Friday, September 18, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice and legal pioneer for gender equality, dies at 87

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the high court and a legal pioneer for gender equality whose fierce opinions as a justice made her a hero to the left, died Sept. 18 at her home in Washington. She was 87. The death was announced in a statement by the U.S. Supreme Court. She had recently been treated for pancreatic cancer. Born in Depression-era Brooklyn, Justice Ginsburg excelled academically and went to the top of her law school class at a time when women were still called upon to justify taking a man’s place. She earned a reputation as the legal embodiment of the women’s liberation movement and as a widely admired role model for generations of female lawyers. Working in the 1970s with the American Civil Liberties Union, Justice Ginsburg successfully argued a series of cases before the high court that strategically chipped away at the legal wall of gender discrimination, eventually causing it to topple. Later, as a member of the court’s liberal bloc, she was a reliable vote to enhance the rights of women, protect affirmative action and minority voting rights and defend a woman’s right to choose an abortion. On the court, she became an iconic figure to a new wave of young feminists, and her regal image as the “Notorious RBG” graced T-shirts and coffee mugs. She was delighted by the attention, although she said her law clerks had to explain that the moniker referred to a deceased rapper, the Notorious B.I.G. She also was the subject of a popular film documentary, “RBG” (2018). When she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015, her colleague and improbable close friend, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote about her dual roles as crusader and judge. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had two distinguished legal careers, either one of which would alone entitle her to be one of Time’s 100,” wrote Scalia, who died in 2016...MORE

CBP Drones Conducted Flyovers Near Homes of Indigenous Pipeline Activists, Flight Records Show

Tom Goldtooth awoke on Feb. 21 expecting a pretty regular day ahead. And by all accounts, his day was normal. He was on the road by 11 a.m. to catch a flight. But unbeknownst to him, around the same time as he left, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was watching his home in Beltrami County, Minnesota, from 20,000 feet in the air. A CBP Reaper drone operated silently for more than an hour, making five-mile-wide circles around the home of Goldtooth, who is the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. When asked about this activity, CBP said in an email that “it does not patrol pipeline routes.” On the date a drone was above Goldtooth’s home, the agency claims it was either conducting a missing person search or conducting “border security,” which CBP defined as “a flight that has a direct nexus to the border,” whatever that means. The town Goldtooth lives in is roughly 90 miles from the border. “That’s where my house is,” 66-year-old Goldtooth said, noting that few other people live in the remote area. But our analysis of drone flights in Minnesota this year, sourced from Tampa-based flight tracking company RadarBox, suggests that CBP is surveilling multiple Indigenous advocates in the region who have fought against pipelines, including the proposed expansion of Enbridge’s Line 3...MORE

Experts warn wildfire smoke could worsen COVID-19

Wildfires that have left parts of California and other Western states with some of the worst air quality in the world are posing a major threat to people with asthma and other underlying health conditions who are already at greater risk of serious COVID-19 complications. Exposure to wildfire smoke can weaken immune systems and cause respiratory illnesses, and experts worry that combining those effects with the coronavirus could lead to more severe cases, even death. As the pandemic continues to take its toll, having killed nearly 200,000 people in the U.S., the western part of the country is facing dual crises that could have a compounding effect. “At the levels of air pollution we're seeing in the Northwest now, it's a matter of concern for everyone,” said David Hill, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association. “So, certainly by itself, we’d be concerned. But with COVID circulating, having worse air quality might make it more likely for them to get infected and have worse disease with COVID-19,” he added. Wildfires have been burning in Western states for weeks, and at least 34 people have died, according to The Associated Press. When wildfires burn they release pollutants that can worsen air quality, including one known as particulate matter, which inflames the lungs and has also been linked to heart issues. The elderly and people with underlying health conditions like asthma and lung disease are at greatest risk for serious illness from both COVID-19 and poor air quality caused by wildfires. On Thursday, the city of Portland, Ore., registered “hazardous” levels of a small type of particulate matter known as fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. Other cities, like Seattle, Salem, Ore., and Fresno, Calif., showed unhealthy or very unhealthy levels of the pollutant on Thursday...MORE



Thursday, September 17, 2020

Note to Readers

 I'm on the search committee to hire a new rodeo coach at NMSU. Our first interview was today. The next is at 8a.m. tomorrow, followed by a board meeting of the Linebery Policy Center, then another interview on Monday. Just an explanation of why posts may be a little sparse for the next coupla days.

