President Bush has seen the future of National Parks staffing … and it’s private.
Israel’s security wall traps 12,000 Palestinians in a political no-man’s-land.
Justice: Bought, Not Blind
William Pryor is in line for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench — thanks to Bush and a coterie of corporate cronies.
As a part of President Bush’s drive to outsource federal jobs to private companies, a leisurely nature hike at a National Park might soon be brought to you by a corporate sponsor. While the Bush administration claims that allowing private companies to contract workers would cut costs and cause National Parks to run more “efficiently,” critics argue that the interest is more in private profit than the nation’s national treasures .
Two former interior secretaries have lambasted the plan to contract out federal parks jobs, and even Republican stalwarts have trouble stomaching the idea of privatizing over half of the nation’s federal jobs — in prisons, healthcare, and border patrol as well as parks, reports Christopher Lee of the Washington Post. The House of Representatives deliberately amended an Interior appropriations bill to halt the outsourcing madness, according to Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times. The 2001 call for outsourcing, which demanded that agencies open 15 percent of their jobs to private “competitors” by the end of the year, raised such an outcry that the Office of Management and Budget has revamped Bush’s initiative. But skeptics still project that the OMB’s new rules only make way for a different kind of quota — and bemoan that agencies are still being forced to let public jobs go to private companies.
The administration’s goal to see that the jobs of rangers and scientists are performed “more economically” is really just a way of cutting corners by paying less-knowledgeable workers a paltry salary , critics charge. Essentially, the plan makes a travesty of economics and a mockery of environmental stewardship, as Thomas C. Kiernan of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes:
“Appropriate outsourcing can be a useful tool but this top-down decree strips park superintendents of the decision-making capability and places the stewardship of national treasures in the hands of the lowest bidders. Even the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee has objected to this plan; it recently included language in its fiscal year 2004 bill to prevent implementation of the plan within the Park Service.”
But Bush’s senior advisers will recommend that he veto any bill that rescinds the outsourcing of park jobs, Cart reports. The administration’s moves have outraged park employees, legislators, and watch-dog groups like Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who say that the current culture of protecting the nation’s public lands could turn parks into tourist traps motivated by money. Kari Lydersen of Alternet reports:
“‘This will be a fairly radical transformation of the way these agencies operate,’ said Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER. ‘Ultimately it will lead to corporations taking over management of our resources altogether. They’re proposing replacing career scientists with consultants who will be primarily motivated by getting the next contract renewed. So they are much less likely to report inconvenient findings back to management.'”
Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit minces fewer words, saying the result of private control of park lands would be “not national parks but amusement parks, as the profit motive saturates everything.”
The push for privatization threatens the foundation upon which the Park Service is based — and that foundation has evolved into providing job opportunities for many scientists and workers that often lack opportunity in the private sector. But the biggest slap in the face to the park service is that all the studies undertaken to assess whose jobs can be done by Bush’s minions are being taken from the Park Service’s budget, writes Lydersen:
“In a memo to the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, the National Park Service Director noted that the studies cost about $3,000 per job, for a total of $2.5 to $3 million to comply with Bush’s mandate. The memo outlines how the source of these funds has not been identified, and how park services will need to be curtailed, during the busiest summer months to boot, in order to come up with the funds. The memo also explains that the privatization push will be a major blow to the park service’s diversity, since a high proportion of the jobs being studied are filled by women or minorities.”
The corporatization of public lands is just part of a larger push by the Bush administration, one that Bill Willers of Liberalslant charges leaves the American people ultimately disempowered:
“Corporate America has spent billions lobbying for deregulation of its activities and for privatization of everything from the health system to education to national parks and forests to Social Security – a situation that would lead to ownership and control by the corporate sector and a tiny handful of the super rich of virtually every aspect of society.
With no cash in the federal till – due to massive tax cuts along with huge deficits, and ultimate inability of the government to borrow further – there would no longer be much to argue about. The corporate sector would win by default, so that everything needed by the masses would have to be obtained through them at any price they would want to charge.
With country and culture in the hands of a very few, democracy perishes. The great American Experiment would end not through internal weakness, but via carefully crafted ‘neoconservative’ strategy from without, to be replaced by something resembling, more than anything else, medieval feudalism, only set in a high tech world. According to the plan now in place, ‘we the people’ are to be the new serfs. As Thom Hartmann noted: ‘We’re entering a new and unknown but hauntingly familiar era.'”
A People With No Land
Wednesday, representatives from the European Union released a report on the effects of Israel’s security wall on Palestinian communities. The contentious wall has been a focal point in the most recent round of roadmap chats in Washington. President Bush has called it a “problem” and gently urged Prime Minister Sharon to suspend its construction. The wall — which Israel defends as a means to keep out potential Palestinian assailants — has wreacked havoc in dozens of Palestinians communities as mass amounts of West Bank land has been confiscated to make way for the wall.
The EU report finds that 12,000 Palestinians in 15 villages have become trapped between the border of Israel and the newly-constructed wall. These Palestinians, aside from losing easy access to their land, will not be granted Israeli citizenship because they officially live on the other side of the 1967 armistice line between the state of Israel and the occupied West Bank — land that President Bush’s road map includes in a future Palestinian state.
The report comes as Israel finishes the construction of the northern section of the separation barrier. Once completed, the barrier will surround the entire western, northern and southern regions of the West Bank, and is expected to separate thousands more Palestinians from their land and communities on the eastern side of the wall.
