Nel's New Day

May 11, 2015

GOP: Disregard Infrastructure, Sell off Public Lands

America is the most exceptional country in the world! And the richest! That’s the bragging point from the far right. That’s true if you consider that our “exceptional” infrastructure is 16th in the world. “Crumbling” is the term most often used to describe the bridges and highways over a half century old, an out-moded transit system, etc. For years, the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the nation’s infrastructure a D+ or worse. Every time the issue comes up, the GOP claim that they can’t afford to pay for necessary repairs—sort of like a cheapskate home-owner who won’t replace a leaky roof or disintegrating foundation.

With only 20 days before the Highway Trust Fund is set to expire, no congressional vote has been set up to extend the law and let the DOT distribute what little funds it has left to states. Congress is used to short-term fixes: it has passed 32 extensions within the past six years. That’s an average of over five each year which eliminates planning for any big projects. The sensible approach to raising the requisite $478 billion over ten years would be an increase in the gas tax that has stayed the same for 23 years, but the majority of legislators have signed the “no tax” pledge from Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform.

When Republicans were more pragmatic, they liked infrastructure spending because the economy loved jobs for fixing dams, bridges, and roads. These were jobs that couldn’t be outsourced to another country and brought millions of federal funds to create good-paying jobs with visible results. Now, however, the GOP wants to shrink the economy because a good economy would make President Obama look good. For over six years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has led the charge to make the president look bad, no matter how his efforts damage the United States.

This week is “Infrastructure Week,” according to a coalition of labor, business and transportation advocacy organizations. Last week, the GOP in both congressional chambers agreed to a budget resolution intended to cut transportation funding by 20 percent. After the GOP voted down a budget of $820 billion over ten years, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a $1-trillion plan that would create 13 million jobs. Even that sum doesn’t take care of the problem: the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that $1.6 trillion more than what the country currently spends is need to repair the nation’s infrastructure by 2020. Instead of taking the plan out of committee, Sanders offered the $478-billion plan which was voted down by a unanimous veto of Republicans. President Obama is so desperate to six the infrastructure that he supports a plan to let corporations escape paying some taxes by bringing their $2 trillion stashed overseas backed at a highly reduced tax rate.

Comparing the United States to other countries shows how the nation ignores its infrastructure. While the U.S. spends less than 2 percent of its GDP in this area, other countries provide far more—for example Europe, 5 percent; China, 9 percent, and Canada, 10 percent.

There are a variety of reasons that the wealthy—which includes most of congressional legislators—are unwilling to invest in U.S. infrastructure and its job creation.

Narcissism: Paul Piff and his colleagues have several studies showing that the wealthy believe they are entitled to have a position of status over everyone else, a belief that has grown during the past 30 years as “upper-class” people tend to behave more unethically than average citizens. The greater the concentration of wealth, the less a society invests in infrastructure. Between 1968 and 2011, the U.S. investment in infrastructure dropped by 60 percent.

Rejection of Poor: As the wealthy fail to see how their actions affect people, they build up a resentment of the poor and imagine  abuses that these so-called “lazy” people inflict on the rich. Legislators also destroy job development, for example, the $447-billion jobs bill in 2011 that would have added about two million jobs. Congress filibustered Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) “Prevention of Outsourcing Act,” at the same time that one million jobs were being sent offshore, and they temporarily blocked the “Small Business Jobs Act.” While campaigning last fall, McConnell was asked how he would bring jobs to Kentucky. He said, “That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.” The safety net for the poor costs $370 billion; the tax avoidance of the wealthy costs $2.2 trillion. These are the people who are getting government handouts without working for them.

The Wait for the Free Market: Conservative analyst Michael Barone said, “Markets work. But sometimes they take time.” Thirty-five years later, people are still waiting. Starting in 1984, the Treasury Department decided that most tax cuts lose revenue; more recent studies find no connection between tax rates and economic growth. Evidence shows that cutting taxes on the rich fails to stimulate job creation; the wealthy just stash their money out of the country. Raising taxes on the rich does increase jobs as shown by Kansas and Minnesota. Tax cuts in Kansas destroy the state whereas tax increases on the wealthy in Minnesota have led to higher wages, low unemployment, and rapid business growth.

Instead of increasing taxes on the wealthy or stopping outsourcing and tax havens offshore, GOP members of Congress hope to make money by selling off the country’s resources. During the recent debate about the 2016 federal budget, legislators voted on a number of symbolic (fortunately non-binding) amendments. Amendment 838, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would “establish a spending-neutral reserve fund relating to the disposal of certain Federal land.” This translates into funding state efforts to take over, sell, and transfer federal land to private interests. Murkowski said the plan would “improve our conservation systems.”  It passed by 51 to 49 votes with three GOP senators–Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), and Corey Gardner (CO)—defecting to the Democrat side.

