Under attack: Depth of federal arms race should surprise, shock citizenry

Photo taken from EPA promotional video.

THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW getting longer: The number of law enforcement agents, such as these from the Environmental Protection Agency, have grown in recent years.

In the aftermath of the [9-11] attacks, the FBI shifted its attention to tackling terrorism, and Congress gave permanent powers to inspectors general in more than two dozen agencies.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — In late February, four federal agents carrying side arms with a drug-sniffing dog descended on the Taos Ski Valley in what was called a “saturation patrol.”

Authorities were working on tips of possible drug selling and impaired driving in the ski resort’s parking lot and surrounding area.

But the agents weren’t from the FBI, ATF or even the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Rather, the agents represented the U.S. Forest Service.

“It’s one of the untold stories about government,” said former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who lives in Taos, is an avid skier and has been a leading critic of the operation that turned up only a few minor infractions. “People don’t grasp the size and the scope of these entities and their law enforcement arms.”

It may come as a surprise to many U.S. taxpayers, but a slew of federal agencies — some  whose responsibilities seem to have little to do with combating crime — carry active law enforcement operations.

Here’s a partial list:

That’s right, NOAA — the folks who forecast the weather, monitor the atmosphere and keep tabs on the oceans and waterways — has its own law enforcement division. It has a budget of $65 million and consists of 191 employees, including 96 special agents and 28 enforcement officers who carry weapons.

“There’s no question there’s been a proliferation of police units at the federal level,” said Tim Lynch, director of the Project On Criminal Justice for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C. “To me, it’s been a never-ending expansion, a natural progression, if you will, of these administrative agencies always asking for bigger budgets and a little bit more power.”

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A Forest Service recruitment video says the agency employs about 700 law enforcement personnel. Poague said the service’s law enforcement division was created in 1994.

But many other federal agencies established their own after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the FBI shifted its attention to tackling terrorism, and Congress gave permanent powers to inspectors general in more than two dozen agencies.

By last count, 25 agencies with law enforcement divisions fall under their respective offices of inspectors general.

With their growth has come criticism that officers are becoming overly militarized.

Read more: http://watchdog.org/136244/federal-law-enforcement/

 

Gingrich: SCOTUS Campaign Finance Decision Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Our secretive, confusing system is already shaping up to make a mess of the 2016 presidential election.

The Supreme Court today delivered a big victory for the First Amendment over campaign finance laws that protect the entrenched political class at the expense of free speech.

All significant contributions should be reported publicly on the Internet in real-time.In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Court struck down a limit on the total amount individuals could contribute to all candidates or political committees in a two-year period. In effect, this means Americans can now legally donate to as many candidates as they like.

The law the Court struck down capped total direct contributions to candidates at $48,600, meaning you could give the maximum donation of $2,600 to just 18 candidates in two years before running up against the limit.

Supporters of such convoluted campaign finance laws act as if the restrictions defend the big against the small in politics. But who benefits more from rules that cap political giving — the incumbents, who have no trouble using their positions to raise money from far and wide, or their lesser known, lesser-funded challengers?

The Supreme Court in recent years has begun striking down these restrictions, which amount to incumbent protection laws, as violations of the First Amendment. After all, if the First Amendment protects any speech, it certainly ought to protect political speech — the kind most in need of protection from the politicians.

The Court’s landmark Citizens United decision in 2010 held that the Constitution guarantees Americans’ free speech rights any time they join together as corporations or private associations, and not just when those corporations have names like The New York Times Company and MSNBC.

Today’s decision continues that progress by affirming that Congress cannot restrict the number of candidates or issues an individual may support. Unfortunately, the Court leaves in place the $2,600 cap on donations to each candidate. Its decision argues that these “base limits” are justified to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.

The reality since Citizens United, however, is that although the system is freer than it was before 2010, it “appears” more corrupt to normal Americans than at any time since Watergate. Maintaining the limits on direct contributions to candidates mean that large donors now donate millions to independent “SuperPACs” which advocate on behalf of their preferred issues or candidates. These contributions take place in secret (at least for a time), and the SuperPACs are unaccountable to the candidates they exist to support.

While this situation is better than the blatantly unconstitutional campaign finance laws that came before it, it still makes a farce of our elections and muddles the political process for normal Americans, who can’t know who is really behind the billions of dollars’ worth of ads they see on television.

This secretive, confusing system is already shaping up to make a mess of the 2016 presidential elections, as many of the likely candidates on both sides establish supposedly “independent” SuperPACs run by their former staff and loyal supporters that will spend hundreds of millions on activities the candidates themselves can claim they’re not responsible for.

