In Their Own Words
Notes from the Field
- Congressional Testimony on Park Closures
- Protecting Privacy in the Age of Mass Surveillance
- Montana Among Top 10 States in Least Consumer Debt
- Bakken Businesses Looking for Office Help
- Montana in Top Ten States with Highest Auto Rates
- Scammers Impersonating Lawmen
- Early Manuscript Describes Yellowstone
- Gov Shutdown Lesson: Raise Taxes on the Rich
Testimony on Park Closures: Park Service Mistreats People
I have considerable historical experience of the ways the National Park Service frequently mistreats and threatens private property owners and permittees inside and adjacent to our National Parks. Over the past few days with the help of the head of the American Land Rights Association, I have e-mailed and talked with several park inholders and concessionaires about their circumstances during the shutdown. The questions are whether the National Park Service has gone far beyond what it was required to do under the Anti-Deficiency Act, what its motives are in doing so, and who is to blame for these decisions.
Let me begin to answer these questions with a few of the more widely-reported examples of Park Service misconduct in the sixteen days since the shutdown began:
- As one park ranger told the press early in the shutdown, “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can.” To his credit, the ranger added, “It’s disgusting.”
- In closing Yellowstone National Park, the Park Service locked four dozen elderly foreign tourists into their hotel for two days, did everything they could to stop them from taking photos on the grounds that since the Park was closed all recreation was prohibited, and then prevented their bus from stopping for a restroom break when they were deported.
- At Mount Rushmore, the Park Service closed state highway turn-offs so tourists could not pull over to enjoy the view or take photos.
- At Yosemite National Park, the Park Service closed hotels and hundreds of vacation rental properties in the village of Wawona, which is located near the park boundary and on a highway that has not been closed.
- The Park Service kept the George Washington Parkway open, but closed a parking lot it leased to Mount Vernon and that was operated and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
- The Park Service also kept open the Clara Barton Parkway, but closed Glen Echo Park. Montgomery County funds and operates Glen Echo, where hundreds of arts and other programs have been cancelled.
- The Park Service closed the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, even though it is privately funded and operated and relies on Fairfax County police protection.
- The Park Service closed Langley Fork Sports Park, which is leased, maintained, and operated by Fairfax County. It was reported that the Park Police chased away parents who were trying to remove the barricades so that their children’s games could go on.
- The Park Service has kept the Blue Ridge Parkway open, but closed the Pisgah Inn and the Peaks of Otter Lodge, privately-operated concessions that provide food and lodging to travelers on the parkway.
- The Park Service has kept Acadia National Park in Maine open to some types of visitors, but has handed out citations to others.
- The Park Service closed the City Tavern in Philadelphia, even though it is not enclosed behind a fence at Independence National Historical Park and indeed opens onto two major city streets. Had King George the Third’s ministers in the colonies had the authority and the foresight to close it down, they might have prevented the American Revolution.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. One common factor in these examples is that the Park Service has gone out of its way to spend money—that it claims not to have to keep Parks open—in order to close facilities not operated by the Park Service that it normally pays little attention to and spends no money on. Questions that I think are worth pursuing are: Where did all these barricades and printed signs come from? And when were they ordered?
Another common factor is that the Park Service has relented and allowed most of these facilities to re-open. But they have done so only because their misdeeds have been exposed to the light of day. Widespread media and internet coverage has shamed the Park Service and the Obama Administration into relenting.
And the Park Service, the Secretary of the Interior, the White House, and President Barack Obama should be ashamed. Their conduct has been revealed as petty, nasty, and malicious. They have been caught abusing their authority in arbitrary and capricious ways. The founders—including Adams, Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson—who gathered each night at the City Tavern in Philadelphia during the First and Second Continental Congresses would be no more amused by the disgraceful antics of President Obama, his Secretary of the Interior, and his Park Service Director than they were by those of King George and Lord North.
