The sides seem to have broken down into two main camps: those who say Bundy is a mere scofflaw who owes the government money, and those who say Bundy is a folk hero standing up to unjust laws.
However, there is yet a third side to the debate, which perhaps is most the relevant one to Americans, most of whom neither follow rancher issues nor care to.
What is rousing emotions to a fever pitch when the subject of Bundy comes up, who lives in the heart of what has become unflatteringly known as "fly-over" country? The affair has ignited old blue state versus red state rivalries, as some "Coastapedia" city slickers now are inclined to have scant sympathy for what they perceive as "Tea Party-types" in God and Guns Land.
Coastapedia can be seen on a political map as heavily populated California and the Eastern Seaboard which hold fully one third of the population, whose Electoral College votes are considered reliably Democrat.
Bundy has served as a lesson in political fracking. Pump hot air and rhetoric into a seemingly solid bedrock, raise the pressure to millions of pounds per square inch, and watch the fractures in the rock emerge and and the rock break apart, releasing millions of square feet of highly combustible gases into the atmosphere. As a divide and conquer strategy, putting a "Tea Party type" on the federal government hot-seat couldn't be more brilliant. These are the people who called Occupy Wall Street "socialists" and didn't care when they were getting billy-clubbed and pepper-sprayed, and now it's their turn. So the thinking goes.
But is that all that is happening? What else should we be watching for as Cliven Bundy takes on the revenuers?
Let's rewind for a moment, and recall the timeline of events. Without going into the details of the grazing fee dispute which Bundy has been fighting in court for years, let us grant the simplifying assumption that Bundy owes the $1 million in grazing fees, as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) claims. Bundy has never pulled a gun on a federal agent, has never attacked a police officer. He is 70 years old.
What he has done is refuse to pay his grazing fees for the use of public lands, for whatever reason. A judge gave an order for him to stop grazing his cows, which he defied.
Then one day this month an army of feds, about 200 of them, descended upon Bundy's ranch and herd, armed with fully automatic weapons of war, long-range sniper rifles with government snipers behind them, helicopters, spy drones, and low-flying planes. BLM police and FBI were outfitted in the kind of combat gear you see in Iraq, Kevlar helmets, combat fatigues, body armor. All for a guy who is personally unarmed.
The feds proceed to round up and take away Bundy's doggies. Bundy informs his court case supporters and anyone else who'll listen of what is going on. Some are ranchers who do pay their grazing fees, but they still support Bundy.
Bundy's supporters show up and, this being rural Nevada, many of them are armed. Your sidearm, varmint rifle, or shotgun in the trunk of your car or saddle scabbard is just part of life. According to reports, the government snipers were outflanked, disarmed, and given a ride to town where they couldn't hurt anyone.
Now contrast this with the treatment given to folks who owe US taxpayers — that's still you and me — $2 trillion to $3 trillion
, which is two to three million times more than Bundy's million. That would be the bankers bailed out in 2008, after losing at incredibly irresponsible speculation in financial markets. Both Democrat and Republican administrations and congressmen enabled it.
Contrary to popular belief and the words of President Barack Obama himself, most of the bank bailout money has not been paid back. In 2012 Obama told an audience
"We got back every dime used to rescue the banks, we made that happen."
Brisk, confident, hip, like Obama always sounds. The only problem is, there was not a bit of truth in it, and there is no way Obama could not have known that.
True, much of the money lent under the program known as TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, did get paid back, but that constituted only 7 percent of the $4.7 trillion disbursed to the financial services industry, in total bailouts. When one looks at all the bailout programs passed in 2008, not just TARP, an entirely different picture emerges.
At $700 billion, about the size of the yearly Pentagon budget, TARP was already an enormous drain on public resources. But it was nothing compared to the other 50 or so programs which took money directly from taxpayers, which might have gone toward repairing bridges
or lowering taxes, which went toward bailing out bankers instead. The bailouts put that money into the pockets of banks which lost at the craps tables of the subprime market.
You needn't really know anything about mortgages. If you've been to Vegas and heard all the hooting and hollering where all the big rollers are, you'll get the right picture. All the real estate talk is just window dressing. As the Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi wrote in a 2013 article "Secrets and Lies of the Bailout"
"we essentially gave a taxpayer-funded blank check to Gamblers Anonymous addicts, the millionaire and billionaire class."
In business, large and small, there is a thing called "due diligence." It's sort of like saying you will do what any normal person would do given a certain level of responsibility, like a parent not letting his or her kids play in the highway. Whatever that level of responsibility entails for people running big banks, and taking care of old ladies' life savings, they didn't do it. Not even close.
Even more astounding, in a country where it's getting to the point where you can almost automatically assume that the opposite of what the media is telling you is true, not only did the vast majority of unfathomable sums of taxpayer money not get paid back. Of the part that did, the TARP part, most of that came from the other bailout programs
. It was exactly like paying off a credit card with another credit card. No difference. None whatsoever.
Former Special Inspector General for TARP Neil Barofsky, whom journalist Glenn Greenwald once called "easily one of the most impressive and courageous political officials in Washington," wrote in a 2009 report
before he was forced out of his job:
"By itself, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”) is a huge program at $700 billion. As discussed in SIGTARP’s April Quarterly Report, the total financial exposure of TARP and TARP-related programs may reach approximately $3 trillion. Although large in its own right, TARP is only a part of the combined efforts of the Federal Government to address the financial crisis. Approximately 50 initiatives or programs have been created by various Federal agencies since 2007 to provide potential support totaling more than $23.7 trillion."
FULL SIGTARP JULY 2009 REPORT BY BAROFSKY
These bank bailout folks never defied a court order to pay the money back, because no US court nor US agency has touched them nor asked them to pay it back. You see, the rules are a little different for them than for Cliven Bundy. Where is the seizing of mansions, private jets, executive yachts, and luxury bunkers
, the sales of which have shot through the roof, in order to get some of that money back? It's owed, just the same as we are saying Cliven Bundy owes his grazing fees.
And that is the other side of the debate, that is not getting talked about: that those "Tea Party types" are also part of the 99 percent, and SWAT teams and dogs and pepper spray are for them too, not just Occupy Wall Street types. And it will remain so as long as we view each other through the prism of where one stands on gay marriage or teaching evolution.
In a remarkable three minutes of lies back-to-back last week, Reid claimed that Bundy didn't pay his income taxes (Bundy denies
, says he has always paid them,) that he does not "acknowledge" the federal government (why would he pay his income taxes if he didn't acknowledge the government) and that he deployed snipers against BLM agents (neglecting the BLM snipers who came first.) For having their legal guns with them legally and not backing down when the feds pointed their guns at them, Nevada Senator Harry Reid recently called Bundy and his supporters "domestic terrorists."
Americans are very good at seeing things in black and white. What we are not so good at is discerning perspective and proportion, and adjusting our outrage accordingly. Because our hollowed-out economy, which is built on debt, seems to be functioning more or less normally on the surface, no one is getting bent out of shape over a rank injustice.
But that could all change very quickly, if the Ponzi scheme of Chinese debt and Federal Reserve funny money comes crashing down. Much of that debt and funny money has gone toward paying for nothing more than the banker bailouts.
If that crash happens, it sure won't be Cliven Bundy's fault.
Reid ups ante on Bundy supporters, says are 'domestic terrorists'