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

22 April 2014

Earth Day films this evening at FVCC

From Citizens for a Better Flathead:

Please join us on Tuesday, April 22, 7-9pm for this Earth Day evening celebration. We are featuring a series of short films that introduce you to the revolution in how businesses and corporations redesign products and services to mimic natural cycles and the design systems of nature.

When: April 22nd, 7:00 – 9:00 PM. Where: Flathead Valley Community College, Arts & Technology Building, Room 139, 777 Grandview Drive, Kalispell, MT.

Defending free speech from the Durationists


Yesterday I stepped out of character at a public hearing: I delivered oral comments. Usually I observe hearings, then report on them at Flathead Memo. But those who remain silent when free speech is threatened risk being silenced when they try to exercise their right of free speech. So when the first person to testify began defending durational limits on political signs, I knew I had to present Flathead County’s commissioners with a countering argument, an argument for bringing a county law into compliance with the First Amendment, and what I hoped would be a convincing defense of free speech.

So I stepped up to the microphone, endorsed the county planning office’s proposal for updating the law, reviewed the legal and moral arguments supporting my position, and reminded the commissioners, and the audience, that preserving freedom is government’s highest duty.

Not everyone agrees. The dispute over the proposed revision of the county’s signage law pits community planning activists who seek visual order against political activists who seek free and robust debate. It’s a clash of values exacerbated by an asymmetrical understanding of the constitutional issues involved, and by significantly different levels of tolerance for the levels of regulation and state authority that accompany zoning.

…read the rest


21 April 2014

Chuck Baldwin speaks at the Oath Keepers Second Amendment Rally


Recognize this fellow? No, he’s not a Billy Jack impersonator. He’s Chuck Baldwin, the preacher who ran for President on the Constitution Party’s ticket in 2008 while still based in Florida. He’s a Flathead resident now — everyone loves our fresh air and friendly people — and also the national chaplain for the Oath Keepers.

Baldwin traveled to Bunkerville, NV, last week to inspirit the self-appointed protectors of

Cliven Bundy,

the scofflaw rancher who hasn’t paid his grazing fees for 20 years, returning to Kalispell in time to deliver a 30-minute report/sermon on the great crusade to help Bundy continue his freeloading ways. Thanks to James White of the Northwest Liberty News, you can watch Baldwin’s speech online if you missed it Saturday.



20 April 2014

Ryan Zinke's nonviolent civil disobedience

That's probably the best way of describing his erecting Vote for Zinke signs more than 30 days before voting in the primary begins. He knows that durational limits on election signs (a subset of political signs) are unconstitutional. If Flathead County cites him for violating the county's political sign ordinance, and he challenges the law in court, he'll win, emerging a free speech hero.

Flathead County knows this. That's why its planning staff recommends bringing the ordinance into compliance with the First Amendment.


19 April 2014

Matt Rosendale speaks at Oath Keepers rally in Kalispell


State Senator Matt Rosendale, candidate for the Republican nomination for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House Representatives, speaks to a 150-person crowd at the Oath Keepers rally in Kalispell today.


19 April 2014

Cowardice and incompetence on the Yellow Sea

Even a dryland farmer in Kansas who has never left the county in which he was born knows intuitively that when a ship begins capsizing, it’s time to get everyone topside, in lifejackets, and into boats or rafts while that’s still possible.

But on the South Korean ferry Sewol, hundreds of passengers died because the crew ordered them to stay below, say some reports, to prevent panic on deck. Other reports say the 69-year-old captain was one of the first to leave the ship.

…read the rest


18 April 2014

Flathead County may remove durational limits on political signs

Photograph taken on 16 April 2014.

Still on Flathead County’s book of laws is an ordinance that prohibits political signs from being erected more than 30 days prior to an election, and requiring taking down the signs no later than one week after the election or event. It’s egregiously unconstitutional, and at long, long, last the Flathead County Commission will, on Monday, 21 April, consider modifying the ordinance to bring it into constitutional compliance. Here’s the old and new (retained, black; new, blue; removed, struck-thru red):


An explanatory comment accompanies the proposed revisions:

…read the rest


17 April 2014

Oath Keepers sponsoring 2nd Amendment rally in Kalispell Saturday

The rally begins at noon in Depot Park in Kalispell, according to the Daily InterLake’s Daybook. There will be speakers. The Oath Keepers is an organization that so far has not been accused of holding left wing views.

One of three Oath Keepers vehicles in Kalispell’s 2013 Independence Day parade. This is how the organization presents a pretty face.

16 April 2016

Time of the signs

Four Republican candidates, four Republican primaries. Left to right: Phil Mitchell, Flathead County Commission; Matt Rosendale, U.S. House of Representatives; Ronalee Skees, Montana House District 7; Mark Blasdel, Montana Senate District 4. Of the four signs, Blasdel’s is the most readable and informative.

15 April 2014

Blood moon over Kalispell

As midnight approached, the clouds thinned and parted, revealing a splendid lunar eclipse. Below, three images of the eclipse, two taken from my back porch, the other taken from a field adjacent to my backyard.

The blood-red fully eclipsed moon and the bright star Spica.

…read the rest


14 April 2014

Lunar eclipse tonight — possibly behind the clouds

There’s a full lunar eclipse tonight, with the first glimpse of the penumbra commencing at approximately 2320 MDT for those of us in the Flathead. Sky and Telescope has the viewing details. Unfortunately, the forecast calls for 50–80 percent cloud cover during the eclipse. As you can see from the image below, shot at 1830 MDT, the sky is clouding-up already. Still, step outside from time-to-time as the eclipse may be visible through a break in the clouds.


13 April 2014

Scofflaws prevail in Nevada

It wasn’t a good week for the rule of law in Nevada. After Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service personnel began removing from the federal range privately owned cattle that had been grazing there illegally for many years, gun toting militia types from across the country, including at least one from Montana, showed up to support the scofflaw rancher who had refused to pay his grazing fees for some 20 years.

Faced with an ad hoc armed insurgency, federal agents backed down and returned the cattle to the range to once again graze illegally.