Both conservatives and progressives oppose the plan as conservative groups such as the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers joined environmentalists in criticizing the vote.  Although the measure does not apply to “any land that is located within a national park, within a national preserve or a national monument,” the resolution allows the sale of national forests, national memorials, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. The nonprofit League of Conservation Voters (LCV) explained:

“It would allow states to take control of some of our most cherished places and sell them off to private interests for oil and gas drilling, logging, mining, and other development. Industrial-scale oil and gas development could destroy the pristine nature of the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain forever, damaging natural habitats and harming the wildlife that calls the area home. An oil spill in this region would not only directly harm polar bears, but would also contaminate their habitat. Even without an oil spill, some level of pollution and habitat fragmentation from oil and gas activities is inevitable with expanded development.”

Last February, Murkowski, with her co-GOP senator, also introduced the Authorizing Alaska Production Act (S. 494) to open up the refuge’s coastal plain to oil and gas development. Four among her top five 2013-14 campaign contributors are in the oil and gas industry: ConocoPhillips; PG&E Corp.; Edison Chouest Offshore, a marine transport firm supporting U.S. Gulf’s deepwater oil and gas industry; and Van Ness Feldman, a leading energy law firm whose clients include American Electric Power, Puget Sound Energy, and Houston natural gas energy company Kinder Morgan. Her 2014 LCV national environmental scorecard is a perfect zero.

The resolution may violate the Property Clause, Article IV, § 3, cl. 2 of the Constitution: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.” States can’t sell federal lands no matter what Congress rules.

Ronald Reagan’s executive order, issued a year after he became president, tried the same move as Murkowski when it established the Property Review Board to review federally managed public lands for potential disposal. Six years later, Reagan said:

“The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.”

rooseveltOver a century ago, Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, set aside more federal land, national parks, and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined. He established the U.S. Forest Service and placed 230,000,000 acres under public protection. In 2008, he said:

“The time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation…. It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.”

Teddy would be disappointed in the GOP of today.

April 16, 2014

Extremists Hope to Find Martyr in Cliven Bundy

Conservative constantly talk about deporting and even killing immigrants because “they’re breaking the law” They claim that following the law much be done at all costs. Other laws aren’t as important to them, however. A showdown this week in Nevada gives a very different impression of the law-abiding Tea Party members.

It started 20 years ago when the federal government asked rancher Cliven Bundy to stop grazing his cattle on federal land about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Farmers and ranchers must obtain permits and pay for each head of cattle that they put on federal lands. Bundy refused to pay his fees or remove his cattle. His permits were revoked, and he didn’t apply for any more.

Five years later, in 1998, the government issued a court order telling Bundy to remove his cows from the land and pay fees and a fine. The court order also included a charge of $200 per day for each head of cattle that stayed on the federal lands. Bundy did nothing.

Fifteen years later, in October 2013, the federal government went back to court because Bundy had not followed court orders.  The new order gave Bundy 45 days before the United States had the right to impound the cattle. By that time, Bundy had not followed the earlier court order, but he had extended the range of his grazing, trespassing on more federal lands. A court order gave the government the right to impound those cattle that Bundy refused to remove.

Bundy’s position is that “I don’t recognize [the] United States government as even existing.”  Government officials collected about 400 head of cattle before heavily armed extremist conservatives, including two Nevada affiliates of the Koch brothers Americans for Prosperity, gathered around Bundy’s ranch. They threatened to kill the government officials if they didn’t turn the cattle loose. U.S. officials backed off to maintain public safety and released the cattle, approximately half the number that Bundy was running on federal lands.

Extremists went away with the message that they can block the enforcement of U.S. laws and court orders by facing them down with a self-appointed armed “militia.”

There will undoubtedly be more to this story. Bundy and his extremist friends may think that they have won, but this was just a battle. The war is yet to come. Future battles, easily lost by Bundy, can include voiding his auctioning license and sales permits or lein his property. They can even pick off his cattle from a safe distance.

Another future for Bundy and some of his supporters could be jail, possibly followed by prison.

  • Contempt of Court: Bundy refused to follow court orders for almost two decades in “an act of disobedience or disrespect towards the judicial branch of the government, or an interference with its orderly process.” He also rallied supporters to put up armed resistance to keep the law from enforcing the orders. A judge could jail him until he complies with the court’s order.
  • Threats To Federal Officials: Anyone who “threatens to assault, kidnap, or murder, a United States official, a United States judge [or] a Federal law enforcement officer . . . with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with such official, judge, or law enforcement officer while engaged in the performance of official duties, or with intent to retaliate against such official, judge, or law enforcement officer on account of the performance of official duties” may be fined or imprisoned for up to 10 years.
  • Bringing Guns To Nevada: According to state law, people bringing weapons into the state, “knowing or having reason to know or intending that the same will be used unlawfully in furtherance of a civil disorder,” may be fined or imprisoned for up to five years. A civil disorder is defined as “any public disturbance involving acts of violence by assemblages of three or more persons, which causes an immediate danger of or results in damage or injury to the property or person of any other individual.” At least one militia member said he was at the ranch to provide “armed response” against “the tyrannical government.” Right-wing websites published this statement about the members’ decision to “mobilize to Nevada”:

 “All men are mortal, most pass simply because it is their time, a few however are blessed with the opportunity to choose their time in performance of duty.”

