Serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis. © James Conner.

21 November 2014

Evil smelling trolls stink-up the Flathead Beacon’s comments section

Flathead Beacon reporter Tristan Scott wrote a fine report on the comments against hate that were delivered to the Whitefish City Council on Monday. Although the Daily InterLake and Whitefish Pilot also published excellent accounts of the meeting, Scott was the only reporter who linked Monday’s crowd to the crowd that in the spring of 2010 massed at the Flathead County Library in Kalispell to protest a very small group that was legally showing Holocaust denial films in the basement of the library.

Scott’s report is now hard to find on the Beacon’s website, but that hasn’t stopped 345 people, some of whom one wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, from commenting. Some, I suspect, are from people who live thousands of miles from Whitefish. Here’s a comment, constitutionally protected, but utterly depraved, and typical of comments often made by bigots and bullies hiding behind pseudonyms.



Morning video: “There was a time when strangers were welcome here”

Neil Sedaka’s The Immigrant, (lyrics) set to photographs of immigrants arriving in the United States at the beginning of the 20th Century.




20 November 2014

Rolando v. Fox removes barriers to same sex marriage in Montana

Ten years ago, by a 2:1 margin, Montana’s voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and that only. Yesterday, in Rolando v. Fox, Federal District Judge Brian Morris ruled the voters were wrong; that the amendment violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution:

The Court PERMANENTLY ENJOINS the State of Montana and its officers, employees, agents, and political subdivisions from enforcing Article XIII, section 7 of the Montana Constitution, Montana Code Annotated section 40-1-103 and section 40-1-401, and any other laws or regulations, to the extent that they Case 4:14-cv-00040-BMM Document 44 Filed 11/19/14 Page 17 of 18 18 prohibit otherwise qualified same-sex couples from marrying in Montana, and to the extent that they do not recognize same-sex marriages validly contracted outside Montana. This injunction shall take effect immediately.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says he’ll appeal Morris’ ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s not likely the Ninth will overturn the decision, nor is it likely that the Ninth or the U.S. Supreme Court will put a hold on Morris’ injunction. Same sex couples are already lining up to obtain marriage licenses.

Rolando removes legal obstacles to same sex marriage in Montana. That’s because marriage is a civil matter. But opposition to same sex marriage based on religious and biological arguments will continue. I would not be surprised were Republicans in the Montana Legislature to pass resolutions condemning Judge Morris’ decision. And thundering denunciations of homosexuality and activist judges will issue from many a pulpit this Sunday.



19 November 2014

Tutvedt’s censure, no love for hate, goodbye Motl

Interesting as well as important issues are developing locally as well as in Helena. Here are a few.

Farewell, Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl

President-to-be of the Montana Senate Debby Barrett (R-Dillon) has requested LC0014, which has the Short Title of Resolution to not confirm Jonathon Motl as commissioner of political practices. No surprise here. Motl’s done a good job, clearing a backlog of complaints, not playing favorites, and not putting up with nonesense — which of course is the problem from the Republican point of view.

Motl’s recommended at least 12 bills to reform election laws in Montana. I hope they get a fair hearing.

Flathead Republicans censure Republican State Senator Bruce Tutvedt

Chuck Johnson has the story at the Billings Gazette. Tutvedt represents Senate District 3 (map), and is the biggest irrigator in Flathead County. He also supports the Flathead Water Compact, which in the eyes of the fire eaters now running the Flathead GOP is heresy. The censure amounts to political cannibalism.

No love for hate in Whitefish

At the urging of the local human rights group Love Lives Here, dozens of concerned citizens appeared before the Whitefish City Council two days ago to proclaim their support for human rights and lack of love for white supremacists, part time Whitefish resident Richard Spencer in particular. They want the council to adopt an anti-hate group ordinance that would put Spencer out of business and maybe even out of town. Both the InterLake and Beacon published good reports on the meeting.

Drafting an anti-hate group ordinance that passes constitutional muster will not be easy, and adopting such an ordinance carries the risk of inviting expensive litigation the city would have little hope of winning. There’s also a risk — I don’t know how big — that turning the spotlight on Spencer so brightly could attract the attention of knuckleheads who might bring their assault rifles into Whitefish to support and protect Spencer. Remember what happened with Cliven Bundy?

As this situation develops, remember that so far, Spencer hasn’t broken any laws in Whitefish.


Morning video — Good morning, Captain, good morning Son…

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, accompanied by Norman Blake and Randy Skruggs, singing the Mule Skinner Blues on the Johnny Cash show in 1971.


…read the rest


18 November 2014

Jim Keane takes aim at PowerPoint presentations — again


Is it possible that State Senator Jim Keane (D-Butte) doesn’t like PowerPoint presentations? That’s not an unreasonable interpretation of his request for a bill with the short title of Assess a fee for PowerPoint presentations.

Or is he just trying to raise money? In the 2013 legislative session, he requested a bill with a similar title, Assess a fee for PowerPoint presentations to fund retirement system:

NEW SECTION. Section 1. Electronic visual presentation to legislative body or committee prohibited without payment of fee.

