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

26 September 2016

If Hillary doesn’t thump Trump tonight,
Trump will thump her on 8 November

Donald Trump is leading Hillary Clinton by a point in Colorado, and is just one point behind her in Pennsylvania, according to a CNN poll released this morning. Yesterday, a Washington Post/ABC News poll reported that nationwide, Clinton leads Trump by two points. Trump has been gaining on her for weeks, and now is beginning to pass her. Nate Silver has more at FiveThirtyEight.

That makes tonight’s debate far more critical for Clinton, who has much to lose, than for Trump, who has only to behave reasonably well to prevail.

Gut checking, not fact checking, is the key to understanding this debate. Clinton is much better informed on the issues than Trump, but that’s not what will win the contest. Voters are looking not for the candidate with the best answers, but for the candidate with the stronger, more presidential, personality.

…read the rest

Two Mile Drive’s single sidewalk bypass bridge

Two Mile Drive’s bridge over the westside Kalispell bypass opened at the end of last week. It’s not finished — the approaches are neither paved nor equipped with guardrails — but it’s a welcome relief from the quarter-mile detour that twisted around the bridge site.

I walked the area late Sunday afternoon, photographing the bridge’s status as well as the status of the bicycle path along the bypass.


So far, only the north side of the bridge has a sidewalk. That’s not an issue for pedestrians walking east along Two Mile, but pedestrians walking west will have to cross the road to use the sidewalk, and then cross the road again to return to the left side of Two Mile.

…read the rest


23 September 2016

Anonymous commenting allows ‘net trash to escape accountability

There’s a new commenting policy at the Helena Independent Record. Commenters now must write under their real names, just as authors of letters to the editor for the print edition must write under their real names.

My reaction? Hallelujah! But it should have happened yesterday.

The internet has become a refuge for outlaws from common decency, for the kind of people who exult in starting bar fights, for misanthropes who delight in provoking howls of pain, for thugs who would blackjack you in a dark alley or push you off a cliff if they thought they could get away with it. Anonymity allows these ‘net trash to escape accountability for their actions.

The problem is especially acute at small publications, such as the Flathead Beacon, that believe they cannot afford the New York Times’ practice of pre-publication moderation. At these publications, and many blogs, mean-spirited commenters writing under pseudonyms are stinking up the comment sections with vicious personal attacks, irrelevancies, taunts, and threats. This behavior eviscerates civility, drives away responsible commenters, and besmirches the good name of the publications that allow such mischief.

One solution, adopted by the Billings Gazette, is banning all online comments but continuing to publish letters to the editor. Another, Flathead Memo’s policy, is no comments of any kind (my time is spent best writing, not reviewing comments).

The Helena IR’s solution is an attempt to find a middle ground. Comments will be user moderated, which I suspect is a mistake, but commenters must provide their real names (verifying the authenticity of those real names will be hard). The IR’s premise — its hope — is that commenters whose real identity is disclosed will not write comments that bring opprobrium upon themselves. That’s a reasonable assumption, but it does not apply to sociopaths, sadists, and fools.

I support the Gazette’s approach, but I also support the IR’s approach and hope it’s successful.


Kalispell’s high schools do not need a gold plated football field


They just need a smooth, reasonably flat, field of soft, natural, grass — Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass — where their biggest and most brutal boys can break and sprain ankles, twist and tear knees, and incur concussions, to entertain the bloodthirsty fans in the cheap seats. Resurfacing and reseeding the field once a decade shouldn’t cost more than $25,000, and probably would cost less.

So why does School District 5 want the taxpayers to approve a $960,000 bond on Legends Stadium?


Legends Field in October, 2013. Much larger image.

…read the rest


22 September 2016

Riots in Charlotte will tip North Carolina to Trump

A black policeman shot and killed a black man in Charlotte, NC, two days ago. The dead man’s family said he was brandishing a book. The police said he was brandishing a firearm. After viewing the videos of the shooting, both the family and police say the videos by themselves are inconclusive. The police refuse to release the videos, citing a multitude of excuses. There’s good coverage at the Charlotte Observer.

As is always the case, first reports are incomplete and frequently wrong. Objective observers withhold judgment until competent investigators establish all the relevant facts. That’s the responsible reaction to these kind of events.

The popular reaction, however, is rioting and accusations of police brutality. Chaos has replaced order and civility in North Carolina’s Queen City. Charlotte now is under a curfew, at least one rioter is dead, large employers in the city are telling their workers to stay home, and residents are rightly fearful for their safety.

This probably helps Donald Trump, the law ‘n order candidate. FiveThirtyEight’s latest forecast has Trump up 1.3 points in the state. More rioting will boost his margin. He needs North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes, and now it seems likely he will win them.


Libertarian discord, Republican slow filing, Democratic Gotcha!

A Libertarian Keystone Cops routine follows Mike Fellow’s death. Yesterday, the Ravalli County Libertarian party announced it had selected Rick Breckenridge, Proctor surveyor and former candidate for chairman of Montana’s Republicans, to replace Fellows as the Libertarian candidate for the U.S. House.