Liz Cheney Asks The DOJ To Investigate Whether China, Russia Are Infiltrating US Environmental Groups

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming asked the Department of Justice in September to investigate whether Russia and China are working to infiltrate environmental groups to influence U.S. environmental policy, the Daily Caller News Foundation has learned. Russia and China may be infiltrating non-governmental groups in an attempt to meddle in domestic energy and environmental policy, Cheney wrote in a Sept. 4 letter to Attorney General William Barr obtained by the DCNF. The Republican lawmaker said in the letter that Russia had in the past worked to spread anti-fracking propaganda inside the United States. Environmental groups’ willingness to “espouse views that align with those of our adversaries—makes it all the more critical that the Department is aware of any potential foreign influence within or targeting these groups,” Cheney wrote, noting that they are also “major contributors to U.S. political campaigns and have filed hundreds of lawsuits against the Trump Administration.” “Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council, whose anti-fracking agendas align with the Kremlin’s, are low-hanging fruit for Russian influence,” Cheney wrote. “It’s crucial for the Department of Justice to determine whether these foreign adversaries are working to influence U.S. environmental and energy policies, including by infiltrating or targeting these environmental NGOs,” Cheney said in a statement to the DCNF. Cheney also expressed concern about Chinese influence. Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee noted in 2018 that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) often praises the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) environmental initiatives and promotes the idea of China as a global environmental leader, she wrote, citing comments from her House colleagues. “The NRDC maintains a presence in China and has long worked with CCP officials,” Cheney wrote...MORE 

3 Mexican wolf pups cross-fostered into an Arizona pack

Three Mexican wolf pups have successfully been cross-fostered into a pack in northeastern Arizona, according to state Game and Fish Department officials. They said biologists used remote trail cameras late last month to document eight Mexican wolf pups in the Hoodoo Pack in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. In April, Arizona Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cross-fostered four genetically valuable wolf pups into the Hoodoo Pack from a litter in captivity at the Sedgwick Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. After cross-fostering was completed, there were five wild Mexican wolf pups and four cross-fostered pups in the litter. Biologists will begin fall trapping efforts later this month to document cross-fostered wolves that have survived and to deploy tracking collars to monitor and manage the wolf population in Arizona. Cross-fostering is being used to increase genetic diversity in the wild Mexican wolf population...MORE

Five big-as-Texas ranches up for grabs offer plenty of social distancing

You can’t find a better place for social distancing than a 70,000-acre spread in the wilds of West Texas. Or how about 1,100 acres on the bayou in East Texas? Keeping 6 feet from your neighbor is no problem out there. Five big Texas ranches that have been up for sale are getting a new marketing push by Dallas-based Icon Global Group. Uechtritz’s firm has scheduled a call for offers for five properties up for grabs: two ranches in West Texas, two in East Texas and one in the Hill Country. “The offers are all due in the first couple of weeks of November,” Uechtritz said. “It’s not an auction — it offers the buyer an opportunity to do a good deal, and the sellers are motivated.” The biggest properties are in West Texas. The 70,000-acre Lely Ranch is in Presidio County near Big Bend National Park. The sprawling property’s international owners put the ranch on the market in 2018. Also in West Texas, the 7,700-acre Fox Canyon Ranch is in the Davis Mountains and owned by a group that uses the property for hunting. Icon Global is working with King Land & Water to sell both West Texas properties. The 1,100-acre Big Cypress Bayou River Ranch is near the historic East Texas town of Jefferson. It has a 75-acre lake and almost 3 miles of Big Cypress Bayou River frontage. Icon Global is also selling the 364-acre T Bar W Ranch near Mineola. “The seller is a bank, and they want to get it off their inventory,” Uechtritz said. Near the Central Texas town of San Saba, Icon Global is marketing the 2,554-acre 7D Ranch. The property includes a hilltop lodge...MORE

