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Front Page » December 10, 2002 » Opinion » Opinion
Published 4,298 days ago

Opinion


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By KEN LARSON
Sun Advocate Publisher

I think it was the contrast of the events that touched me so profoundly. It seemed a typical evening in the newspaper business where there wasn't enough reporters to go around. Concerts, programs, light parades, the list goes on and on.

Saturday night I attended the Christmas Light Parade in Helper and then quickly ran to Price to take in the Tribute to Desolation Canyon, a program presented by the students of Prescott College. Both events were firsts for me and incredible, but different in their own right. Christmas truly came alive in Helper as float after float brightened the evening skies and drew applauds and cheers from the large crowds that lined the streets. Popular carols filled the air as children, wrapped in warm blankets, sipped hot chocolate and watched Christmas unfold on the backs of trailers and trucks. I love Christmas and all it represents and the Helper parade was certainly the highlight of my season so far this year.

From Helper, I made it to the civic auditorium just in time for the opening curtain of the program entitled, "The Hidden Wonders of Carbon County."

The difference between the two events was like night and day. In Helper the thousands of twinkling lights brought smiles to happy faces and the message of the holiday, Meanwhile in Price, the story of a river and a canyon was brought to life through dance, song, and music. The tribute to Desolation Canyon marked the fruition of a semester designed to learn about and create a tribute by students from the Arizona college.

According to instructor Liz Faller in her opening remarks, "We have received greatly from this place. Prescott College has been bringing students here for 30 years. This is our way of expressing our gratitude."

So why Desolation Canyon? It's a unique geological and historical area that runs through the extreme eastern portion of Carbon County. Words spoken in the introduction included vast, awe-inspiring, gigantic, starkly beautiful, historical and layers upon layers of quiet that move into deep silence.

"This place humbles you and brings you to your knees with respect," said Faller.

It is the deepest canyon in Utah and with adjacent public and Ute lands, it totals nearly one million acres, a size that sustains life forms and qualities that are rare and precious. In 1969 it was named a National Historic landmark because it is an area that has changed the least in the Colorado River system since John Wesley Powell's journey down the Green River in 1869.

The visionary of this project was Dennis Willis, local BLM outdoor recreation planner. While the program was made possible through the Price City Culture Connection and councilwoman, Liz Kourianos.

The energy the college students brought to the stage was incredible. It brought me back to the days when I worked as a public relations director in Montana and had numerous opportunities to work with the youth. Their talent and enthusiasm showed through as they portrayed their interpretation of Desolation Canyon, from the forces of time, the contrast of the canyon, erosion and the canyon as a sanctuary.

For me, the most impressive segment was titled "Ancestors", where Andrew Wholsen presented a narrative, accompanied by his flute, while poetry by Steven Tanner was read by Catlin Smith and the dancers moved with grace and beauty to the paintings by Serena Supplee. It was indeed the most elegant presentation of dance and art I ever remember seeing and told the story of the canyon's ancestors.

The performance was a culmination of a three course interdisciplinary projects in Environmental Studies and Performing Arts.

It was truly beautiful.


If you think the land called America is a big place, just look at the federal governmental bureaucracy that has been created since our constitution was put together in the late 18th century. It's become a monster that is not only out of control, but threatens to engulf the power of the states to the point that they no longer can operate as the peoples domain.

Do you want to know how big? Just look at a copy of the Federal Regulatory Directory. A document of almost 800 pages, it describes the various departments, the subdepartments, the sub-sub departments ... well you get the idea. And this is just the bureaucratic part of the government, not the administration nor the legislative branch. Major agencies include the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Federal Communication Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

That list is impressive. We hear about these agencies somewhere in the news almost every week. But there's more, because those are just the major agencies. The list of other regulatory agencies include the Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Farm Credit Administration, the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Housing Finance Board, the Federal Maritime Commission, The National Credit Union Administration, the National Mediation Board, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the Postal Rate Commission, the Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration, the United States International Trade Commission and the United States Postal Service.

