our state that there are consequences for corruption and total incompetence at some point.
In addition to the attached report, it is worth reviewing some of the colorful history behind this agency. This is largely a tale of nepotism, incompetence and patronage, and is hardly unique in government history. What might be unique is how all this drama has produced a state agency that has accomplished so little for so much money squandered.
It is helpful to know this history when reading our report and considering our suggestions.
Founded in 2007 by then-Gov. Christine Gregoire, the Puget Sound Partnership was created to be a “community effort of citizens, governments, tribes, scientists and businesses working together to restore and protect Puget Sound.”
It was an opportune time for the Washington State Legislature to create a new agency dedicated to “restoring” the Puget Sound. State revenues were up and the prospect of a financial crisis did not appear likely.
The old agency dedicated to cleaning up the Sound, the “Puget Sound Action Team,” was looking increasingly more powerless to do anything productive and was set to be abolished by the state Legislature. Most auspiciously, Congressman Norm Dicks (D-6th) was serving as a ranking member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and was in-line to become its head in a Democrat-controlled Congress, putting the representative from Bremerton into one of the most powerful positions in the nation to funnel federal dollars.
While sitting on the committee in January 2007, Dicks secured a $50 million earmark for Puget Sound cleanup efforts. At the same time, David Dicks -- Rep. Dicks’ son -- applied to become executive director of the newly created Puget Sound Partnership, a position that paid $125,000 a year.
David Dicks, a 36-year-old attorney at a Seattle law firm with no administrative experience, seemed an unlikely choice to head up the new agency whose mission was to lead a “science-based, results-driven, publically embraced partnership.” Yet the junior Dicks was eager to pursue a career in the public eye like his father. During public hearings, he touted his ability to secure federal funds and was repeatedly praised for doing so.
Despite concerns about his actual administrative ability, the Partnership’s Leadership Council, headed by President Richard Nixon’s one-time EPA-chief -- and vocal Norm Dicks’ supporter -- Bill Ruckelshaus, sent David’s resume to the governor for approval.
In August 2007, Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed David Dicks executive director of the Partnership. After his son’s appointment, Norm Dicks authored a bill that doubled the amount of federal spending on Puget Sound restoration projects.
The elder Dicks also bragged about his role in funneling more money towards his son’s agency, “[before I was head of the committee] Puget Sound was receiving $500,000 from the EPA,” he said. “Since then, we've put in $93 million for Puget Sound cleanup in the federal legislation."
In addition to increasing the sheer amount of money his son’s agency receives, Norm Dicks also sought to increase the political clout of the Partnership. Bills passed by Dicks’ committee would also have clarified that “the Partnership is the sort of entity in Washington state charged with cleaning up Puget Sound,” according to his son David.
The father’s funneling of federal dollars to his son’s agency and the political appointment was obvious enough to generate interest by traditional media. National newspaper outlets like the Washington Post, and several Washington politicians sounded off on what clearly seemed to be a case of high-profile nepotism in government.
Ruckelshaus, still head of the steering Leadership Council, defended both his decision to hire David Dicks and his congressman father’s steering of federal dollars to the Partnership in a series of radio interviews and a letter to the editor. Ruckelshaus cited Dicks’ “long-time commitment to Puget Sound cleanup efforts and David’s qualifications as director.
Yet Ruckelshaus was certainly not in any position to defend them: Bill Ruckelshaus and his daughter Mary also worked together. When picking the top 15 finalists for the Partnership’s nine-slot Science Council, the Washington State Academy of Sciences rejected Mary Ruckelshaus’ application, yet three months later, David Dicks signed her up to be the Partnership’s chief scientist.
Apparently, Mary Ruckelshaus was not qualified for the less-important Science Council position but was “well-suited” to be senior chief-scientist.
The Partnership’s director of government affairs, John Dohrmann, said of Mary Ruckelshaus and nepotism at PSP: “…it has always been humorous when she's been in a position to testify or make a presentation in front of a board that her father is chairing.”
Clearly, the two most politically powerful families involved, Dicks and Ruckelshaus, had managed to ensconce themselves with good positions at the agency, despite their lack of qualifications and familial conflict of interest. Nepotism was only the first of many missteps at the agency, one that led directly to many more mistakes.
Fears about David Dicks’ incompetence as executive director of the Partnership quickly proved to be well-founded. Under his watch, the Partnership violated multiple state laws and ethical guidelines.
