On this side of the law
On that side of the law
Who is weak? Who is wrong?
Who is for and who’s against… the law
PARIS – Investors took a break from selling their stocks yesterday. The Dow rose 228 points – or about 1.5%.
So, we return our attention to the freedom fighters holed up on the high plains… and their standoff with the law in a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon.
We have been reading our mailbag with interest and unease. Readers are upset with our thoughts on the protest leaders, the Bundys, and their takeover of a public park in Oregon. (See today’s mailbag below for those responses.)
We’re not surprised. We weren’t happy with our thoughts either. We reread it three times.
There was something wrong with it. The tone? The emphasis? The substance? We couldn’t figure out what was the matter. (And not merely that Burns is on the east side, not the west side, of the Cascades, as some readers rightly pointed out.)
Were we being unfair to the cowboys? Was this really just a case of naïve yahoos challenging a minor outpost of the Deep State?
As long-time Diary sufferers know, we cherish the right to be wrong like a moonshiner cherishes his still. We’d be out of business without it.
Most of the reader feedback you’ll find below tells us how the feds have run roughshod over the prairies of the West… and how the Bundys are patriots for standing up to them.
Perhaps we should have doffed our cap. Are they not heroes – the Ed Snowdens of Oregon? The Bravehearts of Sage? The Parnells of the Prairie?
Should we not say a prayer and wish them well, rather than ridiculing them?
Like the magician in the movie Closely Watched Trains, the Bundys bravely stand before a column of Wehrmacht tanks… and command them to stop. “And they did stop,” recounts the magician’s son, “for a few seconds.”
There is something romantically, sentimentally attractive about facing down a tank. As friend to underdog and halfwit, we admire those who do it.
But as a weathered observer and hardboiled cynic, we wonder: Do these heroes have a hope or a clue? Do they know who is right and who is wrong? On which side of the law do they fall?
The world would be a less entertaining place without them but not necessarily a better place because of them.
“If you set out to take Vienna,” said Napoleon, “take Vienna.”
We doubt the Bundys will take Vienna. Most who try – like Bonaparte himself – would probably be better off staying at home.
We’ll try to answer these questions in more depth another time… Since this is Friday, we reach into the archives for more on the subject of heroes, patriots, and our favorite U.S. president.
One king has a long nose, like Louis IX. Another has a pert, little snoze that turns up and makes him look boyish even when he’s commanding executioners.
Occasionally, subjects of a kingdom get a rotten monarch who cannot leave well enough alone… and occasionally they get a bonnie prince and good king who spends his time dallying with courtesans and leaves his countrymen in peace.
Even a bad king, like Charles I, was better than a self-righteous hustler, such as Oliver Cromwell, who cut his head off. As long as Cromwell lived, Britain knew no peace; after he was gone, the country gratefully and eagerly brought back another Charles, dusted him off, and put him back on the throne.
Cromwell was more like a modern president: a leader by intention and design, rather than by dumb luck. This made him immeasurably less suited to lead, in our opinion, because he was full of foolish ideas and ruinous plans – like Woodrow Wilson or Franklin.
Having no royalty, Americans have only their elected presidents to bow before. Too bad they always seem to choose the wrong ones.
An honest and upright man has no place in national politics. A man with his wits about him is too modest for the role. He suffers greatness as a sort of hypocrisy.
He has no better idea of how the nation should be led than anyone else – and he knows it. Dissembling wears him down until he is shouldered out of the way by bolder liars and abject stoneheads.
The former will say whatever the voters want to hear – and then go on with disastrous projects. The latter have no plans or fixed ideas of any sort… They merely shake hands and blabber whatever cockamamie nonsense comes into their heads.
The former never make good presidents. The latter often do.
Many of the best U.S. presidents – Garfield, Harding, and Arthur – are rarely even mentioned. Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, on the other hand, are routinely described as national heroes.
Nobody really knows which president was good for the nation and which was bad. We would have to know what would have happened if the man in the Oval Office had done something different.