  1. An individual may not make a slide or other electronic visual presentation to the house or senate or to a standing or interim committee of the legislature unless a fee is paid as provided in this section by the individual intending to make the presentation.

  2. The fee is in the amount of $250 for a presentation of up to 5 minutes in length and $500 for a presentation of more than 5 minutes in length. The presiding officer of the body or committee before whom the presentation is to be made may, in the presiding officer’s discretion, waive the fee required by this section.

  3. The fee required by subsection (1) must be deposited in the state special revenue fund and must be appropriated to the pension trust funds established in 19-2-501.

  4. This section does not apply to a presentation made by a member of the legislature or a member of the staff of the legislature or to a presentation required by the house or senate or by a standing or interim committee of the legislature.

  5. The house and senate may adopt rules, and the legislative council and the public employees’ retirement board may adopt rules of procedure to implement this section.

That bill died in process. How did it die? Because he didn’t introduce it:

Per Joint Rule 40-50(2); Failure to introduce a bill within 2 legislative days of delivery results in the draft being canceled

That’s right. He wasted valuable staff time to indulge his irritation with PowerPoint presentations. Some might call it a petty abuse of power.

Still, Keane’s not wrong if he doubts that PowerPoint is the greatest advance in communications since the invention of language. PowerPoint encourages thinking in bullet points instead of complete sentences. See Edward Tufte.



17 November 2014

Whitefish City Council notes

Helicopter landing pads and an expensive parking garage are on the Whitefish City Council’s agenda tonight, and a local human rights group will speak in favor of a hate ordinance during the time allotted for public comments.

Helicopter landing pads

Suppose you are rich and can afford to jet from the city to the country for a weekend. You don’t want to waste a moment, do you? So Friday afternoon you take a helicopter from your office to an airstrip, board your private jet, fly to Glacier Park International Airport, and break the speed limit driving your Hummer to your multi-million-dollar home on Whitefish Lake. It’s that ride in the Hummer that galls you. A helicopter would be faster and more dignified. Noisier, too, but that’s a problem for the lazy little people who didn’t earn the right to do whatever they can afford to do. Unfortunately, those lazy little people live and vote in Whitefish, where the people they elected to the city council just might ban private helipads within the city limits. Let’s hope the council does just that. The council might also want to consider buying the town constable another radar gun, and setting the fine for speeding to the speeder’s wealth and ability to pay.

…read the rest


16 November 2014 • 5:54:19 MST

Regier’s clandestine meeting almost worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan


There was a schoolboy aspect to the caper. Slips of paper with a meeting date and time furtively passed to Republicans newly elected to the Montana House of Representatives. A motel basement away from the Capitol as a meeting hall. And an expectation that only the invited would appear, thus ensuring frank discussions that Republican majority leader Keith Regier (HD-4) and his lieutenants did not want reporters and the voters to hear.

But someone talked out of school, sending the meeting’s time and coordinates to reporters John Adams and Shane Castle, who arrived at approximately 2000. Regier immediately adjourned the meeting. Adams reported:

Regier said the sole purpose of the meeting was to hand out the survey, not to discuss legislation. Regier insisted that the Republican lawmakers did not plan to discuss issues, only survey members of the caucus.

He who believes that will believe anything.


Some think the meeting violated Montana’s open meeting laws. There are arguments both ways, but that discussion misses the larger point. In Tallyrand’s legendary words, “It was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.” (There are many phrasing reported, as well as some reports that the bon mot was not Tallyrand’s.)

And not just a mistake, but an immensely entertaining and embarrassing mistake. Almost a Gilbert and Sullivan worthy mistake. The Republican caucus is fractured along ideological lines. It takes a special kind of innocence to believe that a clandestine meeting of that caucus would — could — stay clandestine.

Regier did accomplish two things. He held himself and his caucus up to public ridicule. And he did distribute his questionnaire — not just to his caucus, as intended, but to the whole wide world he didn’t want to know about it. That red in his cheeks is not from a brisk winter wind.



15 November 2014 • 5:37:23 MST

Earthquake report

A 4.5 earthquake occurred a couple of miles NNE of Whitefish last night. I felt a small jolt, much like hitting a pothole, but experienced no shaking. My cat awakened, looked out the window once and around the room twice, then went back to sleep. No damage. If I were a certain kind of preacher, possibly one belonging to a null class, I would argue the temblor was the Lord’s punishment for voting for Republicans. But at just 4.5, far from enough punishment.

…read the rest


14 November 2014

Tester promises to compromise — not fight — for Montana

In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Good Will.

—Winston Churchill.

I just received an email letter from Sen. Jon Tester that Kumbayacrats will love. He didn’t promise to fight for Montana, but jhe did promise to work with the Republicans to compromise for Montana. In the spirit of President Obama, he’s setting himself up to be Sen. Reasonable, always in pursuit of the Republicans’ moving goalposts that no Democrat will be allowed to reach.

