Powered by Squarespace
Subscribe to my RSS

Bundy vs. The Bureau of Land Management: An Overbearing Government?

 - By Larry Huss

The gap between what is right and what is legal is often a chasm of cultures. – Anonymous

Recent events involving Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are a case in point. The BLM seized Mr. Bundy’s heard of cattle that were grazing on BLM land in an effort to collect nearly $1 million in back grazing fees. A confrontation ensued between federal law enforcement, Bundy and local citizens and supporters from surrounding counties and states. It is easy to dismiss this kerfuffle as wing nuts creating a dust-up, but that glosses over several relevant points.

Bundy may be part of the sovereign citizen movement; he has used language and rationale akin to their pronouncements. I am not. He may be a part of the militia movement, which has appeared in support of his cause. I am not. He may be a member of the Tea Party, which has have sounded off in support of him. I have been supportive of many efforts of the Tea Party. Or he may simply be a citizen expressing his outrage at an overbearing federal government that too often sacrifices the well-being of its citizens for the ambitions of its politicians and bureaucrats. In that, we are one, and I am not the only one. Bundy was joined by state officials from Nevada and surroundings states and even members of Congress during his protest.

I don’t pretend to know what drives Bundy, but there are two major issues that lie at the center of this conflict. The first is the corruptive influence of an overbearing federal bureaucracy and the second is the hypocrisy of a government’s willingness to prosecute its citizens for disputes over the fairness of a law, while at the same time choosing to ignore laws that it deems unfair.

A third issue might also be the wisdom of the federal government to own and administer such a substantial portion of America’s landmass. The BLM administers approximately 1.8 Billion acres of land. For those forced to endure a teachers’ union-dominated public education in the Portland Public Schools, that is 2,812,500 square miles – roughly 28.5 times the size of Oregon. Most of it lies west of the Mississippi River and in Alaska, yet most of the decisions relating to its administration are made by faceless bureaucrats in D.C. Most of them wouldn’t know a cow from a cockroach. I take that back; cockroaches are one of the few animals that thrive in D. C. But they sure as hell couldn’t pick out a desert tortoise from a pet store box turtle. Yet they disrupted the historic grazing use of the land in question for the tortoise – an animal that has co-existed with cattle, coyotes, mountain lions and other large mammals on this land for over a hundred years with no adverse effects. But in the bureaucrats’ one-size-fits-all world, no regard is ever given to the effects on adjacent humans or their livelihoods.

Here lies the distinction between what is legal and what is right. There is no question that it is legal for the BLM to “manage” the land in ways that limit permissible uses in favor of the tortoise. That does not make it right, particularly absent evidence of actual harm to the tortoise population on the land in question or that such specific harm is detrimental to the population generally. Nor is there any shortage of examples in the history of the republic of protests being used to highlight the difference between what is legal and what is right.

As a person raised in the West who has lived with and owned guns virtually all of my life, I am less than enthused by the fact that many chose to bring arms to the protest. I understand that absent the threat of armed conflict the BLM agents would simply have ignored all and had their way with Bundy and his cattle, using their own show of arms to intimidate those who protested. This must be weighed against the inherent danger and heightened risk of sparking violence should one fool with his own agenda decide to act out his freedom-fighter fantasy. Most of the farmers and ranchers present own firearms and most, like me, have grown up respecting them and their use. But there is also an element amongst those in attendance that neither respects the use of weapons or the devastating toll they can exact.

On the other hand, that most, not just a few, of the protesters should have taken up arms is a clear indication of the growing frustration citizens feel toward a government that neither listens to nor cares about their concerns. The faceless bureaucrats who have such a devastating impact on the lives of those of us in the West remain studiously ignorant of the size, shape and use of the lands they are charged with administering. Worse, they remain studiously ignorant of the very people they are supposed to protect – choosing instead to yield to the chorus of well financed special interest groups who use the government to impose private agendas on the public at large.

The second aspect of this dispute has come more brightly into focus under President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Under their watch, they have refused to enforce the Voting Rights Act against the Black Panthers, immigration laws against Hispanics, federal drug laws against marijuana growers, and on and on. They have chosen to capture and surveil the phone calls and internet usage of citizens and our allies, exact punitive measures through the IRS on their political opponents, stonewall legitimate Congressional inquiries into a host of issues, and unilaterally alter the terms of Obama’s singular legislative achievement – Obamacare. More than any president since Richard Nixon, Obama has chosen to ignore laws that he does not favor and impose laws by executive fiat that he is unable to convince Congress to adopt, at the same time bringing the full weight and resources of the federal government to bear against those the administration opposes.

Among those protesting at the Bundy confrontation with the BLM were any number of people who do not believe that the federal government, particularly in the form of the BLM, should exercise jurisdiction over such vast swathes of the West. They believe that the land should be ceded to the states and that state governments are closer to the people where such lands lie. They believe that the states should have that choice in administering those lands and that the West is under siege by federal land regulations – regulations by many who have never journeyed west of the Adirondacks, let alone the Mississippi. The vast expanses of BLM land yield little in net revenues to the government. They are held in isolation to ensure the primacy of the federal government rather than the well-being of its citizens. There needs to be a change.


