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


9 December 2009

Harry Ried’s health care compromise — reform or tragedy?

Details of Harry Ried’s latest compromise are still emerging, but the broad outlines are fairly clear. One yardstick for measuring the results is this passage from the 2008 Democratic platform:

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1 November 2009

Mother Nature’s treat: rainbow separates snow showers on Halloween

Rainbow between snow showers. A rainbow’s end squeezes between snow showers sweeping across the north end of the Flathead Valley late on the afternoon of Saturday, 31 October 2009. Because the violet band is always on the inside of the arc, we know we are looking at the left end of the rainbow. That puts the antisolar point just west of northeast. Given the date, we can therefore deduce that the time of day is late afternoon (1712 MDT).


7 October 2009

Greg Barkus, charged with three felonies, is between a rock and hard time

So now we know. Captain Grog was steering Greg Barkus’ speedboat when Barkus ran his boat onto the rocky shore of Wayfarers State Park, injuring all five on board, three seriously. Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan today charged Barkus with three felonies including operating a motorboat under the influence of alcohol. Reported the Flathead Beacon’s Dan Testa:

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6 October 2009

Kill A Watt reveals poor CFL power factors

The Kill A Watt — ≈ $27 at Costco — is a sophisticated electricity measuring device that, when placed between an electrical load and the alternating current power source, measures voltage, current, watts, and even calculates the cost of operating an applicance. And in the photographs to the left, it’s reporting that the 13-watt compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) being tested isn’t quite the energy saver that we’ve been led to believe.

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3 October 2009

A Montana Republican for single-payer health care?

It appears so. A.J. Otjen, Ph.D., a marketing professor at MSU in Billings, just announced her bid for the Republican nomination for the house seat now occupied by Dennis Rehberg. Here’s what she said in part on health care:

I think the private insurance industry does not work and does not add value. Let the doctors and hospitals stay in a free market system and compete to lower costs and increase quality, but the customers must see the prices for it to work. We can send our bills to a single payer or public option, some kind of collection and payment system, which should be about 15% of our GDP or $2Trillion. We’re paying more than that now with insurance benefits, so I have no problem transferring that to paying it in taxes to a collective system.

That puts her to the left of Max Baucus, where, to be fair, there’s a lot of room for someone to be put.



30 September 2009

Will Barkus boat crash be an inspiration for Law and Order?

Update, 1 October. The Beacon reports the hearing was canceled at the request of the prosecutors. None of this appears to bode well for Barkus if you subscribe to the theory that no one tries to suppress exculpatory evidence.

The website has an interesting essay on the investigation, noting how politics could affect a public official’s ability to get a fair trial in a town so small as Kalispell. Over at Rabid Insanity, Steve has a fascinating commentary on the difficulty of arriving at a valid BAC by extrapolating backward in time using the 0.015 percent per hour rule of thumb. And, of course, there is Gregg Smith’s earlier posting on the Electric City Weblog on the same subject.

Original post. This is weird. Over at the Flathead Beacon, Dan Testa reports that on Friday, 2 October, the district court will hear a motion by Greg Barkus’ attorney, Todd Glazier, to “suppress evidence in the case.” Suppression hearing are common enough, and often deal with evidence that the constable allegedly seized improperly, but this hearing comes in advance of any charges being filed — at least charges filed publicly (could there be a sealed indictment?) — which is a bit unusual.

This case keeps getting more fascinating. It would not surprise me if this accident inspired an episode of Law and Order.



29 September 2009

Do some Democrats believe that only a personal scandal can beat Rehberg?

The key to understanding Dennis McDonald’s no-holds-barred attempt to characterize Rep. Dennis Rehberg as a drunk who is morally unfit to hold public office may lie in the election returns from the 2006 senate contest in Montana.

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28 September 2009

Is a question in an online poll a threat?

If an online poll asks whether a public official should be killed, is the question a threat on that official’s life or just another example of imbecilic speech that is protected by the First Amendment?

To me, that’s the issue posed by an incident today in which someone on Facebook enabled an online poll asking whether President Obama should be killed. The poll was taken down quickly, and perhaps not voluntarily. It appears that most commenting online think the question itself was a threat that should be prosecuted. Other commenters warn that the morality of the question should not be conflated with whether the question was legal.

My thinking at this point is that the question was stupid, but legal. It wasn’t a question in a legitimate public opinion survey, designed not to incite violence but to measure the intensity of the respondent’s beliefs. Nor was it tantamount to whipping up a mob with a rhetorical question. I suspect it was designed to pull the chain of the establishment, and in that it surely succeeded.


24 September 2009

Dennis McDonald makes himself look foolish and petty

Was it Rep. Dennis Rehberg’s fault that State Senator Greg Barkus ran his speedboat up on a rocky shore last month, injuring all five on board? Dennis McDonald, one of two declared candidates for the Democratic nomination to challenge Rehberg, thinks so. He just issued a statement calling on Rehberg to apologize for the accident.

