Thursday, July 30, 2015

Angry About Cecil the Lion's Death? Take It Out on the Republican Congress

As outrage spread online over a Minnesota dentist’s alleged poaching of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva saw a convenient political opportunity. “This sort of incident is why we have endangered species laws and why Republicans need to start taking their enforcement seriously,” the Arizona congressman said in a statement released Tuesday. This may seem like typical Washington politicking, but he's right: Americans who worry about the fate of African lions ought to point fingers at the Republican-controlled Congress. Most of the fury thus far has targeted Walter Palmer, and for good reason: He and two Zimbabweans allegedly used bait to lure the 13-year-old lion out of a national park, where Cecil was protected, and into territory where lion hunting is legal. There, Palmer reportedly wounded Cecil with a bow, then stalked him for nearly two days before finally killing him with a rifle, decapitating and skinning him, and leaving the corpse to “rot in the sun.” The two Zimbabweans he hired, to the reported tune of $50,000, have been arrested and arraigned...It’s tempting to think that, had the FWS simply acted more quickly, Cecil would never have ended up on a Midwestern dentist’s mantle. But the bureaucratic backlog of the endangered species listing process cannot be understood outside of the context of a deliberate, years-long Republican campaign to prevent the FWS from doing its job. According to a study published Tuesday by the Center for Biological Diversity, the last four years have seen an “unprecedented Republican attack on endangered species,” a coordinated rollback strategy fueled by special-interest lobbying and the right-wing’s broader war on environmental science. Compared to the previous 15 years, the study found a sixfold increase since 2011 in the number of legislative attempts to gut the ESA and hamper the FWS’ ability to apply its protections...more

Empire State Building Will Shed Light on Endangered Species with Projections

“I’m a scale person—that’s what Louie likes about me,” Travis Threlkel, chief creative cffice and co-founder of Obscura Digital, told the New York Times. “It’s like the Guggenheim. That’s big, right? No, man. We did that from the back of a car with one projector on it. This one, I’ve got 40 giant cannons. And I wish I had more.” On Saturday, using 40 stacked, 20-000 lumen projectors sitting atop a building on West 31st Street, the southern face of the Empire State Building will light up the night with digital images of endangered species in an effort to call attention to some of the planet’s most at-risk wildlife. Threlkel, alongside filmmaker and photographer Louie Psihoyos, is the architect behind this “weapon of mass instruction,” which will illume a space 375 feet tall and 186 feet wide, a total of 33 floors, with moving pictures of ” a snow leopard, a golden lion tamarin and manta rays,” along with a variety of creatures land and sea, the New York Times reports...more

Drug traffickers wiping out the jaguar in Central America

The jaguar roams jungles and riverbanks from the Amazon to Mexico, and even into the southwestern United States. It’s a powerful and cunning hunter, and a single cat’s territory can stretch hundreds of miles. The Aztecs called their most fearsome warriors “ocelotl” — jaguar soldiers. But now the jaguar is being defeated by a ruthless, modern-day warrior of a different sort: Powerful drug cartels are carving up its Central American natural habitat. In some areas, particularly in Honduras and Guatemala, the big cats are at risk of disappearing entirely. “Drug dealing in Honduras is definitely affecting jaguar conservation,” said Jorge Guardia, a conservationist with a major international environmental NGO in Honduras (his name has been changed and his employer’s identity concealed for fears of attacks by narco-traffickers). “Habitat destruction is the No. 1 threat, and money from drugs is fueling illegal activities in protected areas — mainly cattle ranching.”  Cocaine and cows may seem like an odd combination, but ranching has proved to be an ideal way to launder drug money. It’s even happening right inside supposedly protected forests. The connection between the drug trade and habitat loss is simple. Drug traffickers prefer to operate in remote areas away from government control, which often means protected lands. They quickly move in and begin constructing clandestine roads and airstrips, according to Kendra McSweeney, associate professor of geography at Ohio State University and lead author of “Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation,” a 2014 paper published in the journal Science...more

As we have documented here many times (see here and here for two examples) the drug and human traffickers are destroying protected lands on the U.S. side of the border.  Now we see the same happening in Mexico and other countries.  As the article states, "Drug traffickers prefer to operate in remote areas...which often means protected lands." 

Thanks to Obama-Udall-Heinrich, the traffickers now have a half-million acre National Monument right on the border which places strict limitation on border patrol access.  Not satisfied with that, Senators Udall and Heinrich want thousands of those acres to be designated Wilderness, which further limits all law enforcement, and have introduced legislation to accomplish such designations.

Protected areas draw illegal traffickers.  Do Udall and Heinrich not understand that?  Or do they just not care as they hurry along to support the environmentalists agenda?

Eight family members decapitated in north Mexico

CIUDAD JUAREZ: Eight people from the same family, including two minors, were kidnapped by masked gunmen and their decapitated bodies were found days later in northern Mexico, authorities said Wednesday. The bodies were found after a ninth member of the Martinez family escaped Sunday's abduction near Casa Quemada, in the state of Chihuahua, and alerted the authorities, prosecutors said. The disappearance triggered a massive military operation in the region and the bodies were found this week. They were all men, with the youngest aged 15 and the oldest 42. The family was traveling in a vehicle when it was kidnapped by armed men wearing masks and dressed in military-like fatigues, the Chihuahua state prosecutor's office said. It is common for drug cartel operatives to wear military-like gear in Mexico. The bodies of three men were found on a rural road on Wednesday. One was 18 years old and the two others were 25. "People travelling on a trail found the victims," the prosecutor's office said in a statement. A day earlier, authorities recovered five other bodies that had been dumped in different parts of Casa Quemada...more

The Problem With Downplaying Immigrant Crime

by David Frum

Why has the Donald Trump candidacy—which so many professionals and pundits at first dismissed as a joke—flared this summer? In the first week of July, 15 percent of Republicans supported Trump for president in a YouGov poll. By the third week, that support had almost doubled, to 28 percent—with another 10 percent listing him as their second choice.

