American Elephants

A Whale of an Ugly Tale by The Elephant's Child

George Will recently told this appalling story about a whale, a huge humpbacked whale, and a marine biologist named Nancy Black. Black, 50, who also captains a whale-watching ship, had watchers on her boat in 2005, “when a member of her crew whistled at a humpback whale that had approached the boat, hoping to entice the whale to linger. On land, another of her employees called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ask if the whistling constituted “harassment” of a marine mammal, which is an “environmental crime.” NOAA requested a video of the episode. Black sent it after editing it slightly to highlight the whistling episode.”

NOAA found no harassment — but indicted her for editing the tape, calling this a “material false statement” to federal investigators, which is a felony under the 1863 False Claims Act, intended to punish suppliers from defrauding the government during the Civil War.

“A year after this strange charge— that she had lied about the interaction with the whale that produced no charges —more than a dozen federal agents, led by one from NOAA raided her home. They removed her scientific photos, business files and computers.”Clearly a fishing expedition.

When she and two aides were in a dinghy observing killer whales feeding on strips of blubber torn from their prey — a gray whale, she has” been charged with the crime of feeding killer whales.” To photograph the killer whales’ feeding habits, she cut a hole in one of the floating slabs of blubber, and through the hole, attached a rope to stabilize the slab while a camera on a pole recorded the whale’s eating.  She was charged with feeding whales who were already eating prey that they had killed.”

“Six years ago, NOAA agents told Black’s scientific colleagues not to talk to her and to inform them if they were contacted by her or her lawyers.” Since then she has been unable to speak to one of her closest friends. To pay for her defense she has cashed out her life’s savings which were intended to purchase a bigger boat. NOAA has delivered an administrative subpoena to her accountant, although no charge against her has anything to do with criminal intent.

In 1980, Will says, “federal statutes specified 3,000 criminal offenses. By 2007 there were 4,450, and they continue to multiply”. Our daily activities expose us to potential prosecution by a government official. Such laws enable zealots to intimidate decent people who never had any culpable intentions, and to inflict punishment without the presence of a crime.

Here’s a story about a prosecution by the IRS by a vindictive zealot who doesn’t like people who, in this case, trained for a marathon. You don’t want to come to the attention of the federal government, particularly this one.

Or you can read lots more in Harvey Silvergate’s Three Felonies a Day; How the Feds Target the Innocent.   Some people are bewildered by our demands for smaller government, and less regulation. Government has a way of expanding on its own, and regulations are seldom repealed. New ones are added instead, well-meaning ones, but most will take another nibble out of your individual liberty. Liberty doesn’t preserve itself automatically, we have to be watchdogs and fight for it.

In Oregon the Rain Belongs to the State. by The Elephant's Child

The rain is raining all around,  it rains on field and tree.
We love this natural bounty, because the rain is free.

Unless you live in the State of Oregon, where the rain is fairly plentiful. If you live in Oregon and dig a pond on your property without a license, and the pond fills with rainwater — the state owns the rainwater, and if you try to keep it, you can go to jail.

A rural Eagle Point man was sentenced to 30 days in jail for filling what state water managers have called three “illegal reservoirs” on his property. Gary Harrington was also fined $1500 for nine misdemeanor convictions for filling his “reservoirs” with rain and snow runoff that the state says is owned by the Medford Water Commission. He was given two weeks to report to the Jackson County Jail to begin serving his sentence.

Mr. Harrington said he stores the water mainly for fire protection, and has pledged to appeal his convictions. “We live in an extreme wildfire area and here the government is going to open the valves and really waste all the water right now, at the start of peak fire season.

The case revolves around a 1925 state law giving the water commission exclusive rights to all the water in Big Butte Creek, its tributaries and Big Butte Springs — the core of the city’s municipal water supply.

Mr. Harrington counters that he is not diverting water from the creek system, merely capturing rainwater and snowmelt from his 172 acres.

Oregon will allow you to collect water from artificial impervious surfaces (roofs, parking lots ) and feed it directly into rain barrels, and you can keep the fallen rain when it lands on your lawns and gardens.

If that water touches the ground, it is the property of the state of Oregon, and you cannot collect it without a permit. Since Oregon owns it, using it without permission is a form of stealing.

DOJ Bullies Have Beaten Gibson Guitars Into Submission by The Elephant's Child

When the cats away, the mice will play. Congress is out of town, minds firmly fixed on politics, campaigning and general vote-getting. Good time for the executive branch to slip through things that might otherwise annoy Congress.

So the Department of Justice, ( increasingly a reason to fire the Obama administration), announced yesterday that the Gibson Guitar Corporation had accepted a deferred prosecution agreement regarding the Department of Justice’s  allegation that Gibson imported wood for its guitar frets in violation of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is a federal law that makes it a crime to import flora or fauna in violation of a foreign nation’s laws. As a result, the Department of Justice will not charge Gibson with a crime (except for maybe a tax offense, left open) for “illegally importing ebony from Madagascar and ebony and rosewood from India” through a German intermediary “from June 2008 through September 2009.” Gibson, in return must pay a $300.000 fine, make “a community service payment of $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation” bulk up its internal procedures, and generally grovel whenever the government asks it to do anything related to this matter.

Heritage points out several features of the agreement worth mentioning:

First: The government acknowledges in the agreement that “certain questions and inconsistencies now exist regarding the tariff classification of ebony and rosewood fingerboard blanks pursuant to the Indian government’s Foreign Trade Policy.” In other words, the government acknowledges that the relevant law—not just our law, but a foreign nation’s law—is unclear. Ordinarily, that conclusion should lead the government to drop any charge that Gibson violated the law, especially the law of a foreign nation.

Second: The government’s case is no better regarding Madagascar. The agreement cites (1) “Madagascar Interministerial Order 16.030/2006,” and (2) some other equally well-known “laws”—all of which may have been written in a foreign language. The agreement alleges that Gibson received a translation (from whom is not stated) of the first whatever-it-is saying that “‘fingerboards’ are considered ‘finished’ under Madagascar law” and therefore may be exported. But, according to the government, “trip organizers”—who, for all we know, could have been Gibson’s trip companions “Greenpeace and other non-profit environmental groups”; the agreement does not say—informed Gibson that “under the organizers’ interpretation of [Madagascar’s] 2006 Interministerial Order, the harvest of ebony was illegal and that instrument part ‘blanks’ would be considered ‘unfinished’ and, therefore, considered illegal to export.” Put aside the obvious problems with government’s reliance on the opinion by the trip’s “organizers” of a foreign order written in a foreign tongue—Gibson was given conflicting views of the law. That should have ended the matter entirely. Remember: Gibson imported wood, not heroin.

Third: The press release is full of all of the chest-puffing that we are accustomed to see the federal government display: The government has enforced the law, prosecuted the wicked, protected the environment, cured the common cold, etc. But the government has made a federal case out of “fretboards” or “fingerboards.” …

Fourth: Gibson must pay the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation $50,000 for its (or its designee’s) use for the environment. Really? Fines paid to the government go into the U.S. Treasury and belong to the public; the NFWF is a private organization. In essence, the taxpayers are subsidizing the NFWF.

Why does it matter that Congress is out of town?  Why, because there are currently two bills before Congress that would have the result of repealing criminal provisions of the Lacey Act.

On the part of Gibson, they probably made a dollars-and-cents decision. An imperial administration can pretty much beat any poor sucker who gets in their crosshairs into submission. Continue reading

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