This cannot go on without weakening federal authority. President Obama should nationalize the Nevada National Guard, and the federal government should use swift and overwhelming force to seize the cattle. If more gun toting militia type show up, arrest them for interfering with federal officers, seize their firearms, and throw them jail.



12 April 2014

Let Gianforte speak


Greg Gianforte is a rich businessman with political and religious views not popular on most college campuses. Nevertheless, Montana Tech, in Butte, invited him to deliver the commencement speech at its graduation ceremony this spring. Not all students and faculty members think he should be Montana Tech’s commencement speaker, and they’re circulating a petition to have him uninvited. Montana Cowgirl has the details.

I suspect Gianforte may have been invited to speak in the hope that he will make a substantial donation to the college. Graduation exercises are not for the graduates. They’re for the parents of the graduates, the staff and faculty of the college, and the boosters. Graduation is a college’s most important fundraising event of the year. The rich, the famous, the powerful, are invited to speak at least as much for how their appearance will affect the college’s bottom line as for what they have to say.

…read the rest

Big sky, bright lights


Despite an almost full moon last night, the aurora was bright enough (the Kp was 5) to be visible from my front porch in Kalispell. In this image, taken at 0417 MDT, the aurora is visible behind the clouds, which are illuminated by moonlight on top and ground based electric lights on the bottom. When I moved here in 1977, the skies to the north were dark.


11 April 2014

Uncle Sam — the bill collector from ex post facto hell

Imagine you are in your fifties, successful and comfortable despite an impoverished childhood following your father’s untimely death. Had your mother not qualified for survivor benefits from Social Security, you might have ended up in an orphanage.

Now, 30 years after your mother received the survivor benefits, the federal government believes it overpaid your mother — and because she died ten years ago, the government is coming after you for the money.

This may sound like the plot for an overheated television movie, but it isn’t. It’s actually happening, reports the Washington Post:

The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

No one seems eager to take credit for reopening all these long-closed cases. A Social Security spokeswoman says the agency didn’t seek the change; ask Treasury. Treasury says it wasn’t us; try Congress. Congressional staffers say the request probably came from the bureaucracy.

It probably did come from the bureaucracy — the bureaucracy at the White House. Someone looking for extra revenue came up with this scheme, which is the moral equivalent of an ex post facto law, and with the help of a conniving member of Congress, sneaked it into the farm bill.

This should be repealed by 1700 EDT today by a unanimous vote of Congress. And if the repeal is vetoed by President Obama, we’ll have proof of the shakedown’s origin.



10 April 2014

Shooting into the sun

The sky was dramatic, but it was also too much for my Nikon P310 pocket camera. A series of exposures and high dynamic range processing might have held the sun and the shadows, but I don’t carry a tripod while I’m walking. At the bottom there’s a spot of flare, but only a spot as the lens handles flare very well.

9 April 2014

Building political party platforms

Spring marks the beginning of political platform building season. The timing and details differ from party to party, but the process commences at the precinct level and concludes at the county, state, or national level. Political platforms, for all their quirks, qualifiers, and evasions, are the blueprint for the society the party wants to build if its candidates win the election.

One of the best sources of historical national political party platforms, as well as inaugural addresses and state of the union speeches, is The American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

For Democrats, I recommend the Democratic Party’s national platforms for 1940, 1944, 1960, and 1964, and FDR’s 1944 state of the union speech. The Progressive Party’s 1912 platform provides a historical yardstick for measuring other platforms.



8 April 2014

John Walsh raised $950,000 in first quarter 2014

That's from Walsh's campaign news media office. The details won't be on the Federal Election Commission's website until, perhaps, the end of the month. But if you're a Democrat, even a Democrat who plans to cast a protest vote for John Bohlinger or Dirk Adams, Walsh’s doubling his haul from the last quarter of 2013 is good news, for it means that the Democratic nominee for the Senate, whom I expect to be Walsh, will be able to raise enough money to be competitive.

…read the rest


7 April 2014

First dandelion of the season

And it will become collateral damage after the first lawn mowing of the season.


Another ragged rate rollout by Flathead Electric

Each spring, the Flathead Electric rural electric cooperative announces a rate increase — and does it in a way that I find absolutely infuriating. It tells a local newspaper, “Yep, rates are going up. We made that decision in February. Our customers will learn the new rates in June when they receive their bills for May.” And the newspaper dutifully sends the coop’s spin to the newspaper’s readers.

Here’s how Hungry Horse News editor Richard Hanners (a very good reporter) did it for the Daily InterLake on 5 April:

Flathead Electric Cooperative customers will see a small increase in their monthly electrical bills as the utility continues to incrementally adjust rates in response to higher wholesale power costs.

Flathead Electric’s board of trustees approved a 2.4 percent retail rate at their February meeting. Residential customers will see an average increase of $2.67 to their June 1 power bills, which includes power usage from May.

Nowhere in Hanners’ story do the new rates appear. Nor do they appear on FEC’s website.

This amounts to FEC’s taunting its customers:

…read the rest


6 April 2014

Silver Bow voter registration numbers raise red flag


See update below. The number of registered voters changes slowly from day-to-day except during voter registration drives. In Montana from 24 March to 4 April 2014, 33 counties grew their voter registration roll by less than one percent; 4 counties stayed the same; and 17 counties experienced a less than one percent decline in the number of registered voters (Excel spreadsheet)

But in two counties — Garfield and Silver Bow — the decline in registered voters was much greater: 5.1 percent for Garfield, and 5.6 percent for Silver Bow. Garfield has less than 1,000 registered voters, so its roll declined by just 46 voters. But Silver Bow went from 20,334 to 19,196 registered voters, a decline of 1,138.

That’s a statistically eye-popping five plus standard deviations — and a big red flag that I’ll discuss in a moment. But first, some charts:

…read the rest


5 April 2014

Political signs begin popping up in parking lots

Terry Sherman is one of four candidates for the Republican nomination for Flathead County Clerk and Recorder. No Democrat filed for the office — Democrats no longer place a priority on county officers other than county commissioner, a political mistake — so barring a last minute scandal and high powered write-in campaign, the winner of the GOP primary will be Flathead County’s next clerk and recorder. As sign locations go, this is a good one.


