Monday, January 09, 2006

Economics in Nat'l Parks

I used the comment in this topic to make a point: Always deriving environmental protections to economic indicators spells trouble for National Parks. To answer the question: We can do something to try and designate more outerlying areas that allow more motorized recreational activities. I've even gone to the extreme of hypothetically suggesting we reduce the amount of "National" Forest and Park lands for the sake of higher standards within those designated Parks. Why again? Because they were meant to be appreciated for what they are, not what the technologically inclined need. I'd like a little frickin' peace and quiet. Cell phones, snowmobiles, touring planes? When is enough, people? And I'm trying to be serious. This is geared towards the metropolitan resident or technologically conscious individual who isn't necessarily familiar with natural heritages: At what point is it appropriate to stop the need to conquer nature in our behaviors?

Garden Web
In a proposed comprehensive re-write of administrative rules that govern the national parks, powered off-road vehicles would be given increased access to the national park system. Jet skis, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, and 4-wheel atv's will be able to enter and use areas that have been historically off-limits. The new rules are proposed by Paul Hoffman, appointed Deputy Secretary of the Interior in 2002. There is opposition to the proposal coming from a group of retired Park Service employees.

My personal sense is that people visit the National Parks to get away from noisy activity, and will be disappointed if they encounter dirt bikes on woodland paths. I find the proposed rules incomprehensible. The concept lacks common sense. Is anyone in charge over there?

See "Island Park News," online, dated September 9, 2005.

What can we do? The consumer market for Chinese dirt bikes, ATVs, jet skis, etc. must continue to expand or we'll go into a recession.

Paul Hoffman changing National Parks

National Park Service is Being Skinned from the Inside-Out
By Todd Wilkinson, 12-01-05

Editors' Note: The re-writing of boilerplate protective language for the National Park Service by political appointee and Assistant U.S. Interior Department Secretary Paul Hoffman should cause broader public analysis of the climate of fear that exists inside America's most beloved government agency. This is the first of several dispatches from Todd Wilkinson who was written about the National Park Service for the last 20 years. Click here for the entire series

You have to wonder, at least I do, what goes through the minds of high-level civil servants and business executives when they know they’ve been busted.

What are they thinking when they appear in a public forum, getting grilled by members of Congress (or in a court of law), and then deliver lame answers they know full and well are less than honest.?

Such as:
“I have no recollection of what you are talking about.”
“It was an innocent exercise in creative brainstorming.”
“You gotta trust me on this. Really, everything is legit.”
“I was only following orders.”

When Steve Martin, the former Grand Teton National Park Superintendent who now serves as the National Park Service’s Deputy Director in Washington, D.C, appeared recently before a panel of U.S. senators, he struggled mightily to pass the red-face test. But I sympathize with the compromised position he was placed in.

Coming under intense bi-partisan scrutiny lead by U.S. Sens. Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican, and Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, he claimed that some of the controversial changes written in to the National Park Service’s operating manual may have been “inadvertent.”

As in, they happened by accident. As in, they just slipped by or were typos. As in, even though the changes would radically alter the primary mission of America’s most beloved government agency, which is charged with protecting our crown jewel wildlands, they were added by some strange occurrence of alchemy.

The bald-faced truth is that nothing about the overhaul of the Park Service’s operating manual was done without radical deliberateness executed by former Cody Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paul Hoffman.

Mr. Hoffman knows better than to take the public for a bunch of gullible fools.

As an assistant Secretary of the Interior, a politically appointed position, he got his job NOT because he holds any professional expertise in stewarding public lands but simply because he was a former staffer decades ago for Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Hoffman couldn’t wait to tinker with the Park Service’s boilerplate language that puts preservation ahead of resource exploitation. None of this is speculation.

His dislike of former Yellowstone Superintendent Mike Finley was well known. His attempts to undermine Finley by threatening him with political retaliation for advancing conservation in Yellowstone are well documented. His frustration that Yellowstone and other parks are guarded by a shield of armor, forged by the words laden in the 1916 Park Service Organic Act, is not a secret.

In addition to Hoffman’s anti-environmental agenda now being exposed (though Park Service workers are afraid to discuss it for fear he will punish them), another problem, lesser known to the public, is the intense pressure coming to bear upon career civil servants like Steve Martin.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as a climate of fear as much as an atmosphere of intense intimidation,” says one active Park Service veteran who notes that Hoffman has made it clear “heads will roll” if career rangers challenge his agenda. One has to wonder—am I the only one who does—that when the President of the United States makes a speech justifying our military intervention in Iraq, telling bereaved family members who have lost soldiers that they gave their lives fighting for freedom and Democracy—that before we export liberty perhaps we have to get it right here first.

If fear, harassment and intimidation are not tolerated in the private sector, why does it appear to exist and be condoned in the U.S. government? The great thing about living in a Democracy is that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. Mr. Hoffman deserves to have the benefit of the doubt accorded him because, after all, our soldiers are in Iraq fighting to protect American-style freedom which I assume includes our system of justice. But I have spoken with many civil servants who work for a variety of federal agencies (Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service) and they are afraid of what will happen if they don't follow the script being handed to them.

Denis Galvin, who spent three decades defending national parks as a career civil servant under Republican and Democrat administrations, says there’s always politics at work with political appointees but Hoffman’s meddling is unprecedented.

Good people, including Galvin who dedicated their careers to the Park Service and received the highest honors of civil service, are leaving in droves because Hoffman and others in the Bush Administration are forcing them to compromise their principles of what is right and wrong, he says.

“The most obvious quantifiable phenomenon is the number of people who have left the agency,” Galvin says. “They got fed up. That’s a huge loss. The intimidation is more intense today than it ever was before.”

Recently, Park Service Director Fran Mainella circulated a memo to the rank and file demanding that all agency employees, civil service grade GS-13 and higher, devote themselves to carrying out the political agenda of the Bush Administration.

Galvin says it is tantamount to “a loyalty oath”. The performance of employees is judged on how well they implement policy changes being handed down down to them by political appointees like Mr. Hoffman.

In the past, it was customary for an assistant Interior Secretary to approve the appointments of Park Service officials who were part of the “senior executive service” meaning those above GS-15. Hoffman, however, wants to be able to confirm all Park Service posts GS-13 and above which applies to hundreds of employees.

Galvin says it is an insidious attempt to transform the professional culture of the agency by weeding out employees who are committed to the Park Service’s conservation mission that currently takes precedent over the desires of the industrial recreation industry. For example, a park visitor’s desire to experience peace or quietly watch wildlife in a national park is given higher priority over another’s wishes to drive noisy, intrusive, and polluting snowmobiles, jet skis, and ATVs in national parks.

Hoffman would like to tip the balance in the other direction by rewriting the regs. It’s more than profoundly ironic that Mr. Hoffman and others were at the lead of the pack in accusing the Clinton Administration of crafting rules in dark rooms in Washington without soliciting public and professional review. At least with the Clinton Adminstration, agency employees who devoted their professional lives to being public stewards of our landscapes, wildlife, and resources such as clean air and water didn’t flee their agencies because they were afraid to talk.

Denis Galvin knows the difference between then and now. Things were never like this under the administration of the current President’s father, George Herbert Walker Bush.

Deny and I have had several conversations over the years in the halls at the Interior Building in Washington and on the phone. He’s a civil servant I greatly admire. He’s the kind of guy who should’ve been a Park Service Director or been plucked to hold the position that was given to Hoffman.

Updating the Park Service operating manual isn't an uncommon event. Galvin says he was involved in helping to assist with two previous updates that were carried out transparently with agencywide participation and openness. Hoffman’s rewrite, however, was done surreptitiously, he says, noting that he’s studied the changes line by line and there’s nothing “inadvertent” about them.

The unfortunate thing is that people like Steve Martin are being set up as fall guys. That’s not fair and frankly it’s a very Soviet approach to how government, freedom and Democracy are supposed to be run. Martin’s taking the heat for decisions he didn’t make.

By Robert Hoskins, 12-01-05
We haven't seen such a direct attack on the public trust and public lands since the days before the administration of Theodore Roosevelt a century ago. It's people like Todd Wilkinson who are telling it as it is. Pay attention, folks!

By John Baden, 12-01-05
Good piece by Todd!

In the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, November 16, 2005

National Parks’ Future Lies in Trusts
by John A. Baden, Ph.D.

