Heroes or criminals? Trump pardons 2 Oregon ranchers
By ANDREW SELSKY
Wednesday, July 11
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Rugged individualists to some, dangerous arsonists to others, a father and son who were convicted of intentionally setting fires on public land in Oregon were pardoned Tuesday by President Donald Trump.
The pardon is raising concerns that it will encourage others to actively oppose federal control of public land, which is a sensitive issue in the U.S. West where the federal government owns almost 50 percent of the land.
Six years ago, Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, part of a family of ranchers in the high desert of eastern Oregon, were convicted of arson. Their stiff prison sentences led armed protesters to seize a national wildlife refuge in 2016 in Oregon near the Hammond ranch.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, a well-known figure in the battle over public land and whose sons led the refuge takeover, welcomed the pardons, saying the Hammonds were victims of federal overreach.
“Now we’ve finally got a president of the United States who is paying attention to what is going on,” Bundy said.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the group Defenders of Wildlife, countered that the Hammonds were convicted of arson, a serious crime.
“Whatever prompted President Trump to pardon them, we hope that it is not seen as an encouragement to those who might use violence to seize federal property and threaten federal employees in the West,” Clark said.
While the Hammonds were regarded by land-rights activists as heroes, and victims of the federal government, federal prosecutors painted sinister portraits of them at their trial.
Witnesses testified that a 2001 arson fire occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered deer on federal Bureau of Land Management property.
One said Steven Hammond handed out matches with instructions to “light up the whole country,” and another testified that Hammond barely escaped the roaring flames.
The fire burned 139 acres (56 hectares) of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The jury also convicted Steven Hammond for a 2006 blaze that prosecutors said began when he started several back fires, violating a burn ban, to save his winter feed after lightning started numerous fires nearby.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 called for mandatory five-year sentences for the convictions. But U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan said such a lengthy sentence “would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality … it would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me.”
Hogan instead sentenced Dwight Hammond to three months in prison and Steven Hammond to a year and one day. However, in October 2015, a federal appeals court ordered them to be resentenced to the mandatory prison time.
The new sentences became a cause celebre for those who oppose federal control of public lands, leading to the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon for 41 days in 2016.
One occupier was shot dead by Oregon State Police. They say he reached for a pistol at a roadblock.
The U.S. attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams, justified the mandatory sentences, saying they’re “intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place firefighters and others in jeopardy.” Williams declined to comment on the pardons.
Dozens of armed people, many from out of state, who occupied the refuge near the Hammond ranch said the father and son were victims of federal overreach. They changed the name of the refuge to Harney County Resource Center, reflecting their belief that the federal government has only a limited right to own property within a state.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, two sons of Cliven Bundy, and five other defendants were acquitted in 2016 by a federal jury in Portland on charges stemming from the takeover.
In a statement Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the five-year sentences for the Hammonds “unjust.”
“Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond,” she said.
“Our family is grateful to the president and all who worked to make this possible,” the Hammond family said in a statement.
Lyle Hammond, another of Dwight Hammond’s sons, said Tuesday that his father and brother have been released from a federal prison south of Los Angeles but he didn’t know their whereabouts.
Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon said Trump’s action is “a win for justice, and an acknowledgement of our unique way of life in the high desert, rural West.”
Oregon Wild, which works to protect and restore Oregon wildlands, wildlife and waters, sees a darker impact from the pardon.
“From the Bundys to logging and oil companies, special interests are working with the Trump administration to dismantle America’s public lands heritage, and this will be viewed as a victory in that effort,” spokesman Arran Robertson said.
AP journalists Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller contributed to this report from Washington.
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky
Opinion: Cops Have Been Losing Tech Race, but That’s Changing
By Jonathan Haggerty and Arthur Rizer
A 16-year-old landed in jail last week for allegedly gunning down a man in cold blood on a road in Stockton, California.
During the same time, Terry Emerson found himself behind bars after Stockton police found three illegal handguns in his car during a traffic stop.
These events, while unfortunate, would not be out of the ordinary for an area that has historically struggled with crime. Of particular interest, however, is how these men were tracked: using a police surveillance drone.
In the pop culture of decades past, criminals always had the edge. Barney Fife caricatures would lose to criminals wielding Tommy guns, and John Dillinger-style gangsters handily evaded chase in their souped-up getaway cars. Indeed, at least in the opinions of law enforcement representatives, the technical balance of power has traditionally favored the bad guys.
But in this brave new world of drones, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, police officers could soon gain the advantage. And though this trend doesn’t necessarily foreshadow some dystopian police state, given cops’ checkered history with Americans’ constitutional rights, civil liberties advocates will have to play a crucial role in balancing the scales of power between officer and citizen.
Back in July 2016, when the Dallas Police Department sent in a police robot rigged with C4 to take out the shooter who killed five officers and injured seven others, as well as two civilians, it marked the first time police had used a bomb robot to kill someone. The department had obtained the robot through the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which allows law enforcement agencies to buy surplus military equipment from the Department of Defense. By 2016, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country had acquired 628 of these robots.