According to Matt Gouras’ story for the Associated Press, “McDonald says the two Republicans should not have been drinking before heading off across the lake.”

I disagree. Rehberg wasn’t at the helm. He was a passenger. Barkus was driving. He functioned as the designated driver, so he shouldn’t have consumed a drop of alcohol. There are unconfirmed reports that he did, but we don’t yet know his blood alcohol level. Rehberg knocked back a glass of ale, and had a BAC in the neighborhood of 0.05. But what’s wrong with that? Why does McDonald think Rehberg should have consumed only beverages with Carrie Nation’s stamp of approval?

Why? Because he thinks he can win more votes by taking cheap shots than he can by engaging Rehberg on the issues.

Well, enough. I’m growing increasingly exasperated with the Democratic Party’s fixation on securing public apologies from Republicans for misdeeds, both real and imagined. It reminds me of Chairman Mao’s demands that his critics, the ones he let live, apologize for their deviationism. After that, they engaged in endless rounds of self-criticism until they brainwashed themselves into perfect conformity with party doctrine.

Democrats, take notice: this kind of campaigning simply distracts everyone from important questions of public policy — health care, banking regulation reform, energy, Iraq and Afghanistan, education, to name a few — and makes Democratic candidates look foolish and petty.


19 September 2009

If charged, will Barkus argue that his GPS receiver was responsible?

If Greg Barkus is charged with a felony or misdemeanor for running his speedboat on the rocks, will he argue that a defective GPS receiver was responsible for the wreck?

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17 September 2009

It’s time to replace Obama

Barack Hussein Obama lost my support this morning. Permanently. One of his propagandists sent me an email message urging me to ask Senators Baucus and Tester to support the President’s health care plan.

I support a single-payer health care plan. It’s the only plan that covers everyone. Barack Hussein Obama once supported a single-payer plan. Then he won the 2008 Presidential election and forgot why he was elected, and who voted for him. Now he’s cutting deals with Big Pharma and the health insurance mafia, selling real reform down the river.

But he still says he wants to pass health reform. If he’s serious, here’s how he can do it: Resign so that Joe Biden can become president. Biden then chooses Dennis Kucinich as his vice-president. When Kucinich is confirmed, Biden resigns so that Kuncinich, who does support a single-payer system, becomes president. That way we would have a president who would fight for real reform. Right now we have a president who prefers to sacrifice real reform on the altar of bipartisanship.

Will Barack Hussein Obama do the right thing? Probably not. We’re probably stuck with him. But I’m finished supporting him. He lied.

Botched execution attempt underscores need to repeal death penalty

An attempt to repeal Montana’s death penalty failed in the 2009 legislative session on a 10-8 vote in the house judiciary committee, probably causing some Democrats to heave a secret sigh of relief.

One of the arguments against repeal is that lethal injection, which Montana uses, is “humane.” That’s always been a fiction, as was demonstrated again this week, this time in Ohio, where an execution attempt was stopped after the executioners could not find a suitable vein after two hours of jabbing the condemned man. Blogger Michael Dorf addresses the legal issues raised by this awful incident.


16 September 2009

Stealing from Gramps to pay Peter without raising Paul’s taxes

The preliminary price tag for Senator Baucus’ health care bill is $856 billion over ten years. Since some of the provisions won’t take effect for several years, the total cost does not represent a steady stream of identical payments.

The cost per year is $85.6 billion (I know, that’s a sweeping simplification, but it’s still a useful number). That’s $280 per person if allocated equally among 305 million Americans. If allocated just among the 45 million now uninsured, the annual per capita cost is $1,900. And, of course, it won’t cover everyone. Only a single-payer system, to which Baucus is irrationally hostile, can do that.

Unfortunately, some $500 billion of the costs will be met by cuts in current government health care programs. This probably amounts to stealing from grandpa to pay impoverished peter without committing the economic sin of raising taxes on rich (and undertaxed) Uncle Paul.

Is the Public Plan just a bargaining chip?

When the Democratic leadership took the single-payer health care option off the table, they lost leverage from the gitgo, writes Mike Ellis of the Washington Independent. That, he says, puts the public option in jeopardy, for the single-payer option could have been used as a bargaining chip to get the public option.

Here’s my question. Was that decision a tactical error, or was it a part of a cynical plan to use the public option as a bargaining chip? There is no reason to take the single-payer option off the table if you want the public plan. There is, however, every reason to take the single-payer option off the table if you intend to use the public plan as a bargaining chip to appease the health insurance industry.

But if a strong public option is sacrificed, what is left that merits the label of reform?


