One of the underlying issues in...that place that I said I wasn't going to blog about tonight...is the lack of respect for the U.S. Constitution. Denying people their right to gather in the public square and air their grievances against the government, stifling speech and arresting journalists (as happened again tonight, in that place) and other observers violates the protections that we were supposedly granted in the Bill of Rights. But the truth is that fundamental disrespect for the rule of law runs deeper.
In Pennsylvania, we've been shredding our own state Constitution -- a historic and much revered document in its own right -- for years. In 2013, I noted that our current governor, Tom Corbett, has been so abusive to key provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution that you could even make a case -- morally, not politically -- for his impeachment. One of the worst offenses, I argued, was his fracking policies that violate the state's guarantee of clean water and clean air for all citizens.
As they like to say on the website Upworthy...you won't believe what happened next:
Last Dec. 19 was a gratifying day for John Dernbach. In 162 pages the state's highest court had resurrected a provision in Pennsylvania's Constitution that had long ago faded into obscurity.
The forgotten measure is an environmental rights amendment nestled in Article 1, among core protections of civil rights and due process. The amendment gives people a right to clean air, pure water and conservation of natural resources. It hands environmentalists an opportunity to transform the natural gas debate in Pennsylvania and beyond.
"So often, the environmental conversation is about the power of government to regulate," said Dernbach, who teaches at Widener University and runs the school's Environmental Law Center. "Here the court is saying the more important question is the rights of citizens to be free of government interference with their environmental rights. And that changes the conversation."
That court ruling last year has given municipalities across the state a fighting chance to combat pollution from fracking. But it is also one small step toward the goal of restoring respect for the law among our leaders in the Keystone State. The bad news is that there's a long way to go. This outrage was noted today by Daily News political columnist John Baer:
Lawmakers get per diem expenses up to $163 for food and lodging for any day they claim to do legislative business, whether in session or not.
I've railed about per diems for years since no receipts are required, they're tax-free, members can claim anything, and some claim weekends and holidays. And who knows how the money's spent?
These unregulated payments are considered legal by lawmakers who write the laws despite a provision in the state Constitution that lawmakers shall receive salary, mileage and "no other compensation whatever."
They taint the entire institution.
No doubt. How do they get away with it? For too long, we've let them. I think people are waking up to the abuse, but what is to be done? Replacing the old batch of elected officials with new ones might help, but that's easier said than done. The only other option is taking to the streets. That's why what's happening in the Place That Shall Not Be Named is not the isolated incident that some think.