Not the least of our troubles

Posted: September 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Funding cuts threaten US parks … and our democracy

We live out of harmony with nature but we live with hope … and that hope lies in our state and national parks.

Even those whose life paths direct them specifically not to worry … I don’t mean Alfred E. Newman, but rather, Buddhists … recognize that the source of America’s strength is the beauty and splendor of the land itself.

The beauty of the land inspires and informs our democracy. It reminds us that we are not, or do not have to be, a desperate people, a nation of slaves to kings or to capital. Land that is open, unfenced, untapped and unspoiled reminds us that we are a free people.

Chris Johns photo from National Geographic.

It’s true this is no Eden … although the early settlers and the pioneers who made their way across the country … Mormons included … believed it to be, and their thoughts were recorded in their journals, in their poetry and prose and in the treasured paintings that still hang in our museums. Fracking, drilling, mining, oil spills, acid rain and invasive species ravage the land AND ravage our people through devastating though often uncharted effects on human health.

Now much of this land has been used up, farmed, developed and laid to waste. Of course it has and some of that is due to that very illusion of vastness which America first presented to the early settlers … although not to the native Americans wise enough to honor and to use every part of a slain deer or felled buffalo … who did not waste land or use non-renewable resources that were a part of the Earth itself … who did, in fact, live in harmony with nature.

All we have left, in fact, to remind us of what it is to be free, beholden to no king … in short, of what it is to be truly American … is our parks.

Before you argue I would invite you to visit a national park or at least a state park and to spend some time alone somewhere in one, if only for 20 minutes. In short, long enough to entertain the notion that you yourself are natural, that you are a part of nature.

I would invite you to consider then that, whatever else we may do … we must protect our parks. To consider that what is there belongs, not to the kings, of which we seem to have many, and not to ourselves, though it may seem a gift.

The news media has been reporting on two years recovery … at least on pockets of recovery … from recession. We check the girth of our wallets, measure attendance at events, glance at retail sales figures, check availability and rates and count the foreclosures. We see the casualties from our wars, at home in the form of crime and abroad where our troops have been deployed for far too long, but, alas … we are unmoved to action, for the most part, numb to the math, so to speak.

Our politicians are promoting their various causes in an election year.

And yet an alarm has been sounded. Amidst all this, the Washington Post reported this week that a very significant 8 percent budget cut, on top of years of cutbacks, looms for our National Park Service.

“The president’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 would reduce the number of full-time employees and volunteers (who require some administrative funds), which would impede the agency’s ability to maintain the land and monuments it protects,” the Post’s staff concluded.

Furthermore, the Post connected the dots to similar failure to fund Social Security and healthcare programs … toward the generous (however “stimulating”) tax cuts afforded the wealthiest segment of our society since the Reagan years.

“In the midst of a budget crisis, this is a perfect example of what will happen if the question of entitlement spending is avoided. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, absent reform, will consume an ever-larger portion of the budget, squeezing out everything else the government does, from national defense to national parks. That reality is sometimes disputed, sometimes acknowledged but in the abstract, removed from the programs and initiatives that are bound to suffer. They will suffer too if the nation refuses to levy sufficient revenue.”

Yes, there will be further argument over how those entitlement programs should be reformed; but when considering, for example, the estate tax, consider the national parks, in a way, as part of the estate.

Again, the Post: “The National Park Service is one such program at risk. Its purpose is to preserve some of the most beautiful pieces of America’s landscape and heritage for the enjoyment of all citizens — a public good in the truest sense of the phrase. If it’s defunded, everyone loses, and it’s only one of many organizations that could be at risk for cutbacks.”


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