Pox Americana

"Politics is a disease for dirty little animals." – HST

Who Will Think of the Poor, Oppressed Ranchers?

crying cowboy

We’re nearly a week into the comedy of errors over at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and it seems that the self-styled militia’s little revolution has failed to pick up steam. Instead, Ammon Bundy’s rabble of potbellied mongos has been plastered with scorn and derision, mostly from that marvel of inventions known as the internet, which at times can assemble itself into a veritable Leviathan of snark.

Twitter, as awful as it can be, proved best at generating insults. It gurgled forth the first bits in a cascade of open mockery: Y’all Qaeda. VanillaISIS. Yee-hawdists. The Cowliphate. Yokel Haram.  The Bundy Bunch was then roundly laughed at for sounding a clarion call for ‘snacks.’ The skewering continued all week, culminating in yesterday’s pièce de résistance in which proto-hipster Colin Meloy (vocalist for Portland’s insufferable Decembrists) penned a series of Oregon militia erotic fan fiction tweets:

The tsunami of lampoons almost proved too good to be true, for what better way to gut the legitimacy of an odious man or movement than through vicious satire? There were those who took exception to this approach, however, including Conor Friedersdorf over at The Atlantic, who chastised liberals for not taking this opportunity to make common ground with the right over the issue of mandatory minimum sentencing. After all, isn’t that what this is about? Dwight and Steven Hammond were sent back to the clink to serve out five years for a couple of burns that got out of hand. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. The judge initially tried to sidestep the federal sentencing guidelines (which seem to be some kind of anti-terrorism measures), only to be later overruled by an over-zealous D.A. with a hard-on for these guys. Shouldn’t we all be standing up to such inflexible, Orwellian government policy?

Yes, of course we should, but like I mention in my first piece , Bundy, et al, are just using this issue as an excuse to press forth a very different list of grievances. Much to the chagrin of both the Hammonds and others in the local community, they hijacked this situation in a pathetic attempt at a land grab. That’s all it is. Look no further than their chief demand, that the federal government relinquish all control of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge so “the people can control their resources.” This refuge was established in 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt and is enjoyed by birders and hikers from around the world. Who these resource-controlling “people” are, and what Bundy wants to do with the land is anyone’s guess, though based his previous rhetoric, we can only assume that he intends to open the refuge up to private development (read: ranching) and shut the rest of us out.

And herein lies the problem with these guys: They’re not patriots. They’re not fighting for the “common man.” They’re thieves. They’re greedy assholes. They represent big, vested commercial interests that want to chew up the land for their own personal profit. That’s it. They cast the BLM and other federal agencies in the role of some nefarious alien, when in fact all of those great federal holdings belong to us rather than some remote collection of federal offices. It’s OUR land. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s held in public trust for all of us to use and enjoy, as long as we follow the rules. I camp and fish on BLM land every time I am home and treasure it massively. These guys, out of an overblown, obscene sense of entitlement, want to take that away from all of us. They want to steal from the commons, fence it off, put up NO TRESPASSING signs, rape it at will, and shut the rest of us out.

Since when did ranchers become such a marginalized, oppressed group? How good do they have to have it before they stop crying, moaning, and threatening the rest of us with their guns? As written about extensively, American ranchers enjoy nearly-unfettered grazing access to BLM lands at well-below market rates. Taxpayers subsidize their businesses, and a lot of them profit handsomely from it. The Hammonds own over 12,000 acres. Cliven Bundy–Ammon’s father who started this whole brouhaha–is a millionaire. Many ranching families are. Wrap your head around that. The man has millions in the bank from profiting hand over fist from the federally-subsidized cattle business, yet not only does he refuse to pay grazing fees, he doesn’t even recognize the authority of the feds to hold ANY land. In fact, old man Bundy went so far as to claim the BLM land he grazes on is HIS. Why? Because he says so, that’s why.

Ranchers and the federal government have long been at odds, but things heated up in the 80’s and 90’s during the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion. What we have now is a continuation of that, an upping of the stakes. The fact that these privileged families whine and complain as if they’re somehow scraping by under the boot of the big bad government just rattles my brain. They mistake regulations and bureaucracy for “tyranny,” when most of them have never even remotely tasted the meaning of the word. They live in a world of unlimited entitlement, and all of this talk about “returning the land to the people” ignores the savage fact that they live on land stolen from indigenous people through relocation, warfare, and outright genocide. It’s funny how not one of them ever suggests giving back any acreage to anyone brown. Just ask the Paiute–who were occupying the land when whites began “settling” the area–what they think about this sad insurrection. Oh wait. Someone already did.