Would the nation be better off if Lincoln had not slaughtered so many southerners? Would world history have been worse if Wilson had not meddled in World War I?
We can’t know the answers; we can only guess. But the historians who guess about such matters have a disturbing tilt – not toward mediocrity, but toward imbecility.
Like crooked butchers, they advertise our biggest mutton brains as prime beef – and push their thumbs down on the scales of history to give them extra weight. Those they select as “great” are merely those who have given them the most meat – those who have made the biggest public spectacles of themselves.
Most historians rate Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt as our greatest presidents. But every one of them might just as well be charged with dereliction, gross incompetence and treason.
Every one of them at one time or another betrayed the constitution, got the country into a war that probably could have been avoided, and practically bankrupted the nation.
The presumption that underlies the popular opinion is that a president faces challenges. He is rated on how well he faces up to them. But the biggest challenge a president will face is no different from that faced by a Louis or a Charles – merely staying out of the way.
People have their own challenges, their own plans, their own private lives to lead. The last thing they need is a president who wants to improve the world. Every supposed improvement cost citizens dearly.
If it is a bridge, it is they who must pay for it, whether it is needed or not. If it is a law forbidding this or regulating that… it is their activities that are proscribed. If it is a war, it is they who must die.
Every step toward phony public do-goodism comes at the expense of genuine private improvements.
That is why a president who does nothing is a treasure.
William Henry Harrison, for example, was a model national leader. Rare in a president, he did what he promised to do. He told voters that he would “under no circumstances” serve more than a single term.
He made good on his promise in the most conclusive way. The poor man caught pneumonia giving his inaugural address. He was dead within 31 days of taking the oath of office.
James A. Garfield was another great. He took office in March of 1881. The man was a marvel – he could write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other… at the same time. He was shot in July and died three months later.
“He didn’t have time to accomplish his plans,” say the standard histories.
Millard Fillmore was one of America’s greatest presidents. He did little – other than trying to preserve peace in the period leading up to the War Between the States.
Preserving peace was an achievement, but instead of giving the man credit, historians hold up the humbug Abraham Lincoln for praise. America has never suffered more harm than on Lincoln’s watch.
Still, it is the Lincoln Memorial to which crowds of agitators and malcontents repair, not the Fillmore Memorial. As far as we know, no monument exists to Fillmore, who not only kept the peace… but also installed the first system of running water in the White House, giving the place its first bathtub.
Fillmore was a modest man. Oxford University offered him an honorary degree. But Fillmore couldn’t read Latin. He refused the diploma, saying he didn’t want a degree he couldn’t read.
If Fillmore couldn’t read Latin, Andrew Johnson was lucky to be able to read at all. He never went to any kind of school; his wife taught him to read.
He too is often held up as an example of a failed presidency. Instead, he seems to have made one of the best deals for the American people – buying Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.
Who has added so much since? Who has actually made the nation richer, rather than poorer? Johnson did the nation a great service. Still, he gets little respect and practically no thanks.
But our favorite president is Warren Gamaliel Harding.
In his hit book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell tells how Harry Daugherty, a leader of the Republican party in Ohio, met Warren Gamaliel Harding in 1899 in the back garden of the Globe Hotel in Richwood, Ohio. Both were having their shoes shined.
Daugherty blinked and thought he saw a man who could be president. Journalist Mark Sullivan described the moment:
Harding was worth looking at. He was, at the time, about 35 years old. His head, features, shoulders, [comma] and torso had a size that attracted attention, their proportions to each other made an effect, which in any male at any place would justify more than the term “handsome.”
In later years, when he came to be known beyond his local world, the word “Roman” was occasionally used in descriptions of him. As he stepped down from the stand, his legs bore out the striking and agreeable proportions of his body, and his lightness on his feet, his erectness, his easy bearing added to the impression of physical grace and virility.
His suppleness, combined with his bigness of frame and his large, wide-set rather glowing eyes, his very black hair, and bronze complexion gave him some of the handsomeness of an Indian.
