The Last (Wildlife) Refuge of a Scoundrel

Tucked into the fiscal relief package for Puerto Rico this spring was a provision to give away a national treasure that belongs to all Americans — 3,100 acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. The proposal had nothing to do with the economic recovery of Puerto Rico. But it would have handed an important victory to extremists in Congress and state legislatures who want to grab national lands and turn them over to the states to be sold or leased. The measure to give Puerto Rico nearly one­-sixth of the island of federally protected coves, beaches and subtropical forests had the support of the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Representative Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah, who is a leading proponent of an agenda to dispose of America’s public lands.

Fortunately, Hispanic and conservation groups helped rouse opposition to the effort, and the provision was taken out of the bill.

But that was only one of several efforts in Congress and elsewhere to dismantle the nation’s system of more than 560 wildlife refuges and 38 wetlands totaling about 150 million acres of land and water. Opponents of federal land ownership also want to dispose of hundreds of millions of acres of forests and rangelands owned by the American people. If they succeed, not even the national parks will be safe.

The lawmakers behind these attacks are determined, as they put it, to “reduce the federal estate” and give these public lands to cash-­hungry states or territories, where they could be leased, drilled, logged or sold to the highest bidder.

Don’t Give Away Our Wildlife Refuges, Jamie Williams, op-ed, New York Times, today

I remember when, back during his 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney, speaking somewhere out west, suddenly (or so I thought) included a rant about the vast amount of land the federal government owns, and said he would propose that most of it be turned over to the states.  I believe he made clear that this included most, if not all, national parks.

I was stunned, but quickly learned in reading a couple of articles about Romney’s proposal—there were, best as I could tell, only a couple articles mentioning it—that this is a top item on the wish list of some west-of-the-Mississippi Republican mega-donors, who want to be able to buy the land on the cheap.

It’s also of course a key theme of Cliven Bundy-type ranchers, although Bundy himself and some of the other virulent ones don’t even recognize current federal ownership of the land.  And that’s not where the votes are, in the Electoral College, anyway.  And it’s not why Romney, who already had the Bundy-crowd vote, was saying this.  Publicly.  What Romney wanted was a sort of quid pro quo, and the votes of the donors themselves wasn’t what he was after.

But the few pundits who noted Romney’s statement and commented on it pointed out that although Romney apparently didn’t realize this, most Americans, unlike members of his family, can’t afford lakefront summer homes.  And some can’t afford to stay in resorts.  Nor buy their own leafy acreage in a former wildlife preserve or national park in order to have a place to put down a tent or park an RV.

Romney never mentioned it again.  But I wondered why Obama didn’t.

Well, actually, I knew why.  It’s the same reason that election year after election year, the Democratic candidates, for reelection or election to the Senate or the House don’t mention the things the Republican members of Congress have proposed, sometimes successfully, that are appalling policies dictated by their donors, and that the public does not know about: Apprising the public of these things isn’t on the list of recommendations their political consultants advise them to do.  If it’s not a culture-wars issue or something else that most of the public already knows about, it won’t be on any of their consultants’ list of things to mention.  And if it’s even slightly complex, or the Wall Street folks don’t want the Dems to talk about it, then it’s per se not on the list.

Especially—especially—if it means “nationalizing” the election by pointing out what actually will happen if the Republicans gain control or keep control of the Congress.  As opposed to what will happen if the Dems do.

What won the election for Obama in 2012 was a series of ads run in the spring of that year by a sort-of-independent super PAC that educated the public about what Romney actually did as a venture capitalist, coupled with the 47% videotape in the early fall.  But the spring super PAC ads were attacked by some establishment Dems, including Bill Clinton, and by a few centrist pundits with ties to Wall Street, as class warfare and as attacking capitalism.  And the issue was not “nationalized” for congressional elections, even though the Republican budgets and antiregulatory proposals and other proposed legislation—some of it slipped into an unrelated bill at the last minute, a constant in fact with that crowd—because as always, the Dem consultants were horrified at the prospect of a nationalized congressional election.

“As always” included the 2014 elections.  And best as I can tell, this year’s congressional elections, too.

I had envisioned Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—the two highest-profile progressives—neither of whom is on the ballot this year, and therefore both who are free to do so, barnstorming the country in an effort to apprise voters of the really ugly things that the Republican Congress keeps trying to force via one or another trick, on behalf of the party’s establishment donors.  Including the divestment of federal lands of all sorts to Republican donors via pass-through to, and then from, the states—not only in and of itself but as lucid illustration of the extremes to which the Republican Party is a party of oligarchs.

