A Pebble Tossed In The Pond…

…does it simply produce ripples–or a tsunami threatening to ruin the rule of law?


Dave Harbour

Ibrahim was the Lebanese cab driver who picked my son and me up at Washington’s Reagan International Airport yesterday and gifted us with his view of America.

We now see that U.S.. Senator Mark Begich (NGP Photo) has decided to oppose due process and the rule of law.

Mark Begich, US Senator, Pebble Mine, Watershed, EPA, rule of law, due process, Photo by Dave Harbour, banana republic, Steve BorellWe have not criticized Begich or anyone else for not personally supporting a particular natural resource project.

We do find it unsettling that a Member of Alaska’s Congressional Delegation — or any Member of Congress — would become a Member of Congress, swear to uphold the Constitution, and then deny the Federal due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment (i.e. closely related to the Fourteenth Amendment protections applying to the states).  How could any lawmaker or administrator of law try to deny protections of the law and Constitution to any citizen?

Among other ways, due process is attacked when a regulatory agency acts to prevent a lawful lease holder of state (or federal) land with the right to create a plan and apply for state and/or federal permits even before a legal record has been created to justify any regulatory action.

Those wishing to not see a project like Pebble develop — including a U.S. Senator — are bound under the Constitution to became a party to a legal proceeding, argue their case and hope that the final decision based on the legal record and merits of the case falls in their favor.  And, if it doesn’t, due process allows for any party to appeal to a higher tribunal.

We find it equally offensive and likely an impeachable offense that the President would support the EPA’s effort to deny due process to the lawful lease holder of Alaska state lands.

Steve Borell, Alaska Miners, Pebble Mine, Watershed, EPA, rule of law, due process, Photo by Dave Harbour, banana republic, Mark Begich, US Senator, Other citizens are also concerned about this violation of a Constitutional guarantee:

Former Executive Director, Alaska Miners Association, Steve Borell (NGP Photo) points out that the EPA’s attack on Pebble more resembles the act of a Banana Republic than the United States.

(See later Juneau Empire Op-Ed by Rep. Eric Feige, 2-6-14.)

As we crossed the Potomac, driving by the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington Monuments we asked our new friend when and why he came to America.

He had been a doctor decades ago and with other educated citizens in the 1980s spoke out against heavy handed government treatment of citizens.  He was appalled at Syrian influence and violence in his country and over time his voice and that of other Lebanese patriots resulted in their expulsion or escape from the country.

“There are hundreds of thousands of us all over the world, working hard in our new lands.  Lebanese expatriates in Africa are among the wealthiest on that continent.  Many of us chose America because of its freedom,” he said.

He double-parked in front of our rented townhouse on C Street NE, a few blocks from the capital.

The huge snowstorm had left the ground blanketed in sparkling whiteness and as other cars went around us, we continued to talk.

“In Lebanon,” he said, “the politicians tried to divide the people–the Sunnis the Shiites and the Christians–so that they could control them.  I don’t blame the politicians as much as I blame the people for being so stupid, so gullible.”

I asked if he didn’t sometimes feel like going back to help his people.  “No way”, he said.  “Here, we may not like one another sometimes, but we still live together.  We have whites, blacks, Asians, and immigrants from every place, much more diverse than Lebanon, but we have the rule of law.  If you step over the line, the law will get you. Over there, terrorists step over the line every day and the law does not stop them.  Ordinary people have freedom here; most other countries do not.”

“The one thing America has done better than other countries is protect ordinary citizens with the law,” he concluded.  While we spent less time discussing rule of law in America, he also expressed displeasure with politicians who used wealth, religious, political or racial issues to divide and conquer citizen support here.

We took Ibrahim’s cell number, paid him and agreed to call him for other rides while we were in town.

In these pages over the years — especially over the last five years — we have mourned over America’s diminishing “rule of law” which, as Senator Tom Coburn recently put it, is increasingly becoming “rule of rulers”.  (Note: In the right hand column we have a Google search engine confined to our own thousands of pages.  Search for ‘due process’, ‘rule of law’, or ‘let me count the ways’.)

We have seen the rule of law debased by Administration regulators who settle with environmental litigants with an alarming trend of “wink, wink, nod, nod” settlements.  The conflict of interest is jaw dropping when one witnesses settlements between social activists who sue and former social activists hired by the Administration to regulate.  A “sue and settle process” has in many ways replaced or hijacked “due process”, a foundation of our Constitution and of the rule of law.  The new process erodes Constitutional protection for all citizens while enriching and further encouraging other citizens to disrupt lawful activities with frivolous but lucrative lawsuits and other delay tactics.

One might say, “Well, Dave, if there truly is something bad going on here, why wouldn’t a company just sue the government?”  Good question.  Answer, companies find it unsavory and bad business to sue their regulators, generally.  The thinking is that while one has to compromise principle, it’s cheaper for the shareholders to quietly pay the settlement blood money today and satisfy the regulators and litigants than to upset them just prior to the initiation of some new project requiring their support.

That is why it is so important for citizens to become aware of what is happening to their country’s eroding status as a world icon for due process, fairness and citizen protections under a rule of law.

If regulators and their allies can stop a lawful lease holder, like the Pebble Project (which has leased Alaska land) from filing permit applications, receiving a fair regulatory hearing of issues, and being able to appeal a fully adjudicated issue, we have truly lost freedom.

And if we let our hard won and dearly protected Constitutional freedoms erode into the deep space of history, will there ever again be a place for the Ibrahims of a lawless world be able to seek asylum and peace?  Indeed, as our own freedoms recede, what options to American citizens have?

Tomorrow, we’ll have another cab ride with our Lebanese friend and will ask him these questions.

Maybe Ibrahim, as one who has suffered so much to obtain what we have so callously taken for granted, can shed new light on why American citizens must resist attacks on our Constitution as if our families depended on our courage, insight and action.

Maybe our humble cab driver, named after the great prophet, Abraham, can lead us to a better understanding of the future awaiting us all.

And maybe we’ll all come to better appreciate the tsunami-like impact on one’s homeland that could begin with a pebble’s splash, a landslide, a distant earthquake or the slow collapse of a great country’s rule of law.