Friday, March 3, 2006

The sell-off of America continues

Even as fury over the sale of U.S. seaport management to the Dubai government still blazes in Congress, the Bush administration reveals that another Dubai company and an Israeli firm want to buy U.S. companies that produce military products for the Defense Department.

As the sell-off and outsourcing of corporate America accelerates, President Bush isn't far behind with plans for selling off assets that belong to the American people.

The administration's shortsighted advisors have proposed outsourcing two-thirds of the U.S. Forest Service's 31,625 jobs to private companies.

Presumably, bidding would be open to companies and governments throughout the world, including those with plenty of cash, but notably short on hospitality toward U.S. policies.

The winning bidder likely would be free to hire and fire 21,350 full-time Forest Service workers, including firefighters, law enforcement officers and rangers, 1,000 biologists, 500 geologists, 2,000 scientists and researchers and 3,000 foresters.

This would not be the first hit on the Forest Service by the Bush White House, which seems to harbor a special hostility to parklands and the environment.

The president seems to want an end to so-called roadless areas created by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, plus he's prepared to sell 300,000 acres of forests to raise funds for rural schools.

This collection of contrived attempts at frugality on the back of the Forest Service is pure nonsense. The president can find vastly larger savings in federal spending by ending unaffordable tax cuts that shrink revenues, immediately imposing a conservation fuel tax to staunch the flow of billions of dollars in oil payments to foreign countries, and scale back or eliminate exotic weapons programs that are worthless in the war on terror.

The Forest Service—whose motto is "100 years of caring for the land and serving the people"—doesn't deserve the budget gutting.

Public lands sold to industry can't ever be reclaimed or restored to their original beauty and invaluable worth. Thousands of Forest Service employees who dedicate their lives to preserving the nation's grandeur should not be subjected to the uncertainty a corner-cutting private contractor would impose. Taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for what will have to be either more expensive care for public lands or less care because, unlike government, private companies must make a profit.

Congress should reject the attacks on the Forest Service, and suggest President Bush stick to destroying woodlands on his Texas ranch with his personal chainsaw.

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