While I’m on the Subject…

While I’m on the subject of outrages du jour could someone explain the Cliven Bundy story to me? The way I understand it is that here’s a guy out in Nevada who’s been grazing his stock on federal land for the last couple of decades without paying the grazing fees he owes. Ignore however high-handed the federal government has been in dealing with him or the extent of federal lands in the West. Those are peripheral issues.

How is this guy any different from a tax cheat or welfare queen? Am I missing something?

23 comments… add one
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    I think there are several sets of interlocking issues.

    One, cattlemen had been grazing those lands free of charge since the 1800s, as I understand it, including Bundy’s ancestors. The fees are relatively new and were apparently done for the purpose of driving the cattlemen out of business.

    Second, the government’s tactics in this case look thuggish. As does government officials getting private citizens to harrass other citizens.

    Third, it appears that Harry Reid and his cronies & partners stand to profit from the deal.

    And the big issue underlying all of it is that the Federal government basically owns the West, and allows both states and private citizens to live and work out there purely on sufferance.

    What was that you wrote in that other post about having to ask permission of the lord of the manor before doing anything? That’s basically the condition of the Western states.

  • ...

    From what I gather, there aren’t really any good guys on this issue, but some actors are most likely much worse than others.

    But mostly, this is just another squirrel flitting across the stage to keep people from noticing that the country is a shambles, and the leaders are basically content with this situation.

  • Business models are not a protected class under the Constitution. While I’m not indifferent (as suggested in the post) to the federal government’s highhanded behavior, I don’t much care if his business model doesn’t work any more. Get used to it. This is the 21st century and business models that have been used for generations will drop like flies, quickly followed by the business models that replace them.

  • PD Shaw

    I think Weigel explains it well:

    “Why does any of this matter? Because Bundy had the potential to become a galvanizing figure for a cause that’s hard to get people excited about. For a very long time, conservatives have been campaigning to take back federal lands, give them to the states, and let businesses or farms—or whatever—develop them. Having spent many hours inside the air-conditioned ballrooms of conservative conferences like AFP’s “Defending the American Dream Summit,” I’ve seen presentations about the government’s choke-hold on usable land. Other reporters, who’ve tracked legislation in Western states, have watched Arizona and Utah pass bills demanding the feds turn over tens of millions of acres to the states.”

    Of course, the interest group will have to keep searching . . .

  • Thank you for that, PD. Either way, it’s still rent-seeking.

  • PD Shaw

    I don’t live near much federal land, but I did read an article about locals near or in the Ozark National Scenic Riverway (the Current and Jack’s Fork River system in Missouri), wanting the state to take over the riverway. When the government owns something, its free to act arbitrarily and without local input. It can impose rules that are different from the state’s, on things like guns. But really, the impression is that the “stakeholders” near the Riverway want the public to preserve the commons, but manage it in a way that tilts towards jobs, not some abstract notion of river management.

    The state cannot afford to acquire the Riverway, even if the feds were willing to sell it.

  • The state cannot afford to acquire the Riverway, even if the feds were willing to sell it.

    Nah, they want them to donate it which is why it’s rent-seeking.

  • ...

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, save that my default position is that whatever Harry Reid is for must somehow be related to Satan’s plans for dominion over the Earth. I don’t care about Bundy or his ranch either way. If he is getting screwed by the government, that makes him one of tens of millions. If he’s screwing the government, then, well, he should have given more money to Harry Reid to avoid this kind of trouble.

  • steve

    Yes, he is basically a tax cheat. Other folks are paying the grazing fees, but he is not. He also exaggerates a bit. The Las Vegas media looked into his past and his long term ties to the area are a bit less than he claims. You would think people could find a better class of hero.


  • You would think people could find a better class of hero.

    You know, I thought of using that very phrase in the body of the post.

    I don’t really care how long his ties to the community are, by the way. It would be like a family that’s made its living for generations from burglary suing when somebody installed a security system.

