Politics and the bottom line

  Dear HCN,

Senator Laird Noh's article "The Old West is small potatoes in the new economy" (HCN, 4/10/00: The Old West is small potatoes in the new economy) provided a clear view of the shifting power structure out West.

Sen. Noh's story is a lesson in political power, and the moral of the story is straightforward: Land and resources are power. Regardless of what myth we may subscribe to regarding "local control," power is the bottom line. Out West there have always been just two major power entities - wealthy special interests and the federal government. Those with money out here understand that the only roadblock to total control of the land is the federal government.

The average American citizen (whose interests are represented by the federal government) does not seem to understand the implications of this reality. But wealthy special interests have always understood that the best way to promote their agenda has been to convince the American people that their special interests and the interests of the American people were one and the same. Whether it was railroad barons of yesteryear or the foreign energy companies of today, anyone who has lived here as long as my family has understands that "local control" often depends upon which special interest the local politician subscribes to. In the future it will indeed be difficult for the global special interests to convince the American people, including the rural communities that have always been controlled by them, that these global special interests are local and serving the local interests.

After 100 years one thing has become crystal clear: there would be no issues to discuss - no old forests, no parks or public lands to fight over, if the federal government had not retained and managed these precious lands. Instead, there would mostly be vacation properties for those who could afford them.

For the rest of us, we would be forced to be content with gazing at the landscape from behind fences, unaware that we could have been shareholders of a vast treasure simply referred to as "the West."

Mike Benefield
Burns, Oregon

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