The Flathead Valley’s Leading Independent Journal of Observation, Analysis, & Opinion


Archives, August 2008 through March 2009


31 March 2009

House judiciary committee defeats death penalty repeal. Are some Democrats secretly relieved?

UPDATED An attempt to repeal Montana’s death penalty probably died on 30 March in the house judiciary committee on a 10-8 vote when Democratic Rep. Arlene Becker of Billings joined all nine Republicans to defeat SB-236, which had passed the senate with three Republican votes. Later, the bill was tabled 11-7. This is disappointing, but not surprising.

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22 March 2009

A Salute to the Old Steel Bridge

Old Steel Bridge Built in 1894, the Old Steel Bridge over the Flathead River, east of Kalispell, outlived its design life by decades. For many years before it met its demise it was rickety, dangerous, and something of an adventure to cross. But it was picturesque — and here, as a salute to the old and new, are a few image of both bridges.

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23 February 2009

Proof that the rich are getting richer faster than workers in the middle

Ever get the feeling that the rich are getting richer than the folks on the middle of the income ladder? You’re right. Since 1967, when the federal government began monitoring household income, mean household income has grown faster than median household income, as can be seen in the graph (PDF for printing.) below, which is in 2000 dollars. This is what happens when CEOs and hedge fund managers receive (I refuse to say “earn”) compensation of hundreds of millions, sometimes more than a billion, dollars, while union scale jobs are lost to off-shoring and the American South’s lords of cheap labor.



17 February 2009

Kalispell to Wiki: the city’s area has more than doubled since 2000

As of 31 December 2008, Kalispell encompassed 11.39 square miles, more than double the size reported by the 2000 Census. Here’s the official word from Kalispell’s planning department (my thanks to the department for its help):

The area of the City of Kalispell has more than doubled in land area since 2000. U. S. Census data determined that the area of the City of Kalispell in 1990 was 4.4 square miles and 5.46 square miles in 2000. During 2008, the land area of the city increased by about 570 acres, bringing the total area of the city as of December 31, 2008 to about 7,288 acres or 11.39 square miles. 2008 Construction, Subdivision and Annexation Report Kalispell, Montana, page 25.

I’ve been trying to update the Wikipedia’s entry for Kalispell with these data — the Wiki was using the information from the 2000 Census, but my deviations from the mandated form of citation (endnotes, the least useful scheme in my opinion) were rejected and the obsolete Census data were reposted. This is a perverse manifestation of quality control.

The Wikipedia should require that statistics such as the current size of a city be obtained from that community’s planning department, for data from the 2000 Census can mislead.


12 February 2009

The Daily InterLake’s disappearing editorial section

Updated. How much financial trouble is Kalispell’s Daily InterLake experiencing? Not only is the paper printing fewer pages, the editorial section seems to be disappearing. For many years, the paper published an editorial page Tuesday through Saturday, and a multi-page Perspective section on Sunday. There was no separate Perspective section in the paper I received last Sunday — but contrary to my initial belief that the section was missing entirely, it was buried in the Montana Life section, on pages C7–C10. That was a cost cutting measure that will continue. Today, there was no editorial page. This is ominous news for our community.

Newspapers across the nation are in serious financial trouble due to rapidly declining ad revenues. This is probably the last month that Seattle’s Post Intelligencer, a venerable daily dating back to the second half of the 19th century, will publish. The Minneapolis Star & Tribune filed for bankruptcy. The Detroit Free Press is becoming an electronic newspaper. Stephens Media LLC, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, suspended matching contributions to the 401(k) retirement plans of its employees. The Chicago Tribune is in big trouble.

I understand the economic pressures on newspapers, and what must be done to cut expenses, but I also understand that the decline of the InterLake’s editorial section comes at the worst possible time. The legislature is in session, and Congress is working feverishly on hugely important economic legislation. The nation is in deep trouble, major changes are in order, important ideas are being discussed — and the citizens of the Flathead are losing one of their most important forums for discussing current events. The internet can mitigate this situation to a limited extent, but the loss of a robust opinion section in a community’s daily newspaper never can be fully replaced by electronic media.


9 February 2009

Italian twin-pusher buzzes into Kalispell

Piaggio P180 Avanti

That exotic aircraft to the right is a Piaggio P180 Avanti, a 9-passenger business turboprop known for both its unusual design featuring canards at the nose and its swarm of buzzing hornets square wave audio signature (see the Wikipedia entry for details). Piaggio claims the Avanti II is the world’s fastest and most fuel efficient twin turboprop business aircraft. It’s also a rare bird, with only 150 produced through April, 2008. The Avanti is similar to the now discontinued Beech Starship. I was in my backyard on 4 February, photographing hoarfrost coated trees with an 18-55mm lens when I heard the buzzing of what I first thought was an ultralight aircraft. There was no time to change lenses, which accounts for the low quality of the photograph.


29 January 2009

Roy Brown.

Roy Brown has a good idea, but SB-227 needs improvements

Roy Brown has a good idea on campaign finance reform — mandatory electronic filing — but he needs to take it a few steps further than he has. Brown, the Republican state senator from Billings who lost to Brian Schweitzer in the gubernatorial election last fall, has introduced SB-227, which goes by the short title of “Electronic filing and additional campaign reports.” SB-227 does not define electronic filing, so it’s possible that filing by fax could be so defined, but I think Brown wants the data filed by computer.

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21 January 2009

Obama’s inaugural speech used simple language

Powerful language does not have to be complicated. I occasionally apply a reading ease test to essays as a way of flagging overly complex language. The idea has been around for decades. It has its limits, but it also has its virtues, one of which is providing a number for comparing members of a class of essays. One class is American presidential inaugural addresses.

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20 January 2009

The best from Obama’s inaugural speech

President Barack Obama delivers his inaugural address.
DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Meneguin, U.S. Air Force.

In the paragraphs that follow, I’ve posted what I thought were the most important and memorable lines from Obama’s inaugural address.

Obama seemed nervous, to be slightly hurrying his delivery. His demeanor was stern rather than joyful. In many ways he appeared the dignified, respected clergyman delivering a serious sermon in a serious manner (Take note, Rev. Wright. Obama just showed you the right way to do it.). In both style and substance, I think it is among the ten best inaugural speeches in our history.

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5 January 2009

Democrats should seat Roland Burris & stop shooting themselves in the foot

It’s “let’s shoot ourselves in the foot” time for Democrats again. The secretary of the U.S. Senate refused to accept the certification of Roland Burris’ appointment to the Senate because the papers lacked the blessing of Illinois’ secretary of state.

To say I find this exasperating understates my ire. Burris, 71, is an amiable mediocrity, vain but honest, and he meets the qualifications for U.S. Senator set forth in the Constitution of the United States. He is not under indictment, nor is there any evidence or even allegation that he did anything improper to secure his appointment.

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14 December 2008

Heavens Peak from Kalispell

Heavens Peak from Kalispell

High winds stream clouds from Heavens Peak, 42 miles distant. Taken from a point 1.5 miles northwest of Kalispell, Montana, on the morning of 11 December 2008.


12 December 2008

Today: the earliest sunset of the year

Today is notable not only because a blizzard approaches, but because the sun sets earlier, at 1643 MST in Kalispell, than any other day of the year. The latest sunrise, at 0828 MST, occurs on New Year’s Day, and on a few days before and after. The shortest period of daylight, of course, occurs on the winter solstice, which occurs at 2359 UTC on 20 December this year. Those times assume a flat horizon, of course, so in Kalispell the the sun will set a few minutes earlier, and rise a few minutes later, than indicated in this table (PDF), which I created using the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Multiyear Interactive Computer Almanac, available from Willmann-Bell for $30. You can create your own table online at the USNO’s data services web page.



26 November 2008

Lessons from Montana’s 2008 recount season

Montana’s 2008 recount season concluded yesterday with recounts in state house districts eight and 58. Earlier, Jefferson County recounted ballots in a bond issue election. None of the recounts, each conducted by hand, changed the original outcome of the election. But not all is well.

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24 November 2008

Bush can — and should — be gone by 1 December 2008

Gail Collins of the New York Times thinks it’s time for President George W. Bush to go. She’s right, but her solution — Bush and Cheney resign, Nancy Pelosi becomes President — is half-baked.

There’s a better way. Cheney resigns. Under Section 2 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Bush nominates Obama to become Vice President, asking Congress for an expedited confirmation.

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23 November 2008

Obama set to make first major economic mistake

According to the Politico’s Ben Smith, Bill Daley, an advisor to President Elect Barack Obama, said on yesterday’s edition of Meet the Press that Obama might postpone repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. Instead, the tax cuts would be allowed to expire in 2011.

That’s not why I voted for Obama. And it’s not good economic policy. He promised tax cuts for those with incomes below $250,000 — and tax increases for the rest. Now is the time to follow through on that promise. The thought that he would renege on that promise and help the rich while burdening the middle class — that he would employ trickle-down economics — during the recovery from the recession caused by Bush and the Republicans turns my stomach.


19 November 2008

Recounts in HD-8 and HD-58 are not likely to succeed

Updated. Ballots in two Montana legislative districts — HD-8 in Kalispell, and HD-58 in a little town, Laurel, a bit southwest of Billings — will be recounted, with the HD-8 recount beginning on Tuesday, 25 November. Neither recount is likely to change the outcome of the election.

But much is at stake, so both political parties are playing long shots.

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10 November 2008

Optical scan vote counting machines are far from perfect

Provisional ballots cast in Flathead County — approximately 400 — will be counted this afternoon. As I noted in my previous post, the probability that provisional ballots will reverse the outcome of the 911/OES bond election is vanishingly small. The odds are also against a reversal in House District 8 (Kalispell), where Democrat Cheryl Steenson leads incumbent Republican Craig Witte by 22 votes.

There is, however, one variable that could have an impact on the outcome of a very close election that goes to a recount: the accuracy of the vote counting machine.

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6 November 2008

Will yet to be counted provisional ballots defeat the 911 bond?

Updated. It’s possible. Uncounted provisional ballots number approximately 400, while there are just 206 more Yes than No votes for the bond. But don’t count on it. I ran the numbers last night:

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5 November 2008

The Representative-elect with the thousand-watt smile

That thousand watt smile to the right belongs to 28-year-old Cheryl Steenson, who has much to smile about. The voters in Kalispell’s House District 8 just elected her to represent them in the next session of the Montana Legislature. Her margin of victory over incumbent Republican Craig Witte? Twenty-two votes out of 3,990 cast.

Steenson worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen work that district, and some — Tim Dowell comes to mind — worked it very hard before. That’s why she was able to squeak out a victory in a year in which Sarah Palin inspirited the cultural right to flood the polls in the Flathead to the general benefit of down-ticket Republican candidates.

Kalispell’s voters made the right choice.


3 November 2008

UPDATED. Montana’s check Voter Registration Status website returns false negatives

You can check the status of your voter registration online — but be careful how you do it. The VRS website has a serious bug. Entering perfectly valid information can return a false negative, an error message that your house number is not valid, when in fact your registration is in perfect order.

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2 November 2008

Pitchfork Equipped Protesters Picket Baucus’ Bus

Pitchfork & protesters

Updated, 16 November 2008. Where there's a politician, there are protesters. And when a man with a camera approaches those protesters, the men with the Throw the Bum Out signs usually break into hundred-watt smiles.

That was the case Saturday when I approached Max Baucus' headquarters on First Avenue East in Kalispell. Max's campaign bus was parked in front of the HQ — and standing in front of the bus were these fellows with their signs (one possibly made from lawn signs procured by the midnight requisitioning brigade) and pitchfork.

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26 October 2008

The remains of a Dupont for Commissioner campaign sign

This sign across from the Gateway Apartments on Two Mile Drive in west Kalispell was knocked down sometime late Friday or early Saturday. Tire tracks in the field's tall grass suggest a truck. Was the vandalism a political act? I doubt it. A Blasdel sign two hundred feet away was left standing. I suspect that someone had less than fond memories of Sheriff Dupont, saw his chance for a little revenge, and took it.


25 October 2008

Is “Don’t listen to talk” a code phrase for Democrats?

And if so, what does it mean? I ask the question because the Democratic Party in the Flathead has been running a series of newspaper advertisements with this double-decker headline:

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24 October 2008

Here’s why you should vote for the OES-911 bond

Simply put, I recommend approving the $6.9 million bond because it will underwrite the consolidation of Flathead County’s 911 dispatch and Office of Emergency Services (OES) operations under a single roof and a single command, thereby creating a whole that is greater — much greater — than the sum of its parts. That will bring two major benefits: (1) swifter and surer responses to emergency calls, and (2) greater administrative and operational efficiencies.

