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

September 2014 Archive


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.

…read the rest


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.

…read the rest


23 September 2014

Soccer — another brain damaging sport

Soccer enjoys considerable popularity among parents of girls and boys too small for football. It probably shouldn’t. Studies of the brains of dead soccer players reveal that using one’s noggin to advance the ball damages the brain. No one should be surprised.

Ed Berry’s hopping mad that Chuck Baldwin supports John Lewis

I don’t know how I missed this. In a 2,000-word article published on 17 July, Pastor Chuck Baldwin endorsed John Lewis as the lesser of two evils. And at PolyMontana, Ed Berry is hopping mad about that and Matt Rosendale’s apparent refusal to endorse fellow Republican Ryan Zinke.

First, this from Baldwin, who ran for President on the Constitution Party ticket in 2008:

…read the rest

Does HD-11 Democrat Fleming oppose expanding Medicaid?


Does Kim Fleming, the Democratic nominee in House District 11 (map), oppose expanding Medicaid in Montana? According to Carla Augustad, the Democrats’ three-time nominee in old HD-10, much of which is included in HD-11, the answer is: yes.

Augustad made her unattributed allegation on 8 September on her new website, Ninja Gobi Bear Mining:

If you care about this, the way that I do, please get behind your local candidates, but ask them what they will do first! For instance, Kim Flemming (sic) in House District 11 does not support any Medicaid expansion. The two people MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR DENYING 70,000 working Montanan’s access to affordable healthcare are Mark Blasdel and David Howard. It is my heartfelt desire that Mark Blasdel and David Howard get to spend this winter safely at home with their own families rather than working to deny resources to vulnerable Montana families. [Highlighting added.]

…read the rest


22 September 2014

How FM will evaluate candidates on the issues

Updated. Early voting starts in two weeks. Flathead Memo’s examination of your stands on the issues begins next week. Here, in order of importance, is how we’ll determine your positions.

  1. Your political party’s platforms, national and Montana. We’ll assume you agree with all planks unless you explicitly repudiate them in writing.
  2. Votes on bills in Congress or another legislative body, including votes in committee, and testimony on bills delivered as a member of a legislative body.
  3. Your issues page on your campaign’s website. If your website does not have an issues page — for example, Amanda Curtis’ still does not — that will be reported.
  4. Opeds and position papers issued by your campaign, and transcripts of speeches you deliver.
  5. News media reports, including reports from blogs and other internet sources that Flathead Memo considers credible.
  6. Third party reports by organizations that Flathead Memo finds reputable.
  7. Campaign print ads and television and internet spots. You should know we take a dim view of 30-second television spots.
  8. Campaign literature that comes to our attention. Mainly, we’ll look at these targeted pieces of propaganda to see whether their messages conflict with anything you’ve said to everyone.
  9. Opposition supplied information that can be independently verified and for which an honest and meaningful context can be supplied.

Clarity and taking stands work in your favor. Pussyfooting around issues works against you. So does a deliberate or feckless error of fact.

If you’d like to send information to Flathead Memo, use the CONTACT link in the left column. Everything is on the record.


God could have asked me, Nancy

And I still wouldn’t have opened my wallet if he had.

This morning I received yet another (below) of a barrage of money begging emails from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Nancy Pelosi put her name on this one, which contained this especially irritating sequence:

President Obama asked you.
Hillary Clinton asked you.
Really, who else can ask?

Well, Nancy, God, or the entity superior to God, ad infinitum, can ask, but not being an authoritarian, I don’t take kindly to appeals from authority. That’s for the Authoritarian Party, also known as the Republican Party.

…read the rest

Will Daines & Zinke agree to outlaw these health care scams?

The Affordable Care Act has loopholes. All legislation that complicated does. In a functioning democracy, loopholes are closed by subsequent legislation. In our democracy, the ACA’s loopholes are never closed because the Republican Party wants to destroy the ACA, not improve it. So, insurance companies and unscrupulous physicians and hospitals are finding ways to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, and to inflict on surgical patients bills that qualify as robbery.

Rep. Steve Daines has spent much of his time in Congress voting to repeal the ACA, so he’s probably not inclined to support improvements to the program. After all, Daines knows that government coddling of the ill and poor saps their incentive to exercise personal responsibility. But does Ryan Zinke, who’s served in nations where the adverse consequences of not enough government are plain as day, oppose repairing the ACA and outlawing the appalling schemes of greedy insurance companies, hospitals, and physicians?

Why are unions endorsing Republican Steve Gibson?

And why is the AFL-CIO lying about Gibson’s record? Those are Don Pogreba’s questions at Intelligent Discontent, and they’re mighty good questions.

Sometimes an organization will endorse a sure winner just to be able to claim its endorsements are bipartisan, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Gibson won by only a couple of hundred votes in 2012, so he’s far from a shoo-in. Perhaps the unions cut a secret deal with Gibson, but I find myself wondering whether it’s more likely that the unions have a beef with Mary Ann Dunwell, Gibson’s Democratic opponent in HD-84.

Pogreba makes a devastating case that the AFL-CIO flat out lied about Gibson. This endorsement reeks.

Amanda Curtis in Whitefish

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Curtis stopped by Whitefish yesterday morning for a meet-and-greet in a picturesque early autumn setting. She delivered her stump speech flawlessly. I’d say she’s hit her stride.

Late last week, Curtis received endorsements from the National Organization for Women and from Emily’s List. Neither endorsements were surprises, but both were welcome and should help with fundraising, which is going well, putting her within striking distance of a sustained presence on television. I hope she chooses 60-second spots that hit hard.

Below, a few images of the meet-and-greet.

…read the rest


21 September 2014

A song sung wrong for Amanda Curtis

I wrote these lyrics for the tune Wabash Cannonball, an old folk and country standard made famous by Roy Acuff. It can be sung to guitars and banjos, or even banjos alone, but I prefer adding a bass, drums, fiddle, and trumpets, and delivering a soaring gospel style performance.

…read the rest


20 September 2014

Further thoughts on stretching good taste

I’ve updated yesterday’s post on stretching good taste with further thoughts that probably will further enrage the people I infuriated with yesterday’s post.

Morning Video — Autumn Leaves

Jo Stafford’s 1950 performance of Johnny Mercer’s timeless standard. Stafford may be remembered better for her performances of Red River Valley and Shrimp Boats.


19 September 2014

Tester and Walsh support President’s ISIS policy

Yesterday they voted Aye! on legislation approving arming so-called moderate rebels in Syria as part of President Obama’s plan to wipe ISIS off the planet. There was no debate over the wisdom of this policy. That may come later, after the election.

No wonder Americans so despise Congress. Its members didn’t discharge their constitutional obligation to debate policy before approving it. They just voted Aye! and left town for the campaign trail, where it will serve them right if they choke on the dust.


Stretching good taste with yoga leggings

Updated with further thoughts.

Montana Cowgirl has an interesting post on Skyview High School’s new policy on yoga leggings, those body hugging elastic coverings that show, and are intended to show, every curve and crevice:

Leggings, jeggings, and tights ARE NOT pants and must be worn with dress code appropriate shorts, skirts, dresses, or pants.

The official rationale for the leggings ban? It distracts young men from teacher’s lessons. The unofficial rationale? Same as the official. It’s a biology based policy.

…read the rest

Morning video: Rule, Britannia!

In the end, it wasn’t terribly close. The Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, 55 to 45 percent with 84.5 percent of the voters registered casting ballots. But it was close enough. Expect some adjustments in how the UK governs itself. And do not expect the tensions of Scottish nationalism to abate overnight.


18 September 2014

Suffragettes march on Constitution Day in Kalispell

Yesterday was Constitution Day, and there was a Constitution Day rally in Depot Park, sponsored by the Flathead Democratic Party. Before the music and speechifying began, these ladies, clad in the neck-to-ankle white worn by the women who marched a century ago to obtain suffrage for their gender, took a turn around the block during the evening rush hour. They’ve also appeared in parades, and are the most photogenic political ensemble of the 2014 campaign.


17 September 2014

Did a Sheriff’s deputy urge a defendant to fire his attorney?

Updated. That’s what Jim White is reporting at the Northwest Liberty News today. According to White:

In the audio-video transcript below, you will hear evidence of a police officer who coerced a defendant and his wife to fire his attorney, Tim Baldwin, so the government could get rid of him. Why? Because Tim Baldwin challenged the prosecutor's case against the defendant and forced the prosecutor to comply with the law…

There’s more. The allegations are serious, and Flathead Memo is not in a position to challenge or verify them, so as always keep an open mind and apply the amount of skepticism you think appropriate.

…read the rest

Will Scotland the brave be Scotland the wise?

Tomorrow, in a grand plebiscite that includes 16-year-olds, Scotland decides whether to secede from the United Kingdom. There’s a strained economic case for seceding — all that oil money from the North Sea fields — but the real impetus seems to be the imagined joy of flipping off England’s Tories. The Scots would continue employing the Pound Sterling as their currency, something Paul Krugman considers deeply unwise.

If Scotland votes for independence, there’ll be renewed interest in succession in all the usual places, including Quebec and South Carolina, which never really stopped fighting the Civil War. I therefore thought it might be interesting to compare Scotland and SC.

…read the rest


16 September 2014

Delay on Hollenbaugh v. Johnson on the issues post

I’ve rescheduled the post for tomorrow or Thursday. I’m breaking away from my writing desk this evening to enjoy the last sunshine we’re likely to have for a few days.

Cutting Congressional salaries 10% only saves chickenfeed

Three days ago, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House John Lewis released a five-point plan for reducing the national debt, (XLS) the publicly held portion of which will reach approximately $13.4 trillion at the end of fiscal 2014 (78.4 percent of GDP). The national debt is well under control, but some people think it isn’t, so instead of educating them (no time for that in a campaign), Lewis is proposing what he thinks will be popular cost cutting measures.

One of the cost cutting proposals, one Lewis has made before, is reducing Congressional salaries by ten percent. That’s probably popular, as voters do not hold Congress in high esteem, but it won’t save much money in relation to the debt. That requires real money, which Everett Dirkson defined as “a billion here, and billion there.”

There are places in the federal budget where real money can be saved. Here are a few:

Memo to Amanda: stop deferring to John Walsh’s judgment


America was a much safer place on 12 September 2001 than on the day before. All the hijackers were dead, passengers on airliners now resisted hijackers instead of meekly waiting to crash into a skyscraper, and our police and military services were on high alert at home and abroad.

But few Americans felt safer. They were shaken, frightened that as they walked by the post office, a member of an Islamic sleeper cell would leap out of the shrubs and slit their throats. They didn’t ask hard questions about foreign policy. Instead, they begged their elected officials: “do anything; just make me feel safe.” Congress whooped the Patriot Act into law, making us less free, and Bush 43 exploited our fears to justify a war of aggression in Iraq that killed more Americans than the 9/11 attacks.

Now, following the beheadings of two American journalists, the same unreasoning fears are gripping Americans again. Some, like Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), claim ISIS agents are gathering at our border with Mexico, preparing to sneak into the U.S. to commit horrific murders at shopping malls near elementary schools. There’s no evidence this is so, but fears are trumping facts.

…read the rest


15 September 2014

GREEN ALERT! — carbon taxers are organizing in the Flathead

Do you believe that the earth is warming? Do you believe that global warming is bad for humankind? Do you believe that greenhouse gases generated by humankind are responsible for most of the warming? Do you believe that slowing, even reversing the warming, and the transition to a renewable energy economy, can and should be facilitated through classical market economics?

If your answers are Yes!, then a Monday, 22 September, meeting of like minded people in Whitefish may be for you.

A national group, the Citizens Climate Lobby, proposes accelerating the transition by levying a carbon tax that would make hydrocarbon — coal, oil, natural gas — based energy more expensive relative to solar and wind and other renewable energy. Redistributing the taxes collected to the people, the CCL argues, would make the tax revenue-neutral. It’s a serious and solid enough proposal to get the discussion going, which is why local groups supporting it are forming across the country.

Interested? Then get in touch with Steve Thompson for details and meeting times and places.


PSC District 5: Galen Hollenbaugh’s high hill to climb


Montana’s Public Service Commission District 5 (map 1) sprawls across the continental divide, encompassing Flathead and Lake Counties in the west, and Glacier, Pondera, Teton, and Lewis and Clark Counties in the east. Twenty-point-five percent of Montana’s 665,700 registered voters live in PSC-5, and 44.8 percent of PSC-5’s registered voters live in Flathead County (map 2), the most heavily Republican large county in the state. Incumbent Republican PSC Commissioner Bill Gallagher is retiring, so the seat is open in 2014.

The candidates for PSC-5 are Republican Brad Johnson, a former Montana Secretary of State, and Democrat Galen Hollenbaugh, a termed-out state representative, both Helena residents. Given the district’s voting history, Johnson must be considered the favorite.


emocrat Ken Toole won PSC-5 in the Democratic wave election of 2006, beating Republican Mike Taylor, a weak candidate, by 181 votes in a recount. Four years later, in the Democratic debacle of 2010, Toole lost to Gallagher by 11,812 votes. In both elections, Toole carried only Glacier and Lewis and Clark Counties.

…read the rest

Monday morning wake-up video

Sheryl Crow, Eric Clapton, and others with a toe-tappin’ performance of Tulsa Time.


14 September 2014

Fall is the season for cheering brain damage

Millions of Americans will spend this sunny September Sunday watching professional football, some in loud and crowded football stadiums, some in loud and crowded bars, the rest at home where the beer and potato chips are cheaper. Most will pay attention to, and cheer, the violence on the field.

Few will pay attention to recent news reports on the dark side of the game, reports on the players who beat women and children, reports on the players who end up with scrambled brains from the hits they took.

…read the rest


13 September 2014

Ready for Hillary? Never!

If elected President in 2016, Hillary Clinton will be 69 years old when she takes the oath of office. Only Ronald Reagan was older upon entering the White House. So, reports the New York Times, she’s hired a personal trainer and is practicing yoga to get in shape for the campaign. Although she has yet to formally announce her candidacy, Talking Points Memo reports the most members of the news media have no doubt she’s running. There’s even a website, Ready for Hillary, that’s a front for her campaign.

A lot of Democrats are jumping for joy that she’s running. It’s time for a woman in the White House, they babble; nothing else matters. All is forgiven, even her botch of health care during her husband’s administration. And much is forgotten, especially her bungled, cash burning campaign in 2008 which resembled a tour by a profligate rock musician, and her love for Wall Street. All that matters to millions of Democrats is that she has two X chromosomes.

Don’t expect anything new. She’ll run the same kind of campaign she ran in 2008, probably with many of the same people, although perhaps not with Mark Penn. This time, she believes, she’ll win because Barack Obama won’t be on the ballot.

Well, I’m not ready for Hillary. She bungled health care. She thought she’d been elected co-President. She cozies up to Wall Street. She supported Bush 43’s war of aggression in Iraq. She plays identity politics. She has a history of health problems, including blood clots. Her ambition has become an obsession that’s not far from a psychosis. I don’t trust her judgment.

Despite all of her disqualifications, she’s the Democrat’s presumed front-runner because younger, smarter, more liberal Democrats are apparently afraid of challenging her for the nomination. Unfortunately, she may be the Democratic nominee, and the choice in 2016 might be Hillary Clinton or Rand Paul or Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz or another Republican who wants to dismantle the New Deal and return us to the halcyon days leading to the Great Depression.

I’m not ready for Hillary. And I’m not sure whether I could ever get drunk and stoned enough to vote for her.



12 September 2014

Special September effects at solar noon

For the next three days, the Sun’s altitude above the southern horizon at solar noon (1333 MDT) in Kalispell will be 45 degrees. A person standing tall at that moment forms one side of a right angle triangle whose sides are equal. His shadow forms the other side. Thus, a person’s height will be the length of his shadow, which will point due north.

For your convenience, I’ve prepared a spreadsheet for Kalispell that displays for two months the times of morning and evening civil twilight, the times and azimuth of sunrise and sunset, and the time of high noon (solar transit) and the altitude of the Sun above the southern horizon. If you live elsewhere, you can use the online calculators at the U.S. Naval Observatory to determine the values for your location.

The times of sunrise and sunset assume flat horizons, such at sea. In mountainous areas, the observed time of sunrise and sunset depart from the calculated values. A few observations will establish the correction, and provide an indirect means of estimating how many degrees the actual horizon rises above the theoretical flat horizon. These are good school and family projects.


11 September 2014

Obama made two good points last night

Although Barack Obama made a mistake last night by speaking as commander in chief instead of as President, he did make some points worth underlining.

In a concession to reality never made by George W. Bush, he said:

We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today.

Eight years ago, I posted what I called the speech Bush should have given. It included this paragraph:

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.

I’m not going to argue that President Obama reads Flathead Memo and borrowed my ideas, but I’m glad he reminded Americans they cannot be perfectly safe.

Later in his speech, sandwiched between “if” and “could” sentences, he admitted there’s no evidence that Islamic State punks are plotting against the American homeland (let alone evidence they have the capacity to execute a plot successfully).

So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria and the broader Middle East, including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners, including Europeans and some Americans, have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.[Emphasis added.]

In that paragraph, “could” amounts to speculation.

People who don’t like us are always denouncing us and making threats, deriving great satisfaction from their fulminations. They want us to wake up every morning frightened silly that a car bomb will blow up the school bus on which our children are riding. Is it possible that could happen? Of course. Is it likely? No. In fact, it’s only slightly more probable than Old MacDonald’s bull jumping over the Moon. I don’t worry about terrorism, and neither should you. To paraphrase James Fallows, even if we live in a minuscule amount of danger, we should not take the enjoyment out of life by living in fear.

In my The speech Bush 43 should have given, I wrote:

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.

Being scared into doing something stupid remains the major danger of terrorism. Notwithstanding his commander in chief blunder, President Obama rightly resisted launching another ground war in the Middle East just because a psychopathic jihadi sawed off the heads of two Americans. That’s progress.



10 September 2014

Mr. President, you are NOT! my commander in chief

In your address to the nation this evening on Islamic terrorism, you referred to yourself as “commander in chief” — twice — but not as the President of the United States. Nor did you even limit yourself as the commander in chief of the armed services of the United States. You spoke as the commander in chief of all Americans.

But you are not. According to Article II, Section 2, of the still in effect Constitution of the United States:

2.1 The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States;…

Flathead Memo note. When the Air Force was formed as a separate military service in 1947, the potential Article II problem was finessed in a one-page legal memorandum by acting Attorney General Harold I. Baynton.

Section 2 of Article II exists to establish civilian control of the armed forces, not to provide Presidents with the power to place civilians under military authority. But tonight, in the way you phrased your remarks, you asserted that you have that power:

As commander in chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people…

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a commander in chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform — pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East and service members who support our partners on the ground.

Full text of speech.

When you speak to gatherings of our military services, it goes without saying that you are commander in chief — but above all you speak as the President of the United States and have no need to refer to yourself as commander in chief. In fact, you should not refer to yourself as commander in chief, for as President you must never speak as a military leader.

When in an address to the nation you refer to yourself as commander in chief, as you did tonight, you abdicate your constitutional responsibility to speak as President, and present yourself in the role of this nation’s ultimate military leader, a military leader with military authority over civilians and members of the service alike. That’s how military dictatorships begin.

You are President Obama, not Generalissimo Obama. Remember that — or you will find yourself impeached.


Amanda Curtis now old enough to be President

Yep, she’s celebrating her 35th birthday in a series of parties and fundraisers in Butte today. If somehow Daines beats her in November, she can go for the White House in 2016.

We need a better system for paying for college educations

At Slate, Jordan Weissmann reports that the Social Security benefits of some senior citizens are being garnished by the federal government to collect old student loans. In some cases, that pulls the oldsters income dangerously low:

…today, the Government Accountability Office unveiled a rather depressing report about how the government may be driving some of those retirees into poverty in its attempts to collect on their debt. [Hi-lighting added.]

It’s not clear from Weissmann’s story whether all the loans were incurred by the seniors for their own educations, or whether some of the seniors co-signed loans for children or grandchildren who defaulted. But whatever the origin, garnishing Social Security for old students loans is a bad policy, and a cruel one.

Moreover, by driving the seniors into poverty and thus forcing them to apply for benefits such as food stamps, garnishing Social Security to collect these loans may well produce a net loss for the government.

One alternative: wait until the seniors die, then seize their estates to pay off the loans. A better alternative: forgive the loans. That requires an act of Congress, which is possible, and political courage, which also is possible, but not very probable.

We need a better system for dealing with college costs for students. Why even have student loans? We don’t require tuition for public education through high school. There might be a few exceptions, but in general public schools are considered a community good, a universal good, and are paid for by taxes. Everyone contributes.

Why not a similar system for financing college educations? Students who enroll in public colleges and universities should have their books and tuition and fees paid by the state. In exchange, they agree to pay higher income taxes for the rest of their lives. That fair bargain would remove the individual debt burden, pay for future education, and would not burden people who neither attended nor graduated from college.



9 September 2014

Did George Soros send Chuck and Stew to Montana?

That’s not my question. It’s Ed Berry’s. And serious or rhetorical — sometimes with Ed I’m never quite sure — it certainly makes for an interesting discussion:

Did George Soros send Pastor Baldwin and Stewart Rhodes to Montana? Montana may be the easiest state where a few tea-party infiltrators can actually swing a state from electing Republicans to electing Democrats, and with the razor-thin balance in the US Senate, a swung Montana election can swing America from right to left. Montana is a good place to apply left-wing political leverage.

…read the rest

Phil Mitchell joins Republican debate dodging caucus


Mitchell wants to be elected to the Flathead County Commission, but he doesn’t want to stand on the same stage with his Democratic opponent, Stacey Schnebel, and discuss the issues at a debate sponsored by the Daily InterLake:

In a letter to Inter Lake Managing Editor Frank Miele, Mitchell said his time is limited and he doesn’t “see a valid reason for me to debate my Democratic opponent at this time because I have clearly stated what I stand for.

“I stand for individual freedom, protecting private property rights, supporting all businesses, utilizing our natural resources, protecting our water rights and I am a proud member of the National Rifle Association and believe we must protect our right to keep and bear arms,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell needs to invent more persuasive excuses for dodging face-to-face encounters with his opponent. Debates test reasoning skills. How well candidates defend their stands on the issues in a debate is an important factor in determining fitness for office. Ducking a debate, particularly with excuses as lame as Mitchell’s, does not raise a candidate’s esteem in the eyes of many voters.

It’s fair to ask why Mitchell fears debating Schnebel. And it’s fair to conclude he fears being bested by a smart businesswoman young enough to be his daughter. In his political calculus, better to accept some small embarrassment for dodging the debate than risking big embarrassment by ending the debate with both feet in his mouth and the audience hooting at his ineptitude. I’m sure Ryan Zinke understands.


Morning video: Pete Seeger singing Phil Ochs’ Draft Dodger Rag


8 September 2014

Why I’m not shopping at Home Depot these days

It appears as though Home Depot was hacked, probably big-time, and that the credit and debit cards of customers who shopped there may be at risk. I say “appears,” because Home Depot’s managers are not releasing much information, possibly to avoid public relations damage, possibly because of pressure from law enforcement agencies.

In these situations, I protect myself by assuming the worst. I assume the hack was big, that trainloads of data, my data included, were stolen, that the data are headed for crooks who will steal my last cent if they can. I have new cards issued, and I shop somewhere else unless there’s no alternative, in which case I pay with Federal Reserve Notes.

Curtis should run a guerilla campaign that makes her interesting


What should be more important to Amanda Curtis’ campaign? Enforcing message discipline? Or, making her as interesting as possible?

Her campaign staff's answer is obvious: message discipline. Keep her on her talking points, deflect or flat out refuse to answer uncomfortable questions, post as little as possible on her website and Facebook page, and block trackers even if that makes her staff look like bullies and diverts them from signing-up volunteers.

That’s how conventional big campaigns are run. They’re advertising exercises, with the candidate serving as the soap or beer. Curtis’ public relations chief, Les Braswell, comes from that background. And of course, this is nothing new. Readers who are my contemporaries will remember Joel McGinniss’ classic about the 1968 Presidential campaign, The $elling of the President.

Curtis, however, has no time to run a conventional campaign. Early voting begins in a month. If she’s going to excite rank and file Democrats, generate enthusiasm among 18–29-year-old-voters, and by example lead young single women and mothers to the polls, she needs to run a guerilla campaign — a campaign that makes her as interesting as possible.

That wouldn’s be hard to do. She is interesting: a math teacher; a state legislator who doesn’t quaver in the presence of the king of Montana’ gunpowder caucus, Gary Marbut; a human rights advocate who wasn’t afraid to observe that Rep. Krayton Kerns said things that made decent people want to clock him in his chops. She’s somehow associated, probably through her 43-year-old husband, with the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical union organized by some of the most color labor leaders ever to mount a soapbox or man a picket line. Why did her Facebook page once sport a photograph of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and later a leader of the communist party in the United States, who died in Moscow and was given a state funeral there?

These are some of the things that make Curtis fascinating — but they’re also the things her campaign, and Montana’s Democratic Party, evidently want to suppress. Former Democratic state senator Ken Toole, for example, wrote on his Facebook page:

Did MTPR reporter Edward O'Brian really ask Amanda Curtis about being a COMMUNIST!!?? Please! Just because the far right lives in the paranoid world of the 1950's doesn't mean reporters have to join them. I guess fighting for the middle class has become anti-American and subversive. I’m going to to make another contribution to Amanda’s campaign!

Memo to Toole: it was both a fair question and a necessary one.

My advice: make her as interesting as possible. Load her website with as information about her political views, her association with the Wobblies, why she likes Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and why in 2008 she wrote for the IWW’s Industrial Worker a report (PDF, page 6) on the restoration of Frank Little’s grave in Butte.

She was anointed John Walsh’s replacement because she was unconventional, a chili pepper of a politician who made Democrats feel good about being Democrats. It’s a mistake to stick her in the straitjacket of a conventional message discipline campaign. Make her interesting and turn her loose.



7 September 2014

Wasp on African daisy

This pesky paper wasp escaped my chemical attack last night.


441 reasons why foreign policy matters in MT’s federal elections

Montana’s candidates for federal office — for the U.S. House and Senate — generally avoid discussing foreign policy. But discussing foreign policy will be harder to avoid in a few days.

President Obama will announce on Wednesday, 10 September, a plan for dealing with ISIS, aka Islamic State, the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists who have seized control of significant parts of Syria and northern Iraq, and who want to return to the purity of the Eighth Century.

He’ll probably announce that the U.S. and his handful of allies will provide air support for ground operations by local opponents of the ISIS. That will, of course, also mean more U.S. advisors on the ground, serving as tacticians and target designators. At some point, there will be U.S. casualties and personnel taken prisoner by the ISIS

I can’t think of a group more deserving of being carpet bombed and obliterated than ISIS. They’ve earned every pound of TNT that explodes on them.

Whether they pose a threat, let alone a serious threat, to the U.S. is another question. They’re intent on establishing a medieval Islamic theocracy in the Middle East, not on Long Island. Whether they plan to commit terrorists acts in the U.S. is not clear, but I suspect if they had the capacity to do that, that’s what they would do instead of producing snuff videos of beheading Americans in their custody.

Montana’s sons and daughters fight and die in foreign wars

Montana is far from the Middle East — but Montana’s sons and daughters fight and die in places far from Montana. Beginning with the Korean War, reports that 441 Montanans have died in foreign wars. Thousands more have returned home maimed, missing arms and legs and eyes. Some suffer terrible brain injuries from which they never recover fully.

So, after the President speaks on Wednesday, we need to hear from you, Steve Daines, Ryan Zinke, John Lewis, Amanda Curtis, Roger Roots, and Mike Fellows. How would you deal with the ISIS? And how would you help the American men and women who fight our foreign wars and who come home alive, but are never again the same?



6 September 2014

In Amanda v. America Rising, the tracker is winning

It’s official, admits Amanda Curtis’ spokesman Les Braswell. Her campaign is blocking video trackers — sticking campaign signs in front of America Rising tracker Brian O’Leary’s lens and such — and doing so with the full knowledge and support of Curtis, reports the Associated Press’ Matt Brown:

Curtis told The Associated Press that the unusual blocking efforts by her supporters were a distraction necessitated by O’Leary’s increasingly aggressive behavior.

“I was recently at the Labor Day picnic in Great Falls and he was going so far as trying to position himself in between a voter and myself,” she said. “I appreciate a little bubble. We all have this personal space, and I deserve mine.”

Curtis’ wanting to campaign in a bubble is only part of the reason for her campaign’s anti-tracker policy. Her staff, knowing how green she is, fear she may go off script, embarrassing herself as she provides ammunition for negative advertisements by the opposition.

…read the rest


5 September 2014

The decline of Silver Bow County & the rise of Flathead County

Butte and Silver Bow County (one and the same since a consolidation in the 1970s) have a rich, colorful history, but a shrinking share of Montana’s population. Silver Bow’s population peaked in 1920 and declined to a flatline on the chart after the Anaconda company closed down the Berkeley Pit in the early 1980s. In 1920, Silver Bow’s population was three times the Flathead’s. Now the ratio is reversed.


4 September 2014

The high cost of healthy chili

For the food police, no chili is healthy — but for sensible people, that is, for people who enjoy food that tastes good, healthy chili is chili one cooks for oneself using known high quality ingredients. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more expensive than good tasting chili made with mystery meat and sold by the can in grocery stores.

Even budget healthy chili, made with lean ground beef instead of sirloin tips, and packaged seasoning instead of fresh chili peppers, is expensive. My latest batch yielded nine cups, equivalent to five 15-ounce cans of Nalley Valley Original Chili (with beans), which sells for a dollar a can when priced by a grocer to attract customers. My cost: $2.58 per 15 ounces.


Cost is a minor issue, if an issue at all, for chili lovers with substantial incomes. But for chili lovers below the poverty line, for people on food stamps and various forms of public assistance, the kind of people known to stretch their food dollars by purchasing ramen noodles and such, and who then are criticized by the food police, healthy chili is a luxury they can’t afford. In The Food Gap is Widening, The Atlantic writer James Hamblin reports the average food stamp (officially, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; SNAP) benefit is $133 per person per month; $4.43 per day, or close to 60 percent of the cost 15 ounces of budget healthy chili.

The gap will widen further if right wing zealots like Rep. Steve Daines get their way. A year ago, Daines voted for a $40 billion cut in food stamps, a mean-spirited measure intended to let low income Americans suffer from hunger pangs so that high income Americans — Daines is one — could receive tax cuts they don’t need.



3 September 2014

How should Democrats deal with GOP debate dodgers?


When Richard Nixon refused to debate Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Humphrey ridiculed Nixon as “Richard the Chicken Hearted” —and began closing the gap. Nixon, who never forgot (or got over) losing the 1960 debates to John F. Kennedy, accepted Humphrey’s derision as less dangerous than debating the quick-witted Senator from Minnesota.

A generation later, Minnesota Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz refused to debate Democrat Paul Wellstone, who responded with his classic two-minute television spot, Looking for Rudy. Not enough voters looked for Rudy on the ballot; after the election he could’t be found in the Senate.

In Montana in 2014, Steve Daines and Ryan Zinke, both leading in the polls, think the odds they’ll be found in the U.S. Senate and House in 2015 are highest if they duck debates with Democrats Amanda Curtis and John Lewis, and Libertarians Roger Roots and Mike Fellows. So, they withdrew from the debates, Zinke in particular earning rave reviews for executing withdrawal maneuvers worthy of a French farce.

What are they afraid of? And how best can Democrats exploit their fears?

…read the rest


2 September 2014

When they won’t debate, remember Paul Wellstone


It was 1990. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Plywood Minnesota) was running for re-election — and away from debates with his Democratic challenger, college professor Paul Wellstone, who responded with a classic campaign ad, Looking for Rudy. Is there a lesson here for Montana’s Democratic candidates? Probably not. Wellstone had a wry sense of humor and was willing to take risks to win.



1 September 2014

Montana Democratic Party’s Labor Day statement

Not surprisingly, the Montana Republican Party did not release a Labor Day statement — I just checked — but the Montana Democratic Party did:

…read the rest

Labor Day video — Roll the Union on

“If the goons get in the way, we’re gonna roll right over them.” Performed by the Almanac Singers.