Something happened in July to send Trump’s numbers soaring. That something may have been the murder of Kathryn Steinle.

On July 5, the 32-year-old Steinle posed with her father for a photograph on a San Francisco pier at 6:30 on a Wednesday evening. Suddenly there was a pop. Steinle crumpled. She died in hospital two hours later.

The stunningly random killing left behind a devastated family—and a confessed killer: Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who had been convicted of seven previous felonies and five times been ordered deported from the United States.

In 2009, Lopez crossed the border into the United States again, was caught, and was sentenced to four years in federal prison. After his federal sentence was served, Lopez-Sanchez was handed over to San Francisco authorities to face trial for a local drug charge. The local court dismissed the charge and ordered the Lopez-Sanchez released into the community. Nobody notified federal immigration authorities, because San Francisco law forbids such cooperation.

...In 2011, the Government Accountability Office delivered a major report on criminal activity by unauthorized immigrants. The GAO was able to locate the arrest and sentencing records of roughly half the immigrants in local jails and state and federal prisons, and then sampled them to estimate what they contained. Here’s what it found:
  • An estimated 25,000 of these undocumented immigrants serving sentences for homicide
  • A cumulative total of 2.89 million offenses committed by these undocumented immigrants between 2003 and 2009 (although half a million of these were for immigration-related offenses)
  • Among those offenses: An estimated 42,000 robberies, 70,000 sex crimes, 81,000 auto thefts, 95,000 weapons offenses, and 213,000 assaults
Second, crime by the unauthorized, like the population of illegal immigrants itself, appears to be disproportionately concentrated in border states.  A Texas Department of Public Safety report obtained by the PJMedia estimated that the illegal immigrants in Texas prisons had committed a total of 2,993 homicides in a state that typically suffers between 1100 and 1400 homicides per year. After years of welcome decline, crime rates are rising in immigration hubs including Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and San Diego.

Mexican Cartels Smuggle 'Special Interest Aliens' Terrorists into U.S. Through El Paso Border Region

Mexican drug cartels are smuggling foreigners from countries with terrorist links into a small Texas rural town near El Paso and they’re using remote farm roads—rather than interstates—to elude the Border Patrol and other law enforcement barriers, according to Judicial Watch sources on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border. The foreigners are classified as Special Interest Aliens (SIA) and they are being transported to stash areas in Acala, a rural crossroads located around 54 miles from El Paso on a state road – Highway 20. Once in the U.S., the SIAs wait for pick-up in the area’s sand hills just across Highway 20. Terrorists have entered the U.S. through Mexico for years and in fact, an internal Texas Department of Public Safety report leaked by the media months ago documents that several members of known Islamist terrorist organizations have been apprehended crossing the southern border in recent years. Now they’re also being smuggled in through border region airfields, according to JW’s civilian, law enforcement and intelligence sources. The renowned Vicente Carrillo Fuentes cartel is using the Horizon Airport (formerly “West Texas Airport”) in El Paso’s lower valley to smuggle SIAs into the U.S. from Mexico, JW’s inside sources say. The facility is convenient because it’s located only 11 miles from El Paso’s central business district yet it’s small enough that security is virtually nonexistent...more

Greenpeace Activists Hang from Bridge to Block Shell Icebreaker

A group of twenty six Greenpeace activists have suspended themselves from a bridge in Portland, Oregon in an effort to stop Shell icebreaker from heading back to Alaska where it is needed for the company’s arctic drilling operations. The Greenpeace climbers and dozens of so-called ‘kayaktivists’ have positioned themselves under the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, which crosses the Williamette River leading to the Columbia and Pacific Ocean from a shipyard in Portland. The protestors are attempting to block the Shell icebreaker Fennica, which will be used to carry a critical piece of drilling equipment, from departing for Alaska after undergoing repairs. Greenpeace says the activists have enough supplies to last several days...more

Here Comes the Sun: Why Weather Influenced the Music of the '60s

Over 900 songwriters or singers have written or sung about weather, the most common being Bob Dylan, followed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, according to British researchers, writing in the journal Weather. Sixteen percent, or 48, of The Beatles' 308 songs are weather-related.  Weather plays a powerful role in our lives so it should be no surprise that the theme is played out in the music songwriters and singers produce, researchers said. "I think they simply wrote about aspects of the world that they enjoyed or inspired them. They have lots of good catchy music tunes, so that helps too," Dr. Sally Brown of the University of Southampton, which is part of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research said. Brown and other Tyndall researchers uncovered 759 popular songs with a weather connection, with about 7 percent of the top 500 songs being weather-related. The group has developed a database of the songs and is looking for any additions it may have missed.
As songwriters, The Beatles made deep connections with their audience about the nature of the human condition, according to Beatles' expert Dr. Kenneth Womack, dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University in New Jersey. "Not surprisingly, we often find ourselves speculating about the weather and its role in our lives," Womack said. "For The Beatles, the weather acts as a touchstone for understanding our humanity. Witness such classic numbers as 'Here Comes the Sun, 'Rain' and 'I'll Follow the Sun' -- tracks that connect the external world with our internal experiences." "We were also really surprised on how much weather was mentioned just in passing in songs," she said. "Good examples of this are in the Beach Boys' 'Sunlight Plays Upon Her Hair' and in 'Good Vibrations.' Many songwriters just write about their environment, and weather is just part of that." For example, George Harrison wrote "Here Comes the Sun" on the day of the first sunshine of the year in April 1969, Brown explained. "George Harrison stated, 'It was such a great release for me simply being out in the sun... The song just came to me,'" Brown said...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1457