Creating the national parks was one of America’s best ideas, but inevitable political pressures jeopardize their mission. The parks’ strongest supporters warn of dangers from political management.

Consider a recent New York Times editorial. After noting Americans’ overwhelming support for national parks, the Times opines: “Yet in the past two months we have seen two proposed revisions [of management policy]. The first, written by Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary in the Interior Department, was a genuinely scandalous rewriting that would have destroyed the national park system.”

The second draft was only somewhat better. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, “the proposed policies re-define the over-arching duty of the park service, eliminating references to longstanding legal mandates that clearly emphasize preservation of resources.... The replacement statement sets a dangerous precedent that could put enjoyment of resources, including motorized abuse, ahead of conservation.” They warn it would foster increased air and noise pollution due to more jet skis and snowmobiles, as well as expanded livestock grazing: both “high-impact” uses.

As I’ve argued for decades, these treasures deserve better. In today’s rancorous cultural environment, is it naïve folly to trust our parks’ fate to politicians? Political pressures move the Progressive Era’s ideal of management by neutral, scientific experts ever further from reality.

Yellowstone Park was established in 1872. Due to failure to protect its resources, management was turned over to the U.S. Army in 1886, where it remained for some 30 years. The military left the Park in 1918, two years after the National Park Service was established.

When avarice first threatened the Park’s values, the cavalry came to the rescue. At that time, naked private interests tried to stake claims on public resources. Now, their descendents utilize the political process to achieve similar goals. Is this an aberration or the predictable consequences of our institutional arrangements? I believe it’s the latter and that reform is long overdue. Here’s why.

First, the parks will always offer values that attract potential exploiters, folks with little interest in promoting the public interest. Poaching, a huge problem in the 1870s, remains troublesome. And poaching is trivial compared to the ecological damage caused by ORVs. There are multiple opportunities for exploitation, and their value is growing; there have always been huge political incentives to pander.

Second, an increasing proportion of visitors will be from foreign countries, especially China and India. As admissions provide more of the park system’s funding, there will be strong incentives to cater to visitors’ demands. And few of them will draw a sharp philosophical distinction between Disneyland and Yellowstone. The implications are chilling to those who care about the mission of our national parks.

Third, the federal government is facing huge and growing deficits. The park system now carries a maintenance backlog (estimated at roughly $5 billion, twice the entire annual Park Service budget), and it will be ever more difficult to allocate funds to relieve it. Concurrently, there will be seductive opportunities to use the national parks as cash cows. It’s easy to imagine how a budgetary tradeoff between controlling noxious invasive species or vaccinating children might play out.

A public treasure does not inherently require governmental management. Public, nongovernmental trusts present sensible alternatives to federal management. Both Mount Vernon and Monticello are clearly “public” and both are run by trusts rather than government agencies.

Endowment boards, like those running museums, hospitals, and private schools, would operate under a legal charter to steward individual parks. After receiving a one-time Congressional endowment, each park’s individual trust would be “on its own.” The board, established by local environmental groups, business leaders, and citizens, would promote ecologically sensitive economic activities as part of their trustee responsibility.

Creative mechanisms such as a “Friends of Old Faithful” program could entice membership, dues, and democratic feedback from park lovers everywhere. Park trusts would free our parks from their precarious dependency on national politics, encourage long-term planning, and reintroduce accountability in management.

Perhaps Hoffman’s recent assault is an aberration we can ignore. More likely, the dangers to our parks will become more obvious as the threat of commercialization looms larger. Should this occur, those who care most deeply will look for alternatives to political management. Think trusts.

John A. Baden, Ph.D., is Chairman of FREE and Gallatin Writers.

By Brodie Farquhar, 12-01-05
Like Todd, I've been covering Hoffman and the growing commercialization pressures on public lands.
Right after the Hoffman rewrite controversy started, Paul Hoffman spoke before a very appreciative audience: the American Recreation Coaltion--a wide spectrum of businesses that sell outdoor experiences, goods and services, ranging from resorts, ski areas and marinas, to user groups and manufacturers of boats, ATVs, luxury coaches, etc.

Dozens of reporters (myself included) were hounding Interior for an interview with Hoffman. As far as I can tell, no reporter spoke to Hoffman until the Park Service rolled out their toned down version that Todd addressed above.
Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness is probably THE best source about commercialization of public lands, which Scott traces back to a Cato Institute paper about 20 years ago. Scott's admirable detective work traces the idea of privatizing public lands from Cato to PERC to Reason Magazine and thence to some of Bush's top appointees at Interior: Norton and Watson.

The game plan seems to borrow a page from Grover Norquist (starve the federal government until you can drown it in a bathtub): Cut budgets and professional staff (and thereby morale), until recreation fees, volunteers and concessionaires look like a reasonable alternative to severe options like shutting down campgrounds, parks, etc.

In the midst of staggering federal deficits, the option of fully-funding our land and wildlife agencies is quickly dismissed. Extreme ideas like selling public lands to draw down the deficit start sounding rational.
Commercialization of public lands is not the revolution that James Watt advocated (and why he got slapped down). This is an evolutionary, stealth approach that may take decades to unfold.

By Bill Wade, Chair, Coalition of NPS Retirees, 12-02-05
Todd's article is right on target. The real issue here is that the NPS now has a Director who is more concerned about satisfying her political leaders than she is about the values and purposes of the National Park System. With regard to the proposed revisions to the NPS Management Policies, she is now intent on doing everything possible to convince the public (and the employees of the NPS) that this version was "written with the participation of nearly [Note that this qualifier has recently crept into the statement, earlier she was stating that it was "over"] 100 professional National Park Service employees" - a claim the NPS now admits it can't back up. Whether this is intentional misrepresentation or just sloppy public information we don't know. We do know that Mainella has been conspicuously absent from the recent "listening" meetings conducted with various interest groups - leaving that task to Steve Martin and other career employees. Presumably this is to bolster the claim that the management policies being reviewed are the "career professional version," even though they, and we, know it isn't.

By Texas reader, 12-02-05
Thanks Todd for calling what it is: "anti-evironment".

By hal herring, 12-05-05
I just got back from Yellowstone, so am late in seeing your excellent and timely stories here. I am fascinated that mainstream journalism is not publishing stories like this everyday-- that perhaps the saturation of extremist views like Hoffman's --and the overwhelming majority of appointed decision-makers on public lands and energy issues that have no credentials other than an extremist anti-enviro or anti-conservation platform (or simply a profit for campaign contributors at any cost) is not the fodder of every publication in America right now. That's a convoluted sentence, yes.
I am not nostalgic for the simpler days of James Watt, but I don't think we ever grasped (then) that Watt was merely the Reagan-enabled visionary, whose visions would come to fruit when business and population pressures (now) created the environment to make them reality under an administration who draws all of its energy from extremist rhetoric-- from religious to right wing business....I would posit that Ms. Norton is no more or less extreme in her views than was her mentor Mr. Watt, but she inhabits a time when such views can more easily be realized. I am, though, nostalgic for the time when I wrote the story, pasted below, for Field and Stream..I don't remember the date of pub. but it was sometime on 2000. A figure like Richard Pombo has been slouching towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born, for a long long time.