According to a two-year long probe of the agency, the state Auditor’s Office found that the Partnership repeatedly circumvented state contracting laws, exceeded its purchasing authority and made unallowable purchases with public funds.
The audit report alleged that the Partnership: “…filed a contract with the Office of Financial Management (OFM) for $19,999, one dollar below the $20,000 threshold for advertising or conducting a competitive procurement. We found no cost detail to show how the Partnership determined this amount.”
Then-state Auditor Brian Sonntag said of the contract amount in a Washington Post interview, “This contract was originally $19,999. Now come on — that shows intent.”
Sonntag continued, “That tells me they were looking for a way to direct that contract without opening it to competition.”
Even more revealing, the Partnership gave the contract to the law firm K&L Gates, one of Norm Dicks’ largest congressional campaign contributors. The contract eventually superseded the original contract, paying $51,498 in total, more than twice the original agreed amount.
No surprise, the contract was with Gerry Johnson, a personal friend and former co-worker of David Dicks. Even the contract itself -- for setting up a nonprofit foundation into which he could channel taxpayer funds (which would have been immune from public audits) -- was a violation of state law that requires all agencies to use the state Attorney General’s Office for all legal business.
While the Partnership’s illegal contract with K&L Gates was the most expensive violation of state law, it was far from the most inept.
Under Dicks’ directorship, the Partnership spent at least $120,000 on IT goods, exceeded their original budget for IT investments for the 2007-2009 biennium, and used to it purchase Apple Macintosh computers -- which were not compatible with statewide information systems and applications for financial reporting, payroll, or travel according to the Auditor’s report.
Wasteful spending was commonplace at the Partnership, including gems like:
· $6,853 for 120 monogrammed fleece vests;
· $5,044 for 30 monogrammed jackets;
· $3,650 for 5,000 tubes of lip balm;
· $687 for 20 personalized mahogany gift boxes containing sparkling apple cider for state officials; and,
· $2,474 in catering for a private reception – which state agencies are prohibited from providing according to state law.
The OFM was also able to stop yet another attempt by the Partnership to break state law -- canceling an invoice for $4,900 worth of alcohol for a February event they held at the Convention and Trade Center.
The report also criticized the $10,000 purchase of a “membership” to the Cascade Land Conservancy – which, according to the auditor “the Partnership could not show the public received value commensurate with the amount of funding provided for the membership.”
Why would the agency spend the money in the first place? David’s brother, Ryan Dicks, was actually vice president of transactions and also served in a paid consulting role at the Conservancy at the time.
A series of high-profile investigations by John Ryan of local radio station KUOW highlighted further unethical activity at the Partnership.
The KUOW report revealed that it was not just K&L Gates and the Cascade Land Conservancy that had benefited from political connections with the Dicks’ family. Steve McBee and Tom Luce, a lobbyist and a consultant, respectively, who used to work for Norm Dicks, were able to secure contracts with the Puget Sound Partnership through David Dicks.
The relationship paid off big time, as McBee’s firm got nearly $400,000 for consulting work; Tom Luce was able to secure over $1 million from PSP for consulting work from “Enviro Issues,” a firm for which he was subcontracting.
KUOW also reported that David Dicks was one of only a handful of directors with his own state-assigned vehicle. Dicks said that he did not commute to work with the car, which would be a violation of state law. And technically, he doesn’t -- the car’s official station is actually in front of his Seattle home.
KUOW also reported that Dicks handed out most of the jobs on the management staff without advertising for them, hiring them on at salaries that paid $20,000 more a year on average than similar jobs at other natural resource agencies like Deparemend of Natural Resources or Department of Ecology.
According to an anonymous whistleblower at the agency, David Dicks also used his position to have his long-time friend, Jon Bridgman, taken on as graphic designer at the Partnership. Dicks would later have him design a poster for King County commissioner candidate Dow Constantine, without disclosing the in-kind donation to the Public Disclosure Commission.
Constantine himself had been appointed to the PSP’s ecosystem coordination board by Dicks only five months prior.
An investigation was ordered, but after state investigators prematurely tipped off the parties concerned, the probe was closed.
Dicks proceeded to have the tipster fired, an action in violation of state whistleblower-protection laws.Dicks then claimed not to have known that the worker he fired was the whistleblower, yet record requests of employee performance reviews turned up no previous complaints about her job performance, and her supervisor wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for her after she was fired.
