Your federal government spent $22 million in 2018 on a development grant to subsidize the production of Sjenica cheese – a unique creamy white cheese produced only in the rural highlands of southwest Serbia. Yes, Serbia, the landlocked country of 7 million people in southwestern Europe.
We know about Uncle Sam subsidizing Sjenica cheese because of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s “Waste Report,” an annual summary he produces as part of an ongoing project for the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management.
At the time the Waste Report was published, the United States was sitting on a 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus – largely created by increasing dairy production and a decline in consumption of milk and cheese. As Eric Boehm noted in an article for Reason.com, your government has been buying excess cheese to bail out American dairy farmers – at the same time it is using your tax dollars to boost cheese production in the Balkans.
I’m going to assume you’re not shocked Uncle Sam has wasted some of your money. I’ll also assume what you would really like is if the government would stop throwing good money after bad. Take for instance the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Yes, there’s still a case.
Bundy and his sons gained national attention in 2014 when the Bureau of Land Management sought to remove Bundy’s cows from federal grazing land claiming they were owed more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees. An armed standoff ensued when the feds attempted to round up the Bundy cattle and remove them. The standoff ended when the feds decided a shootout between their agents and a disorganized citizens’ militia would be a PR disaster.
Instead, the DOJ stepped in and filed charges against Bundy, his sons, Ammon and Ryan and a Montana militiaman named Ryan Payne. The men faced years in prison for alleged conspiracy against federal agents for their role in the standoff.
Alas, your government – the same one that spent $22 million on boutique Serbian cheese – bungled the case against the Bunkerville, NV, ranchers.
This is where I interject that I don’t condone the actions of the Bundy clan or anything similar. Toting a firearm into a standoff with the feds has a significant chance of you either ending up in handcuffs or a body bag. And I’m not here to support the Bundy’s case against the BLM or support the feds case against the Bundy’s.
It’s done – or at least it should be. Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed the case against the Bundy’s in 2018 and declared a mistrial after ruling federal prosecutors "deliberately misled" defense attorneys and the court by failing to provide evidence from surveillance cameras and to disclose the existence of federal snipers near the ranch in the days leading up to the April 2014 standoff. Bundy left the federal courthouse in Las Vegas a free man.
You would think the DOJ would cut its losses and move on. You would be wrong. Today (May 29, 2020), the DOJ will appear in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco appealing for a retrial of the Bundy clan. What?
Yep, six full years after the initial standoff, and two years after they left the Las Vegas courthouse with egg on their faces, DOJ prosecutors will try again. Why?
"If there is no successful prosecution, it's going to encourage a lot of anarchists like the Bundys to take actions that not only are a threat to themselves but threats to the public at large," Pat Shea, who served as BLM director during the Clinton administration, told NPR.
Shea says Bundy’s cows have continued to graze for free on land that is now a protected national monument. Others claim Bundy’s government defiance has devolved into far-right extremism, and a widely debunked legal theory that counties and states, not the federal government, should own public land.
Court filings indicate prosecutors will likely argue that their missteps in the 2017 trial were "inadvertent," and in particular they say they were trying to balance disclosing Bureau of Land Management surveillance footage with protecting witnesses against violence.
Sure, but Cliven Bundy is now 74, and the rest of the clan have retreated out of the spotlight. And, well…how much do we really need to spend trying to lock up a handful of disgruntled desert ranchers? That $1 million in lost Bundy grazing fees seems like a bargain compared to the price of a team of government lawyers on the case for a half-dozen years.
One could argue Uncle Sam’s investment in Sjenica cheese produced more tangible results for Americans than its actions against the Bundys.