Thanks for your work and attention, Todd. Americans, especially westerners, are confronting
what Joseph Conrad,in Heart of Darkness, called "the flabby devils" -- destructive forces that are hard to pin down or fight against, because they involve so many aspects of human nature common to us all--
where need becomes greed, ie. the need for natural gas which has to come out of the Jonah Field, to heat our homes, versus our desire to preserve ecosystems and wildlife, or the need to "recreate " in the National Parks versus the role of the Parks to serve as redoubts of the last wild systems on earth.... so many nuances, so many places for those of us who do not value the natural world or creation at all, to put on the mask of the reasonable advocate for "balance"
ie. unleashing the forces of private business and capitalism on the public lands and parks. Whew.
Hal Herring
Post: #1 Posted: Thu Jul 08, 2004 9:42 pm
From Field and Stream magazine No Place Whatsoever by Hal Herring Some say the concept of national public lands is obsolete. Where would that leave sportsman? There are about 630 million acres of federal public land in the United States, managed by the military, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the National Park Service. About 222 million of those acres are in Alaska, but that still leaves a big chunk in the lower 48 states. But the public lands have never been under as much scrutiny, and the source of so much conflict, as they are today. Environmentalists fight the loggers and the miners and the drillers. Hikers hate ATV riders; snowmobilers leave backcountry skiers cussing in clouds of purple exhaust. Ranchers who lease grazing rights run afoul of hunters who say that the forage eaten by cattle could support vast herds of game. Communities surrounded by public lands that produce almost no revenue watch their children leave home for work in the cities. Western politicians yell "federal government!" from their soapboxes, and crowds roar with anger. As when toys are simply taken away from children who won't stop fighting over them, there are plans afoot to solve the conflict over the public lands by simply getting rid of them. Ironically, some of the same representatives that sportsmen have counted on to preserve the right to bear arms and to guarantee our hunting privileges have said that the whole concept of public lands should be questioned. What would this mean for sportsmen? Without public land, hunting and a lot of fishing would be reserved for those who can pay the highest price. Wildlife would be privatized along with the land, owned by whichever landowner could afford to fence it in. There would be vast private wildland preserves bordering virtual moonscapes where all the timber and minerals have been taken away by some international consortium. It could mean a busy economy of land trades and housing developments and pay-to-play recreation. It would mean that there would be no place whatsoever for us to go. The Push to Privatize Selling off the public lands to the highest bidder is not a new idea. Bernard DeVoto, the renowned historian and editor of the journals of Lewis and Clark, spent years writing about the efforts of the timber and grazing interests to transfer federal lands to state ownership -- and then into private hands, since no single state has the budget to manage or maintain them. In his anthology The Easy Chair, published in 1955, DeVoto wrote, "The ultimate objective is to liquidate all public ownership of grazing and forest land in the United Statesäthe plan is to get rid of public lands altogether, turning them over to the states, which can be coerced as the federal government cannot be, and eventually to private ownership." GET INVOLVED Find out about local land-ownership issues in your state by contacting your state wildlife management agency, or get involved by joining the following conservation organizations: The Izaak Walton League of America was founded in 1922 as a national organization of hunters, anglers, and other conservation-minded outdoor enthusiasts who work through volunteer, community-based action and education programs to ensure the sustainable use of America's natural resources. 800-453-5463; The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance comprises individual sportsmen and women and 500 national, regional, and local conservation groups concerned about the future of wildlife and outdoor activities on the 192 million acres of national forests and grasslands. 877-770-8722; The National Wildlife Federation, established in 1936, is the largest member-supported wildlife conservation organization, offering a wide array of education and advocacy programs. The NWF works to ensure that any transfer of government lands to private owners is made for the sole benefit of the wildlife and ecosystem. 800-611-1599; The landgrabbers, as DeVoto called them, have never gone away. In 1995, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) cosponsored a bill introduced by Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) that would transfer all lands managed by the BLM to the states. Under the plan, the state of Montana would gain control of 8 million acres, including most of the Missouri Breaks, the Rocky Mountain Front, and the C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge -- some of the most valuable public hunting grounds in the nation. Idaho would gain control of 11 million acres; Wyoming, 17 million. What would happen to all that land? "If the state gets the lands, they will go on the sales block," Montana state Sen. Al Bishop (R-Yellowstone) told a reporter for Time magazine in October 1995. The Montana Wilderness Association campaigned against the bill, running radio and newspaper ads to let the public know what was being proposed. Louise Bruce, then the president of the association, said, "The legislation doesn't stand a chance in the light of day. If the public knows that their land is being threatened, they will be outraged. It's our job to keep letting them know. We will keep pounding on this issue until our lands are safe." The bill failed, in large part because of the rallying of public opinion against it. But Burns, now serving his third term in the Senate, has never changed his stance. "The federal government now controls nearly one-third of the land in the United States," Burns said in an address to Congress last summer. "That is wrong, and was never intended to be as envisioned by the Founders of our nation nor the framers of our Constitution." Montana state Rep. Bob Davies (R-Gallatin) is now pushing for privatization. Davies believes that the federal government does not have the power to own any land inside the states, except for military uses. He has introduced a bill to bring suit against the U.S. government to force the return of 27 million acres of federal land to Montana. "We're not advocating that there be no public lands," says Davies. "We just say they have to turn the lands over to the states. We can manage them much better." Trouble in Nevada The sale of public lands is already established in Nevada, where the federal government owns 87 percent of the land. The antifederal fire has always burned hottest there. In the 1980s, county commissioners in Elko County, Nevada, sparked what came to be called the sagebrush rebellion, by laying claim to all federal lands within the county's boundaries. That term is now commonly used for any opposition to federal regulations and control of public lands in the West, but northern Nevada remains the epicenter of discontent. In July 1994, Elko County Commissioner Dick Carver made national news when he rammed his bulldozer through a gate that closed a road in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The same forest was the site of the so-called Shovel Brigade protest last July 4, when citizens gathered to reopen a Forest Service road that had collapsed into the tiny Jarbidge River. The road had been closed by Forest Service officials to protect the southernmost population of bull trout known to exist in the nation. Most of the citizens who participated in those acts were not clamoring for the public lands to be sold to private interests -- they were demanding that local communities be given a stronger voice in managing them. "Most everybody knows that Nevada will never have the budget to manage all that land -- one big range or forest fire would bankrupt us," acknowledges Elsie Dupree of the Nevada Wildlife Federation. "If the state got those lands, there would be a huge sale, and people from all over the world would be here, buying it up for dude ranches or whatever." In Las Vegas, the fastest-growing city in the country, public lands are being sold outright as the city expands into the surrounding desert. "We have a law passed in 1998 that says we can sell any land needed for urban development," explains Bob Stewart, a real estate specialist with the BLM. "Every sale goes through a series of reviews, and sometimes, with rural lands, the value of the land does not pay for the review process. New legislation addresses that problem, allowing us to pay for the reviews with money from more valuable lands and get ready for the next sale." The Ultimate (Final) Solution? In the opinion of some economists, it is time to abandon the concept of public lands altogether and let the market decide where people can hunt, fish, ride their ATVs, or seek the solitude of the forests. "We could auction off all the public lands over the next 20 to 40 years," says Terry Anderson, the executive director of the Political Economy Research Center (PERC), in Bozeman, Montana. If PERC sounds familiar, it's because Gale Norton, Anderson's old friend and former research fellow at the center, is now the secretary of the Department of the Interior, which manages the 630 million acres of public land. "Right now we have federal land managers who have no clear incentives to produce anything," Anderson says. "They feed at the public trough, and they face enormous pressures from special-interest groups -- it doesn't matter if those groups are loggers, or environmentalists, or rock climbers, whoever. There are no clear goals. We do not have the multiple use for which the lands are mandated." In 1999, Anderson coauthored a study titled "How and Why to Privatize Federal Lands," outlining the benefits of divestiture, the term he uses to describe the selling off of what he calls the federal estate. Anderson views the current deadlock over the management of the public lands as yet another demonstration of the failure of socialism. He is a free-market economist first, but he is also a lifelong hunter who believes that converting the public lands to private ownership could lead to better management for wildlife and hunting, as well as for natural resources like timber, oil, minerals, or simply clean water. "Incentives matter," he insists. "If I pay a landowner top dollar to hunt elk on his property, that landowner is going make sure that he's got the best elk habitat possible. If the market demands clean water, he's not going to clear-cut his mountainsides and jeopardize that resource. You can't make those kinds of decisions on the public lands, because there are so many conflicting demands placed on them." What would our country look like if the public lands were sold off to the private sector? "We would see true multiple use of the lands, for one thing," Anderson asserts. "I think you'd see more development, both for natural resources like oil, and for housing and condos. But it would be done with greater sensibility, to keep from degrading the resource. If you own it, you don't want to diminish its value. "People always ask me whether I think places like Yellowstone would be protected, and I think they would be. But in a free market, there's no guarantee. Someone might decide to tap the geysers for energy or build condos at Yellowstone Lake. There are risks involved, but there are also risks in letting the government continue to mismanage these lands." Anderson's office is decorated with photos and trophies of hunts, both in the American West and in Africa, where he recently took a Cape buffalo with a bow. All his hunting, on both continents, is done on private land. "I'm not so satisfied with these pristine corners of the world that are run by government. They are crowded, the parking lots at the trailheads are packed with cars, the hunting is bad. I'd much rather pay a fee to access private, controlled spaces, with better hunting, and better habitat." Some see this way of thinking as a progression to European-style hunting."What Mr. Anderson is talking about with divestiture is turning our national heritage back to the king," rebuts Thomas Power, chairman of the economics department at the University of Montana and a well-known writer and lecturer on natural-resource issues around the West. "If you sell off the commons -- in our case, the public lands -- you are not going to have very much hunting, certainly not for anyone but the wealthy." The Dilemma of the Commons The politics of the last eight years have been confusing for many American sportsmen. Repeated attacks on the Second Amendment drove a lot of outdoorsmen deep into the Republican ranks. Somehow, that movement was perceived by many Republican politicians as a sign that hunters and fishermen were no longer the premier conservationists that they had always been, and that a mandate had been given to them to push issues like the privatization of federal lands, or at least return to a more industrial concept of those lands, even though both of those issues run counter to the interests of most sportsmen. This may also be a sign that as sportsmen's numbers drop, politicians simply pay less attention to their concerns. "The antigovernment, antienvironmental folks have greatly exaggerated the coincidence of interests between themselves and outdoor recreationists," Power says. Under the Bush administration, sportsmen are going to have to shout a little louder to be heard over the voices of industry looking to make up for lost time on the public lands, and they are going to have to convince their elected representatives that just because they are staunch defenders of gun and property rights, they will not tolerate assaults on other freedoms: to wander the public lands, to hunt and fish, and to enjoy the American outdoors and its wildlife. Will the public lands be around for our grandchildren? Only those who now own them can decide.

