Moments in the life of a Pastor

Walking with God


Dealing with Debt

The federal government owns around 640 million acres of land, almost 30% of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. Around 52 percent of federally owned acres are in 12 Western states, where in contrast, the federal government owns 4 percent of land in the other 38 states. Four federal agencies—the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, oversee roughly 95 percent, or 608 to 610 million acres, of federal land. A look at the following map which shows federal land as a percentage of the total state land clearly shows the divide between West and East.


When it comes to which state has the most federal land Alaska comes in first with 223.8 million acres, while Nevada has the greatest percentage of federal land within a state at 84.9 percent. Both because of its enormous total size and its huge percentage of federal lands, Alaska alone represents almost half the government-owned area in the 10 most ‘federalized’ states combined. The only two western states falling out of the top 10 are Montana with 29.9% and Washington state at 30.3%. So why does the government own so much land and who administers who is in charge? According to the Congressional Research Service, a total area of just under 610 million acres, more than twice the size of Namibia, is administered by no more than 4 federal government agencies:

The United States Forest Service (USFS), which oversees timber harvesting, recreation, wildlife habitat protection and other sustainable uses on a total of 193 million acres, about the size of Turkey, mainly designated as National Forests.

The National Park Service (NPS) conserves lands and resources on 80 million acres, about the size of Norway, in order to preserve them for the public. Any harvesting or resource removal is generally prohibited.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), managing 248 million acres, an area about the size of Egypt, has a multiple-use sustained-yield mandate, supporting energy development, recreation, grazing, conservation, and other uses.

Lastly the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) manages 89 million acres, an area slightly bigger than Germany, to conserve and protect animal and plant species.

As the United States expanded across the continent, it did so by purchasing or taking the land that became new states. Much of the land was taken from Native Americans. Over time, it transferred land to state governments and individuals, largely through homesteading and land grants, which allowed farmers to procure parcels of land for agricultural use. The government also tended to allow free use of unclaimed lands by ranchers and others, though there were skirmishes over the years when settlers tried to fence in public land or claimed land in Indian territories. This strategy worked well in the Midwest, where very little land remains in federal hands. East of the Mississippi, for example, the federal government owns only 4 percent of land. Yet in the 11 states in the West, including New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and not counting Alaska, a combination of geography and politics slowed things down. “The whole disposal system sort of hits a speed bump,” said Patricia Limerick, a history professor and director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. The many mountainous, arid and difficult-to-reach tracts of land in the West simply weren’t attractive to farmers. Settlers claimed the few valleys where farming was feasible and built towns. The only thing most of the remaining land was good for was grazing, but cattle ranchers and sheep herders needed large tracts of land to feed their livestock, not the smaller parcels they could claim through homestead policies. More recently, federal law eliminated homesteading and set up more formal systems for management of the remaining land. So here we sit with the government owning 640 million acers almost 30% of the total land base. So what does it cost for these four federal agencies, , tasked with managing most of this land? Together the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service have combined annual budgets of around $12 billion annually. In the early 19th century, the Supreme Court ruled that state and local governments did not have the authority to tax federal lands within their jurisdiction. So because the government owns massive amounts of land many states were experiencing huge losses in property taxes. Aa a result many people within these communities began to associate federal land ownership within their local jurisdiction with lost tax revenue. So to compensate local governments for the loss in property tax revenue, Congress has passed legislation throughout the years to provide these communities with payments in lieu of taxes. For example, in 1908, Congress passed legislation which required the Forest Service to share 25% of its revenues with local governments. Many still questioned whether federal payments to local governments were adequate compensation for lost property tax revenue. To address these concerns, Congress passed the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Act in 1976. The PILT program, administered by the BLM, was intended to act as an “umbrella” program by which federal payments to local governments would become more stabilized and tax equivalent. Rather than rescind existing revenue-sharing programs, PILT was meant to act as supplementary. This in turn resulted in more costs and less revenue for Federal land. There is also the question of how well does a government manage compared to when things are put into private hands. Historically governments including the US have been poor at best in managing, just look at how they have handled the budget, which now stands at almost 20 trillion dollars in debt. And why does the government own almost a third of the country? So as the United States federal debt approached 20 trillion dollars, that’s over $160,000 per tax payer, one has to ask is it time to sell some of its assets? Assets that cost tax payers billions of dollars to manage as well as billions in lost tax revenue. What if some of this land was sold to citizens and the money used to pay down the federal debt. Not only would that generate cash in the short term but it would generate consistent tax revenue year after year without costing anything to maintain which would cut billions from the federal budget. Now before you freak out I’m not talking about selling Yellowstone or other National monuments. I’m just suggesting that it might be time to get serious about the budget.

