Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Fresh Horses: Bush Brings Butchery to the Homeland

From the Moscow Times, Dec. 17, 2002

It was a largely secret operation, its true intentions masked by pious rhetoric and bogus warnings of imminent danger to the American way of life. Having gained the complicity of a somnolent Congress, George W. Bush calmly signed a death warrant for thousands upon thousands of innocent victims: a native population whose land and resources were coveted by a small group of powerful elites seeking to augment their already vast dominance – by any means necessary, including mass slaughter.

A flashback to March 2003, when Bush finally brought his long-simmering witch's brew of aggressive war to the boil? Not at all – it's happening right now, even as we speak. This time, however, the victims are not the Iraqi people, but one of the last remaining symbols of pure freedom left in America itself: the nation's herd of wild horses, galloping unbridled on the people's common lands.

With an obscure provision smuggled into the gargantuan budget bill – 3,000 pages of pork and chicanery slapped together at the last minute and approved, unread, by Bush's rubberstamp Republicans and those wiggly bits of protoplasm known laughingly as the "Democratic opposition" – Bush stripped the nation's wild horses of their long-standing legal protections against being sold off, slaughtered and shipped overseas for meat. Under the 1971 Wild Horse Protection Act, a small number of wild horses could be culled under certain restrictions. Bush's new plan, spearheaded by Montana Senator Conrad Burns – longtime bagman for Big Cattle interests – eliminates most of the restrictions, throwing the door wide open for a massive sell-off and slaughterfest. Bush and Burns aren't shy about it, either; their declared aim is to kill up to 20,000 wild horses in the next year alone. (The new death penalty also applies to the horses' less glamorous – but no less free – compadres: wild burros. Up to 10,000 of these are now earmarked for the knackers' yard.)

Why must these magnificent beasts be massacred, after decades of bipartisan protection? If they could speak, no doubt they'd look at the state terrorists in the Bush Regime and say: "They hate us for our freedoms." And certainly, anyone cramped within the narrow confines of a harsh, blinkered fundamentalism would be offended, even unmanned, by the sight of such splendid avatars of liberty. First brought to America by the Spanish conquistadors, these bold rebels broke free of their masters and have roamed wild and unbound for centuries. Their very existence is a living reproach to crippled souls obsessed with conquest, control, and domination. So they must be destroyed.

Well, that's a nice conceit – but the reality of the situation will hardly bear such tragic grandeur and psychological angst. Like its mirror image, the Iraq atrocity, Bush's horse caper is essentially just a grubby little piece of graft: his fat-cat pals want to get fatter, so they use the federal government as a front for looting the public treasury. Meanwhile – as with Iraq – Bush ladles out the BS to cover their tracks.

Here's how it works. The nation's 50,000 wild horses roam on federal land – that is, land held in common by the entire American people. Bigtime ranchers also use this land to graze millions of their privately-owned cattle. Able to buy and sell politicians like so much prime stock, the wealthy ranchers have rigged up a long-running sweetheart deal (100 years old and still going strong) that gives them access to this common pasturage at bargain prices: less than one-tenth of the going market rate for private grazing land. The result is an effective annual subsidy of more than $500 million to some of the richest men in America. As always, your rootin', tootin' cowboy capitalists must be protected from the risks of the "free market" at every turn – even as they impose it, at gunpoint, on others.

It's certainly a juicy deal – but like all good Bushists, they want more. Why do they want more? Simply because it's there, and they want it. Yes, our leaders and elites are that witless. Which is not to say they're stupid, of course. After all, given the manifold imperfections of our still-evolving brainpans, it's entirely possible to be devious and cunning in pursuit of your basest desires while remaining perfectly oblivious to their pointlessness and brutality – and to their origin in the blind electrical firings of those primitive layers of the mind we all share with the rat, the pig and the chicken.

So the ranchers want the horses off public land so they can cram more cows in there and make more money through their sweetheart deals. The resource at issue here is grass, not oil, but the principle is the same as in Bush's witless, pig-layer adventure in Iraq: me want, they got; kill them, give me.

And as in Iraq, Bush's horse-killing policy is swaddled with lies and fearmongering. The ranchers say they must be given even more public subsidies, or else the sacred right of all Americans to churn cheap beef through their intestines twice a day might be lost – and that would mean the terrorists win, right? Meanwhile, Bush says it costs too much to let all the wild horses live out their natural lives. Yet the total annual outlay for the federal horse programs – $50 million – is a fraction of ranchers' yearly gorging at the public trough. The tiniest increase in grazing fees could cover the programs' costs for decades – while still keeping the delicate cow barons well-protected from that mean old free market.

Bush also claims the horses are gobbling up too much government grass; yet private cattle on federal lands outnumber wild horses by 50-1. Indeed, past government studies have consistently recommended reducing cattle numbers to save deteriorating rangeland. Needless to say, the ranchers' prime stock in Congress will never let that happen.

But we do Mr. Bush and his cohorts wrong to imply they are completely witless. Certainly they exhibit a sense of humor – of the heavy, frat-boy doofus variety – in commiting their depredations. For example, the very day after Bush consigned 20,000 living creatures to unnecessary slaughter, Congress proclaimed a new "National Day of the Horse" – a yearly celebration of the animal's "vital contribution" to American culture.

What yocks, eh? No doubt the dead horses will enjoy this great honor just as much as the 100,000 slaughtered Iraqis enjoy their "liberation."

Chris Floyd