Thursday, July 20, 2017

UM student detained in China over taxicab incident

Posted By on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 at 12:21 PM

A University of Montana senior was arrested in China on July 16 and is currently being detained.

Guthrie McLean was visiting his mother, Jennifer McLean, in Zhengzhou in the Hunan province when he was arrested following an altercation with a taxi driver in June.

Jennifer McLean said in an email that she was taking a taxi home late at night after a flight on June 10. McLean, who is deaf and communicates by reading lips and speaking softly, got nervous and texted Guthrie after her driver stopped to talk to some people on a street corner. When the taxi arrived outside the gate to McLean’s residence, which is overseen by a security guard, she gave the driver 100 yuan and a ride voucher for a 70 yuan fare. When he refused to give her change, McLean says, she tried to take her voucher back. The driver then “started screaming and pushing me really hard,” McLean says. The driver continued to attack her until she could back away long enough to call Guthrie.

According to Jennifer, Guthrie came running from the residence and pushed the driver to the ground. Guthrie yelled at the driver, but did not strike him. The interaction lasted about 30 seconds.

The McLeans returned to the gate and Guthrie, who is fluent in Mandarin, confronted the guard for failing to intervene.

On July 16, police came to Jennifer’s residence and arrested Guthrie. A letter to Jennifer from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing says police say the taxi driver sustained an injury to his knee.
Guthrie McLean, a senior at the University of Montana, was arrested in China after coming to his mother's aid during an altercation with a taxi driver. His mother, Jennifer, says Chinese police have asked her to pay as much as US$14,800 while Guthrie is detained. - PHOTO COURTESY JENNIFER MCLEAN
  • Photo courtesy Jennifer McLean
  • Guthrie McLean, a senior at the University of Montana, was arrested in China after coming to his mother's aid during an altercation with a taxi driver. His mother, Jennifer, says Chinese police have asked her to pay as much as US$14,800 while Guthrie is detained.

Jennifer says her son was arrested in the early afternoon, and police returned an hour later to take her in for questioning. She says the police initially asked for money—first the equivalent of US$14,800, and later $8,800.

“They were visibly disappointed when they learned I was not a woman of means,” Jennifer says. “My work supervisor came and explained my earnings to them.”

Jennifer says Guthrie’s rights as a prisoner, including the right to an interpreter for Jennifer, were denied by the police. Jennifer asked to speak to a supervisor and asked the police to contact the local foreign affairs office, but they refused, she says.

Jennifer left the interview room and was not allowed to return. She hasn’t seen her son since. She says police have relayed several messages to her saying that Guthrie is in distress and that she should pay the money.

Jennifer teaches sign language to Chinese children. Guthrie grew up in China from third grade, and came to school at UM in August 2015. Guthrie traveled to China on May 24.

On July 19, according to an email provided by Jennifer, Sen. Steve Daines became aware of Guthrie’s detainment after reading an article in the Missoulian. Jason Thielman, Daines’ chief of staff, said in the email that he had been assured by a Chinese official that Guthrie is safe.

Jennifer says she’s also made Sen. Jon Tester’s office aware of her son's case.

According to Thielman’s email, under the Privacy Act of 1974 the U.S. Embassy cannot discuss McLean's case with anyone, even family, without his written consent. On Thursday, July 20, an American officer visited Guthrie, obtained his consent, and then sent Jennifer an email, according to which Guthrie is physically and mentally healthy and sharing a cell with 21 people. He requested money for food and English reading materials. He sent a message to his mother that reads, “I love you. I am stressed out but otherwise OK. Please don’t worry too much and I hope you are getting some rest. I am eating the pork.”

The email says Chinese police have a week from McLean’s “formal detention notice” to provide evidence to a court and recommend whether charges be filed.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Street Talk: Jobs, the weird and the wanted

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 2:56 PM

Q: This week's feature profiles a local woman who recently published a memoir about her years as a journalist covering the porn industry. What's the most interesting job you've ever had? Follow-up: If you could completely change your career track today, what would you do?


