Selection of opinion pieces below

  • THE WASHINGTON TIMES; How the West was Lost
  • RANGE MAGAZINE; Giving Way to the Land
  • THE BOSTON GLOBE; The Dangers of Liberal Bias
  • THE WASHINGTON TIMES; Rough Riding on the Western Trail
  • THE WASHINGTON TIMES; Big Green's Delta Delusions
  • THE WASHINGTON TIMES; Protecting New York for the Untough

Friday, April 25, 2014        External link

Friday, April 25, 2014      External link


How the West was Lost

Federal land grabs lie at the heart of pushback in Nevada

The urban left is adamant: Cliven Bundy is a poster child for “stupid, reckless idiots goobers who can’t even do math.” I am not sure what math has to do with it, other than adding up those derelict grazing fees.

A million dollars in fees prompted the feds to mount a collection operation, complete with snipers, helicopters and police dogs.

The story, according to Chris Matthews and his kind, is this: All those law-abiding ranchers who pay their grazing fees are betrayed by this renegade scofflaw and his militia pals. There’s nothing to see here, in other words, but a nut. There are no smoldering issues; there is no injustice happening to that mostly invisible minority — rural Americans, who also happen to be mostly conservative.

I held similar views — until I lived for a bit on a working ranch. There, I sat in the saddle working cows for 12 hours — maybe it was just eight hours that felt like 12 — with my knees locked into what I imagined as permanent pain. I manned the deworming gun at the corral, even if the cowboy across from me ended up more dewormed than the cows.

I anticipated my own death at every turn — if not by accident, then by the design of the wholly irritated ranchers who were my hosts. My notions of how the West could be a better national park were marinated in cow manure, tortured by muscle fatigue, and finally gave way to the realities of the life and place in front of me.

Ranching woke me up to the incredible nonsense and arrogance directed at rural America by their urban, blinkered betters — environmentally minded liberals blind to their own colonial impulses. Ranching woke me up to the mind-numbing incompetence and truculence of big government.

Here in the East, when we want to save an endangered species, we actually have to work with private landowners, farmers, ranchers and foresters to come up with cooperative plans for resource-dependent communities. Witness the endangered Louisiana black bear in the Mississippi Delta, once reviled (and shot) by farmers for destroying their crops. A few years ago, a rice farmer in Louisiana called me with this triumphant news: “Sweet pea, a mom and her cub were seen swimming across the Mississippi today!”

There is no such jubilance in the West over endangered species. Despite the mandate from the National Environmental Policy Act to involve rural communities early and fairly in decisions that affect their welfare, that provision is routinely circumnavigated.

Similarly ignored are the good intentions of so many other environmental laws, not least among them the Congressional Grazing Guidelines, passed to prevent the Wilderness Act from becoming an eviction notice to public lands ranchers. It didn’t work.

As one rancher-conservationist wrote to me: “Just as the Bundy’s [52] neighboring ranchers learned, an [Endangered Species Act] species listing can be the death knell for local communities and economies.” Oh, yes, the feds bought the grazing rights of those 52 families — they made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Only Cliven Bundy, a determined maverick or an unrepentant madman, stuck it out.

Mr. Bundy knew what came next. If the feds couldn’t buy him out, they would manage him out of business. He said: “Why should I pay for the privilege?”

There are 12 “public lands” states in the West. As in Nevada, the federal government controls as much as 80 percent of the land in these states and with it, they control the incomes and destinies of the rural people dependent on those lands.

When President Obama introduced his new secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell, last year, he said: “She knows the link between conservation and good jobs.” Really? Perhaps he was referring to jobs for environmentalists and their attorneys.

If my many ranch friends had their druthers, I imagine they would prefer a poster child for federal oppression of Western rural communities who wasn’t entirely on the wrong side of the law.

There are many potential candidates. All are silenced by their fear of retaliation from federal agencies that administer the overlapping, confusing and debilitating land policies drawn up in Washington, federal agencies that occupy such an unsavory and undemocratic amount of space in rural lives.

As another rancher told me: “The level of intimidation we all feel all the time from our government is what matters here.” In the Bundy story, ranchers see a grim outline of their own. The fees are the least of it.

Joan Chevalier is a speechwriter in New York City.

Spring 2013        External link

Spring 2013      External link


Giving Way to the Land

Engineering students in India want me to explain "anti-environmentalism"


Mucking out my horse's stall, I thought: "God, I am stinky and dirty." This was followed by a rare mental pause - that moment in meditation when enlightenment is supposed to flower. My enlightenment: "I really like being stinky and dirty." So, there you have it. No angel wings for me; a pickax will be my portion of ascendence. Read full article

Thursday, October 23, 2008          External link

Thursday, October 23, 2008        External link


The Dangers of Liberal Bias

OBAMA sports a halo on a Newsweek cover; the magazine's photo of Palin unveils the witch behind the beauty. Of the many examples of media bias to which the right points, however, it was the Public Broadcasting System poll that swept this liberal into its vortex. The poll asked: "Is Sarah Palin [not Governor Palin] qualified to be Vice President?"  