Dicks had to shell out $40,000 in order to get her to sign an agreement agreeing not to sue the agency for firing her, according to an agreement obtained by journalists at radio station KUOW.
Record requests performed by the Freedom Foundation determined there was yet another anonymous whistleblower, likely from inside the agency. This whistleblower told state investigators that PSP had “back-dated” the hiring documents of a new employee, Christopher Townsend, effectively paying him three months before his actual starting date.
Not coincidentally, Townsend was another personal friend hired by David Dicks after he was appointed by the governor. Despite this incredible snafu, Townsend was able to remain at the Partnership and collect a nearly six-figure salary for another two years.
It is not clear at this time that state investigators have done anything about this complaint. Time and time again, the Puget Sound Partnership has been unwilling to follow the basic rules that govern how state agencies should spend taxpayer funds.
Even the Environmental Protection Agency (not known for great financial controls itself) found “a near total lack of certification” for PSP contracts and forced PSP to return $125,000 in federal grant funding already given to PSP.
The Puget Sound Partnership did not appeal or dispute the findings and returned the funding in 2011 (although the Washington State Legislature increased funding to PSP the next year anyway).
In the face of David Dicks’ incompetence as executive director of the Partnership, Gregoire’s demeanor towards him had changed considerably. Gregoire grilled Dicks on the lack of accountability at an otherwise friendly annual Public Accountability Forum for the directors of all the natural resource departments in October 2010.
Gregoire interrupted Dicks in mid-speech to note, “These slides are too general for me. I knew the story. I want data. I want to be able to see that we are accomplishing what we set out to do. ... I need to be able to show to the legislature, candidly, that we are doing our job.
“We have to have measures, goals," Gregoire said, "and we don't have that. We have to have (them) for the Puget Sound Partnership itself."
The governor added, "The next time we come here, I've got to be able to ... hold the Puget Sound Partnership accountable. Where's the part where the Puget Sound Partnership can say ...’Here’s our job, and here’s how we're doing our job?’”
In 2011, Gregoire interrogated Dicks over one of his most touted abilities as director. “David, where is the federal legislation that would allow us to have a continuing funding rather than having to ask the question every year?” she asked.
Unfortunately for the Dicks’ political dynasty, the congressional dynamic shifted dramatically in Washington, D.C., after the 2010 mid-terms elections. The Democrats’ historic loss at the polls wiped out Norm Dicks’ chance at becoming chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which had seemed assured.
In the ensuing session of the 111th Congress, the “Puget Sound Recovery Act,”presented by Sen. Maria Cantwell and Sen. Patty Murray on Norm Dicks’ behalf, failed in committee.
Six days after the 2010 elections, David Dicks quietly resigned as executive director at the Partnership. Inside sources indicated this happened at Gregoire’s behind-the-scenes insistence. The nepotism, cronyism and waste that had plagued Dicks’ directorship were a point of embarrassment for the governor.
Seemingly, David’s only useful quality was his ability to secure additional federal funds for his agency from his father. But with the new political makeup of the 112th Congress, earmarks like this were not likely.
Unfortunately, Dicks did not totally abandon government work. He was given a three-day-a-week, $75,000-a-year job, ironically, teaching students how to manage “strategic partnerships” at a newly created post at the University of Washington.
Despite Dicks’ disappearance from power, the problem of politics at the Partnership does not seem to have disappeared. Before securing another executive director, PSP has seen three interim directors -- Gerry O’Keefe, Tony Wright, and Marc Daily. In the meantime, the chairman of the steering Leadership Committee, Bill Ruckelshaus, sent in his resignation to Gregoire.
Ruckelshaus’ replacement, Martha Kongsgaarrd, also happened to be one state’s largest campaign donors, shelling out more than $250,000 to various Democrat candidates and causes since 2000.
She has bestowed thousands of dollars to the campaigns of various powerful politicians in Washington state, including Inslee, Norm Dicks, Murray and Cantwell. Inslee is overseeing one of his largest campaign donors at the Partnership.
With Kongsgaarrd at the helm of the Leadership Committee, it seems like the Partnership has received a fresh dose of politics, moving it further in the wrong direction by pursuing political patronage at an agency that is supposed to be guided by hard science.
It is time to end the silly drama of the Puget Sound Partnership. The Legislature needs to stop funding this embarrassment. There are far more worthy recipients of tax dollars, and there can be no claim to fiscal responsibility in Olympia as long as this agency still exists.
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