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Hollywood trailer park attorney sends "progress report" to city

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 2:38 PM

As today's Indy story about the history of management issues at Hollywood Mobile Home Park went to press, an attorney for the park's management company sent out a "progress report" to city officials.

The July 12 letter states that KEI Property Management, owned by Missoula broker Devin Khoury, has filed 22 eviction complaints in Missoula County Justice Court, "not to render individuals and families homeless, but to begin the long process of making the Hollywood community more functional, responsible, and a better a (sic) neighbor to the rest of the City of Missoula."
news_hollywood.jpg

The letter by attorney Thomas Orr also states that managers have contacted the Missoula Police Department for help tracking problem tenants, and recently removed from the property a burned-out trailer that had been abandoned since February.
Hermina Harold of the North Missoula Community Development Corporation was among those pushing for removal of the trailer over the last few months. In a Facebook post Thursday, she wrote that city officials had been uncertain about how to enforce health and safety rules, and said the property owner "dragged his feet on cleaning up while the children in the neighborhood had three solid months to explore that burned out trailer shell."

"The people who live in this neighborhood deserve better management and better health and safety oversight from their local government," she wrote. "They also deserve to stay in this neighborhood if they want, and not be priced out."

Orr has said Hollywood owners may redevelop the property as multi-family housing if they can't make the trailer court safe and profitable.

Get caught up on the Indy's coverage of Hollywood here and here.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Street Talk: The animals we love and kill edition

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 9:12 AM

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Have you seen our new live-action Street Talk?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 12:29 PM

For this week's paper we sent reporter Michael Siebert to find out what's going on in Bonner, where a company called Project Spokane is slated to receive $416,000 in state grant money to expand a data center that's supposed to bring 65 new jobs to the old mill site.

What does Project Spokane do? According to the grant application, "blockchain security services."

What are blockchain security services? It has something to do with bitcoin.

What is (are?) bitcoin? Michael's article does a pretty good job of explaining that, but we admit to being largely in the dark before Michael clued us in. Which made us wonder whether we're just a little slow, or if other people aren't quite up to speed on the peer-to-peer digital currency front, either.

So we went to Imagine Nation Brewing and asked around.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

City cuts a check, takes ownership of Missoula's water system

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 5:09 PM

document.png
Today, Missoula city government cut an $83,863,336 check to Mountain Water, and another for $6.8 million to pay contractors for unpaid work, and finally took ownership of the water system, henceforth to be called Missoula Water.

The checks were delivered Thursday morning in Missoula County District Court District, followed by judge Karen Townsend's issuance of a final order of condemnation.

"You're now drinking city water," the Missoula Chamber of Commerce wrote on Twitter.

The order concludes an expensive, years-long legal battle in which the city sought to force the sale of the utility by arguing that municipally owned water is in the public's best interest.

Mayor John Engen, who led the effort, posted a note about Thursday's order to his reelection campaign Facebook page, along with a photo of the new municipal water division logo:
"Today Missoula joins the rest of Montana's cities in owning our own water system. From this day forward, your hard earned dollars will stay local and be re-invested in water system infrastructure rather than boosting profit sheets of a Canadian company. We are grateful for your support during this fight and applaud this monumental victory for our city."

The Montana Public Service Commission, which regulated Mountain Water, also issued a statement on the transfer, taking a jab at one aspect of city leaders' claim that public ownership will keep water fees out of private hands.

The city has announced it will issue at least $110 million and up to $140 million in bonds to cover these costs. It has not publicly disclosed the interest rate it will pay on the debt. However, the total return due to the bondholders will exceed the return that Mountain Water is paid on the $36 million rate base while it was privately owned.
“The city will own the utility in name, but is financing its large purchase entirely through private bond investors. It’s a little ironic that, at the end of the day, Missoula consumers will pay more to private investors under city ownership than it did when the utility was officially owned directly by private investors,” said Vice-Chairman Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls.
A web page on the city's website offers general information for customers during the ownership transition, including the new phone number—552-6700—and customer service e-mail address: watercs@ci.missoula.mt.us.

Engen is scheduled to address the utility's employees on Friday.