That's quite a mouthful just to say, much less contemplate. But I'm not done yet. We still have the departmental agencies, which include some really familiar names. Under this group we have the Agriculture Department, the Commerce Department, the Defense Department, the Energy Department, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior Department, the Justice Department, the Labor Department, the State Department, the Transportation Department, the Treasury Department and Veterans Affairs Department.

Now within all these departments and agencies there are many, many subdivisions. Take the Department of Agriculture for example. It has 10 departments of it's own. They include the Agricultural Marketing Service, the Animal and Plant Inspection Service, the Farm Service Agency, Food and Consumer Service, Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Foreign Agricultural Service, the Forest Service, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development. All the other departments have similar sub departments; some fewer some more.

Look at them all. What do they do? Well every one has an important job to complete, a job that affects every one of us. But -how much government bureaucracy do we need?

Now these agencies and departments have hundreds of thousands of employees spread all over the country. Locally the federal payroll affects our local economy big time. We as a county particularly benefit from the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the Agriculture Department jobs in the area.

No one in the country (I don't think) is fool enough to believe that an agency can be run by the department head and his or her secretary any more, but on the other hand, how big do we need these agencies to be.

But we have no one to blame but ourselves. Over the years we have asked for more and more services from the government and our congressmen and senators have been more than happy to accommodate us. Each party blames the other for this huge growth in government, but they are both at fault.

As I went through all these departments in the book (and the laws that were passed to form them) I can almost tell which party sponsored each piece of legislation. I hate to be simplistic, but if people would just be kind to one another, and not take advantage of their fellow mans generosity or idiocy, you know just follow the golden rule, many of these departments wouldn't even be needed.

But then just think of all the lawyers and bean counters who would be out of a job. And you wouldn't need small town journalists coming up with dumb lists either.


Rushing to adjourn for the year, the lame-duck Congress has just given an early indication of what to expect next year: brazen codling on behalf of the biggest contributors to their campaigns. This time, it comes in the guise of "homeland security" and "terrorism insurance."

Start with the new Department of Homeland Security. While this massive government re-organization may ultimately result in better coordination among the far-flung bureaucracies tasked with protecting U.S. borders, waters, crops, imports, airports, and politicians, one might ask why House legislators felt it necessary to take the straightforward bill they passed earlier this year and tuck a host of unrelated provisions into the version they sent to the Senate�in "take it or leave it" fashion.

The revised bill will limit legal liability for companies that produce vaccines, a gift to drug manufacturer Eli Lilly, which faces lawsuits from families touting new research which connects thimerasol, a preservative used in vaccines, to autism. Pharmaceutical companies gave more than $19 million to federal candidates and parties in the last election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that, the number one giver was Eli Lilly, which provided at least $1.6 million, 79 percent to Republicans. These totals don't include the estimated $30 million spent by drug makers on TV ads backing Republican candidates from front groups with innocuous sounding names like "United Seniors Association" and "Citizens for Better Medicare." (The final total will be higher, as these figures don't include the last two weeks of the election.)

Another provision that sailed through the House, and ultimately the Senate, will undo a ban originally sponsored by the late Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) on any government contracts related to homeland security going to companies that use foreign tax havens to avoid U.S. taxes. A bi-partisan Who's Who of ex-elected officials turned mercenaries lobbied for the amendment, including former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, former House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R-TX), Bush family confidant Charlie Black, former House Appropriations Committee chairman Robert L. Livingston (R-LA), and former Keating Five Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ.). Among the companies seeking the measure: Accenture, the Arthur Andersen spin-off; scandal-ridden Tyco International, and toolmaker Ingersoll-Rand.

When these and other special-interest provisions came to light, many Senators complained vociferously and Democrats, along with Republican maverick John McCain (R-AZ), tried to get them excised. But they lost that fight after the White House and Republican leaders promised to tone down the offending provisions with corrective legislation sometime next year. Don't hold your breath: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has already stated that he only agreed to "consider" any such changes.

