There’s good news for Montanans who appreciate excellent reporting. Mike Dennison just announced via email that starting Monday, he’ll be the chief political reporter for the Helena based Montana Television Network:
I’ll be covering the same beat and subjects as I have before — campaigns, Congress, the Legislature, the governor, health care, energy, corrections, education — and hopefully much more. I’ll be working with Sanjay Talwani in MTN’s Helena office, as well as everyone else on the talented MTN news team across the state. I’ll be writing for MTN’s websites, appearing on TV to talk about the stories, and helping develop stories for broadcast on MTN’s newscasts statewide.
My new work email will be email@example.com and my telephone will be 406-465-7476. You’re welcome to email, text or call me, or contact me via Twitter or Facebook, with news tips, or, of course, to say hello and talk!
I’m thrilled to be back in the biz after departing from Lee Newspapers in May, and thankful that MTN is committed to investing in good journalism in Montana.
We’re glad you’re back in the saddle, Mike, and ready for another long and interesting ride with you.
Yesterday was one of this summer’s most miserable days in the Flathead. A high of 93°F, relative humidity down to 14 percent, almost a dead calm, smoke dimmed sunlight, and the highest particulate concentrations of the year. At 1100 MDT, the one-hour concentration was 141 µg/m^3. Two hours later it had doubled: 282 µg/m^3. This is heat exhaustion weather. It’s also weather that makes people edgy and irritable.
Below, a graph of particulate concentrations in the Flathead for the last seven days.
Autofocus does not work well for low contrast, smoke veiled subjects. I’m compiling a timestamped visual history of the visibility from my front porch by photographing Kalispell Regional Hospital, which is a bit less than two miles distant. When the hospital fades into the haze, which it started to do around 1100 MDT today, the particulate concentration is high. When I made the image below, the concentration was 141 µg/m^3. Two hours later, the concentration had doubled to 282 µg/m^3.
Ordinarily I use an 18–135mm or 55–200mm autofocus zoom with my DX DSLR (and a tripod), but with the heavy smoke we’re experiencing, each lens hunts for, but misses, sharp focus much of the time no matter whether I use phase or contrast detection autofocus. The solution, of course, is manual focus. Neither zoom, however, is easily focused manually. Therefore, I’ve been using a 30-year-old manual focus lens, a Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ais telephoto, that has a hard stop at infinity. At f/8, it’s just as sharp as my autofocus lenses, and much easier to use in this situation.
If you don’t have the option of using an old manual focus lens, and you’re having trouble focusing on a soft, low contrast target at a distance, see if your camera has a landscape mode that sets the lens to infinity. Otherwise, bracket your focus.
Note to readers. Flathead Memo will be on a posting-lite status for the next few days as I tend to exigent matters and perform some under-the-hood maintenance on the website.
It’s seriously smokey in the Flathead, eye-wateringly smokey, unhealthily smokey. As of 0800 MDT this morning, the one-hour count for respirable particulates (≤ 2.5 microns in diameter) was 99 µg/m^3, the 24-hour average was 116 µg/m^3, and visibility was only two to three miles. The 24-hour average falls into the Very Unhealthy category according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. And we’re not the only area in Montana where visibility is low and particulates are high. St. Mary, Frenchtown, Missoula, and Hamilton, also have Very Unhealthy air.
Below, I’ve plotted the one and 24-hour averages for the Flathead for 1–24 August. The DEQ posts daily time series plots for the Flathead, but it does not seem to post monthly graphs. Later today, I’ll try to post a spreadsheet with the data used for the graph, and daily box plots for August.
Smoke started drifting back into the Flathead after noon today. The hourly fine particulate count is still low, but the pungent odor has returned. Here are the Osborne Brothers and the Marshall Tucker band with music for the occasion.
At least for a few hours. At 1730 MDT, a thunderstorm with Force 8 winds rolled in from the northwest, clearing out heavy smoke that had cut visibility to less than two miles and raised the fine particulate level to 215 micrograms per cubic meter at 1500. At 2100, when the photograph below was made, the one-hour value was down to just five µg/m^3.