15 September 2009

Ed Corrigan needs to stop trying the Barkus case in the press

On 14 September, Judge Curtis issued an order sealing Greg Barkus’ medical records unless he’s charged with a violation of the law. We now know, thanks to some digging by Missoulian reporter Tristan Scott, that Barkus’ attorney, Todd Glazier, sought the seal because he thought that Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan was disclosing information about the case in violation of a Montana statute on investigative subpoenas.

There was far too much secrecy surrounding Glazier’s motion and Curtis’ order, but the following comment that Scott obtained from Corrigan suggests to me that the DA needs to restrain himself from commenting on the investigation:

Todd (Glazier) felt that by stating in public that we were subpoenaing (Barkus’) medical records, I created an undue prejudice. But frankly, there is nothing further to discuss (in the sealed file). Nothing has changed. Nothing has happened. So we will wait to get those blood results and will likely file charges, and then the public will have access to those records. [Emphasis added.]

He will likely file charges? That’s exactly the kind of comment Curtis wanted to prevent. And it’s wrong. If I were Glazier, I’d move for sanctions against Corrigan.


14 September 2009

Mattson v. Montana Power decision probably contains factual error

Updated. The Montana Supreme Court’s decision in Mattson v. Montana Power, handed down on 25 August 2009, contains a possibly questionable number in its description of the annual hydrograph of Flathead Lake prior to the closing of Kerr Dam in the spring of 1938.

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Gernant stumbles on health care

Young Tyler Gernant just lost my vote for the Democratic nomination for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives because of his cynical stand on health care.

Gernant’s only declared opponent for the nomination, Dennis McDonald, a lawyer and rancher in his sixties, supports a single-payer system. Gernant, who has been pussyfooting around the issue, now demands that McDonald support whatever President Obama supports.

Well, Tyler, Obama is supporting employer based, private health insurance — the same system we have now, only perfumed with bigger subsidies for the insurers. He’s promising change and improvement by insisting on more of the same. He’s wrong — and so are you, both for trying to make the issue one of loyalty to the President, and for endorsing a solution that won’t work. Don’t ask me for my vote or my cash or my time. I don’t know whether I’ll support McDonald, but I do know I’ll never support you.


12 September 2009

Rep. Joe Wilson is a boor, but President Obama is not a god

Joe Wilson at 9 Sept 2009 Kaispell Honk and Wave
An admirer of Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst at today’s honk & wave in Kalispell, MT. Larger image.

Updated. If the Democrats in Congress force Rep. Joe Wilson to apologize for shouting “You lie!” during President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on 9 September, will his coerced apology come from the heart? I wouldn’t think so. And that being the case, what is the point of coercing an apology other than to inflict pain and humiliation upon Wilson? And what is the result other than appearing vindictive and creating a martyr?

Depending on what the speaker says, heckling is not necessarily bad manners. Indeed, it may be the only moral response. Only an authoritarian fool would argue that the only proper conduct during a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress is worshipful genuflecting. Had I been there, I might well have shouted “Bullshit!”, just as I did at home, when Obama falsely dismissed a single-payer system as fringe extremism.

I’m a Democrat, but I wish my party would worry less about bad manners and more about substance. Threatening Wilson with censure if he doesn’t humble himself with a sufficiently abject apology is an exercise in petty tyranny — and, it distracts us from the policy issues of health care reform. Does anyone think the woman in this photograph would have been wearing a “Thank you Rep. Wilson” sign if Democrats had adopted Rep. Barney Frank’s approach and just shrugged and defended Wilson’s right to free speech?


11 September 2009

The true death toll for 911 and our response thereto

Eight years ago, islamic terrorists — most of them from Saudia Arabia — flew two hijacked Boeing airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and a third hijacked Boeing airliner into the Pentagon, murdering 3,000. A fourth hijacked airliner dived into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers mounted an assault on the hijackers.

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9 September 2009

Obama’s health care speech scoreboard: cost 19, moral issue 1

In Obama’s speech on health care earlier this evening, the word “cost” appears 19 times. Only when he quoted Ted Kennedy’s last letter to the President did Obama acknowledge that health care is a moral issue. “Moral” was not among the words that were the President’s own.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we should have elected as our President not Obama but a real Democrat: Dennis Kucinich.

The Republican Response to Obama’s speech, delivered by a Republican Congressman and physician from Louisiana, presented ideas that were not, unfortunately, that different from the President’s. Does this mean the Republicans are moving closer to the President’s position? No. It means Obama is trying to buy Republican votes by selling Democratic ideas down the river.