A far better solution would be the one Justice Clarence Thomas advocates in his concurring opinion to today’s ruling: we should abolish the meaningless distinction between “contributions” to specific candidates and “expenditures” on their behalf (the kind of work SuperPACs do today, such as running attack ads against opponents and distributing mail encouraging supporters to vote).

In practice, this would mean allowing unlimited contributions directly to campaigns, so Americans could hold the candidates themselves responsible for how the money is spent. I’d add the provision that all significant contributions should be reported publicly on the Internet in real-time, which would make for a far more transparent and accountable campaign finance system than we have today.

Our elected officials should not be in the business of limiting our political speech, and the Court’s decision today is an important step in defense of the First Amendment. Now if only the system governing that speech could be simple and clear, as well as unrestrictive.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a host of CNN’s “Crossfire.” He is the author of Breakout: Prison Guards of the Past, Pioneers of the Future, and the Epic Battle that Will Decide America’s Fate. He writes two weekly newsletters available at GingrichProductions.com.

http://time.com/47632/newt-gingrich-campaign-finance/

 

The Landscape-Scarring, Energy-Sucking, Wildlife-Killing Reality of Pot Farming

This is your wilderness on drugs.

—By Josh Harkinson

| March/April 2014 Issue Mother Jones

Starting about 90 miles northwest of Sacramento, an unbroken swath of national forestland follows the spine of California’s rugged coastal mountains all the way to the Oregon border. Near the center of this vast wilderness, along the grassy banks of the Trinity River’s south fork, lies the remote enclave of Hyampom (pop. 241), where, on a crisp November morning, I climb into a four-wheel-drive government pickup and bounce up a dirt logging road deep into the Six Rivers National Forest. I’ve come to visit what’s known in cannabis country as a “trespass grow.”

“This one probably has the most plants I’ve seen,” says my driver, a young Forest Service cop who spends his summers lugging an AR-15 through the backcountry of the Emerald Triangle—the triad of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties that is to pot what the Central Valley is to almonds and tomatoes. Fearing retaliation from growers, the officer asks that I not use his name. Back in August he was hiking through the bush, trying to locate the grow from an aerial photo, when he surprised a guy carrying an iPod, gardening tools, and a 9 mm pistol on his hip. He arrested the man and alerted his tactical team, which found about 5,500 plants growing nearby, with a potential street yield approaching $16 million.

“This is unicorns and rainbows, isn’t it?” says wildlife ecologist Mourad Gabriel as he stuffs a garbage bag with trash the growers left behind.

Today, a work crew is hauling away the detritus by helicopter. Our little group, which includes a second federal officer and a Forest Service flack, hikes down an old skid trail lined with mossy oaks and madrones, passing the scat of a mountain lion, and a few minutes later, fresh black bear droppings. We follow what looks like a game trail to the lip of a wooded slope, a site known as Bear Camp. There, amid a scattering of garbage bags disemboweled by animals, we find the growers’ tarps and eight dingy sleeping bags, the propane grill where they had cooked oatmeal for breakfast, and the backpack sprayers they used to douse the surrounding 50 acres with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The air smells faintly of ammonia and weed. “This is unicorns and rainbows, isn’t it?” says Mourad Gabriel, a former University of California-Davis wildlife ecologist who has joined us at the site, as he maniacally stuffs a garbage bag with empty booze bottles, Vienna Beef sausage tins, and Miracle-Gro refill packs.

According to federal stats, trespass grows in California alone account for more than one-third of the cannabis seized nationwide by law enforcement, which means they could well be the largest single source of domestically grown marijuana. Of course, nobody can say precisely how much pot comes from indoor grows and private plots that are less accessible to the authorities. What’s clear is that California’s marijuana harvest is vast—”likely the largest value crop (by far) in the state’s lineup,” notes the Field Guide to California Agriculture. Assuming, as the guide does, that the authorities seize about 10 percent of the harvest, that means they would have left behind more than 10 million outdoor plants last year, enough to yield about $31 billion worth of product. That’s more than the combined value of the state’s top 10 legal farm commodities.

Read more: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/marijuana-weed-pot-farming-environmental-impacts

Plan To Split California Into Six States Gets OK To Gather Signatures

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) – Supporters of a plan to divide California into six sates can begin collecting signatures to get the proposal on the ballot.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced that the proposed ballot initiative – known as Six Californias – could move forward Tuesday.

Under the plan, from venture capitalist Tim Draper, most of the Bay Area would be considered “Silicon Valley.” Napa, Sonoma and Marin Counties would become part of “North California.”