Given recent events, I need to see The Bright Side Of The Road, which is exactly what you get with this tune by Raul Malo and others from their 2004 CD The Nashville Acoustic Sessions.

Internal docs said to undermine WOTUS rule

Internal memos that the Army Corps of Engineers turned over to a Senate committee undermines the scientific and legal basis for the new rule that re-defines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, the panel's chairman says. In a letter Monday to the assistant secretary of the Army who oversees the Corps, Jo-Ellen Darcy, Senate Environment and Public Workers Chairman Jim Inhofe said that the documents show the “rule is lacking factual, technical and legal support.” Inhofe's eight-page letter quotes select passages from documents, including two staff memos sent in April and May to the Army's deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations, Maj. Gen. John Peabody. Darcy asked that the committee not make the documents public. A passage from an April 24 memo asserted that the rule would give federal officials jurisdiction “over many thousands of miles of dry washes and arroyos in the desert Southwest, even though those ephemeral dry wastes, arroyos, etc., carry water infrequently and sometimes in small quantities.” An appendix to the April memo also seems to raise questions about provisions of the rule defining what ditches would be regulated as tributaries of rivers: “How far back in history does the regulator need to go? If it can't be determined definitely, who bears the burden of proof? The landowner or the agency? Need to provide a set of tools/resources that the field can use to make the determination of the history of the ditch.” A May 15 Corps of Engineers memo denies a statement in a technical document that the Corps contributed to a “very thorough analysis” of the interactions between upstream waters, wetlands and downstream rivers “to reach the significant nexus conclusions underlying” the draft final rule. The same memo also is quoted by Inhofe as saying the Corps had no role in performing the analysis or drafting” the technical document...more

 This tells us two things:  1)  The EPA is completely politicized and doing the White House's bidding, and 2)  As we near the end of the Obama administration the Corps is fighting back and doesn't want to take the political hit from a very unpopular rule.

Judge Confirms State Ownership of Mosquito Fork Submerged Lands

The U.S. Department of Justice has conceded and U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason Tuesday is signed an order confirming that the State of Alaska owns the submerged lands of the Fortymile River’s Mosquito Fork. This is a successful outcome for the State of Alaska, which filed a lawsuit in 2012 seeking to confirm state ownership of these lands. For decades, the ownership of the Mosquito Fork’s submerged lands has been a source of contention between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the State of Alaska. The beds of nearly all navigable waters in Alaska are owned by the state, but in this case, BLM disputed the navigability of all but 1.5 river miles of the Mosquito Fork. The State claimed ownership of roughly 80.5 river miles and much of those submerged lands lie within BLM’s Fortymile Wild and Scenic River Corridor...more

Normally the feds are on the other side of the navigability issue, claiming navigability to obtain jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.  But when it comes to submerged lands and Wild & Scenic rivers, they reverse policy, doing whatever it takes to maintain ownership/control. 

Federal prosecutors deny SUWA influence in ATV protest ride case

Government attorneys have rebutted claims that a federal judge's friendship with an environmental group's lawyer prevented him from being impartial in the trial of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman. And a Garfield County commissioner now wants Gov. Gary Herbert to intervene in the case to influence a recusal of Judge Robert J. Shelby. Lyman's attorney filed a motion in U.S. District Court last week seeking for Shelby to remove himself from the case because he is longtime friends with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance legal director Steven Bloch and his wife. The Utah U.S. Attorney's Office says Bloch wasn't a party to the case and there is no reason for Shelby to step aside. Lyman further contends that Bloch urged the U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute him and had a "high level" of involvement in the decision to file charges. Bennett wrote that neither Bloch nor any member of SUWA participated in prosecutors' discussions about how to try the case against Lyman and the other defendants. SUWA attorney Liz Thomas, however, did provide the BLM news articles and Lyman's Facebook posts about the protest ride and urged the agency to enforce its closure order by recording the event, issuing citations and doing a damage assessment...more

Groups urge lawmakers to reject meat-labeling repeal and voluntary program

A coalition of agriculture, manufacturing, food safety and environmental groups are calling on Congress to reject both the House legislation to fully repeal the Department of Agriculture meat-labeling rule and the Senate bill to create a voluntary labeling program. The letter, from 142 groups to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), urged lawmakers to instead “defend consumers’ right to know where their food comes from and the ability of farmers and ranchers to proudly identify their livestock as born and raised in America.” The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in May that the U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labeling rule for beef, pork and chicken violated U.S. trade obligations because it puts Canadian and Mexican meats at an unfair disadvantage. Despite that ruling, the letter from the coalition — which includes the American Agriculture Movement, Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now! and Friends of the Earth U.S. — said the U.S. has a sovereign right to allow the dispute process to proceed to its completion, which is months away, and then decide how and whether to implement the adverse ruling...more

Man Buys Guitar at Garage Sale for $175, Turns Out It's Worth $800,000

John McCaw is a building contractor from San Diego who struck jackpot way back in 1969 without even knowing it. The story actually began in 1962, when John Lennon and George Harrison of The Beatles got themselves a pair of matching Gibson J-160E guitars. About a year later, John's six-string was stolen after the band's pre-Christmas show in London. A few years later Mr. McCaw's friend had unknowingly bought Lennon’s Gibson in a local music shop. In 1969, that friend sold it to McCaw for about $175, or about $1,100 when inflation-adjusted for 2014. 45 years later, after using the legendary J-160E to teach his sons how to play guitar and strumming on it during many amateur jam sessions throughout the decades, McCaw got a hold of a 2012 issue of Guitar Aficionado. The magazine featured George Harrison wielding a six-string with striking similarities to John's old guitar. After reaching out to international experts, McCaw had the guitar examined and, lo and behold, got a certificate of authenticity based on a string of contributing factors...more

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tracking 'shadows' in New Mexico's Bootheel

Heading down County Road 1 deep into New Mexico's Bootheel, one of the Mexican border's most rugged corridors, no sign warns of the drug mules - men smuggling 65-pound packs of pot on their backs - trekking expertly, constantly, through the ragged mountains that flank this valley, or of the migrants walking north in desperation. Illegal traffic of drugs and migrants is on the rise here. At the same time, Border Patrol says its ranks are running thin in the Bootheel; the Lordsburg station that mans two forward operating bases should have 284 agents, but is down by 50, or nearly a fifth of the force...In daylight, he says, the spotters working for guides known as coyotes, drug cartels, or both, are watching the Border Patrol as closely as the Border Patrol is watching them. Things have been picking up in the Bootheel. Migration patterns are shifting. After last summer's rush on the South Texas border by tens of thousands of Central American migrants, and under pressure by the Obama administration, Mexico toughened enforcement at its own southern border and along the coastal route north. The strategy has effectively pushed Central American migrants west into other corridors, including toward New Mexico...Gamez makes a stop at a second FOB behind the Antelope Wells border crossing, one of the border's least used ports of entry. The morning before, five Indian nationals and 48 Guatemalans, including seven unaccompanied minors, stepped over the low vehicle barrier there and gave themselves up...At the FOB, several agents have just finished a shift and are shooting the breeze around a table. A TV blares. They answer a journalist's question: What is the biggest misconception the public has about their work? "Really, honestly? They really think that it's secure, the border, with what we got," says Agent De La Garza, who declined to give his first name. "You need more people. You need more - not less. If they think that it is secure, it is not. There is no way. We're doing the best we can, but there is no way."...It can take a week to walk from the border to Interstate 10 - a key destination for both migrants and drug mules. But the two often represent different streams of illegal traffic. Border agents and Hidalgo County sheriff's deputies say drug mules often take the toughest mountain routes and do so expertly, walking relentlessly through difficult terrain without getting lost or winded. They have a schedule to meet: a load to drop off at I-10 at a precise time synced with the arrival of a vehicle that will pull off the highway. These men aren't in the country to look for work: Running drugs is their job. They'll head back to Mexico and do it all over again for a fee or a cut of the sale. A 65-pound sack of marijuana is valued at $800 a pound in the U.S., or $52,000, according to Border Patrol. Mules who fail repeatedly in smuggling loads often hand themselves over to agents, risking jail time rather than returning to Mexico empty-handed, where the cartel's punishment could be fatal.

11 Killed in Violence Along Mexico-Texas Border

Eleven people, including two state police officers, have been killed in northeast Mexico along the Texas border, a state security official said Monday. Tamaulipas state security spokeswoman Ivon Melendez said that nine suspected criminals were killed after attacking state police in the border town of Rio Bravo on Saturday afternoon. Rio Bravo lies in territory controlled by the Gulf drug cartel. Police seized nine long guns and tactical equipment. Also on Saturday, two off-duty state police officers were killed in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. Melendez said they were on their way to Laredo, Texas, to shop when gunmen in two vehicles opened fire. One officer survived the attack.  The Zetas cartel controls Nuevo Laredo...more

Mexico Continues to Find Mass Graves as Violence Continues

Mass graves continue to turn up as Mexico continues to deal with its image of lawlessness. News outlets have begun to focus on this side-effect of out of control cartel violence the increasing number of clandestine mass graves nationwide.  Most recently, Mexican news outlets have focused on a news report by the Associated Press. Their report is based on a freedom of information request to the Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office. The response confirms that they have found 60 mass  graves and turned up 129 bodies while searching for 43 education students who were kidnapped and are believed to have been butchered by drug cartels. The shallow graves are typically used by drug cartel members to dispose the bodies of their victims who were either killed in firefights or  were kidnapped and later executed...more

The Staggering Death Toll of Mexico’s Drug War

Over the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the number of civilian deaths has been staggering. In Afghanistan, more than 26,000 civilians are estimated to have died since the war began in 2001. In Iraq, conservative tallies place the number of civilians killed at roughly 160,500 since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Others have put the total closer to 500,000. But as U.S. involvement in each nation has dropped off in recent years, killings much closer to home, in Mexico, have steadily, if quietly, outpaced the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Last week, the Mexican government released new data showing that between 2007 and 2014 — a period that accounts for some of the bloodiest years of the nation’s war against the drug cartels — more than 164,000 people were victims of homicide. Nearly 20,000 died last year alone, a substantial number, but still a decrease from the 27,000 killed at the peak of fighting in 2011. Over the same seven-year period, slightly more than 103,000 died in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to data from the United Nations and the website Iraq Body Count...more

Civil asset forfeiture: It’s not just for drug dealers anymore

By Rick Manning

 Question: When is an American guilty until proven innocent?

