Cliven Bundy: ♫♬Bullshit on the Range♫♬

newcoleThe story of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher, had all the elements of typical perverted, hypocritical, political theater; making it inevitable that he would become a hero in the sanitarium that is the conservative blogosphere, (which means the wheelhouse of Fox News).

The story, as fantasized in those bizarre-o world forums, went something like this: Heavily-armed federal bureaucrats, having seized Bundy’s cattle, were forced to back down after being held to a standoff by cowboys on horseback carrying only their side arms and an unshakable faith in the U.S. Constitution. (A little-told detail: A sniper or two were at the same time taking aim at the federal agents.)

♫♬.♪·♫ Oh give me a home♫ Next to land I don’t own♫ And Well-armed Militia goons play

Bundy was painted as a man being being wrongly persecuted by the mean old federal government, and deserving of our sympathy. Or, more profoundly, he was cast in the same mold as Mohandas Gandhi or better yet, Robin Hood; men who disobeyed unjust laws to bring about rebellious change. The word “tyranny” was used so often it became white noise in the news coverage.

Bullshit. Let’s call it what it really is: Bundy is a freeloading scofflaw, a welfare queen in a stupid-looking Stetson hat who claimed what he wasn’t entitled to nor was his to use for free. He took subsidies from U.S. taxpayers and refused to pay the $1.2 million he owed for using federal — make that our — land. He’s just one more deadbeat Joe Walsh-type embodies the very ideas he claims to hate.

♫♫ Where the Wing-nuts adore ♫ All the calls for range war ♫♫Over grazing fees that I don’t pay♫♫

Bundy has neither history nor law on his side in his long-running dispute with the U.S. government. He declares that his grazing rights were established in 1880 when his ancestors settled the land where his ranch now sits. By some reasoning understood only by him and his range-war sympathizers, the federal government has no constitutional right to interfere with his grazing cattle. There is a gaping flaw with this argument. As several writers have noted, the Nevada constitution, adopted in 1864 as a condition of statehood, trumps Bundy’s right to graze on public land. It says:

“That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

Bundy is undoubtedly longing for the days–which he never actually experienced– when cattlemen could let their herds roam at will on public lands. That changed in 1934 when federal control of grazing was formalized under a law designed to prevent overuse and degradation of the range; ironically for the good of legitimate cattle ranchers The legislation was backed by ranchers (it was drafted by a rancher turned congressman), in part because it made it that much harder for newcomers to get into the business.

♫♫ Home,  Home we’re deranged♫♫ We’ll ignore what the federal courts say♫♫

The law, the Taylor Grazing Act, gave existing ranchers permits allowing them to run their herds on federal land. In turn, ranchers paid user fees, which were one-tenth what most private landowners would have charged. Because those fees capture only a bit of the costs of the grazing program, it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy to ranchers of as much as $1 billion a year. Subsequent court rulings clearly established that the law didn’t grant ownership rights to ranchers who used federal land.

Bundy’s specific complaint dates to 1993, when regulators began a program to protect the endangered desert tortoise. They placed certain grasslands off-limits for grazing, and the government bought out the permits of some ranchers. Bundy, and others, defied the law and refused to sell and kept grazing his cattle on restricted federal land without a permit.

♫♫ And we’ll make up our own rules♫♫ Keep on acting like fools♫♫

The fees and fines kept mounting, and Bundy kept losing in court. That would be the federal court system under the law of the U.S. which he said doesn’t exist. If that sounds like typical conservative circular logic—it’s because it is circular logic. In 1998, a federal judge permanently barred him from letting his cattle graze on protected federal land.

Finally, agents of the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees grazing rights, began rounding up Bundy’s cattle to remove them from federal property a few weeks ago. Things got hot when Bundy’s family and other ranchers confronted the agents. Wary of the standoff escalating into another Ruby Ridge or Waco, federal officials backed down and released Bundy’s cattle.

♫♫ While my cows trample wildlife all day♫♫

Where it goes from here is unclear. But what shouldn’t be in dispute is the nature of the conflict. This wasn’t a matter of capricious enforcement on the part of the federal government but the steady ratcheting up of pressure on a typical conservative lawbreaker. There is no grand principle here, just the poor judgment of an ignorant old foolish racist who has fed himself at the public trough while believing he has a right to pick and choose which laws to obey.


Harvey Gold

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