A party.  Invitation only.  Admission is steep but well worth the price for invitees.  And that whatever else you can say about the Democrats, their donors aren’t trying to turn vast public lands into private preserves of the Republican donors’ industries.

Oh, the horror of nationalizing the congressional elections.  (If you’re a Republican oligarch, not if you’re, well, not.)

Sanders has been aggressively soliciting campaign contributions, via Act Blue, for certain progressive congressional candidates.  And a few days ago he began soliciting contributions for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in an email with the subject, “Time to elect a Democratic Senate”, or some such.

But I think he and Warren have been held back somewhat by Clinton’s open, aggressive courting of high-profile Republicans.  And now, as of yesterday, her weird and awful selection of—good graceKen Salazar as her transition team head seems to like a deliberate slight to progressives.  Young voters, at least outside of Colorado, don’t know about him, so she thought this would be freebee, but given social networking, it may well not be.  But Sanders and Warren know about him.  How do you campaign for a progressive Congress to team up with, well, someone who thinks Ken Salazar should head her presidential transition team?

I don’t know who it is that has her ear and is so enamored of uber-triangulating Colorado pols, but it’s someone who thinks it’s still the 1990s. Okay, I do know.  Probably. It’s Bill Clinton—the same person, I’d wager, who told her to jump right on it in going after those Republican endorsements and those Republican donors.  No time to waste.  And no time was wasted.

Maureen Dowd, in a stunning column last Sunday perfectly titled “The Perfect G.O.P. Nominee,”, got pretty close to the heart of why Clinton is so widely viewed as untrustworthy.  And as long as she remains under her husband’s spell there will be no easing of that view.

I’ve repeatedly analogized Donald Trump and Paul Ryan to Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, but both parties have nominated puppets as their presidential nominees.  I’ll certainly vote for Bill Clinton over Paul Ryan.

Although if Edgar Bergen’s name appears on my ballot, all bets are off.  I like transparency in presidential candidates.  And, who knows?  Maybe he likes the national parks system enough to mention its political endangerment while campaigning.

____

POSTSCRIPT:

In November, 2012, asked a question he did not like by a reporter for The Gazette of Colorado Springs regarding Salazar’s association with [a] hauler who shipped wild horses to slaughter plants, Salazar told the reporter, “If you do that to me again, I’ll punch you out”. Salazar later apologized.

Wikipedia

Great.  Also great:

US presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has raised eyebrows with the hiring of Washington DC powerbroker and vocal Trans-Pacific Partnership supporter Ken Salazar.

Mr Salazar will head Ms Clinton’s White House transition team.

The appointment adds weight to speculation Ms Clinton, who became a TPP opponent when running for president, was a closet supporter of the proposed landmark pact between the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and seven other Pacific Rim nations.

“The TPP is a strong trade deal that will level the playing field for workers to help middle-class families get ahead,” Mr Salazar, a former Colorado senator and interior secretary under President Barack Obama, co-wrote in a USA Today op-ed in November.

“It is also the greenest trade deal ever.” Ms Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have both vowed to nix the TPP, a move that contrasts with Mr Obama’s pro-TPP stance. Ms Clinton’s vice president running mate Tim Kaine was also pro-TPP.

If Ms Clinton wins the November 8 presidential election, Mr Salazar will guide her in the months leading up to Mr Obama’s January exit from the White House. It is during that “lame duck” period Mr Obama has the best hope of pushing the TPP proposal through Congress.

Mr Salazar, who has worked at the influential Washington DC firm WilmerHale that has lobbied on trade policy, has also shown support for fracking and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

“He is pro-Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), pro-fracking and pro-Keystone XL pipeline,” Molly Dorozenski, campaign director for Greenpeace Democracy, wrote.

“If Clinton plans to effectively tackle climate change, the last thing her team needs is a fossil fuel industry friend like Salazar.”

On a trip to Australia in 2012 as US secretary of state Ms Clinton declared in Adelaide the “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade”.

Clinton supporters query pro-TPP hiring, Peter Mitchell, NZN US Correspondent – NZ Newswire, today

Dowd has it right.

Added 8/17 at 8:06 p.m.

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