Valid voter signatures are needed from 800,000 to put the measure on the ballot statewide.

Even if voters approve the plan, it would face an uphill battle in congress.

“If the federal government approves the proposed creation of six new states, all tax collections and spending by the existing State of California would end, with its assets and liabilities divided among the new states. Decisions by appointed commissioners and elected leaders would determine how taxes, public spending, and other public policies would change for the new states and their local governments,” reads the summary from Bowen’s office.

Read more: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/02/19/plan-to-split-california-into-six-states-gets-ok-to-gather-signatures/

Science Linking Drought to Global Warming Remains Matter of Dispute (NYT)

(A secret service agent in Los Banos, Calif., as President Obama spoke on Friday. Mr. Obama suggested climate change as an explanation for the area’s drought. Pool photo by Wally Skalij)

By JUSTIN GILLIS FEB. 16, 2014

In delivering aid to drought-stricken California last week, President Obama and his aides cited the state as an example of what could be in store for much of the rest of the country as human-caused climate change intensifies.

But in doing so, they were pushing at the boundaries of scientific knowledge about the relationship between climate change and drought. While a trend of increasing drought that may be linked to global warming has been documented in some regions, including parts of the Mediterranean and in the Southwestern United States, there is no scientific consensus yet that it is a worldwide phenomenon. Nor is there definitive evidence that it is causing California’s problems.

To be sure, 2013 was the driest year in 119 years of record keeping in California. But extreme droughts have happened in the state before, and the experts say this one bears a notable resemblance to some of those, including a crippling drought in 1976 and 1977.

Over all, drought seems to be decreasing in the central United States and certain other parts of the world, though that is entirely consistent with the longstanding prediction that wet areas of the world will get wetter in a warming climate, even as the dry ones get drier.

What may be different about this drought is that, whatever the cause, the effects appear to have been made worse by climatic warming. And in making that case last week, scientists said, the administration was on solid ground.

California has been warming along with most regions of the United States, and temperatures in recent months have been markedly higher than during the 1976-77 drought. In fact, for some of the state’s most important agricultural regions, summer lasted practically into January, with high temperatures of 10 or 15 degrees above normal on some days.

The consequence, scientists say, has been that any moisture the state does get evaporates more rapidly, intensifying the effects of the drought on agriculture in particular. “We are going through a pattern we’ve seen before, but we’re doing it in a warmer environment,” said Michael Anderson, the California state climatologist.
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NOTE: The NYT needed to clean up the record after publishing this:

Vitis Californica, California’s Wild Grape

Photo by Pete Veilleux, East Bay Wilds

A native grape, Vitus Californica can be found along streams and seeps in riparian woodlands of the Sierra Foothills, and Central California below the 5,500 ft. elevation.  (The grape is claimed to be the source of the name “Yuba.” See About.) This highly adaptable and tolerant vine can be used very successfully for privacy screens, erosion control on banks, draped over patio arbors, or to cover something unsightly. When matured, the plant will thrive without summer water.

Photo: laspilitas.com

Unsupported, the vine makes a broad groundcover.  With support, a single vine can span 30 feet.  Established plants will have very large, attractive leaves that shade the grape bunches. You will seldom see the grapes mature in the wild because they provide a food source adored by birds and other wildlife.

Photo: laspilitas.com

The grapes are small and edible, but sour. They are not suitable for wine. The robust rootstock, however,  is used worldwide for wine grapes.


Vitis Californica should not be confused with Vitis Labrusca, the native “fox grape” of the eastern United States.

Vitis Californica provides a lovely combination of color changes in the fall garden.

Recent cultivars include ‘Roger’s Red’ (named for horticulturist Roger Raiche) which turns brilliant red in fall and is a hybrid with a wine grape, Vitis vinifera Alicante Bouschet, and ‘Walker Ridge,’ which turns yellow in the autumn.

Suppliers for Vitis Californica:
Las Pilitas Nursery –   Bay Natives  — The Theodore Payne Foundation

Reading Political Tea Leaves? – Gavin Newsom withdraws support for High-Speed Rail Project

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, once a strong supporter of California’s high-speed rail project, says he has changed his mind and no longer backs it.

Newsom’s comments Friday make him the most prominent Democrat in California to publicly split with Gov. Jerry Brown on the project, one of the governor’s top priorities.

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He says he supports taking $9 billion in voter-approved bonds from the rail project and redirecting it to “other, more pressing infrastructure needs.” He also says he’s one of only a few Democrats willing to speak publicly against it.

Read more: http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2014/02/14/gavin-newsom-stop-high-speed-rail-project-redirect-money/