* * * * *

Here are the reading ease statistics for Obama’s speech:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level:    9.73
Flesch Reading Ease Score:    58.84
Sentences:                      289
Words:                        5,446
Averaage Syllables per Word:   1.52
Average Words per Sentence:   18.84


8 September 2009

Local wingnuts and ignoramuses protect school children from the President

Talking Points Memo reports that an increasing number of schools are not showing their students today’s nationwide speech to school children by President Obama. There are thousands of school districts, and probably tens of thousands of schools, in the U.S., so the news that some fear exposing their students to the President’s thoughts is no surprise. But it is disturbing, and more than a little exasperating, that this kind of nonesense occurs, and that so many local school boards and officials caved-in to the paranoid demands of a handful of local wingnuts and loudmouths. This is a rare opportunity for students, and it will be denied to some by pusillanimous and ignorant adults. What a shame.


7 September 2009

We’re not sinking as fast as before, so things are lookin' up

Here, from a major investment firm’s Eight Reasons Why (We Believe) the Recession Is Over, a classic example of the spinner’s art:

Non-farm payrolls fell by just 247,000 in June, while the unemployment rate eased from 9.5% to 9.4%. The rate of decline in payrolls has been improving since January, when payrolls declined by 741,000. Employment has been a lagging indicator of the economy, improving at the end of or well after every recession in the postwar period.

In other words, now that we’re only losing 1.5 million jobs a year instead of 8.9 million jobs, things are looking up. Sort of like a cruise ship’s captain’s announcing, “Good news. We’re still sinking, but we not taking in water as fast as we were when we hit the reef.”

This is a perfect example of the kind of self-delusion that gets Wall Street into so much trouble. Or as a friend likes to say, “That’s the Prozac talking.”


5 September 2009

Captain Greg, Captain Grog, and why I don’t allow anonymous comments

Updated & expanded. Who was at the helm when Greg Barkus’ speedboat slammed into the rocks at Wayfarers State Park? Captain Greg — or, Captain Grog? It’s an important question, but one I’ve avoided for a couple of reasons. First, when Barkus’ blood alcohol level is finally released by the authorities, the picture will become much clearer. Second, whether or not he was legally drunk, or somewhere between legally drunk and stone cold sober, or stone cold sober, is in some ways not that important. It was night, but there’s still absolutely no excuse for running ashore other than an equipment problem or something on the order of a heart attack. If he was drinking, and investigators with the Flathead County Sheriff’s office think he was, that could, of course, be an aggravating factor.

As for Rehberg, who wasn’t at the helm, and who clearly had swigged something stronger than sarsaparilla: he’s not guilty of anything except, perhaps, a spiritual violation of his political party’s family values creed. Getting a bit sloshed and having a good time is not a hanging offense.

Other bloggers have been less reticent on the alcohol issue, which is their right. A great many who post comments on blogs, especially those blogs that permit anonymous comments, that do not require posters to write under their real names, have been even less restrained, some to the point of being downright irresponsible and mean-spirited.

That’s why I don’t permit automatic posting, let alone anonymous posting, on this blog. There is a long and honorable tradition of anonymous comment in this country, but it is not being practiced much on blogs. Instead, the overwhelming majority of those who post under nom de plumes are doing so to free themselves from accountability for remarks they would never make under their real names. If I did allow anonymous posting, it would generate a lot of traffic (and if I had advertisers, I might make more money), but it would not elevate the discourse. Instead, it would, if examples of what gets posted on the websites of newspapers are an indication, send the discussion into the sewer. On Flathead Memo, that’s not going to happen.



3 September 2009

The boat crash at Wayfarers: was Barkus asleep at the wheel?

At some point, an official report on the Barkus crash will be released. In fact, there may be more than one report, and there may be briefs and exhibits if lawsuits result.

I don’t know what caused the accident. But I do think it’s safe to say that the facts as we now know them are consistent with a scenario in which Barkus fell asleep at the helm as his boat approached Wayfarers State Park. In fact, for whatever reason, he might have been fighting sleep for most of the ride across the lake. If his passengers were hunkered down to avoid the wind, absorbed in conversation or in watching moonlight dance on the wake, he might not have had company to break up the monotomy of running straight and fast, or to warn he was closing the shore too quickly.

I think there’s a high probability that’s what happened. At the last minute, Kirsten Smith reportedly looked forward and said, with some urgency, that a collision was immient. It’s not easy to imagine a credible scenario in which that happened if Barkus had been fully alert and in control of his boat. The Lakeside to Bigfork run requires some course changes, but most skippers master the requisite skills and mishaps are very rare — as long as the helmsman stays awake and alert.

Barkus, of course, has retained legal counsel. That’s not an admission of guilt. It’s simply a prudent response to a situation in which it’s obvious that there’s a potential for criminal and/or civil action. Not having an attorney can have an adverse outcome even for the innocent: witness Clarence Gideon’s travails (which are masterfully depicted in both Anthony Lewis’ book, Gideon’s Trumpet, and the Hallmark Hall of Fame drama based on it starring Henry Fonda and Jose Ferrer). But whatever the ultimate outcome of criminal or civil proceedings, if any, all of the facts and reports should be released. The authorities should not agree to seal any part of the record.


