The Curious Case Of Cliven Bundy


Take another shot of courage

Wonder why the right words never come

You just get numb

            —The Eagles, Tequila Sunrise


I’m going to be a little controversial today.

You may have seen the recent standoff between Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management.  Bundy has for years grazed his cattle on what is ostensibly federally-owned land and refused to pay the per-head fee for doing so after the land was officially closed off to protect an endangered tortoise (how closing the land only then to re-open it for a fee protects the tortoise escapes me).  Recently his ranch was surrounded by armed federal agents, his cattle were confiscated and some of them killed under circumstances that have yet to be explained fully.  Only after scores of armed private citizens came to Bundy’s aid did the government back down and give his cattle back (what was left of them, anyway).

Last week Bundy was back in the news, this time for comments he made about blacks.  Discussing his recollection of driving past a government housing project in North Las Vegas, Bundy said:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro . . . in front of that government house door was usually open and the older people and the kids—and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch—they didn’t have nothing to do.  They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do.  They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.  And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?  They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton.  And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?  They didn’t get no more freedom.  They got less freedom.”

[And then of course there’s the part that CNN, the New York Times, and the rest of the media edited out:  “They got less family life, and their happiness—you could see it on their faces—they wasn’t happy sitting on that concrete sidewalk”  The media also didn’t report his preceding comments on the Watts riots: “People are not happy, people thinking they don’t have their freedoms, they didn’t have these things and they didn’t have them.  We’ve progressed quite a bit from that day until now, and we sure don’t want to go back.  We sure don’t want the colored people to go back to that point.”  But I digress . . .]

Tea Party types who had come to Bundy’s defense quickly ran for cover, denouncing Bundy’s statements (as edited by the media) as racist.

I’m not so sure.

Mr. Bundy’s choice of words certainly leaves something to be desired (although I seem to have missed the memo that “Negro” and “colored” were no longer just antiquated but were now considered racist and offensive—maybe someone should inform the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), but let’s bear in mind this man is a rancher, not a professional orator.  And if we’ll calm down a second, step back and examine what he actually said, maybe—just maybe—we’ll see that he has something of a point.

First, Bundy was not advocating slavery, nor was he stating affirmatively that blacks were in fact better off as slaves. He did not attribute his observations to some imagined inherent racial inferiority, and he did not blame blacks themselves for their situation.  He was posing a rhetorical question—“I’ve often wondered . . .”—not stating an opinion, and while his comments are stated in terms that are obviously too global, I think they can be understood as a clumsy attempt to use hyperbole to illustrate something about the black condition, particularly as it relates to poor blacks.

Consider the following:

No one can deny that housing projects exist.  And while not all blacks live in government housing, they in fact occupy the projects in grossly disproportionate numbers.  According to HUD, although blacks make up just 13% of the population, 48% of government-subsidized households are black.  While we’re on the subject of government subsidies, note that 40% of welfare recipients and 24% of food stamp recipients are black.   There is nothing racist in this observation, it’s simply the statistical fact: relative to their proportion of the population, blacks receive more government subsidy assistance than the population as a whole.

Bundy said that the people he observed in the projects had nothing to do.  This is not shocking: if you’re in a government housing project, you are most likely poor, and there is a disproportionate likelihood that you are unemployed.  This is particularly so if you’re black.  Black unemployment in fact has long exceeded the national average by a wide margin.  As of last month, “official” unemployment among blacks was 12.8%, roughly double the national rate of 6.9%, and considerably worse than it was prior to LBJ and the Left’s “war on poverty.”  Bundy referred more specifically to young blacks having nothing to do; unemployment among blacks 16 to 19 currently sits at 30.9%, four-and-a-half times the national average.  These figures obviously have a direct effect on poverty, which impacts 27% of the total black population.  Again, this is not a racist statement; if you are black, particularly a young black, statistically there is a much higher chance that you are unemployed, poor, living in government housing, and receiving some form of welfare.

