Thursday, March 22, 2018, New research finds stiffer prison terms do not deter drug use. Also on our nationwide rundown: We take you to a state where 4 in 10 adults have guns, and “ghost” fishing gear is killing whales and seals in oceans. 

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Big Sky Connection


Eric Tegethoff

March 21, 2018

FORT BENTON, Mont. - A climate activist who shut down an oil pipeline in Montana in 2016 will not receive jail time for his actions.

On Tuesday, a judge in Fort Benton gave Leonard Higgins a deferred sentence of three years and ordered him to pay $3,700 in restitution to the oil pipeline company Enbridge. Last November, Higgins was charged with criminal mischief and misdemeanor criminal trespass and faced up to a decade in prison. 

Speaking Monday before his sentencing, Higgins remained steadfast that it will take every kind of effort to stop climate change.

"I hope that our action encourages people to step out of their denial, to step out of the complacency and distractions of everyday life and realize that their kids' future and the life on our planet is in jeopardy and that we need to act," Higgins said.

Together with four other activists in Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington state, Higgins helped shut down 15 percent of the United States' oil imports for about a day. The group is referred to as the "valve turners." 

Enbridge said shutting off the pipeline was dangerous, and sought more than $26,000 in restitution for lost profits.

Lauren Regan, Higgins' attorney and executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, commended the court for recognizing Higgins' action as a conscientious act of civil disobedience. She said it's also a win for free speech.

"When we see courts really slamming activism and sending people to jail for a long time, that tends to have a chilling effect on people's willingness to engage in civil disobedience and related direct action," Regan said.

Higgins said he's encouraged by the increasing number of people he sees who are compelled to act.

"Really facing the crisis and working together, it brings out the best in people," he said. "And I've never felt more connected and in community than I have since 2012 when I began doing this work."

While most of the others have not received jail time, North Dakota valve turner Michael Foster was sentenced to three years in prison in February.



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The nation’s top federal law enforcement agency is overwhelmingly white, and its top officials acknowledge that’s “a huge operational risk.”

For the FBI, the longstanding failure to diversify its ranks is nothing short of “a huge operational risk,” according to one senior official, something that compromises the agency’s ability to understand communities at risk, penetrate criminal enterprises, and identify emerging national security threats.

Indeed, 10 months before being fired as director of the FBI by President Trump, James Comey called the situation a “crisis.”

“Slowly but steadily over the last decade or more, the percentage of special agents in the FBI who are white has been growing,” Comey said in a speech at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black school in Daytona Beach, Florida. “I’ve got nothing against white people — especially tall, awkward, male white people — but that is a crisis for reasons that you get, and that I’ve worked very hard to make sure the entire FBI understands.”

It’s a charged moment for the FBI, one in which diversifying the force might not strike everyone as the most pressing issue.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the bureau’s competence and integrity. Many Democrats blame Hillary Clinton’s defeat on Comey’s decision to announce that the bureau was reopening its inquiry into her emails days before the election. Republicans, echoing Trump’s attacks, have alleged that the FBI’s investigation of the president’s ties to Russia is a politically motivated abuse of power.

With some 35,000 employees and an annual budget around $9 billion, the FBI has an array of hiring problems, of which diversity is but one. It needs first-rate linguists and technologists to fight terrorism, and now, with ever greater urgency, cyber-crimes, yet starting pay for an agent in, say, Chicago is only around $63,600. In 2015, a human resources official told the bureau’s inspector general’s office that the agency attracted 2,000 eligible candidates to a recruiting event for its Next Gen Cyber Initiative, but only managed to hire two of them.