That’s the approach of the big kahunas in Montana’s Democratic Party. I prefer the approach articulated by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in his column in the Huffington Post two days ago.

Tester’s letter could have been shorter and stronger:

…read the rest

Evening video: Mississippi John Hurt performing I shall not be moved

This should be one of your anthems, Democrats.


13 November 2014 • 10:03:43 MST

Tester unlikely to win in 2018 with 2010 or 2014 turnout


Jon Tester rode a throw the bums out wave to a plurality victory in the 2006 midterm election. The voting eligible turnout was 57.1 percent. He was re-elected in the Presidential election of 2012, again with a plurality. The voting eligible turnout was 62.9 percent. Can he win a third term in the midterm election of 2018? At this point, that seems doubtful.

Tester had three advantages in 2006: (1) a weak opponent in the aging and visibly slowing 71-year-old incumbent, Conrad Burns; (2) Stan Jones, the Libertarian safety valve for disgruntled Republicans, who drew thousands of votes from Burns; and (3) the highest VEP turnout in a Montana midterm election since 1994.

Six years later, he had another weak opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg, whose campaign was poorly run; another Libertarian safety valve, Dan Cox, who drew 6.6 percent of the vote; and a VEP turnout exceeding 60 percent.

Tester most likely will have none of those advantages in 2018:

  1. Assuming he’s re-elected in 2016, Ryan Zinke, a much stronger candidate than Democrats like to admit, would be Tester’s most probable opponent. And with four statewide campaigns behind him, Zinke would have more statewide campaigning experience than Tester.

  2. There may not be a Libertarian on the general election ballot in 2018. Republicans in the 2015 legislature will approve another top two primary referendum — and this time they won’t make drafting mistakes that get it kicked off the ballot. If it passes, Tester would have to win a majority of the votes, something he’s not yet been able to do.

  3. Without a Libertarian on the 2018 general ballot to absorb Republican votes, Tester probably needs a VEP turnout of at least 60 percent. Given how many Democrats refused to vote in 2010 and 2014, I think a VEP turnout of 60 percent in 2018 is highly improbable.

Tester’s not yet toast, but he’s in trouble. If he wants to avoid going back to being just farmer Jon, he must find a way to engage, energize, and get to the polls the disillusioned, disaffected, and feckless Democrats who blew off the ballot box in 2010 and 2014. There may not be a way to do that if he tailors his message to so-called independent voters who are thought to favor Republican policies.


Morning video — The Prodigal’s Resolution

Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band performing Charles Wesley’s The Prodigal’s Resolution at the Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol in 2007. Have patience with the introduction and you will be rewarded. Wesley, incidentally, wrote more than 6,000 hymns.



12 November 2014 • 9:09:26 MST

Montana’s aging electorate

Montana, on 29 March 1971, was the eighth state to ratify the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that lowered the voting age to 18. At that time, Montana’s voting eligible population comprised approximately 63–64 percent of the state’s population. Today, that percentage is up to 77.5. Montana’s population is aging; our voters are older, among the oldest in the nation. Only Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, and North Dakota have higher VEP to population ratios. Only Maine’s VEP turnout was higher than Montana’s in 2014, the worst turnout for a general election since 1942.



11 November 2014 • 6:30:46 MST

MT’s 2014 VEP turnout the lowest since voting age lowered to 18

Provisional votes were counted yesterday, boosting the statewide total by at least 5,800 votes. That raised this year’s turnout slightly, but it’s still below 50 percent. As a nation, the eligible voter turnout was 36.2 percent.



10 November 2014 • 18:02:33 MST

Flathead 911 tax down just 11 votes after provisional ballots counted

Updated at 23:50:38 MST. Four-hundred-sixteen provisional votes were cast (the number of provisional ballots cast was equal to or greater than 416). Almost 58 percent of the provisional votes favored the 911 tax.

The new count is 15,201 for, 15,212 against. Before the provisional ballots were counted, the tax was down 72 votes. That means the provisional votes broke strongly for the tax, a highly improbable result if the provisional ballots were a sample representative of all ballots cast in the Flathead. I suspect a lot of first responder types and their families and friends cast provisional ballots.

This will go to a recount, but absent fraud, a mechanical or electrical induced bias, or a programming error, the results are likely to stand. After the canvass, I’ll calculate the probability of a flipped outcome.


9 November 2014 • 23:15:02 MST

Forest Service says Jewel Basin may be too crowded to be Wilderness

The Jewel Basin Hiking Area in the Swan Range east of the Flathead Valley was designated a foot travel only administrative reserve under Regulation U-3a, the last of Bob Marshall’s famous U Regulations still in effect after the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The designation protected the wilderness values of the Jewel, but the Forest Service wasn’t protecting it until it could be added to the wilderness system. Instead, the Forest Service — which loathed wilderness — was trying to prove that it could manage the Jewel without the benefit of the Wilderness Act, thus keeping the area out of the wilderness system.

