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Bundy and Attacks on our Public Lands

Paul Vang (Writing Outdoors) May 1, 2014

It’s too bad H. L. Mencken isn’t around anymore. A columnist for the Baltimore Sun, he covered the political scene the first half of the 20th Century, gaining fame for political commentary.

Mencken savored political theater. His coverage of the Snopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee was a high-water mark for his blistering news coverage. He came up with the label of “monkey trial,” for the trial, and coined the term “Bible belt” describing the rural south. In assessing the last days of William Jennings Bryan’s career he wrote, “It is a tragedy indeed to begin life as a hero and end it as a buffoon.”

I wonder what Mencken might write about the latest act of political theater, about “booboisie” gone wild, the spectacle of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who parlayed 20 years of non-payment of grazing fees into becoming the darling of Fox News and a hero to gun-totin,’ guvmint-hatin’ whackos who descended on the scene with hopes of instigating an all-out war with the federal government.

In case you’ve somehow missed it, maybe while burning midnight oil doing taxes, in 1993 Bundy took umbrage with a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) action to protect an endangered species, the desert tortoise. So, Bundy quit paying grazing fees. He didn’t quit running cows on public land, he just quit paying the rent he owes you and me.

BLM couldn’t just wink at that and started assessing fees and penalties (over $1.2 million) and hauled him into court. In 1998, a federal judge permanently barred Bundy from grazing cattle on protected federal land.

Finally, this spring, and 16 years following the judge’s ruling we can’t accuse BLM of rashly rushing into this, they started rounding up Cliven’s cows and running them off the public pasture.

This is when Bundy re-invented himself as a hero, making up all sorts of stories of not recognizing the federal government (not just jurisdiction but the government itself) and asserting some sort of rights going back to the 1880s when his forebears started running cows on the Nevada rangeland. He conveniently ignores Nevada’s 1864 constitution that specifically recognizes the primacy of federal ownership of public lands. Incidentally, a Las Vegas TV station reported that court records indicate that the Bundy family didn’t use the land in question until 1954.

When militia wannabees aimed sniper rifles at government cowboys, BLM backed off from the confrontation and let the cows out of the corrals. Observers suspect that when things quiet down BLM will again start collecting cows, and finish the job.

In the neighboring state of Utah, another meeting took place.  Billed as the “Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands,” the meeting, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, featured Utah legislator Ken Ivory, head of an organization called American Lands Council and a Montana legislator, Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls). Ivory was in the news back in December, when he agitated for state takeover of Montana federal lands. Previously, he engineered a bill in the Utah legislature demanding transfer of federal lands to the State of Utah.

While the “Summit” was organized before the Nevada circus, Ivory used Nevada as a reason for transfer. “It’s simply time. The urgency is now.”

Two weeks ago, Montana legislator Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive) and a candidate for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Daines, issued a call for turning over Montana’s federal public lands to the State of Montana. None of the other four dwarfs contending for the Republican nomination joined him, though they almost stumbled over themselves trying to not say anything quotable.

So, there in a nutshell is the line of dots, running from Cliven Bundy in Nevada, to Ken Ivory in Utah, to politicians in Montana, all wanting to steal our pubic lands.

As to what H. L. Mencken might say about Bundy, Nevada rancher, liar and thief, and those politicians attacking our public lands, let’s try this for size, “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”

Will attacks euphemistic race talk

Just in case our regular George has been wearing thin,  this column by another George, George Will, attacks Democrats for talking about race in a euphemistic way. He works for the Washington Post.

Average taxpayers bear burden of low taxes on wealthy

(originally for the Butte Weekly) 4-23-14

                 The week of April 15, with attention focused on taxes, our corporate newspaper carried George Will’s editorial singing the praises of two House Republican plans to slash taxes on the oligarchy. Both would cut the top personal income tax rate from about 40 to 35 percent while slashing the corporate rate from 35 to 25 percent.

                Citizens for Tax Justice’s analysis of Dave Camp’s plan reveals big tax increases for average folks and lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations. CTJ writes: “Two-thirds of single parents would pay an extra $1,100 a year in taxes.” Paul Ryan’s tax reform reward millionaires in 2015 with a savings of $200,000. Robert Reich points out that even before such “reform” the richest 400 taxpayers are already paying at an average rate of 20 percent.