By Greg, 12-05-05
I'm with Hal: great piece Todd -- and where's the media outrage???

By R Kimpel, 12-07-05
I'm sorry to see this happen to an agency I worked for (NPS,31 yrs)... I hoped that my grandchildren and their offspring can enjoy the parks and public lands as much as we have. Seems Bush/Cheney can be decisive when it comes to fighting for our precious oil supply but are poor judges of who to appoint to the various cabinet posts.

By Herman Smith, 12-12-05
Thanks for the great article, looking forward to the rest of the series.

Remember that Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett was the ED of the Reason Foundation. Check out their papers and articles--Privitization is their agenda. Paul Hoffman is doing exactly what he is authorized to do by Scarlett, Norton, and the White House.

Back after the first election, John Turner was up for a post in DOI. He would have been a great choice for Deputy Secretary or Secretary. Being friends with Cheney you would think he would have been a shoe in, but even those ties could not stop the far right property rights movement--the Chuck Cushman's of the world- of tarring him as an extreme environmentalist. What nonsense. So these are the folks running things now. The media is doing a roten job of exposing their true agenda.

By Ralph Cramer, 12-30-05
Ah, The sky is falling, the sky is falling.

Get over it people, change is due, and always painful for those stuck in the past.

It would be nice to see some objective, reasoned analysis on the proposed changes in USPS management, rather than the hysterical polemic that is epidemic in the articles and comments found here.

By Todd Wilkinson, 12-30-05
Dear "Ralph Cramer",
Please tell us more about yourself. Here's an invitation, too, to lay out an objective, reasoned analysis. Please hold forth.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

God and Nature

Noble Savage Hypothesis Refuted
Environmentalists frequently indict the Biblical dominion mandate--that human beings should "subdue" the earth (Gen. 1:28)-for causing the heedless modern exploitation of the natural environment. Other passages are blamed for the advent of genocidal warfare. These indictments follow from the mistaken perception that the Bible encourages us to see the earth, and other people, as objects to exploit and conquer. Some suggest that humans once worshipped a benevolent Mother Earth, and saw nature as a bounteous provider to be loved and respected. But once "patriarchal" religions like Christianity became widespread, Earth and her bounty were supposedly seen as something we were free to exploit as we saw fit.

These arguments against what is taken to be the Bible's teaching about the use of nature run smack into some plain facts. In recent times no one has done a better job of ruining the earth than those who do not, even nominally, obey the Scriptures. After the fall of Communism in the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations, it was discovered that environmental pollution and degradation under Communism generally far surpassed that in capitalist countries (Edwards 1993). The atheism at the foundation of Communism proved to be no protector of the earth's resources. Rather it permitted their ruthless misuse.

More fundamentally, however, environmentalist accusations against the Bible can be answered by actually examining the lives of "primitive" peoples. Since such peoples have usually not been influenced by the Bible, one might suppose that they live in a "natural" state of peaceful coexistence and harmony with their environment.

A recent study (Alvard 1993) casts doubt on this view. After citing a number of earlier studies which demonstrate that aboriginal peoples do not function with an attitude towards the conservation of nature, Alvard examined the Piro Indians of Amazonian Peru. He found that their hunting is guided, not by any pre-Christian reverence for nature, but only by their immediate practical needs.

Furthermore, Alvard warns against confusing one's relative inability to harm the environment (because of primitive technology) with a deliberate choice to avoid harming it:

That these groups live within the limits of their environment is evidence that some sort of apparent equilibrium has been achieved. However, as discussed above, such a circumstance does not rate the hunters the label of conservationists. . . . [T]he appearance of balance between traditional native groups and their environment has more to do with low population densities, lack of markets, and limited technology than it does with any natural harmonious relationship with nature. (p. 384).

We should ask whether the notion of "reverence for Mother Earth" is a genuine phenomenon of anthropology, a true "natural state"--or a hopeful myth that can become a form of idolatry.

A popular corollary to the myth of "Mother Nature" is the claim that, before European contact, warfare among Native American tribes was ritualistic, and relatively free of bloodshed. The warfare became savage, according to this view, only after European Christians armed the Native Americans.

Recent archeological evidence, however (see Bamforth 1994 and Krech 1994) shows that genocidal warfare between native tribes, including such brutal practices as scalping and mutilation, predated the arrival of Europeans. As Bamforth notes:

The Missouri River data, particularly the evidence from Crow Creek, would seem to refute Blick's (1988) assertion that tribal warfare is a post-contact phenomenon on the Plains and, by extension, elsewhere: tribal peoples were clearly capable of engaging in extreme violence without access to European weapons and without the process of cultural change such access brings with it. (p. 108)

Unfortunately, there are Christians numbered among those who carelessly exploit the environment. But one need look no further than the sinful human heart to find reasons for genocidal warfare or the misuse of nature's resources. Since Adam our "state of nature" has been one of sin and its consequences. We ought to be surprised, therefore, not by finding destruction and hatred in nature--but by finding theories that claim humans in their natural state lived in harmony with the earth and each other. Such theories imagine a time that never was.

Web of Creation
Biblical Views of Nature:
Foundations for an Environmental Ethic
by Marcia Bunge

A common perception is that the Bible shows little concern for our relationship to nature and has perhaps even encourages its exploitation. This perception is often supported by reference to the biblical commands to "subdue" the earth and "have dominion" over all living things (Genesis 1:28), which are interpreted to mean that human beings can treat the non-human world in whatever way they please. This interpretation of Genesis 1:28 and the perception that the Bible has little else to say about our relation to the earth have led many people to reject the Bible as a resource for developing a sound environmental ethic.

The view that the Bible has fostered the exploitation of nature is expressed in an influential and often-cited article by Lynn White entitled, "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis."1 Although several scholars have exposed weaknesses of White's position,2 elements of his argument still prevail in discussions about the Bible and the environment. Alluding to verses in Genesis 1-2, White claims they emphasize that God planned creation "explicitly for [human] benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve [human] purposes."3 For White, Christianity accepted this biblical view of creation, fostering the attitude that human beings transcend nature and may exploit it. He argues that this attitude has shaped the development of modern Western science and technology, which have posed threats to our environment. He concludes that Christianity therefore "bears a huge burden of guilt" for our ecological crisis.

Such interpretations of the Bible and our growing environmental problems have prompted scholars to analyze carefully the biblical view of nature. In contrast to common assumptions, they are discovering that the Bible contains insights that can help form the basis of a sound environmental ethic. Although interpretations of particular passages may vary, they indicate that the Bible affirms the goodness and intrinsic value of all living things; it points out commonalities between human beings and other living things; and it contains the mandate that we treat the natural world with care and respect. Such insights provide powerful grounds for environmental responsibility. This brief essay introduces some of the important biblical passages that have implications for environmental ethics.

Genesis 1-11 contains several fundamental ideas about the natural world and our place in it.4 For example, the opening verses of Genesis clearly state that God is the source of all life and that creation is good. Furthermore, the formation of Adam from "the dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:7) highlights the connection between human beings and the earth because adam, the word for "human being," is a play on adamah, the word for "ground" or "earth." The story of Noah and the flood illustrates God's concern for all creatures because it states that God made the covenant not just with human beings but with "every living thing" and that God desires all creatures to "be fruitful and multiply." The ideas that God is the source of all life, that creation is good, that human beings are connected to the earth, and that God is concerned for all creatures strongly suggest that we are to value and respect the earth and its many forms of life.

