An Update From Burns, Oregon

Today, with the announcement that three more men who had been part of the occupation at the Malheur Refuge were arrested last night, and the reports that only five people remain, it seems the media is quickly closing the book on the story.¬† As though it is all but over in Burns, Oregon.¬† The call to stand down in a statement from Ammon Bundy, read by his lawyer, Mike Arnold, yesterday at the courthouse in Portland, Oregon after Bundy’s arraignment has reportedly resulted in many of the occupiers leaving the refuge yesterday.¬† The media is moving on, after all, those pesky presidential campaigns are heating up.

However, the truth is, the situation in Burns is not resolved.  The five who are reportedly still at the refuge may be negotiating with the FBI for an end to the occupation, and I hope that they are.

But, there is still anger in the community, many are calling for changes to be made in the local government.¬† Claims of corruption and collusion are being made regarding local officials and law enforcement and the federal government, and some are asking for certain officials to resign.¬† This is what the media isn’t really talking about, choosing instead to focus on the occupation at the refuge. The silence in the media regarding local outrage over problems facing Harney County (problems much bigger than the occupiers at the refuge) is telling.¬† As is the intended narrative made clear by what the media is reporting on.

As of this morning, I have word that there is a call to action being made to various patriot groups, as well as to anyone tired of this government that does not serve the people, to come to Burns, Oregon for peaceful protest.¬† To stand together, right now.¬† This isn’t about starting a civil war, or any sort of armed conflict.¬† This is an opportunity for Americans, from all walks of life, regardless of race, religion, political persuasion, to stand together and tell our leaders that enough is enough.¬† We want change!

Sheriff Ward¬†stated on Tuesday that we don’t arm up and rebel when there are problems with government.¬† He said that when people have concerns with how things are being done, they need to go through the proper channels to effect change.¬† I agree.¬† But what happens when the proper channels are corrupt and the system is broken?¬† What is left to us?¬† Well, we have the right to protest, we have the right to stand together and demand reform in our government.¬† And we don’t have to wait to rely on questionable voting machines every two to four years.

I have called for people from all over to converge in Burns…I am calling for strangers to come together and stand up PEACEFULLY and tell the FBI to leave this State immediately.¬† We will escort them out of Oregon again PEACEFULLY.¬† Then our attention will turn to the local government.¬† We will demand the immediate resignation of Steve Grasty, Dave Ward, Dan Nichols, and Pete Runnels.¬† We will reach out to the state police to fill the void and ask the county to put a special election in place to immediately replace these officials.

In order to accomplish this, I need Americans to Unite.¬† ALL AMERICANS…

BJ Soper via Facebook

Please don’t let the mainstream media convince you that this is all over just because the refuge occupation is ending.¬† Please don’t fall for the divisive tactics used to keep us name calling and distracted.¬† The people of Harney County deserve more.¬† We all deserve more.¬† We need to kick the corruption out of our government, and out of our justice system.

What’s The Beef? Part One: The Anger Over Federal Land Management

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The land out here is vast, in some places stretching as far as the eye can see in between homes, towns, any signs of humanity.  It is rugged and dry, and holds a sense of emptiness, of loneliness.  But to the observant wanderer, it is in fact a place full of life, from the twisted juniper trees to the strange-colored lichens spreading over the ground.  One can find traces of the animals that have passed through, coyote scat, rabbit tracks, the remnants of a cougar kill up in a tree, huge bird nests up in the craggy cliff bands.  And, of course, the evidence of people, shotgun shells, broken glass, old appliances, and cows.

People seem to have a habit of taking what they have for granted until threatened with its loss.  It is certainly true when it comes to land use.  We have a long history of over-use, it is evident in any industry that involves using or extracting natural resources.  It begins with discovery, then fortunes are made, and more and more people jump on board, and then, the resource begins to run out.  That is the point at which people either destroy the resource altogether, or take steps to protect and manage it.

It is undeniable that humans impact the environment, our proliferation around the world has clearly changed the land.¬† It is also undeniable that natural resources are required for our survival.¬† We need food, water, shelter, just like every species.¬† And this need, and all the times we’ve allowed it to devolve into excessive over-use of resources, along with the desire to protect what we don’t want to lose, has left us with a decades-old, emotional, sometimes violent debate.

Once again, this debate has exploded out of its usual confines of rural America and into the national spotlight with the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife refuge in Harney County.  Ignoring the very basic fact that nature seeks balance, the media is frantically fueling the polarizing rhetoric.  Either you are an angry, spoiled white guy with lots of guns attempting to grab all of the public land, or you are against the occupation and want the spoiled white guys arrested, maybe even bombed with drones.  Few seem willing to pause long enough in the argument to really listen to each other.  Just what is the beef with Federal land management?

The situation in Harney County presents a good starting place to look at this question because there is a long history of problems there.¬† Anyone who has paid any attention to the story of the refuge occupation knows that it began with a protest rally in support of Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were sentenced for arson under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act for starting two fires on their land that spread to BLM land, burning a total of 140 acres.¬† The group occupying the refuge want the Hammonds freed from prison, among other things.¬† The Hammonds’ battle with the BLM has been going on for decades, long before they lit the two fires that got them branded as terrorist arsons.¬† And they aren’t alone.

Water

Many from the area claim that there have been numerous attempts to get ranchers off of their private lands over the years.  According to Ammon Bundy, some of those attempts included reducing the number of grazing permits from 53 to 21, raising grazing fees, and even deliberately flooding Malheur, Harney and Mud Lakes to force ranchers from the lands around the lakes.  The lakes did flood in the early eighties, causing an estimated $32 million in damage in 1984.  According to The New York Times:

‘Twenty-seven families have been flooded out as the lakes’ level has risen about 12 feet over the last three years,’ said William H. Beal, Harney County’s water master.

I haven’t found any evidence to support Bundy’s claim that the US Fish and Wildlife Service deliberately flooded the lakes somehow, but the solution sought by the ranchers to make a flood-relief canal to lower the levels in the lakes was ultimately dismissed.¬† Again from the above New York Times article:

Harney County officials want to deepen and widen the old waterway to the Malheur River and use it as a flood-relief canal, timing the releases to minimize flood danger downstream.  Mr. Beal said the canal would cost $8 million to $12 million.

