Thursday, January 7, 2016

No entitlements to careers, including ranching

I believe in entitlements, like access to health care, to non-exploitative job opportunities that pay at least a living wage, to safe, clean housing, to a safe, secure environment, and to nutritious food.

But I don't believe in entitlements to careers. No one is entitled to any career. You are not entitled to be a professional actor. Or a software developer. Or an aid worker. Or a banker. Or a journalist. Or a doctor. Or a tobacco farmer. Or a rancher. Or a coal miner. You can want to do those things, you can train to do those things, you can try to do those things, but you aren't entitled to make your career from any of those things, not in the USA.

My heart breaks when someone suddenly loses their job, particularly when it's the only job they've ever had and/or the loss is unexpected. When someone has a job, and financial security and peace of mind for the future this week, and then loses it the very next week - that's awful. Those people really struggle. You cannot plan for absolutely every scenario, and a lot of people do not see coming the closing of their office or the move of a company - it's a jarring, horrific surprise. They deserve sympathy and support.

But there are other people who whine about their loss of livelihoods that I don't have as much sympathy for.

I'm from Kentucky. When I was a kid, coal mining, horse racing and tobacco farming were dominant industries. My hometown, then less than 25,000 people, had TWO horse racing tracks, one for thoroughbred racing, one harness racing. My grandfather had been an underground coal miner before I was born, I could easily recognize a strip mine - and a site that had been stripped mine - before I was in double digits. And I knew a tobacco barn as soon as I saw one as well, despite no immediate family members that were farmers.

But I also knew, before I was a teenager, that these were three dying industries. The messaging and signs were everywhere. Yet, here I am, almost 50, and I hear people back in Kentucky decrying the demise of "their" industries. "I'm a fourth-generation coal miner! It's all I've ever done! This town was built by the coal mines!" is the kind of refrain I'll often hear when I'm back in Kentucky. And all I can think is - didn't you get the message? I did, more than 35 years ago. You've had an incredibly long amount of time to train for and pursue something new, to redefine yourself professionally and your community economically - why didn't you?

This is on my mind here in Oregon, as I hear people in Eastern Oregon outraged over the transition of ranchland, mining fields and timber lands to wildlife refuges and other pursuits that preserve land and water and history. Mining, for gold, mercury and a few other minerals in Eastern Oregon - from the early 1900’s to the 1930’s, cinnabar mining was king around Prineville, Oregon (mercury was extracted to use in silver and gold mining industries) - is in decline, though it does continue, as does the clean up from dangerous chemical contamination in lands and water. Lack of profitability and environmental laws against dredging and other destructive practices have closed many mines. Oregon remains the number one lumber producer in the U.S., but the industry, and many logging towns, are furious that logging on federal lands is now severely restricted. Ranchers ignore that consumption of meat in the USA, especially red meat, including beef, is in a serious, sustained, long-term decline and demand, though away from the public eye, to continue to receive a range of hefty government cash benefits to keep their dying industry afloat: the US government charges 93 percent less for cattle grazing than private landowners. As of 2014, grazing fees only accounted for 15 percent of the total cost incurred for the Bureau of Land Management to manage land for cattle grazing - the other 85 percent comes from we, the taxpayers. In Nevada, home of the Bundy family (yes, the same one the leader of the armed group in Oregon is from), 80 percent of the state’s land is owned by the federal government. But ranchers get to lease that land for their own private businesses at a huge discount. According to an investigation by The Atlantic, the lease discount program cost taxpayers anywhere from $52 million a year to $200 million, when accounting for all of the administrative overhead involved in managing the program. If the armed men in Eastern Oregon really wanted the “independence” from government they whine about, their businesses would be underwater.

National wildlife refuges pumped $2.4 billion into the economy, employed more than 35,000 people and produced $792.7 million in job income for local communities in Fiscal Year 2011. A 2012 study by North Carolina State University researchers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that metro-area homes near wildlife refuges are worth far more than those farther away from these havens. From 2006-2011, over 46 million people visited the National Wildlife Refuge System generating a total of $2.4 billion in economic output. Considering that every $1 of investment in the refuge system yields around $5 for the economy, national wildlife refuges are among our most economically productive national investments. Every year, millions of bird watchers, hikers, hunters, fishermen, and outdoor enthusiasts visit the National Wildlife Refuge System. No question: wildlife refuges are, in fact, SUSTAINABLE economic engines for local communities.

Having one big industry dominating the economy of a town does not work - not forever. Times change. It's also an epic challenge to transition from one industry to something that's prosperous and more diverse, yet, Ashland, Newport, Hood River, Astoria and Bend in Oregon show that it is possible. It took those cities decades of planning and work to do it, however. They saw the writing on the wall, and they did something about it.

I got a B.A. in journalism, and by the time I graduated from university, I already had professional experience as a journalist - but I decided it wasn't what I really wanted to do, and I took my career in another direction. Within a decade of leaving newspapers, some of my fellow journalism graduates had also left, seeing the writing on the wall with the growing popularity of the Internet and free avenues for news. They anticipated, they retrained, they re-directed, and they are all now employed in other industries. That's what you do in the USA when you realize your career choice is going nowhere. Times change. No one is entitled to any career - not miners, not ranchers, not farmers, not journalists, not you.

The armed ranchers and other armed people currently occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refugee are costing that community thousands of dollars in tourist dollars, and contributing to a reputation that Oregon does NOT need - one that will keep tourists, and their money, away even after the occupation ends. They need to get out, go home, and rethink their career choices - if your industry is dying, it's time to pursue something else.

Jan 12 Addendum: In this editorial, a rancher whines about dreaming as a kid to be a rancher, about wanting to "work on the land," about saving money to start his own business, about realizing his dream but how the evil government - specifically, the President - is ruining his livelihood with rules and regulations. "Most of the time, those regulations are written by people with no agriculture experience, and little understanding of what it takes to produce our nation’s food. The agencies that control these lands can add burdensome regulations at any time. Often, they will begin aggressively enforcing them before ranchers have a chance to adjust."

Imagine a teacher had written exactly the same thing during the Bush administration, about dreaming as a kid to be a teacher, about wanting to teach children, about taking out loans and saving money to go through the government-mandated training and certification to become a teacher, but how the evil government is ruining her livelihood with rules and regulations. "Most of the time, those regulations are written by people with no education experience, and little understanding of what it takes to prepare our young people for the future. The agencies that control of public schools and funding can add burdensome regulations at any time. Often, they will begin aggressively enforcing them before teachers have a chance to adjust." People would have screamed about what a whiney person she is, how if she can't deal with the changes, she needs to get out of teaching, and on and on.

This is what is known as a double standard. Look it up.

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