This week, the threats robots pose to humanity.
Curses, Foiled Again
Three men stole items from a property in Moultonborough, N.H., after advertising them as giveaways on Craigslist even before they were stolen. Police believe the posts were meant to provide an alibi, so they could claim they were merely responding to the advertised offer of free items. “It is very bold, especially when you put that out on the internet, and others are viewing it at the same time, probably going to show up as well,” Detective Stephen Kessler said. After determining the property owner had no intention of giving the items away, police staked out the address and nabbed the suspects in the act. (Manchester’s WMUR-TV)
Western governors struggle with longer wildfire seasons, dwindling budgets
Colorado had its worst wildfire season ever, with the Waldo Canyon fire destroying 350 homes in four hours and a wildfire still burning in Rocky Mountain National Park forced the evacuation of homes near Estes Park on Dec. 1, and governors across the West are facing a hotter, drier future with less funding for fighting wildfires.
Great Falls Tribune (Stateline.org); Dec. 14
Montana's wolf trapping season opens Saturday
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said 2,400 people took the classes necessary to be certified to trap wolves in the state's first mandated trapping season that opens Saturday.
Great Falls Tribune; Dec. 14
Montana wildlife commission's closure of wolf hunt areas questioned
The decision made Monday by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to close wolf hunts in areas bordering Yellowstone National Park may have violated state law in that the item on the agenda was identified as informational and not an action item.
Helena Independent Record; Dec. 14
Billionaire brothers from Texas quietly buying up Montana ranches
In the past two years, Farris and Dan Wilks have spent millions of dollars to purchase 276,000 acres in seven counties in eastern Montana, adding to their portfolio of real estate that includes holdings in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Kansas and Texas.
Billings Gazette; Dec. 13
Cloudy skies in the West may obscure tonight's meteor shower
One of the two largest meteor showers of the year, the Geminid meteor shower, is tonight, although cloudy skies are forecast for much of the Rocky Mountain West.
USA Today; Dec. 13
Last week, Clearing Up, a subscription-only trade publication that covers Northwest energy markets, reported that PPL Montana is looking to sell all of its electricity-generation assets in the state. The article, authored by Ben Tansey, states that the company has hired the investment bank UBS to shop its portfolio of coal and hydroelectric facilities, which includes the company’s quarter-share of the Colstrip Generating Station, the second-largest coal-fired plant west of the Mississippi.
Clearing Up is the third trade publication in recent months to report that PPL Montana, a subsidiary of PPL Corp., wants to divest of its two coal plants and 11 hydroelectric plants in Montana. In September, Sparkspread reported that PPL Montana sought to sell its share in Colstrip. In November, Power Intelligence wrote that PPL Montana’s assets “are being marketed as a bundle, but PPL may entertain bids for individual assets depending on what offers come in, deal watchers say.”
PPL Montana spokesman David Hoffman declined to comment on what he calls “market rumors.”
Pat Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, who recently conducted an economic analysis of the Colstrip plant, says he wouldn’t be surprised if the reports prove true. He cites “lethargic electricity demand” coming off the recession, “relentless pressure from natural gas,” which is very cheap, and the uncertainty of new regulatory requirements at coal-fired plants.
“I think it’s a pretty big deal for Montana,” Barkey says. “I don’t think any of those issues will change whether PPL owns it or not.”
The Clearing Up article mentions NorthWestern Energy as one “obvious candidate” for acquiring the assets. It also notes that pending lawsuits against Coltrip’s owners may complicate a deal. On Dec. 1, the Montana Environment Information Center and the Sierra Club filed a notice of intent to sue PPL Montana and Colstrip’s other owners—Puget Sound Energy, Portland General Electric Company, Avista Corporation, PacifiCorp and NorthWestern Energy—for violating the Clean Air Act.
“You have to wonder who’s going to want these assets, and what they’re going to want to do with them, and what that might mean for Montana ratepayers,” says MEIC’s Anne Hedges. “My guess is that they want to get out of the coal business because coal is not making money. Natural gas is where the game is being played these days...Who’s going to want a dirty old coal plant?”
Interior Department releases plan to tighten rules on wild horse sales
After a ProPublica investigation this fall found that a buyer in Colorado had bought 70 percent of the wild horses sold at Bureau of Land Management auctions since 2009, and that he had resold the animals, many of which could not be accounted for, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced new restrictions on the sales of wild horses.
Colorado Springs Gazette; Dec. 10
Hunters kill two wolves collared for research in Wyoming national park
Thirteen wolves have been killed in hunting areas that border Grand Teton National Park, including two radio-collared wolves, and while wildlife managers said they're not concerned about the loss of wolves that roam the park, they are concerned about the emotions the killing of radio-collared wolves may evoke.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; Dec. 12
Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.
ARIES (March 21-April 19): Can you manage to be both highly alert and deeply relaxed? Could you be wildly curious and yet also serenely reflective? Can you imagine yourself being extra hungry to crack life’s secrets but also at peace with your destiny exactly the way it is? If you can honestly answer yes to those questions, you’ll get a lot of help in the coming week. The universe may even seem to be conspiring to educate you and heal you. You will receive a steady flow of clues about how to get closer to living your dreams.
Sandy Welch isn’t getting her recount.
The 2012 Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction lost to Democratic incumbent Denise Juneau by a mere 2,231 votes. The narrow margin prompted Welch to challenge the results, alleging widespread Election Day concerns including ballot machine errors and inappropriate handling of spoiled ballots. A district judge in Flathead County ruled in Welch’s favor last week and ordered her to post a $115,000 bond to pay for a statewide manual recount.
The Montana Republican Party, however, announced Tuesday its fundraising effort fell short of meeting the $115,000. Neither the GOP nor Welch’s campaign reported nearly enough cash in the bank on Nov. 26 to fund the bond. There was some hope that the Republican National Committee would back a portion of both the bond and the cost of hiring Welch’s lead attorney, James Bopp. According to Montana GOP Executive Director Bowen Greenwood, that “wasn’t a successful fundraising effort” and the GOP fell “pretty short” of raising the total on its own.
“We had reason to hope that we could persuade [the RNC] to donate enough funds to cover most of the bond,” Greenwood says. “However, that just didn’t prove to be the case.”
Welch did manage to snatch one victory from the ordeal—a win she and the GOP were quick to boast about. While the recount is off, the investigation launched at Welch’s request could provide additional fodder for conservatives challenging Montana’s voting laws. This year’s election was full of claims of widespread voter fraud, particularly from candidates such as Republican Secretary of State hopeful Brad Johnson, and the GOP went so far on election night as to challenge ballots in a variety of counties including Missoula.
“Sandy won a great victory for us in what she got done in court,” Greenwood says. “At this point now, there is a legal ruling that Montana’s election laws were not followed in some of those procedures. There is a ruling that some vote-counting machines don’t work as accurately as others...and Sandy’s victory in getting that ruling is a great service to every Republican in Montana.”
And that might explain why Welch took her recount request directly to a judge instead of Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, the state’s chief election officer.
Welch has publicly offered to make details from her case available to anyone concerned about Montana’s voting system. Greenwood hopes that, as the 2013 legislative session begins, lawmakers planning to discuss changes to election laws take her up on the offer.
By early afternoon on Dec. 4, the bus that left Billings at 4 a.m. had reached Idaho. The 60 people on board, some of whom climbed aboard in Billings, others in Bozeman, Helena and Missoula, are all eager to arrive in Spokane, Wash., where federal and state agencies are holding a hearing on a proposed coal-export terminal on Washington’s coast, near Bellingham.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers apparently figured the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would be of little significance to Montana, so it didn’t schedule an Environmental Impact Statement scoping hearing anywhere in the state. But these passengers—Montana ranchers, school teachers, members of the Northern Cheyenne tribe and college-aged activists among them, all wearing matching red “Power Past Coal Montana” T-shirts—are traveling as many as 550 miles over eight hours, each way, to tell the agency otherwise. In short, they want the scope of the coal-export terminal study to include impacts back to the mines in Montana and Wyoming that would supply the coal, such as the proposed Otter Creek mine in southeastern Montana.
With the group still more than an hour from Spokane, Natalie Snyders, a staffer with the Billings-based Northern Plains Resource Council, the non-profit that chartered the bus, rises to rouse the road-weary passengers. “The coal doesn’t just start at the Idaho border, it doesn’t just appear there,” she says, standing at the front of the bus with a microphone. “It comes from Montana, right? It comes from the Powder River Basin and [the coal trains are] going to come through Montana, and we’re going to be impacted. Billings is going to be impacted just as much as Spokane is.”
Montana FWP ends wolf hunt in counties near Yellowstone Park
On Monday, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission voted to end the state's wolf hunting and trapping season in areas east and west of Gardiner north of Yellowstone National Park.
Flathead Beacon (AP); Dec. 11
Montana FWP approves Milk River Ranch purchase
At its meeting on Monday, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission approved its portion of the deal to buy the Milk River Ranch near Havre, the final piece of the purchase that will put the 4,505-acre ranch now owned by Verges and David Aageson into the state's hands.
Helena Independent Record; Dec. 11
Late in Montana's 2012 Senate race, the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund dropped nearly $500,000 on a television ad attacking Republican Denny Rehberg and encouraging voters to support Libertarian Dan Cox, who the ad touted as "the real conservative." Problem was, the spot aired on Oct. 26, just one day after the Federal Election Commission's final pre-election reporting deadline, and Montana Hunters and Anglers had reported a mere $10,600 in the bank going into the last weeks of the campaign. In other words, the real financial backer of the ad remained a mystery even a month after the polls closed.
National media outlets suspected the money for the ad, posted below, came from the League of Conservation Voters, a heavy supporter of Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and a previous donor to Montana Hunters and Anglers. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza postulated that the spot was meant to peel conservative votes away from Rehberg to aid Tester, although Montana Hunters and Anglers had spent more than $1.1 million opposing Rehberg with no mention of the incumbent. LCV flatly denied claims that it backed the ad when pressed by The Hill in late October.
Turns out LCV may not have been blowing smoke. The FEC uploaded the final glut of quarterly reports for the 2012 electoral cycle last night, providing answers to scores of eleventh-hour election mysteries including who footed the bill for the Cox ad. Between Oct. 24 and 26, Montana Hunters and Anglers received a total of $632,000 from the Super PAC America Votes Action Fund—just enough to pay for the ad and have a little left over.
America Votes Action Fund spent a paltry $84,000 on independent expenditures in 2012; much of that went to opposing a Republican House candidate in Colorado, while more than $40,000 went to supporting President Obama and a Democratic House candidate in Nevada—both of whom won their respective races. The Super PAC pulled in millions more, however, from left-leaning political action committees and millionaire Democratic donors such as Fred Eychaner. America Votes Action promptly turned those donations into contributions to a host of organizations including Nevada Senate Democrats, the liberal Common Sense Matters and the 501(c)(4) Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund, which opposed two Republican Senators and Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin's 2012 recall election.
Of course, it's probably worth noting that America Votes Action Fund pulled in $441,000 in contributions from LCV between Oct. 22 and 25, plus an additional $600,000 in the days after the Cox ad hit the airwaves.
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