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

April 2014 Archive


30 April 2014

Will Markus Kaarma end up like Byron Smith?

Markus Kaarma of Missoula is charged with deliberate homicide for allegedly killing a German exchange student he found in his garage. According to the charging documents, Kaarma and his common law wife, weary of having their home burgled several times, set a trap. When alarms indicated someone was in his garage, Kaarma grabbed his shotgun and started shooting.

Kaarma plans to plead self-defense under Montana’s castle doctrine law. If his case goes to court, he might end up like Byron Smith of Little Falls, MN, who yesterday was found guilty of murder for killing two intruders who were caught in a trap he set:

…read the rest


29 April 2014

Walsh Social Security video shot by right wing tracker

Yesterday, I reported that a new video ad from Dirk Adams’ campaign left me wondering whether Sen. John Walsh, who promises not to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors now receiving them, supports Social Security for young people not yet in the work force.

Information that arrived in this morning’s email traffic provided context that improved my understanding of Walsh’s remarks, but still left me uneasy about his long-term commitment to the programs. I’ll start with the additional information, and conclude with analysis and comments.

…read the rest


28 April 2014

Is John Walsh weaseling on Social Security?

Is Sen. John Walsh open to privatization of Social Security for young people who are not currently in the workforce? That sure seems to be what’s he’s saying in an anti-Walsh video released by Dirk Adams, one of two Democrats opposing Walsh in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. Adams supports strengthening Social Security:

Supporting Seniors. Dirk Adams is committed to making sure that our parents and grandparents — those who raised us — are supported in their old age. Programs for seniors represent an important example of where the federal government has a critical role to play. Adams is committed to strengthening the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicare while making sure that Montana seniors who count on it are protected.

Former Montana LT. Gov. John Bohlinger, running against Walsh and Adams, in a five-page PDF, says he will co-sponsor Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bill to expand Social Security.

Now, Adams’ video ad:

…read the rest


27 April 2014

Letter from GOP PSC candidate John Campbell


John Campbell, Kalispell, is running for the Republican nomination for the Montana Public Service Commission’s District 5 seat against fellow Republicans Derek Skees and Brad Johnson. Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Campbell takes issue with Flathead Memo’s 8 March 2014 observation that his candidacy might be a soapbox candidacy. In 1994, Campbell ran for the PSC in what was then district 3, losing to Bob Anderson 33,098 to 28,331. Anderson was killed in a rollover accident in Tanzinia, Africa, last October.

…read the rest


26 April 2014

Climate change rally in Kalispell today at noon

There’s a Montanans for Climate Solutions rally in Depot Park in Kalispell today, beginning at noon and ending an hour later. Bring your rain gear and a warm sweater. The NWS’s forecast predicts 49°F, 10 mph south winds, and an 87 percent chance of precipitation.

Update, 1248 MDT. The NWS METAR station at Glacier Park International Airport is down, but Mesonet reports temperatures in the low 40s near Kalispell. At my place near Kalispell, it's 43°F. And, raining. I don’t attend climate change rallies in weather that dismal.

Is this a honk-and-wave? It might be, but I think the format is music and speechifying while the audience shivers. The Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble will play.

There’s a big whoop-de-do in Whitefish this evening to wrap up the day:

…a unique and enjoyable experience is on tap — along with local beer — at the O’Shaughnessy Performing Arts Center in Whitefish at 7:30. Scientists, photographers, painters, farmers and renewable energy companies will be featured along with the Crown of the Continent Choir for a majestic multi-media program entitled, “Stories from the Mountain, Music From the Soul: An Evening of Art, Music, and Science Inspired by Glacier National Park.”



25 April 2014

Historical primary election turnout in Montana 1972–2012

The graph below uses the Voting Eligible Population statistic, which is the voting age population (18+) minus persons not legally qualified to vote, usually foreign nationals, imprisoned felons, and the legally insane. If you’d like to run the numbers yourself, here’s the spreadsheet.


Forest plan collaborative process begins to unravel

The Flathead National Forest’s collaborative forest plan revision process unraveled a bit this week when two environmental groups, and an independent wildlife consultant, formally notified FNF Supervisor Chip Weber that they were, to varying degrees, decreasing their involvement in the Meridian Institute facilitated process.

Signatories to the letter were Keith Hammer of the Swan View Coalition, Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan, and independent wildlife consultant Brian Peck. All have decades of experience in public lands issues. Hammer, especially, is known for his meticulous attention to detail.

Here are excepts from the letter, followed by my thoughts on the situation:

…read the rest


24 April 2014

Praise the Lord, stockpile the ammunition, & keep Cliven Bundy free

That was the overarching message at the Oath Keepers’ Second Amendment rally in Depot Park in Kalispell last Saturday. A well-armed crowd of 150 listened respectfully to speeches by State Sen. Matt Rosendale, Columbia Falls State Rep. Jerry O’Neil, former Whitefish State Rep. Derek Skees (candidate for Montana’s Public Service Commission), Ronalee Skees (candidate for House District 7), Mike Hebert (candidate for HD-11), Republicans all; Libertarian Chris Colvin (candidate for HD-3); and Kila based preacher and national chaplain to the Oath Keepers, Chuck Baldwin, costumed a bit like Billy Jack.


…read the rest


23 April 2014

Is the Cliven Bundy standoff a militia recruiter’s heaven?

At Think Progress, Christie Thompson argues in a long article that right wing militias are exploiting the dispute over Nevadan scofflaw Cliven Bundy’s cattle to recruit new members. That wouldn’t surprise me. As long as the standoff continues, militias and other opportunists will find the pickings are plentiful and ripe.

And, ripe for more than just recruiting.

What makes this situation so dangerous is the weaponry possessed and brandished by the self-appointed protectors of Bundy. Were these people acting in the tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, they would leave their weapons at home and, at the ranch, lock arms and interpose themselves between Bundy and the federal agents they so fear and loath. But these men are dressed for battle, equipped with military style weapons, and apparently looking for an excuse to start shooting. They are taking inspiration and guidance not from Ghandi but from right wing rabble rousers with chips on their shoulders and irons on their hips.

It will be a minor miracle if this ends without serious injury or death from gunfire.


Excerpts from Schuette v. Bamn

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its 6–2 decision in Schuette v. Bamn that Michigan’s voter approved state constitutional amendment banning racial preferences did not violate the U.S. Constitution. According to Justice Kennedy, who wrote the controlling three-justice plurality:

The Court in this case must determine whether an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Michigan, approved and enacted by its voters, is invalid under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The Michigan amendment was challenged by the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (Bamn). Justice Sonia Sotomayer, joined by Justice Ginsberg, wrote a long and impassioned dissent, parts of which she read from the bench.

Boiled down to its essence, the case pitted those who believe in race blind law against those who believe the opposite. Because Kennedy and Sotomayer framed the issue differently, they were in part talking past each other.

Below are excerpts from Kennedy’s decision and Sotomayer’s dissent that caught my eye:

…read the rest


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