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

31 December 2014

Thanks, and see you next year

My thanks to all who read Flathead Memo and provided tips and feedback in 2014. May the New Year bring you peace, laughter, prosperity, and wisdom.

— James Conner

U. of Michigan becomes Harbaugh Institute of Athletic Excess

Update, 13:10:35 MST. You’ll want to read the LA Times’ story on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s dropping football.

Jim Harbaugh landed on his feet after parting ways with the San Francisco 49ers, where he was the head coach. He landed at the University of Michigan, which gave him a seven-year, $5 million per year, contract to practice his specialty: coaching the brutal game of college football. And according to public officials in Michigan, it won’t cost the taxpayers a cent:

It’s true – big-time programs like Michigan can pay coaches inflated salaries because the money is there, and they choose to pay the salaries because they want to keep the money there.

The entirety of deposed Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s salary and buyout – $14.4 million over his four-year tenure – came from Michigan athletic department coffers and not taxpayers, State Budget Office spokesman Kurt Weiss said. The public university is expected to pay Harbaugh solely through revenue and donations the athletic department generated, with no money from the state included.

“Our records show [Michigan’s athletic department] would likely have enough money,” Weiss said.

Sportswriters are bemoaning an athletics “arms race” that lesser institutions might not be able to afford. But few if any are bemoaning the corruption of the university as an institution of learning where books are more important than pieces of leather fashioned into prolate spheroids.

What university that values academics can afford in any moral sense to pay a coach even as much as the mostly lowly teaching assistant in the humanities, science or engineering, or law? And what university that values the human mind, that wants to develop brainpower, can in good conscience even be connected with a game that causes brain damage in addition to battering the rest of the players’ bodies so badly that a fearful number end up with metal knees and joints before they qualify for Social Security — provided they’re fortunate enough to live that long?

The University of Michigan once was a great school. Now it’s just the Harbaugh Institute of Athletic Excess. What a waste.



30 December 2014

Did Vince Lovato get busted taking photos he didn’t need?

Remember Vince Lovato? The aggressive ex-editor of the Lake County Leader who was arrested on 1 October after getting crosswise with a highway patrolman at the scene of an accident near Polson? His year is ending a lot less worse than it could have ended.

Yesterday, reports the Missoulian’s Vince Devlin, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, disorderly conduct:

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped two other misdemeanor charges against Lovato, for obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest.

Under the agreement, Lovato – who has since been replaced as Leader editor, but continues to work as a reporter and photographer for the weekly newspaper – will pay a $100 fine and $500 in court costs.

…read the rest


29 December 2014 • 21:07:07 MST

Conservative reader makes Flathead Memo’s day

An old verity — when the subject is controversial, the speaker should supply the facts and the audience should supply the indignation — governs my approach to reporting and discussing the issues. Too many adjectives usurp the reader’s prerogative to draw his own conclusions. Insults dishonor the human rights of readers and subjects. Profanity — an occasional hell or damn excepted — offends, and gratuitously; and as my grandfather used to say, is the effort of a weak mind to express itself forcefully. I don’t always abide by those principles perfectly, but I try to.

That’s why I was very pleased this morning to receive the note below from a well respected resident of the Flathead whose politics are far more conservative than mine. I’m withholding his name because I think publishing it might invite some readers to conclude that he’s endorsing Flathead Memo. He wonders whether I remember him. I do. I thank him for his generous comments, and for taking the time to express them.

James, not sure you would remember me from my … days … but I would like to wish you a Happy New Year. I try to avoid politics as much as possible, however when I need to take a stand I do and tend to communicate that. I occasionally take a read on your blog site and enjoy your perspective even though my quite conservative politics often disagree.

Mostly, James, I really just wanted to let you know I appreciate how you communicate and how you have not let yourself fall to the depths of antagonizing and downright appalling behavior trying to make a point like so many in the blog and response world do (both sides of the aisle). While we may not agree on some things I have never doubted your passion in what you do and I know where you stand — that is admirable in anybody.



28 December 2014

Snowin’ heavy & bloggin’ lite

My driveway this morning. Six to eight inches of new snow that fell straight down. Now the wind’s from the north, picking up speed as it begins building drifts. The height of land in the distance is Lone Pine park west of Kalispell.

Flathead Memo will be on a bloggin’ lite schedule the next few days while organizing for 2015, installing some long deferred software upgrades, and further refining Flathead Memo’s design.




27 December 2014

Snowmobiling across lakes in the dark is inherently dangerous

Two men drowned in Seeley Lake yesterday when their snowmobiles either broke through the ice or zoomed into open water. A third man survived a hypothermic dunking.

They were trying to cross the lake after dark, following dinner in one of Seeley Lake’s eateries. Whether they also drank alcoholic beverages was not addressed in early reports; we’ll know more when the investigation is completed and the official report is released.

