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“Fox News’ Demented Poster Boy”: Why Angry Rancher Cliven Bundy Is No Patriot

The latest right-wing media poster-victim, Cliven Bundy, is just the latest in a long line of desert dwellers who thinks he or she should not have to follow the law and has a god-given right to unlimited use of public resources, in this case, rangeland.  I know the mentality well, because I grew up in rural Nevada and clung desperately to such beliefs until only a few years ago.

Bundy has not paid grazing fees in close to 20 years, while the federal government has, with painful, stupid moves, tried to somehow deal with him. Bundy also faced restrictions because he continued to graze cattle on a slice of public land reserved for the endangered desert tortoise.  He was invited to talk to Sean Hannity (of course) about the “standoff.”

“We want freedom,” Bundy said. I don’t know what freedom Bundy’s talking about. He does not own the land nor does he even pay the modest fees required to use it. Thousands of ranchers across the West pay fees for their businesses, but Bundy thinks he should get to use public resources to make a personal profit.  Cliven Bundy, far from being a patriot, is also clearly a straight-up communist.

Bundy is using the language of freedom, patriotism and outright paranoia to further his business interests. He succeeded wildly in drawing other “patriots” to his slice of contested desert. I don’t know these exact people, but the words and phrases they used were the nursery rhymes of my childhood. I’ve been listening to ignorant people bitch about the federal “gub’met,” since I could crawl, and I’m weary of it. I can’t bear to hear poor people rally to the defense of moneyed interests like mining and ranching, like well-trained, bleating sheep. As tired and silly as I find his language, clearly it worked. He so inflamed the lunatic militia movement, that many rallied to him, often from out of state, with guns and naked threats. They created a real possibility that someone might get killed, so the feds backed down.

It is asinine in our age that an armed group of idiots can thwart reasonable government action. Bundy is not a hero, a victim or innocent in any way. Just think of real injustice of America, like people spending life in jail for marijuana charges. It’s hard to imagine the “militia,” a mostly fat, white and ignorant group, showing up to defend a kid in the inner city who was arrested for no reason. Also think what would happen to you, if you opted not to register your car for 20 years. Bundy exploits the most sickening version of white privilege to justify what amounts to theft.

The basic facts of this story obfuscate the decades of history, animosity and lies between the federal government and the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion that started in the late ’70s. The movement is centered in Elko, Nev., a town next door to Battle Mountain, the much smaller town where I grew up. If you’ve not spent time in the rural desert, you’ll have a hard time understanding the vast spaces in play. Lander County, where Battle Mountain is located, is the geographic size of Vermont but has no more than 5,000 people.

I grew up on 40 acres of brown sagebrush. Particularly when I was a child, cattle roamed carelessly across our property.  They even had right of way on my father’s land unless he fenced the entire lot with four-strands of barbed wire, an expensive and ugly option. This is the freedom for which patriots are fighting: for cows to trump personal property rights.

In some ways, Nevada has a legitimate beef with the federal government that owns 87 percent of all of Nevada’s land. That’s land that can’t be developed or sold, which cuts into Nevada’s tax base. However, that land is far from empty. People ride horses and recreational vehicles on it.  They hunt it and file mining claims, and, yes, when appropriate a vast amount of it is open to grazing. Without “public” land, there would be no ranching of the kind that allows Mr. Bundy to make a living. There would be less “wide open” for which the West is famous.

We could argue about whether the land should belong to the federal government, but what is not in dispute is that Bundy has no ownership of it.  He won’t even pay fees to use it.  In short, he refuses to pay rent, like thousands of other ranchers do dutifully every year.  Again, I’d like to observe if Bundy is not a communist, he’s at least an aggressive socialist.

Bundy’s foundational argument is that he “has been using the land for generations.” He claims to have “ancestors” who worked the land since the late 1800s. If Bundy wants to make this argument, he’ll need to chat to a Native American or two from one of the many different tribes in Nevada who were here far before Bundy’s ancestors. Also, I thought America was about building wealth through capitalism, rather than depending on your daddy to pass on his membership into the landed aristocracy. Bundy seems to think himself a member of the neo-nobility.

What is missed in this nonsense is that the land should not be managed based on feelings or business needs or family connections. In my Nevada experience, history and family too often trump concerns about what’s best for society and the public good. From where I sit, attitudes are changing for the better.