In the photograph, the hospital is slightly under two miles distant, while the mountains are approximately 15 miles away. Twenty-four hours earlier, the hospital was barely visible, and everything beyond it was invisible.
Smoke will return to the valley late tomorrow, according to the National Weather Service.
Literally. Air quality in the Flathead is officially Very Unhealthy. Visibility at my home northwest of Kalispell. is only two miles. The fine particulate count, which reached 143 micrograms per cubic meter at 0200 MDT this morning, was down to 42 µ/m^3 at 1400. But working outside, smoke is everywhere and the atmosphere feels more particulate laden than the air quality bureau reports.
Today is the only day people 65 and older can attend the 114-year-old Flathead County Fair free of charge, a change from recent policy. Otherwise, seniors must pay four dollars each. On a day with good air quality, many seniors can and do walk to the fair. Today many will stay home to protect their health. Four dollars may not seem like much, but add to that at least five dollars for parking, and it begins to add up, especially at the end of the month when money gets short. For some seniors who stay home today, the men and women on extremely tight budgets, not being able to take advantage of today’s free admission amounts to surrendering their opportunity to visit the fair this year.
Meet Straylena. Not only does she find this a fine place to secure my attention, she finds it a wonderful playground stocked with USB cables and connectors, her favorite chew toys. This goes on every day, so this morning I rigged my Flip MinoHD video camera to capture a few minutes of her “Hey, look at me!” antics.
Dr. Jack Stanford gives his final State of the Lake address at the annual meeting of the Flathead Lakers. He’s retiring as director of the University of Montana’s biological station at Yellow Bay, a position he’s held for 36 years. He’ll use the occasion to discuss future and past threats to water quality in the Flathead Basin, among them 100-tank-car-long trains of Bakken oil spilling oil into the Middle Fork Flathead River, and coal mining in the British Columbian North Fork.
It was the proposed Cabin Creek Coal Mine just nine miles north of the border, and the threat it posed to our fisheries and water, that helped Stanford turn a small, sleepy academic outpost into a world class fresh water research station. Max Baucus obtained millions of dollars for baseline studies of the North Fork and Flathead Lake, thus financing research at Yellow Bay that was instrumental in convincing the International Joint Commission to rule that the Cabin Creek mine would jeopardize bull trout spawning streams. Stanford leveraged Yellow Bay’s contribution in fighting the mine to build the biological station.
Stanford and his wife, Bonnie Ellis, also a PhD scientist, are retiring to Twisp, WA, on the east side of the North Cascades. They’ll be missed, and cannot be thanked enough for their contributions to preserving the Flathead’s high quality of water.
Consumers should have a beef with these meat inspection disclosure rules. Beef contaminated with ecoli was discovered during an inspection at a Montana meat processing plant in June, reports the Billings Gazette. The contaminated meat, which was not shipped, was destroyed:
At 1637 MDT today, Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte filed a C-1 Statement of Candidate (PDF) with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices declaring his exploratory candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor. His treasurer is Lorna Kuney of Helena, and he’s banking at Helena’s Valley Bank.
His announced competitors for the Republican gubernatorial nomination are Public Service Commission member Brad Johnson, a former Montana Secretary of State, and not well known Helena resident Mark Perea. They probably will be joined by others.
Incumbent governor Steve Bullock is running for re-election. So far, there’s no indication he’ll face other than token opposition for the Democratic nomination.
Christopher Arthur Zarcone of Kalispell declared he was running for Governor as an independent. He filed his C-1 in January.
Filing a C-1 allows candidates to begin raising money. Not all who file C-1s actually file for office. Filing opens in January, 2016.
If Gianforte has a website, it’s well hidden. His email address is on his C-1.
Nancy Keenan, executive director of Montana’s Democratic Party, immediately released a statement attacking Gianforte as an out-of-state moneybags who’s trying to buy the election:
Today Greg Gianforte, a New Jersey billionaire who is best known for believing seniors have an “obligation to work,” supporting job-killing, pro-discrimination policies, and leading the charge on protecting dark money, filed to run for Governor. While Greg Gianforte may think the Governor’s office can be bought, his extreme record will be on full display this election, a record Montanans will soundly reject.