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Zinke announces final delisting rule for Yellowstone grizzlies

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 5:03 PM

The question that has plagued every conversation about Yellowstone grizzlies for well over a year was finally answered today. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke declared the species officially recovered. The announcement came alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s publication of its final rule lifting Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a move that shifts management of the iconic bruins to state and tribal hands.
A Yellowstone grizzly on the run. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • A Yellowstone grizzly on the run.

“As a kid who grew up in Montana, I can tell you that this is a long time coming and very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region," Zinke said in a statement. "This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners. As a Montanan, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

FWS first published its proposed delisting rule in May 2016, and that development came as little surprise, given the signals broadcasted by various agencies months earlier. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks drafted its own management strategy for the bears last year, including the controversial consideration of trophy hunts, in anticipation of a final rule.

News of Zinke’s declaration didn’t go over very well in conservation circles. Though some in the environmental community have been split over whether the timing is right for delisting, scores of tribal nations and the majority of conservation organizations have come out strongly against the hunting of grizzlies under state management. Several have vowed to oppose Zinke’s decision in court, and others have hinted at the possibility of pushback.

"The ongoing recovery of Yellowstone grizzly bears is an undeniable example of how the ESA can bring a species back from the brink,” Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement. “However, we are concerned over how grizzly bears and their habitat will be managed after delisting. We cannot allow the decades of work and investment to save these bears go down the drain. Defenders of Wildlife is going through the delisting rule with a fine-toothed comb, and we will hold federal and state wildlife and land management agencies accountable for strong stewardship and management of grizzly bears and their habitat post delisting.”

The nonprofits WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center revealed plans to challenge the decision in court. Representatives from both organizations issued this joint statement:

The Service’s decision today flouts the letter and intent of the Endangered Species Act, ignores the best available science, and undermines the recovery of this cherished species as a whole. Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remain threatened by dwindling food sources, illegal poaching and record-high mortality rates, genetic stress from a lack of connectivity to neighboring sub-populations, and the burgeoning threats of climate change. It is essential for the recovery of grizzly bears as a species throughout the lower 48 that the GYE bears disperse into neighboring sub-populations and still unreclaimed habitats. Now is not the time to strip these bears of vital federal protections.

This isn’t the first time FWS has delisted Yellowstone grizzlies. Earthjustice sued to overturn the agency’s previous delisting decision in 2007, and the group won its case before the 9th Circuit in 2011. Earthjustice today released the following response from spokesman and attorney Tim Preso:

The grizzly is an iconic symbol of wildness, and the Yellowstone area is one of the last places in the lower 48 states where we can still see a grizzly in the wild. The government’s campaign to remove protections provided by the Endangered Species Act overlooked important conservation issues and denied public comment on key points. We will closely examine this decision, and are prepared to defend the grizzly if necessary.

We'll keep an eye out for more responses, and report developments as they occur in the coming days.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Engstrom to earn $119K next year as UM professor

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 12:26 PM

Royce Engstrom will return to teach at the University of Montana next fall as the third-highest-paid professor in the chemistry department.

The university announced Friday that Engstrom will earn $119,106 as a full, tenured professor teaching two courses this fall, which is considered a full teaching load.

Salary information for individual UM faculty members is not readily accessible, but Engstrom's compensation is about $10,000 above the average salary among current tenured chemistry professors at UM, says Kevin McRae, the state university system's deputy commissioner for human resources.

The highest paid professors in the department earn $137,000 and $135,000, McRae says. Chemistry department chair Chris Palmer did not immediately return a call for comment.

Engstrom resigned under pressure from Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian in December 2016, as UM's enrollment drop showed no signs of slowing.

Though pushed out of the presidency, Engstrom retained rights to his concurrent faculty appointment. His will be paid the remainder of his $309,000 president's contract through June 30.

PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
This fall will be the first time Engstrom is teaching at UM solely as a faculty member without an administrative role. He joined the university as provost in 2007 after 28 years at the University of South Dakota, where he was a chemistry professor and eventually an administrator. Upon joining UM as provost, Engstrom was also awarded a tenured faculty appointment, which is common for university deans and administrators.

He has 20 years of teaching experience, according to a Friday press release.

McRae says Engstrom and Christian did not discuss his return to teaching at the time of his resignation, but that Engstrom later expressed interest.

The salary was negotiated in accordance with the University Faculty Association collective bargaining agreement, which states that administrators who enter the bargaining unit must be award salaries that are "comparable to members ... with similar credentials and years of experience."

Given the necessity of a salary analysis, the state higher ed office was involved with the negotiation, McRae says. McRae could not recall if UM officials requested the state's assistance. Because Engstrom was already tenured, the university could not deny his return to professorship without cause.

Earlier this week, UM announced that it was extending a second set of buyout offers to tenured faculty between ages 60-64. The buyouts are part of an effort to cut costs in response to the enrollment decline that occurred under Engstrom's watch. Engstrom, who was 57 when named president in 2010, is within that age range. But UM Associate Vice President for Human Resources Terri Phillips says Engstrom is not eligible to take part in that particular buyout offer because his faculty contract does not begin until the fall, while the current incentives are aimed at employees with existing contracts.

For that reason, McRae says Engstrom was not offered any incentive to resign his faculty post, rather than return to teach.

"We are treating similarly situated employees similarly," he says.

Engstrom will teach two 100-level courses: Preparation for Chemistry and an honors seminar titled Ways of Knowing.

"Mary and I love the University of Montana and we love Missoula," Engstrom said in the release, referencing his wife. "We’re happy to stay here and continue to make Missoula our home.”

Engstrom delivered the commencement address at the University of South Dakota last month, according to the release.

Engstrom did not immediately return a request for comment.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Big Sky students want to change the conversation about climate change

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 10:44 AM

Bill McKibben
  • Bill McKibben
In the days since Bradie Matt graduated from Big Sky High School, plenty of people have asked her whether she’s using her newfound free time to sleep until noon. “No,” she tells them. “I have things to do.”

Matt is a member of the student group Free Us from Climate Chaos, and she and a few other students and recent graduates had been at the school since 8 a.m. on Tuesday, June 6. They were capping a year’s worth of organizing for Bring Your Own Brain: A Symposium to Free Us from Climate Chaos.

The symposium starts today and runs through the 16th in UM’s Phyllis J. Washington Education Building, and will feature speakers Kate Raworth, economist and author of Doughnut Economics, and Bill McKibben, leader of the renewable energy campaign 350.org, among others. It will focus not just on climate change, but on what these students say is the root of the issue: capitalism.

“Why have other climate movements failed?” asks Henrik Eriksson, a junior exchange student from Sweden. “They treat symptoms instead of the cause. … Perpetual growth in a finite system is impossible.”

Free Us from Climate Chaos began in the summer of 2016, and since then up to 30 students have gathered in Spanish teacher Jay Bostrom’s Big Sky classroom almost every Sunday night. Surrounded by walls decorated with Latin American soccer team scarves and under the watchful eye of a Che Guevara poster, the students discuss readings and listen to occasional guest speakers. The academic nature of the meetings make them feel almost like an additional class, but it’s wholly extracurricular and driven by the interests of the students. Bostrom makes it clear that this is not his show.

Rather, it was started and organized by students who are frustrated with the lack of change and concerned about the way climate change will affect their futures. Everett Bayer, the group’s spokesperson and a 2017 Big Sky graduate, stood in front of the marchers at Missoula’s March for Science in April and called the last 35 years of climate activism “a monstrous failure.”

“If your demands are ignored, as they are always ignored, what are you prepared to do to defend our futures?” Bayer asked the crowd.

The idea is that market-based solutions to environmental problems, like the cap-and-trade approach, or incentivising renewable energy, are not enough, because the level of consumption that a capitalist economy relies on is inherently unsustainable.

While the audience at the March for Science was receptive, that message doesn’t always ingratiate the students with other environmentalists, and the group has been received with skepticism by some people who want to do something about climate change, but don’t believe that the economic system is to blame. Eriksson recalls handing out fliers for the event at Missoula’s farmers market and being confronted by people who disagree with symposium speaker Raworth’s views. His response was simply to invite them to the symposium and into the discussion.