4 April 2014

Oil patch senators are making Daines look foolish


Should Steve Daines be glad or exasperated that three Republican senators from oil patch states objected to unanimous consent on the North Fork Watershed Protection Act? In case Sens. Pat Toomey (PA), Tom Coburn (OK), and Ted Cruz (TX), didn’t notice, Daines supports the bill.

At The Western Word, Mike Brown wrote:

The three Republican senators undoubtedly objected to the bill because it would make Walsh look good and score him some political points back home, which he needs. Walsh and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) are the top two candidates running for the seat that was previously occupied by Max Baucus. Republicans have a good chance of winning the majority in the Senate.

Daines supports the North Fork Watershed Protection Act. We’ll see how three out-of-state senators messing with this bill plays in Montana. I see a future campaign commercial about this.

My guess? Toomey, Coburn, and Cruz — let’s call them TC2 — want something. A lot of Bakken crude goes east, possibly to refineries in Pennsylvania. Oklahoma and Texas are waypoints and destinations for tar sands crude moving south from Canada through the Keystone XL pipeline (among others). On the surface their conduct makes Daines appear too weak to obtain cooperation from Republican senators. That won’t help him politically.

But there may be a calculation that Daines will beat Walsh in November even if the NFWPA stalls in the senate. If so, then the TC2 maneuver may be a way of extorting something from Walsh and the Democrats.

…read the rest


3 April 2014

McCutcheon v. FEC, continued

I’m not as pessimistic as Thomas Mann, Emily Bazelon, or Rick Hasen, but I’m under no illusions that Chief Justice Roberts’ decision advances the cause of campaign finance reform.

Nor am I under any illusion that we’re ready to take the cure — a constitutional amendment requiring public financing of campaigns, and limiting the amount a person may spend on an election — anytime soon.

There are several reasons why:

…read the rest


2 April 2014

Initial thoughts on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission

Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon leaves a sky that is not falling, but may be darkening. Only the limits on aggregate contributions were struck down by the court. The limits on how much an individual can give to a candidate remain in full force. What critics of McCutcheon fear is that it takes us another step closer to the abyss of no limits on private contributions in politics, and another step farther away from campaigns financed solely by the public.

The heart of Roberts’ argument is found on Pages 15–16:

…read the rest


1 April 2014

Serious quantity of deuterium oxide found in Polson Bay

Many old time residents of Flathead County have long maintained that the north end of the lake is higher than the south end, possibly by as much as 12 feet. Disputatious discussions of the subject are thought to have caused bar fights, but the issue has never been resolved…until now. Flathead Memo has it on good authority that next week Dr. Spencer Attwood IV of Blue Bay will present a paper confirming the presence of deuterium oxide in Polson Bay. Could that heavy water be forcing down the lake at its southern end?

The Department of Homeland Security reportedly plans to replace the deuterium oxide with dihydrogen monoxide lest the lake’s water be employed as a neutron moderator in an outlaw plutonium producing nuclear reactor. In the meantime, swarthy boaters caught wearing keffiyeh and dipping buckets into Polson Bay will be helicoptered to Glacier International Airport, where they’ll be placed aboard a CIA G5 and flown to GITMO.

Adding a whoosh to Big Mountain’s schuss

Twenty 2.5 megawatt Vestas wind turbines will be placed on Big Mountain’s summit ridges if plans come together for the Flathead Wind Alliance. “All we need now is a regulatory green light,” said FWA spokesman Martin Jayrhoad. “If construction starts by 15 July, we’ll have the turbines in place and spinning long before the next ski season begins.” Skiers, he said, would hear only a gentle whoosh from the 80-meter-diameter blades atop the 100-meter-tall white tubular towers.

Jayrhoad also said he expects no serious opposition from the Flathead Electric Cooperative. “The rural cooperatives have kept their enthusiasm for wind energy under control, but we’ve been educating them on the virtues of wind. They now sing its praises and only intermittently relapse into their old wind is unreliable mode.”

Because the turbines will be visible dozens of miles away, Jayrhoad said the FWA would equip the blade tips with independently controllable color LEDs for spectacular light shows. “We’ve retained Christo to ensure that the LEDs are tastefully operated. We’re sure people will say the spinning lights are more pleasing aesthetically than the Northern Lights.”

…read the rest


31 March 2014

What the Affordable Care Act has accomplished

Midnight tonight is the witching hour for enrolling in one of the health insurance programs blessed by the Affordable Care Act. Missing the deadline could trigger penalties that are, officially (the Supreme Court said so), taxes. Except in those situations in which the White House is delaying the deadline for one reason or another.

In a system so Rube Goldbergish as the ACA, such chaos and confusion cannot be avoided, so the test of success is not whether all bedlam was avoided but whether most people didn’t encounter it, or encounter very much of it. By that test, the ACA is a success.

Equally important, what counts now is not how far we have to go, but how far we have come. The ACA should be measured against what it replaced, not against the gold standard of health care, the everyone covered for everyone federal zero-dollar single-payer system.

According to most reports, these are the ACA’s principal accomplishments:

  1. Millions who were not insured are now insured.

  2. Junk insurance is being replaced with insurance that does good when the policy’s holder becomes ill.

  3. For most individuals, the cost of obtaining good health insurance has been reduced thanks to (means-tested) federal subsidies.

A short history lesson for Democrats

Means testing is degrading, and meant to be, which is why the Democratic Party’s 1960 platform contained this plank:

We shall provide medical care benefits for the aged as part of the time-tested Social Security insurance system. We reject any proposal which would require such citizens to submit to the indignity of a means test — a “pauper's oath.”

All of these goods occurred despite efforts by the Republican Party to repeal or sabotage the ACS, and despite the failure of irresolute Democrats to defend the ACA when it needed defending.

Much still remains to be done. Tens of millions of Americans remain uninsured, and will even after the ACA is fully implemented, for the ACA was not designed to cover everyone. The failure to expand Medicaid in many states denies help to those needing it most and subordinates brotherly love and Christian charity to icy libertarian ideology. People will die because of these decisions.

But today, we should pause a moment to take note of how far we have come, then resume our march toward a single-payer system.



30 March 2014

Newspaper paywalls could rejuvenate public libraries

Imagine if the only place one could afford to read the local newspaper online was at the local public library. That no longer takes much imagination. Meaningful access to more and more major and minor newspapers alike now requires a paid subscription as publishers erect Iron Curtain-like online paywalls on their websites.

The Kalispell Daily InterLake’s paywall is one of the toughest: five free reads a month. Basically, one free read a week. After that it’s $12 per month. Just three dollars a month more buys access to the New York Times, a much better newspaper and a better bargain.

Most, perhaps all, daily newspapers in Montana and elsewhere now require a paid subscription for unlimited online access. Kalispell’s still free online weekly Flathead Beacon is an exception, but I suspect it will build a paywall as soon as it thinks it can get away with it.

Some publishers believe that paywalls compel online moochers to finally pay their fair share. But reading an online publication without going through a paywall is not mooching. It’s akin to enjoy broadcast radio and television that obtains their revenue from advertising. Paywalls are about making every last dollar there is to be made by squeezing every last cent out of the reader.

Whether that’s capitalism at its most efficient and noble manifestation, or greed at its most depraved, depends on one’s economic creed.

But paywalls come with a social cost. The great promise of the internet is distributed knowledge with affordable access available to all. That promise dies when pay-to-click becomes universal. Just a handful of subscriptions to local and national publications can easily cost hundreds of dollars a month (and most academic journals are already out of economic reach for most people outside the academy). That’s especially burdensome for low income families and seniors. It widens the resource gap separating poor students from their wealthier classmates. And it increases the isolation of seniors. Civilization does not benefit from these outcomes of paywalls.

But public libraries might benefit if they offer access to publications behind the paywalls that citizens cannot afford to cross. Instead of teaching people how to build chicken coops, the Flathead County Library (aka ImagineIF Libraries) could, for example, purchase institutional access to the InterLake as a way of mitigating the impact of paywalls. That would be a service of considerable value to the community. Imagine if that actually happened.



29 March 2014

Democratic Party Officials should not be bashing Bohlinger and Adams

But they are, led by the party’s executive committee, and with a glee and meanness that tarnishes the party and probably helps Steve Daines shine more brightly. A determination to punish Bohlinger and Adams for having defied the wishes of the party’s grand pooh-bahs not to have a U.S. Senate primary in Montana is driving this foolishness, which sends to the rank-and-file, the Democrats who vote in the primaries, the message that they are not to be trusted with their votes.

The leadership’s argument that Bohlinger and Adams are not true Democrats stinks of moral decay. Bohlinger and Adams are, figuratively speaking, lately-come-to-Jesus Democrats, sinners who renounced their transgressions and now embrace the true faith. They’re being flogged not because of a past flirtation with the Republican Party, but because they didn’t genuflect to Harry Reid and the other Democratic honchos who fear a primary.

But they should be organizing to defeat John Driscoll

Three days ago I wrote:

The party’s endorsement of John Lewis for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House is a different matter. Lewis’ primary opponent, John Driscoll, is a rogue Democrat who won the 2008 Democratic primary in a flukey situation, didn’t campaign, and in the end, in as lowdown an act of political sabotage as ever committed, endorsed the Republican, Denny Rehberg. Treachery like that must not be forgiven, should not be forgotten, and cannot be ignored when a reprise is attempted.

Lewis, a strong candidate, will beat Driscoll, but he’ll have to spend money to do it. That could weaken him in November if his fundraising efforts are weak, which may be Driscoll’s plan. The party’s executive committee was right to endorse Lewis.

The executive committee’s endorsement of Lewis may have been at variance with most interpretations of the party’s rules. But it is consistent with the principle that a political party has an obligation not to help candidates who stand convicted of trying to sabotage an election, and clearly are running to reprise that foul deed. A party’s rules are not a political suicide pact.



28 March 2014

Air Force starts sweeping out dry rot at Malmstrom AFB

Heads rolled at Malmstrom Air Force Base yesterday as the Air Force began clearing out the dry rot in its missile forces. The Associated Press has the story, and you can be sure that Mike Brown at The Western Word will have the most incisive commentary in Montana’s blogging world.

Nuclear weapons were entrusted to dishonorable officers. A lot of dishonorable officers. Firing a few commanding officers is a start, but in and of itself, it won’t be enough to set matters right. That so many junior officers were involved in the cheating scandal and failed readiness inspections suggests that the Air Force’s problems may begin at the Air Force Academy and exist in all training stages of the missile command. There’s a cultural problem in the service that will be very difficult to correct.


27 March 2014

Nate Silver misforecast Tester v. Rehberg in 2012.
Is he wrong on Walsh v. Daines in 2014?

Nate Silver 2012


Just before the 2012 election, Nate Silver forecast (right) there was a 66 percent chance that Denny Rehberg would win the election for U.S. Senate, defeating Jon Tester by 1.5 percent. But when the votes were counted, Tester was victorious, winning with a 3.7 percent plurality.

Why did Silver wrongly predict Tester v. Rehberg? And, given he was wrong in 2012, could he be wrong now that John Walsh has only a 20 percent chance of beating Steve Daines?

The answers:

  1. He played a gambler’s hunch in 2012, adding a “fundamentals” factor to his analysis instead of sticking to the polls, which showed Tester leading by approximately 1.5–2.0 percent.

  2. His performance in 2012 does not predict his performance in 2014. The events are independent of each other, although his methods are methods he used in 2012.

Friday last, Silver reappeared with his fundamentals, predicting there’s only a 20 percent chance that John Walsh will be elected to the U.S. Senate in November. Not surprisingly, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took issue with that, reminding everyone that Silver had wrongly predicted Jon Tester would lose in 2012.

