Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This is the Westerners son and my dad asked me to let you all know that his ISP went bankrupt and we will be back up and blogging around Jan. 6th. Thanks and have a safe New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Salazar out to tame interior

One Interior Department scandal featured sex, drugs and influence peddling. Another involved politics trumping science in endangered-species rulings. Then there are the agency's intractable problems, such as the $8.7 billion maintenance backlog for national parks or a 12-year-old class-action lawsuit on behalf of Native Americans. The Interior Department manages 507 million acres, equal to about one-fifth of the country. But in recent years, it has had difficulty managing itself. When Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado takes over as interior secretary next month, he'll assume responsibility for a department beset by turmoil. He'll oversee everything from oil- and gas-leasing decisions to relationships with American Indian tribes. And he'll face large expectations from a new president and myriad special-interest groups. Changing the face and the politics of the department is not likely to happen easily or quickly. Salazar, through his spokesman, declined to comment. His past statements offer a guide to how he might handle some decisions. As senator, he has often pushed for compromise. But as interior secretary, he will implement President- elect Barack Obama's agenda as well as his own. "Sen. Salazar is going to be counted on to restore credibility, to restore sound science," said Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition....

Environmentalists petition EPA over ozone concern

An environmental group has filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force 16 Western states to revise their air quality regulations in an effort to trim ozone pollution. WildEarth Guardians said in its 25-page petition filed earlier this week that large cities throughout the West have already violated clean air standards limiting ozone and the problem is spreading to rural areas, including northwestern New Mexico and western Wyoming. "The Western states are facing an unprecedented challenge in addressing the impacts of ozone air pollution. For the sake of public health, it is a challenge that must be met aggressively," Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardian's climate and energy program director, wrote in the petition. Ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, forms when emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks mix with sunlight. The colorless gas can irritate the respiratory system, reduce lung capacity and aggravate asthma. WildEarth Guardians is asking the EPA to force New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming to revise their air quality regulations to strengthen ozone safeguards by 2013....

Oregon to pursue mileage tax using satellite tech

A year ago, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced it had demonstrated that a new way to pay for roads — via a mileage tax and satellite technology — could work. Now Gov. Ted Kulongoski says he’d like the legislature to take the next step. “As Oregonians drive less and demand more fuel-efficient vehicles, it is increasingly important that the state find a new way, other than the gas tax, to finance our transportation system.” According to the policies he has outlined online, Kulongoski proposes to continue the work of the special task force that came up with and tested the idea of a mileage tax to replace the gas tax. The governor wants the task force “to partner with auto manufacturers to refine technology that would enable Oregonians to pay for the transportation system based on how many miles they drive.”....

White House reconsiders decision on bull trout

The Bush administration is reconsidering its defense of endangered species decisions, following a report that showed political interference in the scientific process. This week, the government informed a federal district court judge that it might amend its position that decisions regarding bull trout habitat were scientifically defensible. “Essentially, they're acknowledging that we were right,” said Arlene Montgomery, “but they haven't figured out exactly how to deal with it.” Back in 2000, Montgomery's nonprofit Friends of the Wild Swan sued the federal government, asking that “critical habitat” be designated for bull trout. The fish were protected under the Endangered Species Act, she said, but no steps were being taken to ensure adequate habitat. Federal officials responded with a critical habitat designation that environmentalists said fell far short of what the fish needed. “It eliminated 90 percent of the proposed habitat,” Montgomery said....

Ethanol Bailout? Time To Shuck Corn

The bailout-seeking domestic auto industry has been criticized as being unproductive and inefficient. It hasn't been helped by mandated fuel economy standards that have done little to reduce our dependence on foreign energy or help the environment. Now the fuel we have been mandated to put in our cars, equally unproductive and inefficient, is also seeking a bailout. Ethanol never made much sense economically or environmentally. It never would have made it to market without congressional mandates and huge subsidies. Having the first presidential contest in the corm state of Iowa didn't hurt either. With oil prices plummeting, it is even less competitive — if it ever was. The product has benefited from a tax credit paid to gasoline producers to blend gasoline with ethanol; a federal fuel economy standard that sets a minimum amount of ethanol to be blended; and a 54-cents-a-gallon tariff on cheaper imported ethanol made in places like Brazil. Brazilian ethanol is made from sugar, not corn. But corn is grown in Iowa, and Brazilians can't vote. Recent legislation mandated increased ethanol use as well as a 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit and more corn subsidies. Over the last two decades the ethanol industry has been kept alive with more than $25 billion in federal handouts. Yet it still can't compete. Five of Iowa's 32 ethanol plants are in bankruptcy. They are operated by Sioux Falls, S.D.-based ethanol giant VeraSun Energy, which itself filed for Chapter 11 on Oct. 31. Eleven plants in other states have also fallen into bankruptcy....

DC scandal linked to Baca

A news release on Monday from the San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition linked Department of Interior Attorney Thomas Graf to an ongoing scandal involving former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald who resigned in 2006 following allegations that she improperly influenced more than a dozen Endangered Species Act decisions. Similar allegations are now being made against Graf in connection with proposed oil and gas drilling in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. The water coalition has alleged that Graf exercised heavy-handed policy similar to MacDonald’s style in overseeing development of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Environmental Assessment of Lexam Explorations, Inc., proposal to drill for natural gas in the Baca refuge. The coalition asserts that documents acquired through Freedom of Information Act requests confirmed that Graf allowed oil and gas industry lawyers to review and comment on internal drafts of the assessment. A report released earlier this month by the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General cast Graf in an even worse light when it stated that he “aided and abetted” Julie MacDonald. In the new report, Graf, self-described as MacDonald’s “eyes and ears,” allegedly interfered on numerous occasions with high-level scientific decision-making for the Greater Sage Grouse. He was described in the study as having a “remarkable lack of recollection [that] leaves one to speculate whether he was doing MacDonald’s bidding or was a rogue actor simply emulating her policy style.”....

Rainbows came, camped, prayed, left

They came, they prayed -- some say preyed -- and left. For about four weeks this summer, about 7,000 of the free-spirited Rainbow Family -- "the largest non-organization of non-members in the world" -- converged on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The gathering caused several ruckuses in Pinedale and Sublette County, and faded as fast as it arrived. The Rainbow Family gathers during the first week of July to live in alternative communities with their own camps and kitchens, learn different cultures, and primarily pray for peace and harmony with the Earth. But the rapid creation of a community nearly four times the size of nearby Pinedale didn't necessarily lend itself to peaceable relations among townsfolk, the U.S. Forest Service and its LEOs (Rainbow parlance for law enforcement officers), "drain-bows" (Rainbow parlance for slackers) who panhandled and shoplifted, Wyomingites unhappy with hippies, Sublette County residents concerned about the gathering's effects on the land, and Boy Scouts who had planned a conservation project near the gathering. The Forest Service's allowance of the Rainbow gathering irked Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman. It let the Rainbows camp without a permit, which in turn displaced the Boy Scouts who followed the rules to obtain permits, Bousman said. "If the rules are good enough for anybody, they're good enough for everybody."....

'Smart growth' group lobbies against new road construction

Democrats have two goals when it comes to writing a stimulus package: Kick-start the economy, and make it a greener one. But a list of “shovel-ready” road and bridge construction projects pushed by state highway officials to boost the economy and create jobs is a depressingly familiar shade of gray to a group of transit, environmental and “smart growth” advocates. “The stuff we’re seeing is more of the same,” said Robert Puentes, who runs the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Puentes and other members of a new coalition, Transportation for America, have put together a counteroffer they say will meet both goals of creating jobs and protecting the environment. Unlike the lists put forward by state transportation officials, Transportation for America’s is heavy on transit programs and more bike and walk paths. “If we move toward the change people voted for, we move toward a green recovery that could create thousands and thousands of jobs,” said Geoff Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America....

Forest Service to yank proposed energy leases

The U.S. Forest Service will ask that proposed energy leases on 13,000 acres of proposed roadless forest land in Colorado be withdrawn from an upcoming federal auction. The Forest Service blames an oversight for the inclusion of the land in an upcoming energy lease sale on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre (un-kum-PAW'-gray) and Gunnison national forests in western Colorado. Regional Forest Service officials say they'll submit a formal request to the Bureau of Land Management next month asking the parcels be removed. The land, part of 4 million roadless acres proposed statewide, was added to the state's plan after the oil and gas leases were submitted for sale.

