But Joe, I said, you’re ten years dead

I don’t know anything about this Cliven Bundy versus the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fight, expect what I read in the pixels and we all know the media is controlled by socialist Muslims, right?

The issues at hand seem to be a) Mr. Bundy has been grazing his cattle on government land for the past 21 years without paying the fees that one who engages in such a practice is obligated to pay (he now owes around a million dollars) and b) that Mr. Bundy has also moved some cattle into an area that is restricted from grazing to protect a species of desert tortoise.

For his part, Mr. Bundy says the land in question is rightfully his, has been used (not owned, used) by his family since before the formation of the BLM and that his use of the land trumps public ownership.  He’s had his day in court, several of them, and lost every time.  Now he says he doesn’t recognize the existence of the US government.  His notions are not unique in his part of the country  – where many seem to be all too happy to take whatever the government will provide and give nothing themselves.  Various local and state officials and leaders in the region have expressed sympathy for Mr. Bundy’s point of view.  I think if we’re going to get into this whole “possession” question, we ought to invite representatives from the Navaho and Apache nations to give their thoughts on the subject.  Seems only fair.

I think it’s interesting that all this hits the media at the same time journalist Matt Taibbi is out with a new book, “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap,” in which he notes that no one went to jail as a result of the market manipulations of the early 2000’s in which tanked the global economy and mired millions in misery ever since.

Mr. Taibbi’s premise is that economic inequality of the extreme variety we now experience, leads to an inequality of justice in America.  If you can afford enough legal firepower, the prosecutors – who care most for their batting averages (“Our office has a 98 percent conviction rate….”) – will not engage in a long and costly court battle they might lose unless the crime (excuse, me “alleged crime”) is so public and extreme that prosecution cannot be avoided.

On the other hand, if you’re poor or even middle class (and thus do not qualify for a public defender), then the state brings the full force of its legal resources to bear, as it’s easy to out-resource an underfunded PD or any legal team that can be assembled by taking a second mortgage on the average American home.

Guilty or not, poor and middle-class defendants are browbeaten into either accepting a plea bargain or going to trial with the prosecutor calling for maximum penalties upon conviction.  Most cop a plea to get it over with.

Rights are linked.  It’s impossible to have civil rights without economic rights.  So why shouldn’t Cliven Bundy refuse to cooperate with the feds?  Bankers just ignore rules they dislike, why not ranchers?  Everyone else seems to be stealing from the American taxpayer, why not join the fun?  Isn’t it just a difference between steal little, steal big?

It is, but one doesn’t justify the other.  Still, if society is breaking down all around you, do you really want to be the last schmuck who plays by the rules?

Mr. Bundy and his friends don’t have money, at least not the kind of money that will buy them the insulation Mr. Taibbi writes about.  They do have guns and when the BLM began impounding Mr. Bundy’s illegally-grazing cattle they arrived by the dozens, bristling with rifles, ready for armed insurrection.

The feds, saner than Mr. Bundy and friends, knew a cattle dispute is not worth anyone’s life or health.  I have to ask, did Mr. Bundy need the guns at all?  If he and his comrades had arrived on scene and blockaded the BLM with their bodies, brought cameras and media to bear witness, does he think the feds would have trampled their bodies?

The saddest part of both of the stories I have in mind today is that too many people in our nation have lost faith in the social contract we drew up 238 years ago and have decided they’d rather grab what they can by force of wealth or arms.

Ten years ago in this space I wrote with sadness that American democracy died.  I see nothing to change my opinion.

© Mark Floegel, 2014

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