That’s not racist.  That’s just a fact.

Bundy then remarked that blacks—again, his context was his observation of poor blacks in government housing—abort their babies and put their young men in jail.  Well, do they?  Black babies are aborted at a rate of 41 per 1000 women.  That’s more than double the national average of 18, and by some estimates over 13 million black babies have been aborted since Roe, the equivalent of eliminating 30% of the entire current U.S. black population.  This is exactly as Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger envisioned it, as she expressly intended her organization’s abortion function as a means of racial cleansing.  Blacks also make up nearly half of the total U.S. prison population, and 1 in 3 black men can expect to serve prison time during their lives.  We can debate whether blacks themselves put those black men in jail; the cause isn’t as important here as the statistical fact itself that a disproportionate number of blacks are incarcerated.

Carrying the domestic analysis further, while the rate is dropping, teen pregnancy among black girls remains more than double that of whites.  72% of black children live in single parent households.  And blacks are wildly more likely than whites to be the victim of violent crime, almost always at the hands of another black.

So to recap, blacks in the U.S. are significantly disproportionately likely to:

  • Be poor
  • Be unemployed
  • Receive government subsidies
  • Be impacted by abortion or teen pregnancy
  • Grow up in a single parent home
  • Spend time in jail
  • Be the victim of violent crime

There is nothing racist about making the observation; these are simply the statistical facts of the black condition.  I think we can all agree that these are not good things, and there is almost surely a relationship between them.  And this, I think, was the essence of the point Bundy was trying—however inartfully—to make: that blacks would be better off with meaningful jobs that allowed them to get off government assistance and out of government housing, and with that maybe improve the other aspects of their domestic circumstances.

But let’s assume for a second that Bundy’s statements in fact are racist.  Why does that—as the media and Left have been trying to claim—render all the substantive points and questions raised by his standoff with the BLM illegitimate?  If someone is a racist does that mean that they are a crackpot and wrong an all issues, all the time, under all circumstances?

To be sure, Bundy’s substantive case against the BLM has problems.  He has in fact—he freely admits this—not paid the grazing fee, to the tune of over $1 million.  Although his argument that in the charter creating the State of Nevada the United States obligated itself to sell all federal land back in 1864 has some facial appeal, in context it has issues:

Sec. 10.  Five percent of subsequent sales of public lands by United States to be paid to state for public roads and irrigation.  And be it further enacted, That five percentum of the proceeds of the sales of all public lands lying within said state, which shall be sold by the United States subsequent to the admission of said state into the Union . . . shall be paid to the said state[.]”

Bundy and his supporters point to the language “which shall be sold by the United States” to argue that the federal government had a duty to sell all federal holdings.  And that is a fair reading.  The problem is, the word “shall” has been frequently misused in legislation in this country, up to and including the Constitution itself.  The title of Section 10 refers to “subsequent sales,” and this suggests that the “which shall be sold” language was really intended simply to refer to those lands that the United States sells if it sells them, rather than imposing an affirmative obligation to do so.  Even so, legitimate questions remain:

  • Why does the federal government still own more than 80% of all land in the State of Nevada?
  • If it’s federal land, and therefore publicly owned, why isn’t it open to all without a fee?
  • Why is Senator Harry Reid, who is supposed to represent the people of the State of Nevada (actually he’s supposed to represent the State itself, but the 17th Amendment killed that) vocally taking the side of the federal government against one of his own constituents?
  • Why does the BLM need to show up with helicopters and dozens of armed agents (including snipers) carrying military style weapons to collect a bill?
  • And while we’re on the subject, why are so many non-military federal agencies (EPA, NOAA, U.S. Postal Service, Department of Education) arming themselves?

Racism or no, what we do see here is more overkill from a federal government out of control.

The Price Of Afghanistan

Welcome back, my friends

To the show that never ends

We’re so glad you could attend

Come inside, come inside

            —Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Karn Evil 9 1st Impression, Part 2


No, the IRS didn’t come cart me away.  Yet.

Yesterday an Afghan security guard opened fire and killed three American medical personnel in a hospital in Kabul.  This is the latest instance of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks, where armed Afghans working alongside “coalition” forces turn their weapons against their erstwhile allies.  According to, as of October 2013 there had been 83 such attacks since 2008.  Just another instance of dead Americans in a war zone far away, and I know it’s not nearly as interesting as mysteriously-vanishing airliners, or capsized Korean ferries (hence you won’t see this on CNN), but it does beg a question:

Why are we still there for these latest three Americans to die?

Let’s be clear: Afghanistan is at the crossroads of nowhere.  It has no strategic significance, no resources anyone needs, and it wields no political stroke.  It’s a godforsaken hellhole that civilization left behind a millennium ago.  So why are we there?

To recap some rather unpleasant history, on September 11, 2001, 19 jihadists hijacked four U.S. airliners, crashing two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York (ultimately obliterating both buildings), and one into the Pentagon.  The fourth was apparently being retaken by the passengers, so the jihadists crashed it into the ground in a field in Pennsylvania.

The attacks killed 2,997 people, excluding the jihadists.  Remember that number.

U.S. intelligence quickly identified the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda as being responsible for the attacks, and on September 14 Congress—by a combined vote of 518 to 1—authorized the use of military force against those nations, organizations, or persons the President determines were responsible, and against those harboring such organizations or persons.  Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden—who later admitted responsibility for the attacks—was traced to Afghanistan, and the U.S. State Department demanded that the Afghan government turn him over.  The ruling Taliban—bad guys in their own right—refused.  On September 20, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush reiterated the demand, and warned that “they will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate.”  Still the Taliban refused.  So on October 7, the initial bombing campaign in Afghanistan began.

At the time, this was a rational response to the attacks.  If the perpetrators were not acting on the Taliban’s behalf (or with their blessing), there was no reason not to hand bin Laden over.  The Taliban’s refusal to do so suggests the other alternative—that the perpetrators were acting on the Taliban’s behalf or with its blessing—in which case the attacks were an act of war by Afghanistan just the same as if they had invaded Manhattan with uniformed troops.  And Americans—myself included—almost unanimously supported the action at the time.  Hell, even Senators Joe Biden (D-DE), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Kerry (D-MA), and Harry Reid (D-NV), just to name a notable few, voted in favor of authorizing a military response.

But that was nearly thirteen years ago.

By the end of 2001, the Taliban had been overthrown, although they would continue to wage an insurgency war out of neighboring Pakistan (theoretically a U.S. ally).  For the next ten years, through the end of the Bush administration and well into the Obama administration, U.S. forces continued to occupy Afghanistan to provide “security” and hunt for Osama bin Laden.

And Americans continued to die.

On May 2, 2011, U.S. special forces troops finally caught up with bin Laden—ironically in Pakistan, which one tends to suspect knew where he was all along—and killed him.  Over 1,500 Americans had died in and around Afghanistan by that point.  But with the Taliban out and the al-Qaeda mastermind now dead, surely the mission in Afghanistan was complete, right?

Wrong.  And as we approach the third anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan.

And Americans still continue to die there.

I asked you to remember the number of victims killed in the 9/11 attacks: 2,997.  The American death toll in Afghanistan is now 2,317, meaning our response to the 9/11 attacks has killed nearly as many Americans as the attacks themselves.  761 Americans—roughly a quarter of the total—have died in the three years since Osama bin Laden was killed and the last ostensible purpose of the campaign was achieved.  If you count all coalition military casualties, there have actually been more “good guys” killed (over 3,400) participating in our campaign in Afghanistan than were killed by the jihadists in the first place.

At some point, doesn’t the cure become worse than the disease?

Crass as it is compared to the human cost, let’s also consider the financial cost of this crusade.  Through fiscal 2011, we had spent something like $468 billion fighting the Taliban and chasing bin Laden.  By now, the price tag is surely well over $500 billion and counting.  That’s more than 50 times the estimated cost to rebuild the World Trade Center—which, 12 years later, still hasn’t been completed, while we’ve been arguing over the location of mosques and whether documentaries about 9/11 are offensive to Muslims (of course they are; everything offends them).  One suspects we could have just bought Afghanistan outright for less (the Louisiana Purchase—a much larger and vastly more resource-rich territory—was had for a paltry $280 million in today’s dollars, and Alaska—almost as large as Afghanistan, and again much more resource-rich—was purchased for mere pocket change of about $119 million).

To give some perspective, $500 billion would rank 20th among world GDP, just behind that of Switzerland, and ahead of countries like Sweden and Norway.  The entire U.S. federal budget was less than $500 billion in constant (2009) dollars as recently as 1979.  And for all that spending, and all our fancy technology (most of which, if Iraq was any guide, will ultimately be abandoned if and when we ever leave Afghanistan), we’re 12 years in and still can’t declare victory against an enemy that can barely muster better than sticks and stones and the occasional homemade bomb.


This is not a knock on our men and women in uniform.  They are the finest professionals, and they do the job they are given, but in this case we’ve never really defined what that job is, which makes their task impossible from the outset.  Not only are political (and political-correctness) considerations preventing our military from winning, they’ve never even been told what a win looks like.  So on and on it goes, and that begins to highlight the real cost.

Although draft registration is still required for American males between 18 and 25 years old, since 1972 we have operated an all-volunteer military force, or “AVF.”  That’s fine for short term military responses in Grenada or Somalia.  But the AVF was never designed for decades-long prosecutions of wars/occupations on multiple fronts.  With no draft to provide large scale influxes of fresh personnel, the same people have to rotate in and out of country over and over.  Years and years of multiple deployments take their toll on morale and numbers.

It’s no wonder, then, that we see two-bit regimes like Iran and Syria now openly thumbing their noses at U.S. threats (or “red lines,” or whatever).  It’s no wonder that we see Vladimir Putin feeling his oats in Crimea.  It’s no wonder that we see the Chinese in a rapid military buildup mode.  Diplomatic pressure and even sanctions are ultimately only as good as the credibility of any military action to back them up.  But in large part as a result of a decade in Afghanistan (combined with Iraq), those who would do things counter to the interests of the U.S. and its allies look at us and see a nation whose population is war-weary (and in any event has the attention span of a gnat), and whose military is depleted (and still tied down) and lacks the practical ability to replenish itself.  In other words, we’re spent, and we’re spread too thin, and everyone knows it.

Combine that with an obviously weak and indecisive Commander-in-Chief who plainly lacks the stomach to make hard decisions or to commit forces to combat, and a very public drawdown of the U.S. military in general, and just how credible is any sabre-rattling out of D.C. going to be any more?  Putin can rest pretty comfortably in his assumption that when push comes to shove, there will be no real pushback from the U.S. in Crimea.  Or Moldova.  Or Belarus.  Kim Jong Un and his benefactors in Beijing have to like their odds that the same is true on the Korean peninsula.  Maybe even in Japan.  And when you add in the new influx of cash Obama is permitting to run into Teheran, you have to think the Iranians feel less and less apprehensive about pressing their nuclear aspirations.

This must be very comforting to our allies in places like Warsaw, Jerusalem, and Seoul.

Theodore Roosevelt counseled that one should speak softly and carry a big stick.  We’ve been swinging blindfolded at the piñata so long now we don’t have any stick left, and once that happens it doesn’t matter how loudly you mindlessly proclaim that “there will be consequences,” or that rivals are on the “wrong side of history.”

Or “we will, at last, have peace in our time.”

This, I fear, will prove to be the real cost of Afghanistan.