Some have described the Bundys and their ilk as “government welfare queens,” which really isn’t off the mark. Even Ammon Bundy is not immune to the allure of easy federal money, having procured a $530,000 government load to fund his truck maintenance company (Take that, goverment!). I however, prefer to refer to them as drama queens. Any sort check on their assumptive freedom to profit from the land as they see fit is met with cries of “Tyranny!” and “Revolution!” These are the shrill screams of exaggerators, the essence of hyperbole. They wouldn’t know real oppression if it tied them down and peed in their faces. They wail about a falling sky when they’ve never had it so good.

This is white privilege in a nutshell, and they deserve every ounce of ridicule hurled their way.


Happiness is a Warm Gun

President Obama just announced his new executive orders on gun control, and though I haven’t looked at the fine print, they seem like logical, level-head steps, as tepid as they may be. I give the man the nod for at least trying to address the problem. It seems no one else in American government will.

I was going to pen a new rant on the subject, but have instead elected to reprint a piece I published on my old blog a couple of years back; I think any new piece would just repeat many of the same old points, so without any further ado, here it is:


It’s been a bad year for gun massacres in America.  A lot of crazies have been melting down, raiding the nearest arsenal, and randomly killing innocent folks. Three in particular have grabbed my attention: The Cafe Racer shooting in Seattle a few months back (which touched some people close to me); the Aurora, Colorado “Batman” blast up; and last Saturday’s awful bloodbath at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which tops all others in its mind-numbing savagery.

Each of these terrible events has sickened me and fanned my fire of rage. Like most of us, I shake my head, sigh, shout, and wonder how such things can happen. I question aloud what drives these broken people commit such acts and how we can spot them before they explode. For a short time I try to understand their madness, but soon realize such a thing is futile. Sometimes crazy is just crazy. And then I think about guns.

Though I’ve felt tempted to rant on America’s gun culture after each of these travesties, I’ve bit my tongue and held my fingers away from the keyboard. Sure, I threw up a few anti-gun memes on Facebook and practiced some sloganeering via my status updates, but I have refrained from ranting here. Why? Because the gun debate in America is much like the controversy over abortion: It consists of two entrenched sides who just scream and chant worn-out mantras at each other that lost their meaning a long time ago. This is especially true for the pro-gun side, but this is a debate where people stopped have just stopped listening to each other. It’s really hard to add anything new to the dung heap. But I’ve thought hard on this and here it goes, as messy and repetitive it as it may be.

I grew up in the American sticks around a lot of guns.  Near my house were the hinterlands of a sprawling military base where the sound of artillery and machine-gun fire served as the soundtrack to my childhood. Many of my friends had fathers who hunted or kept guns for target shooting and self-defense. My father wasn’t a gun guy, but my grandfather kept a few firearms, as did my older brother.  I learned to shoot at a young age and even did a bit of pheasant and grouse hunting (with the aforementioned grandpa), along with recreational blasting with a couple of buddies. Even today, when I visit home, I sometimes go shooting with some friends. I enjoy the hell out of it and have no personal aversion to guns.  I think I understand their place in American culture as well as anybody, because I’ve lived it.

However, we Americans are insular people, and often have absolutely no clue as to how the rest of the world views us.  As an American, in America, I never really questioned our gun culture, because I grew up in it and it was really all I knew.  Sure, sometimes people cracked a nut and took out some bystanders, but that was just normal, I thought.  Like many Americans, I cherished the right to bear arms and considered rampant gun violence an unfortunate but necessary side effect.

I’ve lived abroad for over eight years now, and one thing I can tell you is that it’s given me some perspective on my home country.  Over this time I’ve traveled to over twelve different countries and talked to people of all nationalities, and guess what? Most all of them are absolutely perplexed by American gun culture.  They ask me all the time:

“Is it true so many of your countrymen are armed?” “Why do people need so many guns?” and most importantly, “Why do Americans put up with so much gun killing?”