Several recent interpretations have shown that Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 call human beings to preserve and protect the earth and its creatures. James Limburg, for example, interprets Genesis 1:28 in this way on the basis of a careful study of the Hebrew word, radah, which is usually translated as "to have dominion" or "to rule."5 By examining the use of this word in other passages in the Old Testament, he finds it is most often used in political contexts to speak about the rule of a king or a nation. Limburg discovers that when the characteristics of the rule are discussed, the biblical texts emphasize a humane and compassionate rule that displays responsibility for others and that results in peace and prosperity. He therefore concludes that Genesis 1:28 does not advocate tyrannical exploitation of nature but rather responsible care of it.

Many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 8, 104, and 148, reaffirm the goodness of creation and provide additional insights into our relation to nature. For example, according to Terence Fretheim,6 many of the Psalms indicate that God is active in nature and intimately involved in every aspect of the natural order. Furthermore, the Psalms suggest that all creatures, not merely human beings, witness to the glory of God. The language of Psalm 148 even seems to suggest that "it is only as all creatures of God join together in the chorus of praise that the elements of the natural order or human beings witness to God as they ought."7 This insight implicitly calls human beings "to relate to the natural order in such a way that nature's praise might show forth with greater clarity."8

Insights relevant to an understanding of our relation to the natural world are also found in Wisdom literature.9 It emphasizes the importance of nature as a medium of God's revelation, for it presupposes that God's wisdom can be revealed through observation of the natural world. At the same time it points out the tremendous diversity and ultimate mystery of God's creation. Other wisdom texts, such as God's first speech from the whirlwind (Job 38 39), indicate that God takes great delight in non-human creatures and did not create them for human benefit alone. Such passages all imply that human beings need to respect nature, to recognize the intrinsic value of its many creatures, to learn from it, and to preserve its incredible diversity.

Passages from letters of the New Testament, such as Romans 8:18-25,Colossians 1:15-23, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and Ephesians 1:10, indicate that Christ's redemptive power affects the whole creation. The passage from Romans reveals that Paul had a universal vision of the "liberation of all the creatures of nature, along with human beings" through Christ's death.10 Colossians 1:15-23 also claims that all things will be reconciled through Christ. Even if readers disagree about the nature of this universal reconciliation, the passages express God's concern for the whole creation and suggest that we, in turn, should respect God's handiwork.

All of the biblical passages that command us to love our neighbor also have strong implications for environmental responsibility, even if one does not extend the notion of "neighbor" to include non-human creatures, as some theologians have done. As we better understand the dimensions of our environmental problems, it is clear that they are often connected to social injustices. We cannot adequately show love to our neighbors, therefore, without taking into account the environmental problems that affect them.

The passages outlined above and many others11 provide very strong grounds for respecting nature and its creatures and for living in ways that preserve and protect them. Although certainly not all elements of the Bible depict our relation to the natural world in this way,12 the Bible clearly contains ample grounds for environmental responsibility. It provides valuable insights for building the foundations of an environmental ethic that, if lived out, can help solve today's environmental problems.

Marcia Bunge, PhD., is Assistant Professor of Religion at Luther College in Decorah, lowa. She has authored educational materials included in the booklet Our Children at Risk: Hope for the Future Together, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991. Dr. Bunge has taught courses on sustainable agriculture, environmental ethics, and theological perspectives on the environment, and has participated in various conferences on the subject of theology and ecology.

Beyond "the Historical Roots":
Genesis and Environmental Ethics

Jay Vest
Arizona State University

SCHOLARS OF WILDERNESS AND ENVIRONmental ethics have declared the Judeo-Christian attitude towards wild nature to be "anthropocentric- anthropomorphic" in disposition. Foremost among these critics, historian Lynn White, Jr. asserts that "the traditional Judeo-Christian view of the creation is precisely that it was planned in every detail for man's use and edification and for no other purpose".1 A doctrine of anthropocentric dominion is thus implied for the Judeo-Christian tradition by these claims.

Christian theologian, Paul Santmire argues, however, that the Judeo-Christian approach to nature is "not ecologically bankrupt" but that it holds an "ambiguous ecological promise." Santmire outlines two motifs that sponsor the Judeo-Christian understandings of nature. These motifs constitute a theology founded upon both spiritual and ecological ways of thinking, according to Santmire. Defining the spiritual motif, Santmire explains, that it "is predicated on a vision of the human spirit rising above nature in order to ascend to a supra mundane communion with God and thenceforth to obey the will of that God in the midst of the ambiguities of mundane history." For Santmire, the ecological motif "is predicated on a vision of the human spirit's rootedness in the world of nature and on the desire of self-consciously embodied selves to celebrate God's presence in, with, and under the whole biophysical order, as the context in which the life of obedience to God is to be pursued." Furthermore, Santmire says, "Ecological is understood here as pertaining to a system of interrelationships between God, humanity, and nature".2

Santmire further identifies metaphors which constitute the two motifs. For Santmire, the spiritual motif is fostered upon a metaphor of ascent which is connected with transcendence of the mundane and awe of "the infinite reaches of sky above" - the abode of God. Santmire's ecological motif is supported by two metaphors: first, the metaphor of fecundity constitutes a vision of the diversity of living forms and material shapes; and lastly, the metaphor of migration to a good land promises a land "where the lamb will lie down with the lion and the streams will flow with honey and all swords will be beaten into plowshares" thus "ending, once and for all, the strife and darkness of this wilderness world".3

In this reflection upon the Judeo-Christian ecological ethos, it alarms me that Santmire identifies primarily agricultural values - fecundity and "good land" - as reflective of an ecological motif. Moreover, such agricultural themes are anthropocentrically utilitarian, and therefore reflective of human instrumental valuation rather than the acknowledgement of intrinsic value. If we are to properly assess the Judeo-Christian understandings of wild nature then we must use wilderness (the place of absolute intrinsic values) as the ecological benchmark. While to an urbanite, the pastoral landscape may appear ecologically more promising than the city, it nevertheless is another anthropocentric approach to wild nature. In consideration of this concern, we must modify Santmire's approach and thereby judge the Judeo-Christian nature ethos against an ecological motif of wilderness, where the metaphor is the "will-of-the-land" and its absolute inherent value. Although the standard of assessment may be shifted, there is no reason, pending further investigation, to deny Santmire's claim to ecological ambiguity for the Judeo-Christian tradition.4

Critics and defenders alike of the Judeo-Christian nature ethos, commonly cite the account of creation in Genesis as supporting their claims. This account of creation offers a positive accounting of Judeo-Christianity with God's reflection upon the value of creation. Moreover, of creation, "God saw that it was good..." (Gen. 1:10) and "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Furthermore, there is an aesthetic translation of this account which concludes that not only is all creation good but it is concurrently beautiful, very beautiful in God's "eyes".5 Thus in accepting God as Creator and this reflective evaluation of creation, we must recognize that God in fact acknowledges value in all creation.

For my own need of simplistic understanding, why would a God create other non-human animal life and not consider it of value? Granted the human race is atop the food chain, but for a religion to see no intrinsic value in nature other than as a utility isn't exactly respecting what a Creator created in the environment. If all other animal and plant life is only a utility, why give it life, feeling, the need to grow and in the case of the animal kingdom, a brain?

Indeed, God appears to value creation in giving it the blessing to "Be fruitful and multiply..." (Gen. 1:22). This blessing is attributed to creation prior to its association with humanity. It, therefore, appears universally and beneficially intended for all of creation. Hence, all creation is blessed by the Creator.

A serious question, however, remains; is this claim of aesthetic good and/or beauty intrinsically of God? or of creation - i.e., wild nature? Creation is called upon to praise and glorify God (cf. Psalm 148:3-10; Isaiah 55:12; and Micah 6:1-2). Implicit then is a continuing concern by God for creation and creation's ability to respond to God. If creation is able to respond to God and God in turn values it, then one must conclude that all of creation has intrinsic value.

The ambiguity of the Judeo-Christian account of creation emerges with God's especial interest in humanity. Moreover, humankind is graced in his or her creation by God's image or likeness and by her or his dominion over all creation. Hence, this doctrine authorizes an apparent anthropomorphic and anthropocentric ethos. Nevertheless, if humanity is of God's likeness, and given God's delight in the intrinsic value of creation, then we must conclude that humanity is obliged to delight in the intrinsic value of creation or wild nature as does God. To do otherwise would result in a fall from the grace of God. Consequently, the creation of humanity in God's image or likeness, and humanity's dominion over creation constitute a moral covenant of God and humanity with creation; lest God not be God, and humanity fall from God's grace.

On this interpretation, the consequent blessing unto humanity to "replendish" and "subdue" the Earth (Gen. 1:28) remains a matter of serious concern. What is to be made of it in terms of a Judeo-Christian environmental ethos?
Dominion may imply humanity's biological subsistence in this case. Moreover, like the other creations, humanity is organic and dependent upon organic matter for biological maintenance. Hence, the dominion power given humanity by God is done so to authorize humanity's biological continuation as it requires subduing life sustaining prey. Many questions remain: Is this biological dominion absolute? Is humanity free of an ecological egalitarianism in his or her biological maintenance? Moreover, does humanity enjoy a unique dominion over and above the rest of creation? In order to address these questions, we must examine the second account of creation.

The second account of creation - Genesis II - may be entirely consistent with the first - Genesis I - given that Genesis II primarily recounts creation as recorded in Genesis I. As an explanation, Genesis II is primarily concerned with humanity's ecological disposition within creation. We are told that the creation did not have a "man to till" it (Gen. 2:5); hence, God created Adam of the dust of the earth and placed him in Eden. But Eden may be something other than a consummate garden, since Adam was put there "to dress it and keep it" (Gen. 2:15). Humanity's purpose in Eden may metaphorically be to protect and preserve it.6

The "tree of life" implies biological maintenance via the tenets previously outlined. Conversely, the "tree of knowledge" implies knowledge of agriculture - e.g. in Genesis III we see that "the tree was good for food" and that woman took the first step (Gen. 3:60). Humanity is expelled from Eden to practice agriculture for violating the tree of knowledge - "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" (Gen. 3:19). The concomitant concern for humanity's nakedness (Gen. 3:19), furthermore, implies the birth of civilization. This account is then the transition from hunter-gather economy to agriculturally centered civilization. Because of a concurrent human population irruption, it is an irreversible commitment to civilization. Hence, "the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken" (Gen. 3:23).7

God's garden - Eden - must therefore not be construed as a consummate agricultural endeavor, but rather, it more properly reflects wilderness and ecological egalitarianism among the species of God's creation therein. Conversely, humanity's invention of agriculturally centered civilization, as sponsored by the "tree of knowledge," constitutes humanity's fall from the grace of God. The birth of agriculturally derived civilization is therefore a sin against the covenant between God, humanity, and creation or wild nature.

Inheriting humanity's fall from the grace of God, Cain and Abel represent humanity's agricultural dominion. Abel - the "keeper of sheep" - reflects nomadic pastorialists and their practice of domestication. Cain as "tiller of the ground" reflects sedentary agricultural practice in concomitant "city-state" civilization. In that God respects Abel's offering and rejects Cain's offering, we must conclude that there is a complex moral standard by which God judges the practice of agriculture. And with Cain's transgression, then humanity is further cursed for her or his violation of creation.

The account of Noah and the deluge-flood completes the logic of humanity's covenant with God and nature. In this account the ground is "not to be cursed for man's sake again nor is every living thing to be smitten again" (Gen. 8:21). Furthermore, the ecological cycles are to continue into perpetuity - "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease" (Gen. 8:22).

While humanity is to continue his or her biological maintenance, the covenant of the Rainbow constitutes an environmental ethic between God, humanity, and all living things (creation) - "the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh" (Gen. 9:15). With God's instructions to preserve all living things from the deluge-flood, it is clear that species extinction is a grievous sin against God. Most emphatically, the covenant of the Rainbow is made by God between humanity, and "every living creature" with "perpetual generations" in mind (Gen. 9:12). In consequence, species extinction is a violation of the Rainbow covenant. This covenant, therefore, implies a most significant regard for ecological egalitarianism and humanity's moral responsibility unto wild nature. God's Rainbow covenant furthermore reflects the intrinsic value which God acknowledges in nature.

The area I believe needing clarifying is it cannot be a sin on humanity for every single extinction of species. It may well be for some of the rather unjustified excesses in commercial development, etc., which take habitats away from species, but given nature itself has killed many alone with the ice age or crashing meteor catastrophies, it cannot.

By this accounting, then, the Judeo-Christian understanding of wilderness is quite positive in affirming an environmental ethic sustaining all creation. Other problems are evidently responsible for the scholarly criticisms directed at the Judeo-Christian tradition. Foremost among these difficulties I believe, has been a serious transmission problem of the Judeo-Christian nature ethos into new cultures and their descendants. Judeo-Christian theologians would be well advised to re-examine their tradition and thereby re-affirm this important environmental ethos.

More on Environmental Ethics

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Republican and Democratic myths

It probably had to do with being up late, but I couldn't stop giggling over these party myths. Two of the three columns are centered more on both parties while Lew Rockwell utilizes data from Republican House and Senate voting. There is alot there to read, so if you'll excuse me for not knowing where to quit with such interesting reads.

World Net Daily
Truth about Republican, Democratic parties

Last week WorldNetDaily columnist David Limbaugh received the question, "Why vote at all, when there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans?" He responded by arguing that the Republicans care more about your freedom than the Democrats do. But to pull this off, he had to resort to a number of myths about the Republican Party. Here are some of them:

Myth: "Had the 1994 Republican Congress failed to reign in spending, we would not be approaching a balanced budget today, something the naysayers said was impossible."

Truth: The last four budgets passed by a Democratic Congress enlarged the federal government by 14.4 percent. The four budgets the Republican Congress passed have enlarged the federal government by 13.9 percent. This could hardly be called "reigning in spending." In fact, the first three Republican budgets increased spending faster than the Democratic budgets.

Myth: "Democratic presidential frontrunner Al Gore's vision of America includes an even more intrusive federal government. Just this week, he promised federal intervention to micromanage such local problems as traffic control. Patrick Henry is rolling over in his grave."

Truth: The federal government already micromanages traffic control -- and rapid transit and local highways and auto specifications and almost everything else related to your car. Republicans voted for these intrusions. Why should you believe they will suddenly start opposing such boondoggles? Calvin Coolidge is rolling over in his grave.

Myth: "Democrats favor injecting more federal money into education and increasing federal control over local school decisions. Republicans favor less federal control and the adoption of school-choice measures with the belief that added competition will improve the quality of public and private schools."

Truth: Democrats and Republicans both take your money. Both believe the federal government should decide how your school system should operate. They argue only over how to spend your money. Neither party says your money shouldn't go to Washington in the first place. Neither suggests getting the federal government completely out of education -- as the Constitution demands. Neither proposes to repeal the income tax, so you can use what you earn to put your child in any school you want.

Myth: "With the tantalizing prospect of budget surpluses, Democrats are already champing at the bit to repeal legislatively imposed spending caps that have been instrumental in bringing the federal budget nearly into balance for the first time in three-plus decades. Republicans insist on adhering to the caps."

Truth: Republican Congressmen have already busted the budget caps -- when they approved the 1999 budget, when they voted the biggest farm subsidies in history (three years after voting to "phase out" farm subsidies), when they vote year after year to make government more expensive for you, more intrusive into your life, more and more like Big Brother.

Myth: "Republicans advocate saving Social Security by programs involving partial privatization. Clinton and his cohorts stringently oppose privatization and favor instead a shell game involving a double counting, accounting scam that uses non-existent budget surpluses (which are actually temporary Social Security surpluses)."

Truth: Talk about a shell game! The Republican con game will have you paying the exorbitant Social Security tax for the rest of your working life -- while the Republicans dangle in front of you the carrot that Social Security will be privatized in some sweet bye and bye. (Republican Sen. Phil Gramm's proposal will privatize Social Security over 60 years!) If you don't believe in reincarnation, the Republicans have nothing to offer you.

Myth: "Republicans advocate overhauling the Medicare system with elements of privatization and reductions in automatic cost increases. ... Clinton Democrats still support socialized medicine."