                Last year, Senator Max Baucus was buddy-buddy with Representative Camp during their summer pilgrimage to multinational corporate headquarters from coast to coast.  They publicized the 35 percent tax rate on our corporations as a reason we can’t compete globally. Of course these well-financed liars knew that the real corporate rate averaged 19.4 percent.  In fact, corporations enjoyed lower tax rates than the average “real person.”

                As another April 15th passes, we should remember the honor role of huge corporations, those “legal persons” who managed to avoid paying any federal income tax from 2008 through 2012. Citizens for Tax Justice lists 26 goliaths in all. Such names as General Electric, Boeing, Corning, Verizon, and Priceline.com should be familiar to most of us. Not only did these giants of patriotism and free market ideology pay no taxes, but they actually were granted rebates by our oligarchy’s obedient Congress --- $3 billion to GE, $535 million to Verizon, $202 million to Boeing, $10 million to Corning and Priceline.com. Think how many checks written by average taxpayers were required to ensure the deserving CEOs received their accustomed salaries of tens of millions.

                In the case of Boeing, there is a lesson on how a multinational can shift taxes from itself to a state’s average taxpayers. In 2003, a special session of the Washington legislature met to approve one measure, the Boeing bill. Washington had to outbid 19 other states to ensure that the new Dreamliner would be built in Everett. In a pressure cooker atmosphere, legislators approved a huge taxpayer funded subsidy package that was estimated to be worth $3.2 billion to Boeing through 2023. It included reimbursements for worker training, property tax forgiveness, low-cost loans, grants, tax credits and rebates, gifts of land, and exemptions from the state sales taxes.

                 Until 2003, the aerospace industry had been Washington’s biggest source of business tax revenue. With that vote, much of the industry’s tax liabilities disappeared. To make up for the revenue’s disappearance, gasoline taxes were increased, the state’s unemployment insurance program reduced, and workers’ compensation eligibility cut.

 

                Boeing has major operations in five states. In the period 2008 - 2012, its profits reported to the states were $20.4 billion. Its total state taxes were a rebate of $1,000,000. Its average state tax rate equaled zero percent.

                Lastly, Boeing’s tale has relevance to Baucus-Camp. Boeing’s foreign profits for the period 2008 - 2012 were $1 billion. It paid $323,000,000 in foreign taxes. Its average annual rate was 30 percent. Yes, Baucus-Camp boldly told us that our corporate tax had to be lowered if our firms were to be competitive globally. And there is George Will still passing along the lie.

                Cathy Siegner’s discussion of Caterpillar’s scam last week would make a representative Congress undertake real corporate tax reform. The legacy of the years of Baucus-Hatch Finance Committee tax deferrals for multinationals would be ended. There would be an end to US companies using post office box addresses in the tax haven Cayman Islands.

                Of course, these corporate “legal persons” sacrifice in other ways. They finance the world’s greatest lobbying industry, headquartered in our nation’s capital. And, as we our media constantly reminds us, they are “the job creators.” Just not in the United States.

                Elsewhere, this April saw the release of the Social Progress Index. It’s an academic compilation of studies of 132 nations in terms of 54 social and environmental indicators of livability. The US had the 2nd highest per capita GDP at $45,300. However, it ranked 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 30th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation, 31st in personal safety.

                 There should be one of those roadside signs: “Your tax dollars at work!”

George Waring is a retired Montana Tech history professor.

Speaker Boehner calls 'heat and eat' a cheat

04-02-14 (Butte Weekly)

                What were Montana Governor Steve Bullock and governors of at least 6 other states thinking when they made the decision to use federal low income energy funds to reverse cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) clients in last year’s Farm Bill? 

                Maybe they are traitors who want to scuttle actions by the Republican House of Representatives to starve working poor, elderly and disabled, and children. 

                Maybe they want better outcomes for their citizens, better health, better outcomes for children and families, and a better economy for their states.  Evidence supports this view, even as storm clouds loom for more attacks from those intent on cutting spending—especially on our country’s most needy—to help those most likely to support their political ambitions. 

                Apparently, House Speaker John Boehner-R, does not feel the same way.

                “Since the passage of the farm bill, states have found ways to cheat, once again, on signing up people for food stamps. And so I would hope that the House would act to try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing,” Boehner said to reporters on Mar. 13. 

                Leadership in the U.S. House was livid at the actions of Governors Bullock and governors of Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island to increase payments to low income residents from federal low income energy assistance funds to bypass a provision in the Farm Bill passed last year.  More governors of the 17 states that have been participating in the “Heat and Eat” program, which allows low-income residents to qualify for increased SNAP benefits for participating in the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), are expected to pass similar measures.