…read the rest


8 November 2014

Removing obstacles to voting on Election Day


That’s me, just after inserting my paper ballot into my precinct’s counting machine at the Flathead Fairgrounds on 4 November 2014. That precinct was open for 13 hours, from 0700 to 2000. I’m not working a 12-hour shift 20 miles from my polling place, so finding time to vote in person does not inconvenience me. In fact, my polling place is within walking distance of my home.

But were I working a 12-hour shift south of Kalispell, and my polling place were in Columbia Falls, I might find voting in person a practical impossibility. People in that situation are condemned to casting absentee ballots, no matter how much they might prefer voting in person.

One alternative the state should consider is opening the polls at 0600 and closing them at midnight. That makes much more sense than a system that in practice forces some voters to vote by absentee ballot when they’d much rather vote in person on Election Day.



7 November 2014

Will Monday’s Flathead Ebola forum inform or patronize?


Updated at 18:59:50 MST. The Flathead County Health Department now has a bare bones Ebola page. See updated links below.

Updated 9 November at 9:40:37 MST. A winter storm watch is in effect until 1800 MST on 10 November, when the forum is scheduled to commence. Check to make sure the meeting has not been canceled before heading for the meeting hall.

Actually, it might do both. That’s why I plan to attend, my unhappiness with the poor acoustics at FVCC’s Arts and Technology Building notwithstanding. It begins at 1800 and ends at 1930 MST. For details, please consult Flathead Regional Medical Center’s meeting announcement.

Gov. Steve Bullock just announced Montana’s Centers for Disease Control based protocols for dealing with Ebola, so the meeting is timely. Unlike Maine, New Jersey, and New York Governors LePage, Christie, and Cuomo, who could be cast as Larry, Curly, and Moe, in The Three Stooges Meet Ebola, Bullock hasn’t made a fool of himself by trying to imprison everyone with a connection to Africa in a quarantine camp with Gitmo levels of security. Still, he and everyone in public health want to assure the public that the situation is under control, so there’s always the danger that calm presentations of the science will be replaced or supplemented by the “now, now, don’t worry your pretty little head; trust us” approach that infuriates people and causes some to further distrust authority.

…read the rest


6 November 2014

Some scattershot post-election analysis

The election is over except in Louisiana, but the counting of the ballots isn’t, not even in Montana or the Flathead. Still, the election’s outcome becomes clearer each day, and some lessons are beginning to emerge.

…read the rest

2014 absentee ballot return rate below average

The rate of return for absentee ballots in Montana’s 2014 general election was below the 2006–2014 average. That probably is why 2014’s turnout of registered voters was lower than 2010’s. I predict that a few months from now, researchers will report that the return rate for the age 18–29 cohort was significantly down from 2006 and 2010, especially among identified Democrats. The big question is: why?



5 November 2014

Turnout as function of county size & diff from 2010

As a very general rule, the smaller the county, the higher the turnout rate. Size is not the only factor, but it’s an important one. The first graph below plots turnout as a function of the number of registered voters in a county. The second graph compares the turnout rate in 2014 with the turnout rate in 2010. Note: both graphs use a logarithmic X-axis. Download data (Excel spreadsheet).


Montana 2014 turnout was lower than in 2010

Updated at 12:45:57 MST. The turnout of registered voters in the 2014 Montana general election was 54.5 percent, 1.9 points lower than in 2010. The turnout of the Voting Eligible Population was just 46.6 percent, the lowest since 18-year-olds began voting in 1974. This year’s numbers might change slightly, very slightly, after the official canvass, but nothing will change the fact that a turnout so low is both shameful and delegitimizing to democracy.


Download expanded turnout spreadsheet



4 November 2014

Flathead Memo pulls the plug on the live blog

Results are coming in too slow to make this a worthwhile endeavor. I’ have analysis sometime tomorrow. I may post on Twitter (@jrcflatheadmemo) from time-to-time throughout the evening and night.

My advice to candidates: do not concede until the last vote is counted and it’s clear beyond doubt that you have lost. Get some sleep and make your statements in the morning, or if necessary, even later.

Latest Montana registration and absentee voting statistics

These numbers are current as of daybreak today. So far, 196,700 absentee ballots have been returned. That’s a return rate of 78.9 percent, which probably will exceed 90 percent once all the votes are counted. The turnout of registered voters is at 29.3 percent. If the final turnout of registered voters is under 60 percent, Democrats are in trouble.

For detailed, county-by-county data on current and historical absentee voting data, download this spreadsheet. More information is available on the MT SecST’s website.

Update. Flathead Memo’s historical voter information spreadsheet includes Voting Eligible Population data that are not published by the MT SecST. It was last updated this morning, the file’s name notwithstanding.


Download spreadsheet for above table


Election Day at Flathead Memo

After voting, I’ll be posting sporadically throughout the day. Then, after the polls close, I’ll start live blogging here and on Twitter starting around 2100 (there are some after the polls close events I’m attending).

