Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cliven Bundy: Where are the Militias when bankers drive folks from their homes?

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I do not claim to understand everything that is going on regarding the Nevada Rancher, Cliven Bundy, a Mormon father with 14 children who has been in a long and potentially violent dispute with the US government in the form of the Bureau of Land Management. However, I do draw certain conclusions from a general understanding of the players in this and the limited research I have done on my own.

The issue we are led to believe is the grazing of the rancher’s cattle on public lands managed by the BLM a practice that many ranchers have been doing for years. But I know for sure there is more to it than this. From what I understand, about 80% or so of the land in Nevada is public land. According to reports I’ve read, this occurred when the area was made a state during the Civil War.  The fees Ranchers pay go toward the maintenance of the land.

Bundy’s family has been on that land for some time, since the 1880’s as native people were driven from them or in to Bantustans to make room for capitalist expansion including railroads and ranching.  From accounts I have read, Mr. Bundy stopped paying grazing fees and has refused to apply for permits and was in a protracted court battle with the federal government over the issue. Mr. Bundy lost that battle and was twice ordered by the courts to pay the grazing fees. The public lands his cattle roam is about 10% larger than Las Vegas and he is said to have 900 head of cattle.

What has also been thrown in to the mix is the lawsuit filed by an environmentalist group against the BLM.  The area is home to an endangered species of tortoise and the group claims that Bundy’s cattle are destroying its habitat and the BLM is not protecting it. I see this simply as an attempt to add more pressure and weight behind the BLM’s case through the legal channels.

As we have all seen this week, things really heated up as the BLM started rounding up Bundy’s cattle and putting them in pens. The cattle would be sold at auction if MR. Bundy refused to pay the state the money owed.

The government operation included a massive force including armed officers, planes, helicopters and attack dogs.  Conservative bloggers, right wing militias and states rights activists turned up to support Mr. Bundy, many of them armed. Defending civil liberties individual rights, and fighting “corrupt” government and communism has been the rallying cry.  Many of the supporters have been armed including with assault rifles.  The conservative talk show hosts, Tea Baggers and right wing politicians have all come to Bundy’s defense. Things were so tense yesterday when an officer tasered Bundy’s son that it appeared there would be a real violent confrontation in Nevada.

Beefing up of law enforcement.
This show of force by the government comes as no surprise as the state security forces have been beefed up during and in the aftermath of the Occupy Movement.  The state responded with extreme violence against workers and students forcing the class nature of society more in to the open by fighting back against austerity and the increased assault of the 1% on our livelihoods. The state showed what the real nature of the police is, an armed force directed to protect capital and the 1%.  We will also be seeing more use of drones against workers and youth in the future.  Our unions were built in the face of the most extreme violence from the US capitalist class and their government.

However, the Nevada standoff was so tense yesterday that the government backed down and released the cattle back on to public land in the interests of safety.

But I have to ask what freedoms the Militias, Tea Baggers and state’s rights types are seeking here.  I do not believe this is about a tortoise or cattle or simply individual freedoms, depending on what individuals we are talking about of course.  Have we seen these people in front of homes defending the occupants from being thrown on to the street by sheriffs representing the bankers?  What about the savaging of wages and working conditions in auto and the public sector?  What about the closing of national parks, the privatization of the post office etc.?  Has Mr. Bundy been seen on the many picket lines not far from where he lives in Las Vegas as workers fight back against the gambling, entertainment and hotel industry bosses? I think it’s unlikely.

I came upon an interesting piece of information at the Daily Kos today that was somewhat revealing.  The author states:

“Two affiliates of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity are helping conservative media promote the cause of a Nevada rancher who has made violent threats against the federal government……Two of its local affiliates, Americans for Prosperity Nevada and Americans for Prosperity Colorado, have become active boosters of Bundy's actions.”

The author adds:
To appreciate how churning the media wurlitzer on this suddenly "newsworthy" controversy benefits the Kochs, one only has to go back to 2012 when the Utah legislature passed something called the Transfer of Public Lands Act, legislation vetted and inspired by none other than the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose chief funders include--you guessed it--David and Charles Koch.