At first I’d try to engaged these people, explaining our history as a frontier nation with man-eating bears, hostile Indians and big game; I’d tell them about the revolution and how American citizens consider an armed populace some kind of check against an abusive government; I’d attempt to enlighten them about the role guns have played in the making of the country–how they’ve become an institution–a religion almost. But these lame sputterings only served to further confuse. After a while, I realize that had I had no good answer.  I couldn’t adequately explain any of it, because after living in a gun-free country for many years and looking back at my own culture from the outside, I realized that there was no good answer. Yes, there are historical reasons for American gun culture, but what it had metastasized into could only be described as a kind of collective insanity.

So now, when confronted with the same questions, I just throw up my hands and tell these perplexed foreigners, “Look, I don’t know.” Just as I can’t explain what goes on in the head of the guys who commit these massacres, I can’t explain why so many millions of Americans are obsessed with guns, and why they refuse to do anything to limit their proliferation. Sure, there’s the gun lobby and the NRA, which basically pay off the politicians, but why do so many people, in the face of massacre after massacre, dig in their heals and refuse to take any action? Sure, some measures may not work, but are they content to do nothing in the face of continual slaughter? Didn’t Einstein say that doing the same thing again and again yet expecting different results is the very definition of insanity?

What is frustrating is that the gun lobby has boiled their interests down to a collection of weak-ass talking points that every yahoo and bozo spouts at you when you deign to argue for greater regulation of guns.

“Guns don’t kill people! People kill people!”

This is gas-huffingly retarded. Pro-gun folks have been babbling this one for years and at this point it’s like a piece of bubble gum that has been chewed on for forty years. Anyone who doesn’t see that guns make it exponentially easier for anyone to kill is either blind, deaf, or  so stupid that they shouldn’t breed, yet alone own firearms. Sometimes these guys say, “You could kill people with spoons if ya wanted!” or but out  the old “How about knife control!” argument.

Well, if you compare a spoon to a gun during a debate, I’ll unfriend you on Facebook and avoid you at bars, restaurants, and shopping malls for the rest of your sad days. And there actually is a thing called “knife control”. There are laws governing which kinds of knives are legal and illegal to own. Look ’em up.

A few real boneheads linked the knife attack in a Chinese school that happened on the same day as the Sandy Point killing spree.“See?” They said, with dopey grins and vacant stares. “Take away guns and people will just use knives.” That may be, but let’s look at the scorecard from both events. Sandy Point had 26 dead with ZERO survivors. The Chinese attack had 22 stabbed with 22 survivors. If I’m a six year old faced off against a murderous schizo, I’ll take the one armed with a knife, m’kay? And thanks for totally undermining your non-argument.

“Cars kill people. Why don’t we just ban cars?”

Now that’s a good idea!  I don’t own a car and I think they pretty much ruin everything and make people fat selfish assholes, so I may agree with you on this one… but cars are NOT guns, and to say so is tired, old hat shit. People use guns to kill other people. That is the only reason they exist.  People use cars for transportation and are sadly sometimes killed in accidental collisions. So what do we do?  We have car control.

Yes, cars are held to rigorous safety standards.  There are also traffic laws.  Most importantly, you must be licensed to legally drive a car. Last time I checked, no license was needed to purchase most guns in the USA.  Still the same?  And don’t bring up swimming pools either, you NRA hoopleheads.  Swimming pools, like cars, are also subject to intense and detailed regulation.

“But we NEED guns! They are our only line of defense against a repressive government!  A government will think twice about taking liberties against an armed populace?”

Oh, will they? It hasn’t really stopped them up to now…

Okay,  I will confess to the allure of this argument.  After all, who doesn’t want to bravely take up arms against tyranny? It all sounds so romantic!  To the barricades, comrades!

Unfortunately, armed uprisings in the United States have a worse track record than the Washington Generals. Every single one has been brutally and violently put down by a much, much better-armed federal government: Shays, Bacons, Harper’s Ferry, the secession of the Confederacy, Pine Ridge, Ruby Ridge, The Branch Davidians…. and these are just the appetizers.  I’m sorry, but as stirring as it sounds, armed civilians will never be a match against federal military power. Horde all the guns you want, but in the face of machine guns, fighter jets, and Blackhawk helicopters, you don’t stand a chance and never will.

People love to trumpet the 2nd Amendment as some kind of firewall against tyranny, but in giving birth to this awful, violent gun culture, hasn’t the 2nd Amendment created a “tyranny” of its own? It makes people live in fear.  And some of us rightly ask:

“What about my right to walk down the street without getting caught in a gang crossfire?”

