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Fri11152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The more things change, the more those changes echo on into the future. Today, we need to listen more carefully than ever to a voice from the mid-20th century—that of writer and Western historian Bernard DeVoto.

At the recent Republican National Convention, the party faithful approved a platform that directs Congress to give “certain” public lands to the states. It’s an old strategy, trotted out like a broken-down show horse at a county fair.

In the mid-1940s, Western policymakers, mainly Republicans, sought to eliminate the federal Bureau of Land Management, remove grazing areas from Forest Service control, and put public land on the path to state control and private ownership. One privatization bill passed the House in 1946, and even enjoyed the support of Interior Secretary Julius Krug, a Democrat.

Sounding the alarm against these terrible proposals came DeVoto’s prescient voice from his “The Easy Chair” column in Harper’s magazine. His warnings are still relevant seven decades later.

The noted writer knew something of the West; he was born and raised in Ogden, Utah, and later wrote prize-winning regional histories. To DeVoto, the land-divestment scheme amounted to a full-frontal assault on the country’s entire conservation program. He was right: The naked power grab he warned us about continues today, with stockgrowers now joined by powerful oil and gas interests. They bristle at any restraints on their self-interests and argue that what they call “local control” is always the answer.

But DeVoto identified a deeper problem that had—and still has—the potential to eat away at democracy itself. In the summer of 1947, the House Subcommittee on Public Lands began holding hearings in picturesque Western towns. Its short-term objective was to stop the Forest Service from reducing the number of grazing permits on public lands, even though overgrazing had seriously compromised many of those rangelands.

The legislative hearings were stacked with sympathetic audiences who had been primed by stock-grower trade journals to believe the worst of any federal agency, and to disbelieve “long-haired scientists” who showed that overgrazing was a problem in the West. A slew of so-called experts, ranchers and their politicians made the case again and again for giving free reign to the stock industry. Conservationists and witnesses who agreed with the Forest Service were allotted 10 percent of the time for testimony.

Unfounded rumors that the agency planned to disallow all grazing were permitted without rebuttal. Entered into the record without clarifications or corrections, these fabrications circulated like crumpled dollar bills. Inflammatory rhetoric and showmanship overcame evidence, much as it does in our time. In trying to expose the plot and set the record straight, DeVoto demonstrated that public hearings—just like party conventions—work as political theater.

Back then, as now, national monuments were in the news. In the mid-1940s, Rep. Frank Barrett, a Wyoming Republican who chaired the traveling public-lands subcommittee, hoped to abolish the Jackson Hole National Monument, which is now mostly protected in Grand Teton National Park. Today, Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, hopes to prevent the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument by establishing two national conservation areas instead, a designation that offers less protection from development.

Bishop and his supporters like to tout their Utah Public Lands Initiative, which includes an alternative that they call the Bear Ears National Conservation Area. The bill’s proponents like the collaborative process it enacts, yet the initiative in its flexible management plans clearly favors grazing and energy producers. The Nature Conservancy, long a partner in the process, recently announced that it cannot back this bill. In addition, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing dozens of tribes, has declared that it wants the area protected by a national monument. Meanwhile, Bishop has proposed a “Partner Act” that would end the president’s power to use the 110-year-old Antiquities Act to create a national monument for the Bears Ears area.

DeVoto saw this coming. There is a clear line from those hearings in 1947 to the ones we’re seeing now, in 2016. The ultimate goal then was not just to stop grazing reductions or stymie national monuments; it was to discredit the federal government and its rightful concern for conservation. “The future of the West hinges on whether it can defend itself against itself,” DeVoto said.

During this presidential campaign, we can expect the Republican candidate and his followers to cite the party platform and offer yet more half-truths about public-lands management. As DeVoto showed 69 years ago, lies told often enough erode public discourse and weaken governance. “Against such psychology as this,” DeVoto implored, “only the force of the ballot can defend the public interest.”

Adam M. Sowards is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News, where this piece first appeared. He is an environmental historian at the University of Idaho.

Published in Community Voices

On this week's extra-Trumpy weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat enjoys the beach; Jen Sorenson helps keep America safe; The K Chronicles shares yet more of life's little victories; and This Modern World offers an in-depth Republican National Convention recap.

