Republican Water Wars: Clean Drinking Water and GOP Polluters

Amodei 3 It’s really hard to argue against Clean Water.  It’s especially difficult to argue against Clean Drinking Water in light of what’s happening to the public in Flint, Michigan.  However, that hasn’t stopped Republican members of Congress like Representatives Hardy (R-NV4), Heck (R-NV3), and Amodei (R-NV2) from aligning themselves with those who want to curtail, delay, and ultimately defeat regulations designed to prevent stream contamination in “coal country.”

Easy and Cheap Coal Mining or Clean Drinking Water?

Back in May 2015, opponents of clean water regulations decided to oppose any administration efforts to regulate what mining companies did with the debris from mountain top coal operations:

“Congressional Republicans are seeking to block an imminent rule protecting Appalachian streams from mountaintop removal mining, as opponents of the controversial practice say the mines are getting closer to communities and harming people’s health.

The White House is expected to announce a stricter rule for the disposal of mountaintop-removal mining waste into streams. Some Republicans in Congress are describing the move as the latest campaign in the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” [McClatchy DC] [see also The Hill]

The opposition would go beyond  the Reagan Era (1983) regulations which did not allow dumping debris within 100 feet of a river or stream.  The coal industry thought it had the system beaten when the George W. Bush administration allowed “waivers” from the rules during the last months of his presidency. [SeattleTimes]  The Obama administration promptly rescinded the last minute Bush Gift to the Coal Companies.  Coal interests just as promptly hauled out the hyperbole and declared the administration was declaring a War On Coal.

The result of the opposition clamor against allowing mining companies to dump debris into rivers and streams was the STREAM Act.  While the act doesn’t allow outright the trashing of American rivers and streams, it does wrap the EPA and Corps of Engineers in endless studies, evaluations of studies, and interminable hurdles to protecting water sources.  Representatives Heck, Hardy, and Amodei appear to be marching along with the coal industry.  Each voted in favor of the STREAM Act on January 12, 2016. [roll call 42]

Is Anyone Surprised?

The drinking water calamity in Flint, Michigan is a man-made problem.  Actions taken to “save money” have obviously proven to exacerbate contamination such that the population of Flint has been exposed to toxic lead levels.  We know what lead does – we also know what happens when a state government fails to act swiftly and responsibly to impending disaster.

What happens when creeks are filled with iron and aluminum hydroxides? When streams are polluted with contaminants from mountain top removal coal operations?  Three peer reviewed studies in central Appalachia found: (1) An overall increase in the rate of birth defects in counties with mountain top mining; (2) A 14.4% cancer rate compared to non-mountain top mining areas with a 9.4% rate; and (3) a $74.6 billion per year public health expense burden on Appalachian communities. [KFTC pdf]  This is not an isolated problem, nor is it new:

Between 1985 and 2001, 6,697 valley fills were approved in Appalachia, covering 83,797 acres of land and potentially affecting 438,472 acres of watershed.20 Valley fills can be as wide as 1,000 feet and over a mile long, and each can contain as much as 250 million cubic yards of wastes and debris—enough to fill almost 78,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Burying fragile headwater streams located in valleys exterminates virtually all forms of life that get interred under millions of tons of waste and debris. From 1985 to 2001, the EPA estimates that valley fills buried 724 miles of streams.22 Another study conducted by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) found that approximately 535 miles of streams were negatively affected by mining from 2001 to 2005.23 All told, nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwaters have been buried or polluted by mountaintop removal, and the damage to Appalachian watercourses has continued at an average rate of 120 miles per year. [NRDC(pdf)]

stream pollution

The track record doesn’t sound promising for those who want to protect their drinking water supplies, and the actions of the pollution protectors aren’t helping.  Perhaps Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy, would care to explain why they don’t seem particularly disturbed about higher than normal levels of calcium, magnesium, manganese, sulfate, and selenium in coal country drinking water?

What does this stuff do?