Last week, my colleague, CEI Senior Attorney Hans Bader, filed three Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the U. S. Forest Service that seek records on who made the decisions about which facilities and units to close down and which to keep open and their reasons for these decisions. FOIA requests are not being processed while the federal government is partially shut down, but even after normal operations are resumed, our experience with other FOIA requests during the Obama Administration suggests they will not comply with FOIA’s legal deadlines, but delay and stonewall until we are forced to file suit in federal court to compel compliance.
While it might be interesting some years from now to discover more about who made these decisions and how they were made, these recent incidents should come as no surprise for those who have firsthand experience of the ways the National Park Service regularly treats its inholders, neighbors, and park visitors. As former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton remarked to the press early in the shutdown, “The National Park Service has a long history of dramatizing budget issues by inconveniencing the public. They often choose the most dramatic type of action in order to get their message across.”
My hope is that these widely-reported incidences of National Park Service misconduct will help the public to distinguish between the National Parks and the National Park Service. Americans love America’s great National Parks, and for decades the National Park Service has taken advantage of that deep public affection. But you can love our National Parks and still recognize that the National Park Service has a terrible record of dealing with people who live in or near National Parks and an equally dismal record of managing and protecting many of our greatest natural wonders and most important historic sites. If the public starts to understand that the National Parks are great, but that the National Park Service is not, then perhaps the Congress will be able to investigate what is wrong with the National Park Service and undertake long-needed reforms. A serious investigation of the National Park Service may conclude that private and state ownership and management of many units would be preferable to National Park Service mismanagement. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association is only one of many good examples.
Finally, however, the National Park Service has only been acting as a tool for advancing the Obama Administration’s mean-spirited and small-minded political agenda. If President Obama and his political appointees at the Department of the Interior were against locking up and deporting elderly foreign tourists at Yellowstone, they would have objected as soon as it was reported and people would have been fired. Instead, the President and his administration have continued to use unwarranted National Park closings to try to anger the public and target that anger at their political opponents.
Myron Ebell, Director of Center for Energy and Environment, CEI, before House Oversight and Natural Resources Committees, Oct. 16. 2013.
Protecting Privacy in the Age of Mass Surveillance
HELENA, MONT.—In light of the NSA’s vast domestic surveillance network, can anything be done to insulate ourselves from an increas-ingly intrusive and power-hungry state? Dick Sterling, of Dick Sterling Publishing, asked privacy expert Mark Nestmann.
Forty years ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote these prophetic words:
“The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”
Shortly after writing this, Dr. Brzezinski became the National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter, and the rest is history. Today, in 2013, Brzezinski’s “mass surveillance” vision has become reality, and basic privacy has become a thing of the past. In light of the NSA’s vast domestic surveillance network, can anything be done to insulate ourselves from an increasingly intrusive and power-hungry state? Dick Sterling, editor for Dick Sterling Publishing, asked privacy expert Mark Nestmann what practical measures can be taken to protect what little privacy Americans have left.
Dick Sterling: "Mark, you've been writing extensively for many years now about the constant erosion of peoples' privacy by civil governments, and what can be done about it. Were the recent revelations about NSA domestic spying surprising to you?"
Mark Nestmann: "No, not really, although some of the specific strategies the NSA turns out to be using were a surprise. For instance, the NSA turns out to have spent a lot of effort compromising routers and other internet hardware. This is a rather clever attack that I wouldn't have thought of.
"James Bamford who wrote the definitive guide on the NSA 30 years ago (The Puzzle Palace) and has kept up with them over the years has long sounded the alarm on what this agency is up to. Thanks to Edward Snowden we now have confirmation of all of this."
Dick Sterling: "It seems as if things couldn't get much worse in regards to the state's domestic spying activities, but their appetite for control appears insatiable. Are there additional areas of surveillance where the state may attempt to establish a foothold in the future?"
Mark Nestmann: "I think a move toward banning cash transactions or at least requiring all cash to be registered would be a step in that direction. The cashless society is well-established and there are some businesses (e.g. airlines during flights) that no longer accept cash at all. Most young people never use cash, so this trend is well advanced."