…read the rest


26 March 2014

Democratic Party right to endorse Lewis, wrong to endorse Walsh

Do public opinion surveys commissioned by Democrats show John Walsh with an uncomfortably narrow, and possibly diminishing, lead over his primary opponents, 77-year-old John Bohlinger and Dirk Adams? Is that the reason the Montana Democratic Party endorsed Walsh the day before filing for the primary closed and is now attacking Bohlinger and Adams? Was the endorsement triggered by a fear that Walsh isn’t raising enough money to afford a primary? Are the party’s grand pooh-bahs simply punishing Bohlinger and Adams for having the temerity to exercise their constitutional rights and run for office in defiance of an edit that there shall be no primaries?

…read the rest


25 March 2014

When abortion remains legal but becomes impossible

Anti-abortion organizations and individual still want Roe v. Wade overturned, and abortion made illegal, and never will concede the issue, but they’re not waiting for a day that may never come. While the crusade against Roe continues, another crusade works to make abortion impossible by changing medical laws to price abortion clinics out of their practices. In Texas, for example, clinics that perform abortions now must meet medical standards that are intended to be prohibitively costly.

In addition, private anti-abortion individuals and organizations are taking steps to deny abortion providers a place to practice. A good example comes from Kalispell, reported the Montana Human Rights Network on 21 March:

…read the rest

A Democratic dog and pony show with the sound turned off

Yesterday, a handful of Democratic legislators and candidates gathered at Flathead Valley Community College to “hear from industry leaders in the medical, education, business and information technology fields address the Montana State Democratic Party Legislative Leadership on Legislative policy and priorities.” As a dues paying member of the Democratic Party I was invited (I resigned my membership this morning).

It was part dog and pony show, part genuine listening tour, and part program to help local legislative candidates. Both political parties conduct these kind of events. They probably do no harm, and may improve the self-confidence of first-time candidates.

…read the rest


24 March 2014

Montana registered voters ranked by county

Fifty-four percent of Montana’s registered voters live in just five counties. Flathead County, with the fourth largest number of registered voters, accounts for 9.2 percent of the state’s total. The table below derives from voter registration statistics (Excel spreadsheet) published by Montana’s Secretary of State on 21 March. The statistics are updated daily, but historical statistics (if kept) are not published online.

…read the rest


23 March 2014

A friendly warning to candidates

I read the fine print. I look for weasel words and phrases, and when I find them — and in the biographies of candidates I find them a lot — red flags go up. If a statement is vague, is it vague because the candidate isn’t thinking clearly, or is it vague because the candidate wants to muddy his position on a subject? If a statement is ambiguous, is the ambiguity deliberate, or is it the result of an inability to write clearly?

Consider the following description of a candidate’s educational credentials:

…read the rest


22 March 2014

Saturday Roundup

Today, why I’m not likely to take a vacation in Florida (and never to move there), some cautionary words on calls to prosecute the break-in at, and vandalism of, All Families Healthcare, a hate crime, and observations on restraint, restraining orders, and the political predicament of John Michael Myers.

…read the rest


21 March 2014

How many constituents do legislators represent?

The number ranges from 3,309 persons per legislator in New Hampshire, which has a 400-member lower house, to 479,157 in California’s 80-member lower house. Montana has 10,152 constituents per legislator in its 100-member lower house. I think we’be much better off with a 40-member house and 20-member senate.


20 March 2014

School elections always make me angry

There probably will be school board and levy elections in the Flathead in May. I say probably because given the strange laws that regulate school elections, sometimes elections are not held. But most of the time there are school elections. Every damn year, in fact. And always in May, even in years when there are primary elections in June.

The turnout tends to be abysmal, sometimes less than 20 percent, which of course suits the teachers’ unions.

I vote in these elections — that’s not only my right, but my duty — but I resent the educational establishment’s resistance to combining school elections with the general elections in even numbered years. (The date of the elections is set by the legislature, but the legislature would move the school elections to the primary or general if the education establishment made the request.)

The situation angers me. That anger makes me less likely to vote for levies and bond issues.



19 March 2014

HD-7 Democratic primary candidate removed from ballot

This sounds bad, but it isn’t. Roxanne Brothers, who’s in her eighth decade, was removed from the ballot because she didn’t file her business disclosure form with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices by yesterday’s 1700 MDT deadline. Not filing the disclosure form is a way of withdrawing from the primary after the official withdrawal deadline (10 March). Brothers’ removal leaves 18-year-old high school student Catie Henderson and middle-aged Alex Schaffer on the Democratic ballot.

Roxanne is a Democrat’s Democrat. I met her in 1990 when I helped her daughter, Tina, run against Bill Boharski in the deeply conservative house district west of Kalispell. Tina lost, but by a margin a lot smaller than anyone expected. And Roxanne? She just redoubled her efforts to rescue her fellow citizens from the Republicans. Here’s my favorite photograph of her, with her dog marching with the Flathead Democrats in the 2011 Flathead County Fair Parade.


Wednesday morning drive-to-work-fast music

Having inflicted Dessie O’Halloran’s unique voice on you earlier this week, I’m making amends by offering golden baritone Mike Denver’s strong and easy performance of the legendary moonshinin’ ballad, Katy Daly. Whiney nasal bluegrass versions of Katy Daly infest Youtube, so Denver’s rich and rockin’ arrangement of a great song is a great service to humankind. Enjoy.


18 March 2014

Plural nouns, Bayesian searches, & creationist judicial candidates

I’ll be spending most of today resolving technical issues, so posting will be light.

At Nate Silver’s Fivethirtyeight blog, back online and expanded after escaping from the New York Times, there are posts on whether the word “data” is a plural noun that requires a plural verb, and on how Bayesian statistics could be employed in the search for Flight 370. At Intelligent Discontent, Don Pogreba looks at self defense laws in Montana and the creationist views of Montana Supreme Court candidate Lawrence VanDyke.

…read the rest


17 March 2014

Important Cahill fundraiser update

Susan Cahill is no longer the sole recipient of the funds this fundraiser generates. She’ll receive the first $25,000, but only part of the rest of the money. The fundraiser’s success (the take is approaching $50k) surprised its organizers, who decided to share the wealth. A notice of the revised distribution formula was added to the fundraiser’s website around noon today. If you want your contribution to go only to Cahill, you should make that clear and verify that donations with that stipulation will be accepted.