Bundy, like the sagebrush rebels who came before, has co-opted the language of the oppressed, wrapped in neo-Confederate sensibilities. The crazies have been loosed for good or ill, waving yellow flags and screaming the word “patriot,” none of which has anything to do with subsidizing one man’s business. Even some of my close friends and family are outraged over this latest assault on “freedom.”  I’m not far enough removed from this opinion to forget how it feels. You feel powerless and angry. I can hear my former inner voice: We live out here, not them. We should get to decide how to use the desert. It is as understandable as it is ill-informed and misguided.

I have to concede that certain employees of the federal government can be stupid and ham-handed dealing with people like Bundy. In this case, the feds probably should have removed Bundy’s cattle when he stopped paying grazing fees. The agencies involved also fumbled some parts of the latest tactic, playing into fears of government overreach with “Free Speech Zones” for protesters. So often the feds seem to botch the details, but one must give them credit for backing down in the end. No one, perhaps other than the raging right, wanted actual shooting. Perhaps now, quietly, the federal government can work with Bundy to get him to either pay his grazing fees or remove his cattle without creating a spectacle.

Bundy has no right to public land. The federal government and other land managers can and should consider the interests of ranchers, just as they should consider mining, recreation and the needs of wildlife, but Bundy is not the only person who has lived in the desert. His should not be even close to the final vote. He can whittle, spit and reminisce, while the rest of us build a modern, cooperative state worth living in.

 

By: Edwin Lyngar, Salon, April 21, 2014

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Stetson, A Horse, And A Shotgun”: Bundy Standoff Is A Fox News Costume Drama

One thing about that mangy posse of anti-government crackpots camped out at Cliven Bundy’s place in the Nevada desert: Most don’t know a thing about cattle ranching.

See, it’s calving season across most of the country. No rancher worthy of the name is going to run off leaving his cows to fend for themselves while he fights somebody else’s battles. Particularly not some deadbeat who refuses to pay his grazing fees, and who claims that the same laws that apply to every other rancher in the United States don’t apply to him.

A guy who wraps himself in the stars and stripes while proclaiming “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

Me, I’m keeping a close eye on the best heifer I’ve ever bred for signs she’s going into labor. Her name is Sarah. Last August I turned down an opportunity to sell Sarah for three times market value because I was eager to breed her. Bernie the bull arrived on our place last July 4th, so it could be any time now.

I’ve spent most of the last three days worrying over Trudy’s newborn calf. Although her udder appeared to have been nursed when I found them back in the pine thicket where Trudy had hidden to deliver, I never actually saw the little heifer feeding until last night. Trudy, see, delivered a stillborn bull calf two years ago, and lost another last spring. Hence my anxiety.

For what it’s worth, I also have a photo of myself that I made for a French friend who’d been teasing me about being a cowboy—white Stetson, horse, shotgun and my best Clint Eastwood squint. Alain didn’t really get the joke, but I could even pass for this Bundy joker in dim light. See, it’s partly a costume drama Fox News is helping this con-man stage.

Although my own little operation is more of a hobby than a business, I do try not to lose money. However, many of my Perry County, Arkansas friends and neighbors are cattle ranchers for real. It’s damned hard making money on cows, but nobody around here imagines they can graze cattle in the Ouachita National Forest for nothing. Every single one pays for his own land, pays property taxes, pays the water bill and pays for any pasture he rents—all things Cliven Bundy takes for free from the U.S. government while styling himself a rugged individualist.

Nationally, some 18,000 ranchers lawfully graze 157 million acres of federally-owned property supervised by the Bureau of Land Management, at subsidized rates. No wonder the Nevada Cattleman’s Association–not exactly a left-wing organization—has stated that while its membership has perennial issues with the BLM, it encourages obeying the law and “does not feel it is our place to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter.”

See, this isn’t land the U.S. seized by eminent domain. Surrendered to the Feds by Mexico in 1848, it never belonged to the state of Nevada, which didn’t yet exist. The U.S. District judge who ordered Bundy’s cattle removed ruled that he “has produced no valid law or specific facts raising a genuine issue of fact regarding federal ownership or management of public lands in Nevada, or that his cattle have not trespassed.”

For that matter, Nevada author Edwin Lyngar points out that without plentiful public cut-rate grazing permits “there would be no ranching of the kind that allows Mr. Bundy to make a living. There would be less ‘wide open’ for which the West is famous.”

No way could Bundy or anybody like him afford to buy the vast acreage he’s grazing for free.  Many westerners only think they’d like to see the feds sell off their extensive properties in states like Nevada, where the U.S. government owns fully 87 percent of the land. But they might feel differently after the likes of Ted Turner, the Koch brothers and various international corporations bought up the range, cross-fenced it, and posted “No Trespassing” signs everywhere.

See, it’s a form of welfare the BLM oversees, but it helps sustain a way of life Americans are nostalgic about. The various “Sovereign Citizen” groups and armed militia types playing soldier in the desert, however, are something else. While the BLM was wise not to confront the mob, the current triumphalism among far-right zealots can’t be seen as anything but ominous.

One wonders, however, how the armies of April will react to a Las Vegas TV station’s revelation that much of Bundy’s personal saga is make-believe. Grazing Golden Butte since 1877? Not quite. His father bought the Bunkerville ranch in 1948; they began renting BLM land in 1954.

Otherwise, the feds have time on their side. They can slap liens on everything Bundy owns. And come July or August, camping out in the Nevada outback won’t seem half so exciting.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fox News’ Dangerous New Hero”: Cliven Bundy Steals From America–The Scary Return To A West Where Guns, Not Law, Rule

The showdown in Bunkerville last week was sensational – a rancher, his cows, and an armed militia resisting the federal government’s roundup of trespassing livestock. With banners pronouncing “Liberty” and “We the People,” these protesters mistook the issue of long overdue grazing fees for an issue of states’ rights and federal overreach. In the end, Cliven Bundy’s 400 cows were herded back onto the Mojave Desert to trample desert tortoise habitat, degrade water quality, crush cultural sites, consume native vegetation and defecate in springs and the Virgin River. The cheering crowds proclaimed, “Freedom!” and “Victory!”

What a disaster.

The public lands livestock grazing program uses approximately 250 million acres of the arid west, with permitted users paying a pittance to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Forest Service for the privilege to do so. And it is truly a pittance. When Bundy stopped paying BLM in 1993, he owed just $1.86 per animal unit month for his mama cows, or $3,348 to use the land year-round. But Bundy refused to pay the fees because he didn’t want to reduce his herd to just 150 animals in order to help save the Mojave desert tortoise, a species given an emergency Endangered Species Act listing, and whose existence is specifically threatened by livestock competition for scarce desert vegetation and direct crushing and trampling of tortoise burrows. Bundy’s non-payment of fees was coupled with non-cooperation about getting his cows off the range. Since 1993, Bundy’s herd has ranged from 550 to more than 900 animals, far more than he was ever legally permitted. His cows have roamed over a much broader area than he was ever legally allowed to use. Without accounting for the legal expenses incurred by BLM and the costs of last week’s failed roundup, Bundy has since racked up a million dollar bill for overdue fees, trespass fees, and fines.

As Bundy musters up an army of supporters for this theft from the American public and the harm to the public lands, taxpayers lose at least $123 million each year that the federal grazing program continues. According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2005, the grazing fee wasn’t nearly sufficient to cover the costs of managing public lands grazing, and we – you and me, but apparently not Mr. Bundy – subsidize the program with $1.2 billion every decade, not counting the additional costs of species recovery, range infrastructure, soil loss, weed infestations, increasing wildfires, and bacterial contamination of water supplies. Despite the efforts of Western Watersheds Project and others, the fee formula has never been revised.

What a disaster, indeed.

The public lands livestock grazing program continues for many of the same reasons that Bundy “won” his range war this week. Federal land managers are afraid to stand up to the undue influence of Bundy and the mythical American cowboy he represents. There are only about 22,000 public lands livestock operators. The BLM and Forest Service place grossly disproportionate value on grazing, and fail to address the varied and severe negative impacts of public lands livestock grazing on the environment and on the federal deficit. Managers who try to rein in rogue permittees are quickly transferred out of their positions, and members of Congress who propose reforming the fee formula or allowing for voluntary permanent retirement are accused of trying to ruin a way of life.

Furthermore, the American public is woefully misinformed about the entrenchment, expense, and ecological harm of this land use. Make no mistake, Bundy isn’t the only rancher ripping off the American public. Every public lands livestock permittee is banking on federally-funded range infrastructure like solar wells and fences and benefitting from federally-funded wildlife killing that targets native predators like wolves and coyotes for the sake of livestock safety. Many permittees benefit from drought payments and disaster payments, seek handouts for “restoration projects” that are really just reseeding the forage species their cows stripped in the first place. And most livestock operations occur at the peril of endangered species, whether it’s the Mojave desert tortoise being nutritionally starved or Greater sage-grouse nests being trampled and their eggs destroyed. How do you calculate the cost of extinction?

Turning Bundy’s cattle back out onto Gold Butte does more than continue his illegal actions; it turns back the clock to a time when the West was controlled by whoever had the most guns, federal laws notwithstanding.

Public lands are valuable lands. The time to reform the public lands grazing program is now.

 

By: Travis Bruner and Greta Anderson, Salon, April 18, 2014

 

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Bureau of Land Management, Rule of Law | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Fight That Has Already Been Settled”: Nevada Journalists; Conservative Media Darling Rancher Is Clearly “Breaking The Law”

Local journalists covering Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s case stress he is no victim and is breaking the law, regardless of conservative media’s sympathy for his defiance of government orders to remove cattle from federal land.

Those reporters and editors — some who have been covering the case for 20 years — spoke with Media Matters and said many of Bundy’s neighbors object to his failure to pay fees to have his cattle graze on the land near Mesquite, NV., when they pay similar fees themselves.

“We have interviewed neighbors and people in and around Mesquite and they have said that he is breaking the law,” said Chuck Meyernews director at CBS’ KXNT Radio in Las Vegas. “When it comes to the matter of the law, Mr. Bundy is clearly wrong.”

Bundy’s case dates back to 1993, when he stopped paying the fees required of local ranchers who use the federally owned land for their cattle and other animals. Local editors say more than 85 percent of Nevada land is owned by the federal government.

Bundy stopped paying fees on some 100,000 acres of land in 1993 and has defied numerous court orders, claiming the land should be controlled by Nevada and that the federal government has no authority over it.

Last year a federal court ordered Bundy to remove his cattle or they would be confiscated to pay the more than $1 million in fees and fines he’s accumulated. The confiscation began earlier this month, but was halted because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had “serious concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public” when armed militia showed up to block the takeover.

Despite his lawlessness, Bundy has become a sympathetic figure for many in the right-wing media.

But for local journalists, many who have been reporting on him for decades, that image is very misguided.

“He clearly has captured national attention, among mostly conservative media who have portrayed him as a kind of a property rights, First Amendment, Second Amendment, range war kind of issue,” Meyer noted. “That’s how it has been framed, but the story goes back a lot longer and is pretty cut and dry as far as legal implications have been concerned.”

He added that, “Cliven Bundy and his supporters are engaged in a fight that has already been settled. There are a number of people around these parts who have strong reservations about Bundy’s actions.”

Las Vegas Sun Editorial Page Editor Matt Hufman said depicting Bundy as a victim is wrong.

“The BLM had court orders against him in the 90s telling him to get off federal land,” Hufman said. “He’s got a bunch of these arguments about state’s rights, it’s not federal land, blah, blah, blah. All of the arguments have been knocked down.”

Hufman cited Bundy’s claim that his family has been on the land since the 1870s, adding, “a federal judge said the land’s been owned by the federal government since 1848.” He later added that Bundy “was paying grazing fees until 1993 then he stopped. At some point it was okay for him to pay grazing fees.”

Ron Comings, news director of KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, offered a similar view.

“You have to keep in mind that huge percentages of western states are owned by the feds and that has rubbed people the wrong way for a long time,” Comings said. “But they are the same people who will say that ‘we all pay grazing fees and you have to pay and you should work this through other channels.’ There are a lot of farmers and ranchers who pay the grazing fees whether they like it or not, and they see him as someone who is not. They say to stop paying their fees is like not paying your rent and you don’t have a leg to stand on.”

Comings also pointed out that many of the armed “militia” who came to Bundy’s aid are from out of state, describing them as “just anti-government and … just seen as outsiders who are coming in to jump on this issue.”

Even Las Vegas Review-Journal Editor Michael Hengel, whose paper published an editorial in support of Bundy, admitted he is not legally in the right: “He’s breaking the law, that fact is true, they have ruled that … The courts have ruled that he is on federal land and he is grazing on federal land and he has not paid.”

In St. George, UT., the closest city with its own daily media, the online St. George News weighed in with a critical piece Sunday that also took aim at the national press supporting Bundy, stating: “The Bundy Range War was perpetuated by an irresponsible media vying for nothing more than ratings and an ill-informed and willfully ignorant public who, much like a NASCAR fan, come to the race simply in hopes of seeing a crash.”

