Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Good Strategy Routs Militia Loonies

Yesterday was a good day for the good guys in the West--the men and women who care for our public lands and the many users of the lands who follow the rules and support good management.  Federal and Oregon State law enforcement officers arrested the leaders of a motley group of anti-government loonies who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2.

Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, both occupation ringleaders, and a handful of supporters were taken into custody as they traveled outside the refuge. Reports say Ryan Bundy and LaVoy Finicum resisted arrest and gunfire ensued. Bundy was injured and Finicum was killed.

It is unfortunate any violence occurred. Law enforcement personnel went out of their way to avoid bloodshed. They set up headquarters some 30 miles from the refuge, communicated often with the occupiers, and allowed free movement into and out of the compound for more than three weeks. In fact, the lack of a frontal assault or even  a show of force caused considerable criticism, including scathing comments by the Governor of Oregon about what was seen as a failure of federal agents to take immediate aggressive action against the occupiers.

The Bundys got no sympathy in Portland (Britt Anderson photo/ The Oregonian).
I admit to some concern that the feds were going to let the criminals get away with their actions as the days passed, but with positive results appearing it seems fair to say the law enforcement strategy has been excellent. I reached that conclusion after spending some time reading about the history of anti-government groups in the U.S., especially the various "militias," and reviewing a few cases of previous standoffs in the West.

Our nation began with revolt against what was perceived as government tyranny, although that belief was far from universal within the colonies. From the early days, Americans have prized individual liberty and personal and property rights. Criticism of government officials and actions is a cherished and legally protected right. It thus is not surprising that various anti-government groups sprang up. Some were tax protesters, some sought to impose their religion on others, some professed a need for self protection with arms. Most have come to be referred to under the umbrella term "militias."

Government responses to the militias have ranged from ignoring them to attacking their strongholds with brute force. In the 1990s, two incidents caused rising public sentiment that the forceful approach had gone too far.

In 1991 at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho federal officials surrounded the family of Randy Weaver, a white supremist. The agents attacked and when the firing stopped a deputy U.S. marshal, and Weaver's wife and son were dead. A task force investigated the police actions, and its report called for reforms in federal law enforcement.

A year later a band of religious extremists accused of weapons violations was surrounded at the Branch Dividian Compound near Waco, Texas. Four federal officers and 82 civilians were killed when agents stormed the compound and fires in the buildings followed a gun battle. The events caused considerable public outrage over what was seen as a heavy-handed government response to a rather non-threatening situation.

It appears anti-government feelings about the two incidents combined to motivate two terrorists to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City two years later. The death toll was 168 and nearly 700 others were injured in the tragedy. If the linkage between the three events is valid, changes in the federal approach to militia criminality obviously were needed.

Militia membership, primarily in the Midwest and West, increased after Ruby Ridge and Waco. But federal and state law enforcers avoided actions against groups of malcontents. Instead, they identified and arrested many individual militia leaders and members when they could prove criminal charges. Militia membership and activity went into a steady decline.

In the West, "Sagebrush Rebellion" leaders advocated views similar to the Bundys'--turn over ownership and management of public lands to local or state authorities with little or no regulation of grazing, mining, or timber cutting. In the extreme, the idea was to put the lands in private ownership.

When I was the Public Information Officer for the Boise National Forest in the 1970s, the "rebellion" was picking up steam.  Later, there were many documented cases of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees, and sometimes their families, being harassed. Those favoring disposal of the public lands made increasing noise, but no changes in ownership resulted.

I left the West for four years, and when I returned to the Intermountain Region in 1981 there was little enthusiasm for the "rebellion." But the seeds of it remained, and it flowered last year when rancher Cliven Bundy invited militia members from across the land to help him resist efforts by the Bureau of Land Management to force him to honor provisions of his grazing permit. Hundreds of armed militia members and sympathizers showed up to back Bundy, and federal agents backed down and left the area.

That perhaps emboldened Bundy's sons to attempt the Malheur seizure of federal property. They appealed widely for public support and got very little. This time law enforcement people were prepared. Their leniency in allowing the occupiers to travel freely set up an opportune time to arrest the leaders. A few hours later, the entrances and exits to the refuge were blocked, and remaining occupiers were asked to surrender. They did not comply immediately, but now they can have lots of time alone to think about it. And if they refuse, the feds can merely arrest them one-at-a-time as the opportunity arises.

The public lands belong to all of us and preservation and use should be directed by law and science-based regulation. Our law enforcement people have done a good job responding to the latest group of criminal loonies who think otherwise.

Let's hope Cliven Bundy is having unpleasant days looking over his shoulder whenever he travels away from his ranch. His next stop might be a jail cell. And it should be.

Monday, January 11, 2016

We're Being Bowled Over

College football teams are playing tonight for the "national championship," and this old football fan couldn't care less.

Back when I did care, the college season ended on New Years Day. There were a half dozen or fewer bowl games. The "majors" included the Rose, Cotton, Orange, and Sugar Bowls. This year, a record 41 post-season games cluttered up sports pages and TV. The debacle started Dec. 10 and ends tonight.

I should be contented with results so far. My Wisconsin Badgers scored a bowl win. However, television producers thought so little of their contest that it aired at 10:30 at night. I thought so little of the timing that I taped it and watched a day later. Local favorite Western Michigan also won a bowl encounter, the first one in its history. So much holiday activity was going on at the time, however, I neglected to watch the contest. Son Lee's Minnesota Gophers also were victorious in a bowl, but they only won five regular season games to qualify, an indication of the reduction in quality when 6 bowls become 41. Neither of us watched the UM game.

Time to put a stop to bowl expansion.
We are being subjected to football overkill, and it just may end up killing the sport. Plenty of empty seats were in evidence when cameras gave us a glimpse of the "crowds" at some of the games. We also are being subjected to some nonsensical rhetoric by those who profit from the bowls--the overpaid coaches and athletic directors.

In most cases, the schools aren't among the financial winners. Consider the Western Michigan situation. The Broncos played in Popeyes Bahamas Bowl in Christmas Eve. If that name sounds ridiculous, it seems a step up in class from last year's appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Potato Bowl trip cost the school $913,542. It was rewarded with a payback of $475,000. This year, the Western athletic director didn't provide details, but claimed the loss would be less. One reason is the Bahamas Bowl doesn't require participants to bring their marching band, nor does it demand the school pay for a specific number of tickets in advance. Nevertheless, there will be a loss when all the numbers are in.

The athletic director shrugs that off with one of the most ridiculous comments being repeated in sports interviews. AD Kathy Beauregard said, "I don't look at it like a loss. I look at the fact that we're going to be on ESPN at noon on Dec. 24 worldwide. So, you're going to be able to watch Western Michigan University for three-and-a-half hours on primetime television across the world. That's invaluable promotion for our great university."

Kathy, that really is a load of pure horse manure.

Find me a promising student who decides to attend Western because the football team played in Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, and I'll show you a nitwit that won't last six weeks at any reputable college. The only students who attend colleges because of the football program are the football players, and perhaps those intending to try out for cheerleading.

I'm pretty sure MIT has no football team, but last I heard students were fighting to get in. Ditto, Cal Poly. The University of Chicago, after years as a national power in the sport, dropped major-conference football in 1939. Enrollment and financial backing from alumni declined slightly for a time, but then rebounded and Chicago went on to become one of the premiere universities in the U.S. When's the last time Yale or Harvard played football in a bowl? When's the last time those schools didn't have a huge list of students seeking to enroll?

Instead of preaching a lot of nonsense to us, athletic directors might better spend their time thinking of ways to rekindle interest in college football. Nationally, attendance dropped 1 percent last year, following a 4 percent decline the year before. I'm betting 2015 numbers also will show a decline. Too much of anything is not a good thing.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

It's the Big 8-0

As the last in a line of holiday boys in my family, the season just ended (except for gift returns, of course) had some special meaning for me.

My grandfather was born on Christmas Day. My father was born on Christmas Day. I was a bit late, but made my appearance on New Years Day--January 1, 1936. Reaching my 80th year inspired a special party hosted by son Lee (he broke the male holiday chain with a February birthday), Lee's fiancĂ©e Karen, beautiful wife Sandy, and Karen's mother, Ilse.

The party was lots of fun. Participants kept things on the positive side; a card from Ilse informed me
Something to celebrate--80
that 80 really is only 40 x 2. Nobody asked me if I had any regrets.

No matter how you frame it, however, 80 is closer to the end than the start of our individual journeys. I have spent a little time reflecting on that, and must confess to a touch of sadness. Life has been good; I'm still healthy, although not quite as wealthy and wise as I would like. Hanging around for a while longer would be nice.

My spirits got a boost when up popped a link to a November article in the New England Journal of Medicine reporting on a major study of life expectancies around the world. I learned that two-thirds of men in developed countries die before they are 80. I thus have outlasted millions of my contemporaries. The researchers also found that an American male reaching 80 has good odds of living to 87.

The nice thing about age statistics is that getting into the lead invites you to continue on. If I make the 87 marker, odds are I'll get into the 90s. Assuming reasonable health, becoming an octogenarian could be the start of a fairly long and pleasant addition to my journey.

I immediately experienced one of the minor joys of advanced age. There no longer is any need for those miserable New Years resolutions. They are supposed to have the laudable purpose of self-improvement, but after 79 years of striving, and usually falling short, in that department what you see is what you're going to get. I intend to take things as they come, and have some fun along the rest of the way, however long or short that part of the adventure may be.