“What about MY right to drink a coffee or watch a movie without having my brains spattered on the ceiling by some crackpot with a grudge against society!”

The 2nd Amendment was written well over 200 years ago, and guess what? Things have changed. It was penned during the age of muskets, and I know that this argument is repeated time and time again, but it’s correct: The Founders had no idea of where technology would take us. Knowledge of modern handguns and semi-automatic, military-grade rifles would have made them seriously reconsider the vague wording. And let’s face it: The 2nd Amendment is just badly written. It seems to mainly endorse the idea of the right to form a “well-regulated militia” while also hinting at unrestricted private ownership of “arms”.

But “arms” are never defined, are they?

Again. Currently it’s acceptable to own shotguns, handguns, and rifles–both single-shot and semi-automatic. But automatics are verboten. (Oh noes! Gun control!) So are grenades and grenade launchers. But aren’t these “arms” as well? What about mortars and cannons? Tanks? Missiles? Nerve gas?  Atomic bombs? If the 2nd Amendment really allows us a right to bear arms that “shall not be infringed,” shouldn’t we be allowed to own these? Yes, this argument is stock among the gun control crowd, but I have yet to hear one person on the pro-gun side give a reasonable response.

It’s clear that we have made some kind of “arms control” totally acceptable. So why is the line of general legal ownership so firmly drawn between semi-automatic and automatic weapons?

“Well go ahead and restrict guns, but if you ban certain types, then only criminals will own them!”

Okay, Bubba… but isn’t that the definition of a criminal? Anyone who breaks that law?  After all, C-4 plastic explosives are illegal to own, but some people choose to circumvent that law? And guess what, it they get caught, they are arrested and imprisoned. Why? Because they’re criminals. Is the reality that some people will break a law reason enough not to enact it? That’s why we have enforcement.

But… don’t get me wrong. Despite this lengthy screed, I am not calling for an end to gun ownership in America. This just ain’t gonna happen.  We must be realistic. There are over 270 million guns in our country and they’re not just going to disappear by federal or state decree.  A lot of people would straight up refuse to surrender their firearms even if hell froze over and a law banning them was enacted. From my cold, dead fingers!

But is it unreasonable to suggest that guns can be, as the 2nd Amendment itself clearly states, “well-regulated?” Shouldn’t we at least require licensing and training like we do with people who wish to fly planes, drive cars, or professionally cut hair? And what about banning certain military style rifles? Or even handguns? At least ban further sales… the old ones will eventually break down, over time.  Surely there must be SOME steps we can take to reign ’em in.

And yes, gun laws are not a one country/one fit deal. A few countries have heavily armed populations yet low gun crime (Switzerland, Israel). These are the exceptions to the rule, though. Generally speaking, more guns = more gun crime, and the countries with few guns have drastically fewer deaths by bullets. This is a fact and can be backed up with hard data. I’m sure anyone who has read this has seen the U.S. compared to other industrialized nations as far as gun crime goes. The numbers speak for themselves.

But at the end of the day, it’s the American people who will have to make the decision. If we choose to just endure a massacre every few weeks and do nothing to address the availability of guns in our nation, then we get the country we deserve. That’s just the premium we pay for tyranny insurance. Many on the pro-gun side say that the answer is MORE GUNS, that more armed people would create a more peaceful nation, where there exists a kind of mutually-assured destruction. In such a society, an armed barista would have taken out the maniac at Cafe Racer; several audience members would have blown out the back of James Holmes cackling, flame-haired head; and the teacher at Sandy Hook who saved those little kids with her body would have done so with a Glock instead.  But these are just visions of fantasy. Yes, carrying citizens do, from time to time, stop murderers before they can cut down innocents, but this will never be the norm. To believe so is simply folly and self-delusion. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the rest of the world. But when have we, as Americans, ever tried listening to them?

Here We Go Again

do not tread

We’re only three days into the new year and I already got a serious case of déjà vu. That’s right ye patriots, it’s time for another uprising against that big bad federal government courtesy of everyone’s favorite racist Mormon dingleberries, the Bundy clan. Remember them? Just two years back doddering patriarch Cliven Bundy ignited a brouhaha with the Bureau of Land Management when he continually refused to pay the use fees on the public land where he grazed his cattle. The wheezy old cowboy became a cause celebre. Wingnuts and wannabe soldiers flocked to his ranch to lay down their lives in the Great Second American Civil War. Bundy was lionized by the conservative media as a “true American” and a “patriot,” with the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity tossing the geezer’s proverbial salad on air each day.

