Industrial Dictatorship

I have many ‘pet peeves’ these days, one of which is the wealth inequality in this country.  It keeps growing and growing like an overfed toddler and while most people struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table, the 1% or so at the top laugh their way to their broker’s office to see just how much richer they are today than they were a month ago.  I’ve never heard it explained any better than Robert Reich does …

The three myths used by the ultra-wealthy to justify the ultra-wealthy

Robert Reich

29 September 2022

The stock market is down but don’t cry for America’s mega-billionaires. A record share of the nation’s wealth remains in their hands. They’re also paying a lower tax rate than the average American.

So how do they justify their wealth and their low tax rates? By using three myths. All are utter rubbish.

  1. The first is trickle-down economics. They (and their apologists) claim that their wealth trickles down to everyone else as they invest it and create jobs.

Really? For over forty years, as wealth at the top has soared, almost nothing has trickled down. Adjusted for inflation, the median wage today is barely higher than it was four decades ago. Trump provided a giant tax cut to the wealthiest Americans, promising it would generate $4,000 increased income for everyone else. Did you receive it?

In reality, the super-wealthy don’t create jobs or raise wages. Jobs are created when average working people earn enough money to buy all the goods and services they produce, forcing companies to hire more people and pay them higher wages.

  1. The second myth is the “free market.” The ultra-rich claim they’re being rewarded by the impersonal market for creating and doing what people are willing to pay them for. The wages of other Americans have stagnated, they say, because most Americans are worth less in the market now that new technologies and globalization have made their jobs redundant.

Baloney. Even if they’re being rewarded, there’s no reason why the “free market’ would reward vast multiples of what the rich were rewarded decades ago. The market can induce great feats of invention and entrepreneurialism with lures of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars — not billions. And as to the rest of us succumbing to labor-replacing globalization and labor-saving technologies, no other advanced nation has nearly the degree of inequality found in the United States, yet all these nations have been exposed to the same forces of globalization and technological change.

In reality, the ultra-wealthy have rigged the so-called “free market” in America for their own benefit.

Billionaires’ campaign contributions have soared from a relatively modest $31 million in the 2010 elections to $1.2 billion in the most recent presidential cycle — a nearly 40-fold increase. What have they got for their money? Tax cuts, freedom to bash unions and monopolize markets, and government bailouts. Their pockets have been further lined by privatization and deregulation.

  1. The third myth is that they’re superior human beings — rugged individuals who “did it on their own” and therefore deserve their billions.

Bupkis. Six of the 10 wealthiest Americans alive today are heirs to fortunes passed on to them by wealthy ancestors.

Others had the advantages that come with wealthy parents. Jeff Bezos’ garage-based start was funded by a quarter-million dollar investment from his parents. Bill Gates’s mother used her business connections to help land a software deal with IBM that made Microsoft.

Elon Musk came from a family that reportedly owned shares of an emerald mine in Southern Africa. (By the way, when I mentioned this in a recent video, Elon went nuts — tweeting that “You [sic] both an idiot and a liar.” Hmmm. Did I touch a nerve, Elon?)

Don’t fall for these three myths. Trickle-down economics is a cruel joke. The so-called “free market” has been distorted by huge campaign contributions from the ultra-rich. Don’t lionize the ultra-rich as superior “self-made” human beings who deserve their billions. They were lucky and had connections.

In reality, there’s no justification for today’s extraordinary concentration of wealth at the very top. It’s distorting our politics, rigging our markets, and granting unprecedented power to a handful of people.

The last time America faced anything comparable was at the start of the 20th century. In 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt warned that “a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power” could destroy American democracy.

Roosevelt’s answer was to tax wealth. The estate tax was enacted in 1916, and the capital gains tax in 1922. Since that time, both have eroded. As the rich have accumulated greater wealth, they have also amassed more political power — and have used that political power to reduce their taxes.

Years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the 1929 crash not only as a financial crisis but as an occasion to renegotiate the relationship between capitalism and democracy. Accepting renomination in 1936, he spoke of the need to redeem American democracy from the despotism of concentrated economic power.

“Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities,” he said, an “industrial dictatorship” now “reached out for control over Government itself. … [T]he political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives… Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people’s mandate to end it.”

FDR gave workers the power to organize into labor unions, the 40-hour workweek (with time-and-a-half for overtime), Social Security, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation for injuries. He raised taxes on the top.

But since then, these reforms have also eroded.

The two Roosevelts understood something about the American economy and the ultra-rich that has now reemerged, even more extreme and more dangerous. We must understand it, too — and act.


By the way, here’s the new video that put Musk into a lather:

Taxing the Rich Dudes — Part II

A week or so ago I posted Robert Reich’s column on taxing the wealthy.  At the time, I thought the odds of any such legislation passing were slim-to-none, but today Mr. Reich is back with a bit more optimism, so … maybe, just maybe the time is coming when we will stop bowing at the feet of the wealthy and start expecting them to be held accountable for paying their fair share to keep this nation rolling.  Heck, if the wealthy paid their share, we could eliminate the federal debt within a year!

Why Biden’s plan to tax the super rich is moving from unlikely to likely

And why it’s really really important

Robert Reich, 5 April 2022

America is on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history. As wealthy boomers expire over the next three decades, an estimated $30 trillion will go to their children. Those children will be able to live off of the income these assets generate, and then leave the bulk of them – which in the intervening years will have grown far more valuable – to their own heirs, tax-free. After a few generations of this, almost all of the nation’s wealth will be in the hands of a few thousand family dynasties.

Unless Joe Biden’s new tax plan is enacted — the odds of which is moving from unlikely to likely. I’ll explain in a moment.

Dynastic wealth runs counter to the ideal of America as a meritocracy. It makes a mockery of the notions that people earn what they’re worth in the market, and that economic gains should go to those who deserve them. It puts economic power into the hands of a small number of people who have never worked but whose investment decisions have a significant effect on the nation’s future. And it is antithetical to democracy.

We are well on the way. Already six out of the ten wealthiest Americans alive are heirs to prominent fortunes. The Walmart heirs alone have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined. The richest 1 tenth of 1 percent of Americans already owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

The last time America faced anything comparable occurred at the turn of the last century, in the first Gilded Age. Then, President Teddy Roosevelt warned that “a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power,” could destroy American democracy. Roosevelt’s answer was to tax wealth. The estate tax was enacted in 1916 and the capital gains tax in 1922.

Since then, both of Roosevelt’s taxes have been eroded by the moneyed interests. As the rich have accumulated more wealth, they have amassed more political power — which they’ve used to reduce their taxes. By now, the estate tax affects only a handful of super-wealthy families that are busily setting up “dynastic trusts” to circumvent what’s left of it. And the capital gains tax has been defanged by what’s known as the “stepped-up-basis-at-death” loophole. More on this in a moment.

Last week Joe Biden unveiled two tax proposals that would revive Teddy Roosevelt’s original vision, and could possibly slow or even reverse America’s march toward oligarchy: (1) a minimum income tax that Biden calls a billionaire tax but would in reality apply to households with a net worth of $100 million or more, and (2) a separate tax at death on gains from appreciated assets, even if the assets are not sold.

The odds are growing that at least one of these proposals will get through the Senate in April or May via “reconciliation” requiring only a bare majority (i.e., all fifty Democratic senators plus the vice president). I’m told Joe Manchin is mostly on board (which means the other Democratic holdout, Kyrsten Sinema, will sign on as well).

Let me go into a bit of detail on each:

(1) The minimum tax is a 20 percent levy on households with a net worth of more than $100 million, affecting the top 0.01 percent of earners. It would apply both to taxable earnings and to unrealized capital gains (the increased value of your assets), and would function as a kind of prepayment (analogous to withholding) of taxes that eventually would be owed upon the sale of appreciated assets or death.

For example, suppose someone named Mark Zuckerberg owns $100 billion of Facebook stock, for which he paid nothing when he founded the company, and has no other taxable income. For the first year under the Biden plan, he’d owe $20 billion in taxes even if he didn’t sell any Facebook shares. The next year, if his stock increased in value, he’d owe another prepayment equal to 20 percent of any increase in value beyond $100 billion. (There are other provisions to prevent the very wealthy from being taxed twice on the same income.)

The Treasury anticipates Biden’s new minimum tax would raise $360 billion in the first 10 years from America’s 20,000 richest households.  

(2) Biden’s second proposal would close the “stepped-up-basis-at death” loophole. Under today’s tax code, you pay capital gains taxes on the increased value of assets when you sell them. But if you pass your assets on to your heirs, they can sell them and not pay a penny of capital gains. In other words, you escape capital gains taxes by dying. They escape it by inheriting your wealth. (I remember years ago arguing that this loophole should be closed with then Treasury Secretary Lloyd Benson, who at one point pounded his fist on the table and exclaimed “death is an involuntary conversion!”)

That’s not all. Under current law, if heirs never sell these assets and they continue to gain value (as they almost certainly will), heirs can borrow against them to pay living expenses and then pass them on to their heirs, who won’t pay capital gains taxes either. Put this together with the unprecedented transfer of generational wealth about to occur, from rich boomer to their millennial children, and America’s oligarchy will become thoroughly entrenched in a small group of people who exercise all the power that comes with great wealth but have never worked a day in their lives.

Biden proposes simply to repeal the “stepped-up-basis-at-death” loophole. The value of assets would not be “stepped up” to their market value at the time of death. Their increased value would be subject to capital gains taxes as if they’d been sold before death.

Either of these tax reforms would be significant, and they fit nicely together. But if I were betting, I’d bet on the latter because Second President Manchin has sounded less enthusiastic about the first.

One thing we’ve all learned over the past fourteen months is not to rely on Manchin or on anything he says or commits to, so I’m not holding my breath. But if Manchin gives the green light, and Biden and the Democrats pull this off, it will be an historic rebirth of Teddy Roosevelt’s movement against dynastic wealth — perhaps Biden’s biggest single accomplishment. Taxing big wealth is necessary if we’re ever to get our democracy back and make our economy work for everyone rather than a privileged few.

Trump & Teddy Roosevelt-A Phony Populist vs. a Real One

Our friend Jeff from On the Fence Voters has a new venue … he’s a contributing writer for Politically Speaking, a publication at Today, he has written his first piece, and it is both thoughtful and thought-provoking … I hope you’ll take a look and follow him on Medium! Thanks, Jeff, for all your hard work! We’ll speak soon!

On The Fence Voters

Hello everyone. Recently I became a contributing writer for Politically Speaking, a publication at I wanted to share my first post with you and will do so in the future as well. I apologize in advance for using the former guy’s name-as well as writing anything about him. My pledge is to minimize the crazy man as much as possible. But this post really goes to the overall concept of populism, and how it can be used in a good way-and a despicable and dangerous way as well. Anyway, here is an excerpt. I’d greatly appreciate it if you click the link at the end and finish reading over at Medium. Thank you everybody!

Imagine a scenario where an ex-president broke away from his political party to form a new and exciting one based on reforming democracy as we know it. Things like standing up to corporations, providing health…

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Quotations On Presidential Responsibility

A few short, but very relevant quotes from a variety of presidents over the past century, by Charles French. Thank you, Charles …

charles french words reading and writing

In any time of crisis, the United States looks to its President for true leadership, for someone who can guide and understand the magnitude of the times, for someone who can also accept responsibility.



“The Buck Stops Here!” (from desk sign)

Harry S. Truman



“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Abraham Lincoln



“Let us not seek the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

                                                                          John F. Kennedy



“Power always brings with it responsibility.”

                                                                         Teddy Roosevelt

Sometimes, leaders do not rise to the necessary levels during such times of need.



“I don’t take responsibility at all.”

                                                                        Donald Trump

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Presidents Day ?????

Today is Presidents Day.  I considered ignoring the ‘holiday’ because we currently have no president worth honouring, but then I realized that the holiday is to celebrate all our past presidents.  While I could bore you with the history of the day, you can go to  for a comprehensive history, so I decided to regale you with some presidential trivia instead.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to name a woman to his cabinet: Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins as his secretary of labor in 1933. She was previously a social worker who worked in settlement houses in Chicago and Philadelphia. During her tenure at the department, she established the Labor Standards Bureau and was a principal architect of the Social Security Act.

Warren Harding had the largest shoe size: Size 14. His slippers and golf shoes are still on display at the Smithsonian.

Theodore Roosevelt wore a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair during his inauguration: The lock of hair was contained in a ring that was gifted to Roosevelt by John Hay, who worked for Lincoln during his presidency. Roosevelt wore the ring at his second inauguration in 1905. A great admirer of his predecessor, Roosevelt had watched Lincoln’s funeral procession pass by his house in New York.

Gerald Ford was a fashion model in his youth (even appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan): He was talked into the job by Phyllis Brown, a woman describes as his “first love.” They appeared together in a ski resort spread of Look magazine in 1940, as well as on the Cosmopolitan cover in 1942. Ultimately, however, she wanted to pursue modeling while he wanted to begin his career as a lawyer, which ended their relationship.

Four presidents have received the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama. Roosevelt was honored for his work on international peace, including on efforts to broker a peace treaty between Russia and Japan in 1905. Wilson was given the prize in 1919 for his work toward founding the League of Nations after World War I. Carter had already retired from the presidency but won the Nobel prize in 2002 because of his efforts on human rights resolving international conflicts. Mr. Obama was nominated for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said at the time.

George Washington owned a profitable whiskey distillery. Whiskey was one of Washington’s most important business ventures at Mount Vernon. At peak production in 1799, the distillery used five stills and a boiler and produced eleven thousand gallons of whiskey. With sales of $7,500 that year, it was perhaps the country’s largest distillery.

William Howard Taft became a Supreme Court Justice after his retirement. A graduate of Yale and Cincinnati Law School, Taft loved law but was unsure about politics. At the urging of his wife, Nellie, and mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, he reluctantly accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency, calling the presidential campaign “one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life.” After losing the 1912 election to Woodrow Wilson, Taft served as a professor of law at Yale and was later appointed by Warren Harding as chief justice of the United States, a pose he considered his greatest honor.

John Tyler had 15 children. Tyler was married twice. He had eight children with his first wife, Letitia. After she died, the 54-year-old president married the 24-year-old Julia Gardiner, with whom he had seven more children. Tyler wins the prize for being the most prolific of all American presidents.

Abraham Lincoln attended séances at the White House. Lincoln’s wife, Mary Lincoln, became interested in séances after their young son Willie died in 1862. At the White House, she engaged mediums, who conducted “spirit circles” or ceremonies during which those who attended could communicate with their loved ones who had crossed over into the next world. Mary was eager to believe in these mediums as it made her loss somewhat bearable, and she encouraged the president to attend a few séances, which he did. It is not clear if Lincoln participated to appease his wife or out of real interest and belief.

And a few really short tidbits …

George Washington’s false teeth were made from elephant and walrus tusks, gold, and ivory not wood.

John Adams was the first to live in the White House.

Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.

James Madison was the shortest president at 5-foot-4 inches.

James Monroe was the last founding father to serve as president.

John Quincy Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac every morning.

Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot he taught to curse.

Martin Van Buren coined the word “OK.”

William Henry Harrison had a pet goat.

Franklin Pierce was arrested during his presidency for running over a woman with his horse.

James Buchanan was a bachelor and never married.

Abraham Lincoln is honored in the wrestling hall of fame.

Ulysses S. Grant was given a ticket for riding his horse too fast.

Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to use a telephone and his number was 1.

James A. Garfield could write with both hands at the same time in different languages. (Pretty impressive when you consider that today’s prez cannot write in a single language with any hand!)

Chester A. Arthur owned 80 pairs of pants.

Grover Cleveland was the first and only to be married in the White House.

Benjamin Harrison never touched light switches because he was afraid he would be electrocuted.

Grover Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Making him the 22nd and 24th president.

William McKinley was the first president to have mass produced campaign buttons.

Theodore Roosevelt was shot while giving a speech and finished his speech with the bullet in his chest.

William H. Taft was the only former president to serve as chief justice on the Supreme Court and swore in presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

Woodrow Wilson is the only president to have a PhD.

Warren G. Harding gambled away a set of White House china.

Herbert Hoover spoke Chinese to his wife to keep their conversations private.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, were fifth cousins once removed.

Harry S. Truman does not have a middle name. His parents gave him the middle initial “S” as a tribute to his relatives whose names started with the letter S.

Dwight D. Eisenhower installed a putting green in the White House and played over 800 games of golf while in office.

John F. Kennedy was awarded a Purple Heart, which he received for his service in WWII.

Lyndon B. Johnson was a teacher before becoming president.

Richard Nixon partly funded his first political campaign with money he won playing poker while in the Navy.

Jimmy Carter filed a UFO sighting in 1973.

Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans and placed a standing order of 720 bags per month to be delivered to the White House and various federal buildings.

George H. W. Bush loves wearing colorful, patterned socks.

Bill Clinton is a two-time Grammy winner.

George W. Bush was the head cheerleader at his high school.

Barack Obama collects comic books.

And now you know enough about Presidents Day!  Oh … and don’t bother to check your mail today, for there is no mail delivery.Presidents Day

Little Donnie Dark and the Mean Ol’ Press

Ol’ Donnie-boy Trump is talking about maybe stopping the daily White House press briefings.  He was miffed by those who had the unmitigated gall to question him when he changed his story for about the third time regarding his firing of FBI Director James Comey, and said:

“Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

Well, he didn’t actually say it … he tweeted it.  That seems to be the only form of communication he knows these days.  Speaking of which … have you ever wondered why, every time he signs one of his ‘executive orders’ he has a crowd of people standing around?  I have two possible theories here.  Either they have come to ‘oooohhhh’ and ‘aaaahhhhh’ over the fact that he can actually sign his name, or else they had to help him make his letters.  Apparently he still needs some help …


Trump’s signature on an executive order

But back to the White House press briefings …

Right before the aforementioned tweet, he twitted:

“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!”

Oh for Pete’s sake!  Active president?  Active … destroying the environment, alienating our allies, provoking our antagonists, lying, tweeting endlessly, and tooting his own horn!  He could slow down on all those activities, and maybe, just maybe, he would have time to ensure that what comes out of the mouths of his staff is accurate.  And what does it even mean to “stand at podium with perfect accuracy”?  How can we be expected to pay serious attention to a man who cannot even speak properly?

One article I read suggested that perhaps it is time to end the long-standing tradition of the daily press briefings, given that today’s electronic communications would be a more efficient method for communicating news from within to without.  I heartily and vocally disagree!  First, reporters need to be able to ask questions and receive answers – or, at least get a ‘no comment’, which in itself says a heck of a lot sometimes.  Second, there is benefit to journalists spending some portion of their day in the White House, seeing and sensing activities they would not notice from their newsroom desks.  The press, whether Little Donnie Dark likes it or not, is one of our best means for oversight of the administration, and the current administration damn sure requires oversight!

There is some interesting history about how the daily briefings came into play.  In 1870, Philadelphia Free Press’ social correspondent Emily Briggs argued that what happened at the White House should be public knowledge because taxpayers paid for its upkeep, saying, “When we go to the Executive Mansion, we go to our own house. We recline on our own satin and ebony.”


William “Fatty” Price of the Washington Evening Star was one of the first reporters to ‘work the White House beat’. He started standing outside the gate of the Executive Mansion during Grover Cleveland’s second term and asking visitors leaving the building what their meetings had been about. Shortly thereafter, Cleveland’s first-time private secretary Daniel Lamont (whose job was akin to that of today’s White House Chief of Staff) began the tradition of having a White House aide answer reporters’ questions.


Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt continued the trend of increasing access for reporters. He treated his “newspaper cabinet” to regular direct conversation, typically during his early afternoon shave. In 1902, journalists got their own office in the West Wing. He used favorite correspondents for ‘trial balloon’ stories, with the expectation that he would deny the truth of the story if the reaction was a bad one. (Sound familiar?


Woodrow Wilson

Under Woodrow Wilson, press conferences went from invitation-only gatherings to events open to all reporters. The first official press conference took place shortly after Wilson took office.  His private secretary announced to reporters that the President would “look them in the face and chat with them for a few minutes” at 12:45 p.m. on March 15, 1913. When 125 newspaper staffers showed up, Wilson said, “I did not realize there were so many of you. Your numbers force me to make a speech to you en masse instead of chatting with each of you, as I had hoped to do, and thus getting greater pleasure and personal acquaintance out of this meeting.”

Along the way, President Harding would answer only questions submitted in writing, and President Hoover required all questions to be submitted 24 hours in advance.  Rather limiting, yes?  The most visible president was Franklin D. Roosevelt who often held press conferences twice a week. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty was the first to organize televised presidential press conferences, the first on January 31, 1955.


Throughout the years, some presidents have embraced the press briefings, while others found ways to curtail them.  Ronald Reagan’s press secretary James S. Brady, for whom the Briefing Room is named, used to joke that he and Reagan always planned on installing a trap door so reporters who “got out of line” would fall into the swimming pool if he pushed a button on his podium. But ultimately, most have come to the conclusion that having reporters and photographers available on a daily basis to carry their message to the public is more of an asset than a liability.  And then along comes Little Donnie Dark …

press-1Trump has not been a fan of the press, even referring to them as “the enemy of the American people”. In truth, the press are the guardians of American democracy, holding elected officials accountable and defending free speech. Trump’s real nemesis is the truth. By attacking the media, he opens up a new line of attack against facts, his true target. He is, after all, the Gaslighter in Chief. He is trying to confuse the public so that they will not believe inconvenient truths.

So now Trump is considering halting the daily press briefings.  The past week has been the epitome of conflicting alternative truths, proving that this administration cannot even keep their lies straight.  Does the daily briefing have any value anymore, if we cannot believe a single word that comes out of the mouths of Sean Spicer or his assistant, Sarah Huckabee Sanders?  If this administration continues to eschew truth, facts, and transparency as they have done for almost four months now, then we must make a choice.  We must choose between a president who will become an autocrat and rule under the cover of darkness, or we must choose to oust this administration in favour of one that respects the rights of the people to know what their government is doing.

The press is not infallible, but they are our last best hope to maintain the freedoms and the system of government that enables us to write as I am writing today, to walk down the street without fear of harassment, to speak our minds without fear of being imprisoned.

So … Who Is Right? or … Filosofa Takes on the Ranchers …

I have thought of writing this post for about ten days now, but have been hesitant because there are several nuances surrounding the story that make it less cleancut, less black-and-white than most things I write about. I nearly decided not to address this situation at all, but it kept nagging at me. So today I did my homework (nearly 3 hours worth, I might add) and, while I still see some grey areas, I think it needs to be discussed and I think I need to take a position. The situation I am referring to is that of the ranchers calling themselves a militia who are illegally occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southern Oregon. I suppose I just made my position clear, but let us take a look at the entire situation.

In case any are not aware yet, the Malheur Refuge was established in 1908 by then President Theodore Roosevelt to provide a safe haven for waterfowl and migratory birds. It occupies 187,757 acres (293 square miles) of land in Southeastern Oregon.

This is reportedly an event whose roots go all the way back to 1993, or perhaps even earlier. Some of you may remember the situation of Cliven Bundy in Nevada in early 2014. Mr. Bundy had been grazing his cattle on federal lands since 1993 with no permit to do so. Initially he had applied for and been issued a permit, but when said permit came up for renewal in 1993, he refused to pay the annual fee and his permit was revoked. Nonetheless, rancher Bundy continued to graze his cattle. In 2014 (and I cannot understand why they waited twenty years) Bundy’s cattle were impounded by the USBLM (United States Bureau of Land Management) allegedly to settle the more than $1 million debt Mr. Bundy owes to the federal government and thus to the citizens of the U.S., and he was arrested.

Fast forward to 2001 when father and son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, whose land abuts the Malheur Refuge, set fire to the federal lands. Witnesses, including a nephew of Hammond, confirmed that the fire was intentionally set. The nephew testified that he was told to start lighting matches and “light the whole countryside on fire”! The other witnesses were hunters who claimed to have seen the Hammonds slaughter an entire herd of deer. Within two hours of reporting their sighting, the fire was started and burned through the area in which the hunters had been encamped. The Hammonds were both convicted of arson of federal lands, which carries a minimum 5-year sentence. For whatever reason, the judge ultimately imposed much lesser sentences (12 months for the father, 3 months for the son). The government appealed the sentence, but as is to be expected, things dragged along … until …

… 2006, when once again the Hammonds are in court, charged with arson of federal lands. While there was no doubt that the 2001 case was arson, the 2006 case is a little less cut and dried. Apparently, the Hammonds were burning off some brush and the fire got out of control, burning federal lands. A couple of problems with this allegation are that they were doing so under the cover of night and without having notified the BLM firefighters, four of whom were nearly entrapped by the fire. So, while intent may be questionable, the implication is that yes, there was wrongdoing on the part of the Hammonds. Two days into the investigation of the 2006 fire, the Hammonds reportedly threatened a BLM employee with arson if he didn’t “stop the investigation”.

In the interim, the Hammonds were arrested for destroying a fence marking the border between their land and federal land, so they could illegally graze their cattle on federal lands. They were also arrested more than once for threats of violence against BLM employees. Nice people, huh?

Now returning to present day. The Hammonds were convicted and sentenced to five (5) years imprisonment in 2015. Their sentences were to start in January 2016. Which brings us to the occupation of the Malheur Refuge. A rally was held in a nearby town on January 2nd to protest what was called an unjust sentence and to raise funds for their legal fees. After the rally, the Bundy clan (you were wondering where they came into this picture, weren’t you?) led a small group of heavily armed protestors to the Malheur Refuge with the intent to occupy the main building. There is debate about the number of armed people who occupied the refuge on January 2nd … they claim 150, but one eyewitness report estimates 6-12, while another puts the number at 20-25. Either way, a small group, relatively speaking.

The protestors, who call themselves militia, but I refuse to use that term, as it indicates some level of organization and authenticity that isn’t in evidence, have a list of demands that include:
1. “Return” of federal lands to private interests (presumably the ranchers themselves)
2. More lenient sentences for the Hammonds
3. Inquiry into the alleged taking of ranchers land by government agencies
They say they are prepared to “kill and be killed” to have these demands met. An invitation, perhaps?

The government response to the occupation has been notably low-key. Most speculation is that they do not want this to result in a situation comparable to Waco (1993) or Ruby Ridge (1992). To date, there are no injuries reported. The protestors did use a piece of government equipment to destroy a fence between the federal lands and another rancher’s property, but the other rancher claimed he did not give them permission to do so, and he promptly rebuilt the fence! The media, on the other hand, although not saying much for the past week, initially tried very hard to stir the pot of public sentiment by asking the public if the government response would have been as low-key if these protestors had been African-Americans, and by attempting to define the protestors as “terrorists”. Surprisingly, neither ploy garnered a lot of attention and both of those tangents seem to have died, thankfully.

Now for the take on this whole thing. There are certainly some extenuating circumstances. The 2006 fire may not have been intentional, though it still has certain suspicious elements. While it is undeniable that the Hammonds 2015 sentencing is just regarding the 2001 arson, it was a long time coming. On the other side of the coin, neither the Hammonds nor the Bundys are exactly model citizens, but that in and of itself does not constitute a crime. And there is some question, which I cannot address here because I do not have sufficient information, about Hammond’s ancestral claim to the disputed land on which the refuge is situated. However, all that said, there is a right way and a wrong way to protest against the government. These people, calling themselves a militia are truly nothing more than a bunch of thugs, carrying their legal assault-type weapons, and they are not going about it the right way, are not within the bounds of the law, and do not deserve, in this manner, to have their voices heard. Even the American Cattleman’s Association, who do support their cause, do not support their methods. Interestingly, it appears that some of them are getting bored with the whole thing and going home to their families, their ranches, their lives. We can only hope that within the next few days there is nobody left but the Bundy clan and they are going to look pretty darned foolish sitting there all by themselves. That is, at least, how I hope it comes out. Whether you believe they have some valid points or not, threats of violence, particularly against the federal government and thus against us all, are definitely not the proper way to accomplish their goals. No, they are not terrorists, but just a bunch of under-educated fools who apparently do not know the expression by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “the pen is mightier than the sword”.