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Our turn may be next

Editorial cartoon for Nov. 6, 2003

It seems like no tragedy happens in this country without the poison of partisan bickering following in its wake.

Watching our United States Senators in live debate on the wonderful C-Span network (what a shame that most citizens prefer sitcoms and crime shows to this window into the essential workings of our democracy) is interesting, but it can also be very disappointing.

With California burning, there has been some effort to help the victims and address the problems that caused the conflagration in the first place. Unfortunately, there has been just as much, maybe more, of blame and accusations flying back and forth. That's disheartening.

It seems like our political system is becoming destabilized due to an inability of our political leaders to work together to solve problems. Rather than cooperating -- no matter how serious the challenge -- there seems to be an effort to find a partisan political advantage in the day's bad news story.

Our corporate news media are complicit in spreading this type of poison. How bad has it gotten? A few days ago, Fox-TV commentator Sean Hannity -- with images of flaming homes running on the screen -- was blaming (who else?) the Democrats and former President Bill Clinton for the tragic fires in California. You can almost see the dismal partisan gears turning in his head: "Here's a fresh tragedy. If we can pin it on the Democrats, maybe we can carry California in the 2004 election."

There are many factors that combined to create the conditions for these fires, and no doubt some politicians of both parties could probably shoulder a share of the responsibility. But who cares? Tragedies should not be a time for blame. This should be an alarm bell and a time to fix the situation so similar tragedies do not happen again.

Rather than serving the public, there are now too many politicians (and media talking-heads) who seem to be more interested in consolidating power than helping the nation. That's why it's difficult to believe we'll ever solve the battle with terrorism. As long as one political side or another believes it can gain politically by spinning bad news, there won't be any sincere progress.

What a shame. What a mess we're in.

What is now going on in California could easily happen here. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest has more than its share of dead and dying trees. Beetle-infestations and drought have taken a heavy toll, and there needs to be -- soon -- harvesting of a reasonable percentage of those trees.

Perhaps even more important, there needs to be an active campaign of brush removal and thinning of small-diameter trees in areas where residences and communities meet the wild.

Thanks to the U.S. Forest Service, we are currently seeing this type of thinning work taking place on Burdoin Mountain, where contractors are clearing nearly 200 fire-prone acres. That's a wonderful project, but it is painfully clear, with Southern California as our example, that so much more needs to get the same treatment.

For example, there have been proposals for brush removal along State Route 14 (from the White Salmon River to east of Bingen in particular) and also along the eastern side of Alt. 141. Those plans need to be implemented without delay. It's not inconceivable that we could lose the city of White Salmon (or another community) to fire if these problems get neglected much longer.

Maybe people are getting tired of hearing this, but if a portion of the money being poured into Iraq could be diverted to removing accumulated fuels in the Western United States instead, we could employ thousands of workers while helping to safeguard homes and lives.

California is a stark warning to us, and time is running out.



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