Today, Taser International Inc. is exploring how to outfit drones with cameras and stun guns. The company has held discussions with police officials about deploying these devices for law-enforcement work. Drones aren’t limited to larger departments, either; even smaller law enforcement agencies are readily using this technology.
Launching robots from self-driving cars sounds like something straight out of Bruce Wayne’s Batcave, but autonomous police vehicles are not a distant reality. Taser Inc. has also received inquiries into the feasibility of deploying bots from autonomous police vehicles.
And while Robocop will not be kicking in doors on no-knock warrants any time soon, the idea is in the works. The Knightscope K5 is a fully-autonomous surveillance bot with facial recognition and license-plate-scanning ability. It can capture audio and video, test the air for chemicals and distinguish “suspicious activities” from normal behavior. The K5 doesn’t use weapons, but a new line of “mechanical officers” could breach doors and hold live weapons. The Greensboro Police Department in North Carolina claims the department brings in 60 calls per year for which these robots may be suited.
The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the criminal justice system, interviewed criminal justice and technology experts who note that this emerging technology could drastically change policing. Bernard Levin, co-author of 2011’s “The Future of Policing,” anticipates that drones and ubiquitous traffic cameras could one day determine the identity of a bank robber in minutes. And catching him would be just as easy. “With fully autonomous cars and highways all interconnected, roads and vehicles could simply be powered off,” Levin told The Marshall Project. Alternatively, authorities could disable the suspect’s getaway car remotely.
The challenge of this new era of police technology will be to respect civil liberties and maximize the good applications of emerging tech while minimizing its scarier uses. A robot with facial-recognition technology could deliver a phone and a pizza to an armed man on a freeway overpass threatening suicide, but it could also be used to surveil illegally innocent civilians. Civil libertarians are right to worry about the depersonalization effects of robots or drones operated by remote officers. In one case gone wrong, a police robot burned down a Tennessee mobile home when it dropped tear-gas grenades in the living room — one of which exploded, engulfing the home in flames.
Of course, a skeptic of the cops-winning-the-tech-arms-race narrative could argue that any enterprising criminal can use the same technologies that police departments are prototyping. But the average criminal doesn’t have access to nearly the same quantity or quality of tools that some departments are acquiring. Emerging technologies thus have the potential to shift drastically the capabilities of police departments vis-a-vis everyday Americans.
Indeed, Terry Emerson and the murder suspect from Stockton lacked the means to respond to police drone surveillance with drones of their own. Whether this is a good thing for society will depend on how well police balance the constitutional rights of citizens with their new gadgets. Citizens and communities will need to advocate for both accountability and transparency without unreasonably restricting law enforcement capabilities.
We’re far from witnessing the beginnings of a Hunger Games-style totalitarian future, but that doesn’t give law enforcement carte blanche to use powerful technologies however they prefer. In a world of high-tech cops, guarding our civil liberties is more important than ever.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Arthur Rizer is the director of criminal justice policy at the R Street Institute. Jonathan Haggerty is a criminal justice policy associate with the R Street Institute. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Spoiler Alert — Airline Admits Its Anti-Competitive Ways
By Kevin Mitchell
Tacit coordination among competitors is the No. 1 concern among most antitrust experts and economists when an industry consolidates too far. American Airlines recently effectively admitted to one of the worst-kept secrets in the aviation world — it engages in such coordination with competitors Delta Air Lines and United Airlines aimed at harming consumers.
American recently agreed to pay $45 million — hardly a token amount — to settle an airfare collusion lawsuit brought against American, Delta, United and Southwest Airlines. Previously, Southwest settled that suit for $15 million. As part of their settlements, both American and Southwest have pledged to cooperate as the lawsuit against Delta and United continues. That should be interesting, and fray nerves in Atlanta and Chicago. A judge must approve both settlements.
The $45 million American admission of guilt stems from a 3-year-old consumer antitrust lawsuit in which, according to Bloomberg, “executives for those companies are accused of assuring one another that they’d adhere to ‘capacity discipline’ and of carrying out their scheme by limiting consumer ability to compare prices and deter market entry by foreign rivals.”
Predictably, American’s public relations team shifted into overdrive denying the $45 million settlement is an admission of guilt. Instead, in spin worthy of an Olympic gymnastics gold medal, American claims it would have cost more to continue litigating so the $45 million of shareholder money it agreed to pay to end the lawsuit was nothing more than a prudent business decision.
Sure! Is Southwest that much better at negotiating than American that it agreed to pay $30 million less — just one-third of American’s settlement? Or, perhaps, does it reflect recognition by American that its rebuttal case is that much less persuasive? Then there is the question did Delta and United’s litigation cost calculus yield a different conclusion because they think they have stronger and more compelling defenses than American, or at least less expensive legal representation?
