Redefining and redeploying the Ohio EPA

Let me begin with a disclaimer.  I do not know the inner workings of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (abbreviated here as Ohio EPA, or just OEPA).

My knowledge of the Ohio EPA is mostly based on my eyes, my ears, and my ability to read.

Likewise, the proposal that follow are a response to what my eyes, ears, and reading ability tell me.

My ears heard something back in 2002 that made my eyes look a little more probingly at my surroundings.  While campaigning for state rep door-to-door, I spoke with a member of a family that owned and operated a construction and demolition debris dump.  He said that he understood that the OEPA needed to set some ground rules, inspect the dump from time to time, perhaps conduct a quick audit of reports that get sent to the OEPA, and even impose a dumping fee.  What he didn’t understand was why the OEPA didn’t investigate illegal dumping, where construction and demolition companies would try to avoid the fee collected at his dump by shedding their waste in some wooded or vacant area in an out-of-the-way place.

So I opened my eyes a little wider to take in my surroundings as I went from place to place.  Sure enough, in some-out-of the-way places, one can sometimes spot some rubbish that ought to be in a dump.

The construction and demolition dump is trying to provide a service.  That service is to have a place where such debris can be deposited where it poses less of a health and safety risk to the public.  To be sure, inspections may very well identify organic leachate or metal and inorganic leachate to exceed established parameters, but the dump is still a better repository for the debris than some other plot of ground is.

Sure, if you’re a neighbor of a megafarm and you believe the megafarm is contaminating runoff into surface streams because of improper handling of manure, you can report it to the EPA, and they’ll investigate.  They’ll investigate any number of companies.

But how do they investigate entities that are anonymous?  The landowner of the out-of-the-way plot of ground where debris was strewn may be just as perplexed and angered over the conditions he discovers as anybody else is.  The landowner may have no connections whatsoever to any construction or demolition companies, but he’s the one that will have to clean up that lot.

And, even if the land ownership is connected to a construction or demolition company, how long will the stuff sit there and leach hazardous materials into the ground before it is discovered?

Sure, a sheriff can gather evidence and a prosecutor can press charges, but does a sheriff even know what to look for in the first place?  And how can a sheriff assess the threat that an improperly discarded hazardous material might impose?  With cash-strapped counties cutting back on payroll, including sheriff deputies, what priorities will such investigations have?  If the OEPA is to protect Ohio’s environment, shouldn’t we widen the scope of their purview?

I’ve seen companies go out of business because they could not afford to meet all the requirements of the OEPA.  It could be said that the OEPA creates more brownfields than it cleans up.  I had an employer decide to get out of the gasoline station business because it just became too expensive.  You’ve probably seen some abandoned ones from time to time.  I wonder if those tanks are still in the ground.  The OEPA doesn’t want them there, but if no one can ante up the cash to take care of it, it’s possible they’re still there.

A family I knew from elementary school used to have greenhouses where they raised hydroponic tomatoes.  Now when I drive by, I see overgrown vegetation literally dismantling the greenhouses, as it pushes out panes of glass.  I asked my mom what happened to the greenhouses, because she knows the family, too.  The Ohio EPA wanted them to retrofit their greenhouses and the cost estimates turned out to be much more than they could manage.

For companies that only do demolition, the dumping fees may be the biggest expense they have to pay for, meaning that even labor costs can be cheaper than dumping fees.  Do you see the incentive for cheating?

On a smaller scale, what about littering?  It happens anonymously, too.  There’s supposed to be a $500 fine for it.  Yet, if I’m driving along U.S. Route 6 or State Route 2 between Huron and Toledo, I pass by state owned marshlands that have trash strewn amongst the reeds.  Funny how the state buys up all these lands for conservation, and then can’t keep them from getting contaminated, isn’t it?

It seems to me that dispatching inspectors from time to time to inspect and investigate out of OEPA headquarters or district offices is not the most effective way of dealing with these issues.  Also, having policy wonks at the OEPA headquarters is duplicative.  The federal EPA already has many policy wonks.  The OEPA also has lots of people performing management functions at headquarters in Columbus, as you can tell by the contact list for divisions and offices.  Can some of those be merged?

If you want to make contact with someone about a concern, you either have to describe it so that it’s easily categorized by a switchboard operator, and you wait to have your call transferred, or you can go to the OEPA keyword index at it’s website to see if your concern is handled by a division at headquarters, a district office, or a local health department.  I wonder, if your concern overlaps the the functions of more than one division, does that mean you have your call transferred to another division after you’ve already explained your concern to one division?  A lot of those phone numbers have a 614 area code on them.  Too bad you have to call someone in a distant ivory tower.