Answer: When law enforcement confiscates property that is allegedly involved in or acquired through illegal means without benefit of ever having convicted the owner of a crime.

The fruits of this process known as civil asset forfeiture often show up at auctions where promises are made that you can buy government-confiscated cars, houses, boats, or jewelry for pennies on the dollar.

Seems simple and logical: the Feds take the drug dealers’ stuff and sell it to you at a low, low auction price.

But what if the alleged drug dealer is not actually guilty of anything and, in fact, never even accused of a crime? What if the Feds just swooped in and decided that, based upon a cursory review of bank records, your stuff needed to be confiscated?

Think it can’t happen? Think again.

The Wall Street Journal in November, 2014 told the story of a small candy and snack food distributor which had more than $440,000 in cash confiscated without charges, or even an allegation of wrongdoing, coming from the federal government.

Their money had been confiscated by a federal prosecutor and the burden of proof was on them to get it back — a burden of proof requiring that they show that their cash was not illicitly attained, rather than one that requires the government to show that it was.

Yet, while their business was in danger due to the loss of the cash flow needed to sustain it, they could not even go to court to seek the return of their money because the federal prosecutor failed to even file legal notice of the seizure. That’s right, the Feds had their money, but their appeal process was denied because, as far as the Court was concerned, the seizure never occurred.

Who was this federal prosecutor? It was Loretta Lynch, the current Attorney General of the United States who oversaw the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

It gets worse. The government is actually incentivized to engage in these confiscations and deny attempts to return wrongly taken items, because state and local governments share in the federal government’s cash haul. In fact, according to a Government Accountability Office report, the state and local government take from 2011 was $450 million, a startling incentive for assets to be targeted and seized.

Before he left office, former Attorney General Eric Holder told the nation the federal government would no longer engage in civil asset forfeiture.

But Congress still needs to make it official by reforming the Civil Asset Forfeiture Act to protect law-abiding citizens from this gross abuse of power. And by barring funds to assist a state or local law enforcement agency in seizing property pursuant to state law, or to take the seized asset and forfeit it under federal law.

Former House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) along with current Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) are leading the way in pushing for reform with Sensenbrenner expressing disbelief that “this can happen in America.”

But it does, and it is time to rip this program out by the roots and restore the presumption of innocence to the system.

Wilderness Hanging In Balance At Big Cypress National Preserve

Fewer than 100 miles separate Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida from Biscayne National Park, yet when it comes to views on preservation the two parks appear light-years apart. It's a conundrum that shouldn't exist within an agency -- the National Park Service -- that has operated under a unique, and specific, charter handed it in 1916. That charter, the National Park Service Organic Act, clearly placed preservation above all else as the Park Service's mission, a position federal courts time and again have upheld. That mission was further buttressed in 1978 when Congress expanded Redwoods National Park and attached to the legislation an amendment that stated that all units of the National Park System should be managed and protected "in light of the high public value and integrity of the national park system." That seems to be the goal being pursued at Biscayne, where the Park Service recently released a plan, championed by Superintendent Brian Carlstrom and approved by agency Director Jon Jarvis, to create a marine reserve zone to improve the health of its fisheries and help recover and protect a key part the Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the United States. While the zone -- which some members of Florida's congressional delegation are trying to block -- would ban fishing on 6 percent of the 172,924-acre park, the designation would not stand in the way for snorkelers, scuba divers, or glass-bottom boats to experience and enjoy the reserve. But at Big Cypress, the agency seems to be turning a blind eye on preservation as it works to develop a backcountry access plan in conjunction with a formal wilderness designation plan. The puzzler is that, at present, it appears the Preserve staff wants to roll back court-upheld limits on where off-road vehicles can travel in Big Cypress. How the National Park Service has approached wilderness eligibility and designation at Big Cypress, as well as ORV access, have been contentious issues almost from the time the preserve was established in the mid-1970s. Since an off-road vehicle plan was approved in 2000, the issue of ORV use has led to a regular parade to courts by organizations that think too much of Big Cypress is being given over to motorized recreation...more

Future Unsure for Troubled New Mexico Green Chile Production

Green chiles have defined New Mexico for generations, gaining fans and fame around the globe. However, as this year's harvest begins, labor shortages, shrinking acreage, drought and foreign competition have hurt production in the state. Farmers and producers say the problems reveal the need for changes in the industry. To rejuvenate production, investors and inventors are testing machines that would harvest and de-stem the crop. The delicate chiles are now picked by hand, and problems with bruising and the removal of stems have made it difficult to make the transition to machines. "The labor force is getting older and not a lot of young people are getting into the business," said Ed Ogaz, owner of the Anthony, New Mexico-based chile wholesaler Seco Spice Co. "Something needs to happen." In recent years, researchers at New Mexico State University have been trying to solve the labor issue by developing machines for the harvest. Elad Etgar, inventor of a chile-harvesting device at an Israeli company, said he will be testing his machine for the next two months. After the harvest, he'll sit down with farmers to assess its performance...more