2 September 2009

Replace the residential property tax with the income and sales taxes

It arrived in today’s mail: proof that it’s time to replace taxes on residential real estate with the progressive income tax and a limited sales tax.

Formally known as the 2009 Assessment Notice, the proof advised me that between 1 January 2002 and 1 July 2008, my house and lot increased in value from $118k to $193k — and that my land had more than doubled in market value.

What changed in those six and one-half years? Besides George W. Bush’s assault on civil liberties and the economy? Well, my neighbors’ trees grew taller, blocking more of the view that is my lot’s chief asset. In the new subdivision behind me, an open field was replaced with a manicured lot and $300k home that blocks the sun in the evening most of the summer. And during that time, it became increasingly clear that the City of Kalispell’s favorite boondoggle, the Westside Bypass, will cross my primary access route to the east, greatly increasing the difficulty of finding a safe route to downtown. Moreover, the metastatic growth of Kalispell to the north and west means the horizon will be polluted with more and more streetlights.

So, between reassessments my view deteriorated, solar access was compromised, dark skies threatened, and transportation was guaranteed to become more dangerous. But in the mind of the tax assessor, those things made my lot 221 percent more valuable.

Now, I hope the impact on my pocketbook is mitigated by the work of the last legislature. I don’t yet know, but I certainly will find out. So will tens of thousands of others.

But I have no illusions that anything about this is fair or reasonable. Nor do I have any illusions that it can be made fair or reasonable. Residential property taxes are based on a bureaucrat’s notion of how much a lot and its improvements are worth. They are not based on the value of a transaction, as is the case with a sales tax, or how much one earns, as is the case with the income tax. Government loves the property tax because it provides a steady source of revenue, but that’s not a good enough reason for the tax to continue to exist. The income tax, and yes, even the sales tax, are fairer.

So my message to politicians is this: stop trying to fix the residential property tax. Just get rid of it. Replace it with the progressive income tax, and a limited sales tax.


1 September 2009

Barkus crash may provide classic case study in nocturnal navigation

At first, the water route from Lakeside to Bigfork seems simple, a straight run of just over seven miles. A closer look at the map, however, reveals a more complex set of geographic features that can complicate navigation, especially at night. How Greg Barkus approached those complications on the night of 27 August, when he ran his speedboat into the rocks at Wayfarers State Park, injuring all on board, may well serve as a classic case study in the hazards of nocturnal navigation.

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28 August 2009

Rehberg on the rocks

There’ll be an explanation for why a speedboat carrying Rep. Dennis Rehberg slammed into the rocky shore of Wayfarers State Park around 2200 MDT on 27 August — but there won’t be any excuse unless there’s ironclad proof that (a) the steering and throttle jammed so close to the shore that a crash was inevitable, or (b) the accident was the mostly happy ending of a heroic escape from certain death in the jaws of the Flathead Lake Monster. Otherwise, had the boat been equipped with a geographical positioning system receiver, the dock’s coordinates entered, the proximity alarm enabled, and the boat’s skipper paying attention, the person driving (Update: The Missoulian reports that State Senator Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell, owned the boat and was at the wheel) the boat should have been able to bring his watercraft softly alongside the dock even in a pea-souper fog.

Both the Flathead Beacon and Bigfork Eagle have good reports on the incident, and the Eagle has an excellent photograph of the boat on the rocks. The national blog Talking Points Memo led with the story Saturday evening.


26 August 2009

Underground parking means proposed library sites are too cramped

If you asked the board and staff of the Flathead County Library to provide their vision of a new headquarters building in Kalispell, I suspect they’d answer, “We need more space, a bigger parking lot — and we really, really don’t want to move.” In other words, a lot of improvement, but little change.

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17 August 2009

Is Sec. 209(f)2 of Tester’s bill a logging loophole?

Just how much logging in roadless areas Senator Jon Tester’s 84-page Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2009 would allow is a matter of dispute, but this language pertaining to the Kootenai special management areas troubles me:

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24 July 2009

Flathead Memo’s Dictionary of Democratic Dogs

There's a group of Congressional Democrats, the Blue Dog caucus, that is, I'm sorry to say, dogging it when it comes to health care reform. And that's the kindest possible description of their dilatory tactics and incoherent policy announcements. But they're not the only species of Democratic dogs. There are others, so here, for your convenience, is a limited guide to a species that's not always humankind's best friend:

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30 June 2009

Attacks on planning office are part of a larger scheme

Updated 2 July 2009. The attacks on Flathead County's planning office verge on a witch hunt. Not only do the Flathead’s libertarian capitalists, the laissez-faire and don’t-tread-on-me boys, want chief planner Jeff Harris’ head on a pike, they want the planning office rendered powerless and irrelevant. If they prevail, the planning department will be a one-person operation staffed by a blind clerk with a rubber stamp.