 

We know that manganese is one of those minerals we need as part of a normal diet, but we also know that high concentrations of manganese isn’t a good thing for children – the young apparently having a greater absorption rate than adults – and that high absorption often correlates to learning disabilities. [WHO pdf] This is a bit more damage than just the brown staining on laundry common to manganese contaminated water, and much more than the toxicity it has for plant life – a burden for farmers downstream. [USGS]

Magnesium is not considered all that dangerous, in correct (normal) levels.  There is no “maximum contaminant level” assigned to this mineral. [EHS pdf]  However, both magnesium and calcium contribute to what is popularly known as “hard water,” that ever present danger to plumbing, and household appliances such as washing machines and hot water heaters.

Sulfates are another matter.   Right off the bat, water containing more than 400 mg/L should NOT be used when preparing infant formula. [MHealth] And, the stuff is corrosive, if the sulfate in the water exceeds 250 mg/L (MCL)  copper piping is particularly susceptible to corrosion. [MHealth]  Thus leading to copper contamination.  Sulfates have what is known politely as a “laxative effect,” which is not all that appealing when combined with the knowledge that sulfates are causing scale build up in the water pipes. [UGA edu pdf]  Nor should we diminish the impact of a “laxative effect” on young children and infants for whom diarrhea and dehydration can be quite serious health risks.

Selenium is a real mess.  It’s a heavy metal, and the current maximum contaminant level is 0.05 ppm (parts per million).  Long term higher-than-normal exposure can (and usually does) result in hair and fingernail loss, damage to the kidneys and liver tissue, as well as damage to the nervous and circulatory system.  In other words, it’s truly dangerous. [EPA]

Since much of the more obvious damage appears to be targeted at plumbing, pipes, and appliances, it’s too easy to dismiss the pollutants as mild (compared to the Lost Jobs?) about which the coal industry is concerned.  However, there are other contaminants to consider associated with coal mining operations:  Acid mine drainage; Coal Slurry, Coal Ash,  the ever present bug bear – Selenium, and Total Maximum Daily Loads.  [AppV]

And the mountain top removal contribution to the problems?  WV public.org reports: “It was pretty obvious to me that below valley fills, water was pretty tainted, and then it became a question of, ‘Is it getting into the human water supply?’” Stout said. “I started sampling people’s houses; some people’s water is really good, other people’s water is really appalling.” Stout has tested for and found water spiked with heavy metals and other contaminants. “Before it’s disturbed it’s as good of water you’re going to find anywhere on the planet. But after that it becomes tainted with heavy metals and bacteria and so forth and becomes unusable, except that these people don’t have any recourse,” Stout said.”

Nor, we might add, do the people of Flint have much recourse.

It’s a plausible argument that Representatives Hardy, Heck, and Amodei, are staunchly defending the exploiters and polluters who are managing a 19th century industry – rather like defending the profits of the buggy whip manufacturers before Ford.  Not only is natural gas making headway into the former domains of coal, but both wind and solar assets are increasing as well. As one environmental improvement advocacy group puts it, “Coal is making a long goodbye.”

Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy appear to have both feet firmly planted in an America of the 20th century while we’re a decade into the 21st.  When they speak to their “visions” of America, voters might want to remember this point.

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Power for the Loons: A small electric co-op considers what to do with the Loons at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge

Harney Electric Map Harney Electric Cooperative is the power transmission and distribution provider for approximately 20,000 square miles of southeastern Oregon and northern Nevada, and right in the midst of their service territory map is the Malheur Wildlife Refuge – currently occupied by more loons than pin tails, swans, and geese.

The Co-op has about 4,000 power meters, 350 miles of transmission line, and more than 2,400 miles of distribution line across the six counties shown on the map.  And there are numerous voices asking why the power hasn’t been cut off at the Malheur Refuge…

A major consideration is Safety.  Harney Electric, for all its territorial expanse, isn’t a very large company.  In fact, the members read their own meters. The company audits meter readings once a year, but for all 12 months of the year the meters are read by the customer/members and not by designated meter readers.  The main office is in Hines, OR (population 1,510) with a branch office in Orovada, NV (population 155) and another small satellite office in Fields, OR (population 120).   It isn’t too far off the mark to say that the administration and management of the co-op is a case of everyone knowing everyone else – employees included.  No one is particularly excited about sending in a lineman to shut off the power at the Refuge since the Loons have an unfortunate track record of actually shooting and killing people.  Case in point: the two miscreants who joined the Bundy Militia for a time in Their Great Delusional Standoff in southern Nevada, and then saw fit to assassinate two police officers in Las Vegas. [MSNBC]  There’s frankly little way for the power company to win —

If they send in an unarmed lineman – do the Loons take offense and physically attack the lineman?  If they send in police or national guard with the lineman – does this constitute an “assault” by the authorities, and also place the lineman in peril?  Should the lineman and a police escort approach the “boundary” does this create a justification in the twisted minds of the trespassers for the shooting to start?  No one in charge at the power company is particularly happy about the prospect of seeing a lineman’s body draped in a Tea Party flag.

Gee, offer some naysayers – why can’t the co-op cut the power off well outside the range of the Loons?  That assumes that the co-op has isolation capacity, and the equipment already installed to shut down portions of the distribution line.  Since its founding in 1961, the co-op’s primary concern has been to get power to isolated areas, NOT how to shut off power to isolated portions of its service area.   The co-op has shut off power to the Frenchglen, OR BLM fire station [OregonLive] as of January 7, 2016, another target of the Loons, but not occupied by them.  The integrity of the BLM fire station at Frenchglen is an important component in the safety of Harney Electric Cooperative’s transmission and distribution lines in southeastern Oregon and northern Nevada.

And then there’s the matter of the bill.  The Bundy Loons are using metered power to prepare their grilled cheese sandwiches – the current rate for power at minimum is $28.75 per month for the first 150 kilowatt hours.  No one’s heard how the Bundy’s intend to pay for the power they’re using – any more than anyone’s figured out how they intend to pay for the $1 million in back grazing fees and penalties they already owe.  However, this time the Bundy’s aren’t ripping off the federal government – they’re ripping off the customers of a small electric cooperative.

If the Loons keep up their occupation to March 1, 2016 they should be mindful that Harney Electric’s minimum rate will increase to $31.50 per month with a 9 cent charge for every kilowatt hour after 150.  Security light pricing will be at $9 a month for a 100 watt light on a meter or transformer pole, and the charge for a specially placed pole will be $11.80 per month.  If the Loons are using a 150 watt security light, that will cost them $13.00 per month.

Somewhere in the midst of their Grand Delusion about Sticking It to the Federal Government, the Loon Militia (#YallQaeda) in their Cowliphate, have forgotten that it isn’t the Federal Government keeping the lights on at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, it’s a small electric cooperative, which expects its customers to read their meters and pay promptly.   It appears that the Bundy definition of Liberty incorporates taking what they want, when they want it, without consideration of how this narcissistic selfishness impacts others … like the Harney Electric Cooperative and its customers.

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Silhouettes in Courage

It’s been confirmed that the perpetrators of the Bundystan sit in at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge are free to go into town for their “snacks.”  There are at least two ways to view this element of the situation. One, the authorities are allowing the continuation of the occupation of federal property in ways that are inconceivable to those who remember the May 1985 assault on Osage Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. [Guardian] Another perspective is that the authorities aren’t taking the Grand Occupation of the YallQaeda Militia as seriously as the YeeHawdists wanted.  Thus, this isn’t the Alamo – it certainly isn’t Ruby Ridge, much less Waco.  And, there the YallQaeda sits — assured in their own minds that their actions will cause significant discourse about public land management and a Rising of the Populace – being held up to ridicule instead of admiration.

Case in point: The man who says he won’t be locked in a concrete box is more than happy to sit inside a blue tarp for the duration —

Tarp Man Granted that prisons are unpleasant places in which to reside, but being stuck in a chair under a tarp in  weather not predicted to get much over 17 degrees Fahrenheit at night for the next week isn’t my idea of Freedom.  And, to do so while insinuating that you’d fight to the death before you’d leave the “comfort” of your Little Blue Tarp because you won’t tolerate  an arrest, leaves one wondering if some kind soul won’t donate a copy of Magnus Mill’s 1998 novel “The Restraint of Beasts” to help the ‘patriots’ pass the time?