Governor designates first 23 miles of Rio Grande Trail

Gov. Susana Martinez directed state workers on Tuesday to designate 23 miles of trail the first pieces of a network that might someday span the length of New Mexico along the Rio Grande. Supporters envision it as a destination for hikers and tourists who want to follow the river from Colorado to Texas – something akin to the Appalachian Trail. Martinez announced designation of the first 23 miles during a news conference at the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque. “There is no doubt the Rio Grande Trail will enchant New Mexicans and visitors from around the world,” Martinez said. But there is much work to be done, she said. Martinez called on government agencies and property owners along the 500-mile alignment to cooperate to make the trail a reality. The proposed alignment would pass through tribal lands, national wildlife refuges, national monuments and state parks, including the bosque in Albuquerque. Some of the land is privately owned. A new commission that will work on the effort has scheduled its first meeting this morning. The group was created under state legislation that had bipartisan backing earlier this year, including sponsorship by Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. The 23 miles designated Tuesday lie in six state parks: Elephant Butte Lake, Caballo Lake, Leasburg Dam, Mesilla Valley Bosque, Percha Dam and the Rio Grande Nature Center...more

One day in jail for man who threatened federal ranger over cattle ranch standoff

Will Michael admits that leaving a profanity-laced death threat on the voicemail of a federal ranger involved in a Nevada cattle ranch standoff that made national headlines "wasn't such a good idea." But the Emmaus man — the only person arrested among the hundreds who left phone messages for Chief Ranger Mike Roop following the altercation at Cliven Bundy's ranch — won't serve a long prison sentence for the crime. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg in Philadelphia sentenced Michael, 24, to one day of imprisonment, to be followed by three years' supervised release, and a $200 special assessment. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Michael could have been sentenced to 15 to 21 months behind bars. Waldron said the sentence was a wake-up call for Michael, who does not know Bundy and doesn't belong to any of the so-called citizen militias who showed up at the ranch to support Bundy during the 2014 standoff. "Will has apologized, and he realizes that you can't go around doing something like this," Waldron said. Michael pleaded guilty in April to threatening a federal law enforcement officer and interstate communication of threats. The charges carried a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, but under a plea agreement, federal prosecutors recommended probation. Federal agents arrested Michael on May 20, 2014, following an investigation into a phone message left for the ranger a month earlier that was traced to the Emmaus Smoke Shop, where Michael worked...more

Prince Charles extends climate doomsday deadline by 33 years

Prince Charles is warning that there are only 35 years left to save the planet from climate disaster, which represents a 33-year extension of his previous deadline. In March 2009, the heir to the British throne predicted that the world had 100 months “before we risk catastrophic climate change,” as pointed out by Climate Depot’s Marc Morano.  "Prince Charles gives world reprieve: Extends ‘100-Month’ climate ‘tipping point’ to 35 more years,” says the Tuesday headline on the Climate Depot website.  Prince Charles, who updated his forecast in a July 18 interview with the Western [U.K.] Morning News prior to his visit to the Westcountry, began issuing warnings six years ago about imminent ecological disaster driven by climate change...more

Clinton Climate Plan Winners Include Supporters’ Clients, Employers

Hillary Clinton’s plan to dramatically boost U.S. solar power production and installation could benefit a number of companies that have paid or donated to various arms of the former secretary of state’s expansive political network. Leading solar panel manufactures and installers have donated to the Democratic presidential candidate’s family foundation, employed members of her inner circle, bankrolled a group providing policy advice to her campaign, and enlisted the services of lobbying and public relations firms run by her top supporters.  The solar industry will see a major boost if Clinton is elected and enacts her newly unveiled climate and energy policy plan. Released on Monday, the plan calls for a seven-fold increase in solar power capacity by 2020.  Internal discussions behind the Clinton campaign’s bullet-pointed policy outline are not known, but two senior officials at the left-wing Center for American Progress have been advising the campaign on its climate and energy platform. John Podesta, the center’s founder, is a long-time Clinton ally who is currently chairing her presidential campaign. William Yeatman, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, sees his hand in the campaign’s climate plan. “He’s a trusted advisor, and climate change/green energy is a major issue for him. So I think we’re seeing his influence here,” Yeatman said in an email. “And, given that it’s a loser issue and she’s normally very disciplined about following political winds, I think it perhaps demonstrates that Podesta’s influence is significant.” Clinton’s climate strategy would likely benefit solar companies such as First Solar, whose donations to the Center for American Progress came under scrutiny after the policy group actively promoted the company’s positions on key legislative issues...more

Fifteen Miles From Barrow

by Daniel Person

...Eighty years ago, two men with an unquenchable thirst to see the world circled over the tundra around Barrow, searching for what was then a tiny speck of a whaling outpost and Eskimo village. If famous pilot Wiley Post and his more-famous passenger, Will Rogers, could see anything through the thick layer of fog that had settled down over the Arctic Coast that August day, it wasn’t offering them any clues, just riddles in the form of puddles melted into permafrost. Their flight from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Point Barrow — the northernmost point in the United States — was supposed to take four hours. But six hours after they departed, their growling seaplane would be heard up in the clouds by reindeer ranchers and traders. The whine of the aircraft would pass overhead, disappear, then come whining back. Three or four times it passed, they’d later say.

Rogers and Post were lost.