My thanks to the men and women who stood for election, and to all who contributed their time and money to the candidates and issues of their choice. The campaign is over, but the polls are open until 2000 MST. Elections matter, so vote and help others do same.

Morning video — One Particular Harbor

Non-political, feel good music, by Jimmy Buffett, who sings of where the palms sway in the trade winds, the sun shines, and there’s a warm beach and cold rum spiked pineapple juice. Crank up the gain, and start the day with rhythm.



3 November 2014

Elections to watch in Montana and the Flathead

There are five statewide, one regional, and five Flathead County elections that Flathead Memo will be watching on Election Night.


Justice of the Montana Supreme Court

Incumbent Mike Wheat versus Lawrence Vandyke. A well-liked man with a splendid judicial temperament, Wheat has plenty of legal experience. Vandyke, a much younger man with modest legal experience, especially in Montana, is a tea party ideologue with heavy backing from business interests and social conservatives. The contest has attracted much national attention, both for its cost and the meddling mailer from rogue political scientists at Stanford and Dartmouth.

…read the rest


Senator Jon Tester, Governor Steve Bullock, and Lt. Governor Angela McLean share a chuckle during the Democrat’s get out the vote rally in Kalispell on Sunday morning.


2 November 2014

Morning video — Happy Days Are Here Again!

For my friends in the Democratic Party, Mitch Miller and his singers belting out the theme song of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 Presidential campaign that rescued the country from Herbert Hoover, the Republican Party, and trickle down economics.



1 November 2014

Morning video — Carmeltia

Named by the Phoenix New Times as one of The 10 Coolest, Scariest, Freakiest Songs About Heroin, Carmelita was written by Warren Zevon in 1972. Zevon released his own version in 1976. Linda Ronstadt released hers a year later. But the most powerful version I’ve heard is this all acoustic performance by former heroin addict Willy DeVille that was recorded in Berlin in 2002. He knew of what he sang. His voice will stay with you.



31 October 2014

CI-45 — good constitutional amendments don’t pass by themselves

Constitutional Amendment 45 changes the name of State Auditor to Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. It’s a good amendment that voters should support — but no one’s campaigning for it, and according to the MSU-B poll (below), it’s down by 10 points. I don’t think it will pass. A similar measure failed in 2006 by a two to one margin.

But it should be approved. The proposed name more accurately describes the functions of the office, thus reducing confusion. Bureaucrats wouldn’t benefit from the name change, but the rest of us would.

In the 2013 Legislature, HB-79, which put the amendment on Tuesday’s ballot, passed the Montana House 97–1, with only the late David Halvorson (R-Sidney) opposed, and the Montana Senate 35–14. Most of the Senate’s Nays were cast by deeply conservative Republicans:

…read the rest

Morning, evening, & midnight video — Werewolves of London

Warren Zevon in London in 1978 performing Werewolves of London.




30 October 2014

Alleged Ebola rumor spreader identifies self

His name is Jim White, and he blogs at After reading Flathead Memo this morning, he emailed me that he had asked his followers to confirm information originating from Steve Quayle, a Bozeman based blogger. I asked White for a copy of his email. Here it is:

…read the rest

Which local blogs said Kalispell hospital had an Ebola patient?

According to reports in the Daily InterLake, and on Kalispell Regional Medical Center’s website, there were false allegations last week that a person sick with Ebola was admitted to KRH, then secretly shipped to Missoula. According to KRMC:

Posts on social media, local blogs, and online discussion forums have reported that Kalispell Regional Medical Center received a patient exhibiting signs of the virus. This claim was thoroughly investigated and was found to be categorically untrue.

Ryan Murray’s story in the InterLake included these paragraphs:

In the wake of news about Americans becoming infected with the disease, a Bozeman blogger and radio host named Steve Quayle sent a message Oct. 26 to his online readers that there was a suspected case of Ebola at Kalispell Regional and that the patient had been transported to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.

Quayle’s report claimed the information was provided by the anonymous spouse of an anonymous nurse who dealt with the infected individual in Kalispell. The blog post was further circulated by a Kalispell blogger who issued an email requesting his followers send him any information they had about the situation.

Just for the record, Flathead Memo is not that local blog, and I am not that local blogger.

Which local blog spread the rumor, KRMC and Daily InterLake? By not naming the blogs, you cast suspicion on all local blogs, including Flathead Memo. That’s not fair. Name the guilty so that the reputations of the innocent are not damaged.



29 October 2014

Latest polls have Curtis and Lewis down double digits

Amanda Curtis is down 18 points according to the latest poll, and 14 points according to the latest (and last) Gravis poll. John Lewis is down 12 points according to the Gravis poll. Both polls are of likely voters. The graphs, with margin of error bars, are below.

Keep in mind that likely voters metric while you consider this paragraph from the Washington Post, flagged by Ed Kilgore at his Political Animal blog:

…read the rest

Mailergate, continued

If you have a moment, pay a visit to Montana Cowgirl today. She has the links to reports that the Mailergate researcher at Dartmouth conducted an ethically dodgy experiment in Texas not that long ago.