I wish Montana’s Democrats would knock off tarring Gianforte as a New Jersey billionaire. He chose to live in Montana, as have many, myself included. That speaks well of him as well as of our state. Contrary to what some believe, being born in Montana does not confer upon anyone special rights or a special understanding of the state.
Democrats fear Gianforte’s wealth. That’s a legitimate concern, but if I were managing Steve Bullock’s campaign, I would worry far more that a credible Libertarian might not be on the ballot to divert votes from the Republican nominee. Bullock won with a plurality in 2012. Running as an incumbent (and without John Walsh) should help him, as will running in a Presidential year, but Montana is sliding right, making it harder for Democrats to win majorities in statewide contests.
Bullock, incidentally, would be helped most by a Democratic national ticket of Bernie Sanders for President and Hillary Clinton for Vice President. The Republican ticket for Montana Governor would be helped most by a national Republican ticket of John Kaisch and Jeb Bush.
Played against a swastika on a stone wall during the opening credits (long version) of the 1961 version of Judgement at Nuremberg, Stanley Kramer’s acclaimed film, Wenn Wir Marschieren is a German folk song of uncertain authorship from around 1910. It was not a song written for the Nazis; but they must have played it, as it has the musical qualities favored by the Nazis. Wenn wir marschieren roughly translates as “when we march.” As arranged and sung for the movie, the song strikes the soaring, heroic note so typical of Germanic militarism.
Although songs composed for the Third Reich are still banned in Germany, YouTube is rife with the Third Reich’s marching music set to stills and newsreel footage from World War II.
Labor leader Jim Larson was re-elected to a two-year term as chair of Montana’s Democratic Party today. Jacquie Helt was re-elected as vice chair. Larson defeated Louise Bruce of Dillon by just 25 votes. My sources report that Nancy Keenan lobbied for and got the executive board she wanted, with only two members from rural areas.
The Montana Democratic Party issued this statement from Larson:
Montana Democrats are committed to moving our state forward, and I’m ready to take on the job to make sure we do. The upcoming election is important to the future of our state, and with the excitement and energy coming out of today’s convention, I’m sure Democrats will win up and down the ballot. I’m excited to serve as Chairman of the Montana [Democratic] Party, and look forward to a successful 2016 election.
Labor, now in firm control of the Montana Democratic Party, must work hard not to repeat the mistakes that resulted in the John Walsh debacle.
Updated. No one from the Sanders for President organization asked his supporters in the Flathead to march in Kalispell’s Independence Day parade — but march they did, brandishing homemade signs, smiles as wide as the Big Sky, and a bounce in their step.
Now they’re organizing for next week’s Flathead County Fair, where they’ll have a booth and present quite a contrast to the Republicans, who must contend with Donald Trump.
Lisa Morrow of Kalispell is coordinating pro-Sanders efforts in the Flathead. Her co-coordinator is Alicia Davis of Trego. Morrow reports there are still a few shifts available for the fair booth. The group meets frequently — all supporters of Sanders are welcome and urged to attend — and has a Facebook page.
A separate effort to organize Montana for Sanders is underway. There’s a website, mtforbernie.com, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, @mtforbernie. So far, there doesn’t appear to be a #mtforbernie hashtag. Although there currently may be some friction between this group and local pro-Sanders groups, relations probably will be smoothed out as people find a way to work together for the greater cause.Sanders is catching fire at the grassroots level because he's honest, forthright, and doesn't kowtow to, or haul water for, the big banks, private health insurers, or Wall Street bandits. He supports a $15/hour minimum wage, expanded Social Security (today is Social Security’s 80th birthday), universal single-payer health care, opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership, wants to outlaw private prisons, and not put so many people in jail.
Revised. Sanders, incidentally, continues to expand his issues pages. But there’s one extremely disquieting development: his position on health care no longer is listed under issues. A Google search uncovered https://berniesanders.com/medicare-for-all/, so it's possible that his health care plank has been hidden by accident. But given the horrible record of the Democratic Party on health care, and the deep antipathy of so many Democrats toward single-payer health care (these are the Democrats who love donations from the health insurance industry more than they love the best possible health care system), I worry.