Whatever the explanation, the fact that American, Delta and United (Big Three) engage in joint anti-competitive action has been on full and unmistakable display for at least the last three years. One need look no further than the Big Three’s $50 million lobbying campaign against Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways (Gulf Carriers). The Big Three’s richly funded, scorched-earth lobbying campaign was targeted at the competitive choice the Gulf Carriers offer consumers at a time passengers, more than ever, need more service options due to consolidation run amok and the competition strangling emergence of mega-alliances and joint ventures wielding market power that are exempt from antitrust oversight.
American’s CEO, Doug Parker, was very candid about his objective in the political campaign against Gulf Carrier-provided competitive choice. Parker expressed no interest in financial transparency, which was a battle cry of the Big Three’s lavishly paid lobbying surrogate, the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies. Parker and his generously paid lobbying team, which includes former Transportation Secretary Jim Burnley whose law firm — paid more than $1 million in reported lobbying fees alone for the three-year battle — had their sights set squarely on one thing and one thing only, Fifth Freedom U.S.-Europe flights.
As Parker bluntly said in a September 15, 2016, interview in the The Street, “Our biggest concern is flights outside the Gulf, flights from outside the Gulf region to U.S.”
The title of that interview says it all — “American CEO Says Mideast Carriers Should End Europe-U.S. Flights: For American, Delta and United, the bottom line in the dispute with the big three Gulf carriers is an end to ‘fifth freedom’ Europe-U.S. flying.”
So what’s the Big Three’s beef with Gulf Carrier Fifth Freedom flying in the U.S.-Europe market anyways and why did they waste $50 million of shareholder money unsuccessfully trying to block it?
The Big Three have worked diligently forming trans-Atlantic partnerships, and winning grants of antitrust immunity for them, ensuring they can jointly fix prices, constrain capacity and coordinate schedules with abandon. The last thing the Big Three want is a new entrant competitor like Emirates, which is not a member of their alliance and JV club, independently entering “their” trans-Atlantic market where the Big Three gang controls more than 80 percent of the available passenger seats. So, under the guise of a legitimate public policy campaign, the Big Three unsuccessfully colluded to try to persuade the U.S. government to be their anticompetitive sword slaying future Fifth Freedom-related consumer choice.
This is but one high profile example over the last three years. In addition to their $50 million failed lobbying campaign against Gulf Carrier choice, the Big Three also stood shoulder-to-shoulder attempting to block competitive entry by Norwegian Air International and Norwegian UK Limited in “their” U.S.-Europe market. In coordination with their employee unions, the Big Three fought a pitched regulatory and legislative battle against Norwegian’s innovative product and the competitive choice it will provide to cost-conscious trans-Atlantic passengers, as well as the huge benefit to secondary U.S. cities seeking non-stop Europe flights.
Like its campaign against Gulf Carrier choice, the Big Three’s battle against Norwegian’s competitive entry failed. The Department of Transportation approved Norwegian’s foreign air carrier permit applications after a protracted and expensive battle.
If rumors are true, Parker’s eye now is focused on a new front in American’s battle against trans-Atlantic competition. In an ironic twist showing that protectionist instincts are stronger than alliance bonds, American is said to be targeting Air Italy, formerly Meridiana Airlines, which is 49 percent owned by American’s Oneworld partner Qatar Airways. American apparently is irked that Air Italy has the “audacity” to enter the U.S.-Europe market offering two daily flights this summer from Milan to New York JFK and Miami.
As you can see, over the last three years, American has a very clear and undeniable pattern of anti-consumer joint conduct. No wonder the public relations spin by American that its $45 million admission of guilt is not that at all melts away like butter.
When American’s conduct is appropriately viewed through this anti-competitive lens, its true intent comes into disturbingly sharp focus. As a result, its words and actions understandably become suspicious. For instance, when Parker recently told media at the International Air Transport Association’s Annual General Meeting in Sydney that rising fuel prices necessarily mean fare increases, was he signaling to his assembled CEO brethren? How about Parker’s comment that American would not restore its severed commercial relationships with Qatar and Etihad because “we haven’t had enough time to make sure those resolutions (U.S.-UAE and U.S.-Qatar understandings) actually have the affect we hope for.”
Was Parker in fact signaling to those carriers American will not restart commercial relationships with them unless and until Etihad and Qatar agree to collude with American to restrict commercial activities, to the detriment of consumers and competitive choice?
Let’s hope American’s $45 million admission of anti-competitive guilt is a watershed moment. The proverbial turning over of a new leaf. A recognition that, as the largest and one of the most profitable airlines in the world, American can succeed competitively in the right way. But, the jury remains out.
Whether American abandons its expensive lobbying campaign against Gulf Carrier competition, and how it behaves regarding Air Italy, Etihad and Qatar, will be very telling — is it a $45 million head fake or a meaningful and welcome course correction?
ABOUT THE WRITER
Kevin Mitchell is the founder of the Business Travel Coalition and OpenSkies.travel. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.