Christmas expedition met rough weather

In early 1863, the U.S. Congress passed the Arizona Organic Act, thereby detaching the western half of New Mexico and from it creating the Arizona Territory. As provided by law, President Abraham Lincoln appointed the new territorial officials. Among them were John N. Goodwin, governor, and the justices of the Arizona high court. One of the latter was a Connecticut lawyer Joseph Pratt Allyn, named by Lincoln as an Arizona associate justice. He wrote up details of the trip that the party of officials made from Fort Leavenworth across the plains to Santa Fe and on westward to Arizona. Allyn, being a New Englander, was not impressed with Santa Fe's "undistinguished" adobe architecture. But in a letter published in his hometown newspaper at Hartford, he spoke approvingly of New Mexican women seen at a baile. In his words, they danced discreetly and did not flirt. The march westward by way of Albuquerque and Fort Wingate began with pleasant weather in early December, 1863. The government officials traveled in three army ambulances and were followed by a caravan of 66 baggage and supply wagons. By the time this slow-moving cavalcade reached Western New Mexico, the weather changed ,and Christmas was drawing near....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Oil vs. water causes big battle in the Rockies

A titanic battle between the West's two traditional power brokers – Big Oil and Big Water – has begun. At stake is one of the largest oil reserves in the world, a vast cache trapped beneath the Rocky Mountains containing an estimated 800 billion barrels – about three times the reserves of Saudi Arabia. Extracting oil from rocky seams of underground shale is not only expensive, but also requires massive amounts of water, a precious resource critical to continued development in the nation's fastest-growing region. The conflict between oil and water interests has now come to a head. On Oct. 31, Congress allowed a moratorium on oil-shale leasing to expire. That paved the way for the Bush administration to finalize leasing rules in November that opened 2 million acres of federal land to exploration. Oil shale companies acknowledge that the technology required to superheat shale to extract oil is unproven. They also concede that they are uncertain how much water would be needed in the process, although some experts calculate it would take 10 barrels of water to get one barrel of oil from shale. That water-to-oil equation has inflamed officials in the upper Rockies, who are raising the alarm about the cumulative effect of energy projects on the region's water supplies, which ultimately feed Southern California reservoirs via the Colorado River....

Solar Meets Polar as Winter Curbs Clean Energy

Old Man Winter, it turns out, is no friend of renewable energy. This time of year, wind turbine blades ice up, biodiesel congeals in tanks and solar panels produce less power because there is not as much sun. And perhaps most irritating to the people who own them, the panels become covered with snow, rendering them useless even in bright winter sunshine. So in regions where homeowners have long rolled their eyes at shoveling driveways, add another cold-weather chore: cleaning off the solar panels. “At least I can get to them with a long pole and a squeegee,” said Alan Stankevitz, a homeowner in southeast Minnesota. In January 2007, a bus stalled in the middle of the night on Interstate 70 in the Colorado mountains. The culprit was a 20 percent biodiesel blend that congealed in the freezing weather, according to John Jones, the transit director for the bus line, Summit Stage. (Biodiesel is a diesel substitute, typically made from vegetable oil, that is used to displace some fossil fuels.) The passengers got out of that situation intact, but Summit Stage, which serves ski resorts, now avoids biodiesel from November to March, and uses only a 5 percent blend in the summertime, when it can still get cold in the mountains. “We can’t have people sitting on buses freezing to death while we get out there trying to get them restarted,” Mr. Jones said. Winter may pose even bigger safety hazards in the vicinity of wind turbines. Some observers say the machines can hurl chunks of ice as they rotate....

Navy, environmentalists settle sonar lawsuit

The Navy has settled a lawsuit filed by environmentalists challenging its use of sonar in hundreds of submarine-hunting exercises around the world. The Navy said Saturday the deal reached with the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups requires it to continue to research how sonar affects whales and other marine mammals. It doesn't require sailors to adopt additional measures to protect the animals when they use sonar. The agreement comes one month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Navy in another sonar lawsuit the NRDC filed....

The Spotted Owl's New Nemesis

Every chick counts, because spotted owls are vanishing faster than ever. Nearly 20 years after Forsman's research helped the federal government boot loggers off millions of acres to save the threatened owls, nature has thrown the birds a curveball. A bigger, meaner bird—the barred owl—now drives spotted owls from their turf. Some scientists and wildlife managers have called for arming crews with decoys, shotguns and recorded bird songs in an experimental effort to lure barred owls from the trees and kill them. To Forsman and other biologists, the bizarre turn is not a refutation of past decisions but a sign of the volatility to come for endangered species in an increasingly erratic world. As climate chaos disrupts migration patterns, wind, weather, vegetation and river flows, unexpected conflicts will arise between species, confounding efforts to halt or slow extinctions. If the spotted owl is any guide, such conflicts could come on quickly, upend the way we save rare plants and animals, and create pressure to act before the science is clear....

Sinned against Earth? Buy an indulgence

In Mediaeval Europe, people who committed sins were required to confess their sins against God and pay some sort of retribution. The Mediaeval European church, having at the time a total monopoly on religion, came up with the idea of (a) declaring virtually every normal human activity a sin (thereby guaranteeing themselves an unlimited supply of sinners) and (b) providing the sinner an escape from purgatory by offering him an indulgence. In the modern world, people who drive SUVs and fly in jet aircraft are browbeaten into confessing their sins against the climate and shamed into paying some sort of retribution. The Climate Change industry, having at this time an almost total monopoly on the "science," came up with the idea of (a) declaring virtually every normal human activity as detrimental to the climate (giving them their guaranteed sinner base) and (b) providing the sinner an escape from purgatory by offering him a carbon offset. At first, the Mediaeval sinner could expiate his sin by doing good works in public like feeding the poor or comforting the sick while the modern sinner could recycle Dixie cups or plant a bush. But, in both cases, this left the ruling classes out of the loop. So the Mediaeval power brokers began selling indulgences, which allowed the Church to do the good acts for them, and today's offset vendors began selling carbon offsets, which allows the corporations to do the good acts for them....

Bidder said it was easy to rig government auction

A college student who infiltrated a government auction for oil and gas parcels said Monday he didn’t plan to run up prices and disrupt the sale until an auction clerk asked him, “Are you here to bid?” With that, Tim DeChristopher, 27, a University of Utah economics student and environmental activist, showed his driver’s license, picked up bidding paddle No. 70 and quietly seated himself in the bidding hall on Friday. He snapped up 22,500 acres of parcels between Arches and Canyonlands national parks that he doesn’t plan to develop or even pay for. He also drove up prices on other bids by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nobody else has infiltrated a government auction to cause so much turmoil, according to officials at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Investigators submitted reports Monday to federal prosecutors, based on DeChristopher’s own account of his auction play. No decision on charges against DeChristopher was expected until after the holidays, and the case would go to a grand jury first, said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office....

Clean Waste

In choosing Nobelist and alternative energy enthusiast Steve Chu as his nominee to head the Department of Energy (DOE), President-elect Barack Obama is saying he is serious about his plan to invest an awful lot of taxpayer money in alternative "clean" energy schemes. At an international climate summit in November, Obama proposed spending $150 billion over 10 years. Two days later, California Senator Barbara Boxer announced that she will introduce a bill in Congress to spend $15 billion a year "to spur innovations in clean energy." Obama says huge government investment in wind and solar power and other alternative energy technologies can usher in a "new chapter" of clean energy in America. It's a nice, sunny notion — really! — but first he ought to acquaint himself with the old chapters of this sad saga. The problem with most discussions about clean energy is that they take place in an ahistorical, highly naive vacuum. The next big breakthrough is always said to be just around the corner. Investors are too shortsighted to see it, but if government would just pitch in, why, we'd all be driving a fleet of Prius-like vehicles by 2020 — powered by nothing but our own self-esteem, with emissions that will actually reverse global warming. Where's the downside? The downside is in falling for it. America's real history of investing in non-nuclear clean energy is a story of waste and harm on a massive scale....

Pinon Canyon expansion opponents outline arguments

Opponents of a plan to expand the Army's Pinon Canyon training site contend the Army hasn't fully considered the environmental impacts of increasing training there. Not 1 More Acre! and others suing the Army outlined their arguments in an opening brief filed in U.S. District Court in Denver last week. The group and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in April asking a judge to make sure the Army complies with the National Environmental Policy Act before making changes at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. The plaintiffs contend the Army violated the act by failing to fully consider reasonable alternatives to its plan to increase the frequency, duration and intensity of training at Pinon Canyon in southeastern Colorado, such as holding training elsewhere. It also contends the Army didn't include proposals to physically expand the training site when it wrote an environmental impact statement on the effects of increasing training....

Californians Shape Up as Force on Environmental Policy

California Democrats will assume pivotal roles in the new Congress and White House, giving the state an outsize influence over federal policy and increasing the likelihood that its culture of activist regulation will be imported to Washington. In Congress, Democrats from the Golden State are in key positions to write laws to mitigate global warming, promote "green" industries and alternative energy, and crack down on toxic chemicals. Down Pennsylvania Avenue, Californians in the new White House will shape environmental, energy and workplace safety policies. "It's unique in terms of the power of this state in modern times," said James A. Thurber, who directs the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. To find another example of a state wielding such national influence, Thurber had to reach back to Texas in the 1950s, when Sam Rayburn was the House speaker and Lyndon B. Johnson was the Senate majority leader....

Utah now focus of push for lead ammo rules

Conservationists who have battled for years to eliminate lead ammunition they say is the biggest threat to the survival of endangered California condors are now setting their sights on Utah. Successful programs to limit the use of lead ammunition in Arizona and California have cut the number of the giant vultures poisoned from eating bullets in carcasses of animals shot by hunters. But as the resurgent condors expand their range, wildlife officials know they must broaden their focus as the birds journey into nearby Utah. Jim Parrish, nongame avian coordinator for Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources, said video footage has shown that the condors are feeding on gut piles in Utah and have been exposed to lead. He said Utah plans to implement a program similar to one in Arizona that would provide vouchers to hunters for non-lead ammunition, starting in 2010....

Missouri rancher is gone, but mystery remains

The auctioneer sat above the cattle ring and told the crowd what a great herd they were getting ready to bid on. Well-tended, top-notch cows and performance-tested bulls. “They certainly would not be for sale if not for the circumstances,” auctioneer Jim Hertzog said into the microphone. His voice broke with those words and he held up a hand: “Give me a second.” The arena crowd sat stone quiet. Hertzog, wearing a big cowboy hat, took a sip of water. Then, with game face restored, he started the sale: “All right, boys, let’s take a look at ’em.” It didn’t say the cattle were being sold because Cook, 55, hadn’t been seen since he disappeared from the ranch in mid-November. His billfold was found inside the house. No disarray. No forced entry. His pickup still sat in the driveway. “Nobody knows what happened. … He’s just gone,” said Elsie Cash from behind the counter at McBee’s General Store, about a mile east of the ranch. “He used to stop in here all the time, for food and whatnot. Nice fellow. “People ’round here sure are wondering what happened.”....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ranchers were green before it was popular

by Jo Baeza

An old cowboy named Ray Tankersley once told me he calculated that one woman used as much water as 100 cows. How he came to that conclusion I'm not sure, but he assured me he'd "studied on it."

It's true that women use a lot of water from the time they get up in the morning till the time they go to bed, but ranch women use less than others.

When I got married and moved to a ranch in 1956, we had to haul water in buckets from the windmill pipe to the house. Once we put in running water, there was no stopping me. I took a shower every day, washed dishes after every meal, used water to cook for two or three cowboys, put water out every morning for the ranch dogs, cats and chickens.

It took a lot of water to irrigate my kitchen garden in the summer and more water to clean and cook vegetables. The milk cans and bottles had to be scalded with hot water every day.

Our dishwater and wash water, known these days as "gray water," ran out in the yard to water grass and trees. Our sewage went into a cesspool that was blasted out of sandstone rock by Sam Yellowhair using a mysterious substance he called "blue mud."(I went to town to do the laundry when he was blasting.)

The cesspool didn't get a lot of use, as the men were out on the range most of the day and contributed their biodegradable waste to the environment.

When we'd go to town, we'd stop every so often to pick up parts alongside the road. You'd be surprised how much flies off a car or pickup bouncing over a rutted dirt road.

The cowboy's creative eye sees opportunity in what looks like a piece of junk to most people. Everything from mufflers to nuts and bolts went to the shop to be transformed into something useful by a skillful welder or put into a box of spare parts.

Ranchers who had an allotment on the national forest could usually find discarded tools after a forest fire. More than one shovel or pulaski or canteen in the back of a rancher's pickup truck has a "U.S." on it. He figures he paid his taxes. In fact, some of the eating utensils at our West Camp were stamped "U.S." and looked as if they might have been used by the cavalry in the Apache wars.

Many of the early day Forest Service personnel were cowboys whose terminology stuck. Most ranger stations still have a "boneyard" out back full of used parts that might come in handy some day.

To ranchers, the boneyard is the place where dead animals are left. In Arizona, the coyotes and ravens clean up a carcass in no time and the sun bleaches the bones. Nothing is wasted in nature.

Food scraps and peelings were thrown out to the chickens from whence came eggs and occasional Sunday dinners. Manure from the corrals was put on a mulch pile with ashes from the fireplace and any organic material that happened to be lying around. The chickens, ducks, geese and guineas provided pest control without pesticides, and the cats took care of rodents in the barn. The cow dogs kept predators and salesmen away from the house.

One of the words used often around a cow camp was "splice." When you lived an hour or more from town, you didn't run to the hardware store every time you ran out of something. You spliced it. If a horse broke a rein, you spliced the leather. Even if one rein was shorter than the other, you could get back to camp.

Saddle leathers came in handy, too. Like a mountain man's fringed buckskin shirt, a cowboy's saddle leathers were used to patch stirrups and all kinds of things.

Cowboys still carry fence pliers most everywhere they go horseback. If they come across a fence the antelope have pulled up, they can splice the fence even if they don't have any baling wire handy. Fence pliers can be used to cut or tighten wire or pound in staples. The rules for conservation were simple - keep your eyes open for anything useful, and don't throw anything away. The upshot of that was most old-time ranches looked more like junk yards than like South Fork or the Ponderosa, but they didn't have to get federal bailouts to stay in business.

With no television, cellular devices or Xboxes for distraction, the old-time cowboy spent his after-dinner time in the bunk house carving wood, hand-tooling leather or braiding horsehair reins, headstalls and quirts. He patched his boots until they wore out. When they wore out, he kept the old boots for leather.

If he had the means, he might draw or paint. Almost all cowpunchers were storytellers and many amused themselves by singing, playing guitar or making up poetry.

Books and magazines were read over and over. Writing was an arduous labor for most cowboys, but they wrote letters when needed, usually with a pencil on a lined tablet.

It's been along time since women stayed up mending socks and clothing after everyone else went to bed, but they did. When they didn't have mending to do, they would knit, crochet or quilt. Cowboys knew how to sew, mend and cook as well as a woman.

It's been a long time since kids routinely wore "hand-me-downs," but that was the practice in most families. Maybe this "economic downturn" will have an upside. A lot of people today are hearing, for the first time, the old expression familiar to ranch families: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

And don't forget your fence pliers.

*Reach the reporter at

Posted with permission of the author and the White Mountain Independent.

It’s The Pitts: Post Hole Withdrawals

by Lee Pitts

I don’t mean to start another gold rush but did you know there are many fortunes in gold and silver buried in many locales in the great southwest? I’m not referring to mythical mines or undiscovered cities where the streets are paved in gold. Nor am I suggesting that you quit your job and buy a string of mules to go looking for buried treasure that both the Spaniards and the Mexicans left behind on their hasty retreats. I am referring to the money buried in cans, chests and caves back in the days when a “bank” deposit was made by first digging a hole.

With banks and businesses going broke people might once again be bringing their money back to the safety of their own premises where, unlike Social Security or stock in Lehman Brothers, AIG, Freddy and Fannie, it may actually be there when they need it. This explains why safes are the only thing jumping off store shelves these days.

When that parched part of this country where ranches are measured in sections, not acres, was first settled there were no banks to distrust. Even if there were, the banks were usually far away and your bank deposits weren’t guaranteed by the FDIC. If the James gang stole all your money in the bank it was gone.

Back then if you had to travel a long way to buy a string of cattle you had to take your money with you. You could hide some bank notes (often printed by a bank, not the government) in your money belt, but that’s the first place bandits would look, so many ranchers carried gold dust or gold and silver coins. A jigger of gold dust was worth $100 and $1,000 dollars in silver coins weighed over 62 pounds. Such a load made you an obvious target for thieves and when ranchers sensed that robbers were on their trail, or laying in wait for them, they’d stop and hastily bury their money. Many of them never came back to get it either, and even if they did sometimes they couldn’t find it because the landmarks they used were no longer there.

There are countless cases where a rancher somehow managed to make a little money and rather than risk it being stolen on the ride into town he simply buried it. A popular place to bury your life’s savings was under a fence post. It was secure there; maybe even too secure. Sometimes the rancher forgot which post was his bank branch. Even if the rancher remembered the right post the gold was often as hard to find as the smoke from yesterday’s campfire because gold sinks six inches every year in sandy or light soil and the rancher gave up when it was not found at the right depth.

In some cases the ranchers left behind instructions or a map called a “derrotero” but usually the rancher’s secret died with them If they met a sudden or untimely death. “Los muertos no hablan,” was a popular saying. The dead do not talk. Neither do post holes, unfortunately.

If you’ve been unnerved by recent economic events and are considering burying your own treasure there are a few rules that may aid your selfish kids in finding your fortune without spending their adult lives tearing down all your corrals. First, if you are going to bury paper money put it in an airtight container with a silver dollar on top so that your stash will register on a metal detector. And if you are going to leave behind a map use landmarks that don’t change. Your fortune may be planted equal distance between a tree and a certain rock but someone may cut down that tree and move the rock. Or, a sandstorm could alter the landscape and then your kids would have to dig up the entire homeplace. (Although it would be a good way to get the seedbed tilled for your wife’s garden when you’re no longer around to do it!)

Alternatively, you could draw a map and send it to me for safekeeping. If you do don’t set your posts very deep and I’d prefer gold coins. No stock certificates or paper money please. That stuff is hardly worth digging for these days.

Our Fading Heritage

Are most people, including college graduates, civically illiterate? Do elected officials know even less than most citizens about civic topics such as history, government and economics? The answer is yes on both counts according to a new study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

* More than 2,500 randomly selected Americans took ISI's basic 33-question test on civic literacy and more than 1,700 people failed, with the average score 49 percent, or an "F."
* Elected officials scored even lower than the general public with an average score of 44 percent and only 0.8 percent (or 21) of all surveyed earned an "A."

Even more startling is the fact that over twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol than know that the phrase "government of the people, by the people, for the people" comes from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Other results from several basic survey questions:

* Some 30 percent of elected officials do not know that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence; and 20 percent falsely believe that the Electoral College "was established to supervise the first presidential debates."
* Almost 40 percent of all respondents falsely believe the president has the power to declare war.
* Some 40 percent of those with a bachelor's degree do not know business profit equals revenue minus expenses.
* Only 54 percent with a bachelor's degree correctly define free enterprise as a system in which individuals create, exchange and control goods and resources.
* About 21 percent of Americans falsely believe that the Federal Reserve can increase or decrease government spending.

The new study follows up two previous reports from ISI's National Civic Literacy Board that revealed a major void in civic knowledge among the nation's college students. This report goes beyond the college crowd however, examining the civic literacy of everyday citizens, including self-identified elected officials. But according to ISI, the blame and solution again lie at the doorstep of the nation's colleges.

"There is an epidemic of economic, political and historical ignorance in our country," says Josiah Bunting, III, chairman of ISI's National Civic Literacy Board. "It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned. How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don't understand the American experience? Colleges can, and should play an important role in curing this national epidemic of ignorance."

Source: Report, "Our Fading Heritage," Intercollegiate Studies Institute, November 20,2008.

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Obama's Black Widow

Barack Obama will be in charge of the biggest domestic and international spying operation in history. Its prime engine is the National Security Agency (NSA)—located and guarded at Fort Meade, Maryland, about 10 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. A brief glimpse of its ever-expanding capacity was provided on October 26 by The Baltimore Sun's national security correspondent, David Wood: "The NSA's colossal Cray supercomputer, code-named the 'Black Widow,' scans millions of domestic and international phone calls and e-mails every hour. . . . The Black Widow, performing hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, searches through and reassembles key words and patterns, across many languages." In July, George W. Bush signed into law the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which gives the NSA even more power to look for patterns that suggest terrorism links in Americans' telephone and Internet communications. The ACLU immediately filed a lawsuit on free speech and privacy grounds. The new Bush law provides farcical judicial supervision over the NSA and other government trackers and databasers. Although Senator Barack Obama voted for this law, dig this from the ACLU: "The government [is now permitted] to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and e-mail addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it's conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing." This gives the word "dragnet" an especially chilling new meaning....

Obama's attorney general pick: Good on privacy?

Eric Holder, President-elect Barack Obama's pick for attorney general, drew applause from liberal Democrats earlier this year when he denounced the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. A review of Holder's public statements, speeches, and testimony when he was a top Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, however, reveals a more nuanced record on privacy. His remarks indicate support for laws mandating Internet traceability, limits on domestic use of encryption, and more restrictions on free speech online. He also called for new powers for federal prosecutors, some of which became law under President Bush as part of the USA Patriot Act. n some cases, Holder's statements echoed the position of Justice Department staff members or political appointees, many of whom clashed with civil liberties groups. In others, the former deputy attorney general seems to have gone further than his colleagues in advocating more powers for police....

U.S. Military Preparing for Domestic Disturbances

A new report from the U.S. Army War College discusses the use of American troops to quell civil unrest brought about by a worsening economic crisis. The report from the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute warns that the U.S. military must prepare for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States” that could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse” or “loss of functioning political and legal order.” Entitled “Known Unknowns: Unconventional ‘Strategic Shocks’ in Defense Strategy Development,” the report was produced by Nathan Freier, a recently retired Army lieutenant colonel who is a professor at the college — the Army’s main training institute for prospective senior officers. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned last week of riots and unrest in global markets if the ongoing financial crisis is not addressed and lower-income households are beset with credit constraints and rising unemployment, the Phoenix Business Journal reported. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Rep. Brad Sherman of California disclosed that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson discussed a worst-case scenario as he pushed the Wall Street bailout in September, and said that scenario might even require a declaration of martial law. The Army College report states: “DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States....View the study here(pdf).

What Is the DEA Smoking?

The Drug Enforcement Administration is in an optimistic mood. A new DEA report insists that the antidrug campaigns Washington has undertaken with Colombia and Mexico in recent years have dramatically slowed the flow of cocaine into the United States. The DEA's principal piece of evidence is that average street prices for the drug have soared over the past twenty-one months from $96.61 per gram to $182.73, which suggests "that we are placing significant stress on the drug delivery system." There's just one problem with the DEA's proclamation of success. We've heard it all before. Many, many times before. For example, in November 2005, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asserted that a 19 percent increase in cocaine prices since February indicated a growing retail shortage, thus validating Washington's multibillion dollar Plan Colombia, designed to stanch the torrent of drugs coming from the Andean region of South America. "These numbers confirm that the levels of interdiction, the levels of eradication, have reduced the availability of cocaine in the United States," White House drug czar John P. Walters boasted. "The policy is working." And what was the sky-high street price of cocaine that justified such optimism? $170 per gram. Adjusted for inflation, that price was actually higher than the latest price spike to just under $183. Yet clearly that earlier alleged supply-side victory in the drug war was short lived. According to the DEA's own statistics in the December 2008 report, cocaine prices had declined to a mere $96 per gram by January 2007....

FBI Agent Who Dated Actress is Charged With Illegally Accessing FBI Computer

FBI agent Mark Rossini, whose name surfaced in New York gossip columns for dating actress Linda Fiorentino, has been charged with illegally accessing an FBI computer for personal use. Rossini, who resigned Friday, was charged with five misdemeanor counts in a criminal Information filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington. In many instances, when a criminal Information is filed, the defendant ends up pleading guilty. Rossini had been based in Washington but later transferred to New York, where press reports had him dining with Fiorentino at Elaine’s, a well known uptown restaurant. Del Quentin Wilber of The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Linda Fiorentino has ties to Anthony Pellicano, the controversial Los Angeles private investigator, who was convicted in May of using illegal wiretaps and rogue cops to dig up info for famous clients. The Post said that Pellicano’s attorneys in a court filing in March 2007 referenced an FBI report that raised questions about a certain FBI agent’s credibility. The lawyers said the prosecution should have turned over the report during discovery. Rossini was the source of that document, the Post reported, attributing that to “one law enforcement official.”....

Mexican drug smugglers spray bullets, but U.S. officers dare not return fire

A team of Mexican drug smugglers unloaded $1 million worth of drugs across the U.S. border, spraying bullets at U.S. Border Patrol agents with automatic weapons, but the agents dared not return fire – as one official said they fear losing their jobs or ending up behind bars like agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. This time drug smugglers wore military clothing and fired "military type" automatic weapons at U.S. Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel in Tuscon, Ariz., on Dec. 1. The brazen smugglers backed a flatbed tow truck into an 18-foot border fence and unloaded two pickup trucks packed with marijuana into the U.S. as National Guard and U.S. predator surveillance cameras recorded their efforts, and Border Patrol agents were immediately dispatched to the scene. When the agents attempted to stop the pickup trucks, a Chevrolet Avalanche and a Ford F150, the smugglers began driving back toward Mexico. However, U.S. authorities deflated the truck tires before the smugglers could make it to the other side, the Laguna Journal reported. Just then, another vehicle was spotted in Mexico, and a sniper began firing an automatic weapon at the U.S. agents. But agents did not fire back. Many witnesses, including U.S. scientists working in Arizona, report seeing heavily armed illegal aliens crossing border fences in the area. When U.S. agents arrive on the scene, smugglers often pelt them with rocks, strike them with vehicles or fire weapons at them – and agents sometimes face penalties for firing back....

Washington DC Enacts Tough Gun-Control Measure

Nearly six months after the Supreme Court put an end to the District of Columbia’s decades-old ban on handgun possession, the City Council here passed a sweeping new ordinance on Tuesday to regulate gun ownership. The legislation would require all gun owners to receive five hours of safety training and to register their firearms every three years. In addition, they would have to undergo a criminal background check every six years. Councilman Phil Mendelson, who helped draft the bill and shepherd it through the Council, called it a “very significant piece of legislation that borrows best practices from other states.” Opponents said the legislation flew in the face of the Supreme Court ruling in June. “The D.C. Council continues to try to make it harder and harder for law-abiding citizens to access this freedom,” Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, told The Associated Press....

Court orders gun libel suit back to state

The federal appeals court in Atlanta has ordered a lawsuit claiming New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg libeled a Georgia sporting goods store by calling it 1 of several "rogue gun dealers" to be returned to the state court where it originated. Friday's decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the latest development in a 2-year legal battle that began when Bloomberg sued 15 firearms brokers in five states, including Georgia. The suit said they were selling weapons that ended up in the hands of New York criminals. Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, representing Adventure Outdoor Sports in Smyrna, Ga., argued before the appeals court in September that the suit should be returned to state Superior Court. Bloomberg's lawyers wanted the suit to be dismissed or remain in federal court, because it applies to whether the gun stores violated federal laws.

Clown strip searched at airport

A clown wearing colourful pantaloons, huge shoes and a flashing police helmet was strip searched by airport security guards. Dave Vaughan, 60, who was due to perform for sick children as PC Konk, also had his plastic handcuffs confiscated at Birmingham International Airport. Mr Vaughan was with a crowd of 100 disadvantaged youngsters about to board a charity flight around Britain when he set off a metal detector....

Satellites Spy on Washington from on High

Washington, D.C., home of the CIA, National Security Administration (NSA) and FBI, is a well-known haven for spies and surveillance. But new satellite pictures of the White House, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial show these government agencies aren't the only ones watching and being watched. These latest images from Dulles, Va., satellite-imaging company, GeoEye, are among the first to be collected by the GeoEye 1, a satellite launched into polar orbit on September 6 that can "see" objects on Earth as small as 16 inches (0.41 meter) in size in black-and-white mode or 64.6 inches (1.64 meters) in color. Images from the GeoEye 1, which stands 20 feet (6.1 meters) high and weighs more than 4,300 pounds (1,950 kilograms), so impressed Google that the Internet search giant plans to add the satellite's high-resolution, digital color photos to Google Earth next month. View a slide show of images taken by GeoEye satellites.

Michigan City Bans “Being Annoying in Public”

Last Thursday, the Brighton (MI) City Council approved a local ordinance that tickets anyone caught annoying others in public “by word of mouth, sign or motions.” This is perhaps one of the most obvious infringements on free speech in this nation’s history. This ordinance obviously violates the free speech clause and also to a lesser extent the free association clause. Also the idea of “annoying speech” is so incredibly subjective that it can mean any speech, thus giving the executive (police) the complete and total fiat of determining what speech is acceptable for the community....

US police could get 'pain beam' weapons

The research arm of the US Department of Justice is working on two portable non-lethal weapons that inflict pain from a distance using beams of laser light or microwaves, with the intention of putting them into the hands of police to subdue suspects. The two devices under development by the civilian National Institute of Justice both build on knowledge gained from the Pentagon's controversial Active Denial System (ADS) - first demonstrated in public last year, which uses a 2-metre beam of short microwaves to heat up the outer layer of a person's skin and cause pain. Like the ADS, the new portable devices will also heat the skin, but will have beams only a few centimetres across. They are designed to elicit what the Pentagon calls a "repel response" - a strong urge to escape from the beam....They say this is to "reduce injury to suspects." Another holiday gift from the feds.

Tangled U.S. Objectives Bring Down Spy Firm

After a federal jury in New York swiftly convicted a major Afghan heroin trafficker and Taliban supporter named Haji Bashir Noorzai, the government promptly issued the usual celebratory news release thanking the men and women of the DEA and FBI for their "countless sacrifices" in making the case. Left out was any credit to the party most responsible for the government's victory: an unusual three-man private intelligence firm called Rosetta Research and Consulting. At the instigation of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Rosetta agents lured Noorzai to America and delivered him right into the feds' hands. He spent 11 days in an Embassy Suites Hotel in Manhattan in 2005, enjoying room service and considering himself a guest of the U.S. government -- until he was arrested. He was imprisoned for three years awaiting his trial, which concluded in September. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced in January. Noorzai's capture should have been Rosetta's finest hour. Instead, it led to the company's downfall. A close examination of the case reveals how a spy firm trafficking in sensitive intelligence for profit got sandwiched between conflicting government goals: Noorzai, one of the company's best sources, was considered an asset by the intelligence side of the government, even as the law enforcement side considered him a criminal. The tale reveals some of the rivalries, ugly choices and ironies that permeate this shadowy world. The company that thought it might get a $2 million reward was dragged into an internal Justice Department investigation. The FBI employees who helped the firm ended up in trouble with their own agency....

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mexico Halts Meat Purchases From 30 U.S. Plants, Including Top Processors

Mexico suspended meat imports from 30 processing plants in 14 U.S. states, including some of the nation's largest, on Wednesday and Friday, according to a list posted on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site. The action pushed down beef and pork futures in trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Friday. USDA spokeswoman Amanda Eamich said in an e-mail that Mexico had discussions over the last five business days with the agency regarding concerns about the general condition of meat products, sanitation issues and "possible pathogen findings." "Occasional differences in shipments in trade relationships do occur and allow for the option of notifying specific plants of suspension of those shipments," she said. Among the plants listed on the site are the Smithfield Packing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., the world's largest pork slaughterhouse. Another Smithfield plant in Plant City, Fla., that processes pork, beef and poultry is on the list, along with three plants operated by subsidiary John Morrell & Co., two in South Dakota and one in Iowa, a Nebraska pork plant run by subsidiary Farmland Foods and a Pennsylvania beef plant run by its Moyer Packing unit. Six operations run by Tyson Foods in Iowa, Texas and Nebraska also are on the list. Tyson spokesman Archie Schaffer III said the company had no prior warning from Mexico about the ban and only learned of it when shipments were turned aside at the border Wednesday. The ban could greatly affect the company, as high feed prices already have strained its profits. Mexico represented 23 percent of its $3.8 billion of international sales in 2008, according to company statistics. "No information or explanation was given," Schaffer said. "We're going to be working beginning Monday" to restore trade. Attempts to reach representatives at Smithfield and Swift were unsuccessful. According to published reports, the suspensions may be in retaliation for the United States putting a country-of-origin labeling law into effect on Oct. 1 in response to concerns about the safety of imports. Last week, Mexico joined Canada in opposing the law, which involves fresh beef and pork, in a complaint to the World Trade Organization. Canada filed its complaint Dec. 1, saying it was concerned the U.S. rules were discriminating against Canadian agricultural exporters. The country-of-origin labeling law mandates the separation of foreign cattle and pigs in U.S. feedlots and packing plants. Foreign animals also are required to have more documentation about where they come from and, in the case of cattle, must have tags that indicate they are free of mad cow disease. Canadian farm groups say a growing number of meat plants in the United States are refusing to accept Canadian cattle and hogs for processing since the law went into effect.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Snowzilla Is Back!

Snowzilla the giant snowman rose from the dead Tuesday morning after some holiday pranksters thumbed their noses at city orders and rebuilt him overnight. When news of the controversial and world-famous Anchorage snowman's demise exploded on the Internet this week, hundreds of Alaska and Lower 48 readers had two words for the city of Anchorage and anyone else who criticized the crowd-pleasing giant: "Bah humbug." And before dawn Tuesday, in downtown Anchorage, someone erected a small, misshapen snowman at the entrance to Anchorage City Hall: A crude mini Snowzilla brandishing a protest sign that read "Snowmen of the world unite!" Several weeks ago, city code enforcers -- acting when this year's giant snowman was half-complete -- declared Snowzilla a nuisance and a safety hazard. They banned homeowner Billy Powers from building an "extraordinarily large snowman." The city posted its stop-work order at the base of the snowman and on Powers' front door....

E.P.A.’s Doctor No

... So there we have it. One original initiative in eight years, saved at the bell. That’s a poor showing, and the Democrats are hardly alone in hoping for better under an Obama administration. Last week, two prominent moderate Republicans — William K. Reilly, who ran the E.P.A. under President George H.W. Bush, and William D. Ruckelshaus, who served as administrator under both Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — sent a little-noticed but eloquent letter to President-elect Barack Obama. The gist of the letter was that the E.P.A. could be an enormously positive force in the fight against climate change and oil dependency. All it needed was someone who believed in its mission and was prepared to use the laws already on the books. Granting California its waiver, carrying out the Supreme Court decision, regulating emissions from vehicles and power plants — all this and more, they wrote, could be accomplished with the statutory tools at hand. This exhortation from two veterans of the environmental wars was designed to encourage not only Mr. Obama, but also Lisa Jackson, the woman he has chosen to run the agency. It was also, however, an arrow aimed at the ideologues who have been running the agency for the last half-dozen years — and a lament for how little they have done with the weapons Congress gave them....

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Kind of Santa

A group of Santa impersonators are on the naughty list of Arizona law enforcement officials. A YouTube video posted Monday shows four people dressed as Kris Kringle, white beards and red hats included, covering three speed and red light enforcement cameras in Tempe. Two are covered with boxes - one decorated with Christmas wrap - and the third is blocked with what appears to be a red sheet. The Jackson 5's ``Santa Claus is coming to town'' plays during the more than two-minute video. At the end is a message that reads: ``Ho Ho Ho! Death to the surveillance state! Free movement for all people!'' The group that posted the video also wrote ``lumps of coal to all of those who make it their business to watch and control.''

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Green' Jobs Compete for Stimulus Aid

In one of the first internal struggles of the incoming Obama administration, environmentalists and smart-growth advocates are trying to shift the priorities of the economic stimulus plan that will be introduced in Congress next month away from allocating tens of billions of dollars to highways, bridges and other traditional infrastructure spending to more projects that create "green-collar" jobs. The debate has centered on two competing principles in the evolving plan: the desire to spend money on what President-elect Barack Obama calls "shovel-ready projects," such as highway and bridge construction, vs. spending on more environmentally conscious projects, such as grids for wind and solar power. Lawmakers opposed to the emerging-technology projects accuse their colleagues of using the financial crisis to push through pricey policy proposals that they say would do little to boost the economy in the immediate future. The largest beneficiary of the shovel-ready construction projects would be labor unions....

In Reversal, Court Allows a Bush Plan on Pollution

A federal appeals court in Washington reversed itself on Tuesday and temporarily reinstated a Bush administration plan to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants. In July, the court struck down the rule, saying the Environmental Protection Agency had exceeded its authority in devising a new emissions-trading system to reduce that pollution, and must rewrite the rule to fix its “fundamental flaws.” Environmentalists criticized the decision as a major setback for clean air. In Tuesday’s decision, the court said that having a flawed rule temporarily in place was better than having no rule at all. The agency must still revise the rule but has no deadline for doing so. The regulation, known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, had been the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s re-engineering of the Clean Air Act. It set significant targets to reduce pollution around the power plants and in the downwind states whose air quality was affected by the emissions....

Prominent Scientist Fired By Gore Says Warming Alarm ‘Mistaken’

Award winning Princeton University Physicist Dr. Will Happer, who was reportedly fired by former Vice President Al Gore in 1993 for failing to adhere to Gore’s scientific views, has now declared man-made global warming fears “mistaken.” “I am convinced that the current alarm over carbon dioxide is mistaken,” Happer, who has published over 200 scientific papers, told EPW on December 22, 2008. Happer made his remarks while requesting to join the 2008 U.S. Senate Minority Report from Environment and Public Works Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) of over 650 (and growing) dissenting international scientists disputing anthropogenic climate fears. [Note: Joining Happer as new additions to the Senate report, are at least 10 more scientists, including meteorologists from Germany, Netherlands and CNN, as well as a professors from MIT and University of Arizona. See below for full quotes and bios of the new skeptical scientists added to the groundbreaking report, which includes many current and former UN IPCC scientists.] “I had the privilege of being fired by Al Gore, since I refused to go along with his alarmism. I did not need the job that badly,” Happer said this week. Happer is a Professor at the Department of Physics at Princeton University and former Director of Energy Research at the Department of Energy from 1990 to 1993, has published over 200 scientific papers, and is a fellow of the American Physical Society, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Sciences....

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Howls of protest greet Mexican wolf reintroduction

On a cold, wind-whipped November morning, about 90 minutes south of Albuquerque, N.M., a line of people faces off against a pack of wolves. They clutch poles, nets, and lassos, props not necessarily meant for use, but to make them look bigger. A US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) official tells them not to worry, there’s little danger. But if a wolf tries to break the line, don’t go sticking out a limb. Most of these wolves, an endangered Southwestern subspecies, were born and bred in captivity. They’re the fruit of a 25-year-old plan by the FWS to reestablish the Mexican wolf in the wild. The captive wolves live between two hills on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, their enclosures largely isolated from human sights, sounds, and smells as a rewilding exercise. They can’t be habituated to a human presence; without sufficient fear of people, they won’t last long in the wild. Indeed, only the most fearful will be released at all. The Southwestern wolf-reintroduction program has been less successful than reintroduction programs in the northern Rockies. Different socioeconomic realities and a different landscape have complicated the Mexican wolf’s comeback. Some ranchers near the recovery area, a 6,745-square-mile swath straddling the New Mexico-Arizona border, say wolves have no place there. Conservationists counter that the recovery area, 95 percent national forest, is public land and should be wild, predators included....

Conservationists Request Feds Replace Photo of Wolf

Sixteen conservation and animal welfare organizations today asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to replace the photograph of the “poster wolf” of the Mexican gray wolf program – prominently displayed on the federal agency’s website and in a oversized blowup poster at the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters – because the wolf was trapped and inadvertently killed in 2005. The wolf was one of at least 2,911 gray wolves killed as a result of Fish and Wildlife Service actions since 1996, most in the northern Rocky Mountains and upper Midwest, but also including 29 highly imperiled Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. The killings in the northern Rockies have rendered wolves in Yellowstone National Park almost entirely genetically isolated, threatening their viability and preventing the northern Rockies wolves’ recovery. There are now only about 50 Mexican wolves in the wild – a population that scientists say is already undergoing debilitating inbreeding depression....

Election alters wilderness fight outlook

Some people are wondering how a change in New Mexico's congressional delegation will impact a proposal for designating thousands of acres in Doña Ana County as wilderness. The proposal for an official federal wilderness designation, initially put forward in late 2005, stalled after it lost support from outgoing U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and was opposed by outgoing U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who backed a different land-use plan favored by ranchers. But Domenici is retiring, and Pearce unsuccessfully sought election this year to Domenici's Senate seat. Replacing them are Sen.-elect Tom Udall, now a congressman from northern New Mexico, and Rep.-elect Harry Teague, both Democrats. Teague, in a phone interview two weeks ago, said he's already spoken to some constituents about the wilderness proposal, but is still gathering information. He said he doesn't have a stance yet. "I don't really have everything I need to have about that," Teague said. Marissa Padilla, a spokeswoman for Udall, said the senator-elect will invite and listen to all of the various parties to build consensus on the wilderness. Udall looks forward to working with Bingaman, Teague and the members of the new delegation to take steps toward the introduction of legislation, she said. Jude McCartin, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said that, in January, the senator will begin talks with Doña Ana County residents and the new delegation "with the intention of developing wilderness legislation."....

Fighting for forests

Arthur Carhart: Wilderness Prophet Tom Wolf University Press of Colorado, 2008. A fiery conservationist who came of age in the late 1910s, Arthur Carhart had a penchant for highlighting the contradictions in the environmental movement, not to mention the conflicts of interest at the U.S. Forest Service, which employed him at a young age. The disheartening part of reading Wilderness Prophet, Tom Wolf's new biography, is realizing that the problems Carhart shed light on nine decades ago are still damaging our nation's public lands. Carhart is credited with proposing one of the nation's first wilderness areas, at Trappers Lake in northwest Colorado in 1919. The original idea didn't come to fruition, but the lake received increased protection and spurred Carhart to promote watershed-wide wilderness management to the Forest Service. He battled for sound planning throughout his Forest Service career and against the frantic road-building, timber-harvesting mindset of the agency. "The very future of the nation could fall into decadence, fail, even die, if we do not give the consideration we must to the water wealth and the soil wealth so closely linked to it," Carhart wrote in 1951....

NM's 2008 pecan harvest proved expensive to grow

New Mexico's pecan growers pumped more money than ever into this year's pecan crop and both producers and processors are hoping the market and consumers won't play Grinch when it comes to buying the nuts during these troubled economic times. The harvest is under way in southern New Mexico after colder weather arrived earlier this month, causing the orchard leaves and pecan shucks to dry. Harvesting machines and equipment are humming along orchard rows, shaking the nuts from the trees and gathering them up off the ground. But New Mexico's pecan industry experts and growers say high fuel and fertilizer costs this year made the season's pecan crop one of the most expensive to produce, even while the crop is smaller than in years past due to the tree's natural bearing cycle. Add to the equation the worry by pecan buyers and shellers that market and consumer demand could be affected by the shaky economy, and you could say this year might be a lot tougher than expected for pecan growers....

Idaho pioneer cabin moved to Chesterfield site

A cabin once occupied by a 19th century American Indian woman who was a beloved midwife and healer to southeastern Idaho farmers and ranchers has been moved to the Chesterfield ghost town. For more than 120 years, Aunt Ruth Call Davids' cabin had been just over a small hill from the town site, which is owned by the Chesterfield Foundation. The group helps keep watch on about 27 buildings in this historic Oregon Trail town between Lava Hot Springs and Soda Springs in the Portneuf River Valley, including an amusement hall, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tithing office and a store that still operates, selling only products its proprietors say existed before 1916. Last summer, volunteers and members of Davids' surviving family dug a foundation and filled it with cement and lava rocks. The cabin was then dismantled log-by-log and reassembled in Chesterfield. Vernon Austin, a resident of nearby Blackfoot and expert in log-cabin restoration, worked to make sure it was rebuilt as true as possible to its original configuration. According to the 1996 Mormon publication "Our Pioneer Heritage," a Fillmore, Utah, resident named Anson Call in 1851 traded a small supply of flour for a little Piede Indian girl he named Ruth. On Christmas Day 1863, she married James Henry Davids, a young soldier who had served in the U.S. Army unit that had been dispatched in the late-1850s to quell a Mormon uprising in Utah. He later converted to the religion. The Call and Davids families moved in the early 1880s to Chesterfield, where Ruth Call Davids developed a reputation for her use of herbal and natural remedies and delivered most of the babies in the community. According to the 1996 Mormon history, a doctor in nearby Soda Springs named Kackley said, "In case of pneumonia and the caring of babies, Aunt Ruth is as good as any doctor."....

Monday, December 22, 2008

Meet the New Climate Change Kid on the Block

Barack Obama announced his new energy team at a press conference Monday, sending a subtle slap down to President Bush by saying his administration would "value science" and "make decisions based on the facts." The four appointments are a precursor to what will be the most enviro-activist administration in American history. That agenda will doubtless extend to supporting nonprofit organizations like the Climate Registry. If you've never heard of it, don't worry. The California-based nonprofit has kept out of the headlines. But it has the potential to be a major player in the ongoing debate over climate-change policy. It's also a prime example of the snug relationship between environmentalist groups and state governments. The Climate Registry's mission is simple: convince companies, organizations, state and local governments, and other entities to sign on and report their greenhouse gas emissions. There are several groups devoted to that cause around the country, but the registry, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, is the most far-reaching. Thirty-nine states, the District of Columbia, nine Canadian provinces, six Mexican states, and three Native American tribes have signed on as members. Members are not required to report their emissions on a state-, province-, or tribe-wide basis. Instead, they serve as the registry's funding factory, appointing a board member, signing a statement of principles and goals, and paying a voluntary annual fee ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, depending on the state or region's population. They also serve as a catalyst for recruiting entities within the state, province, or tribe as "reporters."....

Global cooling is here

According to the National Climatic Data Center, 2008 will be America's coldest year since 1997, thanks to La Niña and precipitation in the central and eastern states. Solar quietude also may underlie global cooling. This year's sunspots and solar radiation approach the minimum in the Sun's cycle, corresponding with lower Earth temperatures. This echoes Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Dr. Sallie Baliunas' belief that solar variability, much more than CO2, sways global temperatures. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service reports that last summer was Anchorage's third coldest on record. "Not since 1980 has there been a summer less reflective of global warming," Craig Medred wrote in the Anchorage Daily News. Consequently, Alaska's glaciers are thickening in the middle. "It's been a long time on most glaciers where they've actually had positive mass balance," U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Bruce Molnia told Medred Oct. 13. Similarly, the National Snow and Ice Data Center found that Arctic sea ice expanded 13.2 percent this year, or a Texas-sized 270,000 square miles. Across the equator, Brazil endured an especially cold September. Snow graced its southern provinces that month. "Global Warming is over, and Global Warming Theory has failed. There is no evidence that CO2 drives world temperatures or any consequent climate change," Imperial College London astrophysicist and long-range forecaster Piers Corbyn wrote British Members of Parliament on Oct. 28. "According to official data in every year since 1998, world temperatures have been colder than that year, yet CO2 has been rising rapidly." That evening, as the House of Commons debated legislation on so-called "global-warming," October snow fell in London for the first time since 1922. These observations parallel those of five German researchers led by Professor Noel Keenlyside of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences. "Our results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade," they concluded in last May's "Nature," "as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic (man-made) warming."....

Hell Freezes Over

On Friday, the Las Vegas Sun reported that eight inches of snow had hit the Las Vegas Valley. The 3.6 inches that had already fallen as of late Wednesday near McCarran Airport added up to the most snow recorded for the area in December since they began keeping records 70 years ago. The white powder even dusted Malibu as a winter storm hit parts of California. We commented recently on an Associated Press story claiming that, rather than being "evidence of some kind of cooling trend," such events "actually illustrate how fast the world is warming." But not everybody is convinced. "If the issues weren't so serious and the ramifications so profound, I would have to laugh at it," said David Deming, a geology professor at the University of Oklahoma. "The mean global temperature, at least measured by satellite, is the same as it was in the year 1980. In the last couple of years, sea level has stopped rising, hurricane and cyclone activity in the Northern Hemisphere is at a 24-year low and sea ice globally is also the same as it was in 1980." Speaking of rising sea levels, is Al Gore smarter than a fourth-grader? James O'Brien, emeritus professor at Florida State University who studies climate variability and the oceans, thinks not. "When the Arctic Ocean ice melts, it never raises sea level because floating ice is floating ice, because it's displacing water," he points out. "When the ice melts, sea level actually goes down. I call it a fourth-grade science experiment: Take a glass, put some ice in it, put water in it, mark level where water is. . . . After the ice melts, the sea level didn't go up in your glass of water. It's called the Archimedes principle." Global temperatures stopped rising after 1998 and have plummeted in the last two years by more than 0.5 degrees Celsius. The 2007-08 temperature drop was not predicted by global climate models. It was predictable by a decline in sunspot activity since 2000 and by a cyclical ocean-current phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation....

EPA Starts A "Most Wanted List"

A new Web tool is available to enlist the public and other law enforcement agencies in tracking down fugitives accused of violating environmental laws and evading arrest. “Putting this information on the EPA’s Web site will increase the number of ‘eyes’ looking for environmental fugitives,” said Granta Y. Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Two EPA fugitives were captured this year, and this Web site could help us find more fugitives in the future.” The Web site includes photos of the accused, summaries of their alleged environmental violations, and information on each fugitive’s last known whereabouts. The alleged violations include smuggling of ozone-depleting substances, illegally disposing of hazardous waste, discharging pollutants into the air and water, laundering money and making criminally false statements...

It's all profiles...just like the FBI. [link]

Here they come. Only this time, it's in green helicopters.

Pollution Exemption Reversed

In a 2 to 1 decision yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down an exemption that for nearly 15 years has allowed refineries, chemical plants and other industrial facilities to exceed federal air pollution limits during certain periods of operation. Environmental groups hailed the ruling, which overturned a provision, enacted under President Bill Clinton, that permits industrial operations that are starting up, shutting down or malfunctioning to emit more toxins into the air than is normally allowed. The Environmental Protection Agency and an array of business groups argued that the exemption was essential, but the court determined that it was illegal. The ruling affects sources of air pollution across the country: Texas alone has 250 industrial sites, including oil refineries, chemical plants and petrochemical plants, that are affected....

New administration: Secretary of food

President-elect Barack Obama took a big step when he gave former Sen. Tom Daschle, his nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services, a broader mandate to coordinate health reform. For whatever reasons, the incoming administration has shied away from such a sweeping, intelligent approach to food policy. Given the president-elect's choice for a new agriculture secretary, perhaps that is just as well. At first glance, former Iowa Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack looks like a very traditional, even backward-looking selection. On farming issues, he supported agribusiness over Iowa counties' ideas about controlling huge pig feedlots and genetically modified plants. And he was a big fan of crop-based ethanol. We suspect Vilsack's oversight of the national forest issues that fall in the Department of Agriculture will be a learn-on-the-job undertaking fraught with opportunities to misunderstand Western issues. We liked the call of columnist Nicholas Kristof for a secretary of food. We need a reformer charged with transcending the 19th- and 20th-century idea of a Cabinet officer serving the needs of farmers. With that perspective, it would be possible to unite producers, consumers and government in delivering diets that are healthy for the people, the land and the economy. We see room for the administration to create smarter food and environmental policies for agriculture over time....

Pima County's new jewel is a grasslands bonanza

Desert grasslands that are Pima County's richest, biologically, are about to be bought and preserved. By the end of this month, the county will close on the first installment of its purchase of the Sands Ranch, a collection of thick, lush and tall grasslands near where Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties come together. It's a 5,040-acre parcel located in Pima County's southeast corner, between the Santa Rita and Whetstone mountains, complete with landscapes that could have been taken right out of cowboy movies. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last week to buy the ranch for $21 million. The property has been owned by the same family, of ranching pioneer Louis Sands, since 1920. This will be the 11th time that Pima County has dipped into open-space bonds to buy a ranch in the past decade. When the Sands Ranch is acquired, the county will have spent $95 million on ranches, out of about $140 million spent of $201 million in bonds that voters approved for open space in 1997 and 2004....

Navajo panels OK coal-fired plant

The proposed Desert Rock coal-fired, 1,500-megawatt power plant has received right-of-way approvals from three Navajo Nation committees. Language in the resolution states the Navajo Nation will "expressly and unequivocally" waive its sovereign immunity in the case of any dispute related to agreements for the proposed $3 billion power plant. The Navajo Nation would also waive $7.5 million in right-of-way fees. The tribe agreed to collect only $3.5 million in such fees because of the economic benefits — revenues and jobs — it expects to receive.

Longtime gaming holdouts, the Navajo Nation opens tribal casino

After years of saying no to tribal gaming, the Navajo Nation has opened its first casino, Fire Rock, east of Gallup, N.M. Built on a slice of tribal trust land in northwestern New Mexico, the almost 6,000-square-metre Fire Rock Casino has 472 slot machines, 10 table games and a poker room. The bingo room seats 400. It is expected to generate US$32 million a year for the Navajo Nation, about a fifth of the annual tribal budget. Some 4,000 people showed up for the Fire Rock Casino's Nov. 19 opening, with hundreds waiting outside because the facility only holds 1,800, said Patrick Sandoval, chief of staff in the president's office. The tent-like structure is temporary until gaming officials can find another site to put up a permanent building, one that may be accompanied by a hotel and truck stop....

The two Edward Abbeys

A father of five and a supposed anarchist who admired Thoreau’s dictum, “That government is best which governs not at all,” an implacable enemy of the “Anthill State” which was a “technocratic despotism…the enemy of personal liberty, family independence, and community sovereignty,” Abbey was also an advocate for state-imposed birth control. The protagonist of his book Brave Cowboy, Jack Burns, was an archetypical old-fashioned, freedom-loving, authority-hating, barbed-wire loathing cowboy. Abbey grew up idolizing cowboys. For a brief time, he cowboyed. But he hated cowboys. He hated the ranchers who employed them. And he once quipped that if he had enough money, he’d run off and buy a ranch. He also hated cows but loved steak. He personally didn’t like walking. He avoided it when possible. He tore up the desert and ran down closed roads in his famously decrepit pickup truck. But when it came to the approaches of the southwest desert’s natural wonders, he wanted everybody else to walk in. He advised visitors to crawl. He was a “hard-nosed empiricist” who believed in what he could “hear, see, smell, grab, bite into.” And he thought that the whole earth was a living being and that rocks had rights....

Horse owners concerned about proposed transportation legislation

With close to 10 million horses in the nation, Montana horse owners and enthusiasts are concerned about the welfare of the equine industry if legislation is passed banning the transport of horses to slaughter facilities. “H.R. 6598, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008, would ban the transportation of horses to slaughter, making it a federal crime,” explained Nancy Schlepp of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation during its equine seminar on Nov. 9 in Billings, Mont. “It would also affect the transportation of horses in general, such as to rodeos, ranches or for hunting.” Horses have been transported to slaughter facilities in Canada and Mexico since the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruling shut down the Texas horse slaughter plants, and the Seventh Circuit Federal Court of Appeals shut down the plant in Illinois. Now, animal rights activists, such as the Humane Society of the United States, have been pushing for the passage of this bill, H.R. 6598, to further prevent horse slaughter, which they claim is an act of cruelty. “This Humane Society of the United States is not the Humane Society (Humane Society of America) that looks after the well being of dogs and cats,” said Schlepp. “The Humane Society of the United States is a subsidiary of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). They are creating a war on agriculture Š They have a lot of money and time to spend in (Washington) D.C.” Those in the Montana horse industry are concerned about the number of horses that would be affected and the cost of the consequences of this proposed legislation if it were to become law. “It costs $1,500 to do the process of putting an animal down through the veterinarian's office,” said Jan Parker, who in on the MFBF horse welfare committee. “In Montana alone, it would cost $17 million to take care of these horses.”....

How should you wear a cowboy hat?

Cowboy hats seem to be a way of life here in Montana and across the West. But, one cowboy and his hat are creating some light hearted controversy over when its appropriate to wear a hat. President-elect Barack Obama chose Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to serve as the Interior Department Secretary on Wednesday. The announcement hit the airwaves, but even bigger than his appointment was the controversy over his hat. Blogs and newspaper articles across the country commented over whether or not it was proper for the Senator to wear the hat indoors. We spoke to the President of Rand's Custom Hats to get some insight. "Under the circumstances where they were just being interviewed, and the announcement is on stage, he was showing everybody who he was and what he stood for" explained Ritch Rand, President of Ran's Custom Hats. Rand added that everyone has their own rules they follow when it comes to proper etiquette. He also said the fifth generation farmer probably wore the hat to show his roots, in fact Obama called Salazar "a champion of champions for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities"....Where I was raised, it depended on what you were inside of. In a barn or a gymn, leave your hat on. In a home, a restaurant or on the dance floor, you better get it off....I remember a big fight at the El Corral Bar, all started over a hat being brushed off the hat rack. Pete Griffin can tell you all about it. I have it on good authority that he was right there when it happened. I also heard that, after the cops closed the joint, he helped some dumb cowboy sneak back in to find his glasses. That's what I heard.

It's All Trew: Barbed wire called 'Devil's Rope' for a reason

During the early 1880s, Jacob and Warren M. Brinkerhoff invented and patented 13 varieties of a galvanized ribbon barbed wire with saber-type points. Most Panhandle historians agree this Brinkerhoff ribbon was the most famous barbed wire in Panhandle history as the XIT Ranch used some 6,000 miles of the invention to fence their vast grasslands. Being a wire collector, I purchased several rolls of Brinkerhoff for various reasons. The largest group of rolls came from an old-time farmer in the Channing area whose grandfather had rolled up the wire after purchasing land from the XIT Land Company when they began offering their best farming acreage for sale. A recent construction project here on the Trew Ranch involved fencing a few acres surrounding a new fishing and camping site. For nostalgic reasons, I had the inspiration to build a 100-yard stretch of the new fence using the old XIT ribbon wire. It just might be the only "new " section of fence in the Panhandle using the old Brinkerhoff wire now older than 100 years. This turned out to be a new learning experience for me in spite of a lifetime of working on barbed-wire fences. Before I finished this section of fence, I determined the Brinkerhoff wire was alive and working diligently to thwart every move I made....

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

The Christmas letter not to write

Julie Carter

The weenie dog in the tutu leisurely leaning back on a sofa pillow did it for me.

Over-the-top Christmas greetings have gone, literally, to the dogs, cats, horses and even a parakeet.

I know it is the season and all that, but geeez Louise, have people gotten that desperate for a life to share? In reading some of them, I wonder why they haven't died of boredom.

It is my belief that a Christmas letter is intended to catch the reader up on the year's highlights, provided there are some, in the life of the sender.

Somehow that has gotten to be such a chore that there are now tutorials on how to write a proper Christmas letter.

These lessons come with tips, suggestions and the inference that bragging isn't really acceptable.

We've all gotten at least one like this:

Sara, 8, has the lead in our community play, Aaron, 10, was recently voted the most gifted and talented child in school and now that Emily is 3, she's started reading. Between ferrying the kids around to school, church and extracurricular activities, Beth gave birth to our fourth child in September. He's already beginning to crawl! Howard has been promoted to CEO of the World. We took three vacations last year to tropical paradises (see photos).

There is no doubt in my mind that the budding Rhodes Scholars and Julliard graduates are in all honesty, just average kids leaving their underwear on the bathroom floor every time they shower, never flushing the toilet and whining when they have to unload the dishwasher.

Mentioning births, deaths, marriages and relocations are quite important, but not if that involves only the pets and not the people.

My favorites are the ones that provide a laugh while the writer laughs at himself:

Tom here! Wow, 2008 has shaped up to be one of those years for the Shoemaker family. So much has happened that it's hard to know where to begin. First, there was that business with the IRS; then the trial, wherein a co-worker's husband accused me of adultery, followed by my third arrest for DUI. And all that happened before June!!

Finding a way to bring interest to a "quiet" life isn't easy, but sharing the lackluster does nothing to quicken the holiday heart of the receiver.

If your story leaves you flat, it won't look any better to the reader on the other end. Make no apologies, just don't write it. Perhaps a Hallmark card is your best bet to "send your very best."

Know when to quit. If someone hasn't sent you a Christmas greeting for three years, take them off your list.

You can tell yourself they are too busy to write, but who are you fooling? They are wondering how long before you take the hint.

Now don't get me wrong, and you will, but here it is. I love my pets. You love your pets. However, you aren't required to love mine any more than I will love yours, most of whom I have never met.

Honestly folks, and I say this at the risk of not hearing from many of you ever again, that Chihuahua has no idea why you dressed him up in that stupid Santa suit for a photo.

Keeping that in mind, if I ever start writing Christmas letters that are signed with the name of my pets, paw prints included, and in the body of the letter, I discuss their annual veterinary needs and issues, just shoot me.

If I talk about the highlight of my year’s work as being the installation of new ceiling fans and how good the new tin looks on the old trailer house, just shoot me.

There is a reason my Christmas letters are mostly family photos. Those, indeed, are worth a thousand words and none of them a lie. We really are hillbillies!

Julie hasn't yet created her 2008 Christmas letter that will contain shameless self-promotion of her new book, Cowboys -You Gotta Love 'em, found through her Web site at