The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
– Anonymous, 17th Century English Folk Poem
By now everybody has heard or read about the 67-year-old Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, who is defying the federal government – specifically – the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Bundy claims that his family has been on the land since the 1870s and ipso facto all of his rights to run cattle onto federal land predate any "grazing fees or "federal interference in Our Freedom."
However, on closer inspection, it turns out that the facto in Bundy's ipso is a bit whacko. It's apparently true that a Bundy was grazing cattle on what is now federal land in Nevada before Nevada was Nevada, but county property records indicated that the family only moved from Bundyville(!), Arizona, (you can't make this stuff up) to Bunkerville (!), Nevada, in 1948. That's a mere 78 years difference, but then who's counting (who can is perhaps a better question)?
Recall that Bundy, who has been illegally grazing his cattle on public land for a long time (since 1993), chased off BLM rangers who, acting on a court order, endeavored to confiscate his entire bovine herd (500 cows). [Note: if something is bovine, it has to do with cows or cattle, or it reminds you of the slow and seemingly unintelligent ways of cows and cattle. Vocabulary.com]
The cow is of the bovine ilk
One end is moo, the other milk.
Where's Ogden Nash when the BLM needed him? Like when Bundy was "recount[ing] the success of 'we the people' – gesturing to the 50 supporters, some armed with handguns and rifles, standing in a semicircle before him." (Adam Nagourney, A Defiant Rancher Savors the Audience that Rallied to His Side," New York Times, April 23, 2014.) Bundy: “They don’t have the guts enough to try to start that again for a few years.”
Get the feeling the Bundy boys don't have a very lively sense of humor? Me too.
Libertarian Senator Rand Paul has expressed support for Bundy and Nevada Senator Dean Heller calls the ranting rancher a "patriot." Nevada Senator and Majority Leader Harry Reid, a staunch defender of public lands, calls the Bundy bunch "domestic terrorists." I'm thinking the truth lies somewhere at the bottom of the Grand Canyon that separates these two opposing views.
There's no doubt that Bundy's standoff with the federal government plays well in many parts of the country. It has all the things Americans love – cowboys, horses, guns, cattle – and at least two things Americans love to hate – taxes and intrusive government.
On the other hand, public lands belong to all of us. We're all taxpayers and polls consistently show that a lot of us are less than thrilled with a) how much we pay into the system and b) what we actually get for our money. It's not so much that we mind paying taxes, it's rather that we'd like it better if everybody paid their fair share – including hedge fund managers, venture capitalists and cowboys like Cliven Bundy.
There are about 16,000 ranchers across the country, and not a few in these parts. Ranchers pay relatively modest fees ($1.35 per head per month at present) to graze cattle on public land. We are all required to pay taxes and fees to federal, state and local governments. We don't have to like it, but we do have to pay.
Mr. Bundy owes the government more than $1 million in grazing fees. He stopped paying because the BLM ordered him to restrict the periods when his cattle grazed an area native to the endangered desert tortoise. Obviously, that doesn't set well with folks who don't like the Endangered Species Act, the EPA, the Daily Show or Democrats.
Bundy won the Show Down at OK Corral, but it isn't over. BLM: “Our focus is pursuing this matter administratively and judicially.” My own anecdotal evidence suggests that most ranchers do not side with the Bundy Bunch on this one. The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, for example, is naturally sympathetic to the ranchers who make up its membership, but does not endorse Bundy's methods.
Yup, that sounds about right.
The poem quoted at the top was a condemnation of the English enclosure movement – fencing off common land and turning it into private property. James Boyle, a Duke Law School professor, notes admiringly that it "manages to criticize double standards, expose the artificial and controversial nature of property rights, and take a slap at the legitimacy of state power." Boyle adds, "And it does it all [in very few words] with humor, without jargon, and in rhyming couplets."
That sounds about right, too.
Tom Magstadt writes and cooks in the log cabin of his dreams. He lives on a mountain in Ouray County and frequents Colorado Boy almost enough to qualify as a regular Visit Tom’s blog at http://open.salon.com/blog/dakotaki.