Exigent personal matters require my time today and possibly tomorrow, so no political posting. Meanwhile, here are three images of the Thompson fire’s smoke column rising behind the Swan Range. Taken from my front yard two miles northwest of Kalispell at approximately 1645 MDT.
Black Lives Matter’s targeting of Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton or a Republican has nothing to do with exploiting opportunities for disruption that were made possible by lax security at the Netroots conference and the Westlake rally for Social Security. That’s a plausible hypothesis, but it’s wrong.
Forest fires. The Reynolds Creek fire in Glacier National Park has expanded to 4,300 acres. The Thompson Fire is estimated at 1,900 acres. MODIS imagery of the Thompson Fire still is not available at geomac.gov. These fires are not that big, but the acreage of the park they’ve shut down is mounting.
Today, tomorrow, and Thursday will be hot, in the upper nineties, with thunderstorms possible tomorrow and Thursday. Lightning could ignite more fires.
School District 5’s anti-discrimination policy. The school board meets tonight at 1800 at Glacier High School for the third reading of the proposed revisions to the policy. Montana Cowgirl reports the Flathead Republican Party is urging opponents to attend, while human rights groups are urging supporters to attend, and to wear light blue shirts. I may attend to observe the affair, but if I do, I’ll wear a white shirt. I support the proposed changes, but not the identity politics practiced by the human rights groups.
Flathead Electric community solar. This project gives FEC a unique opportunity to educate the community on the science, and to a lesser extent on the economics, of solar power, and solar power in the Flathead. FEC has the technical expertise to do the subject justice, and through its newsletter, Light Reading, and website, the means to communicate directly with the public. So far, Light Reading has lived up to its name, but that approach can be changed.
Kalispell westside bypass. Congress finally came through with the funding for the last section of the road, which will run from Highway 2 north to the connector west of Costco. Apparently, construction will start in mid-October. Two Mile Drive residents west of the bypass are not looking forward to this. The bypass will run under a bridge on Two Mile. While the bridge is built, traffic will be detoured around it, probably with aggravating delays, and if the bridge is built in winter, with ice, snow, and mud. The state’s highway department should wait until spring to start the Two Mile bridge, then work 24/7 to finish it in short order. It should also prefabricate the bridge somewhere not nearby, then assemble the components onsite. That would lessen the disruption considerably.
Bernie Sanders support group in the Flathead. There is such a beast. I’ve made contact with its leader and will report back to Flathead Memo’s readers once I learn more.
If there is, I’d be most appreciative if one of its organizers would get in touch with me. Thanks.
This could have scared the bejesus out of Tom Clancy. Sound off, sound alone, this mesmerizing video seems designed to turn Pakistan’s generals to Jello. The seemingly endless parade reminds me of the U.S.S.R.’s May Day parades in Moscow back in the days before the nuclear test ban treaty.
Bozeman Chronicle reporter Troy Carter discovered that in 2000, Greg Gianforte’s children — the oldest was 12, the youngest just four — made three-figure donations to the campaign of Rob Natelson, the libertarian law professor then running for governor of Montana (he lost).
Astounding, there’s no unambiguous law against this — but there should be. Citizens not yet of voting age should not be allowed to donate cash or in-kind services to political campaigns of any kind (that includes school bond and levy elections).
This could be enforced with substantial success by requiring that all donors provide the year of their birth when making donations, and making lying about that a criminal offense.
Gianforte isn’t the only man who believed his children were so precocious that at four years of age they could make intelligent and independent decisions on which candidate to support.
But I believe no man’s four-year-old — or 12-year-old or even 17-year-old — is that precocious. When children too young to vote donate to political campaigns, they’re helping, often without knowing, their parents circumvent campaign contribution limits.
That can be stopped with a simple law. Will our legislators pass one? Will our political candidates pledge to introduce and pass such a law?
There was a great betrayal of America and commonsense yesterday. Sen. Charles Schumer, aligning himself with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced he will vote to disapprove the nuclear arms agreement with Iran negotiated by the United States, Russia, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, and France. Schumer is up for re-election next year.
