it looks like an outright scam

Daytona Beach News-Journal Online — Opinion
Endangered lands

From almost any public-minded perspective, President Bush’s plan to sell off up to 300,000 acres in the national forest system and 500,000 acres within the Bureau of Land Management is a mistake. From some vantage points, it looks like an outright scam.

Once this land falls into the hands of developers, it can never be reclaimed. And the Bush administration’s excuse — that it would use the money from the sale of forest land to temporarily fund a federal rural-school program — doesn’t hold water. …

That fiscal reality undercuts the administration’s position that the parcels proposed for sale amount to rag-ends, isolated and relatively useless to “meeting Forest Service needs,” as Forest Service head (and former timber-company lobbyist) Mark Rey describes the land. Even if that were true, a sale this huge sets a lamentable precedent. …

A more responsible approach would look at the many companies drilling oil, logging, herding cattle or making other profitable use of public land. In many cases, the levies those corporations pay are criminally low. Asking them to pay a fair share of their profits constitutes a far better solution than selling off chunks of the nation’s heritage.

Wanna Buy a Port?

Wanna Buy a Port? By Harold Meyerson

This is a uniquely American value. Other nations designate certain industries as too strategic to ship abroad or sell to foreign interests. Only in the United States is the corporation answerable only to its shareholders — not to its employees, its host communities, its home nation.

Republican Port Politics By Robert D. Novak

The rest of the world may wonder how a relatively routine commercial transaction turned Republican leaders against their president. Frank McKenna, the Canadian ambassador, who is leaving Washington this week, has cracked the code by appreciating the existence of two U.S. governments, one executive and the other legislative. That system requires more presidential finesse than was displayed in handling the Dubai contract.

Lesson on the Perils of Secrecy By E. J. Dionne Jr.

Republicans and conservatives would be aghast at the idea of our government owning a company that operated so many of our ports. That would be — just imagine! — socialism. But Dubai Ports World is, well, a socialist operation, a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates. Why is it bad for the federal government to own our port operations, but okay for a foreign government? …

President Bush was his tough, swaggering self on Tuesday when he threatened to veto any bill that would scuttle the port company takeover. “They ought to look at the facts and understand the consequences of what they’re going to do,” Bush said.

But 24 hours later, as opposition to the deal built, White House spokesman Scott McClellan — boy, I don’t envy him his job these days — said a president whose main calling card is his devotion to keeping our nation secure hadn’t paid any attention to this issue until the past “several days.” In other words, a subject Bush displayed such passion about the day before was also a subject he had just learned about. Does this happen often? …

Are some opponents of this deal motivated by xenophobia? Of course, and xenophobia is both wrong and dangerous. But it’s also wrong to dismiss every Democrat and every Republican who has raised questions about this deal — i.e., most members of both parties — as either a bigot or an opportunist.

On the contrary, a process carried out in such secrecy and with so little accountability deserves to be the subject of controversy. …

Bush insisted that the deal would leave our ports safe. “People don’t need to worry about security,” he said. But many people in both parties are worried because they no longer take the administration’s claims at face value. That, too, is progress.

ABQjournal: President’s Men Leave Him in the Lurch Again

Even people who think there is no rational basis for fear about tossing the keys to six major ports to the United Arab Emirates might find this scary: They may have known about the deal before President Bush.

The day after growing congressional support for blocking the deal prompted a “bring it on” response from the commander-in-chief, his spokesman conceded that Bush hadn’t known about the port takeover until the ships hit the fan. The matter did not rise to the presidential level, Scott McClellan told reporters.

It’s understandable that the first MBA president delegates details, but did his subordinates not realize the containerized cargo shipful of controversy that was about to explode? …

Merits of the port deal aside, Bush ought to consider replacing his inner circle with advisers from the UAE. Could they be any worse?

The pressure comes from Washington

Federal Wildlife Monitors Oversee a Boom in Drilling By Blaine Harden, Washington Post Staff Writer

The Bureau of Land Management, caretaker of more land and wildlife than any federal agency, routinely restricts the ability of its own biologists to monitor wildlife damage caused by surging energy drilling on federal land, according to BLM officials and bureau documents.

The officials and documents say that by keeping many wildlife biologists out of the field doing paperwork on new drilling permits and that by diverting agency money intended for wildlife conservation to energy programs, the BLM has compromised its ability to deal with the environmental consequences of the drilling boom it is encouraging on public lands. …

With the aggressive backing of the Bush administration, many members of Congress and the energy industry, at least a sixfold expansion in drilling is likely here in the coming decade.

Recent studies of mule deer and sage grouse, however, show steep declines in their numbers since the gas boom began [on the high sage plains of western Wyoming, often called the Serengeti of the West,] about five years ago: a 46 percent decline for mule deer and a 51 percent decline for breeding male sage grouse. Early results from a study of pronghorn antelope show that they, too, avoid the gas fields. …

“It is a huge attraction for biologists to work in western Wyoming,” he said. “But in this [BLM] office, they want you to look at things in a single-minded way. I have spent less than 1 percent of my time in the field. If we continue down this trend of keeping biologists in the office and preventing them from doing substantive work, there is a train wreck coming for wildlife.” …

Here in Wyoming, what has angered Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D), along with state wildlife managers, environmental groups, many local residents and some oil industry executives is what they describe as growing evidence of a lack of balance in the federal push for more drilling — even as scientific studies show significant and worrisome declines in wildlife around gas fields. Those studies have been funded by the BLM and the energy industry.

