Thursday, December 15, 2016

With news of Zinke's Interior nomination now official, here's a look at the reactions from across Montana this week

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 10:44 AM

Ryan Zinke and his wife, Lola, looked quite dapper heading into Trump Tower Monday morning. The photo, which showed Montana’s sole Congressman carrying three copies of his new book “American Commander,” got tongues wagging across the state. What was Zinke up to? Where would he likely fit in a Trump cabinet? By Tuesday afternoon, national news outlets including Politico were quoting unnamed sources within the Trump transition team saying Zinke had been nominated as Secretary of the Interior. Wednesday slipped past with no formal announcement or confirmation of the appointment. Zinke’s team went dark. Then, on Thursday morning, Donald Trump made things official.
  • Photo by Alex Sakariassen

“He has built one of the strongest track records on championing regulatory relief, forest management, responsible energy development and public land issues,” Trump said of Zinke in a statement. “As a former Navy SEAL, he has incredible leadership skills and an attitude of doing whatever it takes to win. America is the most beautiful country in the world and he is going to help keep it that way with smart management of our federal lands.”

According to Politico, Zinke’s response was released by the transition team itself.

“As inscribed in the stone archway of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana, I shall faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt's belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. I will work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits everyone for generations to come. Most important, our sovereign Indian Nations and territories must have the respect and freedom they deserve.”

Even before Trump confirmed the news, congratulatory messages were pouring in from all corners of Montana, as were the expressions of cautious optimism and straight-up outrage. To keep you informed or simply amused, here’s a docket of the reactions that piled up in the Indy’s inbox this week:

From Sen. Jon Tester:
I want to congratulate Congressman Zinke on this high honor. I'm pleased the President-elect nominated someone from the west for a post that's critically important to Montana's outdoor economy and way of life. I look forward to sitting down with Congressman Zinke to discuss how we can increase public access to public land, protect our Constitutional right to clean air and water, and uphold our trust responsibilities to Indian Country.

From Sen. Steve Daines:
Ryan Zinke protected us abroad and in combat and I know he will do the same for our treasured public lands as Secretary of the Interior. In Congress, I’ve seen Ryan stand up and fight to protect our way of life. As a westerner, Ryan understands the challenges of having the federal government as your largest neighbor and I couldn't think of a better fit for Secretary of the Interior.

From Gov. Steve Bullock:
I want to congratulate Congressman Ryan Zinke. Montanans know how important the U.S. Department of Interior is to protecting our natural resources and outdoor heritage and it is reassuring that a Western voice is being advanced for a post that is critical for Western states. As Governor and Chair of the Western Governors Association, I look forward to ensuring that our states' interests are reflected in Washington, D.C.—from our public lands to national parks and natural resource development, among other areas.​

From the Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Nancy Keenan:
Congressman Zinke has a tremendous responsibility ahead of him in protecting access to our public lands and clean water, and serving Indian Country. But it is important to remember less than 40 days ago, he asked Montana voters to re-hire him to be our voice in the U.S. House. Yet again, his personal ambitions have trumped Montanans decision and voice. We wish him well and will continue to hold all leaders accountable to Montana values. Congressman Zinke is no exception.

From the Montana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Essmann:
Ryan Zinke has always answered the call of duty. His courage, leadership, and selfless sacrifice are needed now more than ever by our country. Montana’s loss is our nation’s gain. President-elect Donald J. Trump ran his campaign on the promise to bring better paying jobs back to this country. Our natural resources – our coal, oil and natural gas, and minerals – can play a role in restoring the economic health of our nation and provide good-paying jobs to Montanans and Americans. We look forward to Ryan Zinke working in the Trump administration to put these resources to work to Make America Great Again.

From the headquarters of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes:
The Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes wish to congratulate Congressman Zinke for being the first Montanan to be nominated for a Cabinet position since the Nixon Administration. Congressman Zinke will ably serve Indian Country, Montana and the nation as Secretary of Interior. Congressman Zinke’s efforts over the last two years to secure the ratification of the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement demonstrates his understanding of issues important to Montana. His personal focus on local control and less Washington bureaucracy is consistent with tribal self-governance and we look forward to working with him on common goals. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes congratulate our friend and neighbor to be nominated for the Cabinet position of Secretary of Interior.

From Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes:
This is a great day for Montana with the selection of Representative Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. Rep. Zinke has worked steadfast on the Blackfeet Water Compact, which after over 30 years, was finally passed through Congress and we now await President Obama’s signature. The Blackfeet and other Montana Tribes will have an ear in the Department of Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and has direct effect on the tribes. We have worked with outgoing Secretary Jewell and look forward to having the same great working relationship with Secretary-Designate Zinke. Congratulations to Congressman Zinke!

From Montana Wilderness Association Executive Director Brian Sybert:
Should he be appointed secretary of Interior, we expect Rep. Ryan Zinke to carry Montana's values into that role. That means protecting access to public lands, ensuring our forests and prairies are indeed managed for multiple use and not just resource extraction, and respecting that wild places and public lands are core American values that he'll need to protect for all citizens. Rep. Zinke has a checkered record when it comes to public lands, including a vote for developing wilderness areas, but has taken a few good votes against lands transfer and for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Rep. Zinke has called himself a Roosevelt conservationist, and we will hold him to everything that definition entails.

From Beth Kaeding, former chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council:
Congressman Zinke has worked to shortchange the public on our federal mineral leases and royalties, so it is appointment that concerns us. We have joined with thousands across the West to close loopholes for coal companies exporting coal to China and Pacific Rim countries, and he has resisted those reforms to end corporate welfare at the expense of local, state and tribal coffers … He also opposes common-sense efforts to limit the ability of oil and gas companies to intentionally waste taxpayer-owned gas by flaring from oil wells on public lands.

