Are our environmental stewards in Congress using their credibility for personal benefit? Why are they almost all at least millionaires and why is that fact ignored by the media? For example; Dianne Feinstein and her husband, finance capitalist Richard C. Blum, are in the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans. They stand for everything that such enormous wealth implies.
As an example of corruption in the highest levels involving Senator Feinstein, in 2009 it was reported that she introduced legislation to provide $25 billion in taxpayer money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., a government agency that had recently awarded her husband’s real estate firm, CB Richard Ellis, a lucrative contract to sell foreclosed properties at compensation rates higher than the industry norms.
She also voted for appropriations for the Iraq conflict worth billions to her husband’s firms. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_C._Blum
Senator Feinstein fancies herself as a champion of environmental causes. More often than not in the American political realm saving the environment is code for political corruption. Almost without exception the mainstream media is complicit in this treachery.
In 1996 Dianne Feinstein was appointed to chair a legislative team to negotiate the purchase of Headwaters from Hurwitz whose company, Maxaam, had clear-cut most of the forest in question. Hurwitz was an investment partner of senator Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum. In the end Hurwitz’s empire cashed out by liquidating the forests and the livelihoods of the North Coast in exchange for a $380 million taxpayer-funded payout.
Then there was Senator Feinstein’s opus, the Desert Wilderness Protection Act. Who ever imagined that the desert needed protection from development?
The Desert Wilderness Protection Act and its companion bill known as the California Desert Protection Act (sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein); created three new national parks and seventy- four new wilderness areas in the desert of California which totaled 8 million acres. This bill was originally passed in 1994 and funded with additional legislation sponsored by Senator Feinstein in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 sessions of Congress.
Senator Feinstein contended that the fragile ecosystem of the desert must be protected from development, but in reality the areas being placed into park and wilderness closures were not threatened. The desert was protected by the California Desert Conservation Area Plan enacted in 1980 that had been scrupulously adhered to by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
In addition, the designated acreage was completely dry and could not be developed. As a consequence it remained unsold for over a hundred years even though it had been on the market at bargain level prices.
First a little history: In the nineteenth century the U.S. Congress gave Southern Pacific Railroad a checkerboard pattern of right a way land parcels lining their tracks from Texas to California. Eventually Southern Pacific Railway dried up economically and was swallowed up in a merger. Catellus Development (Catellus), a subsidiary of Santa Fe Pacific, eventually took over these land parcels.
The congressionally created landholdings existed in 1994 under the name of Catellus which owned over 400,000 acres of worthless land in the California Mojave Desert: that is until that land was exchanged for much more valuable land under Feinstein’s bill, the California Desert Protection Act. Catellus gave up essentially worthless desert tracts for lucrative freeway properties.
400,000 acres of land owned by Catellus in the Mojave Desert was purchased by the federal government to create a natural preserve. Of the $56.5 million purchase price for the Catellus desert properties, $30 million of the money came from the U.S. government. The rest came from a non-profit environmental group called The Wildlands Conservancy.
The Wildlands Conservancy did not come into being until September 1995, after Senator Feinstein introduced the first desert protection bill, which initially named Catellus specifically. We need to ask ourselves how often is an environmental group established to join a cause created by a U.S. senator to benefit a private corporation?
Richard Blum is a member of Governing Council of The Wilderness Society which supported the California Desert Protection Act. The group has been a force behind the passage of dozens of wilderness bills, which have enlarged the National Wilderness Preservation System to more than 106 million acres.
Gifts from the independently wealthy Marshall financed the organization. After his death in 1939 the Society received revenue from a trust established by Marshall’s estate. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wilderness_Society_%28United_States%29
In a column titled “A Succession of Land Deals” by Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters published in March of 2001, Walters wrote that the Catellus desert swap amounted to a deal where “Catellus walked away with cash and valuable land and gave up virtually nothing of real value.
What, if any, hidden interest does Richard Blum have in Catellus as a finance capitalist? His holdings are varied and far flung and include varied forms of real estate interests. One source reports that Richard C. Blum, held a serious interest in Catellus. See: http://articles.superhunky.com/4/231
In fact it has been surmised (because it was public land in as little as ten years before the swap) that some of the land that Catellus got in exchange for its original holdings was public land that was illegally transferred to private ownership by the BLM.
In a May 1997 issue of Media ByPass magazine, writer Karen Lee Bixman explored an area of the land swap that make these concerns look pale by comparison. This story is titled “The Great Gold Heist: The Desert Wilderness Protection Act,” See: http://www.propertyrightsresearch.org/great_gold_heist__the_desert_wil.htm
“Through a complex series of land exchanges, Catellus Corporation, a subsidiary of Santa Fe Pacific, will receive land that contains some of the richest gold deposits in the world. In exchange, the public gets seventy-four widely scattered tracts of desert which have found no economic use in more than a century.”
“In the land swap, Catellus Corp. will receive land from decommissioned military bases. One of the bases will be the Chocolate Mountain gunnery range. Unbeknownst to the public, inside the range is the world’s richest gold rift zone. Geologists estimate that the gold contained in this zone is worth between $40 to $100 billion. These are surface gold deposits which are more profitable to mine than the one-mile deep gold deposits in South Africa.”
When the language in the original bill raised all sorts of red flags (specifically stating that Catellus Corp. should receive preferential treatment), the Catellus provision was stricken. This would not have made any real difference according to Ms. Bixman. “Therefore, even with the Catellus provision stricken from the bill, the money would still be routed to the same beneficiaries.”
Not bad for $150,000 in political contributions from Catellus to Feinstein’s political campaign. It was also reported that the Sierra Club made large contributions earmarked toward the desert wilderness campaign. A short time after the donation Senator Alan Cranston introduced the California Desert Protection Act into legislation.
There is also the small matter of the connection between Catellus Development and the Wildlands Conservancy which constitutes a direct conflict of interest. The resulting charitable gift/sales of ostensibly appreciated land is inconsistent with the underlying land values of these properties as determined by the county assessor.
In the company’s annual report for the year 2000, Catellus’ CEO Nelson Rising in his letter “To Our Shareholders” wrote: “In 2000 we closed on two sales totaling more than 405,000 acres of desert lands. We also entered into an option agreement with The Wildlands Conservancy to sell an additional 277,000 acres of desert land… These transactions have generated more than $320 million in sales proceeds.”
In effect, today hundreds of millions of acres are taken away from the American public who once recreated on lands turned into Wilderness Areas. Wilderness Areas were purportedly created to “…secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” Nice…
The problem is that fishermen, hunters, mountain bikers, OHV enthusiasts and others no longer have access to land turned over to the National Wilderness Preservation System because of restrictions on mechanized travel on dirt trails. The ones that really benefit from National Wilderness legislation are the wealthy. They don’t want you to know about their dirty little secrets. Would you?
Where there are powerful political voices in the mix and a lot of talk about saving the environment, it is important to look behind the rhetoric and find out what the hidden agenda might actually be. This is true especially when the issue is over land use and where any decision which could affect adjacent land values. Think Carnegie and the expansion.