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From Gitmo to Montana?

Ed Quillen | May 23, 2009 01:40 AM

    During the presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain promised to close the detainee prison at the Marine Corps base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
    Obama won, and he's been looking at ways to fulfill his promise. One complication is that there are people in custody who should stay in custody -- where can they be kept if not at Gitmo?
    Not many communities have raised their hands and said "We'd like those prisoners," but one has: Hardin, Montana. It has a new state-of-the-art high-security prison that's sitting empty, along with a high unemployment rate and a fading town.
    But U.S. Senator Max Baucus doesn't want them in his Montana. Similarly, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said it wouldn't bother him if they were housed at the federal "SuperMax" facility in Florence, Colo. However, Ritter may have been the only elected official in Colorado who wasn't up in arms about it, and the story is much the same in other states.
    Now, there may be practical reasons, like capacity, not to put them in SuperMax.  But the place already has some of the worst of the worst, like Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols and various of the plotters of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

    It's only 65 miles away from me, one of four federal prisons in Fremont County, Colo., which also has nine state prisons, making about 7,500 inmates altogether.
    That's down the river from Salida, where I live. Up the river, about 25 miles away, is another state prison, the Buena Vista Correctional Facility, with about 1,200 inmates.

    There are a lot of bad guys locked up around here. But I've never lost a moment's sleep on that account. Prisoners aren't a danger to the community unless they escape, and as Obama pointed out, no one has ever escaped from a SuperMax. So if Hardin is ready, willing, and able to help close Gitmo, why not?





A change is gonna come

As more consumers choose to eat locally, agribusinesses tailor their ads to fit the market. According to Mark Muller of Civil Eats, this reactionary stance from the corporations is a big shift in our current food system.

Lay’s just recently tried on the “local” hat. And Walmart did too last year. But skeptics are put-off by all this corporate local talk, because it changes the public perception of the phrase. “True” locovores generally get their food within a hundred-mile radius. Whole Foods Market defines local with a 7-hour truck drive. And a lot of the bigger corporations consider anywhere in the state as local. That can be a long drive out here in the West.

Muller also mentioned the letter that CropLife sent to Michelle Obama. They’re upset that her White House garden is organic. And they're urging folks to write letters to her with pleas like, "What message does that send to the non-farming public about an important and integral part of growing safe and abundant crops to feed and clothe the world -- crop protection products?"

Check out the full letter, and you’ll see all the comments below it are railing the conventional-farm-minded people.

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Snowbowl Redux: The Question of Balance

Michael Wolcott | May 20, 2009 03:49 AM

Every journalist is biased. Scribes-for-hire have opinions, just like anybody else. However most readers expect some approximation of fairness and balance. The reporter’s job is to lock his personal views in a cage until press time.

This professional obligation was very much on my mind last winter when I wrote “The Snow War,” a summary of the bitter controversy and legal wrangling that surround Arizona Snowbowl’s plan to make artificial snow from reclaimed sewage effluent on the San Francisco Peaks—which are held sacred by 13 southwestern tribes.

Snowbowl operates on Coconino National Forest, which approved the plan to make snow with Flagstaff’s treated sewage water. Native Americans say this would desecrate their holy mountain. Environmentalists argue that micro-pollutants in the water could harm human health and the mountain ecosystem. The U.S. Supreme Court must now decide whether to hear the lawsuit that seeks to block snowmaking, Navajo Nation vs. the U.S. Forest Service. If the high court chooses not to, then Snowbowl wins.

My biases on the issue are well-documented. (See “Religion loses to recreation in Arizona”). I have testified against snowmaking at public hearings, filed objections on EIS documents, given media interviews, and stood on Snowbowl Road with other protesters, holding a sign that said "No to Yellow Snow.” Still, I intended to tell this story fairly.

Did I succeed? Well, that depends on who you talk to.

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The "Bennett Thaw", at last

Jodi Peterson | May 19, 2009 09:15 AM

Last week, President Obama signed legislation putting an end to a time warp in Indian land. For more than 40 years, Navajos and Hopi living near Tuba City, Ariz., had been prohibited from building new roads or new homes. Nor could they improve existing homes, or even install electricity and running water when those services became available. 

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Beyond adventure porn

Emily Underwood | May 19, 2009 05:49 AM

Adventure sport films can be a lot like pornography. Claiming little-to-no real artistic merit, they are produced explicitly for the excitement of the viewer and the ego-gratification of the performers. They have predictable soundtracks. They provide the chance for adrenaline junkies to sit, slack-jawed, and live vicariously through someone else’s physical abandon. Other adventure sport films achieve a higher level, more like erotica, “... in which the sexual element is regarded as part of the larger aesthetic aspect.” In these documentaries, reckless physical acts are seen as serving some larger point or higher purpose.

At the 2nd Annual 5 Point Film Festival in Carbondale, CO, organizers did their darndest to show a collection of films that went beyond mindless stimulation. Their mission was lofty and commendable: “to inspire adventure of all kinds, to connect generations through shared experience and respect, to engage passion with a conscience, and to educate through film.”

Not surprisingly, the results were mixed. Some of the films stayed comfortably within the realm of adventure porn: “Faster, steeper, higher, deeper.” The maniacal joy in the eyes of extreme backcountry skiers, gnarly climbers and suicidal base jumpers did inspire the thought, Where oh where is my passion?,  but didn’t make any coherent argument about why you should follow your passion to remote slopes in Alaska by helicopter rather than to, say, Prada, and charge thousands to your husband’s credit card. Depending on your taste, both experiences provide deep aesthetic satisfaction. They are both expensive, potentially risky, and make you look fantastic. But do they make you a better person?

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John Sutter's paramour was named Manuiki

Terray Sylvester | May 18, 2009 08:17 AM

Native American sovereignty, trans-Pacific tribal ties, an intriguing new twist to the Gold Rush and centuries-old gossip about John Sutter's love life: all that in a surprising article that recently ran in the Sacramento Bee. It's a must-read for anyone who gets a kick out of learning that western history is more complicated than most of us think.

Here's the lede: a northern California band of Miwok Indians are supporting a bill that would allow native Hawaiians to govern themselves and negotiate for state and federal land. The bill has failed in the past, but now it's backed by Obama. It may not seem surprising that one tribe would support another's bid for sovereignty, but the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians have an extra incentive to celebrate if the bill passes: they're part Hawaiian themselves.

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New Ag-Jobs bill hits Congress

Marty Durlin | May 18, 2009 05:00 AM

As High Country News noted last Fall in a story called Field Day, these days it's hard for growers to find enough agricultural workers to tend and pick their crops. With tougher enforcement on the Mexican border, stiffer penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants, and a cumbersome H-2A guest worker program, many growers are in a pinch.

In Colorado and other Western states, prison laborers have been filling in for immigrant farm workers in the orchards and vineyards.

Now Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) have introduced the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act in both houses of Congress. The bill would mandate a program to legalize immigrant farm workers who have worked in the U.S. for two years. It would also streamline the H-2A guest worker program. 

Similar legislation died in Congress two years ago, as have a string of immigration reform measures. The current bill has bipartisan support in the House, but not in the Senate, where all 16 co-sponsors are Democrats.  Still, both growers and farmworkers support the bill, and it may have a chance of passing, even if more comprehensive immigrant reform legislation cannot be agreed upon. A New York Times editorial called it "a model compromise, mixing pro-business pragmatism with a commitment to protecting workers."

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Jaguars A to Z

Jodi Peterson | May 18, 2009 03:42 AM

For years, HCN contributor Tony Davis has been following -- and writing about -- the Southwest's endangered jaguars. The rare cats are in danger of being wiped out in the U.S. by the border fence that isolates them from their Mexican counterparts (see our story Cat Fight on the Border). Recently, a huge male cat, the oldest known jaguar in this country, was killed when a wolf and bear trapping project went wrong. Davis, an Arizona Daily Star reporter, was on that story when it broke, and now the paper has a Web page with all the latest news about the jaguar.  A great resource for keeping up with the unfolding story of death, ambition ... and lawsuits.

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Poor Lake Powell

Jonathan Thompson | May 15, 2009 04:40 AM

The snow's melting fast here in Western Colorado's mountains, thanks to a sudden surge in temperatures after a cool spring. A lot of dust on the snow is also contributing: The dust diminishes the snow's reflectivity, meaning more of the sun's heat penetrates the snow, meaning the snow melts quickly.

As a result, the streams and rivers around here are muddy, roiling, raging torrents, just as we like them. They join together and gather force here, and dump into the swollen Colorado River about 50 miles away. Ultimately, all that water ends up in Lake Powell, pushing its spare winter levels up significantly. In the last month, alone, the reservoir has risen six feet, and that trend will continue for a little while. That does not mean the notorious bathtub ring that symbolizes protracted drought will disappear -- not even close.

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Dancing to the Tohono O'odham polka

Marty Durlin | May 14, 2009 08:57 AM

Joaquin BrothersPolka is everywhere, including on the Tohono O'odham Nation in southwestern Arizona, where the Joaquin Brothers band -- playing a form of polka music that accompanies the "chicken scratch," a popular dance on the reservations of the Southwest -- has been going for more than 50 years.

"Waila" is taken from "baila," which means dance in Spanish. Blending polka, waltz, tejano, cumbia and Norteno, Waila's roots go back as far as the late 1700s, when European immigrants brought their accordions with them to work on the railroads. When electricity came to the reservations in the 1950s and '60s, the Joaquin Brothers amped it up with electric keyboards and guitars. They also added saxophones.

The band was founded by Angelo Joaquin, who was lured to Los Angeles ("where employment was plentiful") in the 1950s by the federal government's Urban Relocation Program. In Los Angeles, Joaquin formed his first group at the Papago Club, where relocated Tohono O'odham members gathered. Three generations later, the band is going strong and a new PBS documentary entitled "Waila: Making the People Happy" features the Joaquin family playing and telling their story.

Directed by Quechan Daniel Golding, the film follows the Joaquins from the reservation to Carnegie Hall, where they performed in 1994. "I wanted people to see a side of Native America not normally portrayed -- one that is a true representation of the Native spirit, fun," says Golding.

Curious? You can hear the Joaquin Brothers play such tunes as "Hohokam Polka" at Canyon Records.

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