Dick Sterling: The US and UK civil governments seem to be getting the bulk of the criticism for domestic spying, but are any of the world's other governments any better?
Mark Nestmann: It was interesting to see all the criticism of the NSA coming from all over the world, and then Snowden released more documents proving that Germany and France were conducting the same sort of surveillance although not on the same scale as the NSA. It's the nature of government to attract power seekers. Once power seekers achieve power they do what they can to perpetuate it. Inculcating a sense of vulnerability in their citizenry through pervasive surveillance is one of the best ways for them to squelch any real political opposition. For this reason I think every government that can afford to set up this type of surveillance will do it, aided in great part by technology exported from the USA.
Dick Sterling: Many people feel overwhelmed by the sense that there is nothing they can do about the theft of their private information by civil governments. Are there any basic things people could start to do that would allow them to protect themselves from these attacks?
Mark Nestmann: Yes, absolutely. Start by using non-US based email accounts, encryption such as the free encryption program from www.gnupg.org and a virtual private network set up outside the USA such as www.cryptohippie.com.
Dick Sterling offers a contrarian perspective on markets and world events. —DickSterling.com
Montana Among Top 10 States in Least Consumer Debt
According to a recent article from ABC News titled The Most Debt-Free States in America, Iowa lays claim to the least-indebted populace in the Union with $2,904 in credit card balance on average. North Dakota comes in second place with $2,971 and is the only other state with under $3,000. Utah, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Nebraska, Montana, West Virginia and Kentucky round out the top 10.
Coincidentally or not, this group lines up closely with credit.com’s list of states that are leading the American housing recovery. In addition to low credit card balances, homeowners of these states enjoy high credit scores with few foreclosures, exhibiting responsible financial practices. On the other hand, Alaska New Jersey and display the least spending restraint, with average credit card balances exceeding $4,500.
—Rapid Recovery Solution
Bakken Businesses Looking for Office Help
The oil boom is having an historic impact on North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The rapid growth has many businesses in the region looking for help with their back office hassles, things like bookkeeping, payroll and taxes.
“We're happy that we are consistently answering that need," said Avitus Group President Ken Balste. Business owners in the Bakken area are contacting Avitus Group because they can't find qualified people in the area who can perform the necessary back office functions of a business. Everyone is working in the oil fields and there is truly a need for our services.”
Montana in Top Ten States with Highest Auto Rates
A recent study by insc.org revealed the average annual insurance rates for drivers living in every state across America, and ranked Montana as the sixth most expensive in terms of the cost of an annual auto insurance premium, higher even than states like New York, California and New Jersey. Here’s a list of the top ten most expensive states as of 2013: 1) $2,699 Louisiana; 2) $2,520 Michigan; 3) $2,155 Georgia; 4) $2,074 Oklahoma; 5) 2,006 Washington, D.C.; 6) $1,914 Montana; 7) $1,819 California; 8) 1,816 West Virginia; 9)$1,735 Rhode Island; 10) $1,725 Kentucky.
To understand why these top ten states pay so much, including Montana, it's important to understand what factors are behind the rates. At the personal level, insurance rates are determined by driving record, personal profile (age, sex, driving experience), then make, model and age of car driven, and annual miles driven. State by state insurance rates are determined differently in each region according to state specific insurance regulations, severe weather in the past year causing a rise in claims, and the percentage of uninsured or underinsured drivers.
Scammers Impersonating Gallatin County Lawmen
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office has been made aware of a recent string of scams that have occurred locally. Scammers are calling local residents from a 406 area code and identifying themselves as law enforcement officers from various agencies, specifically the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office. They advise victims that they have missed jury duty, and are subject to arrest if they do not pay related fines. This is a scam. Do not send any money or give out any personal information.