Regarding inspection and compliance, is it mostly comprised of stuff like identifying where limits of contaminants have been exceeded, which operating procedures aren’t being followed, which paperwork wasn’t submitted correctly, and what components of emergency plans are missing?  And if the inspection reveals some defects, what then?  Do they merely say “These items were in error.  Redouble your efforts to correct them.  We’ll be back for another inspection to see if they’ve been corrected,” and then take off back to their office in Columbus or to one of the 5 district offices?

I’ve heard that if I undertake a project that disturbs more than a half-acre of ground, that I have to get an EPA permit to do it.  I’ve seen vegetable gardens that are bigger than that, where the ground was initially tilled with a plow.  I can see how the soil could be carried by surface runoff into a stream under such conditions.  Does that mean the gardener must get an EPA permit?

Different soil types, the location of aquifers, the vegetation characteristics as surface runoff reaches streams . . . these are all site specific.  There are blanket regulations.  When inspections reveal items that need to be corrected, do they just hand the list over to the company they inspected, and then you’re on your own?

I was trying to navigate through the OEPA website to see where, if I were a small business owner, I could solicit some help in customizing my prevention efforts by having someone come out to the site, evaluating the soil types on various parts of the property, showing me which way the surface runoff drains, mapping the aquifer underground, and then guiding me on what to line any underground repositories with, what vegetation to plant where, if some of the terrain should be bulldozed to redirect surface runoff, but when I click on the tab for compliance issues, it seems to be mostly for helping small businesses navigate through all the paperwork, permitting, and inspections.    It’s as if navigating the red tape is 90% of compliance, and the other 10% is whether actual pollution is present or not.  I found a compliance page that turned out to be how legal penalties are applied.  It looked like there might be a link to information about how to get someone on site to offer recommendations on how to apply best practices to my specific plot of ground, but it turned out to be a list of phone numbers, and the webpage doesn’t exactly say they render that kind of assistance.  They just have broad headings, and I’m not sure about what falls under each heading.  Oh, it’s not one list of phone numbers.  I see two lists of phone numbers.  Are these redundancies? Which one do I call?  Is it a wild goose chase?

Sure, big corporations contract with developers, designers, and maybe even civil engineers who routinely know how to assess and adapt to a specific piece of ground.  They are likely to comply.  But what about the actions of others who anonymously cheat that the OEPA doesn’t collect a permit fee from?  How safe do you, as a member of the public, feel about only inspecting the entities that act the most responsibly?

Speaking of how safe you might feel, did you know that the Clean Ohio fund (funded with bonds, which equals state debt) doesn’t prioritize brownfield cleanup projects according to the magnitude of the hazard they pose to the public?  Nope.  The brownfield cleanup priorities are set by the developers.  The prime location properties they want to redevelop are the ones that get cleaned up.  Feel safe?

With all this in mind, I’d like to see the Ohio EPA decentralized.  We don’t need them in an office in Columbus shuffling all those papers or manipulating terabytes of data.  We don’t need to have seminars and workshops about how to navigate the OEPA red tape.  We need people in the field.  We need agents who see the same stuff I see.  We need agents that investigate the irresponsible entities that cheat on environmental regulations who don’t pay inspection and permit fees to the OEPA.

I’d like to see a small contingent of OEPA agents in every county, just like county agricultural extension agents.

Whether you are a farmer, a gardener, a landscaper who adds shrubs and flower beds to your customers’ lawns, or just a 4-H club member, you can contact the county ag extension office about all that stuff.  It’s a one-stop shop.  You don’t have to call a switchboard in Columbus and describe your problem to an operator who has to decide how she will route your call so that it ends up at the right person’s desk.  You just walk in to the county ag extension office, or call on the phone, and they’ll handle it, whatever challenge your green thumb might have run into.  If they have to consult with someone in order to respond to your concern, they’ll do that themselves.  You won’t have to do all that leg work and hang on the line while they transfer your call from one person to another to another.

So, if you were to walk into an OEPA office in your county to voice a concern, rather than them say, “Oh, the local health department handles that one.  You’ll have to talk to them.”  No.  I’d like the OEPA agent pick up the phone and call a designated contact at the local health department just in case there’s a very simple answer to the citizen’s query that can be stated in just a few sentences to save the citizen from doing that legwork.  If it turns out to be a more complex matter than that, the health department contact can say so, and THEN the OEPA makes the referral to the local health department.