This accident should raise red flags for other snowmobilers:

  1. Crossing lakes and rivers in the dark is inherently dangerous, especially on a snowmobile. A skier receives auditory cues from his passage — the crunch and scrape of the snow, the cracks and booms of the shifting ice — but the snowmobiler hears only his engine. Even with a full moon, visibility is limited.

  2. Three snowmobiles apparently sank in open water at virtually the same moment, suggesting they may have been advancing abreast of each other instead of traveling single file with plenty of space between the machines.

This tragedy probably will be deemed an error in judgment.


Morning video — Limeliters and the Lonesome Traveler

Left to right, Alex Hassilev, Lou Gottlieb, and tenor Glenn Yarbrough, in the early 1960s. Yarbrough, a sailor and boatbuilder as well as one of the Twentieth Century’s finest folk and pop tenors, probably is best known for Baby, the Rain Must Fall, which he recorded after leaving the Limeliters. Now 84, Yarbrough is still performing.


26 December 2014 • 11:32:43 MST

Kalispell’s city government covets a local sales tax

All tax reform, the late Sen. Russell Long (D-LA) observed, is based on a simple principle: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.” Whitefish, for example, has a two percent resort tax that nicks local residents, but also nicks tourists, who are the fellows behind the tree. Kalispell also wants to tax the fellow behind the tree, but its population exceeds the resort tax ceiling of 6,000, so it wants the Montana Legislature to approve a local option sales tax:

Local Option Sales Tax: The City of Kalispell supports legislation that would provide local communities the option of enacting a voter approved sales tax within municipal limits that would provide an opportunity to maintain infrastructure and services for our community that is impacted by a large number of people who do not reside within the City of Kalispell.

Passing a local option sales tax bill is the first of two steps. The second is putting the issue to the voters in the community that wants to tax those fellows behind the trees

In theory, a Kalispell sales tax could finance filling potholes, building grander roads, installing more streetlights to pollute the night sky, and other infrastructure projects while providing some sort of property tax relief. Whitefish, for example, kicks back some of the money to property owners.

What kind of transactions would be subject to a Kalispell sales tax? Whitefish provides a guide:

Whitefish’s resort tax is a 2% tax on the retail sale of lodging, restaurant and prepared food, alcoholic beverages, ski resort goods and services, and defined luxury items. Whitefish voters allocated the use of the resort tax as follows:

  1. Property tax reduction for taxpayers residing in the city in an amount equal to twenty five percent (25%) of the resort tax revenues derived during the preceding fiscal year;

  2. Provision for the repair and improvement of existing streets, storm sewers, all underground utilities, sidewalks, curbs and gutters, in an amount equal to sixty five percent (65%) of resort tax revenues derived during the preceding fiscal year;

  3. Bicycle paths and other park capital improvements in an amount equal to five percent (5%) of the resort tax revenues derived during the preceding fiscal year;

  4. Cost of administering the resort tax in an amount equal to five percent (5%) per year.

Whitefish’s list of goods and services subject to the two-percent sales tax excludes, as it should, groceries, medicine, and medical care. Were Kalispell to get greedy and slap a sales tax on groceries and medicines, citizens on fixed incomes would suffer a decline in their purchasing power. Therefore, any local option enabling legislation should forbid taxing groceries, medicine, and medical care.

Sen. Cliff Larson (D-Missoula) has asked for a bill (LC0599) with the short title of “Generally revise local option sales tax on tourism laws.” So far, no draft of the bill is available for public review, so whether it would affect Kalispell remains unknown. And as of the time of this writing, no Kalispell area legislator has introduced a local option sales tax bill.



25 December 2014

Christmas video — Ode to Joy

Music is the universal language. Here’s the Hong Kong Festival Orchestra last year delivering a flash mob performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony’s adaptation of Schiller’s Ode to Joy. It’s a popular composition for flash mobs. In Odessa, the Odessa Musicians for Peace and Brotherhood brought their musical scales to a venue known for different scales.

Merry Christmas, everyone. May your day be filled with joy.



24 December 2014

A Christmas that’s white, with lights that are bright

What I see when I stand on my front porch and look to the northeast.


Christmas Eve music for my family and friends


There will be caroling in the villages and cities tonight, and in some places in the countryside, families singing around the piano. In other places, households will crank up the home theater, perhaps even playing one of the videos below.

Favorites in my family included Joy to the World, and Silent Night, so I’ve added them here. We begin with a contemporary performance of Got Tell it on the Mountain by Lynda Randle that would have made Mahalia Jackson proud.

Enjoy, and a Merry Christmas to you.



