Welcome to the Upside Down
Recently, the infamous billionaire industrialist and corporate executive, Charles Koch, wrote a mind-boggling opinion article for the Washington Post about the current state of American politics. Despite being one of the biggest contributors to industry-friendly politicians, Koch’s op ed decries the power and influence of the “privileged few” in our political system, and makes populist cries for economic policies that ensure “prosperity is shared by everyone.” Obviously, Koch’s team of communication gurus who carefully wrote this op ed have mastered the artform of propaganda and doublespeak. If you can’t beat them, pretend to join them.
But it gets worse...
Koch continues, “Our entire economy is rife with cronyism, resulting in regulations and subsidies that are destroying competition, opportunity and innovation” (emphasis my own). Did you see what just happened there? Just like that, one of America’s richest and most powerful corporate masters flips the world on its head by blaming “cronyism” for too many regulations that impede his corporate profit.
Welcome to the 21st century, a time characterized by dark money, fake news, and well-financed disinformation. To understand how political power operates in this confusing and dark time, you have to follow the money.
It’s no coincidence that Koch Industries, which is now the second largest private company in America, has been a major supporter of radical, anti-public lands groups that seek to eliminate environmental rules and erode the public ownership of our shared public lands. The land seizure movement seeks to open up America’s public lands to more aggressive extractive use by eliminating core environmental laws and stripping protections for our National Monuments, Forests, and other lands owned by the American people.
Most think of this movement being a grassroots insurgency led by Bundy-types and radical Utah politicians; however, these fringe groups and politicians have only been successful at integrating their anti-public lands projects into the mainstream conservative agenda because of their close ties to corporate power. Koch Industries, and other fossil fuel and timber corporations, are notorious for funding think tanks and astroturf nonprofits that advocate for increased oil, gas, coal, uranium, and timber extraction. One such Koch-supported group, the American Lands Council, is often cited as the leader of the land seizure movement in the west, and has been an integral player in advancing policies in Utah to erode the public ownership of public lands.
Unfortunately, this movement has had surprising success under the Trump administration, the most recent example being the reduction of National Monuments in Utah. Late last year, the president dramatically shrunk the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Southern Utah, which constituted the largest elimination of protected public land in our country’s history. As these lands are now being leased out to fossil fuel and uranium interests, the administration is preparing to shrink other Monuments.
In the next few weeks or months, Trump may attempt to shrink Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which would open this protected public land to aggressive logging, road building, and other forms of development. While the Trump administration’s interest in the Oregon’s old-growth forests is unfortunate and unwelcome, this brazen attack on public lands gives us Oregonians a chance to be a leader in the pro-public lands movement in the west and to stand up for our environmental rules and protections that make our state such a special place.
Photo of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by the BLM