Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy the Park!

The opposite of corporate greed is personal generosity. Government policies that enable the former and prevent the latter are both worthy of protest. The people of Maine are being handed a gift of a national park that will create jobs, protect the environment and increase the quality of our lives. It's threatened by anti-government ideology, and it's time for the public to stand up and fight.

Recently Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt's Bees and a major Maine philanthropist, was featured in Forbes Magazine. The interview was about the Maine Woods National Park she wants to create by gifting 70,000 acres and $40 million. In the context of how the park would bring jobs, economic diversity and a healthy lifestyle, she was quoted saying:
“We have the most aged population in the country…. I believe we have one of the highest adult obesity rates in New England. We have… oxycontin abuse… [and] Maine’s the largest net receiver of Federal funds, even though we supposedly hate the Feds…it’s a welfare state."

This statement about welfare is now being used against her to detract from the real issue of whether a national park is good for Maine. 

But haven't we heard about Maine's "welfare problem" before? 

Oh, yeah. It was the platform that most of the Tea Party Republicans ran on and won in 2010, including Maine’s current governor.
“Reports” produced by the Maine Heritage Policy Center on this and other subjects found their way in to almost every GOP stump speech.

“Families in your community are trapped in dependence… the skyrocketing level of dependence on Maine’s welfare system is a growing crisis-in almost every city and town in the state!” 
And after chanting "today, one in three Mainers is on some form of welfare" over and over again, one Tea Party whipper-snapper was even hired to write the state’s FY 2011/2012 budget.  

You know the one. It solves our “welfare problem” by cutting benefits to immigrants and gutting pensions of retired teachers, while doling out $400 million in tax cuts that we will pay for later by cutting more programs for people on welfare.

So you have to wonder why certain anti-government elected officials got hysterical when this former hippie-turned-successful businesswoman agrees with their premise.

They are offended not so much that she parrots what their people have been telling people, but rather because the solution she puts on the table is a public park. 

“That is a blatantly false claim that is something that should infuriate all Mainers!”
“She has a great deal of disdain for the people of Maine!”  
How dare she “denigrate the people of the state of Maine!”
She is the “the enemy of the North Woods!” (this, according to the guy who formerly compared promises Quimby made to limit the park’s size to Nazi Germany’s false promises before its annexation of Czechoslovakia and invasion of Poland in 1939.)
“This is not about acres. This is about the federal takeover of the northern woods!”
“I can’t understand why someone who needs the support of the people of Maine would say what she has. To me, it’s like throwing a banana cream pie in your own face!”

Let's pass on the pie. Maine really does have an obesity problem, and this is why we should occupy the park. 
Angry anti-government guys calling the gift of private property for the purpose of creating a public park a “government takeover,” with references to Nazi Germany is the Maine echo of the Glenn Beck ideology and it's not going to solve our welfare problem, or any other problem. 
This same group promised “welfare reform” and jobs in 2010, and have instead rolled back environmental protections and are busy working to gut labor and voting rights. 
This party of “small government” wants a bureaucrat in every woman’s examination room, and a gun in every holster. The hypocrisy is maddening. 

The question isn’t whether Maine is a welfare state.  The question is how can we create jobs in order to lift families out of poverty? 

Quimby also said this in the Forbes article about the proposed Maine Woods National Park:
It would provide enormous economic diversity and opportunity that doesn’t exist now. Prosperity begins with small business, with committed, passionate people and communities and families that care about each other. And that’s still intact up there. It’s pretty amazing…I’ve organized rural America…before, in Guilford, where I started Burt’s Bees, and I had up to about forty-five women and we got the business up to about $3 million in sales. It was like a sheer miracle.

It's a miracle she is working so hard and putting up with so much for the public good. Isn't that supposed to be the job of our government?

It is no surprise that Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who started her own knitting business on a Maine island by employing local women, supports a national park. 

It's time the rest of our federal delegation hears from the 74% of Maine people who favor the creation and study of a Maine Woods National Park.

Ideology that believes government is bad, and that public institutions and places are not valuable is as destructive as corporate greed. An unfettered unregulated “free market” can't be completely trusted to provide a healthy and bright future for our kids, and neither can the privatization of all places. Erosion of public institutions and parks will be the downfall of the American way of life. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

“Southern” is a State of Mind

“We could tell the pro-park from no-park instantly because the pro-park men wore immaculate hiking boots and the women wore stone faces, graying hair, and no bras.” Mary Adams

The visit by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to Maine last August to Stearns High School in Millinocket, Maine, to discuss the proposed Maine Woods National Park was a brazen violation of states rights, and caused an army of stone-faced, pro-park professional environmentalists from the “south” to invade a small northern town, according to Mary Adams.

Of course “states rights” is the code word for extreme conservatism and has nothing to do with Roxanne Quimby’s proposed gift of 70,000 acres of private property plus $40 million to create and maintain a national park. Adams is a veteran right-winger who is game for any cause that reminds her of redcoats. She is from Garland, Maine (south of Millinocket) and the local face of the angry mob that's crippling America.

The Maine Tea Party and Adams' opposition to a national park serves as a proxy for the anti-government shtick they like to jump up and down and scream about, as our public institutions and infrastructure crumble. They don't care who owns Maine's North Woods, and they don't dislike people from the south, as long as they are big powerful private corporations.

Over the last dozen years without objection by Adams or the Tea Party the great land barons who owned Maine’s North Woods have quietly sold out to real estate investment trusts (REITs), timber investment management organizations (TIMOs) and pension funds from Georgia, Connecticut, North Carolina and abroad. Paper companies now only own about 15% of Maine’s woods, the largest undeveloped forest in the eastern United States.

National Parks create jobs, protect the environment and serve the public good. There is no geographic limit to the need for jobs and corporate accountability. Old weapons such as the mythical north/south chasm, and states rights divide people by shooting the messenger. The message is about government's role of protecting the public interest, not about zip codes and hair color.

Percival Baxter was from Portland, and though many locals in the Katahdin region feel they own Baxter State Park, we all own it. Every Maine tax payer also owns the Dolby Landfill in East Millinocket and will pay over $17 million to clean it up, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to operate it.

The proposed park land is not in Millinocket or Garland or Cape Elizabeth. It sits between Baxter State Park and the Dolby Landfill, and is surrounded by property owned by big corporations from away that are driven by short-term profits only. Everyone has the right to speak up about the Maine Woods National Park, and should.