A Mexican standoff with federal agents ensued, with the camo-clad militia mongos pointing their stand-in dicks at the said feds, who, in the interest of avoiding a bloodbath over cattle fees, wisely stood down. On the right Bundy was hailed as a hero, then quietly abandoned by all but a few when he launched into a series of eyebrow-raising monologues that could have doubled for the jello-spattered mumblings of your racist Alzheimer’s grandpa. Even President Obama chimed in, noting that, “As a general rule, things don’t end well if the sentence starts with, ‘Let me tell you something about the Negro.'”

Well, if the lack of a body count last time left you wanting, don’t despair, because they’re back, only now Cliven’s son Ammon Bundy has taken the reins; currently he heads up a group of militia-types who have taken over a small government building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. They’re armed to the teeth, and though they claim to be peaceful, they seem to be itching for for a fight, claiming that they “won’t rule out” violence if it comes to that.

What is their beef this time, other than general and open hostility to the existence of the federal government?

Dwight and Steve Hammond are father/son ranchers in the area, and are responsible for at least three uncontrolled burns that spilled over into the neighboring wildlife refuge and scorched well over 100 acres of public land. Both were eventually convicted of arson and spent three months and a year in jail, respectively, only now they’ve been re-sentenced to five more years, since the original sentence didn’t meet the federal minimum for the crime. That’s right, the original prosecutor and judge “goofed” and now the old man (73) and his son (46) have to go back to the hoosegow. This family owns 12,000 acres of land in the area and is a kind of pillar of the community. The locals are outraged at this “re-sentencing,” which, while technically legal, reeks of double jeopardy. It seems to me that these guys are getting railroaded and I don’t blame people for being pissed off.

My sympathy, however, does not extend to Bundy and his cadre of weapon fetishists. These guys have descended into this community uninvited in an attempt to hijack this situation in order to serve their own extreme right-wing agenda. Many local residents resent their intrusion. They remind me of the hardcore Marxists or anarchists that often try to wrest the helm at various protests on the left. I believe that many of these guys want the government to come in guns blazing, because in their deluded minds, they’re on the vanguard of a second revolution. They think that they’re going to be the spark that ignites the great revolt against government “tyranny,” which will bring about some sort of great libertarian utopia. In this fantasy world the white man will be able to exploit the land as he sees fit, with no federal fetters to hinder him in his quest for personal profit.  In a video posted to Facebook, one of the militia members states:

“We’re planning on staying here for several years. And while we’re here, what we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be freeing these lands up, getting the ranchers back to ranching, getting the miners back to mining, getting the loggers back to logging, where they can do it all under the protection of the people.”

What is clear here is their objectives are more in line with the interests of capital than those of the people. Surprise surprise. No wonder the Republican party and the American mainstream right-wing establishment either openly encourage these nutbars or just quietly approve. They’ve been cultivating this cesspool of crazy for sometime now. Stoking fear and paranoia keeps getting their guys elected; in turn, corporate interests are served.

It’s interesting how the media has chosen to portray these folks. “Armed protesters,” is the term I saw floated around on more than one site. The semantic choices of the headline writers never fail to betray their racial bias. We whites are always tagged with the least-threatening labels, even when we’re walking arsenals of bullets, bigotry, and delusion.

So how will this go down? Last time federal agents retreated in the face of so many white men with guns. Will they do the same again? One can only imagine the immediate wrath and hell fire that would reign down if this were a group of armed blacks, American Indians, or Muslims. I wouldn’t be writing about a standoff: I’d be reflecting upon a body count. If you want to see how the U.S. government deals with unruly blacks with guns, look no further than the bombing of the black liberation group M.O.V.E. in Philly some 30 years ago, which killed 11 people, left 250 kids homeless, and burned down 61 houses.

I suspect Obama will play a cool hand with this one. He doesn’t want his presidency stained with something like a Waco. He knows better than to make martyrs of these loons. The best move is to let them shiver away the winter in that glorified shack in the high desert of eastern Oregon. Perhaps he–and the rest of us–should just ignore them, since that is exactly what I’m sure they fear the most.

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