Montana’s Republican members of Congress, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke, both on record as opposing the agreement, undoubtedly danced a jig of joy upon learning of Schumer’s decision. So, too, I suspect, did retired Army two-star Paul Valley of Bigfork, whom Zinke recently introduced to fellow members of Congress.
But how did Montana’s lone Democrat in Congress, Sen. Jon Tester, react to Schumer’s decision? I found no news of that, but I did learn that Tester placed the text of the agreement online, and that on 4 August met with various ambassadors to inform himself on the agreement. Here are the opening paragraphs of his press release:
Will drought increase sales of ramen noodles? Grocery prices are rising. Chili that cost $0.98 a can in May now costs $1.18 a can. Peaches packed in artificially sweetened water (diabetics appreciate this product) that cost $1.13 per can in May now cost $1.35 per can. Some Americans can afford the extra expense of maintaining their diet, but many low income Americans cannot.
As price increases devalue their food dollars, low income people must shift to less expensive — and often less healthy — foods. That usually means buying more carbohydrates such as ramen noodles, which probably provide more calories per buck than any other packaged food. Thus as drought dries up fields and budgets, it may fatten purchases of ramen noodles, fattening the purchasers of those noodles. Not a good situation.
Oath Keepers are sincere. Are they also sincerely deluded? Over at Intelligent Discontent, Don Pogreba discusses the latest adventure of The Oath Keepers, who, sometimes wearing camouflage duds and packing serious heat, have a habit of showing up at places where they think the government is stomping on the rights of a fellow American. They traveled to Nevada to brandish weapons and show common cause with Cliven Bundy. In Kalispell, a handful have maintained a watch outside the armed forces recruiting center north of town. And now they’re in Lincoln, MT, showing support for a miner whose mining claim the government disputes.
These men are sincere. No one should suppose they are not. They mean well. They believe they are protecting liberty. But from the same facts available to everyone they draw conclusions that make sense only when one has a very high level of fear, an unreasonable level of fear, of their government.
Their sincerity notwithstanding, their conduct is fraught with risk. Thus far, no one has been shot in these encounters. But I suspect it’s only a matter of time until someone is.
Tonight’s GOP debate. I’m not sure I’ll watch it. If I do, it will be to see whether anyone has the guts and wisdom to unload on Donald Trump in a way that puts him in his place without taking him very seriously. Trump should not be on that stage. He’s a serious publicity hound, not a serious candidate for President. He’s not even qualified to be a dogcatcher. His standing in the polls is a serious embarrassment to both the Republican Party and the nation.
Flathead High School parking mess. Two days ago, the Kalispell City Council voted to establish a parking district adjacent to Flathead High School, which does not have enough on-campus parking places for students and staff. That, the InterLake reports, may trigger a lawsuit, hardly a surprise. It will also trigger a spirited campaign for the City Council in that council district.
The parking district buys time, but does not address the underlying problem: Flathead High’s campus is too small for the size of the staff and student body. Ultimately, there are just two viable solutions, neither likely to be adopted anytime soon:
Those solutions are expensive. That’s why School District 5 keeps kicking the can down the road, dumping the problem into the city of Kalispell’s lap. Kalispell, faced with no good options, adopted the least evil option, a parking district.
In its FAQ (PDF) on its Solar Utility Network, Flathead Electric estimates the annual output of a single 285-watt photovoltaic panel at 360 kilowatt hours a year (I’m assuming that’s AC kWhrs). This morning I ran a simulation of a fixed array of 356 SolarWorld 285-watt panels for Glacier Park International Airport that confirmed FEC’s estimated annual output.
I assumed a 30-degree tilt, a PTC rating of 258 watts DC per panel, and 10.8 percent in losses. My simulation generated an annual output of 338 kWhrs per panel, approximately six percent less than FEC’s estimate. FEC did not break down the output by month, but I did. Given I probably used slightly different assumptions, there’s no practical difference.
That’s the good news.
