Restore firearms ban in national parks

In addition to making it easier for coal miners to pollute rivers and streams, allowing more mining in lands adjacent to national parks and implementing rules that weaken the Endangered Species Act, the Bush administration last month gave the National Rifle Association a parting gift by lifting a decades-long ban on concealed weapons in national parks.

It is painful to witness the administration’s cynical use of the federal rule-making process to assault the environment and pander to the NRA during its waning days. These harmful new rules could take years to undo. Make no mistake, though, they must be taken off the books before they can do too much damage.

No one associated with our national parks wanted the gun ban lifted. The National Leadership Council, a 22-member group of National Park Service officials, opposed allowing concealed weapons in national parks, which today are some of the safest places in the country. The National Parks Conservation Association, the unions representing park rangers and the National Park Service Retirees organization all opposed lifting the gun ban. For that matter, so did most of the 140,000 respondents during an Interior Department public comment period on the proposed rule change.

Apparently, none of this mattered to the outgoing administration. So beginning on Jan. 9, Everglades and Biscayne national parks … and the dozens of federal wildlife refuges and forests in Florida will be open to visitors packing guns. Under the new rule, anyone in Florida with a concealed weapons permit qualifies to bring a gun into a national park. There are more than 537,000 Florida residents with concealed weapons permits.

Allowing visitors to carry firearms into these national treasures makes no sense. The weapons ban has worked well all these years. It has reduced poaching of endangered species and kept the level of violence between people to a minimum.

Unfortunately, reversing this new rule could take years. … The incoming administration will have many priorities, but beginning the process of removing the harmful new Interior rules should be on President-elect Obama’s to-do list.

The Miami Herald

Dec. 31

Can we change Cuba?

Fifty years ago, Ernesto “Che” Guevara led a column of war-steeled rebels into Havana as Fidel Castro took the city of Santiago at the other end of the island and declared a Cuban revolution. This one, Castro said, would not be like Cuba’s 1898 independence from Spain, “when the Americans came and took over.”

Since that New Year’s night in 1959, 10 U.S. presidents have tried to overthrow, undermine or cajole Castro, to no avail. Covert operations, including President John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion, failed to dislodge the communist government. A Cold War standoff with Russia over missile bases on the island brought the superpowers to the brink of nuclear war, but it didn’t budge Castro. … And a trade embargo to protest the expropriation of U.S. property, prevent the export of revolution and press for democracy and human rights has been utterly ineffectual. Rather, it has provided cover for the Cuban government’s own deficiencies and served as a pretext for repression.

Fifty years of failure is too long. The incoming Obama administration should move quickly to embark on a rapprochement with Cuba and bring an end to punitive policies, especially the economic embargo. The United Nations condemns it, the European Union is trading with Cuba, and Latin America is urging the United States to allow Cuba back into the fold. This policy change will take time and political will, but it is in our national interest and, ultimately, in Cuba’s. …

The premise of the trade embargo was that strangling the Cuban economy would cause a popular uprising and regime change. But even at its most vulnerable, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, … the Cuban government didn’t fall. …

The United States already exports about $700 million worth of food to Cuba annually under a 2000 law allowing agricultural trade for humanitarian reasons. Obama should use his presidential prerogatives to expand this, as well as dispatching officials to talk, as they have in the past, about issues of immigration and security. As part of any discussions, the U.S. government must press for human rights reforms, along with freedom for about 200 political prisoners in Cuban jails. … But human rights no longer can be an obstacle to talk and trade with Cuba. The United States does business with many regimes with checkered human rights records, from Egypt to Russia to China, which is officially a communist state.

Los Angeles Times

Dec. 31

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