23 December 2014

Mahalia Jackson, Go Tell it on the Mountain

When I was growing up, there was no finer soul and gospel singer than Mahalia Jackson, who died in 1972. She had a big voice, a smooth and rich big voice, and exquisite control of it; a rare combination of nuance and power that stirred a resonance in the listener that lingered long after her last note faded and the applause died. Another of her songs I remember is Down by the Riverside.

Again, thanks to a good friend who reminded me of Jackson.



22 December 2014

A jolly fat man’s lament: Santa Lost a Ho

A great jug band performance of a song that probably sounds best after two or three eggnogs at the Christmas party. Written by Paul Rogers for the Christmas Jug Band, Santa Lost a Ho was voted NPR’s Christmas Song of the Year in 2005.



21 December 2014

Welcome to winter

Winter begins today. Although the sun is shining, it’s low in the sky. Today’s sunset won’t be the earliest of the year — that occurred 9–13 December — but the sun will be at it’s annual low altitude of just 18° above the southern horizon at solar noon (transit), which occurs at 1236 MST at my home northwest of Kalispell. If you’re six feet tall, your shadow will stretch more than 18 feet. You can use the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Sun or Moon Altitude/Azimuth Table to compute the Sun’s position for your location.


New Orleans Jazz Hounds play I shall not be moved

Here’s a performance one would expect in the Bible Belt, a performance reminiscent of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with Kid Valentine blowing golden notes on his trumpet. But it’s not. It’s from Sushiland, performed at the Asakusa Hub in Tokyo, Japan. And according to a Jazz blogger in England, they also play a toe tappin’ Bogalusa Strut.



20 December 2014

Saturday wake up video — It’s Shoutin’ time in Heaven!

Meet Claude Hopper’s group, The Hoppers, performing It’s Shoutin’ Time in Heaven at a Bill Gaither event. Exuberant soprano Kim Hopper sings lead, holding high notes with the best. Music like this is one of the attractions of evangelical churches.



19 December 2014

Should Godly messages be exempt from campaign finance reporting?


State Sen. David Howard (R-Park City) (Facebook page) may think so. He’s asked for a bill, LC1942, with the short title of “Referendum to exempt religious communications from campaign finance reports.”

What kind of religious communications? A sermon urging the preacher’s congregants to pray for good government is one thing. But if that church spends $2,000 for a mailer telling voters “God wants you to vote for Charlie Jones,” that expenditure belongs in a campaign finance report.

We’ll have to wait until LC1942’s text is available before we know for sure whether Howard wants to help churches use dark money to send the political light. But if that’s his objective, some will say “Lord, help us.”


Morning video — Heartbreak Ridge and New Hope Road

There’s nothing quite like the soaring four-part harmony of a gospel quartet singing southern style. Here’s the Gaither Vocal Band performing Heartbreak Ridge and New Hope Road. The tall singer with the Biblical haircut is Guy Penrod, a graduate of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, a home-schooler, and a very good musician.



18 December 2014

GOP legislator wants tougher penalties for voter fraud


File this under it never hurts to be prepared, under deterring fraud, or under solutions to problems that either don’t exist or are so insignificant they’re not worth worrying about. I favor “solutions to problems that don’t exist…” but any or all categories are legitimate and apply. The choice is yours.

So what is the situation with voter fraud in Montana? The facts were provided by Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch in an oped in the Missoulian, Crying wolf about voter fraud in Montana:

As your secretary of state, and chief elections officer, I take every allegation of election fraud seriously. I launched the “The Fair Elections Center” early in my term so that every Montanan could easily report a potential state election law violation. Every allegation is documented, reviewed and, if warranted, passed on to the appropriate authorities.

The results are overwhelmingly clear. Voter fraud — votes knowingly cast by ineligible individuals — does not exist in Montana. Misleading Montana citizens by repeating inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud deflects resources that should be used to find real solutions to real problems.

Does not exist in Montana. That ought to be definitive, but freshman legislator Rep. Mark Noland (R-Bigfork) isn’t taking any chances. He’s asked for LC1652, which has the short but clear title of “Increase penalties for voter fraud.”

Come on, Rep. Noland. The only fraud associated with voters in Montana is the lies that politicians tell them. Go ahead, reread McCulloch’s oped. Next, ask Santa for Lorraine Minnite’s book, The Myth of Voter Fraud. Finally, start the New Year the right way by withdrawing this frivolous bill.


Bonus video — Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus

Let no one doubt that the Oak Ridge Boys can sing. Here they are performing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, one of my favorites. And as a double bonus, here’s a group organized by Alphabet Photography performing the chorus as a Christmas Food Court Flash Mob.

And, yes, there’s a triple bonus today: the Oaks in 1973, flaunting carnival barker sport jackets and Elvis haircuts, performing a rousing I Know.