The Army Corps of Engineers said two years ago that the economic benefits would far outweigh the cost of the canal.

In the end, after another study by the Army Corps of Engineers, in a reversal from their previous statement, the canal was ruled out as its benefits would not outweigh the costs of construction, or possible detrimental effects on the river from the influx of lake waters.¬† This study goes into much more detail about the different ideas for mitigating the flood damage and resolving the problem.¬† I can see why local residents might feel as though their needs, and solution ideas, were disregarded, and perhaps that has led to Ammon’s claim.

As for the Hammonds, Ammon Bundy writes this:

In the early 1990’s the Hammonds filed on a livestock water source and obtained a deed for the water right from the State of Oregon. When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) found out that the Hammonds obtained new water rights near the Malhuer Wildlife Refuge, they were agitated and became belligerent and vindictive towards the Hammonds. The US Fish and Wildlife Service challenged the Hammonds right to the water in an Oregon State Circuit Court.  The court found that the Hammonds legally obtained rights to the water in accordance to State law and therefore the use of the water belongs to the Hammonds.* 
In August 1994 the BLM & FWS illegally began building a fence around the Hammonds water source. Owning the water rights and knowing that their cattle relied on that water source daily the Hammonds tried to stop the building of the fence.
The Hammonds did indeed try to disrupt the building of the fence repeatedly.  It resulted in a hostile showdown, angry threats made towards government employees, and the arrest of Dwight Hammond.  You can read more about that here, I recommend the read.
Land

Grazing fees are a hotly disputed issue.¬† The low fees charged by the federal government for ranchers to graze their herds on public lands is often described as a subsidy because it is lower than private land owners charge for grazing rights, and it doesn’t cover the costs of managing those lands where the grazing occurs.

Wildlife advocates have long criticized the low price for grazing fees on public lands, calling it an effective subsidy to a fraction of the ranching industry. Generally, grazing fees returns only a fraction of the money the Federal government spends to manage public lands grazing: less than a sixth in 2004, according to the General Accounting Office .

[Read more of that article here on the argument for raising fees.]

According to this:

The Federal grazing fee for 2015 will be $1.69 per animal unit month (AUM) for public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and $1.69 per head month (HM) for lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The 2014 fee was $1.35.

An animal unit month is defined as “the use of public lands by one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.”
It does seem like a good deal.¬† But the BLM itself says that “the grazing fee is not a cost-recovery fee, but a market-driven fee.”
There are several important reasons for keeping grazing fees low to consider according to this article written in 1992 by William G. Laffer III and John Shanahan.¬† They point out that grazing on private land typically costs more because the grazing is generally of better quality, and the property owners “provide ranchers with fences, roads, water, and protection for livestock.¬† Ranchers must provide these services for themselves on public land.”¬† Public lands are “of poorer quality, more remote, and more difficult to manage and control than private lands.”
Not only that, and perhaps even more important, is the matter of fencing.  It is no small matter.
…if ranchers are priced off federal rangelands, the government would have to build hundreds of thousands of miles of fences to keep cattle from trespassing onto federal land.¬† In the Eastern states, a cattle owner is responsible for putting a fence around his land to keep his cattle in, and is liable to his neighbors if his cattle escape and trespass onto the neighbors’ land. However, in most Western states, a landowner who fails to put a fence around his own land may not recover for trespass if other people’s cattle come onto his land because the landowner is legally responsible for fencing the cattle out.¬† Billions for fences.¬† No one knows precisely how many miles of fencing the federal government would have to build.¬† Because federal land in most Western states is interspersed with private land in a checkerboard pattern, however, the amount of fencing required would be enormous.¬† In one grazing district in Wyoming alone, the BLM estimates that it will have to put up 13,222 miles of fencing at a cost of almost $98 million if cattle grazing is discontinued because of excessive fees.
Remember, that was back in 1992, and the estimated cost doesn’t include the cost of surveying the land to determine actual property boundaries.¬† Of course, a little pressure from the federal government could certainly push states to change their laws to require ‘fencing in.’
As to the argument over whether or not cattle should be grazed at all on public lands, well, I would say that I agree they shouldn’t be allowed everywhere.¬† Cattle move slowly over the land, remaining in one place until they can no longer find anything to eat, and this causes soil compaction and the destruction of plants.¬† It is reasonable to believe this is harmful to native species, and there are studies that show how harmful.¬† From another perspective, however, they can be beneficial too, mowing down potential fuels for wild fires.¬† But regardless of what you think about the issue, the fact is people eat beef, a lot of beef, and it is no more environmentally responsible to ship our beef from far away lands.¬† A more reasonable approach is compromise, grazing on some lands, and cattle-free areas too.
Fire

On top of all of that, we can’t forget fire.¬† It’s no secret that forest fire management policies over the past century have led to dangerous conditions throughout the western United States.¬† The idea that all forest fires are bad, and must be extinguished immediately has left forests and rangelands loaded with fuel.¬† When fires start, they burn hotter and longer, causing greater damage to the land, and they are much harder to contain.¬† In the sweeping sage brush country of eastern Oregon, prescribed burns were used as a means to improve grazing lands and reduce Juniper trees, preventing a build up of fuel and lowering the risk of catastrophic fires.¬† According to this article by Carrie Stadheim:

[Erin] Maupin, who resigned from the BLM in 1999, said that collaborative burns between private ranchers and the BLM had become popular in the late 1990s because local university extension researchers were recommending it as a means to manage invasive juniper that steal water from grass and other cover

and,

‘In 1999, the BLM started to try to do large scale burn projects.¬† We started to be successful on the Steens Mountain especially when we started to do it on a large watershed scale as opposed to trying to follow property lines.’

Because private and federal land is intermingled, collaborative burns were much more effective than individual burns that would cover a smaller area, Maupin said.