His courtesy, as he surrendered his seat to the other customer, suggested genuine friendliness toward all mankind. His voice was noticeably resonant, masculine, and warm. His pleasure in the attentions of the bootblack’s whisk reflected a consciousness about clothes unusual in a small-town man. His manner as he bestowed a tip suggested generous good-nature, a wish to give pleasure, based on physical well-being and sincere kindliness of heart.
Not only did Harding have the looks and the presence – he also had the bad-boy image.
Gladwell writes, “Not especially intelligent. Liked to play poker and to drink… and most of all, chase women; his sexual appetites were the stuff of legend.”
As he rose from one office to the next, he “never distinguished himself.” His speeches were vacuous. He had few ideas… and those that he had were probably bad ones. Still, when Daughtery arranged for Harding to speak to the 1916 Republican National Convention, he guessed what might happen.
“There is a man who looks like he should be president,” the onlookers would say.
“Harding became President Harding,” wrote Gladwell. “He served two years before dying unexpectedly of a stroke. He was, most historians agree, one of the worst presidents in American history.”
But on the surface, he sounds like one of the best. We have never heard of anyone being arrested and charged under the “Harding Act.” We have never seen a building in Washington, or anywhere else, named The Harding Building. We know of no wars the man caused. We recall no government programs he set in motion.
As far as we know, the nation and everyone in it was no better off the day Warren Harding stepped into office than they were they day he was carried out of it.
Harding was a decent man of reasonable talents. He held poker games in the White House twice a week. And whenever he got a chance, he snuck away to a burlesque show. These pastimes seemed enough for the man; they helped him bear up in his eminent role… and keep him from wanting to do anything.
Another saving grace was that President Harding neither thought nor spoke clearly enough for anyone to figure out what he was talking about. He couldn’t rally the troops… and get them behind his ideas; he had none. And even if he tried, they wouldn’t understand him.
H.L. Mencken preserved a bit of what he called “Gamalielese,” just to hold it up to ridicule:
I would like government to do all it can to mitigate, then, in understanding in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved.
The sentence is so idiotic and meaningless, it could have come from the mouth of our current president. But the crowds seemed to like the way he delivered it.
He said it with such solid conviction, said Mencken, it “was like a blacksmith bringing down a hammer on an egg.”
Harding was so full of such thunderous twaddle that he stormed into office… and then drizzled away until he died.
Further Reading: On Wednesday, we sent the latest issue of Bill’s Book Club exclusively to Bill Bonner Letter Lifetime subscribers. In it, Bill discusses a new Roman history book he’s reading… and the important lessons he’s taking from it. He also weighs in on the JFK conspiracy theories, after watching a reader-suggested YouTube video.
To find out how you can become a Lifetime member – and to hear Bill’s first-hand account of the Argentine disaster that prompted him to create this special membership offer – watch here now.
After a lengthy absence, “risk off” trade is back in vogue in 2016.
As you can see from today’s chart, the only two assets showing positive returns this year are Treasury bonds and gold.
Both are traditional “safe havens” in times of rising market risk.
The Full Story of What’s Going On in Oregon
The main frustration in Oregon is the ridiculous arrest of a father and son pair of ranchers – the Hammonds – under “anti-terrorism” laws after a routine burn on their ranch triggered a grassland fire.
Five Things You Should Know About the Oregon Standoff
Did you know the Hammonds were given five years in jail… even after a judge recommended less than one-year sentences? Or that the protestors include former U.S. Marines?
Judge in Hammond Arson Case – Sentence Was “Grossly Disproportionate”
The Hammonds will serve five-year mandatory minimum sentences for starting a back fire… even though U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said the sentences were “grossly disproportionate.”
Earlier this week, we passed along a note from our colleagues at Agora Financial. They claim the world’s largest financial institutions are hurrying to meet with one highly secretive man…
He’s one of the most connected government men in the world, and key players such as HSBC and American Express are rushing to him with big questions.