                Why did these governors act? 

                The congressional committee drafting the Farm Bill found a provision allowing the states participating in the “Heat and Eat” program to qualify low income residents for SNAP benefits if the state provided even one dollar per year of LIHEAP funds.  The committee decided that increasing the amount provided by the state (from federal funds, remember?) must be at least $20 for the resident to qualify for the increased SNAP benefit.   This provision was supposed to cut federal SNAP benefits by $8 billion over 10 years.  Thanks to the action of the governors, this full reduction may not be realized. 

                Apparently, these governors did the math.  For instance, Montana, by increasing LIHEAP benefits to $20 for approximately 2,000 residents, will allow them to qualify for $2 million more in SNAP benefits, while costing the state only $24,000. That makes sense in health and the welfare of low income citizens.

                It also makes sense for growing the state economy.  Most economists estimate that the increase in food dollars for the poor will result in $1.70 to the Montana economy for every dollar of SNAP benefits spent.  In a state like Montana, which is agriculturally based, with local people spending their money on products produced in the state, like meat, grain and produce, this figure seems low. 

                Governor Bullock is right to join other states in embracing this measure to fight the petty fighting in Washington, D.C. to preserve the interests of big money at the expense of the mostly working poor, elderly, disabled and children.  It’s not fraud and it’s not trickery.  It’s the right thing to do for the citizens of our state.    

                The next big worry is that the well-heeled and well-endowed political contributors will continue to push the drafting of even more draconian measures to cut funding that helps those struggling with poverty.  Despite evidence that the economy is improving—even in Montana—some interests would love to continue to blame the “laziness” of the poor, rather than to shoulder their own fair share of the public burden.  

Russia’s political and economic authority is limited

By Pat Williams (Butte Weekly)  4-2-14

President Obama seriously rattled at least one cage with his recent reference to Russia as a “regional power.” 

Following the recent Summit on National Security in the Netherlands, the President, responding to a press conference question, said, “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness.”  Although the boldness of that remarked seemed out of character for the President, he is correct.

Russia’s authority is limited both economically and politically.  Its military presence is obvious but so are its economic and political weaknesses.  This is not the old Soviet Union nor can it ever be so again.  Far from the empire of Peter the Great or Catherine I, today’s Russia is a very large but very poor land-locked country with a failed government and a leader suffering from an inferiority complex.  Obama describes Putin as having “that kind of slouch like a bored kid in the back of the classroom.”  Of course, Russia is a force but it is no longer an empire and we should stop considering them as one.

That word “empire” applies to only one nation, the United States. We reject it, of course, because it smacks of imperialism with which we are entirely uncomfortable.  Our destiny, as Americans see it, is to be a welcoming beacon of freedom. 

The United States has, with far too many obvious and tragic exceptions, tried to avoid unjustified interference in the affairs of other nations although there has always been an assertive minority of saber-rattlers among our citizenry and we have too often elected presidents who have been quick to the trigger.  But in the end we have made our mistakes trying to defend and not dampen freedom.

When President Kennedy announced, “I am a Berliner,” he was expressing the belief that Americans are citizens of the world—just as surely as were the ancient Romans.  Ours is the benevolent voice of benign empire.  Unlike either the Roman or British Empires ours encourages law above power.  We are engaged not in consumption or the adjustment of national borders but rather with civil mission.  “Watchmen on the walls of freedom,” President Kennedy called it.  America accepts the obligation of a powerful and free people to assist others around the world with purity of purpose and without the constant calculation of self-interest.

There are those few occasions when the essential definition of America’s place in the world becomes less shrouded and more understandable.  Russia’s violation of Crimea and President Obama’s description of them as a “regional power” is a teaching moment which has clarified the great difference between Russia and the United States.

A few days ago President Obama noted that we and the world “have an interest in a strong and responsible Russia.”  However, that long-ago superpower must learn the lesson of this young century.  Responsibility is gained not by redrawing national boundaries through intimidation and force but rather it requires cooperation, civility, generosity and wisdom.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the nations of the world will adopt responsibility and respect toward neighbors with the understanding that watchful UN, NATO, and US military forces are ever present just over the horizon.

 

            Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana.  After his

retirement, he returned to Montana and taught at The University of Montana.

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