Like the Hammonds’ fires, these prescribed burns, as well as fires lit as back-burns while fighting wild fires, haven’t always stayed within their intended boundaries.¬† Again from Stadheim’s article:

During her tenure as a full time BLM employee from 1997-1999, Maupin recalls other fires accidentally spilling over onto BLM land, but only the Hammonds have been charged, arrested and sentenced, she said.¬† Ranchers might be burning invasive species or maybe weeds in a ditch. ‘They would call and the BLM would go and help put it out and it was no big deal.’

On the flip side, Maupin remembers numerous times that BLM-lit fires jumped to private land.  Neighbors lost significant numbers of cattle in more than one BLM fire that escaped intended containment lines and quickly swallowed up large amounts of private land.  To her knowledge, no ranchers have been compensated for lost livestock or other loss of property such as fences.

Gary Miller, who ranches near Frenchglen, about 35 miles from the Hammonds’ hometown, said that in 2012, the BLM lit numerous backfires that ended up burning his private land, BLM permit, and killing about 65 cows.

Oregon Representative Greg Walden, in a strong statement to the U.S. House of Representatives after the refuge occupation began, had this to say about back-burns started by federal employees:

There was nobody sentenced under the terrorist laws there.¬† Oh heck no, its the government, they weren’t sentenced, no one was charged.

Good point.¬† Its no wonder the residents in Harney County, and Ammon Bundy, are suspicious of the motives behind charging the Hammonds for their fires by the federal government.¬† It really doesn’t surprise me that there seems to be growing support for the occupation on the ground as residents of Harney County, and surrounding counties and states, see an opportunity to force these issues into the spotlight.¬† And an opportunity to find solutions.¬† And I think that makes the federal government increasingly nervous, and it shows in the media narrative.

It may be that it is simply too boring to report on the people on the ground, directly affected every day by the land use debate that is more vast than the land itself.¬† Or, maybe reporting on their efforts to find balanced solutions to the problems doesn’t serve the purpose of the Federal government as it seeks to increase its control.¬† Reporting on the reality on the ground might expose a widening crack in that control as the people are re-discovering that they don’t need the federal government to solve their problems for them.

Don’t miss “What’s The Beef, Part Two:¬† How Lawsuits Shape Land Management Policies.”¬† Read it here.

Another note: just as I finished this, I learned the news that Ammon Bundy and three others have been arrested after an incident involving shots fired while they were on the way to a meeting in John Day, Oregon. 

 

 

 

 

Tackling the Lies With Newsbud

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about school curriculum that somehow came around to the news.¬† She mentioned that she doesn’t really pay any attention to news, and with an apologetic look, she said she doesn’t even listen to NPR.¬† As if I would think less of her for that.¬† I wanted to laugh.¬† I wanted to say, “don’t bother.”¬† Why?¬† Because the big network news outlets are owned by a very few and controlled by their advertisers’ and owners’ interests.¬† And because the so-called public NPR has a long list of¬†corporate sponsors who have strong financial interests in suppressing information.

With Dow Chemical on that list, I don’t expect to see a whole lot of investigative reporting on the effects of pesticide use in agriculture is having on our health, and our planet.¬† With GlaxoSmithKline on that list, I don’t expect to see a lot of investigative reports on pharmaceuticals, vaccines, or alternative medicine.¬† With General Dynamics on the list, I don’t expect too much questioning of drone warfare.¬† You get the idea.

I used to be a dedicated NPR listener.  I never bothered to look into their funding, and like many people I know, I thought NPR was the definition of alternative media.  I respected the reporters and commentators, I trusted the information.  But as my questions grew, and theirs did not, I began to realize that, no matter how one feels about the political bias that exists in the mainstream media outlets, it is often the lack of reporting that is most ominous.  Amidst all the left/right squabbling and loud corporate advertising, there is a deafening silence on crimes the US government and its mega and military corporation cronies are committing here and around the world.  There is no accountability as the media carefully avoids biting the hands that feed it.

Margaret Kimberly¬†says it well while discussing the media’s treatment of the situation in Syria.

The degree to which the American corporate media will cover up for American foreign policy atrocities knows no bounds. The country’s leading newspapers and broadcasters have supported every official lie from Lyndon Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin resolution in Vietnam to George W. Bush’s claim of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

A good example is how we were led to believe Iraq was involved in the attacks of 9/11, and subsequently led into the Iraq war. I found the media’s all-to-successful selling of the Iraq invasion disturbing in 2003.¬† As this truthout.org article describes:

In the days and weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq, corporate media ‚Äď and even NPR and PBS – were abuzz with the talking points of the Bush Administration, echoing claims that Iraq had its hands on “yellow cake uranium” and that it had a massive arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction.”

Thanks to the media’s repeated claims that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were immediate threats to our nation, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, nearly three-quarters of Americans believed the lie promoted by Donald Rumsfeld that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the attacks of 9/11.

Even more disturbing to me is the lack of accountability for those lies, lies that have led to years of war and the loss of countless lives since 2003.¬† They peddle the lies, and maybe sometimes they have to say, “oops,” but they are never held responsible for the results.¬† They just distract us with gossip and move on to the next lie.¬† And unfortunately, the lies and distractions work to manipulate the masses.¬† In an article about the writings of Thomas Paine and how the media suppresses such ideas today, Stephen Lendman has this to say:

Today in the US, the major media are nothing short of a national thought-control police. They’re owned or controlled by dominant large corporations (the kind Noam Chomsky calls “private tyrannies”) grown increasingly concentrated over time and having a stranglehold over the kinds of information reaching the public. It’s given them and the interests they represent the power to destroy the free marketplace of ideas essential to a healthy democracy now on life support in large measure because of how effective they are.

and

Uruguayan author and historian Eduardo Galeano cites a large part of the problem saying: “I am astonished….by the ignorance of the (US) population, which knows almost nothing about….the world. It’s quite blind and deaf to anything….outside the frontiers of the US.” They know little inside it as well, and of course, that’s the whole idea to maintaining control. Misinform, distract, and control all ideas and thoughts reaching the public – it’s the key to “keeping the rabble in line.” If done well, it works better than all the might of the most powerful nation on earth.