California officials now have a copy of the mailer that was inflicted on two Congressional districts there. The California mailer looks like the one that flooded Montana, but with the state seal of California instead of Montana’s seal. California authorities are investigating, and they’re not happy. I suspect that CA Governor Jerry Brown will take an interest. His first elective office was CA Secretary of State, the keeper of the seal.

…read the rest

What’s the best reason not to vote for Ryan Zinke?


He’s a Republican. It’s that simple. If sent to Congress, he’ll caucus with the Republicans in the U.S. House, the shut down the government caucus that opposes universal health care for Americans, tries to reduce the “tax burden” on the rich and superrich, wants to privatize Social Security and Medicare, and is just itching to repeal those onerous regulations that keep our air clean and our water pure.

But, you object, don’t we vote for the person, not the party? That’s the conventional wisdom — and a delusion. Does the person matter? Of course. But the political party to which a candidate belongs matters at least as much, probably even more. And today’s Republican Party is not the party of Dwight David Eisenhower, Richard Milhous Nixon, Ronald Reagan, or even George Walker Bush. It’s the party of Allen West, Paul Ryan, Steve King, Ted Cruz, Louis Gohmert, Michele Bachmann, Joni Ernst; of Ayn Rand spouting libertarian objectivists, of crackpots who fear black helicopters and Agenda 21, and nuts who believe they need guns to protect themselves from their own government.

That Republican Party is Ryan Zinke’s party. Before you vote for him, ask yourself these questions:

…read the rest


28 October 2014

Thuggish fundraising by the DCCC continues

If Democrats take a pounding at the polls next week, one reason might be low Democratic turnout in retaliation to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s psychologically abusive fundraising emails. Two weeks ago, I unsubscribed to the DCCC; for awhile the emails stopped. Now there’re back again, unbidden and unwanted, like a bill collector with a blackjack and brass knuckles pounding on my door at two in the morning, screaming “Pay up, deadbeat, pay up, pay up.” The difference, of course, is that a bill collector who did that could be arrested and jailed.

The more the DCCC abuses me this way, the more I resist its demands for dollars and the more steamed I get. I don’t care if it raises money for Democrats. It’s amoral, immoral, and ought to be a criminal offense.

Mailergate and Zinke’s fitness reports

There’ll be more tomorrow. Today, microbes are in the saddle and riding Flathead Memo to misery.

Mailergate. Stanford and Dartmouth are sending Ignore That Mailing apology letters to the 100,000 Montanans who received mailers from rogue Stanford professor Adam Bonica and his cronies. The letters may reach voters before Election Day. But no one should have illusions. The damage has been done, the mailers can't be wiped from the minds of voters, and this is mighty weak mitigation. It’s like saying, please ignore the fact that our professors shot and killed Fido. Even if one can do that, Fido remains dead.

Zinke’s fitness reports. In 1999, as a Lt. Commander, he was flagged for pushing the envelope too far on travel vouchers. He’s always been something of an operator, possibly a sharp operator, so the question is whether that incident together with things such as his political action committees constitutes a pattern of recklessness that renders him unfit to serve in Congress. By itself, the voucher incident isn’s a hanging offense.

On a 1–5-point scale, his average score on his fitness report was 4.43, a B+. Despite his lapse, he was recommended for the war college and early promotion. On the surface, that doesn’t look too bad.

What we don’t know is how he stacked-up against the other 53,537 officers in the Navy at that time. By itself, a mean fitrep score of 4.43 doesn’s tell us much. What percentile was 4.43, and what percentiles were his scores in the individual fitness categories? He received a 3 “Meets Standards” on Box 35, Military Bearing and Character. That’s a Gentleman’s C. Evidently it was lower than on his 1998 fitrep, and on a relative scale it might have been very low compared to the officer corps. It certainly raised a red flag for the reviewing officer, who nonetheless concluded Zinke had learned his lesson. And he might have. Of course, I suspect it’s a lesson most officers never needed to learn.


27 October 2014

Latest Yougov poll: Daines 56, Curtis 38, undecided 6, other 0

I’ll have more on this tomorrow. The results are online at Yougov, and are subject to the same caveats as earlier polls.

Who in Montana had advance knowledge of Mailergate?

And did those who did have advance notice know that the seal of Montana would appear on the mailers? Those are increasingly important questions. If a person or persons did know the seal would be used, were they good citizens who asked Montana’s Secretary of State when permission to use the seal had been given? Or did they think their higher duty was to the professors preparing to experiment on Montana’s voters?

Mailergate linked to former UK Prime Minister advisor

Head on over to Montana Cowgirl this morning for the latest on the Mailergate experiment (if it was an experiment) that meddled in Montana’s supreme court elections, and that may have broken several laws. The experiment’s principal investigator, Stanford professor Adam Bonica, is a co-founder of Crowdpac, a Silicon Valley start-up that that has some pretty nifty technology and that hopes to make money by taking eight percent of the political contributions it generates. One of Bonica’s fellow co-founders is Steve Hilton, a former high level aide to United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron now teaching at Stanford. Camerson’s a Tory and not a politician who represents labor and common folk.

