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for people who care about the West

Trespassing aliens; Garbage privacy; Brand your calves

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

 

OREGON
Once you put your garbage
in a can by the curb, whose garbage is it? For decades, the Portland, Oregon, police considered it free for the picking. An old story from Willamette Week is making the rounds, detailing how police even swiped the trash of a fellow officer to help build a drug case against her. Multnomah County Circuit Judge Jean Kerr Maurer “rubbished this practice,” ruling that scrutinizing garbage is an invasion of privacy that requires a proper search warrant. After the district attorney’s office vowed to appeal what it called the “very unique” judge’s position, two reporters at Willamette Week decided to find out how elected officials would feel if their own garbage was searched and cataloged. This “junkaeological dig,” as reporters Chris Lydgate and Nick Budnick dubbed it, required thick gloves and a strong stomach, but their garbage gleaning was worth the effort. Police Chief Mark Kroeker, for example, had stated: “Things inside your house are to be guarded. Those that are in the trash are open for trash men and pickers — and police.” But when the reporters spread highlights from the chief’s own trash on a table in front of him, he was appalled: “This is very cheap,” he complained. Some of the chief’s throwaways were highly personal: a summary of his wife’s investments, “an email prepping the mayor about his application to be police chief of Los Angeles,” a note on a napkin “so personal it made us cringe,” and a newsletter from the conservative group, Focus on the Family. (When reporters asked whether he was a member of the group, Chief Kroeker replied, “It’s none of your business.”) No whiff of scandal was detected, the reporters concluded, though they agreed that “there is something about poking through someone else’s garbage that makes you feel dirty — and it’s not just the stench and the flies.” Rummaging through someone else’s garbage to build a case against them isn’t just an invasion of privacy, the dumpster detectives warn: “This is a frontal assault, a D-Day, a Norman Conquest of privacy.”

THE WEST
When it comes to sneaking a peek
at what goes on inside factory farms, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Jan. 1 that Idaho’s “ag-gag” law is unconstitutional. The case stemmed from 2012, when Mercy for Animals, an animal rights organization, went undercover to videotape cruelty to animals raised and slaughtered in the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry. Nation of Change reports, “Idaho felt a deep threat,” so it passed a law in 2014 making it a crime to “surreptitiously videotape agriculture operations.” But the court overturned it, saying it “criminalizes innocent behavior” and targets free speech and investigative journalists. Ag-gag laws remain in place in seven other states, including Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and North Carolina, where it’s still illegal for activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations.

ARIZONA
Too many extraterrestrial visitors
can get on a person’s nerves, reports The Week. An Arizona man said he has bumped into “dozens of aliens trespassing” on his 10-acre desert property. Not only that: He said they once tried to “draw (his wife) into the craft.” Now John Edmonds is fed up and selling his ranch for $5 million. Caveat emptor: Prospective purchasers should be “well grounded,” Edmonds warns, “because the energy here has the tendency to manifest with whatever is going on with you.”

UTAH
Another wildcat has gone missing
at the Salt Lake City Zoo, reports The Associated Press. Two years ago, a 60-pound leopard squeezed out of its enclosure and turned up snoozing on a wooden beam near the ceiling. This time, an 8-pound Pallas’ cat, known for its glower, has escaped. Zookeepers plan to entice it home with yummy treats at night, when it’s active.

THE WORLD
After Environmental Protection Agency boss
Scott Pruitt claimed that human activity was not a “primary contributor” to climate change, the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility asked what evidence he relied on to make that judgment. Apparently, the public will never learn about the reasoning, scientific or otherwise, that formed Pruitt’s opinion, because the Justice Department — representing the EPA — considers PEER’s Freedom of Information Act request “a trap” that would mean “an endless fishing expedition.” Paula Dinerstein, PEER’s counsel, said the request was not all that complicated. “We presume Administrator Pruitt must have had some factual basis for his public statements, and we merely seek to see what it is.” The agency did do one very odd thing, despite refusing to search for efforts: It produced “links to large amounts of archived material that had been removed from the agency website. However, all that material contradicted Pruitt. … As such, it was not responsive to PEER’s request.”

COLORADO
Bumper sticker
seen on a truck in Basalt, in western Colorado: “Trust everybody. But brand your calves.”

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.