Morning video — music from Isla Fideltierra

President Obama deserves, and will get, sustained applause for restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. At last, a President had the courage to reject our stupid policy of waiting for Castro to die. Next, Congress must lift the embargo. Congress will, but perhaps not right away. Meanwhile, Obama’s decisions are the first steps toward primo Cuban cigars being sold legally to lung cancer lovers in the United States; to major league baseball in Havana; to more live Cuban musical performances in the United State; to American tourism in Cuba (Si!). Here, to warm up a cold December day, some hot music from down Havana way. And if you’re up for some fascinating reading, I highy recommend Back Channel to Cuba by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh.



17 December 2014

It’s okay to post official notices online, Secretary McCulloch

House Bill 0058, introduced by Rep. Geraldine Custer (R-Forsyth) at the request of Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, is basically a clean-up bill intended to bring several sections of the Montana Codes Annotated up to date. It provides no partisan advantage, and thus probably won’t incur partisan wrath. Most if not all legislatures routinely pass bills to clean-up the statutes.

But HB-0058 does contain a section (below, full page), intended to provide better public notice for absentee ballot counting boards, that only updates the MCA to the effective end of the pre-internet era.

What current law requires

Current law requires publishing the notice in the official newspaper of the county, a requirement that predates radio and television, and posting a notice in the elections administrator’s office by the close of business on election eve. HB-0058 retires the note on the elections administrator’s office door, and gives the administrator the option of publishing the notice in a newspaper or on radio or television.

But HD-0058 does not require publishing the notice on the elections administrator’s website. In fact, that’s not even an official option.

Why not? Why the Devil not?

…read the rest

Elections administrators should be hired for professional skills

Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula) has asked for a bill, LC0129, that allows counties to detach the administration of elections from the Clerk and Recorder and place it in a new elective office:

NEW SECTION. Section 1. Office of county election administrator — duties.

  1. A county may establish an office of county election administrator as a partisan or nonpartisan elected office, according to the county's adopted form of government, by passing a resolution by majority vote of the county’s governing body.

  2. The elected county election administrator shall perform all duties assigned by law to the county clerk that are related to elector petitions and election administration and all duties assigned by law to a county election administrator.

Calling this a bad idea is understatement. Elections administration should be a profession, not a political office. Elections administrators should be hired on the basis of skills pertinent to administering elections, not on the basis of being the better of the gladhanders on the ballot.

…read the rest


16 December 2014

Why are Montana’s drivers the nation’s worst?

First, let’s not dispute Montana’s having earned this deplorable honor. Car Insurance Comparison did the research and the numbers don’t lie. Here are the ten states with the worst drivers (full table):


And here’s CIC’s summary of Montana’s drivers greatest sins:

Although they finished among the 10 states with the lowest occurrence of Careless Driving, Montana drivers were among the 10 worst in all of the remaining categories, dropping 8 positions from their previous 9th-place finish. Where did they go wrong? They maintained their #1 rank for Drunk Driving, and declined in the Failure to Obey category. You could also argue that improvements in other states were a contributing factor to Montana being at the wrong end of the spectrum.

At least Montana drivers can take some solace in sharing the title of “Worst Drivers” with their fellow award winners in South Carolina.

Some solace. What comes to mind when one thinks of South Carolina? Fort Sumter. Nikki Haley. Jim DeMint. Strom Thurmond. Bob Jones University. The Darlington racetrack. Low wages. Anti-union. And hordes of good ol’ boys in souped-up muscle cars roaring down the highway at 90 miles per hour, singing Dixie, and sipping white lightning from a Mason jar.

And what comes to mind when one thinks of a Montanan driving east of the divide along a long, lonesome highway? A big Caddy with cow horns above the grill steered by a man in a Stetson, doing 90 miles per hour while he sips red beer and listens to the Oak Ridge Boys belting out the Y’ll Come Back Saloon.

So there’s no mystery why we’re the worst drivers in the nation. It’s because we’re speeding drunks who run red lights and take pride in being scofflaws behind the wheel.

My thanks to a good friend for sending me to the CIC’s report.



15 December 2014

Christmas lights

A handheld grab shot from my front porch looking toward the northeast.




14 December 2014

Montana House GOP gets Montana back in the New York Times

Congratulations, Speaker Knudsen, Majority Leader Regier, et al. You converted a molehill of an issue — suitable duds in the Montana House — into a mountain of foolishness that earned you an unflattering story in the New York Times. Here’s a sample:

“It’s like something out of ‘Mad Men,’” said Representative Ellie Hill, a Democrat from Missoula, referring to a television drama set in the 1960s. “The whole thing is totally sexist and bizarre and unnecessary.”

