Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

April 22, 2014

Bundy is a lawbreaker, and the government is much too aggressive

— — We have learned more about the standoff in Nevada between a rancher and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and most of the new information comes from the government side. We knew right off the bat that Cliven Bundy has refused to pay fees for about 20 years to graze his cattle on land first grazed on by his grandfather more than 130 years ago, now restricted by the federal government. We knew that the BLM sent approximately 200 heavily armed agents to take Mr. Bundy’s cattle because of his fee debt to the government.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who is Senate majority leader, apparently asserts that the Bundy family are lawbreakers because they have refused to pay grazing fees, and that justifies whatever action the BLM decides to take against the family. But not everyone agrees with the government’s actions, and hundreds of Americans came to the ranch to stand with the Bundy family against what they believe is unacceptable and intolerable action from the BLM. These people Reid has ridiculously characterized as “domestic terrorists.”

When you apply a little conscious thought to this situation, which Sen. Reid probably didn’t, what the Bundy family and their supporters are doing is participating in the age-old and venerated activity called “civil disobedience.” It’s not different from what occurred during the Civil Rights Movement, or what our ancestors did at the Boston Tea Party in 1773. I wonder if Sen. Reid thinks those folks were domestic terrorists?

Rational folks think the Tsarnaev brothers who killed and injured several people at the Boston Marathon last year are domestic terrorists, and the Army doctor who killed 13 at Fort Hood is a domestic terrorist. Does Sen. Reid?

Declaring that the action against the Bundy family is not over, he told a Reno TV station “We can’t have an American people that violate the law and just walk away from it.”

Apparently, his idea of what constitutes law breaking is as foggy and duplicitous as his idea of domestic terrorism. He wants lowly citizens to obey the laws, but looks the other way when government agencies and officials don’t. President Barack Obama routinely breaks laws, like ignoring and modifying some of the decrees of the Affordable Care Act, which we are endlessly reminded is “the law of the land.” He selectively chooses which immigration laws to enforce, and circumvents Congress with executive orders. But we hear nothing about that from Majority Leader Reid.

Nor does he think it important to follow the real law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, and bring an annual budget up for the Senate to vote on, as Congress is required to do by Article I. He also sits on his hands when bureaucrats in the Obama administration refuse to respond to requests for documents from congressional committees charged by the Constitution with oversight of administrative agencies.

And, he has not voiced opposition to the over-the-top behavior of the heavily armed agents of the Bureau of Land Management against citizens of his own state. The Bundy family has been subjected to heavy-handed roundup practices that have injured calves, slaughtered cows and bulls and buried them in mass graves, damaged water system equipment and torn down fences. That was not a part of the government plan, we are told. And, of course, the foolish and dangerous idea that 200 militarily equipped troops needed to respond to a case of overdue fees, the collection of which is usually assured through a lien on property.

You might also think that Nevada’s senator would at some point consider standing up for the interests of the people he represents, who inexplicably keep returning him to office, and oppose federal control of a huge majority of the state’s land. According to the Nevada Policy Research Institute, the federal government owns or controls 86 percent of the land in Nevada and 89 percent in Clark County, where the Bundy ranch is located.

“The tight federal grip on this land is causing economic harm — and, in many cases, genuine hardship — to local developers, workers, renters and would-be homeowners,” author Charles F. Barr wrote in the executive summary of a 2007 study titled “The Federal Land Stranglehold.” The situation has changed little since then.

Watching the outrageous response of the BLM to the Bundy situation, one wonders if whomever thought up this plan imagined it would be sensible and appropriate to point “assault weapons” at citizens and threaten them for doing no more than protesting a government action; attempt to restrict their free speech to “First Amendment areas”; seize and kill privately owned cattle, and destroy fencing and watering systems?

That person should first be disciplined, perhaps fired, and even prosecuted, along with the BLM agents who imposed this heavy-handed outrage on citizens of the United States.

We can no longer allow government wrongdoers to indulge in improper and/or criminal behavior with impunity. Unless we begin very soon to hold to account those who abuse their positions and abuse the people they are paid to serve, what once was “the land of the free” will no longer be.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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