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The federal government owns large chunks of the West. It owns 65 percent of Utah, 69 percent of Alaska, and 83 percent of Nevada. Some Westerners see unfairness in that. They should not.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska recently slipped an item into a non-binding budget resolution, calling on the federal government to dispose of all its land other than the national parks and monuments. That would put U.S. national forests and wildlife refuges — from the Arctic to the Everglades — up for grabs. The Senate narrowly passed it.

Three years ago, Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, demanded that the federal government turn millions of its acres over to his state. Just like that.

Thing is, the land is not Utah’s to take. Federal lands do have an owner, the people of the United States. Those acres belong as much to residents of New Jersey and Ohio as they do to the folks in Salt Lake City.

Has anyone asked you whether you want to give away federal land? Me, neither.

Some insist that the laws creating the Western states required the federal government to hand over much of the land it retained. Not so, says University of Utah law professor Robert Keiter.

On the contrary. The Utah Enabling Act stated that the inhabitants of the proposed state had to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.” That sounds pretty straightforward.

The property clause of the U.S. Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court cases hold that the U.S. keeps public lands in trust for all Americans. The government may keep, sell or give away the land — as well as decide what may be done on it.

Even if the federal government were obligated to unload that land, Keiter writes, “that obligation does not require the federal government to give land to the states.”

Sales of federally owned land should go to the highest bidder, with the proceeds dropped in the U.S. Treasury. If the state of Utah cares to participate in the auction, good luck to it.

In reality, the federal government has, over the years, disposed of many millions of its acres — some sold, some given to homesteaders, some handed to the states.

Western states didn’t care about this mostly parched land until the feds started building huge irrigation projects in the 1920s. Many states, including Utah, actually refused offers of public lands because they didn’t want to lose federal reclamation funds, mineral revenue, and highway money.

Federal ownership does have its advantages. About 330 million acres of federal lands are used for grazing cattle and sheep. Ranchers last year paid only $18.5 million in fees to use that land, whereas the feds appropriated $144 million for the grazing programs, according to a Center for Biological Diversity study.

“Had the federal government charged the average private forage market rate for non-irrigated lands in the western states,” the study says, “grazing receipts would have been on average $261 million, greatly exceeding annual appropriations.”

The oil and gas industries operating on public lands currently enjoy discounted royalty rates, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. We really ought to be charging them market rates.

Ronald Reagan famously said of the Panama Canal, “We built it. We paid for it. It’s ours.”

How did the federal government originally obtain title to the Western lands? Through treaties with France, Britain, and Mexico.

So American taxpayers did indeed pay for that land and made it more fruitful. That’s why it’s ours, all of ours.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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