That a county party would assert the power to act on behalf of the state party seemed odd. Today, the Missoulian reports that not only was it odd, it probably wasn’t legal. Secretary of State McCulloch’s office is working to find a legal solution to the mess.

 Updated at 1811 MDT.  The Associated Press reports the dispute has been resolved, and that Breckenridge filed the necessary paperwork with Montana’s Secretary of State. SecST’s filing page now lists Breckenridge as the Libertarian candidate for Congress. In the end, the keystone cops got their man on the ballot.

Don’t be surprised if the Republicans file a lawsuit to keep a replacement for Fellows off the ballot.

Montana’s Democratic Party sat on alleged Republican campaign finance reporting violations. Today, the Montana Democratic Party filed a complaint with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices alleging that Montana’s Republican Party was late filing five of nine required campaign finance reports dating back to March. One report was only two days late, but one was 40 days late and another 37 days late.

Here’s the Democrats’ breakdown of the alleged violations:


I’ll cut the GOP some slack for filing two days late. But not for filing 40 days late. The former might result from unforeseen delays, but the latter can result only from purposeful procrastination, from a policy of deliberately hiding facts from the public. The Democrats’ complaint is on sound footing.

But the complaint also is on a political footing. There’s only one reason to wait until 22 September to register a complaint for a deadline missed in March: to let the violations pile up so a stack of them can be hurled at the GOP just before the start of absentee voting. Some will consider that tactically smart. Others, including, I suspect, most voters, will consider it Gotcha! politics.


Registered voter variations in Montana’most populous counties

Seventy-five percent of Montana’s registered voters are concentrated in just eleven of the state’s 56 counties. Montana’s Secretary of State now publishes online a spreadsheet with county level data for registration and ballots cast for primary and general election for 1992 through the present.

Here’s what the big county registration totals look like graphically. Note the dramatic increase in Gallatin County, the steady increase in Flathead County, the decreases in Cascade and Silver Bow Counties, and the pronounced election-to-election variations in Missoula County.

Ignore the numbers for 2000, when there was so much deadwood on the registration rolls that the number of registered voters exceeded the state’s voting eligible population.

My thanks to Bob Williams for directing my attention to the interesting variations in Missoula County’s totals.



21 September 2016

21st century learning — A slogan for winning school bond elections?
This decade’s education enthusiasm? A scheme for selling computers?

The correct answer? All of the above. The phrase permeates school bond election campaigns. An organization comprising computer manufacturers and cable communications companies touts 21st century learning. And it pops up in essays by educators, such as the vote-for-the-bond oped by Michele Paine, Assistant Principal at Flathead High School, that ran in Sunday’s InterLake:

The innovative classrooms that will replace the 80- and 100-year-old lecture hall and half floors give our students flexible learning space. The lecture hall at Flathead High School is a cavernous, two-story room that can house 100 students in the university style of giant classrooms. This seating works for lecture style instruction but is not conducive to 21st century learning. Students need to collaborate in groups and tackle tasks using technology, texts and other learning tools.

I’m impressed by Paine’s sincerity and enthusiasm, but not by her arguments.

…read the rest


20 September 2016

Libertarian Congressional candidate Mike Fellows killed in car crash

Michael Fellows, 59, Libertarian candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, died in a head-on automobile crash on Highway 200 last night. He was returning to Missoula from a campaign event in the Seeley-Swan area.

Preliminary reports on Fellows’ death are appearing in the Missoulian and other news media, and Greg Strandberg posted a friendly remembrance of the man who was Montana’s Mr. Libertarian.

…read the rest

Get those damn disposable H2O bottles off the debate lecterns

Come on, Steve, Greg, and organizers of Montana’s gubernatorial debates. The candidates don’t need single-use polyethylene terphthalate (PET) bottles of water to treat attacks of cotton mouth while debating. A wide-bottomed glass of chilled tap water — good Montana municipal tap water all Montana politicians should be proud to drink — still works just fine. I’ve never seen one spilled.

Unlike many of my fellow environmentalists, I don’t consider bottled water an intrinsic evil. But I do consider the gratuitous use of it an environmentally unfriendly act. If a closed container of dihydrogen monoxide is deemed a must, bottle #3 below is a good choice. If a transparent bottle is deemed necessary for security, bottles #5–8 will more than suffice. And if the security types still balk at anything except disposable PET bottles, fire them and hire smarter people.

PET bottles, incidentally, can (and should) be recycled. They make fine polar fleece. Were the debate bottles recycled or just tossed in the garbage?


(1) widemouth steel vacuum flask, (2) small steel vacuum flask, (3) lightweight steel bottle with pour spout plug and foam insulation, (4) Contigo steel vacuum flask with sipping cap, (5) Contigo reusable PET bottle with sipping cap, (6) one-litre low density polyethylene wide mouthed bottle, (7) half-litre LDPE bottle, (8) one-litre LDPE Boston lab bottle, (9) half-litre single-use polyethylene terephthalate water bottle of the Montana gubernatorial debate lectern thirst quencher genre.



19 September 2016

A dangerous bridge and dangerous intersection in Kalispell

Bridge. Avoid Two Mile Drive until the over the bypass bridge is opened — and then make sure your health and collision insurance are up to date if you’re condemned to drive that road.