Despite the change, Flathead Memo still heartily supports the fundraiser. Please donate what you can, and spread the word that this opportunity to help exists.

James Conner

Fiddling around with Irish music

Today is Saint Patty’s Day, so we’re featuring videos of Irish music and/music by Irish musicians. We’re presenting the videos one at time on the home page, and all together on a special page that will fill up with goodies during the day (and load more and more slowly).

It’s been fun, presenting videos of Irish music. Here are the final three of the day, starting with the High Kings’ version of the Black Velvet Band. I thought about posting another Dessie O’Halloran number, but decided to spare you (one reviewer said Dessie’s voice sounds like a goat undergoing rectal surgery, a description not as hyperbolic as I wish it were).

Black velvet ban

Muirsheen Durkin

A jaunty ballad inspired by the California gold rush of 1849. That was during the Irish potato famine, so the reality was a lot grimmer than presented in the song. This performance is mildly notable for its melodic guitar work. I wasn’t able to identify the artists.

Farewell Enniskillen

Enniskillen is in Northern Ireland, midway between the upper and lower sections of Lough Erne. It’s history is long, storied, and sometimes bloody, and the basis for Tommy Makem’s song, here sung by Makem and the Clancy Brothers.

…listen to the rest


16 March 2014

Fundraiser for Cahill exceeds goal

The online fundraiser for Susan Cahill blew through its $25,000 goal shortly after dawn today. As of 1150 MDT, $30,085 had been contributed by 592 donors. That’s an average donation of $50, although the median donation, a better measure, will be lower. Many of the donors have had the wisdom and courage to let their names be published.

The campaign went viral in the last two days, being reported and endorsed on websites across the nation.

Doug Adams’s sanctimonious letter-to-the-editor

Conservative Republican Doug Adams of Whitefish is running for the Republican nomination in House District 5. In a letter in today’s Daily InterLake, he began by saying he doesn’t:

…condone destruction of someone’s private property, and I doubt that most people who believe in the sanctity of life are gladdened by the damage done to Susan Cahill’s property.

He should have stopped there. But he didn’t:

I feel compelled to mention the irony in a story the Daily Inter Lake ran after the vandalism. It was reported that, among the items destroyed at the abortion clinic recently, there was a sign that said, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”

If someone had done to Ms. Cahill as she does to others, she wouldn’t be here.

In my opinion, that invites readers to conclude that what the robber and vandal did was bad, but that the medical procedures Cahill provided were worse, and that what happened to her was a kind of rough justice. One way Adams can prove that wasn’t what he meant is making a donation to the online fundraiser for Cahill.

Thunderball and the disappearance of Flight 370

A criminal posing as the legitimate pilot steals a Royal Air Force jet carrying two atomic bombs. His motive: money. The motive of the people paying him: serious mischief. He ditches the aircraft in shallow seas off the Bahamas, where it quickly sinks. He’s quickly double-crossed and killed. England sends James Bond to recover the bombs.

Ian Fleming’s 50-year-old novel, Thunderball, could serve as a script for the disappearance of Malaysia’s Boeing 777-200ER, an aircraft that, fully fueled, has a range of almost 9,000 miles. In the absence of evidence, it’s not entirely unreasonable to wonder whether Flight 370’s pilots were who they were supposed to be, and whether there was something of great value aboard that was being stolen. We’ve sent the FAA and NTSB to solve the mystery. I wish we could send James Bond.


15 March 2014

Saturday Roundup

Today, an opportunity to behave like a gypsy in a palace, a worthy cause for which you should spare a dime or more, the possibility of snowflakes on kilts, and another vote that’s political trouble for John Walsh.

…read the rest


14 March 2014

Will violence permanently shut down All Families Healthcare?


Will violence succeed in permanently closing All Families Healthcare, the only clinic in northwest Montana that performs abortions, and does much more? That’s now a grim possibility. Angry and deeply demoralized, AFH’s owner, Susan Cahill, told the InterLake yesterday:

…that she is taking the summer off after the attack, which left her in shock and no longer trusting the community.

Perhaps a summer of fresh air, sunshine, and respite from the stresses of her 38-year career in medicine, will restore her faith in humanity and revitalize her legendary determination not to run out of her clinic by crackpots and religious extremists. I hope so. Should Cahill chose not to reopen AFH, and I will not fault her if that’s the choice she makes, for humans can take only so much, violence will once again have prevailed over reason.

…read the rest


Yep, today is Pi Day, 14 March, known to billions of geometry students as 3.14… (or in base 2 as 11.001001000011111101101010100010001000010110100011…). When you return from your morning coffee break, will you be able to say you 23 some apple π?


13 March 2014

John Walsh’s speech at the Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner

Sen. John Walsh, looking beyond the 3 June primary election, delivered a standard Democratic touch base with all constituencies speech at the party’s annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner in Helena Saturday evening.

Speaking simply — his Flesch-Kincaid reading age score was 11 years; sixth grade — he said, in effect, “I’m just a plain spoken soldier boy from Butte, but I know right from wrong, I care deeply about the people the Democratic party traditionally represents, I’ll fight the good fight for you as your Senator, and I’ll never forget nor betray my roots like rich Shutdown Steve Daines.” An effective message for a Democratic audience.

At the end of his remarks he revealed his strategy for countering Republican claims that his reprimand from the Army’s vice chief of staff disqualifies him for high office:

…read the rest


12 March 2014

Is Dirk Adams gaining on John Walsh?

That’s my question after reading Dirk Adams, did you know your political contributions are public? at the Montana Street Fighter website today. Does Walsh’s polling indicate that Adams, who opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, is picking up steam among, say, young and green Democrats?

If Adams is no threat, a hit like today’s isn’t necessary. Something has Walsh’s operation worried.