  • PD Shaw

    His ancestors are polygamous Mormons, which makes his ancestral claims a bit complicated.

  • PD Shaw

    I generally support privatizing federal land to the extent possible. I would rather have Ted Turner managing his own grazing land, than federal bureaucrats. I think one will also find that Turner takes better care of his land and his herds than what can be expected with the short-term lease arrangements on federal land.

  • There are two distinct questions: status of ownership and terms of sale. There’s no question that they are, in fact, federal lands. To the best of my knowledge that’s not in dispute. You don’t acquire an easement over federal land by using it.

    If you’re willing to pay legitimate market value for something, you’re an investor. If you demand something for less than the legitimate market value, you’re a rent-seeker.

  • Cstanley

    I’m mostly in agreement with Dave at least as far as the facts as I know them so far.

    What intrigues me is that even if Bundy and his supporters are correct in asserting that these lands should be under state or local control, it should at least be obvious that he is committing illegal acts of civil disobedience. If that is something they want to support in order to raise awareness of the issue, there ought to be better ways to do it. The Feds, for their part, aren’t playing this well either, but both sides seem to be determined to take provocative postures.

  • That comment touches on a sore spot, Cstanley. I don’t think it’s “civil disobedience” when you’re waving guns around. To me civil disobedience means you’re willing to go to jail peacefully for your beliefs.

    As far as I can tell they’re plain old criminals.

  • Cstanley

    No, what I meant was his nonpayment of the grazing fees could be construed that way. Instead of using that action to make that point, they are acting under a pretense that he has not broken any laws.

    The brandishing of arms is a whole ‘nother issue, and clearly not something I’d characterize as civil disobedience, which is kind of my point.

  • PD Shaw

    @Dave, in the right circumstances, the price for federal land should be zero dollars, but with a commitment to invest and protections against land speculation.

  • michael reynolds

    Might want to differentiate a bit between different types of federal lands. There’s BLM and Forest Service, but then there’s also Park Service, TVA, DoD, even Indian Affairs land.

    Doesn’t alter the fact that Bundy is a thief and a thug, with a big helping of crazy thrown in for good measure.

    There is nothing remotely thuggish from the Feds. Quite the contrary. They’ve let this go fo two decades, and they withdrew rather than start a gun fight.

  • Cstanley

    @michael- Politico has a piece that gives the whole timeline, and names some present and former BLM officials who are very critical of the way the agency handled the roundup. And at least by their account, the only reason the BLM withdrew (allegedly contradicting their superiors in DC) was at the behest of the local sheriff. He comes out looking like the only sane person involved in the whole mess. That’s not to excuse the militias and the political and media personalities who encouraged them, but unless this report is inaccurate it doesn’t sound like the Feds have learned much in the aftermath of Ruby Ridge and Waco.

  • PD Shaw

    Skimming through Frederick Jackson Turner’s book, presenting his Frontier Thesis (*), for his definition of the “Middle West,” I see that a Midwesterner strongly supports free soil (public lands distributed to the people at little or no costs), while Southerners want to maximize the price to best advantage of plantation owners. Just an observation.

    (*) Famous theory that American democracy was the result of the frontier giving American’s the opportunity to escape from rigid European traditions.

  • Andy

    I grew up in the West, Colorado to be specific, and am very familiar with the issues of Federal lands in the west. Rather than write about it, I’ll instead encourage everyone to read at least the first couple pages of this:


    As for Clive Bundy, I’ve tried to ignore the whole story as it quickly devolved into a stupid proxy for the never-ending ideological and partisan battleground.

  • ...

    As for Clive Bundy, I’ve tried to ignore the whole story as it quickly devolved into a stupid proxy for the never-ending ideological and partisan battleground.


  • Guarneri

    “How is this guy any different from a tax cheat or welfare queen?” If we don’t over-think it, none. PD makes a good point. And further, we usually don’t have the Feds showing up with guns and atomic bombs (OK, that’s hyperbole) to deal with welfare queens.

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