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

An NRA Insider Tells All

Robert Verbruggen

For the past few years, pretty much everyone outside the group has been wondering what the heck is going on with the National Rifle Association. It’s a major presence in American politics with millions of members who vote and a decent amount of money, and it played a big role in electing Donald Trump president. Lately, however, the organization has been in the news mainly for its crazy internal politics and alleged financial mismanagement. Joshua L. Powell, who from 2016 to 2019 served as a senior strategist for the NRA and chief of staff to its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, has stepped up to tell the tale. The picture he paints in Inside the NRA: A Tell-All Account of Corruption, Greed, and Paranoia within the Most Powerful Political Group in America is pretty much what the title promises. The book provides only a single perspective on a story with many sides, but it is an important document for NRA members and others who want to know what’s going on. Powell came to the NRA to modernize its operations. As he tells it, the place had simply not kept up with the times. When it spent money trying to attract new members, it didn’t keep the usual metrics about how much each member cost to win and how much they later contributed. Its board had a whopping 76 members. The organization’s structure was a set of fiefdoms run independently from each other; there were even several different marketing and PR operations. Unfortunately, he ended up getting sucked into the dysfunction rather than imposing order on it. He accuses LaPierre of having a terrible management style, avoiding conflict, and getting bullied by other prominent figures in the organization. Most important, Angus McQueen, of the marketing firm Ackerman McQueen, acted as LaPierre’s “puppet master,” despite the fact that Ackerman McQueen was merely a vendor of the organization of which LaPierre was the CEO. LaPierre is not an uncompromising firebrand by nature, but McQueen got him to play one. Of course, Ackerman McQueen is at the center of a lot of the controversy here. According to Powell, they’d cost the NRA $25 million a year but refuse to provide detailed invoices as to where the money was going, and McQueen would scream at anyone who challenged him. Eventually, of course, the NRA parted ways with Ackerman McQueen and ended NRATV, the costly collection of gun-related video channels that Ackerman had put together, which frequently veered away from Second Amendment issues and into culture-war territory. (Full disclosure, I was occasionally a guest on NRATV to discuss articles I wrote, though I didn’t get paid.) A legal battle between Ackerman McQueen and the NRA is ongoing. And the Ackerman relationship wasn’t the only problem. Heads within the NRA have rolled left and right lately, including that of Oliver North, who was president (the same largely ceremonial role Charlton Heston once occupied) and had come into the organization through a lucrative NRATV contract. There are allegations of financial shenanigans against LaPierre, including some involving pricey suits, expensive travel, and a $6 million “safe house” that was considered but never purchased. A high-powered lawyer whom Powell helped to bring aboard has raised eyebrows for his costs, too. As for Powell himself, he admits he failed to keep track of some expenses properly and ended up writing a roughly $22,000 check to cover it; he also faced two sexual-harassment claims that he says were baseless. Oh, and don’t forget that whole thing with Maria Butina, the Russian gun activist–slash–spy, which gets a chapter of its own here...MORE


BP buries a dagger into the heart of the oil industry

Chris Tomlinson

BP has joined a growing number of oil and gas companies that recognize the industry’s best days are in the rearview mirror, anticipating that oil use will peak within 10 years. The company’s new Energy Outlook asks not whether demand will drop, only how soon and how quickly. The London-based energy company is not the first to plunge a dagger into the back of the oil industry. Royal Dutch Shell predicted in 2018 that oil demand would peak in the late 2020s. Smaller industry forecasters have also made similar predictions. Stubborn industry loyalists should heed these warnings, even if U.S. oil producers still dream of oil markets growing indefinitely. Consumer demand is shrinking, which will leave companies with three options: expand market share, diversify the product line, or wind the business down. The easiest way to grow market share is to slash prices below what competitors can match. OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and its partner Russia have adopted this strategy, keeping international oil prices around $40 for most of the year. Most U.S. companies cannot survive at that price point. Some industry analysts, especially those contracted by U.S. firms, predict that once the Coronavirus Recession recedes and people travel again, the price of oil will shoot up. They even expect the price will rise high enough to grow demand for expensive fracked oil from American wells. BP’s demand outlook, though, argues otherwise. The company’s economists say oil demand will barely surpass 2019 levels. OPEC and Russia are holding back 1.5 million barrels a day, more than enough to keep prices low if they choose. Russian officials made it pretty clear in April that they want prices around $40 a barrel to keep the U.S. industry from making a comeback. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations are learning to live with these lower prices...MORE

Ranch Radio Song of the Day

Roy Acuff says the Old Age Pension Check will solve many problems. The tune was recorded in Memphis on July 5, 1939 for the Vocalion label. THE WESTERNER