He’s right.¬† The power of persuasion through disinformation, misinformation, manipulation, distraction, is remarkably effective at keeping us in line.¬† Here is an educational read about how media is used to ‘divide and conquer’ activist groups in which Steve Horn describes a long established method by governments and corporations to silence dissent:

[It is a]…three-step strategy to ‚Äúdeal with‚ÄĚ these four activist subtypes. First, isolate the radicals. Second, ‚Äúcultivate‚ÄĚ the idealists and ‚Äúeducate‚ÄĚ them into becoming realists. And finally, co-opt the realists into agreeing with industry.

Or, co-opt them into agreeing with the next war, the next miracle cure, the next great federal policy that will help us all… (That article is a two-part series, and both are worth the read.)

There are so many examples of lies, distortions, omissions, in the history of our media, I don’t have time to get into them all.¬† Just do some reading, Wikipedia’s page on Operation Mockingbird is a good place to start, if you’ve never heard of that before.¬† And check out this video of a speech by Sharyl Attkisson.¬† The truth is, we the people no longer matter to the media, like our corrupt government, they no longer listen to us.¬† As¬†Sibel Edmonds says in this video:

The mainstream media, they have made people, us, we the people, irrelevant, we are not even in the equation…”

Even the highly regarded, trusted, ‘public’ media is not as public as we have long believed.¬† Just take a look at the pie chart showing NPR’s funding.¬† Sure, ‘Individuals’ make up the largest slice, but if you combine the other slices, slices that have more power than individuals, they far outnumber and overpower the voices of the individuals.¬† And what of NPR’s public sources for its reporting?¬† This article about a 1993 study of just how ‘public’ public radio is points out:

Journalists by themselves accounted for 7 percent of all NPR sources. For a public radio service intended to provide an independent alternative to corporate-owned and commercially driven mainstream media, NPR is surprisingly reliant on mainstream journalists. At least 83 percent of journalists appearing on NPR in June 2003 were employed by commercial U.S. media outlets, many at outlets famous for influencing newsroom agendas throughout the country (16 from the New York Times alone, and another seven from the Washington Post). Only five sources came from independent news outlets like the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the National Catholic Reporter.

So, what are we to do?¬† How can we regain our voices, and take back the control of our news and information?¬† Well, I mentioned at the beginning of the year a new media project that I am excited about, and I’m happy to introduce it properly now.¬† Its called Newsbud, a brand new, exciting alternative to the corporate sponsored lies and propaganda.

Solely people-funded media means no corporate advertisement gunk. It means no marketing gimmicks imbedded in the information presented. It means no strings attached to billionaire sugar daddiesРbe it Soros, Koch, Rockefellers or Carnegies. It means a media outlet only accountable to you-to we the people.  This means integrity. It means ethical and agenda-free journalism. It means making we the people relevant, and taking the 0.0001% out of the equation, thus making them irrelevant. And most importantly, it means that it is up to you and me, up to us the people, to do what it takes to create NEWSBUD-Where Media Integrity Matters.
Newsbud founder, Sibel Edmonds at Boiling Frogs Post
Pepe Escobar, an investigative journalist, formerly with Asia Times Online, says:
It’s financed by the viewers, and readers, supported by the viewers and readers, so it is basically YOU, all of you, who are going to decide if we live or if we die.”
Now, I realize that public television and radio of today was founded with the same idea in mind.  But they failed in that mission, as is so obvious with a look at their sponsors, and biased coverage of events.  Newsbud is not accepting corporate sponsorship, it is not going to allow the voice of the many be co-opted by the power, and money, of a few.  It will do so with a return to integrity in journalism, and a return to accountability.  It will do so with the only funding source that media should ever be held accountable to, the people.
What does Newsbud mean to me?  It is an opportunity to address all the topics the mainstream media remains silent on or skirts carefully around, to avoid losing their funding.  As Peter B. Collins says about Newsbud:
We are going to focus on things that really matter, we are going to continue to honor whistleblowers, and expose government corruption, and conflicts of interest, and outright fraud.

It is an opportunity to talk about how those corruptions and conflicts of interest effect us, the people of this country, and the world, on the ground, in our daily lives.  War, poverty, education, medicine, equality, our food, all of these things effect us every day, and we need the true facts about them.

Also, Newsbud presents an opportunity to high light positive changes people are making.  Large or small.  And to find ways to help support those positive changes.  This is something that is truly important to me as I seek ways to make changes within my own community and the world.

Newsbud will give the audience a voice too, to have some say in what is covered.  Just think about the possibilities!  Together, we can nullify the corporate media, we can make them of no value or consequence.  We can make ourselves, we the people, relevant again in the media.

Newsbud will be launching a crowd-funding operation on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2016, in order to generate the funds needed to get started.¬†[Update!¬† New Kickstarter campaign is launching on Sunday, May 8th, 2016!]¬† It will be an all-or-nothing campaign, either the money is raised and Newsbud will become a reality, or, if it falls short of the goal, the money that is raised will be returned in full to those who contribute.¬† Its an ambitious plan, and we need help. ¬†Please join in the conversation, spread the word, lets make this a reality!

If you want to learn more about Newsbud, please go to this information page about it on Boiling Frogs Post, and please sign up for the email list.  Your personal information will not be shared, at all, and you will receive updates and more information as the crowd funding campaign approaches.  Click the link below to go directly to the email sign up page.

NEWSBUD

Bom-Bom, rock the nation
Take over television and radio station

Bom-Bom the truth shall come
Give the corporation some complication!

-Michael Franti, “Rock The Nation.”

Author’s Note:¬† I am no longer affiliated with Newsbud and I no longer endorse the website.

 

Will the Stand Off in Oregon Spark a Revolution…In Cooperation?

The stand off at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon is now 14 days old, and the media narrative has us believing that little has changed.¬† We’re told armed men still occupy the refuge headquarters, they are removing fences, rifling through refuge files, causing fear and distress and division in the county, and they are responsible for costing taxpayers around $65,000.00 to $70,000.00 a day.¬† We’re told they are threatening, scary men who should be labeled domestic terrorists, and we should all be outraged that they haven’t been routed from the refuge and tossed in jail.