Ranch women friends sent a call to action claiming that, as "80 percent" of the PBS audience is liberal, nonviewers on the right should weigh in, ensure the poll is representative.  

Fair enough, I thought. 

Then came the e-mail from the left: "The last thing we need is PBS saying their viewers think Sarah Palin is qualified!"   

So, we should keep our polling to ourselves? 

My otherwise thoughtful friend on the left prefaced the e-mail appeal with this: "Lord, it just never ends with these people." 

According to a study commissioned by the Kellogg Foundation, the Republican base depends "greatly on their strength in rural communities." But due to a vacuum of leadership on issues central to its rural base, the Republican Party was ripe for disaffection among "these people" - farmers, ranchers, miners, foresters. 

During the primaries, those same ranch women were open to Obama. They found him "likable." It was inevitable that he would sweep primaries in the west, where the Clinton legacy was Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit's "war" on local communities and economies. 

Echoing Obama, another liberal acquaintance asked me: "Well, rural people don't seem to know what is in their own self-interest, do they?" 

It never occurred to this NYC musician, living in an adjacent suburb to the Big Apple, that she might not be qualified to know what is in their best interest. With no direct experience of tacking up a crazed horse in below-freezing temperatures, never having sat in a saddle for 12 hours, not knowing what scours are, with no pig bucket under her sink, not having to drive 30 miles down the road to her own mailbox - of course, she knows what is best for them. She recycles, eats organic produce, and there's a bird feeder in her backyard: all signs that she is right with the world. 

The ferocity, bordering on fury, with which the choice of Governor Palin was received by the left sealed the deal. We made our views abundantly clear: The heartland is a red monolith of empty space and empty heads; the great rural reach of the country is mired in "ignorance," and their emissary is Sarah Palin. 

There are legitimate questions about Palin's experience level, just as there are legitimate questions about Obama's experience level. But according to The Huffington Post, Obama's lack of experience is immune from criticism because he attended Ivy League schools, "was a serious and successful student," is a well-traveled, published author, and has a diverse background. Heck, he's me! 

Yet, in every one of my encounters with America's rural communities, the diversity of my privileged experience was eclipsed by the depth of theirs. I had rhetoric; they had well-measured speech, punctuated by forbearing silences. I had easy answers; they knew there was no such thing. 

It is not that the Republican base is anti-intellectual, as David Broder claims; they are anti-elitist. An Ivy League education is hardly a universal signal of competence in anything other than the liberal cultural canon. 

Despite the lofty call to unity from Obama, behind which most of us on the left supposedly rallied, this election looks like all of our previously divisive ones. Rural Americans are bracing once again for war on their communities at the hands of liberal interest groups sharing cultural preferences remote from the realities of their lives.  The most liberal candidate in a generation has indeed raised up fear of his potential presidency, and I have heard nothing from those most afraid about his race. 

It's that darned halo that seems to have the man himself and his supporters so enthralled.

Monday, July 16, 2012          External Link

Monday, July 16, 2012        External Link


Rough Riding on the Western Trail

Ranchers want a president who respects the frontier

Riding the range to find the whole of our country -- the expansiveness and grit, the pragmatism and perseverance -- is not simply the fantasy of an ardent Teddy Roosevelt. The range is still a place that can make a president. Today, it is also a mess of federal government tomfoolery.  

Back in 2008, "hope and change" stirred in the sagebrush like an endangered species, and it looked as though candidate Barack Obama would make inroads into the Republican heartland. I invited the then-senator to an event at the Explorers Club in New York City, "Nature and Culture on America's Rangeland." His office was gracious enough to call with his "no"; I was ungracious enough to press: "I can get him out on a working ranch anytime." 

Until my own Western adventures, I also held to the liberal creed: The best and brightest could restore faithfulness and legitimacy to Father Government. (The dream of all children of single mothers?) I wanted Mr. Obama to confront, as I had, big government where it is the most tangibly oppressive -- in our 12 Western "public lands" states, our once-upon-a-time wild open frontier, where the federal government controls as much as 80 percent of each state's land base and, with it, the lives of its rural residents. 