Truth: Yes, Democrats support socialized medicine -- and so do Republicans. The Republican Congress passed the Kennedy-Kassenbaum bill and the Kennedy-Hatch bill -- each giving the federal government more authority over your health, your doctor, and your insurance company. Is this how Republicans protect us from socialized medicine?

Myth: "Clinton has systematically emasculated the military while expanding our commitments throughout the world."

Truth: President Clinton has been exploiting the precedents set by Ronald Reagan and George Bush -- waging wars unconstitutionally without declarations by Congress. Do you remember the Republican incursions into Libya, Nicaragua, Granada, El Salvador, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Panama, the Philippines? The Republicans invented the idea that any problem in the world is an excuse for the U.S. military to intervene. If Clinton's actions have put us in danger -- and they have -- it's because he's using policies and precedents established by his Republican predecessors.

Myth: "Republicans since Reagan have supported a strategic missile defense initiative to protect the nation against burgeoning nuclear threats from numerous countries."

Truth: Republican Richard Nixon signed the ABM Treaty, outlawing a missile defense. No Republican, not even Ronald Reagan, has done anything concrete to provide such a defense -- which probably would be the one truly sensible military policy. Instead, 15 years after Ronald Reagan raised the missile-defense issue, billions of dollars have been spent and we aren't one step closer. Why didn't Ronald Reagan demand it? Why hasn't the Republican Congress demanded it? Why are we still vulnerable to any two-bit dictator who can get his hands on a nuclear missile? Probably because the vulnerability is used to justify a multitude of big-government military programs that Republicans and Democrats impose upon us.

Myth: "Only after the recent revelations concerning China's theft and development of nuclear delivery technology are the Democrats beginning to come around on this vital issue."

Truth: The Democrats have proposed a sham defense that will make us no safer from a missile attack. As with so many fake reforms, the Republicans support it -- and claim credit for bringing it about.

Myth: "Had defeatist Republicans prevailed in 1980, Ronald Reagan would never have been nominated nor elected ... We might still be fighting the Cold War."

Truth: Historians still argue over what caused the Great Depression; so I'm sure they'll argue beyond our lifetime over what ended the Cold War. The one certain conclusion, that the Republican legend Ronald Reagan started an arms race that bankrupted the Communists -- makes no sense. Why would the Soviets spend more than they have to? Republicans tell us Reagan's missile-defense proposal was too much for the Soviets. Why? The U.S. did nothing to implement it, and the Soviets didn't have to match a non-existent program.

When historians investigate the causes of the Soviet Union's downfall, there are many leads I hope they follow. Why in 1989 did the Hungarian government open its borders to allow East Germans and Hungarians to flee to Austria, causing the Berlin Wall to come down three months later? Why didn't Soviet officials stop their citizens from using telephones and fax machines to get information from the West? Why did Mikhail Gorbachev push Glasnost so far -- while still proclaiming himself a dedicated Communist? Was it simply old age that caused an unworkable 70-year-old system to collapse?

Whatever they find, it won't be that expanding our government, taking away our freedoms, running up huge debts, and copying the Communist system were the keys to winning the Cold War.

Myth: "Conservative Republicans favor tax cuts to spur sustained economic growth, and because they believe the people's money should be restored to them."

Truth: Republicans do nothing to reduce the size of government or restore money to you. Because they won't reduce government spending, the "tax cuts" only rearrange the burden of big government.

Myth: "Had defeatist Republicans prevailed in 1980, Ronald Reagan would never have been ... able to pass legislation reducing top marginal income tax rates from 70 percent to 28 percent."

Truth: And four years later Republicans voted to increase tax rates. Government grew by two thirds during Ronald Reagan's eight years as President. The one thing Ronald Reagan did that was both important and good for us was to abolish U.S. price controls on oil and natural gas -- destroying the power of the OPEC cartel. Strangely, the Republicans never mention his one real achievement.

Myth: "Democrats still want to appoint activist federal judges, while Republicans want strict constructionists."

Truth: Republican Presidents have appointed bad judges from Earl Warren to David Souter -- just as Democrats have. Some of the Democratic judges have at least respected parts of the Bill of Rights and protected our civil liberties, while taking away our economic freedoms. Republican judges, on the other hand, have taken away our civil liberties without respecting our economic freedom.

Myth: "And the GOP is pro-life and ardently supportive of the Second Amendment."

Truth: From the Brady Bill to the promised repeal of the assault weapons ban, Republicans have caved in on one Second Amendment issue after another. As for abortion, it's the #1 posturing and fund-raising issue for Republicans, but those who oppose abortion would be hard pressed to discover anything Republican politicians have done to actually reduce abortions in America.

Myth: "Our children deserve to be bequeathed an America that continues to blossom in political freedom and economic prosperity, and that still aspires to be a nation under God."

Truth: If that's true, you'd better get off the Republican plantation before your children grow up. So long as the Republican politicians know they have your vote locked up, they have no incentive to do anything to advance any of the goals they proclaim.

The greatest assets for the Republicans are the Democrats. Republicans make government bigger and take away more of your freedoms -- and then blame it on the Democrats. They try to scare you by pointing to Democrats like Al Gore or Hillary Clinton: "Vote Republican or the bogeymen will get you." The Democrats use the same tactics -- trying to peddle the idea that the Religious Right will steal your children in the middle of the night.

But whichever side scares you most, you never get what you vote for. You vote for Democrats because you want greater personal freedom -- and they reward you by trying to censor the Internet, putting a V-chip in your TV set, and abolishing the Fourth Amendment. Or you vote for Republicans because you want greater economic freedom -- and they reward you by passing bigger highway bills, bigger farm bills, bigger budgets, more corporate welfare, and just plain bigger government.

The parties assume that you and other stalwarts will never abandon them. But they're wrong. Both parties are suffering wholesale desertions -- and the voter turnout sinks lower and lower with every election.

If you really want your vote to count, join the desertions from the two-party system and vote for what you really want. Imagine voting Libertarian and seeing the Libertarian get 10-15 percent of the vote -- scaring the old parties into making real changes.

Myth: "Those who advocate not voting should look at the 1998 congressional elections for proof of the consequences of quitting."

Truth: People who don't vote have come to the sensible understanding that their votes make no difference. Why should they continue voting when they never get what they want?

The consequences of the 1998 congressional elections are simple: government will continue to grow, as it has for the past 70 years -- which is what happens no matter which party wins any election.

Myth: "They should examine Ross Perot's impact on the 1992 presidential election if they are tilting at third-party windmills."

Truth: Ross Perot's 19 percent vote in 1992 proved that Americans desperately want a third party that will break the stranglehold the Republicans and Democrats have imposed on our lives. Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura have helped Americans realize that a real third party, with real proposals to reduce government to a fraction of its present size (unlike Ross Perot's proposals to make big government more efficient), has a chance to win eventually in America.

Myth: "Freedom requires responsibility, and not voting is an abdication of that responsibility. Those who drop out, cop out. Abandoning the fight is no different from joining the other side."

Truth: Freedom is the opportunity to live your life as you want to live it. It imposes no responsibility to vote for people who take your money and use it to destroy your children's education, your health-care opportunities, and your liberties. In fact, freedom involves no responsibility to vote at all -- certainly when you see no candidate who will provide what you want.

Fortunately, the Libertarian Party is now three times the size it was at this point in the 1996 election cycle. It will be running more than 1,000 candidates in 2000 -- and its presidential campaign should be far better financed and much more visible than its 1996 campaign was. Finally, you will have a real choice.

Republicans will continue to campaign like Libertarians while governing like Democrats. But in 2000 you'll be able to choose the real McCoy -- Libertarians who want to reduce government far enough to free you from the income tax entirely, replacing it with nothing, to free you immediately from the fraudulent 15 percent "Social Security" tax, and to make your neighborhood safe by ending the nightmare of drug prohibition.

Myth: "Just because the Republican Party isn't everything we want it to be is no excuse to quit. We must stay engaged and fight to ensure the party remains conservative."

Truth: Republicans excuse their failings by saying we must elect more conservatives. In the 1950s, when Republican President Dwight Eisenhower set up the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and other Democratic-style monstrosities, Republicans said, "We must elect more conservatives." When Republican Richard Nixon imposed wage and price controls, the EPA, and dozens of other new big-government programs, Republican stalwarts said, "We must elect more conservatives."

When the quintessential conservative Ronald Reagan, aided by a Republican Senate, never proposed to reduce the size of government by even a single dollar, and as the federal government grew by two thirds in eight years, we were told "We must elect more conservatives."