High school student filed for House District 7

Catherine Henderson is one of three Democrats who filed for the Democratic primary in old downtown Kalispell’s House District 7 (map). She’s also just 18 years old, a senior at Flathead High School, and the granddaughter of former state representative Dale McGarvey, who’s serving as her treasurer.

If elected, she would not be the first from Kalispell to serve in the legislature at an age so young. In the 1970s, Jack Udhe served at least one term before seeking his fortune in, I believe, California.

Henderson’s competitors for the HD-7 Democratic nomination are Roxanne Brothers, who is in her eighth decade, and Alex Schaeffer, a middle-aged reading tutor.


Memo to candidates, et al: if you want to keep it off the record…

Keep it from escaping your mouth. Say nothing. Don’t make comments, then add, “Oh, by the way, that’s off the record.”

Like hell it is.

And don’t think that ending email with “the information above is privileged and confidential and may not be redistributed” or something to that effect puts the message off the record.

It doesn’t.

Off the record requires prior mutual consent. Unilateral post-utterance attempts to ban publication are underhanded, highhanded, and unenforceable.

On the record is the default at Flathead Memo. If you want to talk off the record, ask first. If you are communicating by email, ask first.

Of open investigations and closed minds

Jumping to conclusions is the nature of humans. Our minds seek closure, so when confronted with ambiguous or incomplete information, we make assumptions that fill in the blanks. Star Trek’s Spock, half human, half Vulcan, stood out because he tolerated more uncertainty than humans, refusing to draw conclusions until he had sufficient data to do so.

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 could use Spock and his data driven logic. We know only that approximately an hour into the flight, somewhere over the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam, contact with the Beijing bound aircraft suddenly stopped.

And that’s all we know for certain. We don’t know whether the airplane crashed or made a safe landing. We don’t even know its final heading. We know only that it disappeared without a trace (so far), and we wonder whether it ever will be found.

There’s another phrase for not jumping to conclusions: keeping an open mind. And it’s a good idea in all walks of life.


11 March 2014

The false flag Bozeman teabagger caper and the roots of Roger

Montana Cowgirl reports that three tea party, and perhaps militia, types filed as Democrats for legislative seats. Their names aren’t Curly, Moe, and Larry, but probably should be. Cowgirl also reports that Libertarian Roger Root has a background that doesn’t look good in the sunlight

At The Western Word, conservative blogger Mike Brown comments on who filed for what from political perspective of a former staffer to retired Sen. Conrad Burns. I read his insights every day. So, too, should you.

GOP gun trust lawyer takes aim at Adams and Lieser

John Michael Myers

Just 30 years old, his resume is already impressive: state champion high school debator, graduate of Flathead High School, honors graduate of Gonzaga University, law degree from Washington and Lee University in Virginia, legal practice in Pennsylvania. Then, a return to his boyhood home, the Flathead Valley. Today he serves on various nonprofit boards, once served on Kalispell’s school board, coaches legislative debate at Flathead High, and practices law in Whitefish. Among his legal services: gun trusts. More on that later.

His name: John Michael Myers. His political persuasion: Republican. His ambition: representing Whitefish’s House District 5 (map) in the 2015 Montana legislature.

…read the rest


10 March 2014

What happened on the last day of filing

Next week, I’ll start looking at the elections in depth, concentrating on legislative contests. In the meantime, here’ what happened today as of 1800 MDT. I’ve provided links to the candidates’ websites when possible, but most last minute filers have made last minute decisions to run and are not prepared with campaign biographies, publicity photographs, and websites.

Montana and Flathead legislative

Champ Edmunds and Susan Cundiff filed today for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Edmunds is a state legislator from Missoula. Cundiff, also from Missoula, works for the School of Business Administration. She’s also an Independent Consultant with Arbonne International, a notary, and a sales associate at Victoria’s Secret. I suspect she’s running to publicize her business interests. Neither candidate is a threat to Rep. Steve Daines.

…read the rest

How many Libertarians will file today?

Filing for the 3 June 2014 Montana primary closes at 1700 MDT today. If there are surprises, they’ll pop up by then.

In the Flathead, the big questions are whether a Democrat will file for House District 7 or any of the county offices, especially county commissioner. A smaller question in the Flathead is whether any more Libertarians will join Christopher Colvin on the ballot.

Libertarians could affect the outcome of the races for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Public Service Commission District 5 (Flathead, Lake, Pondera, Teton, Glacier, and Lewis and Clark counties). So far, no Libertarian has filed for any of these contests, but I think more than one will. In a close race, a Libertarian will pull votes from the Republican and improve the Democrat’s chances of winning. Just ask Jon Tester, Steve Bullock, and the Republican Party.

…read the rest


9 March 2014

John Walsh can be returned, but not re-elected, to the Senate

Speaking at the Montana Democrats’ Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner in Helena last night, keynote speaker Cecily Richards made a mistake Montana’s Democrats must be careful not to repeat:

He’s a great, great senator for the state of Montana, and we’ll work very hard to try to re-elect him in November.

She meant “return him to the Senate.” As an appointed, not an elected, Senator, he can’t be re-elected until he runs for a second term in 2020, assuming he wins in November. Richards can be forgiven the mistake. But if Walsh and his supporters make it, they’ll open themselves for a hard counterpunch.

Rep. Steve Daines can’t use “re-elect” either, unless he changes his mind and decides to run for the U.S. House again.

Flathead Memo will be a nonpartisan blower of an ear shattering whistle whenever “re-elect” is abused in 2014.


The missing Malaysian 777

The disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 in the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam is as fascinating as it is chilling. There was no distress signal. The airplane simply vanished in the dead of night. Whatever happened had to have been catastrophic and sudden.

It might have collided with another aircraft, an aircraft flying without lights and with its radar transponder turned off, or an aircraft controlled by a pilot with his brain turned off. It might have lost all electrical power, which seems equally unlikely. It might have been blown up by a bomb in its huge cargo bay. A pilot or hijacker might have dived the aircraft into the sea. It might have been shot down Or I suppose it might have been hit by an asteroid (possible, although rather improbable).



