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writing for godot

Privatizing Our Public Lands and National Parks: An Assault on American Democracy

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Written by George Monroe   
Monday, 08 July 2019 20:06

He said it best in his address at Gettysburg when Abraham Lincoln stated that the terrible conflict of the American Civil War was fought and won to ensure that the fundamentals of the new government  “of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”  Consonant with and just as unique and radical as the Declaration of Independence in the world at that time is the view of a democratically-shared citizen control of government and of broad participation in the management of society’s resources.

America’s public lands and national parks are crucial elements of our national identity.  In the European world whence most of the colonists and later immigrants came, there was no public ownership of land and resources.  Everything of monetary or recreational value was owned as an unquestioned right by a ruling class.  In the  British Empire of King George III, choice areas for hunting and fishing were off limits to commoners even if they and their families were starving. Trespassing near special places where salmon might be caught or killing one of the King’s deer could bring torture and/or death. Access to beautiful places of nature was prohibited to commoners and protected by armed guards.  Under the radical new government of, by, and for the people in America, the most precious portions of the land and nature were to be preserved for everyone and for all time.

The plans to make public lands a unique and permanent part of the new American nation were conceived originally to preserve sites where battles of the American Revolution were fought and won. Established by an Act of Congress and signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in March of 1892, the first U. S. National Park created was to preserve and make available the unique wonders of Yellowstone. The National Park Service was created by an Act of Congress and was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916. All of the public lands and parks of America were made integral parts of the National Park Service by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943.

Privatizing by selling or confiscating the properties and institutions owned and developed by a society undermines management by its members and a crucial component of our democratic governance.  When a small minority controls most of the valuable property and the power that goes with it, the greater populace loses the strength of public ownership.  Under those constraints, democracy is aborted in favor of monopoly capitalism. We are rapidly moving toward this ugly state of affairs today in the United States of America.

Purchased at below value prices or simply confiscated, Vladimir Putin and a small group of wealthy oligarchs now own most of the basic resources of Russia.  Putin’s current personal wealth is so vast it is difficult to quantify.  In a model of governance favored by fascist dictators and that Donald Trump admires and appears committed to bringing to the United States, Putin and his circle have complete control of the country and the livelihood of its people.  Capitalists like Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and James Buchanan also expressed principles designed to roll back the “infection” of inclusive democracy around the world and replace it with a form of government more in tune with their idea that the more powerful and presumably “superior” members of a society should control its direction.

Putin and his circle of power-seeking monopolists learned from Friedman’s research-based and globally promoted conversion scheme the fundamental importance of privatizing public properties when converting societies to a free market economic design. Friedman’s research, quietly coached by his mentor James Buchanan, demonstrated that certain stealthy moves could wrest power from a preoccupied and unsuspecting society.  It did not prove that the results were beneficial for most of the people affected by his free market economics scheme nor was it influenced by any moral imperatives.  In fact, the Friedman/Buchanan plan includes punishments and, if necessary, routine removal of troublesome resisters which simply counted as routine and necessary collateral damage. For instance, more than 30,000 resisters were “disappeared” when the scheme was tried in Augusto Pinochet’s Chile. This model is not about conflicting ideas of Democrats and Republicans for managing our ailing democracy. It is not about the differing philosophies of conservatives versus progressives. It is about wealthy elites and their plan for total elimination of democratic governance and the means they intend to use for subjugating those who resist.

When a democratic government is created to provide for the general welfare of people, a system of taxation is established to collect something from each to provide funds for the benefit of the public as a whole that can only be provided by communal effort.  Duly elected representatives decide how their taxes are to be allocated and spent, a plan that works very well if taxes are actually paid by everyone in proportion to their use of the society’s infrastructure and resources.  It brings hardship to many when taxes are not paid fairly for a disproportionate use of the nation’s resources by an elite few who are in a position to influence policy to decrease their own tax burden, to enlarge their wealth, and to diminish needed services for the greater population.

The reasons for protecting the unique and transcendent natural lands of the new nation, to be owned and enjoyed by all of the people, are described and magnificently illustrated in a film by acclaimed documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.  Nearly a decade in the making, the six part series “is a breathtaking journey through the nation’s most spectacular landscapes and a celebration of the people - famous and unknown - who fought to save them for future generations to treasure.” Copies of the original film are available from many bookstores and public libraries in a set of six DVDs with twelve hours of viewing time as well as two companion books (hardcover and paperback) with dialogue and illustrations from the film.

Besides the essential aspect of freedom provided by open access to the land now owned and managed by the people of a democratic society, the grandeur and beauty of the natural world inspire feelings of connection to our shared landscape and to one another. The American community ownership of these magnificent lands, visiting them, and protecting them for posterity has become an integral part of our national identity.  The loss of the greater public’s stewardship of national lands would undermine the commitment to a shared national purpose within our democracy.  Now under siege by  monopoly capitalists who are eager exploit them, our national parks and monuments are at risk of being transformed into the ugly remains of blasted mountaintops and despoiled rivers. Magnificent natural land forms and natural habitats of spectacular wild creatures will be sacrificed to the ruined leftovers of oil drilling, strip mining, and clear-cut timbering. Pristine underground water sources will be permanently poisoned with the high-pressure infusions of chemicals used for raping the earth by fracking. A vital piece of our national identity and shared vision will be lost.

Protecting our public lands is a steadily growing task as the Trump Administration begins to shrink the size of protected properties via presidential proclamations. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante are two national monuments that already have been reduced in size to allow the privatizing of their natural resources.  Trump is now considering a similar move to open the Grand Canyon to private companies for extraction of oil and minerals.  These preliminary moves have alerted a growing number of people to help protect our public lands and national parks.  For instance, The Trust For Public Land “helps communities raise funds, conduct research and planning, acquire and protect land, and design and renovate parks, playgrounds, and gardens.” The Sierra Club “is dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting it (public land) for everyone.” A number of organizations may be found on the internet under the banner of support organizations for public lands and national parks.  Together we must stop the theft of the unique public lands that are critical elements of our national identity and strength as Americans

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