Well, I guess it's pretty clear that Cliven Bundy won't be getting an NBA franchise any time soon. Bundy is the rancher from Bunkerville, Nevada, who decided not to pay the rent for grazing his cattle on federal land for something like 20 years. He is now shocked that the Bureau of Land Management is finally trying to collect. They have been to court, have judgments against him, and are sort of at the point in the process where the deadbeat tenant's junk dragged out to the curb. Or in this case, the BLM rounds up his trespassing, freeloading cattle and sends them off to the nearest McDonalds.
But of course Bundy is a special case, and denies the authority of the U.S. Government (despite parading around with an U.S. flag a good portion of the time). With the aid of a frightening group of well-armed nuts, they pushed the confrontation with the BLM almost to the point of violence. BLM had the good judgment to back off. It's really not worth getting a whole lot of people shot up over unpaid grazing fees, even though the grazing fees remain unpaid.
Bundy somehow became the darling of the wacko right wing, standing up to Federal authority, and defending his God-given right to squat on public lands. It's not clear how they would react to the Occupy Wall Street crowd setting up shop on public lands. Even if they wore cowboy hats, I think the right wing would not be supportive. I had to wonder how Bundy would react if I dropped off a truckload of cattle to graze the same area of public lands. Would he welcome me as a fellow traveler in the cause of liberty, or would he object to my cows eating "his" grass? It's only "his" grass because BLM gave him a permit. Would he call BLM to complain? Nobody really thought that through.
A county commissioner in San Juan County, Utah, decided to jump on the bandwagon and stage an ATV drive on a road that BLM has closed to travel. We all know that there is a constitutional right to drive ATVs any place we want. The founding fathers were very concerned about the use of ATVs on lands the federal government wouldn't steal from Mexico for another 50 years.
And then Bundy delivered a racist rant about how black people would be better off as slaves than receiving federal subsidies. The irony of the federal subsidies of public lands-based ranchers apparently never crossed his mind. Suddenly, Bundy was radioactive, and nobody wanted to be seen with him. The right-wing politicians who had been shouting in solidarity with him suddenly were asking, "Bundy who?" He was on his own.
Well, not completely on his own. There are still some of the militia members there, ready to valiantly put the women out front to catch the first shots from the Federal authorities. But otherwise, pretty much on his own. There's not much to do in Bunkerville, and the news media packed up and left. There's only so much footage of cows eating Federal grass the folks at Fox need. Once he launched the racist rant, his borderline rational supporters had the good judgment to beat feet out of there. My guess is that BLM will find it easier to seize his bank account than the physical cattle. It will end with a whimper, or Federal bankruptcy petition.
While Bundy's outburst was still simmering in the news, he was completely upstaged by Donald Sterling, the owner of the L.A. Clippers basketball team. In a tape made by his ex-mistress while they were working out the payoff terms, he was heard to say that -- well, you've heard it. It was just bizarre, and terribly offensive in any context. In the context of professional basketball, which seemed like a real success story in this country's difficult racial history, it was just awful.
The league's players responded with appropriate indignation. The highly profitable playoff season was in danger of being cut short by a very understandable walkout by the players. I'd feel better if there had also been a boycott by fans, but you take what you can get. So the league took extraordinary action that is really only possible because of the franchise system, and banned Sterling from any involvement. They are asking the other owners to exercise unique contractual authority to force him to sell the team. Sterling has one defender. His wife seems to think he is a wonderful man, despite the occasional racist rant made to his mistress.
Anyway, as is so often the case, Jon Stewart hit it exactly right. He said we all have the right of free speech, no matter how disgusting. We just don't have the right of "consequence-free" free speech.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.