8 March 2014

Saturday Roundup

More pieces of the 2014 election puzzle fell into place this week with numerous filings. A major — and unpleasant — surprise was John Driscoll’s entry into the Democratic primary for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House. It was not a surprise that political war horse John Bohlinger filed for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate so that the voters could return him to the pasture instead of returning there on his own volition. Drew Turiano became the fifth, and surely the most colorful, Republican to file for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House. In the Flathead, Democrats are within one person of fielding candidates in all of the county’s legislative districts, not an easy task given the Flathead’s strong preference for Republicans. And at the end of the roundup, what a good friend says is the best backhanded compliment he’s ever read.

…read the rest


7 March 2014

Democrats angry at Walsh for voting against Adegbile

John Walsh’s cowardly vote against Debo Adegbile is beginning to hurt him with Democrats, who may switch their primary vote to Dirk Adams in protest. Here’s an example from the comments section on Missoula’s influential 4and20blackbirds blog:


The internet is saturated with scathing denunciations of the Democrats who threw Abegbile under the bus. Three of the best are by Dahlia Lithwick, Adam Serwer, and Scott Lemieux.

Skees presents detailed account of Burns & Gallagher endorsements

Below, verbatim, is Derek Skees’ detailed account of events leading up to his announcement that he had received the endorsements of Conrad Burns and Bill Gallagher.

…read the rest


6 March 2014

Did Conrad Burns endorse both Brad Johnson and Derek Skees?

Did 79-year-old former Senator Conrad Burns endorse both Republican candidates for the Republican nomination for Public Service Commission District 5 — and not realize he had done so? That seems a distinct possibility.

…read the rest

Walsh no profile in courage on Debo Adegbile vote

Debo Adegbile

What’s the matter with Sen. John Walsh? He joined six other Democrats in voting against confirming Debo Adegbile as head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Did Walsh do that because law enforcement officers hate Adegbile for serving as an appellate attorney for a death row inmate convicted of killing a policeman? Or, did he have a principled reason for his vote?

…read the rest


5 March 2014

The break-in at the abortion clinic — terrorism or robbery?

Was a 4 March 2014 break-in at All Families Healthcare, a Kalispell clinic that performs abortions, an act of terrorism — or a just an incident of vandalism and perhaps attempted burglary? A 24-year-old Columbia Falls man, arrested Tuesday evening when caught red-handed robbing a store on Main Street in Kalispell, is, reports the Flathead Beacon, also the prime suspect in the break-in at the clinic — but before that was known, many had concluded that the break-in was a political act, an act of terrorism committed by an opponent of abortion.

…read the rest


4 March 2014

Environmentalists should cut Walsh & Lewis
some slack on the Keystone XL pipeline

Sen. John Walsh and John Lewis support building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would cross northeastern Montana on its way to Houston, Texas, and the gulf coast refineries equipped for cracking the heavy bitumen based crude oil being shoveled and steamed out of Alberta’s Athabasca Tar Sands. For Walsh and Lewis, whether to build the Keystone XL is fundamentally more an issue of energy production and jobs — especially, jobs — than of global warming (or in the weasel phrase of the day, “climate change”).

Online ad at

That delights unions, many of them actively campaigning for building the pipeline because of construction jobs, but rankles environmentalists, who regard global warming as the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse and the Keystone XL as the Devil’s drinking straw.

Unfortunately, some environmentalists, looking for arguments against the pipeline, are deriding construction jobs as temporary and therefore of little benefit to local communities. That’s a mistake.

All construction jobs, by definition, are of limited duration; temporary. That doesn’t make them bad jobs, or jobs communities should discourage. Most construction jobs, especially those with union benefits, pay well and provide a good life for workers and their families.

The Keystone XL will not create many long term jobs along its route, but it will contribute to creating and/or keeping jobs in the gulf coast refineries — jobs just as important to the nation as job building the pipeline through Montana.

If environmentalists continue to rail against construction jobs, they’ll needlessly drive a wedge between themselves and organized labor.

I urge environmentalists to join me in cutting Walsh and Lewis some slack on this. Unless, of course, they like the sound of Sen. Steve Daines.



3 March 2014

Grant County PUD publishes hi-res photo of dam deformation


Wondering why the crack in the Wanapum Dam has officials so concerned? Take a look at the high resolution version of the photograph of the deformation in the dam that the dam’s owner, the Grant County PUD, just published (go the the PUD’s website for the full image). Something moved that shouldn't have moved. If I were living below the dam, I’d be ready to move to higher ground in a heartbeat.

Public confidence in the PUD’s handling of the situation will depend on whether the public believes the PUD is being honest and fully disclosing the facts. So far, the Grant County PUD’s use of its website to report developments on the situation appears to me to be consistent with good crisis management public information practices: just the facts, meaningful context, and no speculation. But if the PUD slips into an evasive, trust us mode that suggests important information is being concealed, confidence in the utility will erode, and erode quickly.

If the PUD’s public relations staff can find the time, it should consider publishing a graph that shows the effect of the lower water level on the dam’s energy output. Reducing the hydraulic head for the turbines from 80 to 60 feet is a 25 percent reduction in head, but because the relationship between the height of the head and turbine power is not linear, the reduction in power, and thus in generating capacity, probably is in the neighborhood of 40–50 percent.



2 March 2014

Mr. President, let Europe deal with the Crimea

We're not sending an army to expel Russia from the Ukraine's Russian speaking Crimean peninsula, so I wish President Obama would stop predicting there will be adverse consequences for Russia unless it withdraws from the Crimea. He's right to express concern for what Secretary of State John Kerry aptly called Russia's 19th Century behavior, but he should make no threats, direct or implied. This is an European issue with a long history — see the maps at Talking Points Memo — that we should leave to the Europeans. Demanding that Putin withdraw his army from the Crimea, and being rebuffed, only makes us look weak and foolish.


1 March 2014

Saturday Roundup

Just two items in today’s roundup, but they’re big ones. In Montana, Rep. Steve Daines is caught red-handed trying to mislead with statistics on the Affordable Care Act. And in the state of Washington, a huge crack in the Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River could have a ripple effect that reaches upstream all the way to the Flathead.

…read the rest