Right now, avoid the detour around the bridge if possible. It’s torn-up, narrow, bumpy, and there are delays and pilot cars. Don’t even think about walking through it.


The Two Mile Drive bridge. This photograph was made yesterday from the Three Mile Drive bridge, half a mile to the north (I know, I know).

As displayed in the photographs below, the approaches to the bridge are steep. They will be slippery in winter, and there will be accidents. The streetlights along the bypass will be a further annoyance. They need cutoff shields to protect drivers on Two Mile from the glare.

…read the rest


16 September 2016

Continued decline in UM’s enrollment will have political ramifications

State education officials, reports the Missoulian, predict an enrollment decline of 6.5 percent for the University of Montana for its 2017 fiscal year, which began in July. The economic consequences are obvious, but there will be political ramifications that Democrats will find most unwelcome.

As of yesterday, there were 3,592 fewer registered voters in Missoula County than on election day in 2012, and 1,671 more registered voters in Gallatin County, home of Montana State University, where enrollment is increasing, than in 2012.

Not all of the differences in registration should be attributed to students’ abandoning Missoula for Bozeman — there are other factors in play — but a significant amount of the change undoubtedly derives from the exodus at UM.

If Democrats are not concerned about this, they should be. In Missoula County in 2012, Bullock beat Rick Hill by 16,103 votes. In Gallatin County, he beat Hill by 2,515 votes. University students who vote tend to favor Democrats. UM’s misfortune may hurt not just Bullock and other statewide Democratic candidates, but down ticket races such as the Public Service Commission District 4 race between incumbent Republican Bob Lake and former PSC commissioner Gail Gutsche, a Democrat.

Time to fire Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education Tyler Trevor? Logicosity today called attention to the Missoulian’s report of Trevor’s reprehensible conduct at a board of regents meeting this week:

Before the budget discussion, Regent Martha Sheehy asked Trevor to direct her to the document that showed the enrollment estimates for each of the branches. She said she understood the preliminary nature of the information.

“Where do I look to find the numbers that we’re close to?” Sheehy said.

At this point, Trevor said, the estimates include “too many stipulations for the average person to digest.” However, he said the regents would receive more details when they discussed the budget. During that portion of the agenda, they received the numbers each campus had budgeted for the fiscal year.

Mon Dieu! Even Charles de Gaulle — Le Grand Charles! — would have envied such arrogance.

I will stipulate that the average person is more than smart enough to digest preliminary enrollment information, no matter how poorly it is presented by patronizing education officials. I will further stipulate that it’s reasonable to assume that the average regent probably is smarter than the average person, and thus also able to digest Trevor’s stipulations. What the regents should not digest is Trevor’s condescension. Instead, they should consider spitting him out of Montana’s educational bureaucracy.



15 September 2016

Partisan attempts to toss candidates from ballot
are dismissed by supreme courts in MT and MN

Ill advised attempts to have candidates booted from the ballot were shot down this week by state supreme courts in Montana and Minnesota.

In Montana, in a lawsuit initiated by MT GOP chairman and State Representative Jeff Essmann, the court ruled 5–1 (PDF) that Libertarian Roger Roots, candidate for Secretary of State, could remain on the ballot despite non-standard compliance with Montana’s campaign finance reporting requirements.

In Minnesota, the court ruled (PDF) that the Democratic Farmer Labor Party’s lawsuit to remove Donald Trump from the ballot was barred by laches (the DFL waited too long to file the lawsuit). The MN GOP had submitted the names of alternate electors for Trump in a non-standard manner.

In both cases, the attempts to have the candidates thrown off the ballot were motivated by crass political considerations.

…read the rest


14 September 2016

When the Garrison Dam flooded Elbowoods, North Dakota,
convicts and southern gravediggers had to move the cemetary

Garrison Dam flooded 155,000 acres of prime Missouri River bottomland running through the Fort Berthold Reservation. The inundation required massive relocations:

By the fall of 1954, relocation was complete. A new road system was constructed, school buildings were built, churches and cemeteries were moved, the agency was housed in its new quarters at New Town, the Four Bears bridge was removed from its original site, and installed as part of the new bridge west of New Town, North Dakota.

Aerial image of the impounded Missouri River approaching the ghost town of Elbowoods, ND, in the summer of 1953.

As described by the Center for Land Use Interpretation:

Two-hundred-mile-long Lake Sakakawea, the third largest reservoir in the country, flooded a quarter of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, forcing the relocation of 325 families, nearly 80 percent of the population on the reservation at that time. Many moved to a newly established community called New Town, where now 1,500 members of the Three Affiliated Tribes live a modern life with a large casino. [Link added.]

Those who were adults at the time of the relocation now are very old. The living memory of the event soon will disappear forever. Learning of an event from a survivor of it makes a much deeper impression on one’s memory than learning of it from a book. That’s why I was very pleased when one of my regular readers — a person I’ll call A.C. — sent me the following account of his friendship with a man from Elbowoods, ND, a town flooded by the dam. My thanks to A.C. for giving me permission to share it with you.

…read the rest