Surprisingly, many of Israel’s most Hawkish politicians have opposed erecting the security wall, citing the hundreds of Jewish settlements that are nestled in the heart of the West Bank. Although the Sharon administration claims that the wall is a means of providing security and not a political boundary, right-wing politicians fear that the wall will become a de facto border of a future Palestinian state. Such a political border would leave thousands of Israeli settlers with no hope of ever having their illegal settlements become a legitimate part of the Jewish state. To appease such fears, Sharon’s right-wing coalition government has altered the path of the wall to wind its way into the heart of the West Bank to annex settlements to the Israeli side of the wall. One Palestinian NGO estimates that 10 percent of the West Bank will be confiscated when the wall is completed.
Despite the fact that the construction of this wall has been underway for over a year, much of the press has ignored its implications until late. But as Prime Ministers Abbas and Sharon take turns meeting with Bush in Washington, the media has realized that the wall is a new key issue in any successful negotiation. Thursday’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal argues that the post-Saddam middle East presents a reality for Israel that encourages dismantling the wall:
“By removing the most significant military threat to Israel’s existence, President Bush weakened the argument for Israel holding the West Bank as a security buffer. He also sent the region’s other despots — notably Syria’s Bashar Assad — a message that terrorism is (literally) a dead end, and they have already begun to moderate their behavior.
But if Mr. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expect Mr. Abbas to rise to the challenge, they will need to take steps to strengthen his political position. This will have to include addressing the issue of the unpopular Israeli security fence, which is being constructed well inside the borders of the West Bank and the existence of which is incompatible with any realistic vision of a permanent settlement.”
Earlier this week the United Nation’s Kofi Annan used the conventional wisdom of “fences don’t make good neighbors” to criticize the Israeli project. However, such statements don’t do much to influence Israeli decision makers when Prime Minister Sharon has gone on record saying that indeed, “ good fences make good neighors.”
With that type of attitude spearheading the Israeli position, a number of activists have resigned to taking direct action against the wall. In spite of the smiles and Bush’s encouraging words at the recent meetings in Washington, it looks like Israel’s commitment to the roadmap is waning. Just as the EU published its shocking report, Israel announced that it is continuing to expand a settlement in the Gaza Strip — in direct defiance of roadmap stipulations. No, compliance to the roadmap doesn’t look too promising. And under the circumstances it doesn’t look like Bush’s “problems” with Israel’s wall will be resolved anytime soon. For today, Israelis will remember the Hebrew University students who were killed in a suicide bombing one year ago, while 12,000 Palestinians learn to survive with a 25 foot wall separating them from their dreams of a state.
Justice: Bought not Blind
Bush has named Alabama Attorney General William Pryor for a lifetime seat at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals — the court just one rung below the Supreme Court. What’s surprising (or not, really) about this nomination isn’t just Pryor’s extreme right stance on important issues like abortion (which he thinks is amoral in all cases including rape and incest). The mind-boggling fodder for the cynic in everyone is his seemingly incestuous relationship with corporations and their pending lawsuits.
Pryor is the treasurer and co-founder of the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA. Earlier this month, RAGA was blasted by the Washington Post for soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions from corporations or trade groups that were subject to lawsuits or regulations by their state governments.
The RAGA scandal was exposed by over 200 pages of leaked internal documents that were released during a Senate Judiciary Committee. The documents told of numerous telephone conversations made by Republican state attorneys generals — who were all members of RAGA — to various corporations and trade groups. One expert, the Washington Post writers R. Jeffrey Smith and Tania Branigan report, calls the situation incredibly“tawdry”:
‘This is incredibly tawdry,’ said Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, an independent group that highlights the link between money and politics. ‘That famous statue of the lady of justice with the blindfold — this kind of throws that out the window. There is an incredible mercenary element to this that implies that policy is bought and sold.'”
Pryor is even accused soliciting funds from companies ranging from the dubious Phyllip Morris tobacco company to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co.
But Pryor, note Smith and Branigan, claims that the contributions don’t influence the rulings made by RAGA members. He also claims that he does “not want corporations to be punished” and that leans toward a more approach to state law enforcement. Is that what they’re calling it these days?
But Democratic senators stalling the nominating process claim that Pryor’s answers about corporate contributions may not have been very honest, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bob Dart:
“Democratic senators said the documents, supplied by a former employee of the association, may contradict Pryor’s testimony that he had not sought donations from tobacco companies and other groups under investigation by his office. GOP senators said the charges had been adequately investigated, and no wrongdoing was uncovered.”
Senator Russ Feingold, writes the Green Bay News-Chronicle’s Sarita Chourey, claims that Pryor wasn’t exactly forthcoming about his suspicious past:
“‘It appears that Mr. Pryor was not forthcoming in his answers to questions from members of the Committee concerning his work with RAGA. Before he receives confirmation to a lifetime judicial post, Mr. Pryor must provide a better accounting of his RAGA activities and a satisfactory explanation for his previous incomplete or inaccurate answers,’ Feingold said.”
“‘Mr. Pryor’s litigation position, public statements and his writings leave little doubt that he is committed to using the law, not simply to advance a conservative agenda, but a narrow and extremely ideological agenda,’ said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.”
Others, like the Alliance for Justice (a watchdog that “examines judicial nominations and encourages public participation in the confirmation process”), argue that it’s not that Pryor lied that’s the big issue. Rather, they claim, what’s even perhaps more insidious is that Pryor has put the interests of corporations above the interests of people — fancy that! US Newswire reports:
“‘It is not simply that Pryor apparently lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is now clear that, rather than serving the people of Alabama, Pryor has been lining the pockets of the Republican National Committee by taking money from companies under state investigation,’ said Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron. ‘Pryor has put his partisan interests above the interests of the people of Alabama.'”