From Montana Conservation Voters spokesman Dave Tyler:
With the nomination of Congressman Ryan Zinke to be the nation’s Secretary of Interior, President-elect Trump has elevated a person whose record just simply doesn’t match with the profound need to protect our nation’s clean air, water, and public lands. When it comes to energy development, Zinke’s record is one that has too often put the interests of mining companies and corporate interests ahead of Montana’s values, supporting policies that jeopardize our world class wildlife and clean water resources. He has not acknowledged the imperative to act on the danger to our land and water caused by climate change, threatening our farmers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, and the most vulnerable Americans. However, on public lands and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Congressman Zinke now has a chance to deliver on the promises that he has made on the campaign trail and in the media—we hope that he will stand up for protecting our American public lands and outdoor heritage, now and for future generations. Montanans will be diligently watching for Zinke to answer the hard questions about how he will act to protect our national parks, wildlife, and water through his confirmation hearings.

From Backcountry Hunters and Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney:
Congressman Zinke understands the importance of public lands and balancing management of these important resources with energy development and other uses. As Montana’s lone representative in the House of Representatives, Mr. Zinke has showed himself to be receptive to the interests of a wide range of constituents and a potential ally of sportsmen and other outdoor recreationists … Charged with administering significant federal lands and natural resources, the Interior secretary is possibly the most powerful individual in the country when it comes to the future of our cherished public lands and waters, fish and wildlife and outdoor traditions … We’re gratified that the Trump administration is listening to our concerns and showing a willingness to act in the best interests of the American people and our irreplaceable public lands legacy.

From Matthew Koehler, director of the WildWest Institute:
Rep Ryan Zinke has an established track record of being pro-coal, pro-fracking, pro-logging, anti-science and anti-endangered species act when it comes to managing America’s public lands and wildlife. This has earned Zinke an environmental voting record of 3% from the League of Conservation Voters and a National Parks voting record of just 9% from the National Parks Conservation Association. Let’s also not forget that Rep Zinke was just hand picked by President-elect Donald Trump, someone who is clearly assembling the most anti-environmental, anti-public lands, pro-oil and gas and pro-wall street cabinet and administration in U.S. History. To think that Congressman Ryan Zinke is going to be a strong advocate for America’s public lands, our national parks and fish and wildlife species—and not just do the bidding of his boss, Donald Trump and campaign contributors in the resource extraction industry—is simply delusional, and not being honest with the American public. Simply because someone has stated that they would not sell-off, or give away, America’s public lands, does not in any way make that person a huge public lands champion, or a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican" especially when the voting record clearly exposes the truth.

From Drew Caputo, vice president of lands, oceans and wildlife for EarthJustice:
We applaud Ryan Zinke’s strong stand against selling off public lands and his support for clean energy. The rest of his voting record in Congress, though, has been awful for the environment. In 2015, while supporting clean energy, Congressman Zinke voted against the environment on every other major vote. He has supported measures to increase production of dirty and climate-heating fossil fuels, reduce or eliminate public involvement in management of public lands, and eliminate protections for endangered species. To be effective, an Interior Secretary needs to stand up for America’s public lands and wildlife and against business interests like the oil and gas industry that want to abuse our priceless public resources for private gain. We hope Congressman Zinke is ready to do that and look forward to working with him if he is. If not, Earthjustice and its attorneys will be very active in court to ensure he and the new Administration follow the law and protect America’s priceless wild lands and wildlife.

From Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall:
We are pleased to see a hunter and conservationist nominated to the top public lands position and look forward to working with Rep. Zinke on issues of critical importance to conservation.

From Democratic National Committee Communications Director Adam Hodge:
Ryan Zinke’s nomination is nothing short of an insult to the agency responsible for managing the Nation's natural resources and cultural heritage, providing scientific and other information about those resources; and honoring special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities. Like many of Trump’s other nominees, he is a climate change denier and he holds a pathetic 3% lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters. He was caught on camera labeling some of the Indian Reservations he represents in Montana as a prime example of “dependence on government.” And he supports transferring federal land management to local governments that have fewer resources to do so effectively ... President Obama has a remarkable record of protecting our precious natural resources for future generations. He’s protected more public land and water than any president in our country’s history, designated national parks and monuments such as Stonewall, and fulfilled our commitment to American Indians and Alaska Natives. In nominating Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump has once again confirmed that he wants roll back all of our progress on behalf of his son and big oil and gas lobbyists. He should not be confirmed.

From Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action:
On behalf of our 5 million members, we commend President-Elect Donald Trump for nominating Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana to be our next Secretary of the Interior. The sportsmen and women of this nation have long waited for an Interior Secretary who understands the need to preserve America’s outdoor heritage for generations to come. Ryan Zinke will champion those traditions with the devotion of a true outdoorsman while serving as our next Secretary of the Interior.

Updated at 10:24 a.m. Friday, Dec. 16

Monday, December 12, 2016

Missoula-based writer receives death threats from Trump supporters

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 11:14 AM

Missoula-based writer and occasional Indy contributor Stephanie Land doesn't shy away from personal, soul-baring pieces on the struggles of single parenting. Her stories often provoke strong opinions and commentary about her personal choices, but she wasn't expecting the level of vitriol she received after her essay was published in the Washington Post Dec. 5. In "Trump stole my desire to look for a partner," Land writes about her concern for her children and how Trump's election prompted her to reconsider her participation in the dating scene:

"I’ve lost the desire to attempt the courtship phase. The future is uncertain. I am not the optimistic person I was on the morning of Nov. 8, wearing a T-shirt with 'Nasty Woman' written inside a red heart. It makes me want to cry thinking of that."

Since the piece came out, Land has been inundated with comments on social media from Trump supporters mocking her decision, accusing her of being unattractive and much worse. She's received death threats through Twitter and Facebook. A sample of the more moderate comments recently posted on the Post's site:


Even Bill O'Reilly mocked her in a brief segment (that doesn't actually quote from the piece).
  • Youtube
Nonetheless, Land is keeping her chin up. We caught up with her to ask about Internet hatred, election coverage and her upcoming trip to speak at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

How did your Washington Post piece come about to begin with?

After the election I was having such a hard time being creative again and writing, and I just had to kind of get that out as sort of processing my emotions. So it just came out that way. And I really liked it, my editor really liked it. I just thought it was a sweet little piece of a moment of sharing my grief over an election. I totally didn’t expect it to go so viral through Trump's supporters.

Hardly any comments seem to take issue with what you actually wrote.

Yeah, [a friend and I] watched the Bill O'Reilly clip together and we were laughing so hard. I had tears in my eyes I was laughing so much. Like, where are you getting this point of view from? It has nothing to do with what I actually wrote. I think most commenters react to the headline of a piece or they react to the photo and the headline and the little subscript in most anything. And they may skim the article at best. But in this case, I mean I’m being attacked for saying that I chose to be single. It’s threatening the average white male because I’m telling them I don’t need them. It's crazy to me. It’s also been really frightening. I’ve never had so many people tell me to kill myself before.

How's your phone handling the endless numbers of Twitter and Facebook notifications?

I woke up this morning and for Facebook it said 192 [notifications]. And Twitter only goes up to 20 and then it says 20 plus. But every time I look at my home screen, it says that much. And I have over 100 message requests on Facebook from people I’m not friends with. Then dozens of ones from people I actually am friends with. These are all good messages. That’s pretty awesome.

To change topics slightly, how do you feel about the Washington Post's work as a whole? The Post has seemed willing to stick its neck out and really criticize Trump.

Yeah, I’m a huge fan of the work they do journalistically. I appreciate the pieces they’ve published through the election. And I think they are being a bit more brash than other outlets. I just love that about them.

Are you thinking next steps, career-wise?

I don't know. I did an interview last night for [ABC-Fox Montana]. I just did it because a friend of mine is a producer there so I felt like I could trust them, and my kid, I knew she’d get a huge kick out of being on the news. Then they were wanting to come here and film us in our house so I agreed to it. But I was so scared to say anything. Every question she asked, every time I tried to think of what to say, all I could see were tweets coming at me. Like sub-phrasing and quoting what I’d said and throwing it back at me in hate-filled language. ... I’m working on a book, I have to write. So it was scary for me to feel like I couldn’t say anything out of fear. But on Dec. 12 I'm going to be in DC, doing speech at an event for the Center for American Progress. They’ve already reached out to me, had several editors reach out, they emailed and said how are you doing, are you surviving this okay? They made a point to say, well, on Sunday you’re flying into a huge network of support and people who back you.

What are you speaking about?

They’re specifically bringing me in to talk about my success story with going from homelessness and food stamps to being able to support my family on my own. They really want me to talk about that. Like, I am one of the people who greatly benefited from food stamps and childcare assistance and housing assistance. It's kind of a way to show that the systems that are in place are an excellent safety net for those who need them and they should remain there.

Click here for a live stream of the Center for American Progress seminar How Progressives Can Defend the Working Class in the Trump Era.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Oregon activist Leonard Higgins shares the story of how he shut down oil for a day

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 3:38 PM

Cutting the chain took about eight minutes. As he struggled with the bolt cutters, Leonard Higgins worried the cops might arrive before he could finish his job. Once inside the Spectra Energy Express Pipeline’s valve station, Higgins turned the small wheel that would stop the flow of bituminous oil. Bulky winter clothes made it clumsy work. Then he waited. It got cold. An hour and a half later, the Chouteau County Sheriff’s deputies arrived.

The scrape of forks across plates occasionally interrupted Higgins’ story Wednesday night. Everyone had loaded up on potluck goodies from the folding tables in the corner. Quiche, egg rolls, chili with melted Colby-Jack, a Sichuan-style noodle dish. Thirty-plus people had turned up for the 350 Missoula-sponsored presentation, and not one of them passed up an opportunity to laud Higgins for his activism. 350 Missoula chair Jeff Smith introduced Higgins not as a hero or an anti-hero, but “an everyman.” The 64-year-old Oregon native had spent the previous day in a Fort Benton courtroom being arraigned. He didn't act like a man facing up to 10 years in Deer Lodge.

Leonard Higgins is escorted away from an oil pipeline valve station by Chouteau County Sheriff's deputies Oct. 11. Higgins appeared in Missoula Dec. 7 to discuss how he and other protesters shut down five oil pipelines in four states. - COURTESY LEONARD HIGGINS
  • Courtesy Leonard Higgins
  • Leonard Higgins is escorted away from an oil pipeline valve station by Chouteau County Sheriff's deputies Oct. 11. Higgins appeared in Missoula Dec. 7 to discuss how he and other protesters shut down five oil pipelines in four states.

“Bottom line,” Higgins says, “we’re facing a far greater threat than prison. For all of us.”

Higgins isn’t the only one facing felony charges for the Oct. 11 action. Four other protesters were busy breaking into valve stations in Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington as Higgins went to work in Chouteau County. Their plan, carefully researched, crafted and practiced over the course of several months, was to manually shut down the flow of oil from the Alberta tar sands through five different pipelines within the same hour. Everything was done in part as a show of solidarity with the pipeline protesters on North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Videographers livestreamed the goings-on on Facebook. Support staff called each pipeline company minutes before the valve-turning commenced to alert them to what was happening. The activists had spent the preceding weeks debating specifics, Higgins says, and leapt into action only when they felt confident they’d minimized risks to themselves, the public and the environment.

“If we had not been able to satisfy ourselves that there was only a small chance of any leakage,” Higgins says, “we wouldn’t have gone forward.”

Each of the targeted pipelines remained shut down for nearly a day. In the video Higgins shared of the multi-state effort, one valve-turner is shown leaving a bundle of flowers behind.

“There were only four of us in the courtroom yesterday for Leonard’s arraignment,” Smith said, turning in his chair to face the audience. “It might be nice if next time we could get 40 people up there.”

Smith’s pitch led to a brief discussion about the pitfalls of filling a central Montana courthouse parking lot with Missoula license plates. Someone suggested carpooling with others from outside Missoula County. Higgins’ spirit of solidarity appeared to be rubbing off.

As Higgins took questions from the crowd, the conversation gradually turned to more philosophical questions about activism. Did the actions of Higgins and his cohorts—who dubbed themselves Shut It Down—truly qualify as nonviolent? Will their choice to enter a “necessity defense” in court, invoking the threats that tar sands development and climate change pose to others’ lives, pan out successfully? How has their elicitation of the Standing Rock protest been received?

The only thing Higgins knew for sure was that his fate will be decided by a Montana jury. His trial date in Chouteau County has not yet been set. Aside from the five valve-turners, two support staffers and three independent documentary filmmakers were arrested during the events of Oct. 11. The Montana Petroleum Association denounced the protesters as "eco-terrorists," but Higgins believes such criticisms have it backwards.

"At this point in time," he says, "it's the fossil fuel companies that are the eco-terrorists."

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Engstrom resigns, Stearns named interim UM president

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 1:19 PM

After six years of falling enrollment and cutbacks, with further budgetary and academic uncertainty roiling campus this fall, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom will resign effective Dec. 31, the state's Commissioner of Higher Education said Thursday.

Commissioner Clayton Christian announced Engstrom's departure in a morning email to campus, stating that he asked Engstrom "to consider this transition at this time based on my belief that a change in leadership direction is the right step for UM going forward." An hour later, the state announced in a follow-up email that Christian's predecessor as higher education commissioner, Sheila Stearns, would take over as interim president while a national search is conducted. Engstrom's annual contract was scheduled to expire June 30.

Engstrom, part-way through his seventh academic year, has presided over some of the most tumultuous times in UM's history. Enrollment was at an all-time high when he assumed the duty as president in October 2010, but soon entered a state of free-fall that has yet to relent and counts as one the steepest drops at any public university this decade. This fall's numbers marked the worst decline yet, with student retention slipping as well. The loss of 3,250 students in six years, in excess of 20 percent of the student body, has prompted budgetary bloodletting, layoffs and institutional soul-searching that will continue well beyond his departure.
University of Montana President Royce Engstrom will step down Dec. 31, at the request of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • photo by Chad Harder
  • University of Montana President Royce Engstrom will step down Dec. 31, at the request of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.
Engstrom leaves with the university mid-way through a rewrite of its strategic plan and during the initial stages of a sweeping, high-stakes exercise in "prioritizing" university offerings that will winnow academic programs. UM and the rest of the Montana University System also are preparing to lobby the Montana Legislature when it convenes in January. The changes on campus are being led by a slew of new and interim administrators hired by Engstrom, including four cabinet-level officials in the past year alone. It was the largest shake-up at Main Hall since UM's sexual assault scandal exploded during the second year of the president's tenure.

UM's public turmoil contrasted with Engstrom's own understated, non-confrontational style. He receded from the spotlight in recent months, instead putting forward members of his cabinet to speak on behalf of the university. Last year, after overseeing the reduction of 192 positions on campus, Engstrom donated his annual raise to student scholarships—a move he was said to have performed quietly in prior years, but which rising tension on campus pushed him to disclose publicly.

Christian, in his email, credited Engstrom for strengthening the university "in many respects." In particular, he pointed to increases in research spending and fundraising, the construction of a new Missoula College building, and reforms enacted around sexual assault response.

The commissioner's office, however, began sending mixed signals last week, first speaking critically of UM's budget situation before saying that university leaders had a good plan in place and were moving to make changes at an appropriate pace.

Asked to elaborate on the commissioner's desire for a "change in leadership direction," spokesman Kevin McRae says, "it is as plain and clear as that."

"He believes a change in leadership at the president level is best for UM at this time and going forward," McRae says. "There is no other reason."

Stearns, selected to oversee the transition in the coming months, has one of the deepest higher-education resumes in Montana, including longstanding ties to UM. She received bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the university before serving as director of alumni relations and vice president for university relations in the 1980s. After being a finalist for the president position ultimately awarded to George Dennison, Stearns was hired as provost and chancellor at UM Western, then became president of Wayne State University in Nebraska. She returned to lead the Montana University System from 2003 through 2012, serving as the longest-tenured Commissioner of Higher Education in state history. Stearns is currently a senior consultant for the national Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

Christian approached Stearns about stepping in "in the last day or two," she tells the Indy. "I was very surprised to hear about a transition this major. I said I would like a little time to think about it."

Stearns says her "longtime familiarity with and affection for the university" prompted her to take the job. Her priority is to make those on campus feel valued while making changes as necessary. "I'm not going to just be a caretaker," she says.

Stearns says she spoke with Engstrom over the phone.

"He's an extremely gracious, dignified man," she says.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Your future, a little early

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 2:00 PM

Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every week, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.

ARIES (March 21-April 19): “Creative people are at greater risk,” said psychiatrist R. D. Laing, “just as one who climbs a mountain is more at risk than one who walks along a village lane.” I bring this to your attention, Aries, because in the coming weeks you will have the potential to be abundantly creative, as well as extra imaginative, ingenious and innovative. But I should also let you know that if you want to fulfill this potential, you must be willing to work with the extra tests and challenges that life throws your way. For example, you could be asked to drop a pose, renounce lame excuses or reclaim powers that you gave away once upon a time.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Taurus musician Brian Eno has been successful as a composer, producer, singer and visual artist. Among his many collaborators have been David Byrne, David Bowie, U2, Coldplay, Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones and James Blake. Eno’s biographer David Sheppard testified that capturing his essence in a book was “like packing a skyscraper into a suitcase.” I suspect that description may fit you during the next four weeks, Taurus. You’re gearing up for some high-intensity living. But please don’t be nervous about it. Although you may be led into intimate contact with unfamiliar themes and mysterious passions, the story you actualize should feel quite natural.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): You are free! Or almost free! Or let me put it this way: You could become significantly freer if you choose to be—if you exert your willpower to snatch the liberating experiences that are available. For example, you could be free from a slippery obligation that has driven you to say things you don’t mean. You could be free from the temptation to distort your soul in service to your ego. You might even be free to go after what you really want rather than indulging in lazy lust for a gaggle of mediocre thrills. Be brave, Gemini. Define your top three emancipating possibilities, and pursue them with vigor and rigor.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): Have you been feeling twinges of perplexity? Do you find yourself immersed in meandering meditations that make you doubt your commitments? Are you entertaining weird fantasies that give you odd little shivers and quivers? I hope so! As an analyzer of cycles, I suspect that now is an excellent time to question everything. You could have a lot of fun playing with riddles and wrestling with enigmas. Please note, however, that I’m not advising you to abandon what you’ve been working on and run away. Now is a time for fertile inquiry, not for rash actions. It’s healthy to contemplate adjustments, but not to initiate massive overhauls.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): “Everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves,” writes psychoanalytic writer Adam Phillips. Where do you fit on this scale, Leo? Whatever your usual place might be, I’m guessing that in the coming weeks you will approach record-breaking levels in your ability to handle your own aliveness. You may even summon and celebrate massive amounts of aliveness that you had previously suppressed. In fact, I’ll recklessly speculate that your need to numb yourself will be closer to zero than it has been since you were five years old. (I could be exaggerating a bit; but maybe not!)

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Do you periodically turn the volume down on your mind’s endless chatter and tune into the still, small voice within you? Have you developed reliable techniques for escaping the daily frenzy so as to make yourself available for the Wild Silence that restores and revitalizes? If so, now would be a good time to make aggressive use of those capacities. And if you haven’t attended well to these rituals of self-care, please remedy the situation. Claim more power to commune with your depths. In the coming weeks, most of your best information will flow from the sweet darkness.

Continue reading »

The flip-flop clad Wyoming woman who drove a forklift drunk (and more News of the Weird)

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 11:58 AM

Democracy in Action
While “democracy” in most of America means electing representatives to run government, on Nov. 8 in San Francisco it also expected voters to decide 43 often vague, densely worded “issues” that, according to critics, could better be handled by the professionals who are, after all, elected by those very same voters. Except for hot-button issues like tax increases or hardened legislative gridlock, solutions on these “propositions” (e.g., how certain contractors’ fees should be structured, which obscure official has primary responsibility for which obscure job, or the notorious proposition asking whether actors in the tax-paying porno industry must use condoms) would be, in other states, left to elected officials, lessening voter need for a deep dive into civics.

Police Report

Inexplicable: (1) The police chief of Bath Township, Ohio, acknowledged the overnight break-in on Oct. 10 or 11 at the University Hospitals Ghent Family Practice, but said nothing was missing. It appeared that an intruder (or intruders) had performed some medical procedure in a clinical office (probably on an ear) because instruments were left in bowls and a surgical glove and medication wrappings tossed into a trash can (and a gown left on a table). (2) A 35-year-old man was detained by police in Vancouver, British Columbia, in October after a home break-in in which the intruder took off his clothes, grabbed some eggs and began preparing a meal. The homeowner, elsewhere in the house, noticed the commotion and the intruder fled (still naked).

How To Tell If You’ve Had Too Much To Drink: Ashley Basich, 49, was arrested in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in October and charged with DUI after police found her, late at night, using an industrial forklift to pick up and move a van that she explained was blocking her driveway. Problems: She works for the state forestry department and had commandeered a state-owned vehicle, she had a cooler of beer in the forklift and was operating it while wearing flip-flops (OSHA violation!), and the van “blocking” her driveway was her own.

Though most Chicago Police Department officers get no more than five civilian complaints in their entire careers (according to one defense attorney), CPD internal records released in October reveal that some had more than 100, and, of 13,000 complaints over 47 years in which police wrongdoing was conceded, only 68 cases resulted in the officer actually being fired (although the worst police offender, Jerome Finnigan, with 157 complaints over two decades, is now in federal prison).

Compelling Explanations: Two men in rural Coffee County, Georgia, told sheriff’s deputies in November that they had planned to soon attack a science-research center in Alaska because peoples’ “souls” were trapped there and needed to be released (or at least that is what God told Michael Mancil, 30, and James Dryden Jr., 22, causing them to amass a small but “something out of a movie” arsenal, according to the sheriff). The High Frequency Active Aural Research Facility, run by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has long been a target of conspiracists, in that “the study of the Earth’s atmosphere” obviously, they say, facilitates “mind control,” snatching souls.

Well, Of Course! (1) Motorist Luke Campbell, 28, was arrested near Minneapolis in September and charged with firing his gun at several passing cars, wounding one man (a bus passenger)—explaining to a bystander that shooting at other vehicles “relieves stress.” (2) Briton Mark Wright, 45, caught with illegal drugs taped to his penis following his arrest for burglary, told Newcastle Crown Court in September that he had “hidden” them there to keep them secret from his wife (perhaps identifying one place that she no longer visits).

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Your future, a little early

Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2016 at 9:00 AM

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): There is a 97 percent chance that you will NOT engage in the following activities within the next 30 days: naked skydiving, tight-rope walking between two skyscrapers, getting drunk on a mountaintop, taking ayahuasca with Peruvian shamans in a remote rural hut, or dancing ecstatically in a muddy pit of snakes. However, I suspect that you will be involved in almost equally exotic exploits—although less risky ones—that will require you to summon more pluck and improvisational skill than you knew you had.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): The Onion, my favorite news source, reported that, “It’s perfectly natural for people to fantasize about sandwiches other than the one currently in their hands.” You shouldn’t feel shame, the article said, if you’re enjoying a hoagie but suddenly feel an inexplicable yearning for a BLT or pastrami on rye. While I appreciate this reassuring counsel, I don’t think it applies to you in the coming weeks. In my opinion, you have a sacred duty to be unwaveringly faithful, both in your imagination and your actual behavior—as much for your own sake as for others’. I advise you to cultivate an up-to-date affection for and commitment to what you actually have, and not indulge in obsessive fantasies about “what ifs.”

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): I hesitate to deliver the contents of this horoscope without a disclaimer. Unless you are an extremely ethical person with a vivid streak of empathy, you might be prone to abuse the information I’m about to present. So please ignore it unless you can responsibly employ the concepts of benevolent mischief and tricky blessings and cathartic shenanigans. Ready? Here’s your oracle: Now is a favorable time for grayer truths, wilder leaps of the imagination, more useful bullshit, funnier enigmas, and more outlandish stories seasoned with crazy wisdom.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): Kavachi is an underwater volcano in the Southwest Pacific Ocean. It erupts periodically, and in general makes the surrounding water so hot and acidic that human divers must avoid it. And yet some hardy species live there, including crabs, jellyfish, stingrays and sharks. What adaptations and strategies enable them to thrive in such an extreme environment? Scientists don’t know. I’m going to draw a comparison between you and the resourceful creatures living near Kavachi. In the coming weeks, I bet you’ll flourish in circumstances that normal people might find daunting.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Seventeenth-century British people used the now-obsolete word “firktytoodle.” It meant “cuddling and snuggling accompanied by leisurely experiments in smooching, fondling, licking and sweet dirty talk.” The coming weeks will be prime time for you to carry out extensive experiments in this activity. But here’s an interesting question: Will the near future also be a favorable phase for record levels of orgasmic release? The answer: maybe, but IF AND ONLY IF you pursue firkytoodle as an end in itself; IF AND ONLY IF you relish the teasing and playing as if they were ultimate rewards, and don’t relegate them to being merely preliminary acts for pleasures that are supposedly bigger and better. P.S. These same principles apply not just to your intimate connections, but to everything else in your life, as well. Enjoying the journey is as important as reaching a destination.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Here’s an experiment worth trying: Reach back into the past to find a remedy for what’s bugging you now. In other words, seek out on an old, perhaps even partially forgotten influence to resolve a current dilemma that has resisted your efforts to master it. This is one time when it may make good sense to temporarily resurrect a lost dream. You could energize your future by drawing inspiration from possibilities that might have been but never were.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

The fist-fighting nerds of the Bronx High School of Science (and more News of the Weird)

Posted By on Mon, Nov 14, 2016 at 9:00 AM

The Nanny State
New York City officially began licensing professional fire eaters earlier this year, and classes have sprung up to teach the art so that the city’s Fire Department Explosives Unit can test for competence (if not “judgment”) and issue the “E29” certificates. In the “bad old (license-less) days,” a veteran fire eater told The New York Times in October, a “bunch of us” performed regularly for $50 a throw, largely oblivious of the dangers (though some admit that almost everyone eventually gets “badly burned”). For authenticity, the Times writer, a fire eater who dubbed herself Lady Aye, completed the licensing process herself (“as sexy as applying for a mortgage”), but declined to say whether she is awaiting bookings.

Bright Ideas

A major streetlight in the town of Pebmarsh Close, England, went out of service when a truck hit it a year ago, and despite pleas to fix it from townspeople—and Essex county councillor Dave Harris—no action has been taken. In October, Harris staged a “birthday party” on the site, formally inviting numerous guests, and furnishing a birthday cake—to “celebrate” the “age” of the broken streetlight. (The shamed county highway office quickly promised action.)

Prominent British radio host Dame Jenni Murray suggested in October that the U.K. scrap traditional “sex education” courses in school and instead show pornographic videos for classes to “analyze it in exactly the same way as (they analyze Jane Austen)” in order to encourage discussion of the role of sex. Younger students might explore why a boy should not look up a girl’s skirt, but older students would view hard-core material to confront, for example, whether normal women should “shave” or make the typical screeching moans that porno “actresses” make. Dame Jenni said simply condemning pornography is naive because too much money is at stake.

At a World Cup qualifier match in October in Quito, Ecuador, police arrived during the game to question star player Enner Valencia about an unpaid alimony complaint, and he saw them waiting on the sideline. Local media reported that Valencia then faked an on-field injury near the end of the match to “necessitate” being taken away by ambulance, thus outmaneuvering the police. (He settled the complaint in time for the next match.)

Are We Safe?
The security firm Trend Micro disclosed in October its “surprise” to find, in the course of a routine investigation, that firms in several crucial sectors (nuclear power, electric utilities, defense contractors, computer chip makers) send critical alert messages via old-style wireless pagers wholly unsecured against hacking. In fact, Trend Micro said the enormously popular WhatsApp message-exchange app has better security than the alert systems of nuclear power plants. (Infrastructure engineers defended the outdated technology as useful where internet access was unavailable.)

Life Imitates Art: Security experts hired by the investment firm Muddy Waters (which is being sued for defamation by St. Jude Medical Inc. over claims that St. Jude’s cardiac implant device can be hacked) disclosed in an October court filing that they agree the devices are anonymously and maliciously hackable. They found that a popular control device (Merlin@Home) could be remotely turned off, or jiggered to carry a dangerous electrical charge from up to 100 feet away. (A similar incident was part of a plot in Season 2 of the “Homeland” TV series, as the means by which the ailing U.S. vice president was assassinated.)

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Your future, a little early

Posted By on Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 9:00 AM

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): Now and then you display an excessive egotism that pushes people away. But during the next six weeks you will have an excellent chance to shed some of that tendency, even as you build more of the healthy pride that attracts help and support. So be alert for a steady flow of intuitions that will instruct you on how to elude overconfidence and instead cultivate more of the warm, radiant charisma that is your birthright. You came here to planet Earth not just to show off your bright beauty, but also to wield it as a source of inspiration and motivation for those whose lives you touch.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): “How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else,” said inventor Buckminster Fuller. I don’t fully endorse that perspective. For example, when I said goodbye to North Carolina with the intention to make Northern California my new home, Northern California is exactly where I ended up and stayed. Having said that, however, I suspect that the coming months could be one of those times when Fuller’s formula applies to you. Your ultimate destination may turn out to be different from your original plan. But here’s the tricky part: If you do want to eventually be led to the situation that’s right for you, you have to be specific about setting a goal that seems right for now.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): If you were an obscenely rich plutocrat, you might have a pool table on your super yacht. And to ensure that you and your buddies could play pool even in a storm that rocked your boat, you would have a special gyroscopic instrument installed to keep your pool table steady and stable. But I doubt you have such luxury at your disposal. You’re just not that wealthy or decadent. You could have something even better, however: metaphorical gyroscopes that will keep you steady and stable as you navigate your way through unusual weather. Do you know what I’m referring to? If not, meditate on the three people or influences that might best help you stay grounded. Then make sure you snuggle up close to those people and influences during the next two weeks.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): The coming weeks will be a good time to fill your bed with rose petals and sleep with their aroma caressing your dreams. You should also consider the following acts of intimate revolution: listening to sexy spiritual flute music while carrying on scintillating conversations with interesting allies . . . sharing gourmet meals in which you and your sensual companions use your fingers to slowly devour your delectable food . . . dancing naked in semi-darkness as you imagine your happiest possible future. Do you catch my drift, Cancerian? You’re due for a series of appointments with savvy bliss and wild splendor.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): “I have always wanted . . . my mouth full of strange sunlight,” writes Leo poet Michael Dickman in his poem “My Honeybee.” In another piece, while describing an outdoor scene from childhood, he innocently asks, “What kind of light is that?” Elsewhere he confesses, “What I want more than anything is to get down on paper what the shining looks like.” In accordance with the astrological omens, Leo, I suggest you follow Dickman’s lead in the coming weeks. You will receive soulful teachings if you pay special attention to both the qualities of the light you see with your eyes and the inner light that wells up in your heart.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): The Passage du Gois is a 2.8-mile causeway that runs between the western French town of Beauvoir-sur-Mer and the island of Noirmoutier in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s only usable twice a day when the tide goes out, and even then for just an hour or two. The rest of the time it’s under water. If you hope to walk or bike or drive across, you must accommodate yourself to nature’s rhythms. I suspect there’s a metaphorically similar phenomenon in your life, Virgo. To get to where you want to go next, you can’t necessarily travel exactly when you feel like it. The path will be open and available for brief periods. But it will be open and available.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Rockies Today, November 7

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 10:51 AM

Next president must confront Colorado River cuts

A University of Colorado team has issued a water warning to the next president: the Colorado River cannot meet the current needs of 35 million westerners, and an order to reduce water siphoned from the river by 333,000 acre feet—equivalent to the water used in 666,0000 homes—will likely be needed come next August.

Feds may order first cuts in water from Colorado River; CU team issues warning to next president
A University of Colorado team led by a former Obama administration water chief has issued a water warning to the next…
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials on Tuesday confirmed the finding. Federal models show a 48 percent chance that, without cuts, lower basin states Arizona, California and Nevada would face shortages starting in 2018.
Anne Castle, President Obama’s former Interior Department Assistant Secretary for Water and Science and now a senior fellow at CU’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, led a team of five researchers. They interviewed 65 western water policy experts and decision-makers in addition to analyzing federal data.
“This really is a critical time. Action is required. We’re closer to the edge than we ever have been,” Castle said.

Wyoming school, filled with toxic gases, still closed

In May, health officials closed down the 120-student K-12 school in Midwest, Wyoming, after detecting dangerous levels of toxic gases inside. Midwest sits in the middle of the Salt Creek oil field, the oldest in Wyoming. Months later, “Other than the skittering of leaves across the cordoned-off parking lot, the only sounds are the clink of the flagpole and the dog barking across the street.”

“There’s so many wells in this area,” says Jennifer Sutherland Bishop, coach of the school volleyball team. “It would take them so long to check it — years to check every single one of these wells — and the one that gives us the most problem is on the school property?”
In September, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department released the results of air quality tests from May. Carbon dioxide levels inside the school were 26 times the recommended limit, which made some areas of the school oxygen-deficient. Levels of benzene, which can have serious short and long-term health effects, were 200 times the amount deemed safe by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control.

Voters in Colorado county may ban pot businesses

Proponents of getting rid of the recreational marijuana industry in Pueblo County say any benefits are far outweighed by its burdens.

More than anywhere else in Colorado, Pueblo tied its future to the marijuana jobs, tax revenues and other economic benefits touted by legalization advocates around the country. But almost three years after legalization took effect in Colorado, Pueblo is reconsidering that strategy.
On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to ban recreational marijuana businesses. There are two essentially identical measures up for vote — one for the city of Pueblo, the other for outlying Pueblo County, where all of the recreational businesses are currently located.

A researcher maps pipeline water security

International water security and transboundary river post-doctoral researcher, Jennifer Veilleux, saw the protests escalate in North Dakota and scoured the internet for information on the major waterways the Dakota Access pipeline would impact, and where Indigenous people lived in relation to those. She couldn’t find much. So she mapped it herself.

What resulted were two detailed socio-ecological maps of the Missouri River Basin, created by Veilleux and the team she assembled, in total 16 geographers, cartographers, lawyers, and researchers who are all collaborating voluntarily. One outlines major waterways the pipeline would intersect and possibly leak into and the nearby tribal lands. The other shows the percentage of Indigenous people by county living near waterways that could be affected by the pipeline, which crosses four Western states.

Why the pipeline push?

In 2015, crude oil production increased for the seventh consecutive year, reaching 9.42 million barrels per day, the highest level since 1972.

In 2015, production gains were highest in Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, and North Dakota, as these three regions accounted for 77% of the U.S. total increase.

Exploring Old Faithful’s plumbing

The research could offer new insight into Yellowstone’s hydrothermal explosions, which have occurred irregularly throughout the park’s history.

Using a helicopter, researchers will fly a hoop-shaped electromagnetic system over Yellowstone for about a month. The device, which was developed in Denmark to map groundwater supplies, seeks to map Yellowstone’s hydrothermal innards without the need to dig. It works almost like an X-ray for hot water flow, able to distinguish water from rock as deep as 1,500 feet below the surface.

Snake River dam debate revived

After a federal judge criticized the government for failing to consider whether breaching four giant dams on the Snake River would save wild salmon runs, agencies must take a new look at all approaches to managing the the dams in southeast Washington, including breaching them. Public meetings are underway.

“This is an action that (government agencies) have done their utmost to avoid considering for decades,” [the judge] wrote.
His order triggered 15 public meetings in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon, where the dam removal issue has percolated for two decades.
The first meeting was held last month, and the final one is scheduled for Dec. 8. After that, a plan to save the salmon must be created.
The Snake River, at just over 1,000 miles, is the 13th longest in the United States, flowing from the western border of Wyoming to its confluence with the mighty Columbia River in Washington. For much of its history, the river and its tributaries produced salmon runs in the millions that sustained Native American tribes who lived near its banks. The best salmon spawning grounds were in Idaho, and were hampered by the construction of the four dams.
Environmental groups say restoring the salmon runs is impossible with the four dams in place.

In Idaho, buy into solar without a roof

Idaho Power’s community solar project in southeast Boise allows customers who cannot install their own rooftop solar panels because they live in rental properties or multi-unit dwellings to take advantage of solar power.

Idaho Power in the past has been rough on rooftop solar customers like many utilities who worry they allow these customers to get out of paying for the rest of the the company’s grid. But this pilot project could lead to future, perhaps larger, projects. Small-scale pilot programs, the commission said, “are valuable for learning what works and what does not.” Idaho Power said the pilot will assist the utility in learning the “complexities associated with offering community solar programs including: customer commitment, construction, contracting, interconnection, maintenance and billing.”

Calgary’s unemployment rate hits 23-year high

Calgary’s unemployment rate reached double-digits in October, up to 10.2 per cent, its highest level since November 1993.

Calgary appears to have suffered a big share of the economic pain from a recession triggered by persistently low oil prices.
According to [Economist Trevor] Tombe, it’s because job losses in the resource sector have occurred not so much in energy production, but almost entirely in areas that require new investment in the oilpatch, such as exploration, engineering and geology.
“Those jobs are disproportionately in Calgary than in Edmonton,” Tombe said.
A high unemployment rate has made job-hunting a source of desperation — even helplessness — in a city with a crowded field of candidates.

The country’s newest scenic trail

While the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail may not be as well known as some of the nation’s other long-distance paths — including the Continental Divide Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Appalachian Trail — a small group of people is working tirelessly to elevate its status.

The trail begins at the Chief Mountain Customs Station on the U.S.-Canadian border in Glacier National Park. From there, it veers west, passing Waterton Lake and crossing the Continental Divide near Chapman Peak. The trail follows Bowman Lake and exits Glacier at Polebridge where it enters Forest Service land. The trail continues west to Eureka, where it briefly follows U.S. Highway 93 and then Montana Highway 37 from Rexford to the Koocanusa Bridge. It then heads into the woods for the remainder of its journey to Idaho and on to Washington.

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