Whatever the concern a citizen may have, whether it’s learning the permit process so that someone can start their own company, or whether it’s a matter of solid waste, or whether it’s a matter of drinking water quality, or whether you just want to know how to dispose of old paint and turpentine cans, I’d like to see an OEPA agent tackle the matter right then and there and provide the answers needed without having to reroute a citizen’s call.

The OEPA, more than just being an inspection bureaucracy, could actually be helpful to private individuals who can’t afford to hire a civil engineer to give them guidance about what would work for their specific property.  Instead, for a fee to cover the cost, an appointment could be made for an OEPA agent to come to the actual site, let the individual describe what they intend to use the property for, and then get some pointers from the OEPA agent about how to prevent pollution at that site.  It’s possible that some of the outlined tasks could be handled by the individual, while other tasks may require the individual to contract someone else more qualified and capable to handle it.  The OEPA agent could point those things out.  Then, based on the description of how the individual intends to use the land, the OEPA agent can give the individual a head’s up on what exactly the OEPA will be including on their inspection checklist.

The OEPA agents in the field could tackle more investigative type work to catch the irresponsible entities as well as inspect the responsible ones.  They could see who they might catch on a surveillance camera.  They might spot something that raises an eyebrow about a location that might indicate contamination, and then get a water sample, soil sample, etc.

With a few agents living and working in each county, they could see problems as they arise.  Someone dumped illegally onto a private undeveloped property?  When they spot it, maybe even during their morning commute, they’ll add that investigation to the office “to do” list. They will see and be able to act upon so much more when they live in the field than when they are merely dispatched from an office several counties away.

Give the OEPA authority to issue some of those $500 littering fines.  If they spot a stretch of property that appears to be littered frequently, they could set up cameras to catch the culprits in the act and then tip off sheriffs, prosecutors, etc., or set up a mechanism in-house to tackle the littering violations.

Please, no more wonks who think there should be another form to fill out and another unfunded mandate to pass along to business.  If someone can eliminate a few forms and spare us some of the more inconsequential mandates, then that would be useful.

Less managers and cubicle-dwelling bureaucrats, more front-line responders and enforcers.

The bottom line is that I’d like to see an OEPA that is more useful and more accessible to the public than they’ve been heretofore.  By redeploying OEPA agents, there’ll be a dimension of environmental protection added that has previously been missing.

Schoolkids an afterthought to Strickland’s education agenda

There’s what a person says, and then there’s what a person does.

Gov. Ted Strickland has talked a good game about education in Ohio serving students better, but the measurements don’t substantiate the rhetoric.

Before the spring of 2008, the Strickland administration had laid out a game plan to improve the dropout rate of Ohio’s high schools.  Some high schools needed more attention because they were “dropout factories.”  In my own blog article on the topic mentioned that Strickland’s game plan was too geared toward the older students when interventions needed to take place much earlier in a student’s life.  I wrote:

The attempt to intervene with these actions is taking place at the boundaries between 8th and 9th and 10th grades.  Naturally, I pointed out that the challenges could be addressed in much earlier years in a child’s education.  There is a desire by the Governor’s administration to address these challenges in earlier years, but so far, they are working to at least get the ball rolling, and this is their starting point.

So, with the older years being the starting point, this is the 4th year of the Strickland Administration, so those 10th graders who received interventions at the get-go should be graduating in greater numbers.  Not so.  For the third year in a row, the graduation rate has fallen.

But Ohio, under the Strickland Administration should pat itself on the back, because, on the latest “report card,” more school districts moved into the “effective” or higher ratings.  I was reading a Youngstown Vindicator article about the most recent report card, when I saw this quote from State Superintendent Deborah S. Delisle:

“It is important to recognize the significant academic gains made by students, even if they have not yet met the proficiency target.  By demonstrating progress over time, educators can show these students that their efforts are paying off and identify ways to continue making progress in the classroom. More importantly, parents can be kept informed of their children’s progress throughout the year.”

Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

Umm . . . excuse me for asking, but if more school districts are becoming effective than ever before, where are those dropouts coming from?  Could they be coming from the same “dropout factories” that the Strickland Administration was going to put the most focus on?

I guess that strategy to work on the older grades and the dropout factories isn’t panning out.

Why is that?  If you read through that dropout post I’d written more than two years ago, doesn’t the Strickland plan sound good on paper?

Maybe the outlined approach is OK, but maybe helping the schoolkids isn’t the ultimate goal of proposing these plans.

