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Beastly Behavior

By Chris Floyd

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 dazed complicity of a somnolent Congress, U.S. President 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 brew of aggressive war to the boil? Not at all -- it happened just last week. This time, however, the victims were 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 without any hearings or public notice into the gargantuan budget bill -- 3,000 pages of pork and chicanery approved, unread, by Bush's rubber-stamp Republicans and that wiggly bit of protoplasm known laughingly as the "Democratic opposition" -- Bush stripped the nation's wild horses of long-standing legal protections against being sold off, slaughtered and shipped overseas for meat. The Bush plan, spearheaded by Montana Senator Conrad Burns -- longtime bagman for Big Cattle interests -- sets a production goal of up to 20,000 wild horse corpses in the coming year, The Associated Press reports.

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 of the Bush Regime and say: "They hate us for our freedom." And certainly, anyone cramped within the narrow confines of a harsh, blinkered worldview would be offended, even unmanned, by the sight of such splendid exemplars of liberty. First brought to America by the Spanish conquistadors, these bold rebels broke free of their masters and have roamed wild and unfettered for centuries. Their very existence is a living reproach to crippled souls obsessed with conquest, control and domination. So they must be destroyed.

It'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 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 50,000 remaining wild horses roam on federal land -- land held in common by the American people. Big-time 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 a long-running sweetheart deal 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, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. 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.

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. That's not to say they're stupid, of course. Given the manifold imperfections of our still-evolving brainpans, it's possible to be remarkably cunning in pursuing your basest desires while remaining 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 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 cost of the federal horse programs -- $50 million annually -- is a fraction of ranchers' yearly gorging at the public trough. The tiniest increase in grazing fees could cover the programs' costs for decades. Bush also claims the horses are gobbling too much government grass; yet private cattle on federal lands outnumber wild horses by 50-1. Indeed, past government studies recommended reducing cattle numbers to save deteriorating rangeland. Needless to say, the ranchers' prime stock in Congress will never let that happen.

But although they may be witless, you can't say the Bushists don't have a sense of humor when committing their depredations. For example, even as they were consigning 20,000 wild horses to unnecessary slaughter last week, they also declared 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."

Sale of Wild Horses to Slaughter Legalized
Associated Press, Dec. 9, 2004

Federal Bill Imperils Drive to Save Wild Horses From Slaughter
Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 6, 2004

Bill add-on strips wild horses of protection from slaughter
Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 9, 2004

Mustangs' Slaughter Feared
Sacremento Bee, Dec. 7, 2004

Burns Amendment Riles Some Animal Lovers
Great Falls Tribune, Dec. 10, 2004

Public Ignored in Wild Horse Law Change
Montana Standard, Dec. 6, 2004

President Bush to Impose Death Penalty on Innocent Horses
PR Newswire, Dec. 2, 2004

The Ultimate Washington Hypocrisy and Flim-Flam
PR Newswire, Dec. 9, 2004

Spending Bill With Wild Horse Slaughter Provision Gets Presidential Nod
Thoroughbred Times, Dec. 12, 2004

The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act
United States Bureau of Land Managment


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