“(M)ost people were unwilling to see . . . the similarities of many of the repellant features of the internal regimes in communist Russia and National Socialist Germany . . ..  As a result, many who think themselves infinitely superior to the aberrations of Naziism, and sincerely hate all its manifestations, work at the same time for ideals whose realization would lead straight to the abhorred tyranny.”
–F. A. Hayek

“The modern state does not understand how anything can be guided by something other than itself.”
–Richard M. Weaver



“Your really enlightened states protect the Public by prohibiting everybody but the state from operating liquor or gambling businesses.  These businesses are considered Bad if people operate them, but Good if the state does, even though the only real difference is that state liquor stores have high prices, poor selection, and all the charm of unwashed junior high school locker rooms; and state gambling games offer sucker odds and idiot advertisements that appeal most to people who can least afford to throw money away.”
–Dave Barry


As most of us are at least vaguely aware, the precise wording used in any sort of advertising or PSA is not selected haphazardly.  Advertisers have a very limited window to get their message across, and so tend to use words which have been predetermined, whether by focus groups or some similar means, to capture a listener’s attention and stick.  It is with this in mind that I notice  the words “It’s the law” have gradually been creeping into PSAs, which tells me the PR firms that craft those PSAs have gone to some lengths to determine that “It’s the law” will make us stand up and take notice. What were once free, independent, self-reliant Americans, skeptical of power and resentful of being pushed around are now, according to their fastidious double-blind, cross-referenced and twice-checked research, the sort of obsequious, kowtowing, biddable peasant minions those in power have so long sought to govern.

It is as a service to those of you inclined to perk up and become attentive little obedient dogs upon hearing “It’s The LAW” that I write these words, for I desire nothing more than for you to get your dignity and–man or woman–testicles back.  So let’s take a quick peek under the hood at what The Law is, shall we?

1.  The product of compromise.  Me: “Let’s compromise.”  Cannibal: “Okay, I’ll only eat half of you.”  We hear “compromise” touted so often as the golden ring that we forget it’s a means, not the ultimate end in itself. And when it is the end sought in the crafting of legislation, the result is a jumble of nonsense pleasing to no constituency whatsoever at least as often as not.

2.  Often unprincipled, and barely majoritarian.  How is it that the mere fact 51% of a very small, unrepresentative group of idiots voted in favor of something affecting every man, woman and child in a population of millions, tens of millions or hundreds of millions gives that thing any sense, logic or moral authority sufficient to make it worthy of the sort of unquestioning obeisance “It’s THE LAW” commands? I say “unrepresentative” because, apart from being every bit as fallible as ordinary people, and often a good deal more so, people who are drawn to careers in politics typically are not ordinary, well-adjusted human beings. They are sad, attention and validation-craving creatures or, at least as often, power-hungry sociopaths, their prating protestations to having devoted themselves to “public service” notwithstanding. P. J. O’Rourke did a masterful job in his semi-recent tome Don’t Vote, It Just Encourages the Bastards of pointing out how a typical politician exhibits literally every trait listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)–the standard reference used by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals–for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And while most of O’Rourke’s work is either facetious or satirical, this bit was neither. Here I excerpt from the DSM in relevant part:

“A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior) . . . beginning by early adulthood . . . as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) Requires excessive admiration

(5) Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."

Does the foregoing cause any particular group of people you’re familiar with to spring to mind?

3.  Inexpertly put forth by inexpert, even wildly ignorant policymakers whose cluelessness allows them to be easily manipulated by lobbyists.  As the world becomes more complex and knowledge more diffuse, esoteric and specialized, lawmakers and regulators are less equipped than ever to micromanage in subject areas where their knowledge is often excruciatingly deficient.  Not that this ever stops, discourages or even gives them a moment’s pause when charging in to do so, since the personality defects listed above invariably lead to individuals who, while often wrong, are never in doubt.  This is why laws of broad applicability are typically more effective and desirable than those which are highly specific.  The specifics change too rapidly for the law to keep up, and the futility of its attempts to do so is often equal parts tragic and comical, though nearly always ridiculous. Unintended consequences are often the only consequences of these blundering, half-baked forays into matters the self-anointed have no legitimate business dicking with.

4.  Corruptly enacted/selectively enforced for reasons having little to do with maintaining order, stability and fairness.  More to the point: To pick winners and losers.  Helpful hint: You’re almost never picked as a winner.

Finally, I would be remiss in failing to mention that The Law is, with lamentable frequency, unconstitutional, since legislatures long ago abdicated the responsibility to remain faithful to the relevant constitution (federal, state or both, whatever the case may be) and punted to the judiciary. Apparently it's a judge's job to invalidate laws on constitutional grounds, not a lawmaker's job to avoid violating the constitution (and his oath of office) in the first place.  Of course, it's hard to know when one is supporting an unconstitutional policy when, as is so often the case, one hasn't read the law being voted on, or the constitution, or both.

In short, Dickens’ Mr. Bumble had it right when he said The Law is an ass. I’ll stop acting as though I’m above The Law–casually ignoring, in most instances–should The Law ever evolve back into something reflective of time-tested values, principles and common sense, and should it resume a posture more respective of the rights, freedoms and basic dignity of individuals. When, in short, it becomes something slightly better than utterly beneath contempt. I’m not holding my breath.