The wildlife refuge has been a contentious issue for the Hammond family for some time [TPM] but with the Hammonds reporting to authorities to complete their prison sentence there seems little for the YallQaeda to do but crank up the verbiage and get the perfectly predictable Twitter backlash.  The level of self delusion is, indeed, remarkable.  Who, while illegally occupying federal property, would NOT think arrest warrants are a logical outcome?  Ammon Bundy cites his “credible sources” as informing him of impending arrest warrants [Oregonian] Well, gee… what would a person expect in the circumstances?

There are some voices in support, albeit tangential at best. For example, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) used his time on the House Floor to excoriate the Bureau of Land Management for its insensitivity to the “culture” of the American West. [Oregonian]  However, Rep. Walden’s aim seems a bit off the mark,  if for no other reason than the Malheur Refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Walden was explicit is his condemnation of illegal occupations, and his speech was hardly a ringing endorsement of the Bundy Bunch.

So the Bundy Boys Camp Out will continue until the residents of Burns, OR have exhausted their patience, and the YallQaeda has worn out its welcome.  The federal, state, and local reaction seems to imply that (1) there aren’t very many occupiers, and (2) they aren’t actually doing very much; except sitting in an isolated camp from which the TV trucks will depart for the Next Shiny Object getting cold and wondering why the Great Insurrection hasn’t started.

Silhouettes in courage.

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Dispatches from Bundystan

Dispatch Case While the Bundyites and their associated #VanillaISIS #Y’AllQaeda #YeeHawDist members, there are some informative and serious pieces of background writing which deserve our attention.  One of these is Elaine Hunt’s piece for Lets Talk Nevada, “Senator Dean Heller on the Bundys and the BLM.”   Hunt provides local context for the ongoing situation between the “Sovereign” Bundys, including the stances taken by city and county officials.

There’s no shortage of articles available concerning the tactics which might be adopted to resolve the situation in the Malheur Wildlife Reserve.  Newsweek offers its advice on how the Federal government can resolve the issue peacefully.  The Washington Post provides some context for the ongoing fight over public lands in Oregon.   The piece also provides a bit of encouraging news: The government position that the Bundy Gang is invading the area is taking hold with local officials in the local area.

Meanwhile, authorities are planning to cut the power to the facilities at the Malheur Refuge [Guardian] To which the #VanillaISIS responded they were ready – however, surely they know that if the Federal and local agencies cut off traffic to the Refuge it won’t be all that long before they’ve run through the gasoline in the pickups to run a generator?  This point highlights some questions which such radical activities raise in general.

Question Marks

# How do radicals convince themselves that there is a vast reservoir of support for their cause?  From the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, with sporadic anti-tax violence until 1794, which ended with the “rebels” fleeing in the face of Washington’s collection of 13,000 militia members from Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – to John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on the Harper’s Ferry federal arsenal – to Charleston murderer Dylann Roof’s pathetic attempt to “start a race war” [Nwk] – to the equally pathetic request of the #Y’AllQaeda for people to send “snacks” and come to join them – the radicals have vastly overestimated the breadth and depth of their causes.

# Why do movements such as #Y’AllQaeda almost invariably include leadership which indulges in pseudo-military activities rather than actually enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces?   Oathkeepers being the exception, as would be the likes of Timothy McVeigh, many of the self styled Militia types don’t  have what might be considered even para-military training.  Target shooting, gun collecting, and video games don’t create real soldiers.  A point which appears to have escaped many militants.

# It’s interesting that some of the loudest critics of range management often include individuals who aren’t all that successful in ranching enterprises?   Previous  Nevada protests, in Elko County (Gardner), and in Nye County (Hage), were sparked by the actions of individuals who blamed the Bureau of Land Management for problems they may very well have created for themselves. 

I suppose we’ll always have among us those who have inflated views of their own agency, and unrealistic perspectives concerning the level of support for their own cause.  The play-soldiers will continue to conflate fantasy with professional military reality.  And, those who cannot accept or admit their limitations will invariably blame others for their problems.  The trick is not to allow this to fester and metastasize in the body politic.

