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Honorable Representative Riggs:
It's hard to discern in your Winter 1995 newsletter the independence of mind that made you prominent 5 years ago when you raised throughtful questions about preparations for war against the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
Your newsletter blames the federal deficit on 40 years of reckless spending, instead of more precisely and honestly focusing on the years in which deficit spending became customary and the national debt grew from a tiny amount to trillions of dollars. But those were the 1980s, when a Republican administration subjected the country to the hypothesis of supply-side economics, promising to increase revenue by decreasing taxes. It was also under Republican administrations that "thrifts" and savings-and-loans were allowed to run wild, and were rescued by dumping their debts onto the American people.
In those years of feeding frenzy by speculators and corporate raiders, the Republican party played the role of a gambling addict while the Democrats played the meek spouse enabling the squandering of the family fortune. The Democrats, in charge of Congress, cravenly acquiesed in every unbalanced budget proferred by President Reagan.
A balanced budget in seven years? Why not NOW? Congress can raise taxes as well as cut expenses. The Republicans are demagogues to preach lower taxes before expenses are met, and the Democrats are cowards to echo such irresponsibility.
Raise taxes on the economic groups who prospered in the years when the federal debt was skyrocketing. Average corporate profit has increased for more than a decade while middle level incomes have declined. Taxes should be greatly increased on speculators who profit not from investment in new technology and expansion of commerce, but from options, derivatives, hostile mergers and other unproductive manipulations.
Honorable Speaker Newt Gingrich:
This is a true story of a very sad Christmas. It involves the death of a beloved family tradition that, at least indirectly, I attribute to you and to your Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill.
I want you to know, first, that though I have voted for some Democrats and Independents in recent years, I come from a solidly conservative family that has for generations voted Republican. That tradition may change. Please read on.
Seven months ago my wife and I, who are teachers, made our usual reservations for our annual Christmas holiday at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We are true Westerners who love the splendid wildlife hereabouts, as well as the wildlife habitat--what others refer to simply as open spaces. Or, still others, as exploitable assets. Our Christmas Eve and Day celebrations have, in the past, been shared with ravens, coyotes, deer, scrub jays, and a host of other native creatures. As we come upon each creature in our walks along the rim of the Great Canyon, we offer our gratitude and tell the two-legged or four-legged ones that we are privileged to share the land with them. And we remind ourselves, on these walks among bristling swords of agave, and under waving boughs of pinyon pine, that we are fortunate, indeed, to live in a country whose people value the theraputic and spiritual effects of wilderness. And whose forebears and elected leaders, including President Theodore Roosevelt, acknowledged the importance of wild habitat to the collective psyche of the country by setting aside public parks and lands.
So. We come to 1995 and the Contract with America. Some have facetiously called it the Contract On America. Many Americans agree with the intent of the Contract: to unyoke citizens from the undue burden of big government. But there is a quantum difference between helping people to get off the public dole and forsaking the health and well-being of our most elemental resources: air, water, and commonly held lands. Thus it was with a heavy heart that we watched the spectacle in Washington of finger-pointing that accompanied the failure to balance the budget; and the resulting shut-down of so-called nonessential services. One small casualty of that grudge match was public access to the Grand Canyon.
Now, it must be said that thanks to the Governor of Arizona and other generous individuals and private institutions, those of us who love the Canyon and its wild offerings were able to gaze across its red, white, and--unfortunately, blue (from the Navajo Power Plant) gulfs on Christmas. But during our traditional East Rim walk on Christmas Day, my wife and I were halted literally in our tracks by an armed ranger who immediately ordered us out of the area under penalty of imprisonment and fine. This was a humiliating experience, especially considering that the white leaflet we were handed at the gate said NOTHING about visitors being prohibited from rim trails. No driving off the main highway on the East Rim, it said. No hiking trails down IN the canyon, it said. Nothing, however, on this 5 by 8-inch piece of paper precluded our annual rim hike. Nothing except an overzealous ranger who, in her defense, probably figured she was doing the bidding of her government masters.
Back in our motel room that evening, my wife and I talked about the incident and we couldn't help wondering if we had just experienced a chilling vision of Christmas Future. Given the enthusiasm with which you and many of your Republican cohorts are attacking virtually all existing legislation that was established to safeguard our remaining natural places, water, and air, we could easily imagine a day, soon, when so much of our public lands have been turned over to the extractive industries, or sold off to developers, that there would be no place for citizens to walk, unmolested, on their own native soil. The fact that the only legal places we could go during the bureaucratic 'brown-out' at the Canyon were pay-as-you-go places (curio shops, restaurants), confirmed that perhaps the Republican vision of future America is one in which all citizens are obliged to pay for the very air they breathe (portable oxygen tanks?), for the bottled water that they are forced to drink, for the faux-wilderness-developed theme parks that they must retire to for relief from hectic urban lifestyles.
You may deny that that is your intent, Mr. Gingrich. You may insist that you only want what is best for multinational corporate America, believing in the tired, ole trickle-down theory of the Reagan years; that somehow, if public lands are turned over to exploitation and profit-making, American soil will be serving its ultimate legacy--conversion from Creation to stock portfolios. If you think this is the way the American electorate feels, you are sadly misinformed. I would direct you to a modest volume called, Attitudes Toward the Outdoors: An Annotated Bibliography of U.S. Survey and Poll Research Concerning the Environment, Wildlife and Recreation, compiled by Dena Jones Jolma. You will find that in nearly all of the public opinion surveys annotated in this work, citizens show strong support for preservation of our natural areas and our wildlife heritage.
Bill Clinton, for all of his fumblings, knows this. He knows that Americans have a fierce love for their wilderness areas, their National Parks, for their wildlife. That is one reason he stands firm on the issue of environmental legislation, whether it is NOT opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a few quick bucks for select oil corporate interests, or rendering virtually toothless the Endangered Species Act. And though I and my extended family are pretty much fed up with the mon(k)ey business that passes for political leadership in Washington these days, we are sure of one thing: we will support those political leaders who acknowledge the wishes of the American public for a change, and who will vote to continue or even to expand protections of our natural, common, wild heritage.
By your actions, Mr. Gingrich, you helped to spoil a Christmas tradition for two people in Arizona. Not much in the scheme of things. But I promise you this, if you and your colleagues do not begin to better represent the interests of Americans in preserving, protecting, and defending the natural constitution of these United States, I assure you that in the voting booths--locally to nationally--we will do our best to spoil your next Election Day.
I wish to end on a more positive note, however. I am a college teacher and I speak to you as a colleague. I believe that you do know how important care of natural resources is to a nation, in the fullness of time. As a historian I would ask you to read, or re-read, the book, Soil and Civilization by Edward Hyams, in which he details how many of the world's great civilizations fell because they ignored the welfare of their own lands. As Hyams puts it, long after men and their quibbles have come and gone, "the soil will decide" the fate of every nation. I appeal to your sense of history, and to your own early appreciation of animals, to support a national legislative agenda, which includes a Contract with Wild America, that respects the rights of all species to self determination.
Terril L. Shorb|
Terry Shorb is a former Sebastopol resident and was founder of the Laguna is For Everyone (L.I.F.E.), an early and important group fighting to save Palm Terrace from development. |
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