When reading Right Ohio, which I frequently do, I saw this eyebrow-raising blog post with video showing State Superintendent Deborah S. Delisle (yeah, that same person patting school districts on the back, including the districts who hadn’t met the proficiency target) walking out of a hearing regarding Ohio’s “Race to the Top” application for more federal funding.  This meeting in Washington DC was so important that even Ted Strickland, himself, was in attendance.  Oh . . . well . . . she just walked out of it.  Maybe it wasn’t so important after all.  Gosh, she seems so motivated to help our schoolkids, doesn’t she?  I bet she was leaving early so that she could get to an appointment in Youngstown to tutor an at-risk sophomore.  Or not.

A clue about what’s really afoot comes to us from the Ohio Inspector General’s report on the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) that spotlighted Director Richard Murray as manipulating the system to benefit union cronies more than schoolkids or communities.  The Plain Dealer has this August 5th article on the topic.  The Columbus Dispatch has this August 14th article in which Richard Murray says that his agenda is totally permissible within the workings of the OSFC, and the Dispatch adds this article from today, the 27th, wherein the OSFC adopts a rule urged by the Inspector General’s office, but Murray says it will be business as usual because he feels that he’s never abused his power in the first place.

Whether or not you agree with Murray’s defense that he has not abused his power, is there any indication at all that Murray deems the ultimate beneficiaries of the work of the OSFC are the schoolchildren or the communities?  No.  Murray says that he will not resign his position unless Gov. Ted Strickland asks him to step aside, but Gov. Strickland is standing by Richard Murray.

Do we have any reason to assume that the workings of the OSFC are any aberration from the way that Ted Strickland runs the rest of the education agenda?  That Strickland stands by Murray, that Delisle walks out of an important meeting, that the dropout rate worsens for the 3rd year in a row, these are all indicators that the motives are personal, or about cronyism, or about patronage, or about expansion of the bureaucracy, or about increasing the size and cost of government, or about the centralization of power over the education system.  Richard Murray is not an aberration.  Richard Murray is a window through which we can see Strickland’s education regime for what it really is.

Strickland may be keeping up appearances by attending the meeting in Washington and saying what he’s expected to say regarding better outcomes for Ohio students, but these are just posturing and lip service.  The actions of those who occupy chief education positions should carry more weight in assessing Strickland’s education regime than Strickland’s words and appearances do.

If you value Ohio’s schoolchildren, you ought not vote for Strickland in this year’s elections because you cannot trust him to support the right people to handle all the various components of Ohio’s education bureaucracy.

Guest blog: NY State may be awash in red ink, but a state taxing the indigenous Seneca Nation is unconstitutional

Editor’s note: This blog article was written by James Williamson, one of my younger brothers, who is an Ohio native and, for now, an Alaska resident (his employer, a company owned by Alaskan Natives, soon plans to transfer him to another office in another state).  James married a woman from among the indigenous Otavalo people of Ecuador, so his learning curve pertaining to indigenous American peoples is fairly steep.  James has written three prior guest blog pieces for Buckeye RINO that dealt with recent schisms between states and the federal government.  In the last two guest blog pieces, Imminent Rebellion: The Tar Pit, and Imminent Rebellion: the new Fort Sumter, the federal government and several states, most notably Arizona, do not see eye to eye on the immigration issue.  His initial guest blog piece Imminent Rebellion: States vs the Federal Government spotlighted the rising tide of states reasserting their 10th Amendment rights, such as Texas, with its governor, Rick Perry, openly talking about secession.  The state of New York has not seceded, but they are acting like a nation unto themselves when they ignore treaties between the USA and indigenous tribes, such as the Seneca Nation (counted among the league of Iroquois Nations), with their latest tax grab scheme.  NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, representing a city with a voracious appetite for tax revenues collected beyond the city limits, stated he’d grab a cowboy hat and a shotgun to forcibly seize money from the Senecas on behalf of a fiscally irresponsible New York State.

Don’t Mess with the Natives!

Recently I read an article that caught me by surprise.  The mayor of our nations largest city is calling for the governor of New York to grab “a cowboy hat and a shotgun” and beat the natives into submission.  You can read the text here:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/08/19/seneca-nation-wants-bloomberg-cowboy-hat-shotgun-comment/

And the follow-up article here:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/08/21/american-indian-tribe-miffed-bloomberg-remark-sues-block-ny-cigarette-tax/

Of course the natives are not happy…

At first this may seem a trivial dispute, but what caught my attention was that the taxes were being levied upon the Iroquois Nations not by treaty, but by a state legislature.  Why is it that all dealings with American Indians in the early days of our country were by treaty and had to be signed by the president and ratified by the senate, but the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City are able to levy a tax on the Nations of the Iroquois through state legislation?

Let’s start with the U.S. Constitution, specifically Article 1 Section 2, which reads, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”  This of course was later modified by the 14th Amendment.  You will note a striking similarity between the previous sentence and the following sentence from the 14th Amendment.  “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.’

This may appear to be trivial but I assure you it is not.  Why were the Indians (Native American tribes) not taxed?  Could it be that they were considered sovereign nations?  If they were not considered sovereign then why was it necessary to sign treaties with them and have them ratified by congress in the same manner as any other sovereign nation?   The answer of course is that they were recognized as sovereign then.  Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution states that “Congress shall have the power to regulate Commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes”.  Sorry Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Paterson, you are not allowed by the constitution to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes.  Congress is.

Interestingly enough American Indians in their entirety were not considered citizens until 1924 with the passage of the Native American Citizenship Act.  (Everyone else got it in 1868 with the 14th Amendment.)  Even so, the first state to guarantee the right to vote was Utah in 1957.  Yes, that’s right it took longer for them than women or blacks.   But I digress…

Returning to the question of sovereignty and citizenship the 14th Amendment of the Constitution states:  “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”  Hmm… If the American Indian nations are sovereign then are they subject to the jurisdiction of the US and therefore citizens?  If the child of an ambassador is born in the US, the child may not be considered a citizen because an ambassador is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.  They are subject to the jurisdiction of the country of their parents because they are on U.S. soil for diplomatic purposes and, as such, granted immunity (at least in theory) from U.S. laws.   So what conclusions can we draw?  Well, it would appear to me that an American Indian is only a citizen and bound by the laws of the United States if he so chooses.  Otherwise he is a citizen of, and subject to the laws of, the tribe or nation to which he belongs and not subject to the federal government of the United States or to any of the states.

Interestingly enough, the Iroquois nations are the only tribes that issue their own passports.  Yes, the very nations that are balking at this unconstitutional taxation of the Indians.  Why would they issue their own passports and refuse to travel on U.S. passports if they wanted to be counted as U.S. citizens and be subject to its laws?  See the link below for the story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/sports/17lacrosse.html

Now it’s understandable the Mr. Paterson and Mr. Bloomberg would want to tax the Iroquois nations.  Their governments are bleeding red ink and they want revenue wherever they can get it.  Since they have already been squeezing the life out of everyone else, the relatively tax-free Iroquois Nations probably look like a popsicle in the middle of the fires of hell…

I would have to question the wisdom in this policy.  Is it wise to antagonize a group of people who don’t consider themselves part of your culture, race, or nation when you have already removed them from their ancestral lands, decimated their population, destroyed their culture, and deprived them of liberty?   You have taken their coat and cloak already and now you want the sandals, staff, and undergarments as well?  Why not beat up a kid for his shoes and then take his lunch money too?  Why not chase a bear into its den to take the food right out of its mouth?  What Mr. Bloomberg fails to understand is that, in the mind of the Seneca Nation, he is the bully that has been stealing their lunch for a very, very long time.  He better pray that the kid getting his lunch money taken neither finds bigger, meaner friends, nor suddenly experiences a growth spurt and gains some more muscle mass…

Next time Mr. Bloomberg pick on someone your own size.  Try riding through downtown New York City with your cowboy hat and shotgun and get the mafia bosses to comply with the law and let’s see how you fare…

School bullying: A former sub’s observations in Lorain’s public schools circa 2004-2007

During the past week, a news story caught my attention.  Perhaps you’ve seen the news story, too.  If not, here’s a Plain Dealer article written by Peter Krouse of a Croatian immigrant’s family who is suing the school district in Mentor over the constant bullying of their daughter, a high school student.  She committed suicide last year.  Allegedly her ethnicity, such as the foreign accent she spoke with, was among the things the other students gave her grief over.

The school district in Mentor says that they will mount a vigorous defense in court.

Read the rest of this entry »

An open letter to the political leaders of the newly emerging Afghanistan: Try religious tolerance to defeat the Taliban

To Hamid Karzai and all the other political leaders in the newly emerging modern Afghanistan:

You are in the process of setting up your government.  You are in the process of winning the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people to win their allegiance to the government you are setting up.  You are in the process of framing your constitution and laws by which the Afghan nation will be governed.

I wish to offer a suggestion that at least a small measure of religious tolerance be incorporated into the legal framework of the new Afghan nation that you are working to establish.  I wish to explain how it could benefit your government.

The United States of America, while not perfectly exercising religious tolerance, has pioneered incorporating religious freedom into a nation’s constitution.  Since the founding of our nation, other nations have seen wisdom in some of the provisions of our Constitution, and have used some of them in writing their own body of laws.

I am not aware of any nation, however, that has granted to their people the same or greater magnitude of religious freedom that our Constitution affords us, the people of the United States.  Even many of the nations of the supposedly “more enlightened” Europe still, nominally, have state religions.  As a result, no non-Muslim nation is more accommodating to the Muslim faith than the United States of America.

Sure, a national debate in the U.S. has arisen surrounding plans to erect a mosque in New York City near Ground Zero, where terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center by flying airplanes into them.  Public opinion polls show that the decision to build a mosque there is an unpopular one.  Certainly much public pressure will be exerted in an effort to dissuade from proceeding with those plans.  President Obama has said that he has made no pronouncements on whether or not there is wisdom in the decision to build a mosque there.  But, at the end of the day, there is the Constitution of the United States, and if anything were to stave off the abandonment of the plans to build a mosque there, it is the Constitution that will do so.  President Obama has affirmed this.

Meanwhile, there are other non-Muslim nations, such as Australia, which has no Bill of Rights, that have experienced violent strife between non-Muslims and Muslims.  The Australian government seems to have little effect in eliminating the occurrence of such vigilante mob riots.  Also, there are non-Muslim nations, such as many in Europe, that seek to regulate how Muslims within their borders dress themselves, and even regulate against the erection of minarets on mosque properties.  Despite the public opinion polls showing the unpopularity of the plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero, I am of the firm opinion that no non-Muslim nation is a greater friend to the Muslim faith than the United States of America.  Muslims within our borders thus derive benefits from a Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.

I do not expect the new Afghan nation to mirror the United States in this regard.  I know that the people of Afghanistan are not prepared nor predisposed to allow such a degree of religious freedom.  But I would like to suggest some “baby steps” that can be written into Afghan law that would be of benefit to the new Afghan government.

The more a government wishes to enforce adherence to the tenets of religion, the more it will resemble the Taliban.  In a world where global communication takes place ever more frequently, populations are more exposed to philosophies outside that religion, and the temptations that accompany such exposure.  It can’t be helped.  A government can’t stop communications from beyond the borders from reaching its citizens to the extent that it once was, when travel occurred at a much slower pace, and communications from outsiders much less frequent.  To ensure adherence to religious tenets, such as Sharia law, governments must resort to more and more oppressive measures if they wish to counteract the influence of outside philosophies.

Behold the nations that do, in fact, desire to counteract outside influences.  The measures they take become increasingly more invasive into the daily lives of private citizens.  In the West, we might call it Big Brother.  The origins of that term “Big Brother” are contained within writings that are not permitted by Islam, but I don’t know what corresponding term is that’s used among Muslims to convey the same meaning.  Perhaps it suffices to say that governments wishing to counteract such influences will seek to spy on every citizen’s life to guard against any departure from the tenets of Islam, such as banning Blackberry devices until the means of decoding the encryption is disclosed to the government.

Another more oppressive way to counteract outside influences is through fear, with harshly severe penalties meted out against citizens and their families for increasingly smaller infractions of Islamic tenets.  Fear is the means adopted by the Taliban to counteract outside influences.

The grip of government over citizens must grow ever more tightly over time in order to maintain compliance.  Citizens are chafed by such measures, and voluntary allegiance to such a government may be compromised.  Will dealing with citizens much more harshly counteract the waning voluntary allegiance of citizens?  I suggest that there are more underpinnings of the Muslim exodus to the West, particularly to America, than just economic opportunities or the desire to spread the Muslim faith among infidel nations.  I suggest that many Muslims that have migrated to America do so, in part, because they do not choose to live in fear.

If you want to win allegiance away from the Taliban, you must not only provide greater economic opportunities, you must also grant citizens a relief from fear.  To do so, the new Afghan government must relax the grip upon the citizens to regulate every aspect of life.  They must trust the conscience of the citizens.  The government must trust that citizens will make decisions compliant with Islam of their own volition.  On the occasions where citizens deviate from the tenets of Islam, the penalty must not be so severe that citizens feel a lesser allegiance to the government.  If the government is to mete out much milder penalties, then the ultimate aim and desire of the government must not be to strictly enforce adherence to the tenets of Islam.

Instead, peace that mitigates against the rivalries that always exist among diverse populations should be paramount.

That peace, through the laws that you design and through the order that you exercise in your administration, yields a more stable government and a more stable society.  As volatility decreases, outside investments in Afghanistan will increase.  As investment increases, economic opportunities and prosperity will increase.  As prosperity increases, loyalty to the government will increase.  This has been the experience of the United States.

Allegiance to the Taliban will dissipate, and the new Afghan government will have no tendency to evolve into a regime that resembles the one under Taliban rule.

When the foreign troops withdraw, more than military and policing measures must be put in place to prevent the overthrow of your new government by the Taliban.  A population that will not tolerate nor cooperate with the Taliban is also essential to such resistance against the Taliban.

Relaxing the grip on the citizenry can only coincide with a small measure of tolerance toward deviation from Islam.  If you do not permit any deviation, then your government must become like the harsh regime under the Taliban, or the harassing and increasingly invasive regime governing neighboring Iran.  Those are the choices.  Make your decision about what kind of a government you want to be.

I spoke of “baby steps” incorporated into the legal framework of the newly emerging Afghanistan, and now that I’ve explained some of the reasons why and some of the benefits that will accrue, let me suggest what those “baby steps” might be.

There must be freedom of conscience.  This means freedom to believe the philosophy that one wishes to believe.  Acting on those beliefs, or practicing the tenets of those beliefs, however, would be subject to law.  In essence, one would not be penalized for beliefs, only for actions proscribed by law.  Therefore, an infidel, such as a Christian, would be permitted Afghan citizenship, with all that is entailed by citizenship, such as the right to vote and the ability to apply for and receive a passport, without being punished for merely believing what the infidel believes.   In the past, Afghan citizens discovered to be Christians might face execution.  For those who are discovered, by whatever means, to be infidels, such as Christians, no legal penalty would apply so long as their actions were within the parameters allowed by law.

Beyond beliefs, infidels ought to have a right to act upon those beliefs in a small measure.  Such actions permitted under the law, and the prohibitions subject to penalty under the law, might be as follows:

Infidels may assemble and worship together under the following circumstances:  They must not worship outdoors or in any place that is designed to make their worship conspicuous to passers-by.  The infidels cannot purchase property on which to build an edifice for worship, as such an edifice would be construed as advertising a religion other than Islam.  The infidels cannot assemble for worship in public buildings or businesses.  The infidels must assemble in tents and private homes unadorned by any images incompatible with Islam.  The infidels must not advertise.  The infidels must not solicit more followers, such as carrying out missionary, evangelizing, or any other ministries designed for recruitment.  The infidels shall not operate schools.  Any instruction must only be given clandestinely in private homes or during the course of the worship assemblies.

Infidels shall not speak ill of Islam, even in private conversation, even when assembled privately for worship, nor by writing or drawing.

Infidels may possess books of scripture so long as they are only viewed or used in private homes or at worship assemblies.  They must be stored in an enclosed space that conceals them from view to visitors to the home (in a closed box or trunk or wrapped in an opaque material would be okay, but not on a bookshelf, nor resting, uncovered, upon the floor).  They must be concealed when carrying them outdoors, such as to another private home or to a worship assembly.  The book cover can only label its title in words.  It cannot be adorned with religious symbols.  No sales of such scriptures can be transacted entirely within Afghanistan.  They must be purchased from beyond the nation’s borders, whether purchased in person and conveyed back to Afghanistan concealed in the buyer’s luggage, or purchased by orders placed inconspicuously by mail, phone, internet, or some other third party, to be shipped to the buyer by mail or other parcel courier.  If shipped to Afghanistan, the book should be wrapped to conceal the book completely, and the packaging can only display the name and address of the buyer, and the return address, with no name, of the distributor or seller, along with any postage stamps, bar codes, or other markings that couriers need for routing the packages to their destinations.  If foreign sellers balk at complying with such shipping requirements, do they want to do business with Afghan citizens, or not?  If they do, they’ll meet the requirements.

Only when assembled, or alone in private, so as not to have the intent of being heard by passers-by, may infidels utter prayers or speeches that are not in keeping with the Muslim faith.

In any week, the holy day used for religious observances by the infidels shall be the same as the holy day used by Muslims.  Saturday or Sunday assembly for worship, such as is customary in non-Muslim nations, will, instead, take place on Friday.

Apparel worn by infidels must be apparel that is also acceptable for Muslims to wear.  The same applies to hairstyles, makeup, jewelry, purses, wallets, and body markings.

There must also be some kind of legal penalty against Muslims who harass infidels on the basis of religion when the infidels are compliant with all Afghan laws, with the penalties meted out on a sliding scale commensurate with however egregious the harassment was proven to be.

With these minimal “baby steps,” Afghan exiles who left the Muslim faith might consider being repatriated, further strengthening the population’s resolve not to tolerate nor cooperate with the Taliban.  Those who are repatriated might also benefit the nation by bringing back whatever skills or wealth they may have acquired abroad.  Foreigners may feel less endangered by guarantees of these minimal religious protections, whether conducting business or performing volunteer service.

I believe when Afghan citizens sense the difference between the new Afghan government and the old Taliban regime, they’ll prefer rule under the new government over rule under the Taliban.  I believe the citizens will favor more freedom over more fear.

Perhaps Afghans will be able to tolerate more than these “baby steps,” and maybe religious freedom can be expanded a little bit more.  Yes, there is a risk of more exposure to Western ways, and all the perceived negatives entailed with it, but Western ways will be increasingly exposed, anyway, by virtue of the shrinking global village we all live in.  Helping Muslims to withstand the temptations of Western ways little bit by little bit by peacefully living with infidels in their midst is more useful than not building up the strength of one’s convictions, and becoming easy prey to temptations when the Western world, inevitably, bursts upon them with full force.  When that day comes, isolation from infidels will not have prepared them.

The American experience with religious freedom has been a good one.  Even “baby steps” in that direction will reap some benefits.  If you step in that direction, don’t fear the future.  It will be better than the past.

One more Iott town hall meeting scheduled

Rich Iott, U.S. representative candidate for Ohio’s 9th Congressional District had already announced a schedule of town hall meetings (shown here), including one tonight (8/19) in Sandusky at 6:30 pm at the Erie County Senior Center, 620 E. Water Street.

Added to the schedule on August 30, at 7 pm, in Holland, OH, is a town hall meeting to be held in the Holland Branch Library, 1032 South McCord Road.

Kipton, Port Clinton, and Oak Harbor are the other communities Iott will be visiting between tonight and September 2nd.

Ohio’s 9th Congressional District includes nearly all of Lucas County, all of Ottawa County, all of Erie County, and southern Lorain County.

Press release: Iott Signs No Pork Pledge

Editor’s note:  This press release was issued on 8/17/2010.  Ohio’s 9th Congressional District stretches from Lucas County through Ottawa County, Erie County, and into southern Lorain County.

Iott Signs No Pork Pledge

Rich Iott, candidate for Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, has signed the No Pork Pledge sponsored by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW).

CAGW, which advocates the elimination of waste and inefficiency in government through nonpartisan public education programs and lobbying activities, in July named incumbent Rep. Marcy Kaptur their ‘Porker of the Month’ for “gaming the House Democrats’ prohibition on awarding earmarks to for-profit companies and wasting taxpayers’ money.”

Upon notice of the award, Iott said:

“Politicians like Marcy Kaptur, who’ve been in Washington so long that they actually think this sort of wasteful spending is a good thing, have brought our county to the edge of bankruptcy with a debt approaching $14 trillion.  Now is the time to acknowledge that earmarks need to stop and that her so-called ‘legislative priorities’ are not the priorities of the taxpayers she’s supposed to represent.

“Ohio’s 9th Congressional District needs a businessman who understands that “eviscerating earmark reform and wasting taxpayers’ money” (as the CAGW called it) is not the way to create economic growth in the district, the state or the nation. 

“When I’m elected, I promise to end ‘pay-to-play’ corruption, and bring some real-world, common sense business experience to Capitol Hill.”

In following through on that promise, Iott signed the No Pork Pledge which reads:

I, Rich Iott, pledge to the constituents of the 9th Congressional district of the state of Ohio and to the American people that I will not request any pork-barrel earmark, which is defined as meeting one of the following criteria: 

  • Requested by only one chamber of Congress
  • Not specifically authorized
  • Not competitively awarded
  • Not requested by the President
  • Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding
  • Not the subject of congressional hearing
  • Serves only a local or special interest

“When career politicians each try to get their own piece of the pie, it is the taxpayers who are left with an empty plate – and the bill.  While I don’t need to sign a pledge to remember that my obligation is not to spend taxpayer money on pork, I’m happy to put my commitment in writing so the voters can hold me accountable,” Rich Iott said.