There, unmanaged national forests are so riven with timber beetles that they are nothing more than a mass of kindling waiting for a lightning strike. There, environmentalists can claim that one ornery rancher's lambs pose a dire disease threat to bighorn sheep. The only problem: The Continental Divide separates the wild sheep population from the tame herd. And that rancher who "wouldn't compromise"? His ranch is a magnet for biodiversity and a model of sustainable management, and that environmentalist never had even one conversation with him. Out there, a federal land manager could point to a badly battered parcel of range and bark: "Your cows will have to be kept off this allotment for a year!" The rancher replied: "That's interesting, son -- especially because those hoofprints are elk, not cow, and there's been no cattle here in 18 months."

Out there, all the hard-won knowledge of our multigenerational ranchers, farmers, loggers and fishermen is discounted and disdained, while liberalism's unexamined colonial and patriarchal impulses run amok among the environmental left. 

So now I am watching the thankfully charisma-free Mitt Romney hedge his way toward the heartland. If President Obama proved to be much less than he purported, many of us in the center are pegging our remaining hopes on the possibility that candidate Romney will be much more than his uneasy affability would portend. 

What I am missing in the Romney candidacy isn't compassion, conviction or even the "vision thing" -- all of which are manufactured too easily and cheaply. What I am missing isn't even a better set of policies. After the frenzy of thousand-page bills that no one reads and most of us hate, I have a hankering for a policy liberation zone in Washington. 

What I am missing in the Romney candidacy is a sign that Mr. Romney can step up to his horse, take a long hard look at nothing but poor choices, and -- darn it all -- saddle up anyway. 

Don't ask us to like you, governor. We have a president who is our pal; now we need one who is our leader. This horse is skittish, sir. It has lost trust in the rider. It senses only bad things on the horizon and is ready to buck and run. Show us that you can sit deep in the saddle and ride out this storm with us because, right now, the storm is all many of us have left.  

If by chance a modern-day Mormon can't locate the frontier, give me a call. Mitt Romney might just find there the sweet spot for leadership in this divided country -- his inner "rough rider" and a presidency gained not by default, but by character. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010       External link

Thursday, July 22, 2010     External link


Big Green's Delta Delusions

Enviro-extremists kill economy while pursuing oil-free fantasy 

A rat snake, the first foot of its endless slither raised in hot pursuit, rounded me up and out of a Mississippi cypress swamp; a threatened Louisiana black bear graciously bared tooth and claw as fair warning before charging; a Louisiana bush pilot nearly scared me back to prayer admitting his two-seater was held together by an alligator hide (one he himself had wrestled from life) and some chewing gum - and the "son of a b still flies!" 

I love the Mississippi Delta. It's where this erstwhile liberal greenie began her education in real-world conservation - the kind most often tagged "community-based." But the voice of the Delta is missing from the environmental-liberal-administration response to the Gulf oil spill, no matter how loud those Cajuns shout. They can hold their "rallies for economic survival"; their governors and mayors and community activists can pound the bully pulpit till the cows come home. We know better. 

The overlords of all that is right with the world have a rationale for taking down the last third of the Delta's economy left standing: Suspending (or better yet, by the lights of some environmentalists, "banning") offshore drilling is a necessary intervention in America's oil "addiction," a vital component in extracting a climate bill from Congress, a wise precaution against another once-in-40-years spill. 

This is what Bill Maher, pipsqueak of righteousness, had to say about it: "F*** your jobs. If your job is in some industry that's killing things, maybe you are in the wrong line of work." Then, he advised the roughnecks to reform their oil-besotted machismo and build offshore windmills in the windless Delta.  Maybe the opinion industry should start to examine its own toxicity. 

If America is lucky, we might see one wind facility completed off the reliably windy coast of Cape Cod before the end of President Obama's second term - if he's lucky. But only if the nearby residents, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., stop bucking it. But, hey, offshore wind, that solves the problem. Shut down those oil rigs, rednecks. Move to Martha's Vineyard - they are hanging out the welcome sign. 

With less overt spleen than Mr. Maher exercised but with equal utopian pandering, environmental groups erase all mention of the damage to the working class from their push to stop drilling. Granted, the formerly pilloried fishing industry is now valorized, but they know environmental triangulation when they see it: Today's starving victim is tomorrow's solvent villain. 

The International Energy Agency's latest report predicts that even in the midst of a global energy-technology revolution, it will take 40 years for the United States to drop its oil usage by 60 percent. That's how long it will take to transform the light-auto fleet alone. This is not a matter of turning off the spigot and, snap, we are in the wizarding world of Harry Potter, where buses grow thinner on whimsy's demand.  

For the next several decades, we will need oil, especially in rural America, where public transportation is not an answer and cattle, hay and fish require big motors to do big jobs. 

Our current oil supply from the Gulf provides us with 30 percent of our needs, and 80 percent of Gulf oil comes from deep-water wells. If not from the Gulf, the oil will be imported from less regulated waters off the coasts of Africa and Brazil. Nigeria has had a major oil spill every year since 1969. Greater dependence on imports will increase volatility at the gas pump, hastening our inevitable return to that economy-squelching number - $4 a gallon. 