There has been occasional name-calling—“communists” or, more creatively, “economic heretics”—but it doesn’t bother them. They’ve spent “countless hours fine-tuning their critique,” Bayer says. And ultimately, including the words “critique capitalism” in the group’s press release serves to get people fired up, which is exactly what they want.
“If we were going to sugarcoat things and dance around the problem, we wouldn’t start a conversation,” Matt says.

The students acknowledge that they don’t have the solution. They just want to spark critical thinking, and that includes questioning the economic and political status quo.
The University of Montana donated the use of its education building, and grants from the university and Missoula County Public Schools and a few donations from local individuals allowed them to secure speakers from around North America. Other speakers will appear via Skype. A schedule can be found at freeusfromclimatechaos.org.

Bayer says he doesn’t know if Free Us from Climate Chaos will continue next year, after most of its leaders graduate. But regardless, he says, the whole point was to create a forum for the discussion of complicated issues. If symposium attendees and other Big Sky students learn how to continue the conversation, that will be enough of a legacy for him.

Watch a livestream of Bring Your Own Brain: A Symposium to Free Us from Climate Chaos.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Conservatives aren't going to be thrilled about Gianforte’s $50,000 donation to press freedom group

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 10:53 AM

Greg Gianforte isn't doing his re-election bid any favors.

The congressman-elect acknowledged his “unlawful” conduct in a letter Wednesday to the reporter he is accused of body-slamming last month, part of a settlement with The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs that shields Gianforte from a civil lawsuit and, paradoxically, sets the stage for him to resolve the pending criminal charge without pleading guilty.

In accepting the deal, Jacobs can’t object if Gianforte pleads “no contest” to his misdemeanor assault charge in Gallatin County Justice Court, a type of plea whereby the defendant neither disputes the facts of the case nor admits guilt. In addition to his written apology, Gianforte will donate $50,000 to the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists. (Jacobs will not receive any money.)

“I had no right to respond the way I did to your legitimate question about healthcare policy,” Gianforte’s letter states. “You were doing your job.”

The Guardian first reported the settlement late Wednesday, and Gianforte’s team provided additional details to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and other Montana media outlets.

Gianforte’s letter also acknowledges, somewhat obliquely, that the first statement his campaign issued about the incident on the eve of the May 25 special election contained false information. Before the polls closed, the campaign responded to Jacobs' account by claiming that the reporter had grabbed Gianforte’s wrist and spun both men to the ground. The campaign blamed “this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist” for disrupting a barbecue for volunteers.

“Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you,” Gianforte wrote Wednesday.

The letter goes on to describe the “critical role” of journalists in society, calling First Amendment press protections “fundamental to who we are as a nation.”

It’s those boilerplate sentiments about the media, even more than Gianforte’s violence or his campaign’s lies, that are bound to make party leaders wince. Gianforte is now in the awkward position of apologizing to a member of the press just as Republican strategists are seeking to ramp up rhetorical attacks on the media as a strategy for electoral success.
Greg Gianforte gives his victory speech May 25 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, a day after being charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter. - PHOTO BY DEREK BROUWER
  • Photo by Derek Brouwer
  • Greg Gianforte gives his victory speech May 25 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, a day after being charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter.
On June 2, the same day Gianforte filed paperwork for his 2018 reelection campaign, McClatchy newspapers' D.C. bureau reported that GOP officials across the country hope to turn next year’s midterm races into a referendum on the media, instead of on President Donald Trump.

“That means embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them,” the paper reported.

GOP strategists pointed to the fact that voters and conservative commentators stood by Gianforte—and followed his initial cue in criticizing Jacobs—as proof of how deeply the party's base distrusts media. In Montana, state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, posted a Facebook status after Gianforte’s body slam saying she’s noticed a “definite trend in agitator tactics being used by liberal operatives acting as reporters” and has experienced the phenomenon herself.

But Gianforte will have a harder time casting himself as a victim of the biased press after admitting to his own “unlawful” assault—and giving $50,000 to an organization whose mission is to "defend the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal."

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