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28 June 2009

County planner Harris handed his enemies a sword

Updated, 2 July 2009, to further clarify the difference between clandestine Yahoo Group and the privately owned but available to all website used by the planning committee. Never hand your enemies a sword. Ancient wisdom, that — and because they forgot or ignored it when they conducted official business on a members only Yahoo Group, Flathead County planning director Jeff Harris and his staff are bleeding from wounds inflicted by critics of the Lakeside planning process.

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21 June 2009

Montana Pride parade was provocative — and meant to be

The Montana Pride parade in Kalispell yesterday was peaceful, colorful, and provocative — and meant to be provocative. So was the rally in Depot Park that followed, with, according to Michael Jamison’s story in the Missoulian, the crowd chanting “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”

I’m sure the participants found marching drag queens down main street and chanting “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” deeply soul satisfying — but that angry, in-your-face, taunting approach is as much a mean-spirited attempt to make the community feel uncomfortable, to inflict punishment, as it is an appeal for tolerance or acceptance. That approach is Montana Pride’s right, but in my opinion it’s neither smart politics nor good manners.


18 June 2009

Kalispell single-payer rally on Friday, 19 June

Want to let Senator Baucus know you support a single-payer system? Please join me and others tomorrow, Friday, 19 June, at 1300 hrs in front of Baucus’ field office at 8 Third Street East in Kalispell. Signs will be available (or bring your own).

Given the extent to which Big Pharma and Big Insurance seem to control congressional Democrats, you may well ask, “what’s the point of waving a flag that Max may never salute?” The point is that it’s our duty as human beings. The greater the threat of injustice, or catastrophic stupidity, the greater our moral obligation to stand up for justice and our enlightened self-interest; to bear witness.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. Elie Wiesel

For more information, please get in touch with David Brothers at


16 June 2009

Obama & Democrats to poison public option against single-payer

Revised. I’ve reluctantly concluded that President Obama and congressional Democrats expect — and intend — to inflict on the nation a health care system based on the Massachusetts plan (private health insurance, a requirement to buy health insurance, and subsidies for those the government thinks cannot afford insurance), which for all intents and purposes is Richard Nixon’s plan for preventing a single-payer system.

I’ve also concluded that the so-called “public option” that Democrats who should be smarter have embraced is what will be sacrificed on the altar of bipartisanship. Obama is stumping for a public option not because he expects, or even wants, it enacted into law, but because it’s a worthless bargaining chip unless the Republicans think he really wants it.

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15 June 2009

Obama sells single-payer health care down the river

Goodby real health care reform. President Obama delivered a 6,000-word speech (PDF) on health care reform to the American Medical Association earlier today. In it, he rejected a single-payer system — the only health care system that can (a) cover everyone, (b) control costs, and (c) not require cruel rationing.

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15 June 2009

Obama should not try to appease the AMA

Will President Obama fight for meaningful health care reform — or will he attempt to appease the unappeasable? We’ll find out today when he addresses the American Medical Association, which opposed health care reform initiatives by Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton. Only Johnson, who brought us Medicare and Medicaid, and was as handy with the stick as he was with the carrot, prevailed.

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9 June 2009

Requiem for an aluminum plant

Updated 11 June. Is the announcement that the aluminum smelter at Columbia Falls will be shut down at the end of July in part a ploy to improve CFAC’s position as it negotiates power prices with the Bonneville Power Administration? That’s a fair question — and I think the answers are (a) yes, and (b) it won’t make any difference. The price of aluminum, which reached $2,968 per metric ton (tonne) a year ago, but fell to $1,338 in February, is on the rebound. If markets continue to improve, and if CFAC can secure electricity at a price that makes operations profitable, the plant could resume operations.

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30 May 2009

Where “off with their heads” sometimes is not enough

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia exports oil, airliner hijackers, and murderous jihadists. Within its borders, it beheads — and, as this AP dispatch reports, sometimes crucifies — those found guilty of homicide. “Friends” like these are one more reason to wean ourselves from foreign oil.


28 May 2009

Obama uses scare tactic on health care

An AP dispatch reports that President Obama says that if health care reform is not enacted this year, it never will be enacted. Conventional wisdom, and some history, suggests that controversial legislation cannot pass in an election year (unless it’s a bailout for Wall Street), so his comment is not entirely without basis. Nevertheless, I think its mostly an attempt to (a) light a fire under Congress, and (b) deter criticism from supporters of the only genuine reform that is fair and affordable: a single-payer system in which the government pays for medicine delivered by private physicians and hospitals.