Just like we oppose the privatization of our public parks, education, transportation, the USPS and other vital services, (health care, transportation among others should be public) my feeling is that we should see this attempt by states’ rights elements, militia or others to transfer federal lands to state control as making it easier for mining and the energy industry and agribusiness to plunder our natural resources.  One right wing video I watched appealed for support on the basis that it’s difficult to be a small rancher or farmer on land owned by the federal government.  It’s difficult being a small rancher because the 1% and big business destroys the little guy.  In the cases of genuinely small operations, the taxpayer should definitely help them out. We must always separate the genuinely small/ community business from the big capitalists.

There are differences between sections of the capitalist class and often, sections of what we call the 1% or big capital portray themselves as saviors of the “little man” the small business owner. This appeals to some workers as well because, as Marx explained, workers at times move back and forth from the class of small capitalists and back to wage workers depending on the economic conditions at the time. Bundy is not a big landowner, a relatively small player in the world of business, and the super rich like the Koch brothers use these people for their own ends.

As a socialist, I too recognize that the state, or government as we more often refer to it, is not my government, it is not a “workers’” state but a capitalist state; a government that represents the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.  It is a democracy for the 1% like the old Greek slave state was a democracy for the slave owner only. This does not mean that there are not sectors of the capitalist class that are at odds with each other over how society should be governed in order for them to plunder its wealth. So I have no illusions that public employment or public services in a capitalist society are genuine worker controlled and owned operations, they are not.  But when so many of the right wing who tap in to the anger people feel against government and go on about individual rights and rally for freedom we have to ask what sort of freedom and for whom. My guess is that the beautiful natural resources and land that makes up these states will be better protected under federal control.  The 1% only see money when they look at land just like they do with everything else.

As one blogger writes about the land that it is:
“[O]wned by every American – all 300-plus million of us. It is a peculiar property right we each have to this commons, as we acquire it simply by dint of citizenship, and what we own is spectacular. The marvel of the federal public-lands system is that it exists at all. During the 19th century and into the early 20th, much of the land was leased and sold off in a frenzy of corrupt dealings. Railroads, corporations, land speculators, mining interests, and livestock barons gorged on the public domain, helped along by the spectacularly pliable General Land Office, which from 1812 until its closure in 1946 privatized more than one billion acres, roughly half the landmass of the nation. The corruption was such that by 1885, The New York Times’ editorial page had denounced the “land pirates” whose “fraud and force” had excluded the citizen settler—the farmer, the homesteader, the cowboy—from “enormous areas of public domain” and “robb[ed] him of the heritage to which he was entitled.”

And as that writer also points, look at how they treat women on welfare who might fiddle a little bit to get a little extra of this or that?  What would happen (if she was black) and she went and got a bunch of gang bangers to come down the welfare office and threaten violence?  We know what would happen.  I live close to a very depressed area to our north and poor people often come over the border and commit (mostly petty) crime, especially since the Great Recession. Some 19-year old black kid shot, (by mistake apparently) a bystander at a local transit station where I live. He got 79 years.  You should hear all the comments from some of the right-wingers about justice being served and all that. Of course, unemployment, racism, police harassment and lack of opportunity has nothing to do with it. That kid is gone for life.

Why should this owner of 1000 head of cattle be allowed to graze them of public land for free? One blogger explains:
 “He is NOT ENTITLED to access to this land. It doesn't belong to him.  In fact that land Belongs to ME and to every other citizen of the United States.  That's MY Land that his cows have been grazing on for 20 years and he OWES ME and the rest of the American People for it.”

I don’t know the financial straits Bundy is in, and, as I say above, the working class can and should invite the community business owner in to the struggle against the 1% as we are all exploited by them.  But when the blogger referenced above questions Bundy’s right to access that land. I tend to agree with him.


summonthestorm said...

I was reading your commentary with interest right up to the use of the homophobic slur, "Tea baggers". If you can't make your case any other way, that's too bad. Just saying...

Richard Mellor said...

I have no idea why Tea Bagger is homophobic. But I have no problem finding out so please help me out on this one.