Have you been keeping up with the news about the armed stand-off between a Nevada cattle rancher who’s refusing to pay the mandated fees for grazing his cattle on federal land?
Cliven Bundy has been asserting that the tyrannical federal government is trampling on his liberty, and militia men with automatic weapons have been showing up in support. The Bureau of Land Management, after rounding up Bundy’s cattle, released them for fear that one of its officials would get shot. Fox News and other rightwing media outlets have been cheering Bundy on.
The more I hear about Bundy, the more he sounds like the father of Major Major in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.
First of all, here’s some useful background, thanks to Travis Bruner and Greta Anderson of Salon:
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.
And now a description of Major Major’s father:
Major Major’s father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age. He was a long-limbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. Major Major’s father worked without rest at not growing alfalfa. On long winter evenings he remained indoors and did not mend harness, and he sprang out of bed at the crack of noon every day just to make certain that the chores would not be done. He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county. Neighbors sought him out for advice on all subjects, for he had made much money and was therefore wise. “As he sow, so shall ye reap,” he counseled one and all, and everyone said, “Amen.”
Major Major’s father was an outspoken champion of economy in government, provided it did not interfere with the sacred duty of government to pay farmers as much as they could get for all the alfalfa they produced that no one else wanted or for not producing any alfalfa at all. He was a proud and independent man who was opposed to unemployment insurance and never hesitated to whine, whimper, wheedle, and extort for as much as he could get from whomever he could. He was a devout man whose pulpit was everywhere.
“The Lord gave us good farmers two strong hands so that we could take as much as we could grab with both of them,” he preached with ardor on the courthouse steps or in the front of the A&P as he waited for the bad-tempered gum-chewing young cashier he was after to step outside and give him a nasty look. “If the Lord didn’t want us to take as much as we could get,” he preached, “He wouldn’t have given us two good hands to take it with.” And the others murmured, “Amen.”
Major Major’s father had a Calvinist’s faith in predestination and could perceive distinctly how everyone’s misfortunes but his own were expressions of God’s will . . .
I quoted this passage in a post a year ago, applying it to many people on the Right who, even as they complain loudly, nevertheless are the beneficiaries of federal largesse. Subsidized grazing? Not a problem. Food stamp aid? Welfare bums. So-called “makers” are praised, even as they receive generous corporate subsidies and tax breaks. So-called “takers” are maligned because they believe “that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it” (Romney in 2012).
Indeed, the ten States who receive the most back for every dollar in federal taxes that they pay are mostly red, beginning with Mississippi. The ten who get the least are mostly blue, beginning with Delaware.
Here’s a useful tell: Those who complain most vociferously about moochers are generally moochers. The louder they complain, the more they are getting.