I have been following this situation from the beginning, and have already written about some of my concerns about the takeover of the refuge headquarters, and I will admit I have concerns about some of the people involved.¬† I have wondered about the sincerity of their stated intentions, and their decision to make their stand here in Oregon.¬† But, I can’t deny that I understand the anger over land use issues.¬† I grew up in logging country, my father lost his job when the local mill shut down and I saw the effect on the community as restrictions on land use increased, partially due to the struggle to protect spotted owls.¬† I understand the anger over the Hammonds’ case.¬† And , I understand the anger of Native American tribes over the loss of their land rights, rights often taken deceptively.

I also understand the desire to protect lands and wildlife.¬† I grew up camping and backpacking, my love for wilderness began before I can remember.¬† I spent a summer interning for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at another Oregon preserve, and have spent my life working in the outdoor industry.¬† I’ve been to the Malheur Refuge, and I don’t want to see it destroyed or closed.¬† I understand why this is a heated and polarizing issue, I find myself divided in my opinions and thoughts about it often.¬† But, rather than focusing on the land use issues and seeking solutions, the media is feeding division with their narrative of what is happening in Harney County.

This has bothered me from the beginning of the coverage of this story, and I have been trying to get some local perspectives, to get a feel for what is really going on.¬† I have had sporadic contact with somebody involved in the mess, and yesterday I had the privilege to speak with him on the phone.¬† BJ Soper, a member of the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard, was involved in the planning and organizing of the initial peaceful protest that took place on January 2, 2016 in support of Dwight and Steven Hammond. (You can read what I’ve written about their case here for some background on them.)¬† Like the vast majority of people involved, he did not know that the planned protest rally would end with the armed occupation of the refuge.¬† Mr. Soper has chosen to remain in the area, saying he will stay until the stand off is over.¬† He has impressed me with his calm approach, and his willingness to remain at the forefront of this situation, interacting with the men at the refuge, the media, community members, and law enforcement.¬† Today, Mr. Soper gave me a new perspective on the situation.

While we have been arguing about the occupation, and the feds have been expensively standing by, waiting the occupiers out, and policy makers and pundits have spouted off about just what actions should be taken, the surrounding community has been working hard, working together for the most part, to find solutions.¬† Mr. Soper had a positive ring to his voice as he mentioned the cooperation and communication happening in the county.¬† He mentioned comments from local residents of Burns about how they couldn’t remember the last time the community had come together to find solutions instead of simply leaving the decision making up to the powers that be.¬† Townhall meetings used to involve maybe 30 people, and the meetings taking place since the stand off began have involved hundreds.

I asked Mr. Soper specifically how he felt about the perception in the media that there is very little local support for the men occupying the refuge.¬† He said that he believes that is being misconstrued, that there is growing support.¬† He pointed out that most people don’t necessarily agree with the occupation, but they support the messages of land use issues and the Hammonds’ case that Ammon Bundy and his crew have brought national attention to.¬† They appreciate that this conversation is now started in a way that can’t easily be ignored, or stopped.¬† Mr. Soper also said that there are donations coming in (I’m sure he meant donations more useful than these) and there may even be companies looking to sponsor the group at the refuge.

We spoke about the reports of intimidation and increased crime Sheriff Ward spoke about eleven days into the stand off, alluding to increased reports occurring even before the stand off began, as if to say all those ‘militia’ folk were stirring up trouble before this began.¬†¬† Mr. Soper had previously made reference to his thoughts on these reports on facebook, suggesting that much of the intimidation might just be coming from the feds.¬† He points out that there is an incredible law enforcement presence in the community, and it would not make any sense for any of the militia type people to be causing trouble around town.¬† After all, they are there to help the community, and wish to gain the support of the local people.¬† Not intimidate them.¬† (I also want to point out that many of these groups do not call themselves a militia.)

I asked Mr. Soper about this specifically because on Wednesday, the Fire Chief of Harney County, Chris Briels, resigned and gave a speech at the refuge in which he states that he followed a vehicle from the armory in Burns after there were reports made to the police about people being at the armory.  Mr. Briels followed a vehicle from the armory, and when it pulled over he approached the two men in the car and asked them what they were doing at the armory.  He states in his speech that they were dishonest with him, he describes their excuses for what they were doing, then goes on to say that he had the license plates run by the dispatch service.  The car was an undercover FBI vehicle, according to Mr. Briels.  Regardless of what the FBI was up to, what possible reason would they have for attempting to keep their identity secret from the fire chief?  If they expect the local leaders to support their actions and presence, why lie?

Mr. Briels is also upset about a recent decree from the local county judge, Steve Grasty:

Grasty also said protesters and their supporters can no longer use community facilities for meetings. Occupiers had planned to meet at the county fairgrounds Friday to explain their intentions and announce an exit plan.

Mr. Briels also states in his speech:

I feel that the people in this county, in this state, in this United States, have the right to free speech, and the right to assemble, and the right to figure out if there’s a problem, and what we can do about it.

BJ Soper is also frustrated about this, and indicates that a good number of residents are as well.¬† He alerted me to this on Wednesday, and pointed out that the Judge has no legal capacity to do this.¬† Mr. Soper has posted, on facebook, an email that he received from the judge that clearly states that the county’s message is for the armed militia to go home.¬†¬† Ironically, Ammon Bundy had announced intentions to participate in a meeting on Friday (today) to discuss exit plans with the community, in a public venue.¬† I’m not sure how closing all public facilities to any community meeting that involves anyone affiliated with the refuge occupation helps to further discussion and progress towards a resolution of this situation.¬† I’m not sure how that helps everyone to just go home.¬† I can agree with what Mr. Soper has to say on facebook about Judge Grasty’s declaration and how to deal with it…

To my friends in Harney county… Right now nothing you can do is more important than speaking out against Judge Grasty stating that the fairgrounds building can not be used for a public meeting. He has no legal capacity to issue any such order. This is a clear indication that there is something to hide and an attempt to silence the voices that are growing with concern. This meeting on Friday at 7pm must go on! Do not let this man bully or threaten any of you.
My suggestion would be that all of you call the fairgrounds and reserve the room in your name. I will pay the $100 fee. Call by the 100’s to reserve the room. Whatever it takes. Let your government know that they do not have the ability to restrict your voice!!

I would happily contribute to that $100.00 reservation fee.

The people of Harney County have met this unexpected challenge with an unexpected response.¬† They have come together to look for solutions to a problem that has gone largely unaddressed and unresolved for decades, as well as the immediate problem of the stand off.¬† They are talking with one another, they are searching for a middle ground, they are cooperating with each other in spite of their different opinions.¬† Isn’t that how community is supposed to work?

Meanwhile, the Federal government has descended upon Harney County in flocks larger than any avian flocks I saw in my visit to the refuge years ago.¬† From all reports I’ve seen, they are just standing by, watching, waiting, while the tax-payer cost of this situation rises.¬†¬† Again, from Mr. Soper in response to the lack of action from the feds:

What really fires me up is all these resources coming into this town for this issue that we the people get to foot the bill for. There hasn’t even been a conversation to discuss how to resolve the issue!! Not even a phone call. ABSOLUTLEY [sic] ridiculous.

How can we pin the cost of this ‘operation’ on Ammon Bundy and his crew?¬† How can we truly estimate the cost of a proper response?¬† I can’t help but question the current figure of the daily cost of this situation when I hear that there might be a surveillance drone on site, there is multiple law enforcement vehicles pulling one civilian car over, there are more law enforcement cars than civilian cars in the streets of Burns, but there is no violent act or tense situation to explain such an enormous federal presence.¬† Is this a reasonable response to the occupation at the refuge?¬† I have a suspicion that this would all cost a whole lot less if the feds had stayed out of the equation altogether and had allowed the local residents to resolve this problem on their own.¬†¬† After all, they seem to be doing so, with or without the notice of the media, and without the help of the FBI and local authorities.

Perhaps we should all be screaming for the expensive law enforcement operation to pack up and go home instead of the group occupying the refuge.  After all, the law enforcement officials are the ones wracking up big bills while doing nothing more than standing around, armed and intimidating.  Let the community work together, as they are, to find a solution to the situation, and learn from their example.  We have to stop relying on this over-reaching and corrupt federal government to solve our problems, because their solutions always come with more restrictions.  Like the people of Harney county, we have to work together within our communities instead.

What the Stand Off in Oregon is Distracting Us From

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On April 24, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act into law.¬† This act was introduced by Senator Bob Dole, and it had bi-partisan support.¬† It passed the Senate with a vote of 91 to 8 and passed in the House of Representatives with a vote of 293 to 133.¬† Not unlike the Patriot Act, this act was introduced and passed in response to terror attacks, both the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred Murrah building in 1995. The stated purposes of the act are to “deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes.”

In the years between the two bombings, the panic-inducing rhetoric was in full swing over home-grown, right-wing extremist, anti-government terrorism (not unlike today).  Of course, Timothy McVeigh played into that perfectly with a Ryder truck with home-made fertilizer bombs in the back.  It is easy to see, after that bombing, how law makers on all sides would want to be viewed as doing their part to fight terrorism.

Since 1996, the existence of this law, and its use, seems to have been largely under-reported.  I have not been able to find out just how often it has been used in prosecution to date.  David Cole, lawyer and Georgetown University Law Professor, in an interview on Democracy Now discussing possible revisions to the Patriot Act in 2009 said:

This law was passed, as you indicated, in 1996, but it really was left unenforced until September 11th. Since September 11th, however, it’s been a favorite tool of the government. There have been over a hundred prosecutions. And the reason it’s the favorite tool is precisely because it doesn’t require the government to prove up that an individual actually is connected to any kind of terrorist activity. It allows them to paint with a broad brush.

It is a very broad brush indeed.

In 2012, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) filed charges against Dwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son and long time residents and ranchers in Harney County, Oregon.  The Hammonds were prosecuted under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.  What was this act of terror committed by the Hammonds?  Well, Dwight and Steven Hammond were charged with, and they admitted to, setting two fires on their land which subsequently spread to federal land.   Admittedly, there is a lot of background to this case, including questions surrounding the two fires and a long history of protests and threats, and I am working on another post that will go into greater detail on those.  But, for now, lets look at the two fires in question, and consider how these acts qualified the Hammonds for prosecution under this broad law.

The first fire was lit in 2001.  According to the Western Livestock Journal, it was a prescribed burn that spread to 139 acres of BLM land.  From court documents:

At trial, historical data and testimony established a long-standing plan between the Hammonds and their BLM range conservationist to burn off invasive species on the ‚ÄúSchool Section‚ÄĚ of the Hammonds‚Äô property. ER-316-18. Fire is a tool regularly used by the BLM to rehabilitate grazing lands.
Defendants had acknowledged intentionally setting a fire on September 30, 2001 to burn off invasive species on the School Section, which then spread to approximately 139 acres of adjacent public land (the ‚ÄúHardie-Hammond Allotment‚ÄĚ). ER-287, 243.
At trial, the government presented evidence that the fire was set in
a manner designed to spread on to the public land, and had endangered members of the Hammonds’ party.
The “endangered members” part is referencing testimony during the trial of Dwight and Steven Hammond by Dusty Hammond, Dwight Hammond’s grandson.¬† This OPB article says:

Nearly 11 years after the fact, Dusty Hammond recalled for a jury Wednesday in a U.S. District Court how he stumbled through juniper and sagebrush to escape a fire bearing down on him, a fire he helped set.

Hammond, 24, softspoken and clean cut, explained how his first-ever deer hunt near Frenchglen turned to arson after his uncle Steve Hammond passed out boxes of strike-anywhere matches to the four-man hunting party.

‚ÄúLight the whole countryside on fire,‚ÄĚ Dusty said his uncle told him. ‚ÄúI started lighting¬†matches.‚ÄĚ

Afterwards, he said, over lunch his grandfather and uncle instructed him to ‚Äúkeep my mouth shut; nobody needed to know anything about the¬†fire.‚ÄĚ

It has been reported that this fire was started to cover up evidence of poaching on federal land by the Hammonds.

The second fire that plays a role in the Hammonds’ case was lit in 2006.¬† This fire is said to have been started as a back burn to protect the Hammond’s winter feed from fires that were ignited by lightning.¬† Court documents say:

The facts of this fire are straight forward. The Ninth Circuit stated:
In August 2006, a lightning storm kindled several fires near where the Hammonds grew their winter feed. Steven responded by attempting back burns near the boundary of his land. Although a burn ban was in effect, Steven did not seek a waiver. His fires burned about an acre of public land.
So there you have it.¬† Poaching deer and destroying the evidence with fire, lighting fires without the proper notification in an attempt to save property in what may well have been an emergency response, burning a total of 140 acres of federally held land.¬† Regardless of the Hammond’s¬†history of conflict with the BLM and the federal government (I’ll get into that in my upcoming post), it seems like a stretch to say that these are crimes that should be prosecuted under the anti-terrorism act.¬† Also, as I will get into here, the Hammonds were not prosecuted for the charges related to their previous threats and actions against federal employees, which could arguably be considered terrorism under the legal definition:
(5) the term ‚Äúdomestic terrorism‚ÄĚ means activities that‚ÄĒ
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended‚ÄĒ
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
According to this report in 2010, the Hammonds were originally indicted on 19 counts, “charges that include conspiracy, arson, depredation of federal property, threatening federal officers, and tampering with a witness.”
Two years later, according to this article, they were brought to trial, now facing nine counts.

A federal indictment charges the pair with nine counts, including conspiracy and setting illegal fires on federal grazing land, fires that coincided or contributed to the Hardie Hammond, Lower Bridge Creek and Krumbo Butte fires.

One count alleges witness tampering, a charge Papagni [prosecutor in the Hammonds’ case] said stems from a confrontation in Frenchglen between Steve Hammond and Joe Glascock, a rangeland conservation manager who suspected the Hammonds of setting rangeland fires. Hammond in 2006 told Glascock: ‘This could get ugly, and this could be a sticky situation,’ the prosecutor told jurors. ‘You set those fires, not me.’

This July 2015 article states:

BLM pressed charges for the above-mentioned fires, citing endangerment of human lives and damage to federal property. However, the district court found that no one had been endangered by the fires, and that the fires had caused minimal damage. In fact, the court found, the fire had arguably increased the value of the land for grazing.

The jury deliberated, and agreed that the Hammonds were guilty on two of the nine counts, for the 2001 Hardie-Hammond fire and the 2006 Krumbo Butte fire, but could not agree on the remaining seven charges.  A plea agreement was made, the Hammonds would not contest the two charges if the remaining charges were dropped.  Again from the July 2015 article:

In determining the Hammonds‚Äô sentences, Judge Hogan had decided that applying the ‚Äúmandatory minimum‚ÄĚ of five years cited in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act would ‘shock the conscience‚Ķ’ He referenced the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which states, ‘Excessive bail shall not be required‚Ķnor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.’

To call for five years‚Äô imprisonment, he said, ‘would result in a sentence which is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here‚Ķ’ He said that Hammonds‚Äô actions ‘could not have been conduct intended under [the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act]‚Ķ’ Judge Hogan used his discretion under the Eighth Amendment to sentence Dwight (now 74) to three months in prison, followed by three years‚Äô ‚Äúsupervised release.‚ÄĚ Dwight‚Äôs son Steven (45), father of three, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison‚ÄĒalso to be followed by three years‚Äô ‚Äúsupervised release.”

The Hammonds were ordered to surrender their firearms, and Dwight Hammond’s pilot’s license was revoked.¬† In a separate settlement, they were fined $400,000.00 by the BLM for damages and they had their grazing permits withheld.¬† However, for the US Department of Justice, this wasn’t enough.

Judge Hogan’s decision to sentence the Hammonds to prison time of less than five years challenged the federal government’s mandatory minimum sentencing structure.¬† It challenged the use of the anti-terrorism act to prosecute the ranchers.¬† The prosecutor in the case, Assistant US Attorney Frank Papagni, said this:

‚ÄúCongress decided that this particular offense should carry a mandatory, statutory minimum term of five years,‚ÄĚ Papagni wrote in the government‚Äôs sentencing memo.¬† ‚ÄúThe evidence of defendants‚Äô guilt was substantial. The jury‚Äôs verdict of guilt for this particular offense mandates imposition of the required statutory minimum term, as the statute constrains this court‚Äôs discretion.‚ÄĚ

In the comment section of the same article, I found the following two comments to be especially interesting.

Has an appellate court ever decided that a particular sentence under the USSG [United States Sentencing Guide] is grossly disproportionate to the crime? I don’t think so. It would open a huge can of worms and possibly undermine the entire federal sentencing scheme. I think that it being the judges last day and that these were decent white ranchers had more to do with this decision than anything else.

and:

From the government’s point of view, assuring that judges obey MM’s [mandatory minimum] is a paramount interest. That’s why it will appeal this. To do otherwise is to virtually send the other district judges a gold-plated invitation to deviate from the MM when they want to.

The US Department of Justice appealed the ruling, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the Oregon US District Court.¬† In the appeal, according to¬†this article, the government admits it doesn’t have to prove that someone is committing acts of terror when they state:

‚Äúthe fact that they are ranchers who set fire to rangeland and not terrorists adds nothing to the analysis.‚ÄĚ

¬†Also in the¬†appeal, the government uses the following disturbing examples of mandatory minimum sentences as justification:¬† 25 years for the theft of three golf clubs; 50 years to life for stealing nine videotapes; 40 years for possession of nine ounces of marijuana with the intent to distribute; life sentence for obtaining $120.75 under false pretenses (what?!); 430 months for using arson in commission of a felony; and so on.¬† Because let’s see, one, two, three…many wrongs make a right, right?

Chief Judge Ann Aiken over-ruled Hogan’s sentence, and declared the Hammonds would have to return to prison and serve what remained of the mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

Dwight and Steven Hammond have returned to prison, but the re-sentencing sparked a protest rally in Burns, Oregon on Saturday, January 2, 2016.  The peaceful protest was subsequently over-shadowed by a takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters by non-local militia members who claim to have done so to demand that the Hammonds be released and the refuge lands be returned to the area ranchers.  You can read my thoughts on this take-over and stand off here, as well as a similar perspective here.

In the vast majority of the reporting and social media noise about this situation, very few are talking about the use of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty law in the prosecution of the Hammonds.¬† In my opinion, this case has demonstrated the government’s willingness to expand the use of this law in its efforts to shut down dissent of federal policies.¬† Ranchers angry over the increasing restrictions on their livelihood, pushed to the point of what has sometimes been destructive and threatening protest, can effectively be sentenced as terrorists.¬† And, as we know, terrorists are very, very scary.

The take-over of the Malheur refuge has created a distracting and extremely divisive debate here in America. In public opinion it seems that protests over police killings, which have also involved arson in the past, are acceptable because it involves racism and is a matter of authorities violating the rights of African Americans (and I 100% agree that rights are not just being violated, but entirely obliterated, racism is a problem, and I do support those protest movements) while the protests of frustrated ranchers over perceived violations of their land use rights by Federal authorities is unacceptable and labeled as terrorism.  In fact, both are about the violations of the rights and freedoms of Americans.  Consider a comparison different than the one the media is currently pushing with this quote from a 2001 article:

“They [rural land owners] are neglected by the state and by the federal government, and they’re mad,” says Eric Herzik, a political scientist at the University of Nevada. “They’re out of the loop; decisions get made for them. It’s not unlike inner cities, whose needs don’t get heard until there’s violence.”

While we argue and call names loudly over this stand off and those involved in it, the government has quietly set a precedence of using its very broad anti-terrorism law and its ability and willingness to set and enforce mandatory minimum sentences under that law.  Regardless of who is sentenced, and for what.

Consider the following from an ACLU report as you think about that.

There is a pall over our country. In separate but related attempts to squelch dissent, the government has attacked the patriotism of its critics, police have barricaded and jailed protesters, and the New York Stock Exchange has revoked the press credentials of the most widely watched television network in the Arab world. A chilling message has gone out across America: Dissent if you must, but proceed at your own risk.

Government-sanctioned intolerance has even trickled into our private lives. People brandishing anti-war signs or slogans have been turned away from commuter trains in Seattle and suburban shopping malls in upstate New York. Cafeterias are serving “freedom fries.” Country music stations stopped playing Dixie Chicks songs, and the Baseball Hall of Fame cancelled an event featuring “Bull Durham” stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, after they spoke out against the war on Iraq.

Compounding the offense is the silence from many lawmakers. There is palpable fear even in the halls of Congress of expressing an unpopular view.

No matter how you feel about the presence of those scary guns at the Malheur Refuge, and no matter how you feel about environmental stewardship, and no matter how you feel about inner city people or rural people or race or racism, it is time to look beyond all that and look at the underlying problems we are all facing.¬† It is past time to admit we have allowed our government to step way out of its boundaries. Each time we ignore cases like the Hammonds’, every time we give up rights of our own or others, we slide a little closer to fascism.

It’s 2016, And It’s Time To Get Serious

I can’t believe its a new year again already.¬† Well, not quite, as I write this while listening to impatient neighbors setting off fireworks a few hours before midnight here in the Pacific Northwest.¬† Perhaps they didn’t want to stay up till midnight.¬† I don’t think I will either, but it isn’t for a lack of excitement.¬† On the contrary, I am very excited for the new year.

2016 is shaping up to be a big year.¬† Of course, in terms of World events, there’s so much to pay attention to, but tonight, I’m focusing on more personal things.¬† Here on my young little blog, there is a rapidly growing list of things I hope to write about in the coming year, and I’m looking forward to that.¬† I do hope you will all keep checking in, and feel free to leave comments.

I’ve got another big ambition for the new year.¬† I’m really trying hard to have my first novel ready for publishing.¬† I’ve been working on it for what sometimes seems like forever, and I’m anxious to have it done, so I can move on to the next fictional distraction.¬† More details about that when the time gets closer.

Even more importantly, I am really excited about a new project that I believe can have far-reaching impacts in the world.¬† I have become so fed up with the media, at least here in the US as I can’t really speak to media outside this country.¬† I spend hours each week searching countless sites on the internet, just trying to find out what is really happening in the world, because I can’t get the facts from the big network news stations here.¬† Its time-consuming, and frustrating.¬† And I don’t think a lot of people have the sort of time to spend searching the internet for news that I do.¬† I suppose many Americans don’t have the desire to either.¬† This means that we are largely uninformed, unaware, ignorant.

What if we can change that?  What if we can create something big enough to challenge the tight hold the big networks have over the information reaching the people?  What if we can create our own news source, truly independent of corporate and government control?  A platform where world news can be presented without fear of being censored by military industrial and mega-corporation sponsors who are unwilling to let the truth of their greed and destruction reach the masses.  Well, 2016 can be the year we make just such a media source a reality.

We are going to form and operate a participatory news and multimedia network created to redefine content-driven publishing through a publicly-funded platform. Our new media platform will provide original investigative news and stories, daily analyses and commentaries, and audio and video podcast productions on significant issues ignored and/or censored by existing media sources.

Unlike many existing online media models, we will abide by a strict code of journalistic integrity, made possible by being independent, advertisement-free, and by being solely publicly funded. Our investigative reports and multimedia productions will be completely nonpartisan, agenda-free, with content free to all subscribers.

Sibel Edmonds,  Boiling Frogs Post

Please take a look here to learn more and sign up for email updates.¬† This is big, and exciting, and 2016 needs to be the year we take control of the information we have access to.¬† After all, I don’t think it will be long before we lose even more access to the information we are already struggling to find here on the internet.
I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and do whatever I can to help make this project a success.¬† Please check it out, and share this information widely!¬† And stay tuned for more updates, especially at Boiling Frogs Post.
Here’s to a very successful new year!¬† I hope 2016 brings us all blessings, compassion for one another, and peace throughout the world.