The Flathead Taliban greet Montana Pride

The Flathead’s self-appointed guardians of public morality are not happy. On 20 June, Montana Pride will march up Main Street in Kalispell, showing the gay flag — a flag that Barry Brubaker and friends do not want flown in the Flathead. Last week, he presented Kalispell’s city council with a petition demanding the revocation of Montana Pride’s parade permit, arguing that the march would “…further erode morality and set precedence for future lasciviousness and lewd displays that other communities have experienced.” Ten days ago, the petition had approximately 200 signatures.

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27 May 2009

Sotomayer — probably confirmable, possibly controversial, and the Sixth Catholic

President Barack Obama explains his choice of Sotomayer.

Law professors Jack Balkin (Yale) and Michael Dorf (Cornell) explain why they think Obama picked Sotomayor. Balkin focuses on the politics, Dorf on why her mastery of the technical side of law is important.

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26 May 2009

Identity politics taint Obama’s Supreme Court choice

I have no idea whether Sonia Sotomayor is a top rank jurist who has the intellect and power of expression to serve as an ideological counterweight to Antonin Scalia. We will find out soon enough.

It appears, however, that gender and ethnicity (her family immigrated from Puerto Rico), played a major part in her selection. That’s troubling in and of itself, although not surprising given the Democratic Party’s love affair with identity politics. What’s more troubling is that she seems to believe that being a Latina woman gives her superior wisdom:

Judge Sotomayor has said her ethnicity and gender are important factors in serving on the bench, a point that could generate debate. “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” she said in a 2002 lecture. Obama Selects Sotomayor, NYT.

That’s arrogance. And truculence. Neither quality is desirable in a Supreme Court justice.


20 May 2009

Why polarizers matter

Clouds after sunset

That’s the F Hill to the southwest. The sun was below the horizon, but the clouds, the leading edge of an advancing front, were still illuminated. Left, no polarizer. Right, the polarizer at full strength.


13 May 2009

Baucus & Tester vote with the banks again

Our blessings in the Senate, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, are at it again, this time voting against establishing a national interest rate ceiling for credit cards that would protect consumers from usury. Earlier this spring they voted against giving bankruptcy courts the authority to modify mortgage contracts to help consumers stay in their homes.

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12 May 2009

Political party tagged data set of 2009 MT legislature’s floor votes

Wondering how many Democrats voted “No” on the final vote on HB-468, Rep. Mike Jopek’s bill to mitigate the impact of rising assessments on property tax bills (see Jopek’s commentary on the legislature’s failure on this issue)? You’ll need a data set of floor votes that identifies each legislator’s political party and Zip Code. Go to for the official data set of floor votes sans party information. But if you need a data set that includes information on political parties, Zip Codes, and legislative districts, you’ll want to download Flathead Memo’s Extended Legislative Floor Votes Data Set.

So, how many Democrats voted for the final version of HB-658?

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11 May 2009

Double rainbow over Kalispell

Double rainbow near Kalispell, MT

We’re in the spring rainbow season, and this double rainbow near Kalispell was one of the best yet. Photographing the full span of the secondary rainbow, which subtends 100–106 degrees of arc, requires either a super-wide-angle lens or making two or more overlapping images that are stitched together using photo merging software. I used the latter method.

4 May 2009

Mike Jopek on the failure of the 61st Legislature

Montana’s 61st legislature accomplished many things — but equitable tax relief for property owners in the Flathead was not one of them. Now Whitefish legislator Rep. Mike Jopek has issued a warning: prepare for pain in your pocketbook. Here’s his oped explaining the situation:

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Kalispell’s main drag in 1942 & now

Saturday Afternoon, April, 1942, by John Vachon, FSA In the spring of 1942, John Vachon, a young photographer for the Farm Security Administration, brought his camera and eye for light to Kalispell. His photographic record of that visit now is online at the Library of Congress.

Yesterday, I found the approximate spot along Kalispell’s main drag where Vachon made the image (metadata PDF) to the right. A couple of buildings have disappeared, replaced by a parking lot, and huge street light poles sprout from the sidewalk like Jack’s beanstalk, but, as this comparison shows, much remains as it was 67 years ago. Yesterday’s image.


1 May 2009

Baucus & Tester help bankers defeat home foreclosure relief

President Obama and most Democrats want to help homeowners by empowering bankruptcy courts to order modifications in the terms of mortgages. But not Senators Baucus and Tester. Although the House passed a similar measure earlier this year, yesterday Max and Jon joined ten other banker friendly Democrats in voting against Sen. Durbin’s amendment to S.896 to help homeowners save their primary residence:

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30 April 2009

New Yorkers need spine starch and a shrink

PDF for printing.
Earlier this week, our Air Force conducted a low level overflight of New York City by an Air Force VC-25, the military variant of the Boeing 747-200B that becomes Air Force One when the President is on board. Escorted by two F-16 fighters, the flight was a “mission” to obtain photographs of the jumbo jet against the metropolitan panorama.