So for 45 years Republicans have been saying that all will be well as soon as we elect more conservatives. I don't know about you, but I can't wait another 45 years.

Republican politicians are power-junkies -- just as Democrats are. And the "enablers" are those who permit them to indulge their addiction to power -- finding excuses for every life the Republicans wreck with big government.

If you don't want your vote to count, continue voting Democratic or Republican -- rewarding the politicians for stealing more of your money and more of your freedom. If you want your vote to mean something, send a message in 2000: vote Libertarian and hope the Libertarians get 10-15 percent of the vote.

That will reform the Republican and Democratic parties faster than the election of a thousand conservatives.


1. Because federal benefits go to the poor, reform will amount to a shedding of our social safety net.
We should never forget the critical role that federal benefits have played—and continue to play—in protecting Americans against the hardships of poverty. "I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished," announced President Roosevelt in 1937. Most of the benefits originally paid out through his New Deal programs were directly targeted at alleviating this misery.

However, this is no longer the purpose toward which most benefits are directed. In 2002, out of $1.2 trillion in federal, state and local benefits, the poor received roughly $140 billion, according to the Census Bureau. That's about 12 cents of every full benefit dollar.

2. Even if they don't go to the poor, federal benefits foster equality by going mostly to lower-income households.
In truth, social-welfare programs no longer redistribute wealth in favor of low-income households. Total federal benefits to the affluent are at least as substantial as those to the needy. Among Social Security beneficiaries, for instance, households with incomes of $150,000 or more receive, on average, checks that are twice as large as those of households with incomes of less than $15,000. If our purpose were simply to straighten out the national income distribution, we'd do a better job by mailing our benefit checks to random addresses. Even when we add back in other federal sources, including welfare and food stamps, benefits are distributed evenly across households of all incomes.

3. Federal benefits go to the elderly, who everyone knows are much less well off than younger Americans.
Federal benefits do go mostly to the elderly. And 40 years ago it was true that the elderly were less well off than other demographic groups. But today, thanks in part to all the benefit programs that were expanded on their behalf, the elderly now have a lower poverty rate (10.4%) than any other age group.

4. Social Security and Medicare are earned rights by contract; beneficiaries are only getting back what they paid in.
It seems natural to assume a certain justice about the arrangement. Until one considers timing and demographics, that is. When you start a new pension system, full contributions from covered workers start arriving right away—but benefit payouts remain small for many years until enough workers with enough "credits" begin retiring. During the early years of both Social Security and Medicare, Congress kept tax rates unrealistically low and awarded ever-higher benefits to new retirees who had contributed only for a year or two. That meant that the children of the World War II generation (including the boomers) would have to contribute at much higher tax rates over their entire working lives just to keep benefits flowing to their parents. It's even worse news for today's young Americans, whose payroll tax rate will have to double to fund the demographic tsunami of retiring boomers unless the system is reformed.

5. The future growth in the cost of senior benefits, whatever they may be, can easily be borne by younger generations.
Every year, the social security trustees release an estimate of the system's "actuarial deficit," which many assume represents what we would need in hand today to cover Social Security's cash shortfall over the next 75 years. In 2003, the actuarial deficit officially amounted to $3.5 trillion.

But to arrive at a true estimate, we need to include Medicare as well as Social Security, unless we believe that health-care costs will miraculously turn around and head south on their own. This adds $15.6 trillion. (All of these dollar figures are "present values.") Next, we have to add back in the value of the mythical "trust funds," which aren't going to save the American people one nickel in future tax liabilities. Adds another $1.6 trillion. And if we use an unlimited time horizon, which we must do unless we want our kids to pass this problem along to their own kids, that adds an extra $24 trillion to the actuarial deficit, for a grand total of roughly $45 trillion in 2003, according to research commissioned by the Treasury Department. That exceeds our nation's entire net worth ($42 trillion).


1. Because the American people are overtaxed, they want and deserve our tax cuts.
Are we really overtaxed? Certainly not compared to other developed countries. Of all 27 developed countries (defined by the OECD), the United States is roughly tied with Japan as the least taxed as a share of GDP. Are we overtaxed relative to our past? We'd have to go back to 1968 to find a year when total government revenues were lower as a share of GDP.

Tax cutters often imply that Americans are becoming much more hostile to taxes over time. But this isn't true either. According to two Gallup polls taken in 2003, for example, the share of Americans who say that the federal income tax is "too high" is lower than in any year since 1962.

2. OK, forget the long-term tax burden. Our tax cuts are still a sensible near-term means of stimulating a weak economy back to health.
This argument certainly has much truth to it. The vast majority of economists agree in principle that a tax cut could be a legitimate means to substitute for diminished consumer and investor demand.

I say in principle, because the critical issue here is timing. To be effective, the stimulus must be applied during the early part of a recession. That is, it must put money now in the pockets of people who will spend it now. Over the entire last century, unfortunately, Congress has never been able to time this stimulus very well. The tax cuts typically don't kick in all the way until late in the recession and then continue long after the recession is over. That's certainly true for most of the recent Bush tax cuts. It's why many economists have grown to dislike countercyclical tax cuts in practice.

3. Even when they don't deliver near-term stimulus, tax cuts make the tax code more efficient.
Over the years, many tax reformers have defended their proposals—creating fewer tax brackets, establishing a national value-added or "flat" income tax, or phasing out the taxation of estates or dividends—by citing efficiency advantages.

In theory, we'd be better off with a tax code that raises the same revenue with fewer distortions in economic behavior. But a pure efficiency reform must leave revenue unchanged. Current proposals do not. Reducing the taxation on corporate earnings, for example, may marginally raise private-sector savings—cited by some as an efficiency improvement. Even if it does, the extra savings will be overwhelmed by the loss in federal revenue, which adds directly to the federal debt and, over time, subtracts nearly dollar for dollar from national savings.

4. The critics just don't get it. What our tax cuts are really about is improving "supply side" incentives to work, save and invest.
The marginal tax rate is the rate that applies to the last or highest or "marginal" dollar that you earn in a year. A core proposition of the "supply side" argument for tax reform is that reductions in high marginal tax rates can sometimes have a dramatic and positive impact on economic activity and (even) on revenue.

The reality is that supply-side claims have become a theology, ruling out any reasonable discussion of the evidence. In fact, there's plenty of empirical evidence that when marginal tax rates are not high, the efficiencies you gain by cutting them may be modest and the impact on economic activity may be ambiguous.

5. Let's be honest. This is all about politics. In the long run, our tax cuts will force Congress to cut back spending and, with that, cut back government.
I know several brilliant Republicans who admit to me, in private, that much of the supply-side hype about the economics of tax cuts is not really true. But, they say, it's the only way to reduce government spending in a world in which powerful interest groups, allied with the opposition party, stand ready to punish any attempt to cut off the flow of government largesse.

This is a clever apologia, but it is unfair because nothing excuses holding the next generation hostage on the dubious bet that another party will have the good will to relent. It is cynical because it assumes that Americans no longer share any common values on which open agreement can be reached. I for one refuse to accept this dismal view. And it is hypocritical. One could take the ostensible goal of the tax cutters—smaller government—more seriously if we saw that they were also at least trying to reduce government spending. But we see nothing of the sort. Instead, spending has exploded on their watch.

Lew Rockwell
The results of the index are shocking. The average score in the House was only 46. The average score in the Senate was only 41. The high score in the House (100) was made by Ron Paul (R-TX). The high score in the Senate (80) was made by John Ensign (R-NV). The low score in the House (13) was made by Diane Watson (D-CA). The low score in the Senate (10) was made by two Republicans – John Chafee (R-RI) and George Voinovich (R-OH). The Democratic ticket of Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Edwards (D-NC) have no meaningful score since they were out campaigning so much that they hardly voted. Their overall scores are 15 for Kerry and 35 for Edwards.

So how does this index refute the myth that Republican Party is the party of "conservatism"? Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the only member of the House of Representatives who admits to being a socialist, scored an overall 47 – about average. Former Republican Jim Jeffords (I-VT) scored an overall 37. But 174 Republicans in the House (76%) and 23 Republicans in the Senate (45%) scored less than Sanders. Twenty-one Republicans in the Senate scored the same as or less than the 40 of Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. None of the Republican leadership in the House or the Senate managed to score over 50. House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) scored a 50. Senate president pro tempore Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) each scored a 40 – tying Senate Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD).