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

October 2014 Archive


31 October 2014

CI-45 — good constitutional amendments don’t pass by themselves

Constitutional Amendment 45 changes the name of State Auditor to Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. It’s a good amendment that voters should support — but no one’s campaigning for it, and according to the MSU-B poll (below), it’s down by 10 points. I don’t think it will pass. A similar measure failed in 2006 by a two to one margin.

But it should be approved. The proposed name more accurately describes the functions of the office, thus reducing confusion. Bureaucrats wouldn’t benefit from the name change, but the rest of us would.

In the 2013 Legislature, HB-79, which put the amendment on Tuesday’s ballot, passed the Montana House 97–1, with only the late David Halvorson (R-Sidney) opposed, and the Montana Senate 35–14. Most of the Senate’s Nays were cast by deeply conservative Republicans:

…read the rest

Morning, evening, & midnight video — Werewolves of London

Warren Zevon in London in 1978 performing Werewolves of London.




30 October 2014

Alleged Ebola rumor spreader identifies self

His name is Jim White, and he blogs at After reading Flathead Memo this morning, he emailed me that he had asked his followers to confirm information originating from Steve Quayle, a Bozeman based blogger. I asked White for a copy of his email. Here it is:

…read the rest

Which local blogs said Kalispell hospital had an Ebola patient?

According to reports in the Daily InterLake, and on Kalispell Regional Medical Center’s website, there were false allegations last week that a person sick with Ebola was admitted to KRH, then secretly shipped to Missoula. According to KRMC:

Posts on social media, local blogs, and online discussion forums have reported that Kalispell Regional Medical Center received a patient exhibiting signs of the virus. This claim was thoroughly investigated and was found to be categorically untrue.

Ryan Murray’s story in the InterLake included these paragraphs:

In the wake of news about Americans becoming infected with the disease, a Bozeman blogger and radio host named Steve Quayle sent a message Oct. 26 to his online readers that there was a suspected case of Ebola at Kalispell Regional and that the patient had been transported to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.

Quayle’s report claimed the information was provided by the anonymous spouse of an anonymous nurse who dealt with the infected individual in Kalispell. The blog post was further circulated by a Kalispell blogger who issued an email requesting his followers send him any information they had about the situation.

Just for the record, Flathead Memo is not that local blog, and I am not that local blogger.

Which local blog spread the rumor, KRMC and Daily InterLake? By not naming the blogs, you cast suspicion on all local blogs, including Flathead Memo. That’s not fair. Name the guilty so that the reputations of the innocent are not damaged.



29 October 2014

Latest polls have Curtis and Lewis down double digits

Amanda Curtis is down 18 points according to the latest poll, and 14 points according to the latest (and last) Gravis poll. John Lewis is down 12 points according to the Gravis poll. Both polls are of likely voters. The graphs, with margin of error bars, are below.

Keep in mind that likely voters metric while you consider this paragraph from the Washington Post, flagged by Ed Kilgore at his Political Animal blog:

…read the rest

Mailergate, continued

If you have a moment, pay a visit to Montana Cowgirl today. She has the links to reports that the Mailergate researcher at Dartmouth conducted an ethically dodgy experiment in Texas not that long ago.

California officials now have a copy of the mailer that was inflicted on two Congressional districts there. The California mailer looks like the one that flooded Montana, but with the state seal of California instead of Montana’s seal. California authorities are investigating, and they’re not happy. I suspect that CA Governor Jerry Brown will take an interest. His first elective office was CA Secretary of State, the keeper of the seal.

…read the rest

What’s the best reason not to vote for Ryan Zinke?


He’s a Republican. It’s that simple. If sent to Congress, he’ll caucus with the Republicans in the U.S. House, the shut down the government caucus that opposes universal health care for Americans, tries to reduce the “tax burden” on the rich and superrich, wants to privatize Social Security and Medicare, and is just itching to repeal those onerous regulations that keep our air clean and our water pure.

But, you object, don’t we vote for the person, not the party? That’s the conventional wisdom — and a delusion. Does the person matter? Of course. But the political party to which a candidate belongs matters at least as much, probably even more. And today’s Republican Party is not the party of Dwight David Eisenhower, Richard Milhous Nixon, Ronald Reagan, or even George Walker Bush. It’s the party of Allen West, Paul Ryan, Steve King, Ted Cruz, Louis Gohmert, Michele Bachmann, Joni Ernst; of Ayn Rand spouting libertarian objectivists, of crackpots who fear black helicopters and Agenda 21, and nuts who believe they need guns to protect themselves from their own government.

That Republican Party is Ryan Zinke’s party. Before you vote for him, ask yourself these questions:

…read the rest


28 October 2014

Thuggish fundraising by the DCCC continues

If Democrats take a pounding at the polls next week, one reason might be low Democratic turnout in retaliation to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s psychologically abusive fundraising emails. Two weeks ago, I unsubscribed to the DCCC; for awhile the emails stopped. Now there’re back again, unbidden and unwanted, like a bill collector with a blackjack and brass knuckles pounding on my door at two in the morning, screaming “Pay up, deadbeat, pay up, pay up.” The difference, of course, is that a bill collector who did that could be arrested and jailed.

The more the DCCC abuses me this way, the more I resist its demands for dollars and the more steamed I get. I don’t care if it raises money for Democrats. It’s amoral, immoral, and ought to be a criminal offense.

Mailergate and Zinke’s fitness reports

There’ll be more tomorrow. Today, microbes are in the saddle and riding Flathead Memo to misery.

Mailergate. Stanford and Dartmouth are sending Ignore That Mailing apology letters to the 100,000 Montanans who received mailers from rogue Stanford professor Adam Bonica and his cronies. The letters may reach voters before Election Day. But no one should have illusions. The damage has been done, the mailers can't be wiped from the minds of voters, and this is mighty weak mitigation. It’s like saying, please ignore the fact that our professors shot and killed Fido. Even if one can do that, Fido remains dead.

Zinke’s fitness reports. In 1999, as a Lt. Commander, he was flagged for pushing the envelope too far on travel vouchers. He’s always been something of an operator, possibly a sharp operator, so the question is whether that incident together with things such as his political action committees constitutes a pattern of recklessness that renders him unfit to serve in Congress. By itself, the voucher incident isn’s a hanging offense.

On a 1–5-point scale, his average score on his fitness report was 4.43, a B+. Despite his lapse, he was recommended for the war college and early promotion. On the surface, that doesn’t look too bad.

What we don’t know is how he stacked-up against the other 53,537 officers in the Navy at that time. By itself, a mean fitrep score of 4.43 doesn’s tell us much. What percentile was 4.43, and what percentiles were his scores in the individual fitness categories? He received a 3 “Meets Standards” on Box 35, Military Bearing and Character. That’s a Gentleman’s C. Evidently it was lower than on his 1998 fitrep, and on a relative scale it might have been very low compared to the officer corps. It certainly raised a red flag for the reviewing officer, who nonetheless concluded Zinke had learned his lesson. And he might have. Of course, I suspect it’s a lesson most officers never needed to learn.


27 October 2014

Latest Yougov poll: Daines 56, Curtis 38, undecided 6, other 0

I’ll have more on this tomorrow. The results are online at Yougov, and are subject to the same caveats as earlier polls.

Who in Montana had advance knowledge of Mailergate?

And did those who did have advance notice know that the seal of Montana would appear on the mailers? Those are increasingly important questions. If a person or persons did know the seal would be used, were they good citizens who asked Montana’s Secretary of State when permission to use the seal had been given? Or did they think their higher duty was to the professors preparing to experiment on Montana’s voters?

Mailergate linked to former UK Prime Minister advisor

Head on over to Montana Cowgirl this morning for the latest on the Mailergate experiment (if it was an experiment) that meddled in Montana’s supreme court elections, and that may have broken several laws. The experiment’s principal investigator, Stanford professor Adam Bonica, is a co-founder of Crowdpac, a Silicon Valley start-up that that has some pretty nifty technology and that hopes to make money by taking eight percent of the political contributions it generates. One of Bonica’s fellow co-founders is Steve Hilton, a former high level aide to United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron now teaching at Stanford. Camerson’s a Tory and not a politician who represents labor and common folk.

Was the Mailergate experiment a proof of concept test to validate Crowdpac’s technology and impress future clients and investors? Is that why voters in Montana were selected as involuntary guinea pigs? That’s a distinct possibility.

After visiting Cowgirl’s blog, spend some time at the Wikipedia’s page on unethical experimentation on humans in the United States. Should Mailergate be added to the long list of experiments on people who were conscripted as test subjects without their knowledge or consent? I think so.

Social scientists have no right to tamper with elections to satisfy their curiosity. Experiments like Mailergate’s are morally indefensible, and ought to earn their authors extended stays in secure facilities surrounded by razor wire, guard towers, and near-rabid dogs.



26 October 2014

What the Stanford/Dartmouth Mailergate is and is not

Preface. Discussing issues intelligently requires using a consistent and commonly understood vocabulary. During the last few days, I’ve had an intensifying sense that the discussion of Mailergate is being conducted with different vocabularies, principally the vocabulary, jargon perhaps, of the academy, and the vocabularies employed in politics and everyday life. All of us need to be careful.

What Mailergate is not

It’s not about whether voter turnout is a legitimate field of academic inquiry. And it’s not about the studies within that field of inquiry that led to the DIME database that the Stanford and Dartmouth researchers used to place Mike Wheat and Lawrence Vandyke on a liberal to conservative continuum. DIME is interesting; indeed, I’ve downloaded it for future reference.

Nor is Mailergate about academic freedom. That defense has not been raised yet, but you can bet it will be in an attempt to establish the right of righteous researchers to do whatever they bloody well please.

What Mailergate is

It’s about the experiment in which half-page cards bearing the official seal of Montana, and looking like an official state document, were mailed to 100,000 voters in Montana, ostensibly to see whether injecting information on alleged partisan leanings would increase turnout in the nonpartisan elections for justices of the Montana Supreme Court. Was the experiment ethical? Was it legal? Was it even an experiment — or was it advocacy masquerading as an experiment?

Questions begging for answers

We now know the experiment was funded by $250k from the Hewlett Foundation and $100k from Stanford, but we don’t know the source of the money Stanford contributed. Two of the three researchers work at Stanford, one at Dartmouth, yet institutional approval was provided by Dartmouth, not Stanford, and Stanford’s spokeswoman says the experiment would not have been approved had it been reviewed by Stanford. Why the obvious effort by researchers who are not simple virgins, and who knew better, to avoid review at Stanford? And why did Stanford not conduct a review anyway? After all, Stanford put up $100k. Was the university misled by the information in the application for its grant?

What are the relationships between the researchers and Vandyke and/or friends or associates of Vandyke and/or organizations or people who want Vandyke elected? What is the relationship of the researchers, if any, to; to Everest College?

Did anyone in Montana have prior knowledge of this experiment? Was anyone in Montana in cahoots with the researchers?

Only independent investigations will unearth the entire truth

I’m not counting on the internal investigations at Stanford and Dartmouth to get to the bottom of this affair. The universities’ highest priority is mitigating damage to their reputations. We need independent investigations, from both the Montana and federal governments, and from the fourth estate.



25 October 2014

Stanford/Dartmouth Mailergate wrap-up

Sen. Jon Tester kicked open some doors Thursday and Friday (read his scathing letter to the presidents of Stanford and Dartmouth), and more information about the bogus voters guide sent to Montanans came tumbling out. At the Associate Press, Matt Voltz kept unearthing information. At the Lee state bureau, Mike Dennison wrote a story on Tester’s involvement. And that’s not all. Below, some of what we’ve learned.

…read the rest

Morning video — advice for the mailergate professors

Stanford says Dr. Bonica and his cronies are not available for comment. That’s no surprise. They’ve probably been advised by legal counsel to be neither seen, heard, nor smelled until their election meddling scheme blows over. Here’s some advice for them from Warren Zevon, performing on Letterman in 1988.


24 October 2014

Did Stanford/Dartmouth project violate the Prime Directive?

Late last night, a thoughtful reader in Billings sent me a long email on the technical and ethical problems created by the Meddle in Montana project of the faculty researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth. He reached the heart of the matter in this particularly astute paragraph:

…read the rest

McCulloch ordered Democrat Willis Curdy to remove
the Great Seal from his campaign website

Bowen Greenwood, executive director of Montana’s Republican Party, was in fine form earlier today, trying to spin the Stanford/Dartmouth mailer’s unauthorized use the Montana’s Great Seal as not that big a deal, phrasing his remarks in a way that invites readers to wonder whether McCulloch was abusing her office to harass conservative candidates.

…read the rest

100,000 Stanford/Dartmouth mailers were sent to Montanans

Rogue researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth sent 100,000 bogus voter guides to Montana, according to Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin. Her summary of the project is below. The study’s ostensible purpose? “…to learn whether, if voters are provided more information about candidates, those voters will be more likely to participate in the process.”

The study’s real purpose? At a minimum, to burnish the academic credentials of the researchers. And perhaps that’s all it was, ambition, arrogance, and appallingly poor judgment. But I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the notion that people smart enough to be hired by such prestigious universities could be so stupid and irresponsible.

Backstory. The mailer still hasn’t shown up in my mailbox. I learned about on Facebook a couple of hours after dinner yesterday. A friend in Helena posted a complaint. I asked for and received high resolution scans, researched and wrote overnight, and posted my first story at approximately 0500. I also sent Dr. Bonica, the principle investigator at Stanford, an email asking for comment. I haven’t received a reply from him, and I rather doubt I will. At this point I suspect Stanford’s lawyers have told him to say or write nothing. If so, that’s good advice.

…read the rest


23 October 2014

Update — Bogus voting guides are Stanford research project!

Further thoughts, 1510 MDT. Sunlight is shining on the skunk at last, but it still stinks to high, high heaven. I haven’t ruled out the possibility that this is anti-Wheat advocacy masquerading as academic research. Who paid for the project? And what hypothesis is being tested? Is it whether the mailers will cost Wheat votes? There’s got to be more to this, and we may need our perfumed handkerchiefs to endure the next revelations.

The Associated Press has the story — and it just boggles the mind:

The fliers are actually part of a faculty research project by Stanford University and Dartmouth College. Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin confirmed the connection to the school’s political science department on Thursday, but could provide few details.

“It is not something the university administration was aware of until it was brought to our attention (Wednesday),” she said.

The AP is updating the story on the fly, so keep checking the link.

Whether or not this proves to be a rogue project by unethical political science professors, Stanford and the other universities involved need to be held accountable for meddling in an election. And they need to mitigate the damage forthwith:

  1. Fire the professors. Now. And then sue them for besmirching their institutions.
  2. Send to every voter in Montana a first class mailing setting the record straight. Now.
  3. Run two-minute television spots in Montana explaining the mailers were a fraud perpetrated by Stanford and other university professors who have been fired and never should have been hired.

I hope no one in academia tries to defend this. It’s no more defensible than John Walsh’s plagiarism.


Deceptive voters guide card sent to Montanans by out-of-state group

An unknown group using a bulk postage permit with a Salt Lake City Zip Code recently sent Montanan’s a card that’s titled 2014 Montana General Election Voter Information Guide, and that bears both the Great Seal of Montana and an emblem reading “VOTERS GUIDE.”

It looks official — but it isn’t. It’s an egregious effort to deceive voters into believing they’re reading an official document from the State of Montana that provides information on the candidates running for Montana’s Supreme Court.

According to the card’s disclaimer, it was paid for by researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth.

On the message side of the card are two graphs showing where the candidates for Montana’s Supreme Court fall on a liberal to conservative continuum. There are reference markers for Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republican he defeated in 2012, Mitt Romney. Incumbent justice Mike Wheat is slightly to the right of Obama, but well to the left of his opponent, Lawrence Vandyke, who is to the right of Romney. According to the card, the ratings are from the Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections (DIME) (Dr. Adam Bonica principal investigator), at Stanford University. The Paid for address is 616 Serra Street, which is Encina Hall at Stanford.

But the card was mailed from Salt Lake City. It should be possible for investigators to track down the print shop using the bulk mail permit and possibly ascertain the identity of the people mailing it.

The card may be linked to a website, Montanans4justice, that was registered on 3 September 2014 by an anonymous party (this website is not related to the similarly named Montanans for Justice website that seeks freedom for Barry Beach). The website’s page on Vandyke and Wheat refers to the DIME project at Stanford, the same DIME project that is referenced on the bogus voting guide card.

I could not find on the website of of Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices any paperwork for a political action committee named Montanans for (or 4) Justice.

Use of the Great Seal of Montana in private election materials is frowned upon by Montana’s Secretary of State:

State Seal Not For Political Campaigning

Candidates should not use the Montana state seal on campaign literature.

One element of the Secretary of State’s job is to serve as keeper of the Great Seal of the State of Montana. The office grants permission for organizations or individuals who want to use the seal on materials. That permission is typically not given for political campaigns because it would imply that a campaign already had the endorsement of the people of Montana.

Although the card does not explicitly urge Montanans to vote for any candidate for the Montana Supreme Court, it is deceptive in a way that cannot be accidental, and presents information in a way that invites voters to conclude that researchers at two of America’s most prestigious universities want them to know that Mike Wheat is a very liberal man; almost as liberal as that black devil in the White House. Given the context, only a fool would conclude the card is intended to help Wheat.

Now, it is possible that researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth are responsible for the card, do support Lawrence Vandyke, and want Montanans to vote for Vandyke. There’s nothing illegal about that, but it does raise a lot of questions, especially when the people behind the card expended considerable effort to conceal their names. Names hidden in dark corners are never good things in politics.



22 October 2014

Latest U.S. Senate & House polls — and limitations thereof

Montana’s elections for the U.S. House and Senate have been sparsely polled this year, and some of the polls raise red flags on methodology and/or competence. This is the natural consequence of our having a Senate election that the Democratic Party botched, and botched big-time, and a much closer House election whose outcome won’t decide control of the House.

The publicly available polls are graphed below, but some caveats are in order.

…read the rest


21 October 2014

Morning graphic: Montana absentee ballots 2006–2012

Montana mailed 82,500 fewer absentee ballots this year than in 2012. That’s a substantial falloff, and I suspect the falloff is mostly Democratic. In Flathead County, 25,558 absentee ballots were mailed in 2012. So far this year, only 16,684 absentee ballots have been mailed, a falloff of 8,874. Below, the statewide numbers presented as a column graph.



20 October 2014

Obama sets bad example by voting early

President Obama voted in Chicago today, two weeks before Election Day. He sets a good example by voting, but by voting early he sets a bad example that encourages voters to make their decisions before the campaigns conclude and all the facts and arguments are available.

Democratic leaders like early and absentee voting. The practices, they contend, increase voter convenience, especially for the elderly. Perhaps in some cases that’s true. But those are not the principal reasons Democrats say “vote early, vote absentee.” Early votes are banked votes. Democrats fear some of their voters won’t vote on Election Day, so they work hard to bank these votes through early and absentee voting. That reduces the resources needed to get out the vote on Election Day.

Democrats believe that early and absentee votes were critical to Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012, and to Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s wins in 2006 and 2012. I’m not convinced of that, but within Democratic leadership circles it’s considered unchallengeable truth, an established fact for which skepticism is proof of disloyalty.

As always, I’m voting on Election Day. I urge you do the same.



19 October 2014

U.S House debate final score: Zinke 1, Fellows 1, Lewis 2

All were equal on poise and presentation, but Lewis clearly was better informed and more thoughtful. It was apparent why Lewis has won the endorsements of the Helena Independent Record, Billings Gazette, Bozeman Chronicle, and Montana Standard (Butte).

The Daily InterLake and FVCC did a better job with audio than the television folks running the 29 September debate, and the moderator and panelists comported themselves as professionals.

A warm, golden late October afternoon probably thinned the audience watching via video streaming on the internet. The debate should have been televised on all channels, and Old Man Weather should have provided cold rain that kept voters indoors.


On Ebola, present the facts and forego the preaching

Updated 30 October. Speaking about the Ebola virus in his radio address yesterday, President Obama said:

…we have to keep this in perspective. As our public health experts point out, every year thousands of Americans die from the flu.

That’s a common comparison, but not entirely apt — and a bit misleading.

Thousands do die each year from influenza and complications thereof, while so far only one person in the U.S. has died from Ebola. But influenza, which is much more contagious, kills a much smaller percentage of those who catch it than does Ebola.

According to the World Health Organization, as of 14 October the official Ebola death toll in Africa was 4,555 out of 9,216 cases in seven countries. One’s odds of surviving the disease without the rare and expensive experimental drug ZMapp are even, a coin toss. With ZMapp, the odds of surviving seem higher, but are not yet reliably quantifiable.

One’s odds of surviving influenza are on average much higher. During the 1918–19 Spanish Flu pandemic, 675,000 Americans died. One in 67 American servicemen died, reported John Berry in The Great Influenza; not every serviceman was infected. If 25 percent of the population caught the disease, 2.6 percent of those catching it — roughly one in 40 — died. Today, a much smaller percentage of those who catch influenza die from it (finding a solid figure is difficult).

The probability of dying from a disease once infected with it is just one of three probabilities employed to calculate the probability of health person’s dying from the disease. The other two probabilities are the probability of being exposed to the disease, and the probability of becoming infected once exposed. The equation is [Pe * Pi * Pd = Overall Probability of Dying].

Updated. For Ebola in America, Pe is very low, Pi is low but significant, and Pd is high, on the order of one or two in four or five (a very rough estimate) but the recoveries of infected Americans suggests that with treatment in our special medical facilities, patients have a better chance of surviving than once thought. For influenza, Pe is considerably higher than for Ebola, Pi is probably higher, but Pd is much lower than for Ebola.

That’s why reminding Americans that influenza and automobile accidents kill thousands more Americans than Ebola does nothing to make Ebola less frightening. People are thinking, “If I catch Ebola,” the odds that I’ll die from it are just about even. They are not factoring in the probability of being exposed to Ebola, which for most of us is just about zilch (but a lot higher for health care workers assigned to an Ebola case).

This is neither hysteria nor panic. It’s humankind’s instinctive approach to evaluating a threat. Our initial question is, “if this happens to me, what is the likely outcome?” If the outcome is dire, our next question is “how likely is this to happen to me?” followed by “do I need to modify my behavior to reduce the probability this will happen to me, and if so, how and by how much?”

What Americans need from their leaders are not patronizing assurances or gratuitous appeals for calm, but enough information that they can act in their enlightened self-interest. Present the facts, and forego the preaching.



18 October 2014

Morning video — Choctaw Hayride

Performed by Alison Krause and Union Station.


17 October 2014

Pete’s music, Ryan’s money, Ebola madness

A musical tribute to Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer and liberal who died last year, will be presented next Thursday, 23 October, in Kalispell. by the Flathead Democratic Women. Bill Rossiter, Dave Streeter, and others will perform. Time: 1900–2100 MDT. Place: Glacier Art Academy, 29 3rd ST E, Kalispell. “Kids are free” (no age limit specified), but adults will be asked for a five-dollar donation. Republicans, etc., are welcome. Pete’s music transcends politics.

Ryan Zinke raised a ton of cash the last quarter, but Democrats say most of it went to his fundraisers. Greg Strandberg has a good summmary at Big Sky Words. I just downloaded the data for Zinke and Lewis, and will analyze the numbers this weekend, but the most important information is how much cash the candidates had on hand on 30 September, the end of the reporting period. Zinke had $491k, Lewis $261k. They’re spending it fast on those 30-second television spots that I consider a bane of politics and disservice to the nation.


St. Patricks Hospital in Missoula has just one bed for Ebola patients, Rachel Maddow reported last night. With more staff, it could have three. There are ten beds in the infectious disease unit in Omaha, NB, but only three are available for Ebola patients, who generate a tremendous amount of dangerous waste. At Omaha, that waste is sterilized in a big autoclave, then incinerated. The autoclave is the bottleneck. Maddow reported there are three Ebola beds at Emory in Atlanta, and just two at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.

The NIH studies infectious diseases at its Hamilton lab in the Bitterroot Valley. The Center for Disease Control is in Atlanta, close to Emory. I’m not sure what’s in Omaha, but I suspect it’s another facility where a bad bug could get loose. These four infectious disease units appear placed to treat victims of laboratory accidents, and probably never were expected to be needed for an outbreak of Ebola and other deadly microbes in the general population. In some ways, their existence is eerily reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s science fiction classic, The Andromeda Strain.

If a question on Ebola is asked at the 19 October Lewis-Zinke-Wheeler debate in Kalispell, I hope none treats it as a political issue and all treat it as a public health issue. What happened in Dallas was a reminder that controlling this pathogen requires humility, the willingness to learn from mistakes and from others. Believing that our health care system is the best in the world — hubris — leads to believing we can learn nothing from others, not even from the best in the world at dealing with Ebola, Médecins Sans Frontières. Well, that flight of fancy ended with the wax on our wings melting and our being brought back to earth in a southern exposure first hard landing. But we’re learning. On 19 October, we’ll see how much our politicians have learned.



16 October 2014

Amanda Curtis releases 30-second issues avoidance ad


Democrat Amanda Curtis’ first television ad (below), a 30-second spot named One of Us, is up and running, on both television and the internet. She comes across as one of the most likable people you’ll ever meet. That’s the good news. The bad news? It’s a soft ad that’s pure identity politics. She’s just another working Jill, she says, which is true. Therefore:

Working Montanans deserve one of us in the U.S. Senate.

To do what, exactly? That part of the message is missing.

Curtis is trying to say that working Montanans deserve a Senator who will work for them, for their interests. But that Senator does not need to be a working stiff. A wealthy member of the gentry in the mold of Franklin D. Roosevelt would also work for the interests of the 99 percent. Belonging to a social class does not guarantee that a Senator will work for the best interest of that social class.

The soft approach doesn’t surprise me. Few Democrats expect Curtis to defeat Steve Daines, who has a head start, millions more in campaign cash, and a likable personality that serves as a reality distortion zone on issues. Curtis is being positioned for a statewide run in 2016, probably for state superintendent of schools, and this ad is the first step in introducing her to the public. No one will admit that, of course, but that’s what's happening. Moreover, she’s using staff from Jon Tester’s operation, and that soft, “ Aw, shucks, I’m just a country boy,” approach is what he employed in 2012.

Still, her being able to have a from now to Election Day presence on television is a remarkable feat, a testament to her ability to raise money and inspire Democrats. I think she might now be running neck-and-neck with Daines had she been the Democratic nominee from the gitgo.


How politicians weasel on Social Security and Medicare

For recipients of Social Security and Medicare, the questions for candidates for elective office are simple. Do you promise never to directly or indirectly:

  1. Cut my benefits.
  2. Reduce cost of living increases.
  3. Privatize either program.

These questions are for Democrats. We already know that if given the chance, Republicans will privatize Social Security and Medicare, consigning America’s elderly to the mercies of Wall Street’s high rollers, the financial scoundrels who consider grandma and grandpa economic parasites who must be detached from the public teat lest taxes on the rich rise. Republicans don’t believe in social insurance. No matter what they say, they can’t be trusted to protect it.

But neither can some Democrats. When President Obama proposed indexing Social Security cost of living increases to the Chained CPI, some Democratic leaders in Congress, Nancy Pelosi among them, said they would stand with the President. Obama backed off that proposal, but just by raising it he became a Democrat not to be trusted on Social Security and Medicare.

Thanks to the President, everything Democrats now say on Social Security and Medicare must be carefully parsed. “Strengthening” Social Security, for example, does not necessarily mean not cutting benefits. An argument can be made that cutting benefits would strengthen the programs by matching payouts to revenues. And in fact, this is exactly what Republicans have in mind when they proclaim their support for “strengthening and protecting” the programs.

Democrats John Lewis and Amanda Curtis both promise to protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare. Debating Ryan Zinke in Bozeman 12 days ago, Lewis said that extending the Social Security payroll tax to all income would keep the program solvent for generations while obviating any need to cut benefits (absolutely true). I’m pretty sure he’s opposed to cutting benefits, but I’m not sure whether he’s categorically said so.

In an email to an unknown group that includes me, Curtis said:

My opponent has voted twice to turn Medicare into a voucher system that will hurt today's seniors and future retirees. He doesn't understand what it's like to depend on Medicare and Social Security to make ends meet.

As Montana’s next U.S. Senator, I will fight tooth and nail to strengthen and protect Social Security and Medicare. I will stand up to any attempt to dismantle or privatize them. And I will work every day to make sure that these programs are around for generations to come.

Curtis’ statement is strong, but omits any promise not to cut benefits or reduce cost of living increases. Therefore, one must assume her statement was worded to preserve wiggle room to cut benefits.

All statements by politicians must be parsed with the intensity and suspicion of a lawyer looking for a loophole, and vagaries and ambiguities must be resolved in favor of the worst case construction. If there’s a loophole, sooner or later the politician will try to weasel through it.



15 October 2014

Paid canvassers, Common Core misinformation, LR-126

Montana Democrats are hiring canvassers, at least in Missoual. “Pay is $10 per hour. Please email resume and 3 references to to apply.” That may cut down the number of volunteer canvassers.


The Common Core Standards are set by the federal government, Republican candidate for House District 8 Steve Lavin’s claim in the Flathead Beacon to the contrary. The standards resulted from collaboration among the states:

The state-led effort to develop the Common Core State Standards was launched in 2009 by state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). State school chiefs and governors recognized the value of consistent, real-world learning goals and launched this effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life.


Legislative Referendum 126 would eliminate Election Day voter registration in Montana, making the Friday before Election Day the last day to register. It’s a partisan issue, pushed by Republicans, and thought by Democrats to be an effort to limit the number of votes cast by Democrats.

I’m voting against LR-126. It’s a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. We’ve had Election Day registration in Montana since 2006. In a few counties, election administrators have provoked long registration lines by not having a large enough registrar staff, but hiring more people to work that day shortens the lines. In a competently managed election, there are no insurmountable logistical issues.

I prefer that voters register before Election Day. So do most voters, who do register before Election Day. But my preference on that is not a reason to deny citizens the opportunity to vote just because circumstances have left them unregistered on Election Day. Let them register, let them vote, and in the name of Democracy, reject LR-126.



14 October 2014

Percent of registered voters receiving absentee ballots

Absentee balloting began last week. So far, 10–12 percent of the ballots have been returned, virtually all by people who made up their minds long ago and don’t want to be bothered with the rest of the campaign. Here are historical absentee ballot numbers for Montana and the Flathead.



13 October 2014

Autumn leaves — the view from my back fence


12 October 2014

Dallas Ebola case underscores the need for single-payer health care

Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who died of Ebola in a Dallas, TX, hospital a few days ago, was sent home from that hospital’s emergency room the first time he appeared there despite having a 103°F fever and other symptoms of Ebola and telling the emergency room staff he had just come from Africa. Despite those red lights flashing, he was sent home with antibiotics. According to the the hospital, not admitting him then resulted from a communications failure.

But was the alleged communications failure the real reason he was turned away? Or is that just the hospital’s cover story for turning him away because he was black and/or he had no health insurance?

…read the rest


11 October 2014

Republican political signs across from a golf course

Republican yard signs west of Highway 93 across from the Buffalo Hills Golf Course in Kalispell. There aren’t as many signs in the Kalispell area as in past years, especially for local elections. A hundred feet north of these signs stood much larger signs for Steve Daines and Ryan Zinke.




10 October 2014

Statute of limitations bars prosecution of Schnebel for voter fraud


Whether Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan wants to prosecute Democratic county commissioner candidate Stacey Schnebel for voting in Whitefish while living in Coram is moot. He can’t. The one-year statute of limitations on the alleged misdemeanor expired years ago. Corrigan forwarded the issue to the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, but the verdict that counts will be delivered by the voters of Flathead County in just over three weeks.

Schnebel never had much chance of winning the election running as a Democrat. Now she has even less of a chance, although how much less is not easily measured. Her voting in one place while living in another may not trouble some voters. Neither may her government officials were to blame defense that she presented in her letter (below) in the 3 October Daily InterLake (a letter she still has not posted on her website).

There’s an old saying, “every dog’s allowed one bite,” that applies here. Voting in Whitefish while living in Coram was wrong, but admitting that mistake and begging forgiveness for it would earn her a second chance from most people, myself included. Instead, she blamed everyone but herself. I find that worrisome, and so does the InterLake in its excellent editorial today:

…read the rest

Morning video: Send the Light

The Link Family won the 2011 National Single Microphone Championships with this flawless performance of Charles Gabriel's rousing missionary hymn (lyrics). Send the Light lends itself to soaring, joyous harmonies. I don’t know whether it’s in Amanda and Kevin Curtis’ repertoire, but it should be.



9 October 2014

HD-11 “Democrat” Fleming opposes expanding Medicaid


Democrats in House District 11 (map) who support expanding Medicaid in Montana should consider withholding their votes from Kim Fleming, whose name appears on the ballot as the Democratic candidate. She explicitly opposes expanding Medicaid, a position diametrically opposed to the Democratic Party’s platform (see my 23 September post on Fleming):

I do not support the expansion of Medicaid in our state. We should be reducing the dependency on federal dollars and the number of people on the welfare rolls in Montana. The federal government is mandating coverage for a plan that it likely cannot afford to sustain. The burden will then fall on Montana taxpayers to provide financial support or else remove welfare recipients in order to continue the mandated federal program.

This is Mark Blasdel’s position, the position of the Republican Party’s teabagger caucus, and in human terms, downright mean and uncaring. It’s the position of selfish people who fear their taxes might be raised to mitigate the predicament of the less fortunate, whom they feel little or no obligation to help. Fleming’s an intelligent woman of many accomplishments, so I find her opposition to expanding Medicaid inexplicable and downright cold-hearted.


How Bozeman protects its residents from people who pray

Former Kalispell and now Bozeman city manager Chris Kukulski helped Bozeman’s chief police of police acquire a Fallujah ready Bearcat SWAT vehicle (video below) — without the knowledge of the city council. It was a classic “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” operation that worked. The pushover city council, with only Mayor Jeff Krauss dissenting, retroactively approved the acquisition.

Kukulski and the police chief alleged the police needed the Bearcat to protect the community from religious and environmental groups, among others:

Krauss also picked apart the grant application, which states the vehicle was needed, in part, because of the presence of militia groups, environmental groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs, religious and racial hate groups. He called it “language of escalation” that does not agree with what he heard from law enforcement officers Monday night about the primary need for the vehicle, which typically involves incidents of lone gunmen.

No Montana police force or sheriff’s department needs this kind of firepower. Or should want it.



8 October 2014

Perry and Zinke release new 30-second television ads

Television ads, especially 30-second ads, make emotional, not logical, arguments. Below, comments on a couple of new ads.

House District 3 candidate takes to the tube. Columbia Falls Democrat Zac Perry, making his third attempt to defeat State Rep. Jerry O’Neil, is running a nicely produced 30-second spot on KPAX (CBS) television for the rest of the campaign. The ad’s available on Perry’s Facebook page. HD-3 (map), which extends north of Highways 2 and 40, includes much but far from all of the 2004–2012 HD-4 that O’Neil now represents.

Perry presents himself as a man of tomorrow who will get legislation passed, and O’Neil as sort of a gadfly who makes more noise than law. From a marketing standpoint, television ads in a state house district is not the most cost-effective way to reach voters, but the ads will reach voters in HD-3 and could have a psychological impact that’s worth the money Perry is spending.

Ryan Zinke claims NRA AQ rated John Lewis is soft on guns. You knew this was coming. Zinke has an A- rating, but that didn’t deter his campaign from releasing a new 30-second spot that comes pretty close to suggesting that if elected, Lewis will disarm Montanans, leaving them unable to defend their homes and freedom — and condemned to Obamacare for the treatment of their wounds. It’s cordite for the gun nuts and bang-up pandering. It’s also mostly gunsmoke. Over at The Western Word, Mike Brown says he got a chuckle from the ad. At the Montana Streetfighter, which reminds readers that some Republicans once thought Zinke was soft on guns, there’s less mirth and more indignation.


Election Month begins and other political news

Early voting begins today. We’ve gone from Election Day to Election Month, enabling voters to cast their ballots long before the election is over and all the facts, including campaign finance reports, are available. How this improves government escapes me.

Stacey Schnebel, the Democrat running for the Flathead County Commission, says she voted in Whitefish six times after moving to Coram, reports the InterLake. Her argument seems to be that since the poll workers didn’t tell her she was doing something wrong, what she was doing was okay. I doubt many voters will agree.

Video of the Zinke v. Lewis debate in Bozeman is now online. The Flint Report has the links. But there’s still no transcript, and there probably won’t be one.

John Lewis’ new 30-second ad (below) on public lands takes Ryan Zinke to the Woody Guthrie shed, and rightly so. Zinke is pandering to the latest incarnation of the Sagebrush Rebellion — which, like its predecessors, will fulminate and fizz away. In fact, Zinke himself enjoys federal lands and waters, even if he lands in the drink sometimes (sheriff’s report). Zinke needs to backpaddle on this issue.


6 October 2014

The Montana Senate poll

Some readers have rightly asked why I excluded the CBS/NYT polls from my post on polls Friday. That’s a legitimate question, especially as the latest Yougov poll shows Daines with a 21-point lead. The short answer: Yougov’s methodology raises a lot of red flags. The longer answer: I’m writing that now and will post it either tonight or tomorrow morning. But right now, it’s 71°F in Kalispell, wonderful fall weather that won’t last, so I’m off on my bicycle to photograph political yard signs and just enjoy the afternoon.

Curtis PR team belatedly discovers Gravis poll

Last Friday, Flathead Memo reported on the recent Gravis Marketing poll that shows Amanda Curtis gaining on Steve Daines. I learned about the poll from a comment on Curtis’ Facebook page. Today I received from Curtis’ campaign a press release announcing the poll:

New poll shows Amanda Curtis gaining on Congressman Daines

(BUTTE, Mont.) — A new poll released over the weekend shows Amanda Curtis gaining ground on Congressman Steve Daines.

The new Gravis poll of 535 likely Montana voters shows Amanda has narrowed the gap by seven points from when she entered the race as a political newcomer just seven weeks ago.

“This poll shows that when Montanans get to know Amanda, they prefer her plan to support working families over an out-of-touch millionaire politician who thinks we should balance the budget on the backs of seniors, students and veterans,” said Curtis’ campaign manager Clayton Elliott. “Everywhere we go folks are excited for a chance to send one of us to the U.S. Senate on November 4.”

Full poll results are available online HERE.

If Curtis’ public relations people read her Facebook page more carefully, they wouldn’t embarrass themselves — and her — by announcing on a Monday that a poll that was reported three days before, on Friday, was released over the subsequent weekend.



5 October 2014

Billings Gazette endorses John Lewis for U.S. House


Posted at approximately ten this morning, and significant after Ryan Zinke’s self-assured debate performance last night, the Gazette endorsement’s penultimate paragraph reads:

Zinke speaks in confident sound bites. Lewis’ answers are more substantive, reflective of a public servant who studies the issues and is open to collaborating with people who are of different opinions and parties.

Confident sound bites win debates, which is why Zinke came across so well to the television audience last night. But a transcript of the debate — let’s hope one is available soon — will show Lewis provided more detailed, better reasoned answers most of the time. The debate’s adversarial, quasi-game show, format rewarded Zinke’s debating style and punished Lewis’.

Lewis, with whom I’ve been fortunate enough to spend serious one-on-one time, has one of the best person-to-person personalities I’ve ever encountered. One cannot help liking the guy, who’s also tack sharp. He’ll listen to Montanans, consider their wisdom, and get things done in Washington. He’s a much less liberal man than I am, but he’s also much closer to me on the issues than is Zinke.

That’s why on 4 November, in my precinct’s polling place, in the company of my neighbors, whose mere presence reminds me my vote affects everyone and should not be cast selfishly, I expect to cast my ballot for John Lewis.


House and Senate debates need a better format

Montana’s voters were ill-served by the format of last night’s debate between U.S. House candidates Ryan Zinke and John Lewis:

  1. The moderator behaved like a television game show host.
  2. Three questioners were two too many for a one hour event.
  3. Placing candidates behind podiums encouraged gratuitous confrontation.

Sitting the candidate side-by-side across a table from a single interviewer — the Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose format that brings out the best in television — makes much more sense. So does extending the debate to 90 minutes and limiting it to one topic.

How many debates? One a week from Labor Day to Election Day. And shorten the early voting period from 30 days to one week.


InterLake wants too much information for debate tickets

Updated. Only a select group qualifies for the drawing for tickets for the 19 October Daily InterLake sponsored debate between U.S. House candidates Ryan Zinke (R), John Lewis (D), and Mike Fellows (L):

To participate, you need to live within 60 miles of the Daily Inter Lake’s office in Kalispell, like the Inter Lake’s Facebook page and provide an e-mail address, phone number and some other basic information.

Here’s a sample from the InterLake’s ad for the debate:


The John Lewis on the right is actually Libertarian Mike Fellows.

The 60-mile radius from the InterLake’s office (why not the intersection of Highways 93 and 2?) probably includes Libby, Thompson Falls, Plains, St. Ignatius, and East Glacier, but not Browning. If the 60-mile limit is highway miles, then Polson is the limit. Both measures exclude Missoula, which not only lies beyond the InterLake’s market, but shelters hordes of Democrats.

The Arts and Technology building at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell will shelter the debate.

Those who apply for a ticket may well receive phone calls, email, and snail mail, from the InterLake and others whether or not they win a ticket.

If the debate is televised or webcast, I’ll watch it. But I won’t surrender that amount of personal information or give the InterLake a Facebook like just to earn a chance to win a ticket.



4 October 2014

Flathead Memo scores debate Zinke 2, Lewis 1, PBS 0.01

Did the debate change my mind? No. I’m still voting for Lewis.

On domestic issues, Lewis was better. But Zinke demonstrated a clearly better grasp of foreign policy, although I disagree with him on how much of a threat the ISIS poses to the United States.

Zinke had a much better stage presence, knew when to give a short answer, and seemed much more comfortable. Lewis leaned on the podium and used the word “look” so much (it’s a verbal tic) that I never want to hear it again. Many voters, uncertain about their own grasp of the issues, will substitute Zinke’s greater self-assurance for their own and vote for him on that basis, hence my final score.

The moderator and panelists… well, let’s just say that trial lawyers would have been an immense improvement. And the audio was so uneven that all the sound technicians should be fired. In the post-debate analysis, David Parker sparkled.

Zinke v. Lewis & Gravis v. Skeptics debates

U.S. House debate. Republican Ryan Zinke and Democrat John Lewis debate in Bozeman late this afternoon, beginning at 1800 MDT, and will be broadcast on television on the Public Broadcasting System, and on C-Span, and possibly webcast on C-Span. Regrettably, the third candidate on the ballot, Libertarian Mike Fellows, was not invited to join Zinke and Lewis. That will make Zinke happy. If both candidates have as their prime objective not making mistakes, it will be a dull affair.

Gravis Marketing Montana poll red flags. I reported Gravis’ results yesterday after learning about the poll from a reader’s commentAmanda Curtis’ Facebook page. Gravis associates with Human Events magazine, which no one would mistake for a liberal publication, and has not always correctly predicted elections (Weigel, Slate; The Worst Poll in America). Two years ago, others thought Gravis was a fraud. As noted yesterday, a poll Gravis conducted in July had a larger sample and asked about Libertarian Mike Fellows. These are red flags, but red flags are warnings, not proof of error. Fellows, incidentally, could receive three to six percent of the vote, drawing almost all of it from Zinke. That’s why Zinke and his Republican friends want to exclude Fellows from the debates.

Other public polls. So far, I haven’t found any. So there’s no recent poll against which the Gravis poll can be compared. I suspect most of the campaigns, and third party agitators, have conducted polls, but so far none has been released. At this point, the Gravis poll hurts John Lewis, as it shows Zinke pulling ahead and polling over 50 percent. That demoralizes Democrats and Democratic donors. When that happens, campaigns and supporters sometimes try to discredit the poll; for example, the poll “de-skewerers” who tried to prove that Romney was winning in 2012, and who themselves were skewered when Obama won.


3 October 2014

Flathead Memo’s policy on polls

I use only public polls. I use internal campaign polls only if they are released to the public, contain the following information, and appear to be credible:

  1. Name of polling firm.
  2. Date of polling.
  3. Size of sample and MOE at .95 level.
  4. Method: personal interview, autodial, etc.
  5. Registered or likely voters.
  6. Candidates, questions, results, and crosstabs.

Nor will I ever write a sentence like this: “Sources in Smith’s campaign insist Smith is five points ahead of Jones, and that the just released Quack Hack Poll reporting Jones is leading by six points is wrong." I base my posts on data, not spin.

Curtis closes gap with Daines; Lewis loses ground to Zinke

Gravis Marketing’s latest Montana poll on behalf of Human Events reports Amanda Curtis gaining on Steve Daines, but still 13 points behind him, and John Lewis 10 points behind Ryan Zinke. Gravis’ polled 535 likely voters on 29–30 September. A Gravis poll of registered voters, taken 22 July, reported Zinke was leading Lewis by eight percent. Graphs of the Senate and House polls from July through today are below.

Curtis, at 41 percent, has reached former Democratic nominee John Walsh’s high point. It’s late, and she’s still a long shot, but she’s closing the gap. Democrats and friends should shovel money into her campaign.

Lewis, also at 41 percent, has lost a couple of points to Zinke, probably the difference between the registered voter sample in July and the likely voter sample at September’s end. The July poll included Libertarian candidate Mike Fellows. The smaller sample September poll did not. Zinke climbed above 50 percent, possibly on the strength of two television ads designed to exploit irrational fears of terrorism.


Flathead GOP plays Gotcha! — Democrat Schnebel may have been got


Today’s InterLake reports the Flathead Republican Party claims Democratic county commissioner candidate Stacey Schnebel voted in Whitefish elections while living in Coram. That, the GOP said in a letter to Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan, violates Montana law.

Schnebel denied breaking election laws:

…read the rest


2 October 2014

Flathead Water Compact will not — cannot — be a “forever deal”

Recommended Reading: Boundaries of the United States and the Several States, U.S. Geological Professional Paper 909.

If finally approved, will the Flathead Water Compact be the final word on water issues involving the treaty rights of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes? A lot of people think so, among them Republican State Rep. Steve Lavin, who’s running for re-election in House District 8, the new district on the western side of Kalispell. Reports the Daily InterLake:

“This is a forever-type deal,” he said. “If this is something we choose to go forward with, there need to be no uncertainties, because there could be huge ramifications.”

I don’t share Lavin’s certainty of the compact’s eternal existence. I hope it will be good enough to last that long, but a more realistic hope is that it will be good enough to last a good long time before adjustments are necessary.

Moreover, supporters and opponents of the compact are wrong to assert it can be forever.

…read the rest


1 October 2014

Secret Service chief resigns & is replaced by another screw-up

Updated again, at 2128 MDT. Had it right the first time. The NYT now says:

His tenure included a controversy of its own: Mr. Clancy was in charge of White House security when Michaele and Tareq Salahi crashed a party at the White House in 2009.

Not a good choice, in my opinion. If Clancy was the best man available, the Secret Service is in very deep trouble.

Updated. This paragraph from the NY Times’ report on Secret Service Julia Pierson’s resignation just boggles the mind:

In a statement, Mr. Johnson [Secretary of Homeland Security] said that he had appointed Joseph Clancy, a former agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division, to become the Secret Service’s acting director. Mr. Clancy was in charge of the presidential detail the night in November 2009 when Michaele and Tareq Salahi, then a married couple, managed to get past Secret Service checkpoints for President Obama’s first state dinner without being on the guest list.

Update, 1808 MDT. In the story now on the NYT’s website, the second sentence in the paragraph above was deleted, but no correction notice was added. The paragraph now reads:

In a statement, Mr. Johnson said that he had appointed Joseph Clancy, a former agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division, to become the Secret Service’s acting director.

Johnson should join Pierson on the unemployment line for making so stupid an appointment. Update. How stupid, if stupid at all, the appointment was remains to be seen.

I don’t expect perfect security at the White House or around the President. I want it, but it’s not possible. People will make mistakes. But better people than some now working for the Secret Service will make fewer and less serious mistakes. It’s time for the agency to grab a broom and manure fork and clean out the stinkers.


Blogroll changes

Under On the Right, I’ve added the Flint Report, and set to gray the promising but now dormant Copper Commando, which hasn’t posted anything substantive since 4 August. Under Montana, I’ve restored Montana Streetfighter to active status.

How Zinke and Romney lie about John Lewis and Medicare

Aaron Flint reports Ryan Zinke is running a new radio ad featuring failed Presidential candidate Mitt Romney accusing John Lewis of cutting Medicare.

First, the script. Then, how Romney lied.

…read the rest


30 September 2014

Did Zinke outmaneuver Lewis on 29 September debate?

I think so. When in late August Zinke first agreed to the debate, then suddenly withdrew, the Billings Gazette’s Tom Lutey reported the sticking points were Zinke’s refusal to participate in a debate that included Libertarian candidate Mike Fellows, and whether only questions meeting Zinke’s approval would be asked. Montana Public Television would have co-sponsored the debate and broadcast it live on PBS.

Mike Fellows was not invited to last night’s debate. Score a point for Zinke. The debate was not televised, thus limiting the number of people who could watch it (Yellowstone Public Radio does have an audio recording, which in my opinion isn’t better than nothing; it’s possible the debate wasn’t video recorded). Score another point for Zinke. I don’t know whether the questions were approved in advance by either or both candidates (candidates shouldn’t be given that power), but a question on foreign policy was rightly asked, and Zinke had wanted such a question.

Zinke’s about face silences criticism that he won’t debate. The debate wasn’t broadcast on television, limiting the audience to the 300 or so in the auditorium. Indeed, it may not have even been video recorded (were iPhones confiscated at the door?). If so, Zinke won’t be embarrassed by a debate gaffe appearing in a Lewis ad. And so far, there’s no written transcript, although a rough transcript could be constructed from the audio using voice recognition software.

Although Zinke seems to have outmaneuvered Lewis, in the end Montana’s voters were outmaneuvered and are the ultimate losers. We live in an age in which high quality video recordings of debates can be made at low cost (a broadcast TV crew isn’t needed), and a transcript can be prepared quickly, especially if a court reporter records the event as it occurs. Shame on the debate’s sponsors and participants for not doing what was feasible, necessary, and right.


Reviewing the planks in Amanda Curtis’ platform


Amanda Curtis’ campaign website has undergone a major revision and now includes an issues page. It’s much, much more of a bandwidth hog, but it’s also cleaner and much easier to navigate.

Curtis is running mostly on her personal story, so her platform is short and its planks thin. Her positions are pretty much those of Sen. Jon Tester: long on rhetoric, concise on specifics. Much to her credit, she omitted a plank on the deficit and national debt.

Much to her discredit, she omits foreign policy, yet she seeks an office with clear constitutional foreign policy responsibilities, such as ratifying treaties, approving ambassadors, and declaring war. If she doesn’t intelligently address foreign policy soon, she could find herself being booed on college campuses.

Below, I’ve reprinted — and annotated — her platform. What I consider boilerplate is in gray. My comments are in sans serif type on a light yellow background. Be sure to revisit her issues page frequently, as it will change to address emerging issues.

…read the rest

Voters need video and a transcript of the Lewis-Zinke debate

The spin doctors were dancing around and with the facts after the debate last night, blasting out emails declaring their candidates were victorious. I’m sure most were mostly written before the debate commenced.

I want a video recording of the debate that I can download and study. I want a transcript of the debate. And I want both placed in the public domain. Ideally, the video would be broadcast quality, and the transcript would be prepared by a court reporter, but I’d settle for iPhone quality video and a transcript created with voice recognition software. And I want it by 1800 MDT today.

Morning video: Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

Performing in 1988. Not a song to listen to alone.


29 September 2014

Tonight’s U.S. House debate must address foreign policy

Democrat John Lewis and Republican Ryan Zinke debate each other in Billings this evening. I still don’t know whether Libertarian Mike Fellows will join them (the Billings Gazette story inexplicably omitted that detail. When Zinke previously withdrew from the debate, his demand that Fellows not be on stage was a major sticking point (Zinke is afraid Fellows could attract enough Republican votes that Lewis wins with a plurality).

President Obama’s decision to wage war in Syria without a clear Congressional declaration of war should take center stage tonight, as should the cowardly decision of Congress to adjourn without fully debating the issue. In effect, Congress said to the President, “ We’re going home, you can go shootin’ in Syria.” Congress and the President have not always been so irresponsible. Witness Franklin Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy address and Congress’ declarations of war on Japan, Germany, and the Axis powers.

Sharing center stage should be a discussion of whether the facts justify the wave of fear of terrorism that’s sweeping across the nation. A large number of American now seem terrified that as they walk out of the Post Office, a screaming black clad jihadi with Islamic eyes will leap out of the bushes and lop off their heads with a scimitar. Is this fear real? Yes. Is it rational? No. But do the debaters know that fear is irrational — and will they have the courage to say so? We’ll find out in a few hours. But given his recent television ads, I would be surprised if Zinke fails to fan the flames of fear.

Meanwhile, I urge everyone to read Josh Marshall’s essay on the effect this wave of fear is having on the election. Recent polls report Republican candidates for the Senate are pulling ahead of Democrats in Colorado and Ohio. Marshall attributes this shift to a visceral fear of terrorism, and an equally visceral sense that Republicans are better than Democrats at fighting terrorism. I thin k he’s right.



28 September 2014

Two weeks of station pressure variations at KGPI

Most weather reports present the barometric pressure as corrected to sea level. METAR reports provide the actual station pressure in inches of mercury. Below, a graph of the station pressure, which varies continuously, at Glacier International Airport (KGPI), elevation 2,972 feet, for two weeks. The model for the U.S. Standard Atmosphere, by my calculations, puts the baseline station pressure at 26.85 inches of mercury.


The variation in station pressure affects the boiling point of water and the pressure altitude. Those graphs at another time.


27 September 2014

Will Mike Fellows be in the 29 September House debate?

The answer to that simple question has not appeared in any of the news stores I’read reporting that Ryan Zinke has decided to debate John Lewis in Billings on 29 September after all. Earlier, Zinke had arbitrarily refused to debate Lewis if Libertarian Mike Fellows was in the debate. So who caved in on this — Zinke or Lewis? And why the devil are reporters omitting from their stories whether Fellows will be debating? Fellows may well draw three to six percent of the vote, virtually all of it from Zinke, so whether he’s in the debate is important.


26 September 2014

Equipment miniaturization complicates wilderness filming policy

Filming in wilderness. When Technicolor first became a viable process, it’s on-location presence included a portable laboratory housed in a huge black railcar. The TC three-strip camera used to film Becky Sharp was almost as big as half a Volkswagen Bug. Now movies are shot with iPhones.

That complicates the Forest Service’s task in writing wilderness regulations that exclude movie and television and commercial photography while not curtailing the First Amendment rights of news photographers and recreational visitors.

Hollywood’s megalomaniacal directors would never settle for a four-man shooting party, no matter how much sense it made. Working light and traveling lighter is not their way. They prefer — indeed, their psyche’s need — location camps the size of small villages. To film in wilderness, they would want to build new settlements in wilderness in violation of the Wilderness Act. Denying permits for that kind of excess is easily justified. So is denying access to television news parties that want to drive their satellite link vans into wilderness on wide trails and old roads (yes, there are grown over roads in some wilderness areas; a story for another time).

But less egocentric filmmakers have options with far less impact. Equipped with lightweight video cameras such as the Red Epic Dragon a four-person foot party practicing leave only footprints, take only photographs, backcountry travel could easily shoot a minimalist movie without damaging the land, and quite possibly without even being noticed. Using the same equipment, one man on foot, virtually indistinguishable from an ordinary hiker, and less intrusive than an amateur still photographer with an 8 x 10 view camera and a mule, could shoot footage for B-roll for and chroma key. Denying permits to these filmmakers is more difficult to justify, especially when trying to distinguish them from journalists who are protected by the First Amendment.

I’m amenable to proposals for permits allowing some B-roll and chroma key shooting — perhaps a pool arrangement with two or three shooting days a year — as long as actors and interviewees stay home. That would make wilderness scenery available for filmmakers while minimizing impacts. I’d be willing to consider proposals of that nature.

What I won’t consider are issuing permits for wilderness filming operations to Hollywood style location camps, reality shows (just the though of a reality show shot in wilderness gives me angina), television and internet commercials, and heavy on the land news documentaries.

News and movies and commercials are being made all the time. All the wilderness we’ll ever see in our lifespans has been made, and figuratively speaking, the production line has been shut down forever. What we don’t preserve now will never return.



25 September 2014

Lynn Stanley signs becoming visible in House District 8


The sign below is on Blue Crest Drive, with the northern Swan Range in the background. I found it, and like signs on Three Mile Drive and Empire Loop, during my daily walk this evening on a route taking me through the northwestern neighborhoods of HD-8 (map).

Stanley, a Democrat, and a very serious, very smart, and very nice woman, is running against Rep. Steve Lavin, the Republican incumbent in what is now HD-7 (map). I haven't encountered his signs yet. Stanley has been knocking on HD-8 doors for over a year. She wants the job and likes the voters.



Tell the Forest Service the 1st Amendment applies in wilderness

The Wilderness Act did not repeal the First Amendment, but the U.S. Forest Service’s new regulations for photography in wilderness areas do not honor that fact. Whether intentional or not, as written, the regulations, which seem intended to regulate the landscape altering armies of staff that attend the making of movies and commercials, also regulate news photography in a manner that includes, in my judgment, content control.

Although the new regulations provide more clarity than the old regulations, they also assert more government control of moving picture news photography in a way that’s troubling and just doesn’t seem well thought out. But it does seem consistent with the overly strict interpretation of the Wilderness Act that some within the Forest Service have used since 1964 to undermine support for wilderness preservation.

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24 September 2014

Forest Service needs refresher course on First Amendment

Thanks to Justin Franz at the Flathead Beacon for alerting us to a U.S. Forest Service policy that could require a permit, $1,500, and content approval, for news photography in wilderness areas. I’ve got news for the FS: the Wilderness Act did not repeal the First Amendment. It’s one thing to regulate commercial photography, such as shooting movies and commercials, in wilderness, but quite another to try to regulate a news photographer with a DSLR or a hiker with a pocketable digital camera. The word for this kind of policy making describes oats that have passed through the horse.


Art Wittich has a health care plan: it’s sick


State Sen. Art Wittich (R-Scroogeville) has a plan for providing health care coverage Montana — a plan that spares Montana the shame and evil of accepting millions of federal Obamacare dollars, and doesn’t reward able-bodied bums for being unemployed.

The key component:

Childless, able-bodied adults earning below 100 percent of the federal poverty level still would be without Medicaid coverage, but could get access to subsidized, private health insurance policies if they got a job, Wittich said.

“If they’re able-bodied, that says they are able to work, and they should go work,” he said. “This isn’t supposed to be a new welfare program. … We want to incentivize people to work.”

Wittich calls this a compromise on health care. I call it compromised, mean-spirited, and political mischief. He’s taunting the Montanans who support a straightforward expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Conditioning Medicaid, or a replacement for it, on one’s employment status instead of on income is simply a sanctimonious excuse for denying help to low income people.

Rep. Tom Woods (D-Bozeman) thinks Wittich is moving in the right direction. Maybe so, but Wittich hasn’t moved nearly far enough — and given his past behavior and comments on the issue, there’s perishingly little reason to believe he will.

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