Friday, December 30, 2016

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival will open with a suddenly timely documentary about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 3:35 PM

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in Bright Lights.
  • Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in Bright Lights.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival sent out a press release in early December announcing Bright Lights, an HBO documentary about mother-daughter stars Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. At the time, it seemed an unremarkable pick for the kickoff of the festival's 14th year. Sure, Fisher had been back on the popular radar since Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but the franchise's most recent film, Rogue One, featured her only as a hologram. Reynolds had received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actor's Guild in 2015 and an honorary Oscar in 2016, but she hadn't been in the press much beyond that.

Everything changed when Fisher was rushed to the hospital on Dec. 23 and died on the 27th. Reynolds died one day later, of a stroke. The back-to-back deaths will go down as one of the more heartbreaking celebrity stories Of all time. Among Reynolds' last words, reportedly, were "I want to be with Carrie."

Big Sky Executive Director Rachel Gregg says she initially picked the HBO film to screen at the festival simply because she thought it was an interesting story about a complicated relationship. It had already screened at Cannes, and Missoula was supposed to be its last stop on the festival circuit before debuting on HBO.

This morning it was announced that HBO will move the film's network debut to Jan. 7. In an updated press release, BSDFF writes: "The Big Sky staff and board were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week ... it is our honor to open our festival with Bright Lights, an intimate portrait of these talented women."

Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher screens at the Wilma Fri. Feb. 17, at 7 PM. Free.

Daily Stormer's Andrew Anglin insists anti-Semitic demonstration in Whitefish will happen, names nonexistent "Jewish center" as location

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 1:28 PM

Neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin says he plans to make good on threats to stage an anti-Semitic armed march through Whitefish next month, despite dismissive comments this week by Richard Spencer, the white nationalist and part-time Whitefish resident who inspired the idea.

Anglin's insistence comes after Spencer said he doesn't believe the march will take place, describing Anglin's scheme as simply a "troll" of Whitefish residents. In an email Thursday, Anglin said Spencer is wrong, and that Anglin plans to apply for a permit that would allow him and a cohort of fellow skinheads to demonstrate in the streets.

"This is not about backing up Richard Spencer," Anglin wrote of his proposed march, "this is about justice, and making it clear to the Jewish mafia that we will no longer tolerate their criminal gangsterism, their attacks on the families of those they disagree with politically."

The proposed march was spun out of a recent dispute between Spencer, his mother, and local real estate agent Tanya Gersh, with the Spencers accusing Gersh of a "shake down" aimed at forcing Sherry Spencer to sell a commercial building she owns in Whitefish. Anglin took up the cause, calling for a "trollstorm" against Gersh, who is Jewish, and other Jewish residents of Whitefish. That threat later escalated when Anglin began promoting a "March on Whitefish" for which he would recruit California skinhead groups to carry assault-style rifles through the town.

The situation garnered international attention, prompting Spencer on Wednesday to tell the Daily Interlake and Missoulian newspapers he thought Anglin's call to arms was just a joke—much as Spencer dismissed his own "Hail Trump" salute at a recent white nationalist conference as ironic play. Spencer did not, however, explicitly call for Anglin to call off the march, saying only that he is powerless to influence the blogger, but has become weary of the spotlight the controversy has put on Whitefish.

"I'm not telling Anglin to do anything," Spencer now tells the Indy. "I just assumed it was a troll. Can he really bring out people for a march on a ski village in remote Montana?"
Richard Spencer says Anglin's tactics aren't his style. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL POLICY INSTITUTE
  • photo courtesy of National Policy Institute
  • Richard Spencer says Anglin's tactics aren't his style.
Anglin says he can, though he may be confused about where exactly his skinheads will march. Anglin, who lists a Worthington, Ohio, address on his site, says he is routing a path for the demonstration that will begin in "the center of the city" and end at the "Jewish center, where Gersh is the head and several figures in [local human rights group] Love Lives Here are members."

The Glacier Jewish Community congregation does not have a center or synagogue in Whitefish. Anglin did not respond to a follow-up question asking what he means by "Jewish center."

Anglin is virulently anti-Semitic, and his emailed statement doubles as a rant against the Jewish people. "Jews have operated with impunity for decades, destroying the lives of anyone who dared question their international criminal cartel," he writes. "Those days are finished. This is a revolt of the goyim."

He explains that he is moving forward with the march because Gersh and Love Lives Here have refused his demand that they apologize to Sherry Spencer.

In response to Anglin's demand, Loves Live Here chairman Will Randall echoed a recent comment by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. "This is not a negotiation," he says. "It's discrimination and it should never be negotiable."

Spencer and Anglin

Anglin's interest in Whitefish links Spencer to a rhetoric and style that he tries to keep at arm's length. Spencer, credited with coining the term "alt-right," attempts to present white nationalism as an intellectually legitimate position, independent of the overtly racist rhetoric usually associated with hate groups. That's why he has fashioned his nonprofit National Policy Institute as a beltway-style think tank with aspirations to relocate to Washington, D.C.

Anglin, on the other hand, has expressed concern via the Daily Stormer that media attention to figures such as Spencer serves to "remove focus from the Jewish problem."

"I absolutely believe that unrepentant anti-Semitism needs to remain at the core of the movement, just as it has been from the beginning," Anglin wrote in an August guide to the "alt-right" published on the site.

Spencer doesn't traffic in the grotesquely inflammatory language used by Anglin, but anti-Semitic jokes and references are nonetheless a regular feature of his speeches. At the NPI conference in November, where he led the "Hail Trump" toast, Spencer referenced Jewish folklore to describe journalists as "soulless golem."

Earlier this month, Anglin and Spencer appeared together on a right-wing podcast. An excerpt reported by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights shows the two men's difference in approach.
Spencer: “They [Jews] kind of need us in a way… But in a weird way, it’s the people that shall not dwell alone, to borrow a title from Kevin McDonald’s book. They do need us.”

Anglin: “It’s a virus. They’re a human disease” [laughter].

Spencer: “Somewhat inflammatory language, but I understand what you’re saying.”

This week, Spencer told the Daily Interlake that Anglin is "totally wild—that's not my kind of thing," while also calling him a "rational" person who wouldn't engage in physical violence.

Asked Friday morning whether he would call upon Anglin to stand down, Spencer offered this statement: "It's time to bring this to an end." He then pointed the Indy to a Youtube video he posted on Friday in which Spencer says that Whitefish residents can end the controversy by renouncing Love Lives Here, and specifically the Jewish rabbis involved.

"Don't listen to these rabbis," he says in the video. "Do you think they have good in their heart? Do you think they care for you? Do you think they care for this community? No, they're pursuing their own sick little project."

Spencer goes on in the video to tell Montana politicians who have denounced the march to "stop freaking out."

"The trolls are playing the tune and you are dancing to it, which is kind of funny," he says.

Residents opposed to Spencer and Anglin have scheduled a "Love Not Hate" block party for Jan. 7 in Whitefish.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Judge shoots down Malheur occupier Ryan Payne’s motion to withdraw plea

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 4:22 PM

A federal judge in Oregon yesterday denied U.S. Army veteran and Anaconda resident Ryan Payne’s request to withdraw his guilty plea, accusing Payne of having “buyer’s remorse” over a plea agreement reached in the wake of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. Payne, a key figure in the armed occupation and the subject of a 2014 Indy feature, admitted to a charge of conspiracy to impede U.S. officials this summer—and in so doing avoided another charge of possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities. In early November, not long after the acquittal of seven of his fellow occupiers, Payne attempted to reverse that admission.
Ryan Payne at his Anaconda home in 2014. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Ryan Payne at his Anaconda home in 2014.

Judge Anna Brown’s Dec. 28 decision was a strongly worded rebuke of each of Payne’s arguments, including the claim that he'd only accepted the plea agreement based on the belief that he would also get a deal in a separate case in Nevada. Brown's most damning critique took aim at Payne’s statement that he’d had serious misgivings about the facts surrounding his plea from the get-go, an assertion the judge said was “without merit.” Brown continued:

Although it was clear to the Court from Payne’s demeanor throughout the plea hearing that he had conflicting feelings about the decision whether to plead guilty, that is not surprising in light of Payne’s close relationships with Ammon Bundy and some of the other occupiers, his leadership role in the occupation of the MNWR, and the fact that his guilty plea would have been perceived by some as a betrayal of the causes that he sought to advance with Bundy and the other occupiers. Nevertheless, after assuring the Court that he had sufficient time to consider, with the advice of counsel, his decision to plead guilty, Payne ultimately chose to do just that.

The conspiracy charge Payne pleaded guilty to carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In denying Payne’s motion to withdraw his plea, Brown directed counsel on both sides to submit an updated proposal for a sentencing date by late January. Payne is also scheduled to stand trial in Nevada this coming spring on a separate set of charges stemming from his involvement in the 2014 standoff with federal agents at Cliven Bundy’s ranch. Attempts to reach a plea agreement in that case broke down this fall.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bullock cancels event addressing Neo-Nazi threats after security concerns reported

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 11:54 AM

Gov. Steve Bullock canceled a press conference in Whitefish today. Bullock had been scheduled to address neo-Nazi threats in the area, but canceled apparently in response to "security concerns," the Whitefish Pilot reports.

The event was planned in response to recent conflicts involving white nationalist Richard Spencer and his mother, Sherry Spencer, who lives in Whitefish. Those conflicts led to the posting of personal information about several local Jewish residents on a neo-Nazi website. (Read the Indy's latest on Richard Spencer and the situation in Whitefish here.)

Bullock's team did not offer a reason for the cancellation, according to the paper, but local activists believe it was related to security concerns relayed by law enforcement and the FBI:
Lisa Jones, a spokesperson for the Whitefish Convention and Visitor Bureau, which has been trying to quell the negative publicity for Whitefish, expressed disappointment over the governor’s canceled event.

“It’s sad we have to be afraid to have a press conference about denouncing hate because of the potential actions of the haters,” Jones said in an email statement.
Bullock now plans to send an opinion column to media outlets.

Read the full Pilot story here.

Attorney General's office ordered to turn over documents after claims of witness tampering in lethal injection suit

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 10:39 AM

A judge has sided with attorneys for two death-row inmates and ordered the Montana Department of Justice to turn over its communications with a controversial expert witness who repeatedly changed his testimony over the course of a lawsuit last year that struck down the state's lethal injection protocol.

After the trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs, including the ACLU of Montana, said they discovered statements made by state's medical expert, Roswell Lee Evans, suggesting that Montana DOJ staff may have instructed the Auburn School of Pharmacy dean to change his testimony. As the Indy previously reported, the attorneys raised the matter with Attorney General Tim Fox's office, which then conducted an internal investigation. Fox said he took "appropriate actions" toward the state's lawyers, but declined to elaborate.
Ron Smith is one of two inmates on death row in Montana, both of whom successfully challenged the state's lethal injection protocol last year. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Ron Smith is one of two inmates on death row in Montana, both of whom successfully challenged the state's lethal injection protocol last year.

In a Dec. 12 order, Helena District Court Judge DeeAnn Cooney said the evidence uncovered by the inmates' attorneys "raises serious questions about whether (Evans) changed his testimony to reflect what the Defendants wanted him to say as opposed to what he believed to be true." She ordered the Montana DOJ to produce certain communications with Evans, as well as documents related to the agency's internal investigation.

The documents could determine whether the state must pay attorney's fees associated with the lengthy case. ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor has previously said he thinks the public also deserves to know whether the state tried to manipulate a witness in a matter with life-or-death implications.

A Montana DOJ spokesperson told the Associated Press this week the department is confident the court will conclude "we did everything right."

Taylor says the plaintiffs expect to receive the documents next month.

For additional background on the case, Smith v. Batista, click here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

7,000 gallons of diesel spilled at Missoula rail yard

Posted By and on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 3:40 PM

Crews are continuing to remove soil at Montana Rail Link's Missoula rail yard, which was contaminated when 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled on Monday.

Travis Ross, an environmental health specialist with the Missoula Valley Water Quality District, says the spill, while significant in size, does not pose an immediate threat to drinking water. The spill does, however, raise questions about the company's emergency notification procedures and spill safeguards.

MRL issued a public statement regarding the incident Thursday night, apparently after receiving inquiries from media outlets. By then, remediation efforts had already been underway for several days.

The spill occurred when a coupling failed at the fuel pump house, where diesel fuel is delivered to the locomotive facility. In MRL's statement, spokesman Jim Lewis said the company shut down the pipeline and notified the Montana Department of Emergency Services, which then contacted other state and local agencies, "per required protocol."

However, the company did not call local 9-1-1, as required by the city's water quality ordinance, Ross says.
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
The ordinance, designed to protect the city aquifer, requires immediate 9-1-1 notification for spills exceeding 25 gallons. The city-county health department employs a staffer who can then assess the risk of groundwater contamination. But the water quality district didn't learn of the situation from state officials until at least seven hours after the spill.

Because the spill did not pose an immediate threat to drinking water, local officials decided not to issue a general public notice, Ross says. The water quality district plans to issue a notice of violation to MRL regarding the lack of 9-1-1 notification, but Ross says a fine is unlikely.

The company nonetheless appears to have responded to the spill quickly, Ross says.

By Thursday, more than one-third of the fuel had been recovered by remediation contractors using a vacuum truck, according to the MRL press release. The company subsequently began excavating contaminated soil—about 1,100 cubic yards so far. According to Kristi Ponozzo, public policy director for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, MRL is removing impacted soils "to the extent possible to minimize health risks." Ponozzo, responding to the Indy via email, says she doesn't know where the soils are being sent or how they will be dealt with. Lewis, at MRL, had not responded to the Indy's request for comment at the time of this post.

This week's spill is not the first at the Missoula rail yard. The location is a state Superfund site due to past releases of diesel fuel—one of several Superfund sites statewide formerly owned by Burlington Northern.

"In the scheme of the thousands of gallons that have been released there over the years—and at times there's been a significant amount of fuels in that section of town because of the railroad operations—it's probably a small percentage," Ross says.

More recently, a spill of 13,000 gallons of ethanol occurred at the Missoula rail yard in 2006, DEQ records indicate, leading to the excavation of around 5,000 tons of soil.

Ross says that fuel safety practices are better today, but that city-county water quality officials would like to discuss preventative steps with MRL going forward.

Ponozzo says the spill was first reported to DEQ's Disaster and Emergency Services, which then referred the incident to the agency's remediation division. DEQ does not have a presence at the site "at this time," Ponozzo adds, but has been getting "updated information and some photos" from the Missoula City-County Health Department. The agency's involvement moving forward will "depend on the extent of the spill."

"This is a state Superfund site with ongoing clean-up," Ponozzo writes, "so we do/will have ongoing involvement at the site in general."

This story has been corrected to more accurately describe the location of the coupling failure.

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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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