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Bundys in Birdland

Malheur Birds The Malheur Wildlife Refuge has a message posted explaining the closure of the area:

The Fish and Wildlife Service is aware that an unknown number of armed individuals have broken into and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge facility near Burns, Oregon. While the situation is ongoing, the main concern is employee safety and we can confirm that no federal staff were in the building at the time of the initial incident. We will continue to monitor the situation for additional developments.

The number of “invaders” varies according to reports ranging from 150, a number about half those who were protesting the incarceration of a local rancher, to 24, a number based on sightings in the local area.  We’ve met these people before. 

Specifically, we met them in the ongoing dispute over the Bundy’s refusal to pay $1.1 million in grazing fees and penalties, and a standoff with federal, local, and state authorities which ended peacefully – but with the Bundy’s back in court having resolved nothing about their payment of fees and assessments.  However, all was not peaceful about the people the Bundys tend to attract – two of whom assassinated two Las Vegas police officers and killed a “good guy with a gun” in a nearby retail store.

Categorically speaking, they are part and parcel of the Sovereign Citizen movement.  Indeed, after the federal authorities moved personnel out of Bundystan to prevent attacks on Bureau of Land Management employees, the Bundys pitched a party celebrating one year of ‘freedom’ from federal control.  Their “Liberty Celebration” included some predictable faces like that of  Robert Crooks, founder of the Montana Minutemen. [NPR]

The FBI is clear on who these people are – domestic terrorists.  The FBI assessment concludes:

Although the sovereign-citizen movement does not always rise to violence, its members’ illegal activities and past violent—including fatal—incidents against law enforcement make it a group that should be approached with knowledge and caution. It is important that law enforcement be aware of sovereign citizens’ tactics so agencies can warn the public of potential scams, spot illegal activity and understand its potential severity, and be prepared for and protect against violent behavior or backlash through intimidation and harassment.

OK City bombing baby It’s important to remember at this point that trespassing cattle, making phony license plates, and filing nuisance law suits aren’t the only thing these people are capable of doing – Terry Nichols, of Oklahoma City Bombing infamy claimed to be a Sovereign Citizen. [FBI]

There are some politicians who appear to want Americans to focus on foreign or foreign inspired terrorism, but a significant number of voices are reminding us that we are at more risk of insult, injury, or death at the hands of right wing domestic terrorists than from any foreign source or sources.

The following chart, published by Mother Jones after the Charleston, SC church shooting illustrates the point:

Chart domestic terrorism Or, to look at the situation from another perspective — “The Sovereign Citizen Movement is the number one domestic terrorism threat today, a bit jump from just seven years ago when the group was seventh on the list.” [D&T]

Given this record and the data from serious sources like the University of Maryland’s START group, [pdf] we know the right wing extremists are dangerous.  Additionally, even if the numbers aren’t readily at hand the images of Oklahoma City are still an emotional tag reminding anyone who cares to be concerned that the danger is constantly with us.  Coping with a domestic threat of this nature is another matter.

If we know these people are domestic terrorists, and we know they are dangerous why haven’t we done more to minimize their effectiveness?

First, there are too many voices rising in support of right wing extremist views which conflate conservatism with right wing extremism.  It wasn’t so long ago that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a report indicating the dangers posed by domestic right wing individuals and groups, and she endured Congressional and political lambasting for her efforts. [WaPo]  It would be helpful if (1) conservative members of the punditry could distance themselves from the “Freedom” rants of their extremist cohorts, and (2) the media could differentiate between conservative and extremist elements.  This is made all the more difficult as so called “conservative voices” move toward extremist positions; but, it’s not an impossible task.

Secondly, we need to disentangle the Gun Rights Lobby from the domestic terrorism issue.   The transparently irrational argument that the 2nd Amendment protects all others is an invitation to the arms accumulations of right wing extremists.  It is perfectly possible to require background checks, enact safe storage laws, and limit the capacity of firearms without damaging anyone’s enjoyment of hunting or target practice.  It is also perfectly possible to limit the number of firearms a person can purchase during a specific period of time, or preclude straw purchases, without infringing on personal liberties.   In fact, we could reduce the necessity of “militarizing the police” if we could decrease the availability of military style weaponry available to domestic terrorists.