As one reader put, “Holy cow!”
Yesterday, we got a torrent of reader emails – including more requests to cancel Diary subscriptions, following Bill’s coverage of the standoff between protestors and the federal government in a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon. (Catch up here and here.)
So, today… another extended mailbag edition to accommodate as much of that feedback as possible.
You think they’re clowns? Cancel anything I have coming from you.– Shirley M.
Bill Bonner’s views on this subject just re enforce my previous decision to dump all of his e-products! For an educated man he puts out a lot of Drivil!– William L.
Stick to economics because if all you bring to the table on the situation in Oregon is what the New York commie times has to say you, have not done your homework on the situation at Burns Oregon.
How dare you and the times say the people there are not welcome. It after all, it is supposed to be public land. So now the hillbillies and hayseeds are no longer part of the public?
I’m sure that if the Chilean government comes and takes your ranch from you, you will be singing from a different choir book. Kinda wish it would happen to you, as then you might feel the pain these GOD fearing hard working ranchers have had to put up with. At least the ones still standing. If your going to make your voice heard LEARN THE FACTS.– Ken W.
As a client, I had thought you would approach investment life, and everyday life, from a more conservative standpoint. Why would you quote the New York Times as if it were Gospel?– John S.
With government overreach becoming the standard mode of operation, I fail to see your humor in berating American citizens who are willing to take a stand for what they believe.
Is your solution to let the government “Deep State” do what ever it wants because it is too difficult to fight back?
You might want to consider rooting for the under dog. Thomas Jefferson had some very strong thoughts about government run a muck and the blood of patriots and that’s the real purpose of the 2nd Amendment.– Richard T.
I find your evaluation of the Oregon Protesters to be overly flippant. I find it lacking a real analysis.
Also, having read some about the two brothers accused of “terrorism” by the federal government, you calling them arsonists is appalling. Maybe if you were living here in the USA, your perspective to what is occurring here would be different.
I am not wholly sympathetic with the protesters, but it is so obviously apparent that something is occurring that is bigger than I am… or you are.– Gary F.
As you know I have enjoyed your musings for years. Your wit and roguishness is in a league of it’s own. I do however have to take you to task on your treatment of the Hammond/Bundy affair in eastern Oregon.
To start with the disputed area is east of the Cascades, not west. This geographical mistake shows a distinct lack of knowledge of the situation that pervades your entire take on the issue. Calling the Hammonds “arsonists” also attests to your lack of understanding of the situation. No one who has read the details of the situation would call these ranchers arsonists.
The Bundys run one of the largest privately owned cattle ranches in Nevada with assets worth millions of dollars, hardly “cowboy clowns” as you suggest. The Bundys, with the help of over a thousand fellow patriots, managed to make the BLM stand down in it’s attempt to steal a large portion of the Bundy Ranch. This action of “the people” to stop an aggressive illegal action by a contractor to the U.S. government ought to be honored and supported by a freedom loving person such as yourself.– Tolling J.
I am a NY attorney. And even by NY attorney standards, your article re the Oregon standoff is condescending and elitist.
Ironically most of your writing is usually aimed at sarcastically mocking this type of deep state elitism. The Bundys may be unsophisticated bumpkins to you, but they have physical and moral courage I doubt you can equal. Five years in prison for burning grass as has been done for generations, is a bit violative of the 8th Amendment me thinks.– Bob U.
I have really enjoyed most of your material. However, you are way off base on the harshness of your description of the Oregon situation.
Perhaps you have spent to many years behind a desk. The folk who feed us from the prairie and farms know how to care for the land and keep food on our table. “Arsonists ” is a bit too harsh for a polished writer like you to insert in this scenario…– William H.
Why are these occupiers labeled “armed ___”?
Propaganda wording. It is not illegal nor unconstitutional nor always dumb to be armed.– Joe A.
You don’t understand grass farmers/ livestock men/ patriots still living in the American Outback. These cowboys are anything but clowns, and making fun of the way they dress or the way they “home school” their children just shows why you escaped to France instead of Burns, OR.