The Cowgirl Blog, a liberal Montana political website, said the new dress guidelines were the latest in a series of tone-deaf and insensitive remarks by male public officials. The other recent offenses include remarks by Mr. Regier comparing women with pregnant cattle, regarding a bill that would criminalize offenses involving the death of an unborn child, and an elected judge’s remarks that blamed a teenager whose teacher had been convicted of raping her.

Representative Carolyn Pease-Lopez, a Democrat, said she was in a committee meeting when a male colleague leaned over and told her he loved her perfume, and that he wanted to buy a bottle for his girlfriend. “The way he said it is what gave me the creeps,” she said.

Knudsen, Regier, and other Republican leaders held Montana up to ridicule not because a legislative dress code is an intrinsically bad idea, but because their approach to the legislative session is to rule, and therefore they thought it unnecessary, indeed they may have thought it improper, to consult with legislators of both parties to arrive at a consensus. Instead, they borrowed heavily from Wyoming’s legislative dress code, put the product on a single sheet of paper, and inflicted it on the legislature with the arrogance and pomposity that accompanies a Papal Bull. I’m surprised it wasn’t written in Latin.

In the interest of decorum, I’m going to call this debacle an unforced error, and leave it to my readers to supply more colorful commentary. They may even want to watch Bob Wire’s musical send-up, although those who do may want to consider keeping their hands over their daughters’ eyes.



13 December 2014

Saturday video — Elizabeth Warren says break up the big banks


There are still good Democrats in Congress. Among the best is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Yesterday evening she delivered a powerful speech on how Citibank has too much economic and political power and must be broken into pieces that are small enough to fail. Currently too big to fail (meaning its losses will be covered by American taxpayers if it makes risky bets that cause huge losses), Citibank is behind the appropriations rider that will gut Dodd-Frank. This is not a speech Hillary Clinton has made or ever will make.



12 December 2014

21% unemployment for Flathead men in their prime working years

For the 17,520 Flathead men aged 25 to 54, the New York Times reports (interactive map) the unemployment rate is 21 percent ±2 percent. Figuratively speaking, one in five of the Flathead’s traditional breadwinners is on the breadline instead of the assembly line. Their women are working, but they are not. Some of this might be due to seasonal factors, but even so the percent of these men who are unemployed is far too high.



11 December 2014 • 15:16:59 MST

Further reading on torture

The CIA, its friends, and the Bush 43 administration people who should be prosecuted for torture, are defending their misdeed, arguing that torture yield information that saved American lives. They aren’t proud of what they did, goes their defense, but the end justified their means and they should be thanked, lauded, even deified, not criticized or punished.

I don’t believe a single word uttered by CIA director John Brennan. Here are a few reactions to Brennan, et al:

Osama Bin Laden’s dead, but his victory over the United States on 9/11 lives on. We were not damaged badly that day: 3,000 lives lost, property damage in the single-digit billions; pro-rated for population and purchasing power, the attack on Pearl Harbor did much more damage. In a speech I thought President George W. Bush should have given, I wrote:

But most of the Pentagon escaped damage, and both military and civilian personnel there continue to discharge their duties. Our system of military command and control is intact and fully operational. From our own shores to the farthest reaches of the Earth, our military forces are on alert and ready to engage and repel all enemies that approach.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What I cannot and will not promise is that terrorism will never again visit our nation. Dangerous currents of zealotry and malice flow throughout the world, currents that will, on occasion, send waves of violence against our shores. But terrorist attacks are rare events. It is an objective fact that Americans are much more likely to be injured or killed by automobile accidents than by terrorist attacks.

Therefore, as we begin our response to today’s attacks, let us remember a great truth about America: we can be defeated only if we defeat ourselves.

The terrorists intended to spill American blood, and they succeeded. But their ultimate goal was to frighten us into surrendering our freedoms in exchange for the illusion of greater safety. Their definition of victory is an America that reacts to today’s attacks not by remaining true to its principles, but by abandoning its freedoms for the false security of a police state. They hope to panic us into committing national suicide.

And panicked we were. We had the bejesus scared out of us. Led by weak, angry, and frightened men, we endorsed, indeed embraced, depraved conduct — torture, indefinite detention without trial, domestic spying, pre-emptive war based on lies. We are less free than before 9/11, but I doubt we are more safe. Bin Laden provoked us into betraying our respect for and protection of human rights and our own freedoms.

The CIA and its historical revisionist allies are pleading necessity, and trying to reduce the Senate’s report to a partisan document. Don’t let them get away with it.



10 December 2014 • 20:45:27 MST

Obama wishes the torture debate would just go away

After the Senate released its censored by the CIA, but still damning, report on torture yesterday, President Obama released a statement reminding the nation that immediately upon taking office, he had ordered an end to torture. That statement included this passage:

But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better. Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.