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19 October 2008

Kalispell fires city manager, mayor issues mouthful of mush

Kalispell’s city council fired city manager Jim Patrick on Monday, 13 October 2008, in what may have been an illegally closed meeting. At this point, the city has not provided a public accounting of the reasons Patrick was given the heave-ho, but Mayor Pam Kennedy did provide Kalispell’s Daily InterLake with a near world class banality for publication:

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25 September 2008

Only one-third of registered voters approved Evergreen fire hall bond

The election results looked impressive as announced: 1,410 votes for the $4.4 million bond to build a new fire hall in Evergreen, 871 votes against. Expressed as percentages of the votes cast, that’s 61.8 percent Yes, 38.2 percent No. Better than three to two in favor; not bad.

Viewed in a different light, however, the result was less impressive.

Ballots were mailed to 4,253 voters. Only 2,283 ballots were returned, and two of those were blank. The turnout, then…

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23 September 2008

Paulson’s bailout — a skunk that can’t be perfumed

Extraordinary problems can require extraordinary solutions. But must extraordinary solutions require extraordinary, even extra-constitutional, powers? Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson’s proposal for helping troubled banks and financiers puts that question squarely before us.

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20 September 2008

South from Wasilla (the ballad of Sarah Palin)

As someone old enough to remember Johnny Horton's great hit, North to Alaska, using that tune for a satirical ballad about Sarah Palin, John McCain's bizarre choice for his running mate, was irresistable. South from Wasilla probably is best sung gospel style with mixed singers for the chorus.

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15 September 2008

Quick comments on the meltdown on Wall Street

I was going to post more on the library today, but pressing business kept me busy on other matters. In the meantime, a few comments on the financial upheaval on Wall Street are merited.

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12 September 2008

Bond issues in hard times & Flathead County library special report

Library special report. The Flathead County Library Board has new members, but the old issues — especially whether and where to build a new library in Kalispell — remain. I'm consolidating my comments on the situation, and providing background information, in our new special reports section.

Bond issues in hard times. Bond issues, no matter how meritorious, become harder to pass during times of economic decay. With banks failing, unemployment increasing, inflation growing, hard working people losing their homes — I think we're in the initial stages of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression — this is one of those times. That's why I'm not optimistic that the bond issues for a new fire hall in Evergreen ($4.4 million), a new county-wide 911 center ($6.9 million), and critial lands conservation ($10 million), will pass.

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1 September 2008

Why I banished Daily Kos from my blogroll

Updated 9 September. There’s a place for anonymous authorship, but all too often it’s just an excuse for publishing irresponsible writing. That’s why last year I banished the Daily Kos website, a favorite with liberals, from my list of interesting websites. I thought far too many posting on Kos were unsourced screeds by reckless writers hiding behind a jaunty nom de plume. On 30 August 2008, Kos published this despicable, tabloid trash, false accusation that Sarah Palin’s son Trig is actually her grandson. I rest my case.

Update, 9 September. The above link to Kos remains valid, but all pages by the author known as ArcXIX have been scrubbed clean. I’m sure they’re available somewhere else, but you’ll have to find them on your own.



30 August 2008

Postponing the GOP convention is a bad idea

Updated. Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 4 storm and picking up steam, remains aimed at the gulf coast and is expected to make landfall sometime Labor Day (Monday). Residents in the area have begun a reasonably orderly evacuation, indicating lessons learned from Katrina are being observed, and state and federal officials are conducting the before the storm activities they failed to conduct three years ago.

Meanwhile, John McCain, the presumptive GOP candidate, says postponing the Republican National Convention,

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25 August 2008

What was the FBI investigating at the Flathead County Library?

Updated to add panorama. It’s hard to learn much from the minutes of the board meetings — which are public meetings — of the Flathead County Library System. Whether by design or inadvertence, the minutes are cryptic, concealing most of what transpired; not even motions are recorded. But sometimes an item, cryptic though it is, blinks red, as did this paragraph from the Library Director’s Report in the minutes for the 28 February 2008 meeting:

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12 August 2008

Smoke from the Deep Draw Fire

Deep Draw smoke plume

Smoke from the Deep Draw Fire west of Elmo rises above the Salish Mountains and streams east in this photograph taken near the KM Ranch Road south of Whitefish yesterday around 1800. Place your cursor on the image to see a grayscale version in which the plume stands out more clearly from the sky.


8 August 2008

Dennis Rehberg inflicts robo calls on constituents

Rep. Dennis Rehberg The problem with robo (robot) calls is not their content. The problem is that they exist at all. The telephone rings. You answer. A metallic voice begins speaking without pause, and it quickly seems, without end. If you hang-up before the call is finished, the robot often calls back to finish the job. And if you're out of ring reach, the unsolicited, unwanted message is left on your answering machine.

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