Third, we could apply the framework we use for discussing foreign terrorism to domestic terrorism.  The tendency of some media outlets to describe domestic terrorists as “mentally disturbed,” or “loners,” or “disengaged” individuals; or more dramatically — “loons,” “whack jobs,” and “childish,” – leaves the impression that these people are not as dangerous as their foreign counterparts.  The 168 killed and more than 680 injured in Oklahoma City would argue otherwise.

We might also want to ask some of the same questions about domestic terrorism we pose concerning foreign or foreign inspired terrorism.  How were these people “radicalized?”  What information sources are they using to implement their plans and encourage their conspiracy theories?  What motivates them to move into the dark realm of domestic terrorism? How can we encourage members of their communities to divulge information about upcoming plots and plans?  Why didn’t some family member, neighbor, fellow church member, inform authorities that there was a plot to occupy a federal facility?  Why do we sanction police action against protesters with signs but urge “caution” when facing right wing domestic terrorists?

The answers to these kinds of questions aren’t always pleasant.  In the case of the Bundys and their allies there are significant elements of racism and religiosity which are difficult for many Americans to discuss.  However, discuss them we must.

Fourth, we might want to pay attention to the NYPD’s assessment of radicalization in domestic terms, in which the extremism comes to the forefront.  There is the initial or pre-radical stage, commonly associated with Internet searches for like minded associates; the self identification state during with the person identifies with an extremist perspective becoming immersed in the ideology; moving into the indoctrination stage wherein the person takes on the ideological perspective more intensely; and finally the “jihadist” phase in which the person takes on the persona of a “warrior” – for “babies,” for “God,” or perhaps individual control of public lands? [Minteh]

If we demand that family members and associates notify authorities if someone is progressing along these stages in regard to transnational terrorism, then why don’t we emphasize the necessity of this reporting in regard to domestic terrorism?

Fifth and finally, why aren’t we demanding that someone turn down the rhetoric?  Polarization is one thing, extremism is the manifestation of polarization beyond normal comprehension.  Those infected with a sense of victimization – or potential victimization – don’t really need to be treated to reinforcement of their bigotry, their prejudices, or their hatred.  No, it’s not acceptable to be a bigot, and it’s not acceptable to be a racist, and it’s certainly not acceptable to take up arms against your own government. We have ballot boxes and courts in which to settle differences.

Duck 2 And so we are left with some right wing radical fringe types occupying a federal facility harboring a wish to expand their “territory” into a fire camp (just what this section of the country doesn’t need) who have been radicalized, and whose extremism is reinforced by the babble of extreme views to which they listen intently.  We can only hope that they don’t decide to feast on the wildlife the refuge is meant to protect for all of us – the Trumpeter Swans, the Sand Hill Cranes, the Red Band Trout, or any of the other species depending on us for protection and refuge.

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Two Christmas Messages We Should Heed

Christmas Wreath

In a toxic atmosphere of various phobias, one in which all too often our perspectives are narrowed by self interest and self reference, there are two messages this holiday season which should be heard.  One elderly man and one elderly woman both have something very modern to say.

“Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout his short life, Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another. Although it is not an easy message to follow, we shouldn’t be discouraged; rather, it inspires us to try harder: to be thankful for the people who bring love and happiness into our own lives, and to look for ways of spreading that love to others, whenever and wherever we can.” [Queen Elizabeth II Christmas Message 2015]

Today, then, let us together rejoice in the day of our salvation. As we contemplate the Crib, let us gaze on the open arms of Jesus, which show us the merciful embrace of God, as we hear the cries of the Child who whispers to us: “for my brethren and companions’ sake, I will say: Peace be within you”  [Pope Francis December 25, 2015]

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year

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Desert Beacon wishes you a Merry Christmas

Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas to you and yours this holiday season.  — Desert Beacon

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