 

By: Joe Strupp, Media Matters For America, April 16, 2014

April 17, 2014 Posted by | Conservative Media, Journalists, Rule of Law | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Government Of Laws, Not Of Men”: Uncivil Disobedience And The Opposite Of Patriotism

Back when George W. Bush was president, liberals were regularly accused of being disloyal or anti-American if they disagreed with the policies the administration was undertaking. As Bush himself said, you were either with us or with the terrorists, and as far as many of his supporters were concerned, “us” meant the Bush administration and everything they wanted to do, including invading Iraq. You may have noticed that now that there’s a Democrat in the White House, conservatives no longer find disagreeing with the government’s policies to be anti-American; in fact, the truest patriotism is now supposedly found among those whose hatred of the president, and the government more generally, burns white-hot in the core of their souls.

We’ve gotten used to that over the last five years, but I’ve still been surprised at the conservative embrace of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been in an argument with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees. Briefly: for 20 years Bundy has been taking his cattle to graze on federal land, but he refuses to pay grazing fees as the law demands and as other ranchers do, despite numerous court orders. So the BLM seized some of his cattle, and in the ensuing standoff, hundreds of armed right-wing nuts came to Bundy’s defense, trooping out to aim their weapons at federal employees.

I’m sure there are some conservatives who view this conflict in the clear, simple terms it deserves. This guy wants to use resources that don’t belong to him without paying for them, which is what we generally refer to as “stealing.” The reason he thinks he can do it is, as he put it in a radio interview, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” In other words, he isn’t standing up for principle, he’s a nut case.

And yet, prominent conservatives are not only rushing to his defense, they’re casting him as a patriotic American. Here’s part of an absolutely incredible column from The National Review‘s Kevin Williamson:

Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too, when he was tried for sedition; Mr. Gandhi himself habitually was among the first to acknowledge that fact, refusing to offer a defense in his sedition case and arguing that the judge had no choice but to resign, in protest of the perfectly legal injustice unfolding in his courtroom, or to sentence him to the harshest sentence possible, there being no extenuating circumstances for Mr. Gandhi’s intentional violation of the law. Henry David Thoreau was happy to spend his time in jail, knowing that the law was against him, whatever side justice was on.

Yes, you read that right: he compares Cliven Bundy to Gandhi. And he ends with this stirring call:

Prudential measures do not solve questions of principle. So where does that leave us with our judgment of the Nevada insurrection? Perhaps with an understanding that while Mr. Bundy’s stand should not be construed as a general template for civic action, it is nonetheless the case that, in measured doses, a little sedition is an excellent thing.

Williamson’s boss, NR editor Rich Lowry, also said that Bundy’s actions are “within the finest American tradition of civil disobedience going back to Henry David Thoreau.” Which just shows how little these people understand about civil disobedience, and about American traditions.

Civil disobedience means breaking a law, publicly and calmly, and then accepting the punishment the law provides, in order to draw attention to a law that is unjust and should be changed. The law Cliven Bundy is breaking says that if you graze your cattle on land owned by the federal government, you have to pay grazing fees. I haven’t heard anyone articulate why that law is unjust. People are saying that the government owns too much land in Nevada, and maybe it does, but until the government sells it to you and you own it, you have to pay to use it. There isn’t any fundamental question of human rights or even the reach of government in question here at all. Mr. Bundy also doesn’t have the right to walk into the local BLM office and stuff all their staplers and pens into his knapsack and walk out.

Secondly, and just as important, there’s nothing “civil” about Bundy’s disobedience. If it was civil disobedience, he’d pay what he owes and then try, through the courts and public opinion, to change what he sees as these unjust grazing fees. But he hasn’t done that. He just refused to pay, and then led a heavily-armed standoff with the government.

I’m sorry, but if you’re defending Bundy, no matter how many times you toss the phrase “We the people” into what you say, you just have no clue about how democracy works. When you become a United States citizen, or when you take public office in America, you don’t pledge to honor whatever particular notion you have of what this country ought to be. You pledge to uphold the Constitution. The whole point of democracy is, as John Adams put it, “a government of laws, not of men.” The system embodies the will of the people and allows for change. When there’s something about that system you don’t like, you can’t just shout “Tyranny!” and refuse to obey the laws. You work to change them through democratic means.

What Cliven Bundy and his supporters are doing is the opposite of patriotism. It isn’t principled opposition to Barack Obama, or to the policies of the federal government; it’s opposition to the American system of democracy itself. And the people who are defending him ought to be ashamed of themselves.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 16, 2014

April 17, 2014 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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