Was the Mailergate experiment a proof of concept test to validate Crowdpac’s technology and impress future clients and investors? Is that why voters in Montana were selected as involuntary guinea pigs? That’s a distinct possibility.

After visiting Cowgirl’s blog, spend some time at the Wikipedia’s page on unethical experimentation on humans in the United States. Should Mailergate be added to the long list of experiments on people who were conscripted as test subjects without their knowledge or consent? I think so.

Social scientists have no right to tamper with elections to satisfy their curiosity. Experiments like Mailergate’s are morally indefensible, and ought to earn their authors extended stays in secure facilities surrounded by razor wire, guard towers, and near-rabid dogs.



26 October 2014

What the Stanford/Dartmouth Mailergate is and is not

Preface. Discussing issues intelligently requires using a consistent and commonly understood vocabulary. During the last few days, I’ve had an intensifying sense that the discussion of Mailergate is being conducted with different vocabularies, principally the vocabulary, jargon perhaps, of the academy, and the vocabularies employed in politics and everyday life. All of us need to be careful.

What Mailergate is not

It’s not about whether voter turnout is a legitimate field of academic inquiry. And it’s not about the studies within that field of inquiry that led to the DIME database that the Stanford and Dartmouth researchers used to place Mike Wheat and Lawrence Vandyke on a liberal to conservative continuum. DIME is interesting; indeed, I’ve downloaded it for future reference.

Nor is Mailergate about academic freedom. That defense has not been raised yet, but you can bet it will be in an attempt to establish the right of righteous researchers to do whatever they bloody well please.

What Mailergate is

It’s about the experiment in which half-page cards bearing the official seal of Montana, and looking like an official state document, were mailed to 100,000 voters in Montana, ostensibly to see whether injecting information on alleged partisan leanings would increase turnout in the nonpartisan elections for justices of the Montana Supreme Court. Was the experiment ethical? Was it legal? Was it even an experiment — or was it advocacy masquerading as an experiment?

Questions begging for answers

We now know the experiment was funded by $250k from the Hewlett Foundation and $100k from Stanford, but we don’t know the source of the money Stanford contributed. Two of the three researchers work at Stanford, one at Dartmouth, yet institutional approval was provided by Dartmouth, not Stanford, and Stanford’s spokeswoman says the experiment would not have been approved had it been reviewed by Stanford. Why the obvious effort by researchers who are not simple virgins, and who knew better, to avoid review at Stanford? And why did Stanford not conduct a review anyway? After all, Stanford put up $100k. Was the university misled by the information in the application for its grant?

What are the relationships between the researchers and Vandyke and/or friends or associates of Vandyke and/or organizations or people who want Vandyke elected? What is the relationship of the researchers, if any, to; to Everest College?

Did anyone in Montana have prior knowledge of this experiment? Was anyone in Montana in cahoots with the researchers?

Only independent investigations will unearth the entire truth

I’m not counting on the internal investigations at Stanford and Dartmouth to get to the bottom of this affair. The universities’ highest priority is mitigating damage to their reputations. We need independent investigations, from both the Montana and federal governments, and from the fourth estate.



25 October 2014

Stanford/Dartmouth Mailergate wrap-up

Sen. Jon Tester kicked open some doors Thursday and Friday (read his scathing letter to the presidents of Stanford and Dartmouth), and more information about the bogus voters guide sent to Montanans came tumbling out. At the Associate Press, Matt Voltz kept unearthing information. At the Lee state bureau, Mike Dennison wrote a story on Tester’s involvement. And that’s not all. Below, some of what we’ve learned.

…read the rest

Morning video — advice for the mailergate professors

Stanford says Dr. Bonica and his cronies are not available for comment. That’s no surprise. They’ve probably been advised by legal counsel to be neither seen, heard, nor smelled until their election meddling scheme blows over. Here’s some advice for them from Warren Zevon, performing on Letterman in 1988.


24 October 2014

Did Stanford/Dartmouth project violate the Prime Directive?

Late last night, a thoughtful reader in Billings sent me a long email on the technical and ethical problems created by the Meddle in Montana project of the faculty researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth. He reached the heart of the matter in this particularly astute paragraph:

…read the rest

McCulloch ordered Democrat Willis Curdy to remove
the Great Seal from his campaign website

Bowen Greenwood, executive director of Montana’s Republican Party, was in fine form earlier today, trying to spin the Stanford/Dartmouth mailer’s unauthorized use the Montana’s Great Seal as not that big a deal, phrasing his remarks in a way that invites readers to wonder whether McCulloch was abusing her office to harass conservative candidates.

…read the rest

100,000 Stanford/Dartmouth mailers were sent to Montanans

Rogue researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth sent 100,000 bogus voter guides to Montana, according to Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin. Her summary of the project is below. The study’s ostensible purpose? “…to learn whether, if voters are provided more information about candidates, those voters will be more likely to participate in the process.”

