The Bundy Bunch

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy thinks he should be able to graze his cattle on public lands without paying grazing fees.

At first one would think he was just a tightwad. The Bureau of Land Management is willing to let him graze his cattle for $1.35 per cattle per month (they call this an AMU – animal month unit).  Those cattle are not only eating natural grasses on federal land, they’re drinking water on that land.   By contrast it would cost Bundy $5.00 per AMU to graze on private land.

One of the reasons that the BLM monitors grazing on public lands is that ranchers are notorious for overgrazing, making the land unsuitable for grazing for years.

The Department of the Interior, of which the BLM is a part,  is second only to the IRS in providing revenue to the U.S. government.  Most of this revenue comes from oil and gas leases, but a significant part comes from grazing fees.  If Mr. Bundy thinks he should be free to use public lands to graze his cattle, what’s to prevent an oil company to think they should be free extract crude oil from public lands without paying the government for the oil they take?

What’s becoming clear from  the press coverage is that Bundy is one of those anti-government kooks who appeals to other anti-government kooks.


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Is Money Speech?

Following on the slippery slope of the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the plaintiff in McCutcheon v. FEC to eliminate limits on aggregate campaign contributions.  The argument was that money counted as speech, and that speech was protected by the 1st Amendment.

We can only speculate what the effect this will have on the political landscape, but it begs the question: is money really speech?

The idea that money counts as speech was introduce in the 1976 Supreme Court ruling in Buckley v. Valeo.

Open up your wallet.  Do you hear the dollar bills talking among themselves?  Does your bank ever call and tell you that they wish the money in your savings account would pipe down?  Good luck explaining to the IRS that you’re paying your taxes by talking.

The reality is that money isn’t speech.  It’s property.


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Spring is Here!

Spring starts on March 20th.  Yee Haw!  It’s been a rough winter nationwide, but the crocus are up through the snow, the weather is warming up, and folks are cleaning off their outdoor grills.  But most importantly, baseball is seasons is underway!



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CPAC 2014

CPAC 2014 is well under way.  The symbolism of Mitch McConnell on stage with a rifle was nothing short of comical.   And predictably speakers demonstrated to their base that they are the party of fear and hate, commandeered by the radical right Tea Party.  They are essentially a resurgence of the John Birch Society of the ’60′s.  Only in the ’60′s there was a true conservative thinker, William F. Buckley Jr. that told Republicans there was no place in the party for those nut-jobs.  Back then, they listened to Buckley.  There is no one like Buckley in the party now and it’s not clear if there was they would listen to him.


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The Tea Party Turns 5


The Tea Party has turned five years old.  Not that it’s a real party nor that it’s a really defined movement.  But they have been a recent powerhouse in the Republican party.  Mostly they’ve been a movement against government.  They seem to be a revival of the 1960′s John Birch Society.  The difference between then and now is that the conservative intellectual and powerhouse, William F. Buckley Jr. said that there was no place for radicals like the John Birch Society in the Republican party.  Today there are no intellectuals in the Republican party, or at least intellectuals with the cojones of Buckley to denounce the Tea Party.


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The Minimum wage

The latest gripe about President Obama’s “lawless” presidency is his executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors.  The argument on the right against raising the minimum wage is that it will kill jobs and that the only people earning the minimum wage are teens entering the work force.  The argument on the left is that if you don’t pay adults a living wage they will require government services, e.g., food stamps, Medicaid,  subsidized housing, etc.

The “killing jobs” argument has no verifiable evidence.  It’s pretty simple to figure out why.  If you pay the minimum wage and your competition pays the minimum wage, you’re all in the same boat.  The notion that teens entering the work force make the minimum wage has two flaws.  First, are teens second class citizens?  This is why we have child labor laws.  Second, these days a lot of minimum wage earners are adults trying to make a living.

If the right’s hatred of government “entitlement” programs is to be believed, why would they support wages that require people to depend on these programs to survive?  We are essentially giving businesses that pay the minimum wage a subsidy.

And the bottom line in this emotional debate is that so few actually pay the minimum wage it would have essentially no impact on the economy.


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Pete Seeger 1919 – 2014

Singer, songwriter, musician and political activist Pete Seeger has died at the age of 94.  He was a big believer in using song for social change.

His songs have been soft spoken but powerful.  “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” on the Vietnam war.  “Turn, Turn, Turn” popularized by the Byrds.  And possibly the most powerful was the anthem of the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.”

You may recall he sang “This Land is Your Land” written by his buddy Woody Guthrie at President Obama’s first inaugural.

My  favorite Pete Seeger tune wasn’t political.  It was an instrumental:

In the early 1970′s it was popularized by Leo Kottke’s version  on his landmark album “6 and 12 String Guitar.”  After many failed attempts to learn it, and seeing that my folk hero wrote it, I wrote to Seeger asking for some help.  He wrote back.  A lovely letter thanking me for appreciating the tune and detailing how I to play it.

Everybody has a favorite Pete Seeger song.  What’s yours?


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