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

Archives index, 1–15 December 2015


15 December 2015

Tuesday videos: Banks of the Ohio, and Farewell Nova Scotia

Here’s a twofer for Tuesday: Three Pickers and Allison Krauss performing Banks of the Ohio, and a young Gordon Lightfoot singing the great Canadian folk song, Farewell Nova Scotia.

The pickers are Earl Scruggs, banjo; Doc Watson, guitar and lead vocals; Ricky Skaggs, mandolin. Krauss plays the fiddle and sings harmony. This was one of Watson’s last performances.

Farewell Nova Scotia, composer unknown, is a powerful, but not happy, song, well suited to Lightfoot’s 12-string guitar and his strong voice.



14 December 2015

Mixed news, mostly bad, on the Medicaid front

First, the (sort of) good news. Last week the Republican governors of South Dakota and Wyoming endorsed expanded Medicaid, reports the Maddow Blog’s Steve Benen, who also reports that Alabama’s Republican governor seems headed that way, too. Louisiana, as red a state as there is, likely will expand Medicaid now that it has elected a Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards.

Don’t expect any of these states to have the good sense and decency to expand Medicaid as a government run single-payer system. They’ll all insist that the federal money for expanding Medicaid be used to purchase private health insurance for the poor. That’s the bail out the insurance companies and help the hospitals scheme that Montana adopted and Montana’s Democrats embraced with uncritical, indeed rapturous, joy. Yes, the scheme does insure some people not insured before, but it represents the triumph of ideology over common sense.

…read the rest

Monday morning music: Ian Tyson singing The Gift (Charlie Russell)

Canadian singer and songwriter Ian Tyson learned to play the guitar while recovering from a fall he took as a rodeo rider. Probably best known for Four Strong Winds, Someday Soon (made famous by Judy Collins), and Summer Wages, he wrote The Gift to honor artist Charlie Russell, who needs no introduction to Montanans.



13 December 2015

How to go broke chasing the free stuff on Bookbub

I write from experience. Bookbub crawls the internet, looking for deals on electronic books, Kindle ebooks in my case. It finds books offered for free, and books with startling low prices, then each days sends you an email steering you to the deals.

Sometimes, the free books, usually novels written a few years ago, are quite good. I’m reading one now. And so are many of the good deals. I bought for just two dollars Strangers on a Bridge, James Donovan’s account of his defense of Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, and the subsequent negotiations that led to Abel’s being exchanged for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Tom Hanks plays Donovan in the movie Bridge of Spies, now showing.

I was pretty satisfied with myself for downloading the free book and snatching up the deal on Donovan’s book — until the next morning when I realized that snatching up just one two-dollar deal every day would cost me $730 a year.

That’s how Bookbub lightens your wallet. It seduces you by offering a free lunch, and cleans up when you take advantage of that great two dollar deal.

Be warned. And try to catch on faster than I did.



12 December 2015

MTN report confirms McLean was bad fit as lieutenant governor

An excellent report yesterday by Mike Dennison at KXLH TV in Helena confirms earlier reports that Angela McLean was a bad fit as lieutenant governor virtually from the gitgo, and that she was forced out of the office following her threat to resign and reports she would run against Gov. Steve Bullock in the 2016 Montana primary.

Dennison based his story on interviews with key parties and on emails obtained through a freedom of information request.

Update. The emails are now online (PDF) at KXLH.

Dennison’s report does not address the role, if any, the legal troubles of McLean’s father-in-law — he’s headed to jail for stealing — played in her departure. That situation alone might have been enough to jettison her from the Democrat’s gubernatorial ticket in 2016, but her inability to work effectively with Bullock was itself sufficient reason to force her out (and she was forced out).

We still do not know how Bullock managed to select her as lieutenant governor without discovering they were personally incompatible and had sharply different visions of the office of lieutenant governor. But I have credible reports she was tapped for the position, and accepted it, before having a long sitdown with Bullock to make sure they would be singing from the same sheet of music. Most likely, she was selected because she was a woman and an educator, constituencies Bullock wanted to court, and not because she would make a fine governor (remember, Bullock, like all governors, knows he will outlive his tenure in office).

That’s one problem. Another is the minimization of the office of lieutenant governor, an elective and political office mandated by Montana’s constitution, by Bullock’s defenders and others. The obscure Billings area blog Logicosity astutely observed 10 December that:

Apparently, the governor and his crew have allowed the stature of the two most prestigious offices in state government to decline to the point that the office of the lieutenant governor is just another “job.” The incumbent was not fulfilled so she found a “job” more to her liking and succeeded (on her own, presumably) in securing it. The relationship between the governor and her was allowed to deteriorate to the point that he marginalized her and they did not enjoy the trust and confidence to discuss her concerns about her role within the administration.

With political commentary that trenchant, Logicosity will lose its obscurity rather quickly.

With McLean gone, and hope Democrats, quickly to be forgotten, attention now turns to Bullock’s next choice for lieutenant governor. Reports Dennison:

Bullock said Friday he’s been talking to business and community leaders about possible names for the next lieutenant governor. He said he’s confident he’ll find someone “to fill out the rest of this term and hopefully run with me in 2016 as well.”

Talking to business and community leaders is necessary, but not sufficient. He must also talk to political leaders, and especially to the leaders of the Democratic caucus in Montana’s legislature. The process must include long, one-on-one sitdowns with the top candidates to discuss the roll of lieutenant governor, Bullock’s operating style, and whether they can work together productively.



11 December 2015

Request to readers on LED bulbs and streetlights

Do you use LED lamps at home? Does your community have, or plan to have, LED streetlights? If so, Flathead Memo would like to hear from you (email link). I'll keep your name secret, but will reveal your city unless you request that I do not. Here’s what I’d like to know:

Home. Where in your home have you installed LED bulbs? Is the color rendering satisfactory? Are your lamps omnidirectional or directional (floodlights)? Have you experienced radio frequency interference or other electronic problems? Are your bulbs Energy Star certified? Overall, what is your experience?

Streetlights. Were you consulted before the design decisions were made? If so, do you believe you were taken seriously? What is the coordinated color temperature (CCT) of the LED streetlights or planned streetlights (see graphic below)? How appropriate in your experience is the level of brightness? Do the LED streetlights illuminate only what should be illuminated? Is glare a problem, and if so, to what extent? Overall, what is your experience?

Many thanks for your help. Reply to request.



10 December 2015

Former Republican legislator Jerry O’Neil files C-1 for House District 4


Former Republican legislator Jerry O’Neil, defeated for HD-3 (map) by Democrat Zac Perry in 2014, wants back in Montana’s house of representatives. Taylor Rose is running for the Republican nomination for HD-3, so the day after Thanksgiving O’Neil filed a C-1 statement of candidacy for HD-4 (map), an open seat vacated by Rep. Keith Regier because of term limits. Regier is running for the Montana senate in SD-3 (map), an open seat vacated by Sen. Bruce Tutvedt (R-Kalispell) because of term limits.

Now in his early seventies, O’Neil served in the Montana senate in the 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2007 sessions, and in the Montana house in 2011 and 2013. Known as a staunch libertarian with a flair for sometimes wacky publicity, he was not a legislative leader — a point hammered home by Perry in 2014 — but became known for requesting attention-getting legislation such as a bill requiring legislators to be paid in silver and gold, and a bill giving some convicted criminals the choice of rotting in the slammer or being flogged (a measure that earned him the sobriquet “Floggin’ Jerry”).

Few Flathead legislative districts are as conservative as HD-4. And few conservative Flathead politicians are as well known as Jerry O’Neil. His “I won’t let the government mess with you” rhetoric and his willingness to show up for almost any event sit well with conservative rural voters who want to send a message to Helena. If his political skills are intact, and he’s sufficiently hungry and vigorous, I think he can survive a primary challenge and win the general election in 2016.



9 December 2015

Lowering the voting age to 16 is a bad idea

Today, idealists with illusions are kicking off a campaign to lower the voting age to 16. A nonpartisan group headquartered in New York City, Generation Citizen, is leading the campaign, which will be called Vote16USA.

Are 16-year-olds, high school juniors, mature and experienced enough to vote? A few might be. But the rest are not. Physically, their brains are not fully developed. Socially and politically, their range of experience and knowledge is narrow, far too narrow for them to render sound judgment when casting their vote.

I supported the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. I agreed with the argument “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Now I believe we should have raised the minimum age for military service to 21.

According to the New York Times, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi supports lowering the voting age. At 75, she’s old enough to know better.



8 December 2015

Montana Poll’s authors need to release critical data

In the last paragraph of my report on the Montana Poll, I noted it’s a student project that does not have the resources available to commercial pollsters such as Gallup or Public Policy Polling. There, the error bars are wider.

After reading my post and the poll, a sharp-eyed reader observed:

  1. The poll included both registered and unregistered voters. Most polls are of registered voters.

  2. Women in this sample were far more conservative than most Montana polls I’ve seen.

  3. I couldn’t find any demographic description of the sample. If you don’t know the representation of various demographic groups it’s impossible to determine sample bias.

Those are good points. We can infer the sample breakdown by political party from Questions 14 and 15, the Republican and Democratic Presidential primaries:


The neither Republican nor Democrat category probably includes Libertarians and other third parties, and self-identified independents. Only ten percent or so of voters are true independents, and many of these tend to be low information voters who do not always vote. Many self-identified independents are closet partisans whose true political affiliation can be smoked out through questions such as “Do you lean Republican or Democratic?”

I hope the authors of the Montana Poll will release the demographic data and the crosstabs so that readers can assess the reliability and accuracy of the survey.


Montana Poll: Bernie runs better against GOP than does Hillary

The The Montana Poll (PDF) for 2015 is out. It was conducted 16–23 November 2015 by faculty and students at Montana State University’s Billings campus. The sample size was 435, yielding a 4.8 percent margin of error.

There are some some interesting results:

A few observations:

…read the rest


7 December 2015

Republican anti-bonding zealotry imperils Montana infrastructure

During the 2015 legislative session, a bill to repair and expand infrastructure improvements in Montana passed the senate 47–3, but failed to pass the house because tea party Republicans balked at issuing bonds to finance the projects. The consequences of the bill’s death were recently reported by the Lee State Bureau. Yesterday, the Helena Independent Record published a trenchant editorial on the harm done by that decision:

The opposition to bonding is about as short-sighted as it’s possible to get in today’s fiscal climate.

Interest rates have never been lower. One reason the state is in position to get such favorable bonding rates is because of the very cash reserves that Republicans are criticizing Bullock for wanting to maintain. Those reserves help give the state its excellent credit rating. Fiscal prudence — you could even call it conservatism — dictates maintaining sensible cash reserves.

And every day the state does not take advantage of low interest rates to finance projects that are daily getting more expensive — since inflation is growing even as interest rates stay depressed — the state is in effect losing money.

Talk about “saddling our grandchildren with debt” is frankly hogwash. It’s perfectly inverted political sloganeering. What we’re saddling our children and grandchildren with are unmet obligations that will be far more expensive and all the more necessary when it’s their turn to pay the bills.

Republicans fancy themselves as the party of business, and believe they have business smarts Democrats are genetically incapable of possessing – but there is nothing smart about the ideological opposition to borrowing (bonding) held by so many Republican state representatives. They are so intent on shrinking the size of government that they no longer have the capacity to govern responsibly. Returning them to office next year will ensure that we send our children to crumbling schools and set tourists and residents alike to cursing the proliferation of potholes. That’s not smart governance. It’s civic suicide.


Franklin Roosevelt, Pearl Harbor, and Big Sky Words

One of the most despicable canards of the Franklin Roosevelt hating right wing is that he had hard evidence of the timing of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but, because he wanted war with Japan, did nothing and thus knowingly allowed the attack to occur. I’ve never found any evidence to support this, nor has any of the historians that I find credible.

Today at Big Sky Words, Missoula based blogger Greg Strandberg revived the “Roosevelt Knew” argument. Strandberg writes well and often is right, but on this matter I disagree with him. I leave it to my readers to study Strandberg’s post and history and to draw their own conclusions.


The sun’s position at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941

Seventy-four years ago, Japan conducted a surprise attack, a carrier raid, on our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the southern side of the island of O’hau. The National Geographic has a good timeline of the attack.

The attack began an hour after sunrise, when the sun was 13 degrees above the southeastern horizon, and ended approximately two hours later. Here’s a chart of the sun’s azimuth and altitude at Pearl on the day that still lives in infamy.


Obama limns plan to defeat ISIS, asserts American exceptionalism

President Obama spoke for approximately 15 minutes Sunday evening, presenting in 1,900 words his policy to destroy ISIS (that’s impossible, but containment is an attainable objective), and explaining why our reaction to terrorist acts should not go down certain roads.

The Flesch-Kincaid reading level was grade 10.5, one to two grades more difficult than most of his speeches. That may reflect the complexity of the subject, an attempt to present more serious prose, or simply the lack of time for the speechwriters to smooth the syntax to the usual standard.

Obama did not quantify the level of terrorism in the United States, thus failing to provide an objective measure of risk. He merely said:

…read the rest


6 December 2015

Obama cannot promise Americans they’ll be perfectly safe from terrorism

President Obama will deliver an address on terrorism this evening, speaking from the Oval Office at 1800 (the football game starts 30 minutes later) “…about the steps our government is taking to fulfill his highest priority: Keeping the American people safe.”

He cannot promise perfect safety, although many want him to do so. Many Americans are living in fear, yet they are not really in danger. The risk of dying from a terrorist attack is vanishingly small — Americans are far more likely to be killed by an automobile accident or a medical mistake. Somehow, the President must find a convincing way to put terrorism in perspective and tamp down the hysteria without exhorting Americans not to panic.

He also must remind Americans that the object of terrorism is creating such a sense of dread that we willingly, indeed eagerly, surrender our freedoms for the illusion of perfect safety. He must convince us that although we will always live in a certain amount of danger, usually very small, we should not live in fear; for if we live in fear, the terrorists win.



5 & 6 December 2015

Montana’s lieutenant governor: easy to hire, impossible to fire

Slightly revised on 6 December. When the office of lieutenant governor becomes vacant in Montana, the governor gets to appoint a new lieutenant governor. The new lieutenant governor must meet the constitutional requirements for governor, but the governor can appoint anyone he chooses and needs no one else’s permission to do so.

That almost wasn’t the case. At one point during the Montana Constitutional Convention of 1971–1972, the delegates considered language requiring that an appointment to fill a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor be confirmed by the legislature:

When a vacancy occurs in the office of lieutenant governor, the Governor shall nominate a lieutenant governor whe shall take office upon confirmation by the affirmative vote of a majority of all members of the legislative assembly in joint session.

There were other versions of a confirmation requirement. Ultimately, however, the delegates adopted the constitutional language we now have:

…read the rest

Lenio case going to trial after all

After attempts to settle the matter through a plea bargain failed, the case of Montana v. David Lenio, is headed for trial in mid-Janary. Lenio is charged with malicious intimidation for allegedly making threats through the internet. A second charge against him, criminal defamation, was dismissed on constitutional grounds in September.

What led to this development? Three things, I think:

…read the rest


4 December 2015

Note to readers

Due to issues resulting from the ice storm, I’ll be posting late today, if I post at all. James Conner.

3 December 2015

Gender discrimination, liberal blogosphere wars, Kaufmann’s essay

Bullock’s next LtGov need not be a woman. If I’m reading the signs correctly, the usual suspects want Bullock to exclude men from the list of potential lieutenant governors. That would be a mistake. I urge those making that case to back off. He’s going to have a hard enough time finding someone who is willing to take the job. There’s no reason to double the difficulty of the task by halving the talent pool through gender discrimination.

Internecine warfare within Montana’s liberal blogosphere. My gentle and respectful message to my friends and colleagues is: there are not so many of us, and so few of them, that we can afford the indulgence of using our blogs to knock the hell out of each other. Our differences with each other, both petty and profound, pale in comparison with our differences with the far right. Let’s stick to the real issues instead of sticking it to each other.

Syrian refugees and hysteria. At Montana Cowgirl, State Sen. Christine Kaufmann, has an eloquent, perceptive, essay on the situation that is informed by her recent service helping refugees on a Greek Island. At Salon, Bill Curry reports:

In five years of civil war, 200,000 Syrians have died and 9.5 million have fled their homes. Germany has taken in 38,500 of them. The United States: 1,854. Half are children. Most of the rest are women or elderly. Two percent are single men of combat age, the demographic from which most terrorists hail. (The 9/11 hijackers’ average age was 24. The elder Boston marathon bomber was 26.) Vetting a refugee takes up to two years and produces a fat dossier, which is why so few terrorists try to get in that way. We say the world looks to us for leadership, but every other nation that might join a coalition against ISIS is doing more than we are to meet this crisis. They no longer want our “leadership” — just our soldiers, our arms and our money.


The mind boggling insanity of the murders in San Bernardino

Native born American Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, had a $70,000 per year job, a government job, a good job, a wife, Tashfeen Malik, and a daughter aged six months. Yesterday, he and Tashfeen, dressed in military gear, equipped with legally purchased AR-15 style rifles, shot dead 14 persons, and wounded 17 more, at a seasonal party in San Bernardino, California. They escaped, but later were killed in a shootout with police.

One’s mind boggles and reels at this awful event. What compels the mother of a six-month-old to abandon her child and join her husband in executing what amounts to a massacre-suicide pact?

…read the rest

Did Angela McLean misunderstand what a lieutenant governor does?

That question, raised when she said, “I did what I came to do, and I think I was successful, and now it’s time to move to a new post and take that fiery, fierce advocacy to an area where it’s specifically tailored to student learning,” was partly answered in a new post by Montana Cowgirl:

…there were some whispers about how she was not happy with her job because it was a bit empty of serious policy work, McLean having come from the Board of Regents and a major figure in education policy. It is true the the job of LG is light on substance. It is a job in which you fill in for the Governor if he can’t be somewhere. That’s just reality and if it’s true that this is the reason McLean left, then it is probably for the better. Hopefully her new gig (with a $20,000 annual raise) will be more along the lines of what she wants.

A person with long experience in Montana politics told me much the same thing:

…read the rest


2 December 2015

Ham-handed ouster of McLean hurts Bullock, Democrats


Does anyone really believe that Lt. Gov. Angela McLean applied for a job in education in late October, but (a) didn’t tell Gov. Bullock what she was doing until the last day of November, and (b) that Bullock didn’t know what was going on until then?

I don’t.

That’s because everything I’ve learned about this situation for the last two months convinces me that Bullock decided to oust her, orchestrated her ouster, and will be glad to see her gone.

So why is he acting surprised, and doing such a bad job of it?

Furthermore, just what happened? What did McLean do, or didn’t do, that soured Bullock on her? Montanans have a right to know, and Bullock and McLean have a duty to come clean. There cannot be issues of privacy when the two highest ranking elected officials in the state are involved.

Did Bullock conclude he erred in choosing McLean? That her staying on the job until her term ended imperiled the stability of Montana’s government? That she was unfit to be governor? If so, why? If so, when?

Indeed, why did Bullock pick McLean for the Job? She had no governing experience. Neither did his first lieutenant governor, John Walsh. Brian Schweitzer tapped a Republican for his lieutenant governor, but no one doubted that John Bohlinger, an experienced and respected legislator, could govern. But Bullock chose for lieutenant governors a man and woman who had never run for dog catcher. Why?

Was the process by which the job for McLean was created and advertised legal and fair? According to the education commissioner’s spokesman, McLean was one of 20 applicants for the job. But did anyone but McLean have a chance of winning the job? Were the other applicants played for fools and suckers? They were if the job was created as a way of moving McLean sideways and providing her with the equivalent of hush money. If that’s what happened, is corrupt too strong a word to describe the process?

Democrats are in a damage control mode. Some are losing enthusiasm for Bullock, but they recoil in horror at the possibility that Montana’s next governor might be named Greg. So they’re circling the wagons, praising McLean, and shouting Hallelujah! Brother Bullock! to the world, while in private they’re cursing his unforced error and praying he’ll redeem himself in time to be re-elected.



1 December 2015

Lieutenant governors are political insurance policies for the voters

Contrary to what modern governors believe, governors and other public officials do die in office:

That’s why Montana’s Constitution requires a lieutenant governor. The death of a sitting governor is not so rare there is no need to plan for the contingency.

…read the rest