Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What The Hell Is This About #1: Oregon Chuckleheads

Hey, A New Feature: Look, I'm not an investigative journalist...  I got a job, I got bills to pay- and in general, ain't nobody got time for such business. But now and again, stories will float past me on social media or on the internet that seem like they're worth a second look, because the 'mainstream media' is either studiously ignoring them or left and right wing outlets tell vastly different versions of events or in a lot of these cases or sometimes both. Either way, every now and again I want to do some digging, draw my own conclusions- and yes, form my own opinions, which y'all totally do not have to agree with one little bit, and find out- What The Hell Is This About?

We've all seen the hashtags (#YallQaeda, #VanillaISIS) and we've all chuckled in amusement at the way the internet expresses it's gleeful schaudenfreude at the bad logistical decisions made by these occupiers, but what the hell is this actually about?

I actually had a whole different post ready to go on this topic, but I pulled it and sort of had to reconstruct it on the fly after reading (and listening) to a few more things about the issue. This is what I came up with:

First, the conflict over land in the West is not a new phenomenon. Not by a long shot- this dates back before even the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 70s and 80s. Ranchers out west have it tough enough as it is just getting their basic job done and when some bureaucrat in Washington passes some rule that makes their lives harder they tend to get a little annoyed by that. It's a classic case of local vs state vs Federal vs Tribal control and the government hasn't always been that good about managing the tug-of-war. But initially I just sort of shrugged and said, 'well, just sell the damn land then' but what I didn't realize is that that has been tried before- apparently back in the 30s- the Feds tried to get this land to revert to local control and the states didn't bite, because it's well, arid range land and it's not exactly easy to make money on. (Just ask any rancher.) (This is an excellent podcast on the issue- and if you aren't listening to How Do We Fix It? in your regular podcast rotation, change that- stat!)

So my initial thought of a fire sale to pay down some of the national debt probably won't be as easy as I thought. Giving some back to indigenous people? That I think could be managed fairly easily- and probably should be done to be totally honest, but really the way forward on this issue is collaboration at all levels of government and balancing local interests with environmental ones to make sure that if you're going to screw people, you screw everyone fairly, equally and as little as possible. (I acknowledge that collaboration across multiple levels of government is something that the United States has really, really excelled at it (please note my sarcasm.)

Second, I think you need to draw a line between the Chuckleheads who are occupying the place and the locals whose prison sentences sparked the occupation to begin with. The Chuckleheads seem to have little to no local support- they're really smart and get arrested for driving Federal vehicles to the store. They say charming things like this and the Governor of Oregon has officially asked for the Feds to roust them out of there and end this business once and for all. (Whether they will or not, I don't know.)

The local do support the ranchers whose prison sentences attracted the Chuckleheads to begin with though- this is the most complete story I've found, which yes, does come from The American Conservative- so there's an obvious ideological bent there-- but this article from The Washington Post seems to confirm the meat and potatoes of what this is about- basically that these two ranchers were charged with and served time for arson five years ago and now the Feds are throwing them back in the joint because they didn't think they had served enough time. That, to me, is a horse of an entirely different color and some serious bullshit. Can the government even do that? Just come back and be like 'whoa man, you were charged and did some time five years ago, but we didn't think it was enough, so we're going to charge you again and add on some more time. Just because we can.' That's a legitimate grievance right there. Worthy of protest? Sure. Worthy of armed occupation? Maybe not so much- especially since the threat of violence closed local schools for a week.

While Conservative outlets tend to paint more of a pro-local, pro-rancher picture of things, Progressive media seems to be rallying around the idea that it's Republican dislike of environmental regulation that is at the heart of the struggle. The Occupiers want unfettered access to public lands to over graze and eventually destroy them and the darned Federal Government is getting in the way. By letting Cliven Bundy get away with his standoff with the Feds in 2014, the government only encouraged the rise of these anti-government extremists (this round-up is chock-full of the usual unhelpful language that you'd expect) and really, the Oregon Occupiers should be focusing on the real enemy: Big Beef (as 4 companies slaughtered and packaged 82% of America's beef last year.)

There are some points raised by the Progressive media that are worthwhile. Yes, the beef monopoly is worth talking about. Yes, you can't just let cattle graze willy-nilly all over the damn place, otherwise you're going to cause long term environmental problems that do nobody any good. And yes, the Federal government's 'ignore him and he'll just go away' attitude about Cliven Bundy and his protest over grazing fees in 2014 probably lead to the Chuckleheads thinking this was their next big media blitz. But, as amusing as I find it to send these guys literal bags of dicks and sex toys, it's not that helpful in the big picture of things. Nor is the usual sermonizing about 'well when the Ferguson or Baltimore protestors rioted they get called thugs, etc etc' all that useful either. This is one case where the double standard- and yes it is a double standard- can be laid squarely at the feet of the media. Burning American cities? Race riots? That's a ratings bonanza. 12 dudes in the Middle of Nowhere, Oregon- not so much. Therefore, they're going to give much less of a shit about the story.

Am I particularly worried about this? No. Local support seems to be eroding fast and if these dudes didn't pack snacks, I'd imagine they're going to start getting hungry at some point. (Just for shits and giggles since the Chuckleheads seem to be part of the Bundy Bunch that were protesting grazing fees, I looked up what the grazing fees actually are. $1.69 per something called an Animal Unit Month. So there's that.)

In short, this seems to be the latest chapter in a very old problem. And if collaboration between all levels of government has broken down- then there's not a lot you can do except get back on the horse and try again, because this issue isn't going to go away any time soon.

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