Reindeer ranchers aside, it would be hard to imagine a stranger place for two cowboys from either side of the Oklahoma-Texas border to be lost in. What were they doing up there, circling around trying to find the end of the world? Rogers and Post had been playing coy with that question throughout their heavily documented air trip around Alaska. With Rogers writing daily dispatches of his voyage for newspapers across the country, and reporters filing national wire stories from nearly every stop the men made in Alaska, little about the jaunt went unsaid, besides its reason for being. The predominant theory, one most reports went with, was that Post wanted to find a new air route to Russia.

However, every time someone asked the two what they were up to, Rogers would have no comment — uncharacteristic, to say the least, for the outspoken columnist.

After hours of circling over the tundra, Post spotted an opening in the clouds and an Eskimo encampment along a bay. He brought the plane down onto the water, and he and Rogers waded over to land and asked a man named Claire Okpeaha for directions to Barrow.

In broken English, Okpeaha told them they were close — just 15 miles away. The men thanked Okpeaha, offered him a cigarette, and returned to the plane. In Rogers’ front breast pocket was his latest column, to be wired to newspapers from Barrow when the duo finally landed. His typewriter — which he’d pound away at while Post flew — was tucked away behind him. 

Post fired up the plane’s engine, taxied around, and then thrust forward, lifting off the water with a mighty roar in a steep ascent. The Eskimos then watched in horror as the plane flipped over and crashed back into the water. 

After the initial shock, Okpeaha took off running, 15 miles to Barrow, to tell the world Will Rogers and Wiley Post were dead.

Hatch throws clout behind ‘Northern Corridor’

A bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch would demand federal agencies make way for a controversial new “northern corridor” roadway across the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. Introduced this month to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the proposal would require a route be designated across the reserve and remove any additional environmental restrictions or requirements from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Washington Parkway, which local officials have argued is needed to keep up with traffic demands expected because of population growth, has met resistance from federal agencies because of environmental concerns over how it might impact the scenic Red Cliffs area. "I proposed the Comprehensive Washington County Travel Management Plan because the BLM has not yet complied with a 2009 mandate requiring development of a northern transportation route," Hatch said. "My provision could not be included in the Senate’s highway bill, so I will continue to work with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to help address the needs of Washington County on this matter." Designated a National Conservation Area as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act in 2009, the reserve acts as habitat for sensitive populations of federally protected desert tortoise and has been a popular outdoor recreation area because of its proximity, butting up against the St. George metropolitan area. Conservation groups were quick to oppose Hatch’s bill, arguing that it would violate the deal made six years earlier when area officials agreed to the terms of the 2009 bill. When the reserve was created, Washington County unlocked more than 300,000 acres of land for future development in exchange for preserving 44,000 acres of tortoise habitat, and changing the rules now would violate the public trust, said Tom Butine, president of the southwest Utah conservation organization Citizens for Dixie’s Future...more

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

U.S. District Judge’s Decision Is Victory For Solenex

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon rendered a decision in the case of Solenex LLC v. Sally Jewell et al. The case was filed in 2013 after almost three decades of delay imposed by federal agencies upon Solenex as the company has sought to drill an exploratory natural gas well on federal land near East Glacier, Montana. The ruling comes after oral arguments before Judge Leon last month. Solenex was represented by Steve Lechner of Mountain States Legal Foundation; the U.S. Forest service, the lead federal agency in the case, was represented by U.S. Department of Justice attorney Ruth Ann Storey. Solenex had filed for a summary judgment alleging that the defendants - the Forest Service and other agencies - had unreasonably delayed action under the Administrative Procedure Act. The Department of Justice (DOJ) argued in a cross-motion that the delay was legal. When the court ordered the DOJ to offer other examples of such lengthy delays, the DOJ lawyer was unable to cite one. The judge denied the defendants’ motion in total, and granted Solenex’s motion in part. In the scathing six page order Judge Leon said that factual history of this case is “long, detailed and tortuous.” The judge wrote, “No combination of excuses could possibly justify such ineptitude or recalcitrance for such an epic period of time.”  In his decision, Judge Leon said that he found that ordering the defendants to “submit, and to stick to, an accelerated and fixed schedule is an appropriate remedy,” rather than ordering the defendants to lift the suspension directly. Solenex had asked the court to lift the suspension in their motion. Judge Leon denied that portion of the plaintiff’s motion...more

Forrest Gump & St. Peter

When Forest Gump died, he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter said, "Welcome, Forest. We've heard a lot about you." He continued, "Unfortunately, it's getting pretty crowded up here and we find that we now have to give people an entrance examination before we let them in."
"Okay," said Forest. "I hope it's not too hard. I've already been through a test. My momma used to say, 'Life is like a final exam. It's hard.' "
"Yes, Forest, I know. But this test is only three questions. Here they are."
1) Which two days of the week begin with the letter 'T'?"
2) How many seconds are in a year?
3) What is God's first name?
"Well, sir," said Forest, "The first one is easy. Which two days of the week begin with the letter 'T'? Today and Tomorrow."
St. Peter looked surprised and said, "Well, that wasn't the answer I was looking for, but you have a point. I give you credit for that answer."
"The next question," said Forest, "How many seconds are in a year? Twelve."
"Twelve?" said St. Peter, surprised and confused.
"Yes, sir. January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd …"
St. Peter interrupted him. "I see what you mean. I'll have to give you credit for that one, too."
"And the last question," said Forest, "What is God's first name? It's Andy."
"Andy?" said St. Peter, in shock. "How did you come up with 'Andy'?"
I learned it in church. We used to sing about it." Forest broke into song, "Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am His own."
St. Peter opened the gate to heaven and said, "Run, Forest, Run!"