In the meantime, a blue-ribbon panel of engineers, consulted by the White House and sandbagged by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, does not support a moratorium on existing drilling because it increases rather than decreases risk. Among the technical reasons: Stopping and temporarily capping wells introduces unnecessary risk. It supports a temporary moratorium on new leases, not on existing ones. 

The environmental community has demonstrated that the strategic and necessary expansion of oil and gas drilling required to arrive at what was once the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman last-chance climate bill would have been illusory: whittled down under the weight of pressure politics, dodged by agencies, challenged in court. I am left wondering: Does the environmental community really want a climate bill? 

Protecting the environment follows prosperity. Rich countries can afford it; poor countries slash and burn their way through the rain forest in their backyard. Trampling working- and middle-class Americans while demonizing their modest claims on a decent life as "addiction" is a surefire way to lose traction on the hard solutions, those impure compromises in this impure world. But why am I telling environmentalists that? Look around; the only group extracting a living from the Delta's environment these days is Big Green. 

Friday, February 10, 2010        External Link

Friday, February 10, 2010      External Link


Protecting New York for the Untough 

In search of some populist bona fides, President Obama discovered "common sense" in the State of the Union speech. Perhaps that explains why - more than two months after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s decision to hold the terror trials in New York City and one month after the crotch bomber failed - the administration now thinks Mr. Holder's plan might be a bad idea.   

Two months of unacknowledged letters, phone calls, protests and suffering for many New Yorkers, and Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer decides to listen.  

Two months late, those who hold our safety in their hands realize that having a community hunkered down behindbarricades, with sharpshooters positioned on rooftops - and the rest of the city on high alert - might not contribute to the sanity, let alone security, of those of us already deeply scarred from that day.  

Maybe we can't blame them when so many liberal male pundits, persuaded that they spoke for all New Yorkers, chose the Holder decision to hoist Republicans on the petard of their presumed national security machismo. Charles M. Blow proclaimed in the New York Times that this trial would barely "move the needle" in terms of the ongoing terror threat. He postured: "The fear tactics that work in the hinterlands won't work here." Would that be the hinterlands from which - in all of America's wars - most of our servicemen and -women hailed? But, by all means, my fellow Democrats should continue to be contemptuous of the "hinterlands."  

Michael Winship of Bill Moyers' Journal asserted that "New York is tough enough" for the terror trials and warned that New Yorkers don't like being told what to do by those fear-mongering Republicans. But apparently we should be supine before Mr. Winship's instruction.  

Here in Washington, The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson admonished that in the war of ideas, a terrorist trial in New York City would disrupt the "jihadist narrative." (Yes, indeed, that's a spoonful of medicine for terror.) Fired up, he taunted with a George W. Bushism: "Bring it on" (a taunt to terrorists for which this New Yorker was endlessly grateful).  

Like many other New Yorkers on Sept. 11, I don't have a "narrative," just bits and pieces: images, stories, a scream over a phone line before it went dead, and the paper - scraps of paper pulled from my Brooklyn fire escape. Before the people came (or didn't come) home, the paper and ash came. I didn't understand it and still don't: the velocity and endurance of escaped papers. I folded those scraps carefully into a small box, imagining they carried the knowledge I lacked.  

Who among the faces that peopled my days at the World Financial Center survived? The toddlers in the day care center at the base of one of the towers, the elderly black cobbler, the French florist, the security guards and elevator attendants, the bankers, traders, tourists? Oddly, I clung to some small hope that the palm trees in the Winter Garden might come through the storm. They didn't. I never went back.  

But let's remember Mr. Holder's admonishment to us (I certainly intend to in 2010): "We need not cower." No, we need to run. Run! Run! Run! Fleeing carnage is not about bravery or being tough enough; there is only fear and luck, good or bad.  

And, of course, the mighty hearts of those who didn't flee, who wouldn't flee: our firefighters, who stormed the maw of madness and did not return.  

But, without ever asking any of us, Mr. Holder pronounced "our people are ready." A minimal due diligence, a minimal regard for the safety of the untough in New York City (the children, the elderly, the infirm) should have necessitated at least one consultation with New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. That never happened. So much for common sense, so much for "I am not an ideologue."  

While Mr. Robinson considered jihadists open-minded enough to have their "narrative" disrupted (really, Mr. Robinson?), until Scott Brown's victory, that wasn't looking feasible for liberal Democrats. Here's hoping that Sen. Brown is the person upon whom those of us with a preference for common sense over ideological fervor can count. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is one narrative that this decamping Democrat would like to see make a come back.