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The Price of Politics

The Price of Politics

Barack Obama spent $730 million getting to the White House in 2008, which was twice as much as George W. Bush spent 4 years earlier and more than 260 times what Abraham Lincoln spent in his first election (as measured in 2011 dollars). Looking at the total costs of presidential elections over the past 150 years, it would seem that the White House is the ultimate recession-proof commodity. Because when one looks at the increase in campaign costs (measured in real dollars) they significantly outpaced the price of gold’s rise over the 20th century. Every four years Americans elect a president, and every four years, campaign-finance experts predict that the next election will be the most expensive election in history. The 2016 presidential campaign is no exception. According to CBS News Americans who are running for federal elective offices spent more than ever, almost $7 billion in that pursuit. That’s more than what consumers spend on cereal, $6 billion. According to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics just under half of that, $2.65 billion was spent on the presidential race, which is slightly less than the $2.76 billion that was spent in 2012. Despite greatly outraising the real estate mogul and billionaire Trump by almost $400 million, Clinton could not secure enough votes to win the electoral vote. So why does it cost so much to campaign for election in the United States? Well for one a bigger country equals  bigger money. America is the largest democracy in the world with a population over 300 million and trying to reach that population costs a lot. As Republican strategist Ron Bonjean points out, “its going to cost a lot of money to express yourself and get your message out, get the vote out, get people to support you and put in campaign infrastructure.” In order for a candidate to reach all 50 states during an election cycle, a treasure trove of money is needed to cover that much ground. Not only is America a large country but you also have to look at the length of its campaigns compared to many other countries. In Britain for instance their campaign for prime minister can last as little as 1 month compared to the 10 months the US takes. Closer to home Canada and Mexico spend about three month’s campaign. Keith Boykin, a Democratic strategist and former staffer on Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 campaign, said “the length of the U.S. election cycle dictates that candidates must pile up funds to survive the long haul. “ While nothing can be done about the size of the U.S. the amount of time given to campaigning could definitely be shortened. I would guess that not only would it save millions of dollars but it would also save some sanity. One big cost is advertising and television advertising is by far the most expensive item in a campaign’s budget. Air time in major markets in key swing states can cost a campaign millions of dollars. Again this is where Clinton vastly out spent Trump especially in the closing weeks of the election. Estimates show team Clinton spent 50 times as much as Team Trump on television ads in Florida in the final weeks of the election. In Florida, Clinton spent $36.6 million, versus just under $700,000 for Trump. The differences continue in Ohio, $20.9 million versus $1.8 million, Pennsylvania $18.8 million versus $1.5 million and North Carolina $14.3 million versus $1.3 million. If there is one thing that the 2016 presidential election has taught us it is that money is not always the major determining fact when it comes to wining. The richest candidate doesn’t always win, money may allow you to have the loudest voice but it doesn’t guarantee you the vote. This brings me to an interesting question, what could we do with all the money that was spent on presidential elections? I wonder how many homeless people could one feed with 2.5 Billion Dollars. In 2016, over half a million people in the U.S. were considered homeless. According to the national survey done every January 564,708 people were living on the streets, in cars, in homeless shelters, or in subsidized transitional housing. Of that number, 206,286 were people in families, 358,422 were individuals, and a quarter of the entire group were children. 83,170 individuals, or 15% of the homeless population, are considered “chronically homeless.” Chronic homelessness is defined as an individual who has a disability and has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or an individual who has a disability and has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years (must be a cumulative of 12 months). Families with at least one adult member who meets that description are also considered chronically homeless. 47,725, or about 8% of the homeless population, are veterans. Well let’s say it costs $20 to feed one person in a 24 hour day, $5.00 for breakfast, $7.00 for lunch, and $8.00 dinner. That means you could feed 1.25 million people for one day or just over 400,000 people for a year. We could almost feed our homeless population for a year on what we spend to elect a president. What is even more staggering is that the amount of money we spend every four years on a presidential campaign could feed the 50,000 homeless vets for 8 years.  What about the 140,000 homeless children, who over 50% are younger than six years old. We could almost feed them for all four years the president was in office just on the money spent campaign in a year.  What price are we willing to pay to promote politics, and what are they producing? Many of the candidates claim to care about social issues yet they spend more on getting into power than they do on poverty. One of the faulty beliefs today is that our country rises and falls on who is leading, but I believe we give politics way too much power. The truth is we need to stop leaning on law and start leaning on love. Human goodness is a far greater power than government. What if we stopped funding political leaders every four years and started funding the future? Our political system has conned us into believing that government is the best agent for positive people change. But people don’t need a handout they need a hand up and that requires people with real love, caring and compassion, not programs. Politicians may provide political promises but people need real hands not empty hope. What if We The People put politics aside and came together based on our common heart and humanity. So let me ask you what would happen if we stopped leaning on the law and started leaning on love to change our country?