‘Recognizable’ names are eyeing 510,527-acre, $725 million slice of North Texas history

It’s been almost a year since Dallas-based broker Bernard Uechtritz and Lubbock’s Sam Middleton announced they were handling the $725-million sale of the 510,527-acre, 166-year-old W.T. Waggoner Estate Ranch that spans six North Texas counties just to the west of Wichita Falls. Since then, says Uechtritz, there’s been “a tremendous amount of interest worldwide.” As he drives through Electra on his way from Dallas to the ranch, he guesstimates there have been 600 inquiries since the sale opened.  “And they range from the really real to the really not,” he says in that instantly recognizable Australian accent. The way he figures it, 40 percent of the “really real” were mighty serious about buying the spread. About 20 percent could actually afford it. He says there are about a dozen wanna-be ranchers left wading in the final buyers’ pool. Of course, he can’t and won’t name names. Let’s just say: “There’s both foreign and domestic interest,” as Uechtritz puts it, “names that are recognizable in Texas and beyond.” He says he’s “fairly confident” they’ll seal a deal by year’s end to sell the ranch named for the oil-and-cattle baron who opened the late, great Arlington Downs racetrack in 1929 on his farm halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. As you might imagine, parting with a gorgeous piece of unspoiled Texas property this size — and with this much history — has been no easy task. As the Associated Press noted last summer, the property — which happens to be the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S. — was put on the market only after the resolution of a decades-long family dispute involving W.T.’s granddaughter Electra Waggoner Biggs, the renowned sculptor for whom the Buick Electra was named. Per the AP, the inventory is estimable: “two main compounds, hundreds of homes, about 20 cowboy camps, hundreds of quarter-horses, thousands of heads of cattle, 1,200 oil wells and 30,000 acres of cultivated land.”...more

Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds bill clears House

A long-awaited compromise bill to protect the area around the White Clouds Mountains is now closer to becoming law than perhaps at any other time in history. Both proponents and opponents of wilderness protections in the area say they grudgingly support the deal. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act passed the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in a Monday voice vote. It’s progress, but it’s tentative. The bill faces a tight timeline and procedural hurdles in the Senate. And Simpson has to hold together a fragile coalition of supporters with different aims. The bill would create three new wilderness areas totalling around 300,000 acres while releasing some areas currently designated as wilderness study areas back for multiple uses. It prevents the closure of roads currently open to motor vehicles, including dirt bikes, and all trails currently open to mountain bikes would remain open. It would also allow ranchers to voluntarily retire grazing claims in return for compensation from environmental groups...more

Dozens of riders, but will any become law?

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

Republican lawmakers have included dozens of environmental policy riders in their 2016 spending bills, setting up a major clash with Democrats and the White House as lawmakers seek to hammer out a deal to fund the government.

While most of the policy riders likely will never become law, some could be bargaining chips for President Obama and Democrats in their pleas for the GOP to raise discretionary spending levels.
Republicans now have control of both chambers, giving them increased leverage to challenge the administration's efforts to confront climate change, protect waterways and conserve imperiled wildlife.

Green groups are wary.

"These bills are used to play a game of 'chicken' with the president, and to make it easier to slip unpopular measures through the Congress," wrote Scott Slesinger, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a blog post last month. "It shouldn't work, and it won't. The president has repeatedly stood up to this maneuver."

NRDC has tallied a list of dozens of policy provisions that have hitched rides on a handful of spending bills for the Interior Department and U.S. EPA as well as the Energy, Commerce and Justice departments.

This land is your land? Tensions rise over use of the great outdoors

When Boulder ultra-running legend Scott Jurek clambered to the top of Maine's Mount Katahdin — a spectacular, record-setting 46 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes after starting the 2,180-mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail — rangers from Baxter State Park were prepared. But they were not celebrating. They were writing citations. The champagne that spilled: littering. Sipping that champagne: alcohol violation. More than 12 people hiking together: another rule violation. Also, his film crew was cited for violating the rules of their permit by recording video on the summit. At first blush, the tickets issued June 12 seem a mean-spirited response to Jurek's impressive feat of endurance. But the issue goes much deeper, reflecting a growing unease with how new-school recreation — like ultra-running, BASE jumping, peak-bagging, group clinics and stand-up paddling — fits inside traditional perspectives on how Americans use their protected wildlands. Modern-day adventurers are not always the lonely, Thoreau-inspired hiker ambling through the woods — a reflective approach that for decades has been promoted as the only way to truly appreciate unspoiled lands. Yes, the new adventurers, like their predecessors, briefly are escaping their hectic, industrial lives. But they are using new tools, pursuing adrenaline surges and often trumpeting their play in online photos and videos...more

A milestone for wind energy: Work underway on first offshore platforms in U.S. waters

With the lowering of giant steel legs to the sea bottom off Rhode Island, construction has officially begun on the country’s first offshore wind farm, starting what U.S. officials hope will be a race to harness a vast energy resource capable of powering millions of homes along the East Coast. The project developer, Deepwater Wind, marked the “steel-in-the water” milestone for its Block Island Wind Farm on Monday, an event witnessed by federal and state officials who crowded into a boat to view the foundations for two wind-tower platforms jutting above the water. The farm’s five turbines are expected to begin turning next year, providing electricity for about 17,000 nearby homes while also boosting prospects for planned wind-energy projects from Massachusetts to the Carolinas, or so Obama administration officials hope...more