Your in good stead, though, as the French don’t understand them either.– James M.
It is difficult to reason with anyone from the East. They seem to think that we are their park. And most of all they think that they are much better equipped to care for that park. Federal control of Western lands is not only wrong. It is obscene.– Mervyn C.
The people in Oregon (the militia) have the right idea, but are going about it very wrongly.
By Constitutional authorization the federal government can’t own any land within any State except what is necessary to fulfill its authorized functions (post offices and other such functions granted to the central government such as naval bases).
It also cannot own territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam. And it cannot have a Marine Corp (except subject to coastal defense) or an army or military bases (except for coastal defense). Except in time of war.
In war the Constitution is (partially or wholly) suspended and the President may rule, as a dictator, through Executive Order. The federal Constitution was suspended in the war of 1860 and has never been restored.– Samuel H.
People that live in the rural West know that the landscape changes rarely in their lifetime and think in terms of all directions and miles. There is a feeling of knowing that much is uncontrollable and in God’s hands, controlling rain and sun and wind and temperatures. The feeling of “home” is not in terms of houses and yards, but in your place and position in the larger surrounding space. You are a part of the land, no matter who actually legally owns the property. It’s a different type of mindset.
To have the government decide that things are out of your influence and that you no longer matter in any decisions concerning land use is fundamentally shattering. That’s why this revolt is happening. The lawyers are operating in a different universe.– Caroline S.
It is truly amazing to me how many people who read your column do not understand your personality, your observations or your delivery. Keep those curves and sliders coming; it is a treat to be informed and entertained at the same time.– Darrell D.
Holy cow! I can see it now if it were 1775. From the tone of your latest missives, it would be: “What chance do these ragtag idiots have against the best army in the world?”
Please help us understand. The stated goal of your entire organization is to help people to attain a better life. You have family. We have family. Are we just supposed to pass on to them advice like, “Cross your fingers, and hope you live under a benevolent government that will allow you to live”
I get it. All power corrupts. But don’t you think people have the right, and obligation, to fight to get boots of oppression off their neck the guns at their head holstered and unloaded?
These folks obviously didn’t learn much from the Waco conflagration or the feds’ response to the occupation of Fort Sumter. There will always be a psychopath to act as enforcer when you challenge their authority – whether that’s Abe Lincoln or “Flamin’ Johnny” Reno … especially when you deny their legitimacy and occupy federal land/facilities. They don’t like that.– Tom W.
You missed a couple of facts. The Oregon ranchers had a fire on their property get away from them, onto federal land. The ranchers were found guilty and served their time. A judge then decided they didn’t serve enough and sent them back. The ranchers also paid restitution.
There was also a number of campers that had fire get away from them, and they had no jail time nor did they pay cost. Why the difference? Not reasonable.– David S.
I have also lived in Oregon for 67 years and seen first hand the wrong headed abuse of the land in our wonderful State.
By the way, Burns is east of the Cascade mountains. We have some of the finest land and weather in the nation to live on and raise a family on. We do not need the interference of the bullyboys in Washington to come out here and interfere with things that they have no understanding.
We are quite capable of minding our own affairs. And buy and large, we do a fine job of it when not pushed by outside influences of bureaucrats that have never been in the state and have no understanding of Western culture. Keep up the good work.– Del R.
Your letter describing the people in Oregon shows that you are woefully ignorant of the facts. Or you are nothing but a shill for the establishment and wall street interests.
The supposed arsonists did the first controlled burn to control invasive species (specifically, a species of Juniper). It also occurred with all permits and the consent of the Forestry Service. The second fire was a backfire to stop and out of control wildfire and to protect their property.– Wayne F.
Love your writings. You really bring out good points about issues. But please don’t be so flippant about such serious things. Or just stick to finance.– Paul D.
Should Bill stick to financial topics? Is he just a “shill” for the establishment?
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