Published in Comics

As the GOP geared up for its national convention in Cleveland, Republican delegates decided what would be included in the official party platform—and amid wildly inaccurate and unproven claims, cannabis reform was rejected.

Some of the anti-cannabis arguments were some real gems, including claims that mass murderers are all pot-smokers, and that there are links between marijuana and current heroin- and opioids-addiction epidemics. Seriously.

In fairness to the GOP, some delegates fought to get medical marijuana endorsed by the Republicans. “It’s not like we’re talking about Cheech and Chong here, folks. We’re talking about allowing people with debilitating conditions to ease their suffering,” Maryland delegate Ben Marchi said, according to HuffingtonPost.com. Alas, arguments like those given by Marchi weren’t enough to extricate the collective GOP delegate heads from their sandy hiding places: The measure was defeated on the second vote.

Then there’s Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee. In keeping with the GOP’s complete disregard for the will and welfare of the people, Pence was tapped to join Donald Trump on what will hopefully be a disastrous presidential ticket for the GOP.

The nut, in a nutshell:

• Indiana is the home of some of the harshest marijuana laws in the United States. Possession of even a small amount of cannabis is still punishable by 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine under the Pence administration.

• A proponent of the disastrous and failed War on Drugs, Pence still clings to the repeatedly disproven theory that cannabis is a gateway drug. He referred to it as such in a 2012 gubernatorial debate, and went on to say: “I would not support the decriminalization of marijuana. I’ve seen too many people become involved with marijuana and get sidetracked. We need to get more serious about confronting the scourge of drugs.”

• In 2013, Indiana House Bill 1006 would have revised Indiana’s criminal code—including a reduction in punishment for marijuana charges. However, Pence refused to sign the bill until the clause was dropped, and cannabis was reclassified up to a Class B misdemeanor. This was in direct opposition to the will of Indiana voters: Just a few months before HB 1006’s passage, a Howey/DePauw poll asked the state’s voters: “Currently it is a misdemeanor crime in Indiana to possess a small amount of marijuana. The legislature may consider making it an infraction rather than a crime to possess a small amount of marijuana. Do you favor or oppose making possession of a small amount of marijuana an infraction rather than a crime?” Poll respondents favored decriminalization by a margin of 54 percent to 37 percent.

So much for democracy.

Trump himself has been all over the place on this issue, saying in 1990 that recreational use should be legalized, and that the tax revenue should be used for drug education. Since his run for president kicked off, he’s moved a bit to the right, saying in October of last year to the Washington Post: “Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen—right? Don’t we agree? ... And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” This seems like a pretty reasonable position to most Americans, including many Republicans.

What influence Pence will have on The Donald’s platform remains to be seen—but you can bet it won’t be favorable to the plant. If the GOP slate is elected, the results could be disastrous for the legalization movement.


On the Bright Side

Colorado is set to reach $1 billion in cannabis sales in 2016. This is not only great news for the cannabis industry; it’s great news for the state’s coffers. In addition to the 2.9 percent sales tax in the state, Colorado collects an additional 10 percent sales tax on cannabis and a 15 percent excise tax that is designated for school construction.

The population of Colorado is a little more than 5.4 million, and the state is doing a billion a year in cannabis sales. Try to imagine what those figures will be in California when recreational use becomes legal. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 15.09 percent of Colorado residents use cannabis. That’s around 814,860 tokers. Compare that to the 12.88 percent of California’s 39,144,818 residents who light up—a total of 5,041,852 Golden State smokers. There are 1,623 dispensaries registered with the California Board of Equalization. In 2014, California medical-marijuana dispensaries reported $570 million in taxable income. That meant $49.5 million in taxes paid to the state, and recreational use is still to come.

Any way you pose it, California has a huge financial boon coming with legalization.


A Dose of Irony From Coalinga

The Claremont Custody Center in the Central California city of Coalinga had a capacity of more than 500 state inmates until it was shuttered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2011, and has been sitting unused since.

Now Ocean Grown Extracts has struck a deal with the city to purchase the former prison for $4.1 million. (Timely, since the city is $3.8 million in debt.) The plan is to convert the former prison into a marijuana-extracts production center.

“It’s like the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’” Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough said to The Fresno Bee after he and council members approved the plan in a 4-1 vote. “We listened to the citizens and created a package that was reflective of our population.”