At almost the same time, Congress gave final approval to a bill demanded by the insurance and real estate industries providing up to $100 billion over three years to cover 90 percent of future terrorism-related insurance claims. Government aid would kick in if terrorism-related losses exceed minimum levels of an insurance company's premiums, which in some cases could mean that taxpayers will be liable from an insurer's first dollar of losses. In addition, insurers would be required to repay very little or no federal assistance. This approach is a marked departure from the original House bill, passed last winter, that would have required insurers to cover the first $1 billion cost of a terrorist attack, with the federal government offering long-term loans to help pay for the rest. But the insurance industry wanted direct aid and lobbied hard for the Senate version promoted by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), that would have insurers pay for the first $10 billion of an attack out-of-pocket but then put taxpayers on the hook for the rest.

The insurance and real estate industries are among the biggest contributors to political campaigns, having supplied $27.5 million and $42 million in just the 2001-02 cycle alone. Senator Dodd has received $562,000 from the insurance industry during his career in the Senate, putting him at #7 among all his colleagues in takings from that lucrative source. He called the final bill a vital "safety net" for the insurance business.

Meanwhile, the two million Americans whose unemployment benefits are expiring in the next few months won't see their safety net extended anytime soon. Congress's adjourning means the death of a $4.5 billion Senate proposal that would have extended the current temporary unemployment insurance program passed earlier this year. Many will lose their benefits just before Christmas. The Senate had hoped to give another 13 weeks of benefits to people whose unemployment checks run out after December, with 26 weeks for workers in high unemployment states. Alas, these average folks don't have the cash to pay Bob Dole or Chris Dodd to look after their interests.


In February 2001, Lisa Schmidt and her children moved into the home she had purchased in Murray. Before long, they were plagued with unexplained health problems ranging from headaches and leg aches to diarrhea and bloody noses.

Neighbors told Schmidt that in 1999 the police had conducted a drug raid searching for methamphetamines. It was the first she had heard about it. She contacted the Utah State Health Department, which sent an inspector. She was told to watch for, and to clean up with bleach, any yellow substance that might seep through walls or ceilings.

When yellow stuff began appearing sporadically, she dutifully scrubbed it as instructed. But when the baffling illnesses continued, she decided in September of this year to expend $900 for another, more thorough, house inspection by a private firm. Inspectors found copious amounts of methamphetamine remnants throughout the house--in walls, ceilings, cabinets, floors, and air. As reported by Salt Lake City's Deseret News for September 28, "The legal limit for inhabitability of a house is .0 1 parts of meth present. The report ... showed the basement bathroom [where meth was made in a bathtub] at a whopping 56.0. Other rooms were not far behind." The last renter, it turned out, had made meth in the house. In fact, authorities had already arrested him, but not until he had moved out and was producing meth elsewhere.

Needless to say, the bad news devastated Schmidt. She now faced the loss of all furniture and personal belongings, a $6, 100 bill to cleanse the house down to its framing studs, and around $25,000 to have it refurbished. Barred from entering (except to remove furniture and personal belongings destined for a toxic waste dump), the family was allowed by health authorities to live in a motor home in the driveway.

Media reports about the bizarre tragedy generated an outpouring of support from neighbors and others anxious to help. On October 20, the Deseret News reported that business associates of Schmidt's ex-husband had had "gathered $1,500," and that "Salt Lake County offered Schmidt a no-interest loan to cover the reconstruction." Her brother set up an account at a local bank to accept contributions, and "sure enough, people began putting money in. One anonymous donor alone contributed $500."

Lindon, Utah, custom molding and cabinet builder Matt Gaus "volunteered to rebuild Schmidt's kitchen cabinets." And they will not be "just any cabinets, either. Gaus does high end, handmade work." "I've had people help me out with money or whatever when I've been in situations," he told the Deseret News, "So I think you've got to return it. I saw this on the news and thought, well, here's an opportunity."

Schmidt admits that she was somewhat pessimistic about human nature before, but now says "this has absolutely changed my conception. People care. People don't act like they care about each other, but they really do. When you need help, perfect strangers come up and offer help ... It's really amazing."

The Deseret Nevis adds: "It's telling that Schmidt herself, still in the middle of her own crisis, is looking for opportunities to help others. She recently donated to a fund ... helping pay the medical bills of ... a sick child."

"This has made me want to pass it on," the grateful mother reflects. "I have learned a great lesson about passing on good fortune."

At this time of year it is good to know people care... and to pass it on.


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December 10, 2002
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