The BLM’s pace of issuing new permits to drill in Wyoming and across the West has continued to increase, even though the oil and gas industry — which is chronically short of drilling rigs and skilled workers — cannot drill nearly enough holes in the ground to keep up with the permits that have already been granted. In the past two years, the BLM issued a record 13,070 drilling permits on federal land, but industry drilled just 5,844 wells.

“The pressure comes from Washington ….”

“We are seeing the handing over of a multiple-use valley to the energy industry,” Baker said. “This is a disaster in the making.”

Rather than slowing down to assess wildlife impact and to allow energy companies to catch up to drilling permits already issued, … the BLM appears to be stepping on the accelerator. It has just released a proposal that recommends granting permits for drilling 3,100 more wells in nearby Jonah Field — a sixfold increase over the number of current wells.

Federal management of drilling here has angered a former senior energy executive who lives near Pinedale.

“There is no well-thought-out, overall development plan for this field,” said Kirby L. Hedrick, a former vice president at Phillips Petroleum Co. in charge of worldwide exploration and now a member of the board of directors of Noble Energy Inc. in Houston. “The BLM has been approving plans ad hoc.”

Setting the Stage

S.D. Abortion Bill Takes Aim at ‘Roe’ By Evelyn Nieves, Washington Post Staff Writer

South Dakota lawmakers yesterday approved the nation’s most far-reaching ban on abortion, setting the stage for new legal challenges that its supporters say they hope lead to an overturning of Roe v. Wade .

The measure, which passed the state Senate 23 to 12, makes it a felony for doctors to perform any abortion, except to save the life of a pregnant woman. The proposal still must be signed by Gov. Mike Rounds (R), who opposes abortion. …

“The momentum for a change in the national policy on abortion is going to come in the not-too-distant future,” said Rep. Roger W. Hunt, a Republican who sponsored the bill. To his delight, abortion opponents succeeded in defeating all amendments designed to mitigate the ban, including exceptions in the case of rape or incest or the health of the woman. Hunt said that such “special circumstances” would have diluted the bill and its impact on the national scene. …

South Dakota is the first but not the only state to consider new abortion restrictions this year. Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky have introduced similar measures. …

Even without this latest ban, South Dakota was already one of the most difficult states in the country in which to get an abortion, those on both sides of the issue say. It is one of three states with only one abortion provider (Mississippi and North Dakota are the others), and its one clinic, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls, offers the procedure only once a week. Four doctors who fly in from Minnesota on a rotating basis perform the abortions, since no doctor in South Dakota will do so because of the heavy stigma attached.

About 800 abortions are performed each year in South Dakota, which has a population of 770,000 spread out over 77,000 square miles. Last year, South Dakota passed five laws to restrict abortions, including one that would compel doctors to tell women that they would be ending the life of a “whole, separate, unique human being.”

White House shouldn’t cut funding for national parks

Letter: White House shouldn’t cut funding for national parks – Opinion

Americans, including New Mexicans, prize our national parks, but the Bush administration’s budget ignores pressing park needs by proposing a $100 million cut.

Despite continued budget pressures in an unstable world, this budget does not reflect the priority that Americans place on our national park system. It does not begin to meet the needs of our national parks. In fact, this $100 million budget cut likely means that Americans will pay higher entrance fees for fewer services in our parks this summer.

According to a nationwide Harris Poll announced a few weeks ago, national parks top the list of federal government services supported by the American people. More Americans voice support for national parks – 85 percent – than defense, at 71 percent, or Social Security and Medicare, each receiving 76 percent support.

This tremendous public support however, is not reflected in the administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2007, which provides only a small increase for park operations and cuts overall funding for national parks by $100.4 million compared to current levels.

Already, national parks operate on average with only two-thirds of the needed funds – a systemwide shortfall in excess of $600 million annually. …

Last year, the overall parks budget was reduced by approximately $76 million, after being subject to multiple across-the-board cuts. …

The bipartisan National Park Centennial Act would also provide important new funds to address the parks’ maintenance and natural and cultural preservation needs. Our national heritage depends on it.

Diane Albert
UNM student

Centennial Act

The National Park Centennial Act would make the National Park System fiscally sound by the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016. It addresses myriad funding needs of the parks, including visitor center upgrades, preservation of historic buildings and museum artifacts, and the removal of invasive species. The National Park System suffers from a multi-billion backlog of maintenance projects and a crippling annual operating deficit in excess of $600 million-a condition the Centennial Act is designed to remedy.

[mjh: This link leads to a list of co-sponsors of the legislation.]

Alaska Needs to Dump Ted Stevens

Ted Stevens in Winter By Robert D. Novak

Although the practice of lobbyists running fundraisers for members of Congress has become common, [Alaska’s Republican Senator Ted] Stevens’s planned reception at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) headquarters Monday is extraordinary. The host committee, as of last week, had 44 members, all but one of them a registered lobbyist. (The exception, Fred Wahl, owns a boatbuilding company.) The host list includes such big-time lobbyists as Phil Ruter of Boeing and Ken W. Cole of General Motors. Other corporations contributing are Lockheed Martin, American Airlines, Northrop Grumman, Time Warner, Union Pacific, Disney and Textron. The scope of industries represented includes aviation, defense, telecommunications, insurance, paper, broadcasting and railroads.

The money raised goes not directly to Stevens (who is not up for reelection until 2008) but to his leadership political action committee, Northern Lights. The funds it raises are distributed to other Republican candidates, enhancing Stevens’s influence. Since he would be able to raise little or nothing for Northern Lights back in Alaska, such leadership PACs have to rely almost entirely on lobbyists.