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28 April 2009

Legislative update: HR-3 opponents receive death threats — abstinence policy lives

Death threats. Some Democrats who voted against HR-3, the right wing’s figurative shot at Fort Sumter, reportedly have received death threats. Over at 4and20blackbirds, jhwygirl has the details.

Insurance & abstinence. Today we learn how Democrats secured full funding for the implementation of I-155. They agreed to strip the legislation of Republican Sen. John Brueggeman’s amendment to fund contraception for teenagers covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), thus keeping Montana one of five states with this imbecilic policy. Brueggeman’s Republican colleagues demanded the removal of his amendment to protect family values and promote abstinence. Mike Dennison has the details — and juicy quotes — at the Billings Gazette.



23 April 2009

HR-3 fails on second reading on tie vote

Updated. That was 22 April. The vote, 50-50, was 100 percent partisan. All Republicans voted for it — and all Democrats voted against it, even Deb Kottel, who my sources report was the Democrat in the judiciary committee who broke ranks and joined the Republicans to send the resolution to the floor. No further action has occurred, so it’s increasingly unlikely that the resolution will be resurrected this session. On a relative scale, that’s a relief — but it’s disturbing that the entire Republican membership of the house voted for a resolution that panders to crackpots and zealots who want to lay a legal and political foundation for Montana’s secession from the United States. These legislators have willfully ignored history and stiffarmed common sense.


22 April 2009

Will Montana fire on Fort Sumter?

Updated (update 1). Figuratively speaking, that’s the question posed by HR-3, the second of Rep. Michael More’s state sovereignty resolutions, which escaped the house judiciary committee on a 10-8 vote today (and an 11-7 vote yesterday). The first, HJ-26, failed on a tie vote in committee on 23 February (an attempt to blast it out of committee failed the next day).

No student of the Civil War can read these resolutions without experiencing a chilling moment of deja vu…

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18 April 2009

Of tea bags and Photoshop excesses

The Flathead Beacon has an excellent story, by Dan Testa, and photo essay, by Lido Vizzutti, the Beacon’s outstanding photographer, on the 15 April 2009 Tea Party in Kalispell. And in his Looking Glass blog, Vizzutti discusses a Danish photography contest controversy that raises important questions of journalistic ethics and photographic interpretation. This is worth visiting just to view the impressive Photoshop skills of the photographer who ran afoul of the contest’s judges.


17 April 2009

Do Flathead Reps. Beck, Reichner, and Sonju like invasive species?

Update, 21 April 2009. Beck, Reichner, and Sonju voted for the bill on its third reading in the house today. Should we be calling this trio the Zebra Mussel Three? That’s a fair question: they’re the only Flathead representatives who voted against SB-343, the Montana Aquatic Invasive Species Act, on its second reading in the house yesterday. SB-343 was introduced by Kalispell Republican Sen. Verdell Jackson, and received strong support from Flathead area senators. So why did Beck, Reichner, and Sonju part company with Jackson and all but three members of the senate (Balyeat, Esp, and Juneau)?


16 April 2009

I-155’s approval by voters underscores Democratic weakness

Initiative 155, the “Healthy Montana Kids Plan Act,” was approved by almost 70 percent of Montana’s voters last fall, a fact to which I’ve pointed previously. That victory, however, was not, as some I-155 supporters and Democrats suppose, a sign of strength. Instead, it was a confirmation of political weakness.

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10 April 2009

Reds, Republicans, and health insurance for children

UPDATE, 13 April 2009, on Windy Boy’s defection.

Yesterday, the Republican controlled Montana senate voted not to fully fund the Healthy Montana Kids Plan Act, the ballot measure (I-155) that voters approved last fall by a margin of better than two to one. Earlier in the session, the house found a way to fully fund the program, which provides health insurance for low income children. The difference between the two chambers amounts, say Democrats, to 15,000 children who could be covered, but won’t if the GOP prevails.

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5 April 2009

Signs of the Kalispell Tea Party

UPDATED. I wondered whether I’d encounter pitchforks and howling mobs. Instead, the 200 or so who gathered in Depot Park yesterday — I suspect most voted for Ron Paul — comprised an often grim-faced, but subdued, crowd, various members of which gladly smiled for my camera. President Obama’s name was conspicuous on many signs, Scott Moore’s request, “A sign that is non partisan but makes your point clear (please no Obama or Bush Bashing),” not withstanding. The award for the most mind arresting slogan goes to the fellow wearing the sweatshirt on which Prepare the Horse for Battle is scrawled.

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3 April 2009

Sudan divestment legislation — on to the 62nd legislature

HB-619, Mike Jopek’s Sudan Divestment Act, died in the appropriations committee last week. There is no possibility of resurrecting it this session. But the issue is not going away — and neither am I nor the others who support divestment. I’ve therefore moved all posting to the Sudan Divestment Special Report.