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U.S. Doesn't Like World's Admiration, Condemnation

By David O. Dabney

OCTOBER 27, 1997:  As much as cynics would like to think that our politicians in the House of Representatives do very little for their money, the job is actually quite demanding. It requires extensive travel, long hours and having to listen to thousands of the sometimes petty gripes from their constituents. It also seems that just as one finishes explaining these realities to someone, our esteemed representatives go and make jackasses of themselves, giving more ammunition to the argument that they are simply self-absorbed petty princes and princesses. The latest movement? Protect our sovereignty from the encroachment of the United Nations' World Heritage Program.

The World Heritage Site program was created to draw attention and give special prestige to either natural or cultural resources that have been deemed by the U.N. as being important to the world as a whole. Such sites in America include the Statue of Liberty, Taos Pueblo and Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Not seeming to have anything better to do, Congress took this as a threat. Last week the House of Representatives passed the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act by a vote of 236 to 191, with New Mexico's representatives voting for the measure. The Act, which has now been passed to the Senate, requires congressional approval before the U.N. can designate any more World Heritage sites in the U.S.

The problem here is that the title is entirely honorary. The designation does not mean that we as a country give up any of our rights to use that site in any way we see fit. We could still very well turn Independence Hall into a Wal-Mart if we wanted to. In fact, we should be honored that the United Nations thinks so highly of our little democracy that it would designate the building in which it was birthed as being valuable to world as a whole. Don't we think that already? Isn't that why we tried to contain Communism for so long? Isn't that the excuse we still use to meddle in the internal affairs of countless countries?

But the designation can be used to exert pressure through publicity to contain encroachment upon the sites and that is the part our representatives seem to be scared of. According to Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), the principle sponsor, while the U.N. has no direct influence in matters involving the use of these sites, the designation gives, "... the international community an open invitation to interfere in U.S. domestic land-use decisions."

This is a patently absurd statement in two senses. First, the world community would have just as much of a right to give its opinion about our turning Independence Hall into a Wal-Mart whether or not it was considered a World Heritage site. The second is that it is ridiculous for us to try and keep other organizations from doing this sort of thing. It's like my neighbor saying that I can't say how much I like his barbecue sauce, because then I might tell him that he should never change his recipe.

The U.N. can't even force us to pay the millions of back dues that we are withholding for other reasons; how are they going to challenge our sovereignty? The issue at stake here, for all our representatives posturing about sovereignty, is that we don't want to acknowledge that other nations should be able to pass judgment in the court of public opinion on us the same way we judge them.


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