The re-purposed building will be a natural fit for a business that requires strict security and 24-hour surveillance. The new facility is expected to bring 100 new jobs to the town.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Vice Principals (Sunday, July 17, HBO), series debut: While I still contend that Eastbound and Down was one of the greatest TV comedies ever, I’ll also admit that it was long out of material by its fourth and final season, and that Danny McBride probably shouldn’t carry a series on his own—and, most importantly, that water jetpacks are cool AF. HBO’s new Vice Principals, which re-teams McBride and writer/producer Jody Hill, solves one problem right away by giving McBride’s “new” character—basically Kenny Powers minus the mullet—a foil in Walton Goggins (Justified). The pair play high school vice principals vying to replace the retiring principal (Bill Murray!)—until the school district hires an outsider (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), prompting them to take a break from pissing on each other in staggeringly escalating volleys of vulgarity and instead team up to bring her down. Vice Principals is E&D 2.0; it’s as familiar as it is funny (Kenny Powers haters, however, should stay far away), with the added bonus of Goggins in full-on comedic weirdo mode. There are no water jetpacks, but it is still worth checking out.

Ballers (Sunday, July 17, HBO), season premiere: This is back, huh? HBO canceled the Tim Robbins/Jack Black political comedy The Brink, but kept Dwayne Johnson’s Ballers … what-ever. I get that people like the sportsball and all, but Johnson still isn’t completely convincing in an “underdog” role, here as a Miami pro-footballer-turned-sports-finance-manager leading the hard-knock life of making millions while baby-sitting millionaires surrounded by hot models and hotter cars. Fortunately, the comic broship between Johnson and Rob Corddry saves Ballers from slipping entirely into the Entourage douche-abyss, but I’m still waiting for a little more … something … to justify Season 2.

BrainDead (Mondays, CBS), new series: Apparently, tagging BrainDead as “from the creators of The Good Wife” and placing insanely appealing star Mary Elizabeth Winstead upfront hasn’t been enough to get CBS viewers to buy into a political sci-fi thriller/comedy about brain-munching space bugs. (I know, right?) Too bad, because what initially looked to be nothing more than summer filler designed to at least pull the same numbers as NCIS: Los Angeles reruns (it hasn’t—not even close) is a smart, funny and subtly scathing commentary on Beltway bullshit … oh, that’s why it’s not working on CBS. BrainDead would have been better off on CBS cable cousin Showtime, and we’d all be better off if it followed Ray Donovan on Sundays instead of Roadies, peppering in some Veep-level F-bombing and more-graphic gore (though the brain-splattery is pretty impressive for a network series). I would recommend just waiting to binge BrainDead when it eventually winds up on CBS’ pay-streamer All Access … but nobody’s going to buy into that, either.

2016 Republican National Convention (July 18-21, most channels), convention coverage: Spinal Tap, Drew Carey … Donald Trump. The Holy Trinity of Cleveland comedy is now complete, thanks to what’s sure to be the most hilarious political debacle since Hunter S. Thompson hit Washington D.C. in 1971. (Wiki it, kids.) The 2016 Republican National Convention, being covered live from Cleveland by most broadcast and cable outlets—curiously, not Cartoon Network—will likely be the zenith of Trump’s Idiocracy rise, the moment when true believers and detractors alike finally come to the stark realization, “This is really happening … Fuuu … .” Not that the Democratic National Convention later in the week is going to offer much more hope for the nation (In my defense, I’ve said “Hillary Clinton will never be president” many times, but those statements were made back in reality!), but this particular RNC is going to be special. Or apocalyptic. But definitely entertaining.

Shooter (Tuesday, July 19, USA), series debut: For every great call USA makes (Mr. Robot, Colony, Queen of the South), there are a couple of “WTF?!” moments (the recent renewal of Chrisley Knows Best; moving WWE Smackdown to Tuesdays; the continued existence of Suits). I’m not sure where Shooter, based on the 2007 Mark Wahlberg flick, falls: It looks like an intriguing drama (ex-Marine sniper comes out of retirement to stop a presidential assassination, only to be framed for said assassination), but with caveats (the aggressively-meh Ryan Phillippe stars as “Bob Lee Swagger”—lamest porn name ever). Also, how did the producers not use the only non-loathsome song Robin Thicke ever recorded, “Oh, Shooter,” as the series’ theme? Missed opportunities, people.

Published in TV