As Ken Cole wrote:

“The simple truth of the matter is that Bundy is a freeloading, welfare rancher who has an inflated sense of entitlement. It also appears that he and his supporters’ use of threats and intimidation likely violated several federal laws. Inasmuch as they used (such as pointed) weapons to cause the government back down, it can be considered an armed insurrection.”

The United States owns the property where Bundy grazes his cattle. Nevada was formed from parts of the Washoe, Utah, and New Mexico territories, land that the federal government gained from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849 through the “Mexican Cession” after the U.S. won the Mexican-American War. Private land ownership, allocated under mining and farming claims, was later expanded under the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909. Because the nation never sold the rest of the land, it maintains ownership in trust of the land as part of the commons.

Bundy claims that he owns the federal land because his family used is since the 1870s. Citizens gave up all claims to unappropriated federal land in the Nevada state constitution, dating back to 1864. He does not have the “right” to graze BLM lands. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 confers permits to graze a specific number of cattle on public lands but does not confer right to graze or right to own the land. The Supreme Court backed this up in its 1976 ruling of Public Lands Council v. Babbitt. About 16,000 farmers and ranchers use Taylor grazing land.

The conservative media not only fanned the flames but also threw gasoline on them. Fox network Sean Hannity hosted Bundy and said that his actions “keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer.” In 2013, Taylor Grazing cost ranchers $1.35 per unit per month, meaning that each head of cattle cost Bundy $16.20 per year—a vast increase from what he would have paid in 1993 when he stopped paying.

Glenn Beck complained that the people confiscating the cattle were armed, and National Review Online’s Kevin Williamson called the agents “inflammatory” and described their actions as a “siege.” American Thinker (now there’s a misnomer!) accused Attorney General Eric Holder of being racist by enforcing the law. Alex Jones wrote that the government wants to “enslave us in an [United Nations] Agenda 21 future where we have no property and no rights.” He also said, “So your bottom line, like Paul Revere, you’re making your stand, you’re telling folks we’re being overrun by an out of control tyranny.”

Bundy’s responses were equally rabble-rousing as he used his presence on Alex Jones’ show to urge supporters to “go in there with force” and to stop the agents’ proposed auction. He agreed with Jones’ answer that “[the force] could be how the shot heard round the world happens in this case” and warned that “this could turn into 1776 very quickly.”

To protect themselves, the militia planned to sacrifice the women. Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, said that the protesters planned “to put all the women up at the front.” That way they would be shot first.

Jamelle Bouie brought up an interesting question.  Would the faux militia of the Tea Party defend a group of black farmers or rancher or anyone against federal officials? Would the Fox network approve of black militia aiming guns at white bureaucrats?

The conservative support may be fading. One Nevada conservative activist pointed out that Bundy failed to pay his grazing fees for 20 years while other ranchers pay their own share. GOP legislative leadership say they haven’t followed the case that much, a statement that usually means “we’re staying out of it.” GOP strategist Brad Todd thinks that the story “won’t override Obamacare,” and Republican strategist Kevin Madden agrees.

In the National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke calls Bundy’s actions “indefensible.” Powerline’s John Hinderaker tried to defend Bundy’s actions but admitted that “legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” that Bundy’s claim that the federal government does not own the land is flagrantly incorrect, and that Bundy has been relegated to defending himself because “no lawyer could make that argument.” As Cooke said, Bundy only wanted to win with no consequences to himself. Cooke explains the triviality of Bundy’s goal:

“I would not stand idly by quoting John Adams if a state reintroduced slavery or herded a religious group into ovens or even indulged in wholesale gun confiscation. But Bundy’s case is not remotely approaching these thresholds. Are we to presume that if the government is destroying one’s livelihood or breaking one’s ties with the past, one can revolt? If so, one suspects that half the country would march on Washington, with scimitars drawn, and that West Virginia would invade the Environmental Protection Agency…. This is a republic, dammit — and those who hope to keep it cannot pick and choose the provisions with which they are willing to deign to comply.”

And that’s a response from a conservative!

Unhappy that the situation has been temporarily resolved, Sean Hannity tried to convince Bundy in last night’s interview that the federal agent may show up in a midnight raid and kill him and his children. Hannity’s actions were made even more inexcusable because of Bundy’s near incoherence. In his attempts to make Bundy into a martyr, Hannity may cause the deaths that federal agents tried so hard to avoid.

No one died on the Bundy ranch last night. We’ll just watch to see what the Fox network decides to do next.

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