—Gallatin Co. Sheriff’s Office
Early Manuscript Describes Yellowstone
BOZEMAN – The earliest draft of a handwritten manuscript describing the first comprehensive exploration of Yellowstone National Park is now available for the public to view at the MSU Library.
The manuscript details an 1869 expedition by David E. Folsom, Charles W. Cook and William Peterson from Diamond City, Mont., that was the first of three journeys that led to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, according to Kim Scott, university archivist. Scott said Folsom is the principal author of the manuscript, although Cook received credit when it was published, in heavily edited form, in a magazine in 1870.
“This is a very important acquisition,” Scott said. “Not only is it the earliest comprehensive description of the park’s major features by a Euro-American, but the text differs in many substantive ways from the published versions which have appeared over the past 143 years.”
Scott said that over the years, a handwritten copy sent to the magazine as well as another copy that Cook kept both were destroyed by fires. Folsom, however, handed his manuscript down to his descen-dents, and Folsom’s great-grandson contacted the MSU Library about the manuscript after reading an article Scott wrote about the manuscript’s fate. The library purchased the manuscript, along with other letters and documents, this fall.
Among the library’s other documents in the collection are two original letters from one of the park’s first historians, Hiram M. Chittenden, and one from the park’s second military superintendent, Capt. George S. Anderson, all written to Folsom regarding his experiences in Yellowstone.
The Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections is home of hundreds of valuable manuscript collections pertaining to Yellowstone National Park, Montana agriculture and engineering, Montana Native Americans, and trout and salmonids. It is located in the MSU Library and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
—Anne Cantrell, MSU News
Gov Shutdown Lesson: Raise Taxes on the Rich
The end to the government shutdown marked a temporary victory for Montana’s families, communities, and economy. Today, workers across the state can return to their jobs. Critical services like health care and the commodities food assistance program will resume on reservations. Glacier and Yellowstone can open their gates and welcome tourists from around the globe.
“We are thankful Congress and the president came to an agreement. Undoubtedly, this compromise spared us from a potentially disastrous economic downturn,” said Sarah Cobler Leow, Executive Director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center. “However, this celebration will be short. While the ideological stalemate highlighted important flaws in our existing political structure, the shutdown also emphasized a much larger problem–when we let ideology trump practicality, our most vulnerable populations suffer.”
Montana’s Indian Country experienced disproportionately devastating impacts. On the Crow Reservation alone, the shutdown forced the Tribal government to furlough more than 350 employees, including ten police officers and all but two staff members of the Tribe’s social services department. This number amounts to more than a third of the reservation’s workforce.
The Crow Tribe was not alone in their suffering. On reservations across the state, Indian Health Services placed non emergency medical procedures on hold. Families could not receive their childcare subsidies or monthly food provisions.
The shutdown highlights the important role that government plays in Montanans’ daily lives. Though the situation was disastrous, the lesson can be hopeful. Extreme policymakers target government as the source of our fiscal woes. In truth, government can be a solution to economic challenges. For years, we have asked what programs and services we must cut to fund military spending or tax giveaways to corporations. We have asked the American people, especially our most vulnerable populations, to bear the burden as we attempt to balance our budget. As the leaders of our nation, our policymakers have chosen to overlook opportunities to increase revenue, no matter what the cost to our people and our economy.
“It is time for Congress to shift their focus. To achieve fiscal stability, we must raise revenue. The wealthiest Americans and corporations can and should contribute more,” said Cobler Leow. “Reforming tax policy provides the resources necessary to keep teachers and firemen working, schools open, kids fed, and communities safe. We can protect low- and moderate-income individuals, including our First Peoples. Our parks can remain open to share our history and scenery with millions of people each year, people who support local businesses and boost local economies. We hope the end of the shutdown is the beginning of a stronger direction for the nation.”
The mission of the Montana Budget and Policy Center is to advance sound public policy through timely and objective research and analysis in order to promote shared prosperity and opportunity for all Montanans.
—Montana Budget and Policy Center