The study’s real purpose? At a minimum, to burnish the academic credentials of the researchers. And perhaps that’s all it was, ambition, arrogance, and appallingly poor judgment. But I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the notion that people smart enough to be hired by such prestigious universities could be so stupid and irresponsible.

Backstory. The mailer still hasn’t shown up in my mailbox. I learned about on Facebook a couple of hours after dinner yesterday. A friend in Helena posted a complaint. I asked for and received high resolution scans, researched and wrote overnight, and posted my first story at approximately 0500. I also sent Dr. Bonica, the principle investigator at Stanford, an email asking for comment. I haven’t received a reply from him, and I rather doubt I will. At this point I suspect Stanford’s lawyers have told him to say or write nothing. If so, that’s good advice.

…read the rest


23 October 2014

Update — Bogus voting guides are Stanford research project!

Further thoughts, 1510 MDT. Sunlight is shining on the skunk at last, but it still stinks to high, high heaven. I haven’t ruled out the possibility that this is anti-Wheat advocacy masquerading as academic research. Who paid for the project? And what hypothesis is being tested? Is it whether the mailers will cost Wheat votes? There’s got to be more to this, and we may need our perfumed handkerchiefs to endure the next revelations.

The Associated Press has the story — and it just boggles the mind:

The fliers are actually part of a faculty research project by Stanford University and Dartmouth College. Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin confirmed the connection to the school’s political science department on Thursday, but could provide few details.

“It is not something the university administration was aware of until it was brought to our attention (Wednesday),” she said.

The AP is updating the story on the fly, so keep checking the link.

Whether or not this proves to be a rogue project by unethical political science professors, Stanford and the other universities involved need to be held accountable for meddling in an election. And they need to mitigate the damage forthwith:

  1. Fire the professors. Now. And then sue them for besmirching their institutions.
  2. Send to every voter in Montana a first class mailing setting the record straight. Now.
  3. Run two-minute television spots in Montana explaining the mailers were a fraud perpetrated by Stanford and other university professors who have been fired and never should have been hired.

I hope no one in academia tries to defend this. It’s no more defensible than John Walsh’s plagiarism.


Deceptive voters guide card sent to Montanans by out-of-state group

An unknown group using a bulk postage permit with a Salt Lake City Zip Code recently sent Montanan’s a card that’s titled 2014 Montana General Election Voter Information Guide, and that bears both the Great Seal of Montana and an emblem reading “VOTERS GUIDE.”

It looks official — but it isn’t. It’s an egregious effort to deceive voters into believing they’re reading an official document from the State of Montana that provides information on the candidates running for Montana’s Supreme Court.

According to the card’s disclaimer, it was paid for by researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth.

On the message side of the card are two graphs showing where the candidates for Montana’s Supreme Court fall on a liberal to conservative continuum. There are reference markers for Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republican he defeated in 2012, Mitt Romney. Incumbent justice Mike Wheat is slightly to the right of Obama, but well to the left of his opponent, Lawrence Vandyke, who is to the right of Romney. According to the card, the ratings are from the Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections (DIME) (Dr. Adam Bonica principal investigator), at Stanford University. The Paid for address is 616 Serra Street, which is Encina Hall at Stanford.

But the card was mailed from Salt Lake City. It should be possible for investigators to track down the print shop using the bulk mail permit and possibly ascertain the identity of the people mailing it.

The card may be linked to a website, Montanans4justice, that was registered on 3 September 2014 by an anonymous party (this website is not related to the similarly named Montanans for Justice website that seeks freedom for Barry Beach). The website’s page on Vandyke and Wheat refers to the DIME project at Stanford, the same DIME project that is referenced on the bogus voting guide card.

I could not find on the website of of Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices any paperwork for a political action committee named Montanans for (or 4) Justice.

Use of the Great Seal of Montana in private election materials is frowned upon by Montana’s Secretary of State:

State Seal Not For Political Campaigning

Candidates should not use the Montana state seal on campaign literature.

One element of the Secretary of State’s job is to serve as keeper of the Great Seal of the State of Montana. The office grants permission for organizations or individuals who want to use the seal on materials. That permission is typically not given for political campaigns because it would imply that a campaign already had the endorsement of the people of Montana.

Although the card does not explicitly urge Montanans to vote for any candidate for the Montana Supreme Court, it is deceptive in a way that cannot be accidental, and presents information in a way that invites voters to conclude that researchers at two of America’s most prestigious universities want them to know that Mike Wheat is a very liberal man; almost as liberal as that black devil in the White House. Given the context, only a fool would conclude the card is intended to help Wheat.

Now, it is possible that researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth are responsible for the card, do support Lawrence Vandyke, and want Montanans to vote for Vandyke. There’s nothing illegal about that, but it does raise a lot of questions, especially when the people behind the card expended considerable effort to conceal their names. Names hidden in dark corners are never good things in politics.