But Obama, reports Peter Baker at the New York Times, is avoiding issuing a judgment on whether useful information was obtained through torture:

Even as Mr. Obama repeated his belief that the techniques constituted torture and betrayed American values, he declined to address the fundamental question raised by the report, which the committee released on Tuesday: Did they produce meaningful intelligence to stop terrorist attacks, or did the C.I.A. mislead the White House and the public about their effectiveness?

What Obama refused to say, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) did, getting to the heart of the matter in remarks he delivered on the floor of the Senate:

What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism. And I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure – torture’s ineffectiveness – because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.

Holding the torturers and their enablers to account for their evil deeds is not refighting old arguments. It’s justice. Without an accounting, our nation never can put this behind us. Torture is illegal, and, to put it charitably, of little or no value in obtaining reliable and useful information. Those who engaged in it after 9/11, those who gave it their blessing, and those who turned their heads so they just wouldn’t see, knew from the start it was illegal, morally depraved, and contrary to American values. They must not be allowed to go to their graves knowing they got away with inflicting great harm on both individual human beings and the United State of America.

Obama wishes this discussion would just go away, and he’s doing his best to wish it away. It’s politically inconvenient. Therefore, if there’s to be an accounting, he intends it won’t be on his watch. But holding the guilty to account is the responsibility of the nation, and the duty falls on the current government and its leaders, no matter how much they want to abdicate their obligations.

How might accountability be provided?

The legal scholar Edwin Chereminsky, writing in the Los Angeles Times, believes that those responsible should be prosecuted:

Torture is a federal crime, and those who authorized it and engaged in it must be criminally prosecuted. On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a 499-page summary of a report that describes the brutal torture carried out by the U.S. government and its employees and agents.Such conduct is reprehensible, but it also is criminal. The only way to ensure that it does not happen again is to criminally prosecute those involved.

I agree, but neither Obama nor anyone else in his administration has the stomach for that kind of confrontation with a rogue spy agency and the politicians who sanctioned its criminal acts. They want a de facto amnesty for the malefactors.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, recommends a perverse accounting and assignment of guilt: pardoning those who tortured, and those who enabled and protected the torturers.

But let’s face it: Mr. Obama is not inclined to pursue prosecutions — no matter how great the outrage, at home or abroad, over the disclosures — because of the political fallout. He should therefore take ownership of this decision. He should acknowledge that the country’s most senior officials authorized conduct that violated fundamental laws, and compromised our standing in the world as well as our security. If the choice is between a tacit pardon and a formal one, a formal one is better. An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.

Mr. Obama could pardon George J. Tenet for authorizing torture at the C.I.A.’s black sites overseas, Donald H. Rumsfeld for authorizing the use of torture at the Guantánamo Bay prison, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee for crafting the legal cover for torture, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for overseeing it all.

Romero’s distasteful proposal may be the only viable option left for a formal assignment of guilt to the guilty. Obama could issue the pardons before 1200 EST on 20 January 2017. Will he have the moral courage and historical wisdom to do so?



9 December 2014 • 4:35:40 MST

Raw milk legalization debate returns to the legislature

Nancy Ballance

Laws — such as Montana’s — forbidding the sale of unpasteurized (raw) milk save lives. They also incense a handful of natural foods zealots who stiffarm science, arguing that not only is raw milk safe, it’s healthier than pasteurized milk. They want raw milk legalized in Montana — and in 2013, they almost got their way. Bamboozled and appalling gullible and irresponsible legislators whooped HB-254 through the House 96-3. Fortunately, HB-254 stalled in the Senate.

Having come that close, I reckoned the raw milk lovers would take a run at legalizing their beloved beverage in the 2015 legislature. Well, thanks to Rep. Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton), it looks like they’re back. Ballance requested LC1110, which has the short title “Revise laws related to raw milk.”

Nothing has changed since 2013. The science remains the same as I described it on 26 March 2013 in my post Montana House sours on food safety, approves raw milk bill. Raw milk is and always will be dangerous.

When, if, Ballance’s bill gets a hearing in committee, we’ll learn whether there's been any change in the politics. Whether only pasteurized milk should be sold in Montana is a public health issue, but the people pushing HB-254 successfully framed the question as whether people have the right to buy, eat, drink, and serve to their children, any food they want.

In 2013, I was especially outraged that Democratic legislators — legislators from the party that considers itself the party of science — voted for HB-254 and against sensible public health policy:

The willingness of Democrats to throw public health considerations under the manure wagon is especially disheartening. Why do the same legislators who are working their tails off to expand Medicaid in Montana refuse to kill legislation that legalizes the sale of raw milk, a product long proved to be dangerous, especially to children?

I’ve neither forgotten nor forgiven what happened in 2013. This issue is high on my legislative watch list for 2015.



8 December 2014

Lieser and Fielder will debate the future of federal public lands

At the Flathead Beacon, Tristan Scott has the story. Rep. Ed Lieser (D-Whitefish) and Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls) will square off at FVCC Thursday evening at 1900 in a debate sponsored by Montanans for Multiple Use, a conservative organization that does not look unkindly on logging and mineral extraction on public lands.

The Montana Republican Party’s plank on federal public lands calls for transferring them to the states:

…read the rest

Morning video: FDR’s A date that will live in infamy speech

On 8 December 1941, the day after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his legendary A date that will live in infamy address, asked a joint session of Congress to declare war on Japan. Thirty and three minutes later, war was declared, with only Rep. Jeanette Rankin (R-Montana) opposed. There have been times when Congress acted quickly.

FDR’s Infamy Speech remains the gold standard for calls to action following an attack on the United States; a standard not met by George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 attack. For a comparison of these speeches, and the speech I believe Bush should have delivered, see my post from 11 September 2006.



7 December 2014

Porch berries in winter

Berry bearing vines grow in the lee of the arborvitae along my front sidewalk. In spring and summer, they produce blue and yellow flowers. In late fall, they produce deep red berries that stay on the vines well into winter, providing a touch of color against the snow.




6 December 2014

Presumed guilty if accused of rape is not the American way

Rolling Stone magazine is in hot water of its own heating for publishing an alleged account of gang rape at the University of Virginia without double-checking, sometimes without even checking, the facts. The article’s author, and the magazine’s editors, chose to trust instead of sufficiently verifying. Now the story’s fallen apart. The author and editors look like fools, and the alleged victim’s reputation for veracity has been diminished.

That cautionary tale, however, has not daunted the zealots who insist that in cases of rape, authority should always believe the accuser. Here’s Zerlina Maxwell writing in today’s Washington Post:

…read the rest


5 December 2014 • 22:06:11 MST

If too young to vote, too young to be an election judge


At the request of Montana’s Secretary of State, Linda McCulloch, who should know better, Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula) has introduced HB-18, which would allow 16-year-olds to serve as election judges. From the bill’s WHEREASes, the rationale:

…county clerks and recorders and election administrators face increasing difficulties in recruiting qualified registered electors to serve as election judges;

The clerks and administrators have made this complaint for years, but they always manage to hire enough voting age election judges to get the job done. Therefore, there is no shortage of election judges, let alone a shortage that requires recruiting from a pool of teenagers too young to vote.

Recruiting election judges might be easier if they were paid better. And if the first Monday and Tuesday in November were both election days, a reasonable idea, and if both election days were school holidays, there would be hundreds of teachers available to serve as election judges. And many would.

Teenagers too young to vote belong in school, not the polls. Their brains are still developing, and their judgment is often questionable. Having them serve as election judges is a bad idea.



4 December 2014

Legislative shorts and shudders

Evidence that the 2105 legislative session will be contentious mounts daily, and Flathead area legislators continue requesting bills.


…read the rest


3 December 2014

Trashing the Gravis poll will not improve Bullock’s numbers

When campaigns begin taking pot shots at the messengers — at the pollsters — it’s a sure bet that the campaign’s in trouble and the political staffers are rattled. Today, Montana Cowgirl argues that “Gravis marketing is like a broken clock that shows the correct time twice a day.” The reason for this post? Last week’s Gravis poll showing Steve Bullock not only trailing Ryan Zinke and Tim Fox, but polling at Yellow Dog Democrat numbers.

Gravis was not far off the mark for the 2014 general election:


There weren’t many polls for Montana for the 2014 campaign, but for the federal races, the polls, including Gravis, did not wildly diverge from the outcome of the election. See Flathead Memo’s 29 October 2014 post on the polls for the U.S. Senate and House races.

Last summer and fall, whenever I reported what Gravis found, I received emails from campaign and party operatives trying to discredit Gravis and to persuade me not to report the results. I added caveats to my reports, but I did not suppress the polls. Nor will I for the 2016 campaign cycle.

Democrats should stop shooting at the messenger and instead shoot, figuratively, for a message that resonates with the voters.



2 December 2014 • 14:49:02 MST

Love Lives Here & Missoula recounts

Love Lives Here scored half a victory last night when the Whitefish City Council passed a feel-good resolution affirming it’s displeasure with discrimination and enthusiasm for human rights. Running Richard Spencer out of town was the preference of some associated with or sympathetic to LLH, so the resolution amounted to half-a-loaf and a politically workable means of quenching a fire that would not have been ignited by less fearful people. LLH is a group in transition, so perhaps it will adopt a less confrontational approach to issues in the future.

Missoula recounts

In Senate District 49, Republican Richard Haines, who lost to Democrat Diane Sands by 31 votes, a margin of 0.4 percent, has posted a $2,637 bond to have the ballots recounted. Unless there’s a systemic error, his odds of prevailing are very, very low. But there’s no reason to begrudge his decision to avail himself of his right to a recount. Missoulian’s story.

In House District 94, which sprawls north of Missoula (map), conservative Gary Marbut, running as an Independent, lost to Democrat Kimberley Dudik by 48 votes, a 1.4 percent margin that’s too big to qualify for a recount (the upper bound is one-half-percent). So he filed a lawsuit in district court alleging that the Dudik 129/Marbut 63 breakdown of 192 ballots counted by resolution boards is so improbable statistically that:

…read the rest


1 December 2014 • 18:10:29 MST

Steve Bullock polling at Yellow Dog Democrat level


Gravis Marketing polled 836 registered Montana voters on 24–25 November. Gravis polls for Human Events, a very conservative publication.

In one matchup for governor, U.S. Representative-elect Ryan Zinke led incumbent Democrat Steve Bullock 49 to 41 percent with 10 percent undecided. In the other matchup, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox led Bullock 45 ti 41 percent with 14 percent undecided. Those polled were not offered a Libertarian by name, or a generic Libertarian, although a Libertarian will be on the ballot and probably will draw 1–3 percent from the Republican nominee.

Polls this early in the process have little to no predictive power, but may establish a baseline. Democrats, however, should be concerned that Bullock, an incumbent governor, is polling at 41 percent, which is the share of the voted received by Amanda Curtis and John Lewis on 4 November. That indicates to me that Bullock may have been damaged by the John Walsh fiasco, and that his support has contracted to the Yellow Dog Democrat baseline. He has work to do.

Fox v. Bullock makes sense, but Zinke v. Bullock does not. If Zinke wins re-election to the U.S. House in 2016, he’ll be well positioned to make a serious run at Jon Tester in the 2018 midterm. Tester was elected to the Senate with just pluralities in 2006 and 2012. If Republicans succeed in inflicting a top two primary on Montana, there won’t be a Libertarian or any third candidate on the ballot to draw votes from the Republican.

Gravis found that President Obama’s popularity in Montana is at just 32 percent. Obama, of course, won’t be on the 2016 ballot, but Hillary Clinton might be. Therefore Gravis matched her with a number of Republicans, among them Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and — get this — Nikki Haley, the DeMinted Republican governor of South Carolina. It’s not easy to take seriously a Presidential poll that takes Nikki Haley seriously.



30 November 2014

Did the wind atop Big Mountain really hit 219 mph?

No, it probably didn’t. The quality control value is “suspect.” Most likely, the anemometer malfunctioned, possibly because of the weather.

To obtain these values, go to Mesonet, select Kalispell-Glacier NP at the upper left, and click on the symbol at Big Mountain. The table of hourly readouts is below the map.




29 November 2014

Lead footed legislators want to drive too damned fast


Kansas was my favorite state when I drove from Minnesota to college in Texas. The speed limit on the Sunflower State’s freeway was 80 miles per hour. What an enlightened state, I thought, oblivious to the dangers of zooming along at 118 feet per second. Had I then known Montana’s speed limit was “reasonable and prudent,” I might have held the Treasure State in even higher regard. But I grew up, slowed down, and stayed alive.

Montana slowed down, too, prodded — some would say coerced — by the federal government. Now our highest daytime speed limits are 70 mph on two-lane highways, 75 mph on rural interstates. That’s still too fast for me, but as Charles Johnson reports, not fast enough for several Montana legislators, who have asked the legislature’s lawyers to draft bills to raise the daytime speed limit on interstates to 80 mph. Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy (D-Box Elder) would also up the limit on two-lane highways to 80 mph, thus ensuring a legal closing speed of 160 mph (235 fps) just before someone loses control and initiates a head-on crash that kills everyone in both vehicles.

These bills are libertarian grandstanding by legislators who like to drive fast and think they are better drivers than they really are. If they need to travel faster than they can now drive legally, they should become licensed pilots and fly to their destinations.



28 November 2014

An hour-by-hour prediction for the approaching storm

Today’s high will reach approximately 50°F at 1500 MST, then begin falling as the wind shifts to the south, then the northeast, and rain arrives, followed by snow as midnight nears. The National Weather Service publishes an hour-by-hour weather prediction table that many readers will find useful. I’m battening down my hatches and shopping for groceries, so this may be my only post for today.


27 November 2014 • 6:27:25 MST

Best Thanksgiving wishes from Straylena and myself

May your Thanksgiving bring good company, good food, much laughter, and the blessings of peace.