At 1510 MDT, the Montana AFL-CIO emailed a short statement by Al Ekblad, its executive secretary, expressing concern over President Obama’s Clean Power Plan that would reduce power plan emissions 32 percent by 2030. Said Ekblad:
by Louise Bruce
I’m Louise Bruce and I am running for Chair of the Montana Democratic Party. I’ve been involved in Montana Democratic Politics for three decades and never have I been more concerned with the direction the Democratic Party is heading, both state and national. Campaigns and tactics are driven more and more by data and statistics, and becoming less and less concerned with the individual voter. Intentional or not, this is not only hurting the Democratic Party, it is hurting Democracy. As the Chair of the Montana Democratic Party County Chairs Association I’ve talked to Democrats all over Montana. This is what they tell me:
Meredith Wilson wrote everything for the Broadway musical, The Music Man; the book, the music, the lyrics. But he’s remembered best for writing 76 Trombones, the rousing and unmistakably American favorite of marching bands all over the world. Wilson himself once played in John Phillip Sousa’s band. This performance of 76 Trombones is from the 1962 film, The Music Man, starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.
Update, 3 August. Flathead Electric now has a web page devoted to its SUN project. The downloadable FAQ (PDF) has more information, but does not answer all of my questions. The purchase agreement also is available. I’ll post more on FEC’s coming of the SUN this evening or tomorrow.
Begin original post. On 11 June, Flathead Memo published a preliminary analysis of FEC’s community solar project. Construction has begun, and FEC just released more information on the project. The August, 2015, issue of Light Reading (PDF), the cooperative’s monthly newsletter, in a question and answer format with project manager Ross Holter, reports that customers now can invest in the project:
It will consist of 356 solar panels, and each 285 watt panel is expected to generate approximately 360 kWh per year. Each panel will cost $900 and initially, FEC members will be limited to purchasing one panel for the 25-year life of the program.
Less than one kilowatt hour per panel per day, on average.
In a nutshell, how does community solar work? It’s really quite simple. We build a large solar array, thereby achieving some economies of scale. We then sell those panels to individual participants for the 25-year life of the panels. We track the monthly kilowatt output of the whole system and then credit each owner their allocated share against their monthly electric bill.
At what price per kWhr will that generation be credited? Flathead Electric’s residential rate structure (PDF) combines a $22.71 per month base charge with an ascending block rate structure:
In July, I used 517 kWhrs, which by my math will cost $54.20. My true cost per kWhr is $0.10483, but the per kWhr rate for the 0–600 kWhrs/mth block is $0.0609. If I had a share of the project, would I be credited at my true cost per kWhr, or at the 0–600 block’s rate? If FEC uses the block rate for the panel owner’s consumption, the biggest energy hogs will have the shortest payback period. In fact, under that scheme, only the hogs will have a simple payback period shorter than the life of the project:
FEC needs to release a lot more information on the Stillwater Community Solar project. Given what I know right now, and my level of energy use, I could not expect to break even were I to invest in the project. It doesn’t strike me as an economically viable alternative to net metering. And like net metering without a crossover switch, it would leave me in the dark if the grid went down.
Flathead Lake is at 2892.21 today, six-tenths of a foot, or seven inches, below the 1965–2014 median for this date. In the drought year 2001, the lake was at 2891.66 at the end of July. Today’s outflow from Kerr Dam is 3,360 cubic feet per second, 440 cfs lower than the 3,800 cfs mandated in Article 56 of the dam’s license. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the dam’s operator a small variance from Article 56. The license mandated minimum outflow drops to 3,200 cfs in a couple of days. I’ll try to have more on the situation on Monday.
Flathead County’s jail is overcrowded, so the county commissioners want to convert the old Walmart building on Highway 2 east to a new jail. A wag on Facebook beat me to the punch with “Jade Helm comes to the Flathead.”
Today, bad reporting by the New York Times, and a hard hitting report by ABC’s Brian Ross from the 2008 campaign.
NY Times botched emails story. Last week the NYT reported that Clinton was under a criminal investigation for allegedly using her private email system to send in the clear classified information that should have been encrypted. That news story is coming apart faster than Humpty Dumpty at the end of his great fall.
Over at the Flathead Beacon, Kellyn Brown explains how the Beacon has covered the Reynolds Creek Fire, and forest fires in general. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that local business interests believe the Beacon and the news media in general have hyped the fire to the detriment of the local economy: