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

March 2015 Archive


31 March 2015

51 MT Representatives refuse to be Uncle Marbut's monkey

Don’t bring your guns to college, at least not yet. SB-143, Billings Republican Sen. Cary Smith’s bill to turn Montana’s university system into Six-Shooter U just failed 49–51 on its second reading in the MT House.

That’s a bit of a surprise according to Rep. Ellie Boldman Hill (D-Missoula), who said in a Facebook post, “Well…I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” Meaning, of course, that 51 state representatives decided not to be Uncle Marbut’s monkey.

Flathead Democrats Rep. Ed Lieser and Zac Perry voted Nay. Flathead Republican Representatives Keith Regier, Carl Glimm, Frank Garner, Steve Lavin, Randy Brodehl, Mark Noland, and Albert Olszewski voted Aye.

At the beginning of February, on the third reading in the MT Senate, Flathead Republican Senators Dee Brown, Mark Blasdel, and Bob Keenan voted Aye, while Bruce Tutvedt voted Nay.

Although I consider this vote a rare outbreak of common sense in the MT House, I’m sure the gunpowder caucus will wail that Montana’s collegians will be denied the means to protect themselves while running the deadly gauntlets of sidewalk between their dormitories and classrooms, or while crossing lawns where crazed assassins could lurk behind every bush and tree.


Do Democrats raise more money with vinegar than honey?

That’s one conclusion one can draw from the email below. Sometimes I receive several of these nastygrams each day. It started last fall, before the election. Here’s what I want to know: does behaving like a loan shark’s kneecapper extract more money from Democrats than “Pretty please, send $5 to support our efforts to expand Social Security,” and if so, why? I wish I could meet the person who devised this gangster-like campaign so I could bust him in the snoot.

…read the rest

Did Germanwings 9525 crash because of a great notion?

Sometimes I lives in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump into the river an’ drown

Could Huddie Ledbetter’s classic song, Goodnight Irene, explain why Andreas Lubitz flew Germanwings 9525 into the French Alps, killing himself and 149 others? According to Leeham News’ Bjorn Fehrm, some French psychologists think that Lubitz’s having had a great notion is a possibility:

…read the rest


30 March 2015

Today’s must read blog post

At Montana Cowgirl, Reducto ad absurdum, by State Senator Mary Sheehy Moe (D-Great Falls), on the Republican/libertarian defeat of HB-297, the bill to ban texting while driving. Banning texting while driving is a no-brainer. The opposition to the bill was just no brains.


29 March 2015

Caffero & alleged conflict of interest, Brooklyn LEDs

A conflict of interest for Sen. Mary Caferro? The question was raised yesterday in a story in the Missoulian. The Helena Democrat and Bozeman Republican Sen. Scott Sales co-sponsored SB-411, which would close the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder. Caferro, it turns out, “…works for an organization with ties to a company that could get more businesses if MDC closes.”

…read the rest

Montana Partisan Percentages

Democratic turnout is dramatically higher in Presidential elections than in mid-term elections. That enables Democrats to win many statewide elections in Montana. In 2012, Democrats Jon Tester, Steve Bullock, Linda McCulloch, Monica Lindeen, and Denise Juneau prevailed; only Pam Bucy and Kim Gillian lost.

In the 2014 midterm election, however, as displayed in the column graph below, low Democratic turnout resulted in big losses in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives elections, and a 3:2 advantage for Republicans in both houses of the Montana Legislature.



28 March 2015

Two of Buttrey’s SB-405 cosponsors vote against their bill

Updated with correction. Senate Bill 405, Sen. Ed Buttrey’s (R-Great Falls) was approved 28–22 on its second reading in the Senate yesterday. All 21 Senate Democrats, and 7 of the chamber’s 29 Republicans voted Aye.

Two of the nine Republican Senators listed as SB-405 cosponsors, Rick Ripley (Wolf Creek) and Nels Swandel (Wilsall) voted Nay, casting votes against the bill they’re listed as cosponsoring.

Here are the cosponsors listed on the PDF version SB-405.02, which bears a creation date of 27 March 2015, 1547 MDT. The vote occurred at 1505 MDT, so the PDF version of the bill was updated after the vote.

Ripley and Swandel have some explaining to do. Buttrey does, too.




27 March 2015

HB-615 “religious freedom” bill fails on 2nd reading

Rep. Carl Glimm’s (R-Kila) so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, HB-615, failed to secure a majority on its second reading in the MT House at 1658 MDT this afternoon. The vote was a tie, 50–50.

Flathead Democrats Rep. Ed Lieser and Rep. Zac Perry voted against the bill. All Flathead Republican representatives, including Frank Garner, whom some Democrats consider a closet liberal, voted for it.

HB-615 was written as a legislative referendum for the 2016 Montana general election. A successful attempt to reconsider the bill could restore it to life and send it on to the Senate.

The key language in HB-615 is in Section 5 (2):

A person whose exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened in violation of [sections 1 through 5] may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state of Montana or one of its political subdivisions is a party to the proceeding. The person asserting such a claim or defense may obtain appropriate relief, including relief against the state of Montana or its political subdivisions. Appropriate relief includes but is not limited to injunctive relief, declaratory relief, compensatory damages, and costs and attorney fees.

HB-615 issues a not required to obey the law card to everyone who can keep a straight face while claiming the law burdens the free exercise of his religion.

For example, Louie “Leadfoot” Oldfield, former champion dirt track racer, could fight a speeding ticket by arguing that he belonged to the High Church of the Open Road, which worships speed and believes God prohibits speed limits. How would a judge determine whether Louie was sincere, even if deluded, or just mouthing off after swigging too many red beers before appearing in court?

I’m not sure Glimm’s intends that HB-615 provide Leadfoot (or maybe Scott Sales or Jonathan Windy Boy) with a defense for zooming down the freeway at tire smoking triple-digit speeds, but the bill is written so broadly that it does just that.

Glimm’s intent, I believe, is that deeply religious people should have the right not to perform certain duties required of them by their jobs, such as serving gay couples at the lunch counter, filling prescriptions for contraceptives or morning after pills, or issuing marriage licenses to gay people, because they believe that God tells them not to abet the sinful acts of others. During the debate, Glimm actually held up a bible (version unknown) in his right hand.

I watched part of the debate. It was undistinguished. Some Democrats were embarrassingly mawkish. Some Republicans gave what amounted to religious testimony. There were no Gerry Spences or Clarence Darrows on either side.



26 March 2015

Buttrey’s hurt-the-poorest Medicaid bill blasted out of committee

Senate Bill 405, so-called “moderate Republican” Sen. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid expansion bill was blasted 28–22 from the Senate’s finance and claims committee just after lunch today with the support of all of the Senate’s 21 Democrats, but just seven of the chamber’s 29 Republicans.

SB-405 goes to its second reading on the Senate’s floor Friday, 27 March. The session starts at 1300 MDT. SB-405 is the last bill on the second reading agenda.

The unanimous Democratic support for the blast is proof that Gov. Bullock and the Democratic Party have embraced the perverse axiom that the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. In this case, the few are the up to 70,000 Montanans who might be helped by SB-405, and the many are the 165,600 poorer people already on Medicaid and CHIP whose incomes will be reduced two percent by SB-405.

That’s right. The people most down and out will have their piggy banks robbed to help people who are not as poor. It’s an economically regressive policy that’s the inverse of everything Democrats say they stand for. But the poorest of the poor are the least likely to vote, so picking their pockets won’t result in payback at the polls.

The Republicans have dark money. With this sellout of the poor, the Democrats have dark souls.


Germanwings crash: a suicide-murder by the co-pilot?

French authorities think so, and unless the 28-year-co-pilot suffered an incapacitating medical incident, the facts thus far suggest the authorities probably are right. There’s still a lot of confusion over how strong the door to the cockpit was, and whether the pilot had a way, and enough time, to open it against the will of, or in the absence of cooperation from, the co-pilot, so other theories of crash should not be discarded until the investigation is complete, but this theory seems pretty solid at this point.

…read the rest

Ominous quotes on Medicaid expansion in Montana

Is Gov. Bullock supporting SB-405, Sen. Ed Buttrey’s (R-Great Falls) bill that would hurt 165,600 current Montana Medicaid recipients to help approximately 70,000 richer (but still poor) Montanans? An article in Salon yesterday, written by Montana Deputy Secretary of State Eric Stern, suggests that might be the case:

This past week, one of those GOP legislators defied the AFP bullies a step further, putting forth his own Medicaid expansion bill. Democrats, including the governor, are supporting it. At the hearing, the sponsor asked: “Why would we refuse to accept federal funds we have given the federal government in the form of taxes? It’s our money.” Nobody had an answer.

Stern fails to identify the legislator — how did that omission get by Salon’s editors? — but the context suggests he’s writing about Sen. Buttrey.

Buttrey’s bill is not progressive legislation. Here’s how Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls) described it to the Great Falls Tribune:

Fitzpatrick…said he likes the looks of Sen. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid plan, which had its first hearing last week.

“It’s the most conservative Medicaid plan ever introduced in the history of this country,” he said. “Sen. Buttrey has gone about it the right way.”

Fitzpatrick is right — and if Democrats support SB-405 as introduced, they’re wrong.



25 March 2015

MT House passes raw milk legalization bill

House Bill 245, Hamilton Republican Nancy Ballance’s bill to legalize some sales of raw — unpasteurized — milk was approved 61–38 on it third reading in the House today. Five fewer Ayes were cast than on the second reading on 6 March.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will most likely be sent to either the agriculture or public health committee.

  • Ten Republicans joined 28 Democrats in voting Nay, while ten Democrats joined 51 Republicans in voting Nay.

  • Eight Democrats and two Republicans who voted Aye on the second reading voted Nay on the third reading.

  • Three Democrats and two Republicans who voted Nay on the second reading voted Aye on the third reading.

  • Thirty-nine of the representatives who voted Aye two years ago when a similar bill was whooped through the House 96–3 were repeat offenders.

  • Among Flathead representatives, Democrats Zac Perry and Ed Lieser joined Republicans Frank Garner and Albert Olszewski in voting Nay, while Republicans Keith Regier, Carl Glimm, Mark Noland, Randy Brodehl, and Steve Lavin, all voted Aye, supporting the sale of unpasteurized milk.



24 March 2015

Crow flying miles, road running miles, and the Vets Administration

It must have seemed simple to the Veterans Administration bureaucrat in charge of measurement, at least at first. A new law allows veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA facility to see private physicians instead of VA physicians. The distance, the bureaucrat decreed, would be the great circle distance. Just draw a circle with a 40-mile radius around all VA facilities. Only veterans living outside the circle could see private physicians.

What veterans just inside the circles saw, of course, was red. For example, if a veteran just inside the circle had to drive first to the east, and then the same distance to the south, to reach the VA facility at the center of the circle, the driving distance was 56.6 miles. Instead of measuring the 40 miles as the crow flies, veterans wanted the 40 miles measured by a jeep’s odometer.

That made sense, and the VA just announced it would measure the magic distance in road runner miles instead of crow flying miles. In some cases, that reduces the crow’s flying distance to 28.3 miles. VA press release.

As for the bureaucrat who didn’t see this coming, let me suggest replacing him with someone who understands the Pythagorean Theorem, who knows that veterans drive to see their physicians, and who prefers not to choke on crow.



23 March 2015

Buttreycaid hurts more than twice as many as it helps


If expanded as intended under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid might help as many as 70,000 Montanans obtain affordable health insurance. That would be a good thing to do.

But would it still be a good thing to do if it cut the incomes and placed additional financial burdens on the 165,600 Montanans already on Medicaid and the Childrens Health Insurance Program?

That’s not just a fair question — it’s the question. Because that’s what Great Falls Republican Sen. Ed Buttrey’s SB-405 does. Buttreycaid both helps the wealthiest of the poor, and hurts the poorest of the poor — and hurts more than twice as many as it helps.

Are Democrats and progressives willing to make that Faustian bargain? Or, will they honor the principle of first, do no harm?


Is Ruby v. Glaspey the Flathead Electric board race to watch?

Updated (link). The fifth district Flathead Electrical Cooperative’s board of directors is a table-knife shaped area that runs between Highways 93 and 206 from Highway 2 to Highway 40 (map). Current trustee Alan Ruby, who has represented the area 13 years, is up for re-election this spring. His opponent is Sheri Glaspey.

Ruby v. Glaspey may be the most important choice for members of FEC. Questions regarding Ruby’s judgment are being raised at the board level concerning his service as FEC’s representative to the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association, the large group that publishes Rural Montana, perhaps the state’s country magazine with the most room for improvement.

…read the rest

Blogroll addition: Montana Budget & Policy Center

The nonprofit Montana Budget and Policy Center is worthy of mention on Flathead Memo’s blogroll, but I’ve never been sure how to categorize it. Until now. I’ve added it to On the Right, along with the Liberty Defense League, The Flint Report, and the MT Tea Party Coalition. MBPC supports SB-405, Sen. Ed Buttrey’s squeeze the poorest of the poor Medicaid bill, and thus has no claim to the company of progressive organizations.



21–22 March 2015

Vernal blogging break

The sun is shining, my grass is greening, and I’m taking a couple of days off from blogging. See you Monday, 23 March. James Conner.


20 March 2015

Flathead GOP legislators embrace stingy Medicaid bill


Hamilton Republican Rep. Nancy Ballance’s Medicaid bill, HB-455, considered the stingy Medicaid bill by progressives, was defeated 49–51 on its second reading in the MT House today.

HB-455 would expand Medicaid to only 10,000 of the 70,000 Montanans considered eligible for it.

All Democrats and ten Republicans (Tom Berry, Christy Clark, Rob Cook, Geraldine Custer, Steve Fitzpatrick, Roy Hollandsworth, Daniel Salomon, Nicholas Schwaderer, Ray Shaw, Jeffrey Welborn) voted against the bill.

All Flathead Republicans voted for the bill:


Note. The report above is based on the tally reported at 1534 MDT. I will review the tally tomorrow to see if anything has changed.


MT’s criminal defamation statute won’t be repealed this session


A bill, LC1105 (PDF), requested by Rep. Matt Montforton (R-Bozeman), but not introduced because of conflicting demands on his time, would have repealed Montana’s criminal defamation statute (MCA 45-8-212). This is one of the laws that David Lenio, the alleged would-be school assassin now residing in the Flathead County Jail, is charged with violating (he’s also charged with malicious intimidation).

As I noted in a post on 21 February, criminal defamation laws have a long and ugly history of being used to suppress criticism of the government. In modern times, they can be dragooned into service as anti-hate speech laws, which may be what’s happening in the Lenio case. And in Montana, I’ve been advised, law enforcement personnel may have used alleged violations of the statute to obtain bogus search warrants. I agree with Monforton. MCA 45-8-212 should be repealed.

MSM are missing a story. In covering the Lenio case, Montana’s news media have focused on Lenio’s alleged threats, his increasingly intense and frequent posts on Twitter, his firearms, and jugs of urine in his automobile. The media have also helped Jonathan Hutson, the man who stumbled on Lenio’s tweets and called the authorities, toot his own horn in a manner I find unseemly. But the media have not focused much attention on the use of the criminal defamation statute. In not looking more closely at the criminal defamation charge, and the use of the statute, I think they’re missing an important story.



20 March 2015

Morning video: When It’s Springtime in the Rockies

We arrive at the vernal equinox at 1645 MDT today. Hallelujah! Here’s Johnnie Ray’s version of an old standard set to a family’s photographs of Glacier National Park. You can counter the song’s cloying sentimentality with a cuppa black coffee or a whiskey sour.


19 March 2015

Buttrey & GOP trying to raise income taxes on the poor


On 25 February, Sen. Edward Buttrey (R-Great Falls), voted for HB-166, Rep. Keith Regier’s (R-Kalispell; HD-4) bill to lower personal income tax rates for everyone in Montana. Both chambers approved the bill, but Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed it on 6 March. An attempt in the House to override the veto failed on 10 March.

Now Buttrey’s going in the other direction via his Medicaid expansion bill, SB-405. He wants to slap a two percent income tax (he calls it a premium, but it quacks like a tax) on all who receive Medicaid. In some cases, that may double or triple the income tax rate for Montanans below the poverty level.

That approach is regressive, and mean-spirited to boot. It amounts to kicking people when they’re down.


Music for Tom Cotton, Steve Daines, Randall Pinocci, et al

Letters to Iran, fear of Agenda 21, guns on campus, keep-our-women-covered dress codes. It’s been a wild ride down the teabagger wormhole — and given Congress and Montana’s legislature are still in session, it ain’t over yet. It’s nothing to whistle about, but it might merit a yodel. And Austrian jodlerin Margret Almer has just the tune. Even if your German is rusty, you won’t need a translator.



18 March 2015

Netanyahu’s win means more gratuitous bloodshed

Benjamin Netanyahu will be Israel's next prime minister, succeeding himself, and riding to victory on a pledge never to accept two state solution to the Palestinian situation. Expect more bloodshed in Gaza, more settlements in Arab areas, more jingoism, more, and more dire, warnings that Iran poses a mortal danger to Israel, with Netanyahu leading the cries for war. Expect, too, a return of the infitada, bigger and bloodier. This is Israel’s choice.

But do not expect Netanyahu to live many more years. His father lived past 100, but BiBi now becomes a prime target for assassination from a variety of directions. One will almost certainly succeed.

Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid bill — worse than no bill?


State Senator Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) has introduced SB-405, what’s being called the moderate Republican approach to expanding Medicaid in Montana. I agree that it’s a Republican approach, but it doesn’t seem moderate to me. In fact, I think that Montanans already on Medicaid would be better off if this bill died.

The bill will be heard on Friday, 20 March, at 1500 in Room 317 of the Capitol, by the MT Senate’s public health, welfare, and safety committee.

Republican Senators Taylor Brown, Bruce Tutvedt, and Pat Connell stood with Buttrey while he announced the bill, so the votes to move SB-405 through the Senate may exist. Democrats with whom I’ve spoken believe they can find enough moderate Republican votes to move the measure through the MT House. On that, I have my doubts.

HB-405 accepts federal money for Medicaid and covers Montanans with incomes equal to or less than 138 percent of the official poverty level. That’s good.

…read the rest


17 March 2015

Music for Saint Patrick’s Day

Somewhere, thankfully unknown to me, a blogger is presenting When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. Somewhere else, another blogger is presenting Irish punk and other sounds best never heard. Here, I’m leading off with Dermot O’Brien’s peppy performance of the Boys of Killybegs, Tommy Makem’s tribute to the men who fish the wild seas off County Donegal.

Next, Mike Denver’ hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’ rendition of Katie Daly.

Dark Island, performed by the Irish Rovers — this haunting performance will surprise you — follows. After that, it’s Louise Morrissey singing the Glen of Aherlow in a video featuring some of the gloomiest landscape photography ever to accompany a beautiful song.

And if you’re so inclined, my 2014 page of St. Patrick’s Day music is still online.

…listen to the rest


16 March 2015

Flathead forest plan: the timber beast rises

The Flathead National Forest “proposed action” is out for comment. My hackles already are beginning to rise. That’s because the timber beast has risen, and clearly had a heavy hand in writing the proposed action.

Consider just this paragraph (p.90):

Scenic and recreational river corridors are not suitable for timber production; however, timber harvesting for other multiple-use purposes, for salvage logging, and to achieve desired vegetation conditions could occur.

In other words, a scenic river’s corridor cannot be officially designated as sawmill fodder, but it can be subject to vegetation management schemes that serve the same purpose. You can bet the ranch that logging friendly managers will attempt to exploit the loophole.

The proposed action is full of this kind of language.

In theory, as the schedule below indicates, the proposed action is not a done deal. In practice, the further along in the process one goes the more difficult making changes becomes. That’s especially true when some of the preliminary decisions enjoy an exalted status derived from involvement in so-called collaborative processes that are designed to coerce conservation organizations into blessing logging.


Those who fail to submit comments during the official comment period will lose their ability to challenge revisions to the plan:

The decision to approve the revised forest plan for the Flathead National Forest and the amendment for the Helena, Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests will be subject to the objection process identified in 36 CFR Part 219 Subpart B (219.50 to 219.62). Only those individuals and entities who have submitted substantive formal comments related to the Flathead NF plan revision and the four amendments during the opportunities provided for public comment (beginning with this comment period), will be eligible to file an objection (36 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 219.53(a)).



15 March 2015

South Africa: bomb grade uranium mixed with hatred of the west

Loosely secured in a vault at South Africa’s Pemlindaba nuclear research center sit 220 kilograms of uranium enriched to at least 90 percent uranium 235. That’s bomb grade uranium, enough to make several crude but deadly bombs. South Africa has absolutely no need for bomb grade uranium, but refuses to sell it to the United States because its leaders despise the U.S. They’re hanging on to their bomb grade uranium, and deliberately not guarding it as tightly as they should, because they know we find that behavior disconcerting. The Washington Post has the story.

South Africa’s situation differs from Iran’s in that South Africa has bomb grade uranium, but is similar in that both nations, out of national pride and animus toward the west, insist on being recognized as having exactly the same right as the United States to manufacture and possess bomb grade uranium. That’s why any agreement with Iran will not include Iran’s renunciation of a right to own and operate technology that produces fissile material. They believe that surrendering that right makes them a second class nation.

There’s not much we can do to change that. Sanctions and incentives have some effect, although with South Africa they seem to have no effect. One effect with prideful nations is getting up the backs of its leaders, who pledge they’ll never give in to the Great Satan.

At some point, Iran and South must conclude that having a bomb, or the appearance of having a bomb, is more trouble than it’s worth, that the expense of the program doesn’t yield a commensurate improvement in security. We may never get an agreement or even acknowledgment when that happens. In the meantime, we improve the odds that will happen by conducting calm diplomacy and not starting a war.

Of the two situation, I think South Africa’s is the more dangerous because it has bomb grade uranium, and a government that hates the west to the point of irrationality.



14 March 2015

Mike Taylor says the CSKT will walk over your off-reservation land

Here’s the scene I think former State Senator Mike Taylor (R-Dayton) wants you to imagine:

The CSKT Water Compact has been fully ratified. The CSKT now own instream flow rights on the Flathead River all the way to British Columbia, with a priority date of time immemorial. You own private property along the Flathead mainstem south of Kalispell. The river teems with fish. It’s a fine late Saturday afternoon, so you’re holding your daughter’s wedding reception in your backyard, the river shining, the Swan Range approaching the hour of alpenglow.

As you sit down to dinner, two smoke belching old pickups filled with profane beer drinking men rumble into your backyard. It’s a CSKT fishing party, asserting its Hellgate Treaty treaty fishing rights. You are told to move your tables and keep out of the way while the fish are netted, and on your shore, gutted and smoked.

Do you object? Of course you do. But writing in the 16 March 2015 Daily InterLake, Taylor says your objection has no legal merit:

…water given to the tribes off the reservation will give the tribes and their members access to the private property that the water flows through, without having to gain your permission. The tribe’s able lawyers confirmed this to be so.

Taylor provides no citation for his assertion that the lawyers for the CSKT back his position on access. He’s not the only one making that argument, which people knowledgeable with the issue tend to dismiss with a contemptuous weariness.

But a weary wave of dismissal won’t be enough. In the absence of a cogent rebuttal from the CSKT’s attorneys, Taylor’s argument will carry great weight in the court of public opinion.

That rebuttal needs to be released no later than sunrise on Monday.

Mike Taylor’s wife is Sen. Janna Taylor (R-Dayton).



13 March 2015

Chicken pox shots bill survives

House Bill 158, which adds chickenpox to Montana’s list of mandatory vaccinations, was approved 57–43 today on its third reading in the MT House and is headed to Gov. Bullock for his signature. Billings Democrat Margie MacDonald carried the bill.

In the House, Flathead Democrats Ed Lieser and Zac Perry, joined by Republican Mark Noland, voted Aye. Flathead Republicans Regier, Glim, Garner, Olszewski, Lavin, and Brodehl voted Nay.

In the Senate, where the margin was 36–14, Flathead Republicans Bob Keenan and Bruce Tutvedt voted Aye. Dee Brown and Mark Blasdel voted Nay, as did Dayton’s Janna Taylor whose district includes Olszewski’s HD-11.

In its first journey through the House, Republicans stripped out the penalty for false swearing on an application for an exemption, and added an exemption for personal beliefs. In the Senate, the penalty was restored and the personal exemption was removed.

Exemptions remain for medical conditions and religious objections. The religious exemption should be stripped from the law.

Rep. Brodehl even voted against this bill when it contained the personal exemption and the absence of penalty for false swearing.

The foolish attempt to gut the bill by approving false swearing and adding a personal exemption made making Montana the 50th state to require smallpox vaccinations a lot harder than was necessary.



12 March 2015

Sen. Daines and the letter to Tehran


When Steve Daines was Montana’s blessing in the U.S. House of Representatives, he supported shutting down the federal government to try to twist President Obama’s arm, thus earning the sobriquet Shutdown Steve. So it’s not really a suprise that as a U.S. Senator with less than 100 days on the job, he joined with 46 other U.S. Senators in signing a letter to Iran that attempts to hijack the President’s role in conducting foreign policy. As far as I can tell, it’s a letter without precedent in American history.

It’s also, as Duke Law Professor Curtis A. Bradley explains, a letter long on arrogance and short on accuracy:

Embarrassingly, the letter’s effort to provide a civics lesson to the Iranians about the US constitutional system betrays a surprising amount of ignorance about that very system. The letter also displays a lack of knowledge about the importance — to the United States — of adhering to binding international agreements.

The letter purports to describe the US constitutional process for concluding international agreements, explaining that either the Senate or the full Congress must normally “ratify” the agreement.

Otherwise, the letter states, all that one has is “a mere executive agreement.” Such an executive agreement, the letter contends, would only bind the current leaders of the United States and Iran and, therefore, “the next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

What the letter does not explain is that there are a variety of forms of international agreements concluded by the United States, all of which are fully binding under international law.

Bradley wrote a book on international law. Daines should read it before he says anything or signs something else on foreign policy.

Daines should also try writing a 5,000-word essay on what our policy on Iran should be, why, and how it should be conducted. Give him a stack of blue books and a box of pens. Put him in a quiet room with just a desk and a proctor. No aides, no phones, no computers, no reading material, no connection to the outside world; just the blank blue books and what’s in his mind.

And in a room down the hall, the same set-up for Sen. Cotton, the equally experienced Senator from Arkansas who wrote the letter to Iran.

Let’s see what they can do when they have to think for themselves.



11 March 2015

Updates on raw milk, Medicaid, CSKT compact, and license scanners

Raw milk, HB-245. After receiving approval 66–34 on the second reading in the House last week, the bill was referred to the appropriations committee, where it sits. A new fiscal note has been requested. I doubt the bill can be stopped in the House, but it might die in the Senate.

Medicaid expansion. Sen. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) is preparing a Medicaid expansion bill. This may be LC1145. According to Mike Dennison’s story:

The proposal would offer Medicaid coverage to those earning below 138 percent of the poverty level, about $16,200 for a single person, and also offer them help to become employed at higher-paying jobs and eventually move off the program. They’d also pay a premium for the insurance coverage and face an asset test, to prevent those with valuable property from getting on the program.

Pay close attention to the asset test. It’s one thing to disqualify applicants who own 5,000 shares of Apple and bags and bags of gold Krugerrands, but a cold-hearted thing to disqualify applicants who own an old car and a house that’s seen better days.

Over at Montana Cowgirl, Steve Muth has an excellent guest essay on Medicaid, When ideology trumps fact, citizens become the victims. After the arguments over cost and moral hazard are exhausted, the issue become one of basic humanity. What kind of people deny their fellow human beings meaningful access to health care?

CSKT compact, SB-262. After passing the Senate and moving to the House, it was sent to the judiciary committee awaiting a hearing date. In the meantime, the opponents, increasing frantic and unprincipled, are spreading rumors. One is that the off-reservation instream flow rights inflict a river access easement on private property (this claim is a pile of oats that just passed through the horse). Another is that Flathead Lake will be drawn down too low for boats to float during the summer recreation (another organically processed pile of oats). Sen. Richard Barrett has a good post on the confusion over lake levels.

Kerr Dam controls the level of Flathead Lake. Even after the CSKT assume ownership of the dam in September, its operation will be constrained by its license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, plus other agreements governing the operation of the Columbia Basin rivers and dams. The license sets the legal full pool at 2893 Somers datum. Ownership will change, but the levels of the lake during the mid-June to mid-September recreation will pretty much stay where they do now, between 2892.5 and 2893.0 Somers Datum.

License plate scanning restrictions, HB-344. Approved 56–44 on its third reading in the House yesterday, with 34 Democrats and 10 Republicans opposed. The majority, although large, is not veto-proof.

HB-344 pretty much stops cops from setting up scanning stations at the city limits just to see who’s coming to town or getting out of Dodge, then storing those time, place, and vehicle data in a database where the constable can go fishing for something he thinks is suspicious. Proponents of dragnet scanning think it’s a fine way to fight crime, combat terrorism (a specific kind of crime), and generally keep tabs on citizens so they can be kept in line.

Democrats like to accuse Republicans of being the police state party, but in this case Democrats are the ones opposing fetters on Big Brother.

I would have voted for this bill. I believe Gov. Bullock will veto it after it passes the Senate.



10 March 2015

Democrats developing an irrational fear of contested primaries

Why are national Democrats so fearful of primary elections? Consider just these recent events:

…read the rest

Ideological cleansing is washing away the MT GOP’s diversity

How much ideological cleansing can a political party withstand before it’s scrubbed down to a nutty cult? Montana’s Republican Party is about to find out. The party’s central committee in Great Falls just censored Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick for moving legislation deemed inimical to a closed primary. And Will Deschamps, reports Montana Cowgirl, is gunning for another term as chairman of the Montana Republican Party, but this time without Sen. Jennifer Fielder as his sidekick, a move that infuriated Rep. Art Wittich. Cowgirl has the GOP emails, and the dozens of GOP email addresses that go with them.



9 March 2015

Scott Sales and the pedal to the metal caucus

sales_scott_150 warp_2

At one time in the irresponsible past, Montana’s highway speed limit was “reasonable and prudent,” which was generally thought to mean as fast as one’s car or truck could travel. Then came the double-nickels speed limit, loathed by leadfoots and libertarians; why, driving slower to conserve energy was downright unAmerican and a humiliating kowtow to those ragheaded camel jockeys in Arabia. Now Montanans are stuck with numerical speed limits, all below 80 mph.

Driving slowly still seems unreasonable and imprudent, not to mention unmanly, to a few. One of the few is Sen. Scott Sales (R-Bozeman), who introduced SB-375 to raise the speed limit on certain roads to 80 mph. I’m not sure what his rationale is, but it might be that going faster, and thus reducing the time in the danger zone, makes safety sense.

It does make a certain kind of political sense, as I noted in this comment at the Flathead Beacon:

If people think they need to travel that fast, they should get a pilot’s license and buy an airplane. Sales is pandering to the speed first, safety second, libertarian leadfoots who think they should have the right to tool down the turnpike at tire smoking speeds, one hand on the wheel, the other holding a red beer, Six Days on the Road blaring on the radio, and their minds in neutral.

Meanwhile, here's Dave Dudley’s classic, Six Days on the Road, performed by Sawyer Brown for a PG rated music video. If Sales’s bill becomes law, perhaps they’ll cut a new song and video, Six Red Beers to Billings.



8 March 2015

Spring forward, super pi, and Carville lights up Helena

Daylight saving time. My computers automatically reset their clocks. That left me setting five wall and two stove clocks, four watches, and five cameras. So I “lost” an hour with the spring ahead, and used a good part of another hour setting various devices to the second using my GPS receiver as a reference. The U.S. Naval Observatory has an online readout of Universal Coordinated Time. Subtract six hours for Mountain Daylight Time.

Update. All of the clocks in my cameras gained two to three minutes over the course of a year. That’s not good enough if the time a photograph was made must be known to the minute or second. The solution: photograph your wristwatch or better yet, your GPS receiver. That will allow you to apply a correction to the time recorded by the camera. The wristwatch’s time can be compared to a reference standard such as the GPS receiver.

Super Pi Day. Saturday, 14 March, is pi to four decimal places if written 3/14/15. Next year it will be 3/14/16 which is closer to 3.14159. To celebrate, the National Academies Press is offering a 31.415 percent discount on its Teaching Math Collection. “Use code PIDAY now through March 21st to lock in these irrational savings.” The PDFs can be downloaded for free.

Democrats’ Mansfield-Metcalf dinner. Never shy or subtle James Carville delivered a ragin’ Cajun speech to a thousand Montana Democrats in Helena last night. Carville is always entertaining, and probably was worth enduring the eight speakers who preceded him. Most political activists enjoy these hours long sit down ordeals. I don’t and therefore never attend them. This event was called the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner until not that many years ago. Will it be called the Schweitzer-Baucus Dinner 50 years from now? Probably not.

Update. Intelligent Discontent reports:

There was a table set up at the entrance with Hillary stickers, signs and pins. One insider told me that the state party was already strongly backing Ms. Clinton. There was one young man going from table-to-table passing out Elizabeth Warren stickers. Good for him.

Democrats backing Clinton have a political death wish. It’s possible that with Sherrod Brown or Martin O’Malley she might beat a Jeb Bush-Scott Walker ticket. Bush v. Clinton would turn the dynasty factor into a choice of Dubya for First Brudda or The Big Dawg for First Hubby (and de facto Vice President). But if her competition is Scott Walker-Marco Rubio, she becomes the past, reminds voters of Lady MacBeth, and loses and brings down the reforms and legacy of the New Deal with her. Democrats who fail to see that are suffering from identity politics poisoning. I favor Brown-O’Malley or O’Malley-Brown. Elizabeth Warren should stay in the Senate.



7 March 2015

Raw milk legalization bill wins 2nd reading in MT House 66–34

HB-245, which legalizes some sales of unpasteurized milk in Montana, was approved 66–34 on its second reading in the MT House yesterday. The margin, although large, is not veto proof.

Fifteen Democrats joined 51 Republicans in casting Ayes. Eight Republicans joined 26 Democrats in casting Nays.

A similar bill was approved by the House 96–3 in the legislature’s 2013 session. Eighteen who voted to legalize raw milk in 2013 voted against legalization this time. But 40 who voted to legalize raw milk in 2013 were repeat offenders in 2015.

Flathead Democrats Ed Lieser and Zac Perry voted against HB-245, as did Republicans Frank Garner and Albert Olszewski. Lieser had voted Aye in 2013.

Olszewski, a physician, spoke against the bill. A successful public health system has three components, he said: “sanitation, vaccination, and pasteurization.” Because milk cannot be washed, it must be cooked to kill pathogens harmful to humans.

Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton), HB-245’s sponsor, claimed that pasteurization kills nutrients as well as pathogens — a claim disproved by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, she asserted, legalizing raw milk actually improves a public health system.

She delivered those arguments with the straight face and bright eyes of a true believer.

Bill Harris (R-Winnett) said, “Don’t be so afraid of change. We’re just changing back to something we’ve known is safe forever.” His face was straight, too.

Before approving the bill, the House rejected 43-57 Denise Hayman’s (D-Missoula) attempt to amend the bill to provide greater protection for consumers:

A person who consumes raw milk or raw milk products purchased under this section has a cause of action against the permittee if the consumption of the milk or milk products results in health issues or illness.

Hayman, who voted for the bill in committee, voted against it on the second reading.

Expect the third reading in the House to be held next week.



6 March 2015

Brain injuries, Ferguson reports, administrators brave & not

Below, some brief observations on National Brain Injury Awareness Month, the U.S. Department of Justice’s reports on events in Ferguson, MO, and the contrasting lobbying styles of two local hospital executives.

Wear your helmet

March, as my good friend Carla Augustad was kind enough to remind me, is National Brain Injury Awareness Month. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, 5.3 million Americans live with the consequences of a traumatic brain injury. The theme for the organization’s 2015–2017 campaign is Not Alone. Please help this and similar campaigns are you are able.

U.S. DOJ won’t prosecute Wilson, but rips Ferguson P.D.

Former Ferguson, MO, police officer Darren Wilson won’t be prosecuted by the federal government for killing Michael Brown. I encourage readers to study the full 86-page report by the U.S. Department of Justice, but here are the money quotes:

Multiple credible witnesses corroborate virtually every material aspect of Wilson’s account and are consistent with the physical evidence. [p.78]

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Not only do eyewitnesses and physical evidence corroborate Wilson’s account, but there is no credible evidence to disprove Wilson’s perception that Brown posed a threat to Wilson as Brown advanced toward him. Accordingly, seeking his indictment is not permitted by Department of Justice policy or the governing law. [p.78–79]

A companion DOJ report accused Ferguson’s police department of unethical and illegal conduct that overwhelmingly targeted racial and ethnic minorities. At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates brings both reports together in The Gangsters of Ferguson.

Many people concluded that because Wilson was white and Brown was black, and that because the 6-foot, 4-inch, 295-pound Brown was not armed, Wilson murdered Brown. That conclusion touched off race riots around the country. These people drew their conclusions before all the evidence had been considered, then questioned the evidence because it undermined their theory of the event. Some, believing they know The Truth, and thus need not be bothered with the facts, will never admit they were wrong about Wilson and that the riots, and yes, even the peaceful demonstrations, were based on a false premise.

Two Flathead hospital administrators: one brave, the other not

The InterLake’s Ryan Murray recently reported on the contrasting lobbying styles of two local hospital executives.

North Valley Hospital chief Jason Spring knows what he wants the Montana legislature to do on Medicaid:

“Without a doubt, the governor’s bill is better,” he said. “The bill to cover 10,000 to 12,000 people is paid for fully by the state. It’s going to cost the state a lot more money. If you tell me we couldn’t have the governor’s bill, I’d take the other one, but it makes no sense to pay more money and leave out 50,000 to 60,000 people.”

Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s administrative chief, Tony Patterson, seems to have a primary objective of not getting crosswise with legislators:

“We are committed not to expand Medicaid for expansion’s sake. We also want it to be effective,” he said. “That’s why we want these standards and pilot programs which would measure the effectiveness. We want to sit down and look at each bill and hopefully meld the best of these to get us further ahead.”

Those are weasel words, Tony. Gov. Bullock’s bill is better by far for people needing health insurance and for hospitals and doctors. You should have the courage and smarts to follow Spring’s example and endorse the governor’s bill without qualification.



5 March 2015

Raw milk bill gets second reading tomorrow

HB-245, Rep. Nancy Ballance’s bill to legalize the sale of unpasteurized milk for human consumption, goes to the floor of the MT House tomorrow, 6 March, for its second reading. It was reported out of committee on a 14–3 vote.

Every vote for HB-245 is a vote against the germ theory of disease and an abdication of a legislator’s responsibility to support a science based public health system. It doesn’t matter how many letters, emails, and telephone calls supporting HB-245 a legislator receives. The science is long settled: pasteurization saves lives and prevents disease.

Given the relentless campaign the raw milkers are waging, the easy vote may be Aye. But the only responsible vote is Nay.

I’m taking names.



4 March 2015

Defending the sinner publicizes the sin

All politicians have defenders. Some are staff. Some are friends. Some are self-appointed. Some are principled. Some are dung-tongued thugs. But all share a common characteristic: they can be so loyal to their politician that their defense publicizes the politician’s sin in ways not helpful to the sinner.

That’s happening now with Sen. Jon Tester, who misrepresented the facts about timber sale litigation in Montana, and with Hillary Clinton, who used her very own private email system (the server was actually bunkered down in her New York home) for U.S. State Department business.

Tester’s defenders are both sending abusive emails to his critics, and openly arguing that he’s done so much good it doesn’t matter if he prevaricates on occasion. Clinton’s defenders make similar arguments, but are more creative.

The form of the argument, of course, is that mistakes should be forgiven in the greater scheme of things if good deeds outnumber the bad.

For example, a defense attorney might tell the jury, “Yes, Mr. Jones had a bad morning during which he robbed the bank and shot dead the teller, but that was just one bad morning, and yes it was a mistake, but overall he’s led an exemplary life, petting his dog, kissing his mother, helping little old ladies across the street, and being nice to children. In fact, the only reason he attempted an unauthorized withdrawal from a selfish financial institution was to take his mother to the golden beaches of the South Pacific before she died. It’s unfair, unkind, and disloyal to condemn him for just one mistake.”

That defense shines another spotlight on the sin, something the defenders of Tester and Hillary might want to keep in mind.


King v. Burwell and Medicaid in Montana

King v. Burwell was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this morning. A transcript of the session is now available. The case has implications for Montana because if SCOTUS rules for King, subsidies on health insurance policies purchased through the federal exchange will be voided and millions won’t be able to afford their health insurance policies. A decision is expected in June.

Montana’s legislature will adjourn long before June, however, so decisions on expanding Medicaid must be made without knowing the verdict in King. If SCOTUS upholds the ACA, what Montana’s legislature does about Medicaid will stand. But if SCOTUS rules against federal exchange subsidies, decisions in Montana’s legislature could be negated.

…read the rest


3 March 2015

Did Bibi’s speech fire-up Zinke to vote against Obama?

That’s one interpretation of what happened today, and not an unfair interpretation. First, Rep. Ryan Zinke listened to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech urging Congress not to support the President on a deal with Iran. Netanyahu visibly fired-up some Republicans, whose faces bore the joy usually reserved for schoolboys who have just been willingly brainwashed at a high school pep rally.

Later, Zinke returned to the floor of the House to vote against a clean bill funding the Department of Homeland Security, an agency that probably should stay open if Boehner, Bibi, and Mitch get us into a shooting war with Iran. Then, to let the voters know he had acted to protect them from a President who likes peace too much, he cut loose with a couple of Tweets:


In Zinke’s defense, can he say that a staffer wrote those overwrought Tweets? No. Zinke’s responsible for all Tweets issued in his name, whether he or his staff wrote them.


Did Netanyahu try to channel Churchill?

Does Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, regard himself as the current incarnation of Winston Churchill? Yale’s David Bromwich thinks so, and a turn of phrase in Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress this morning offers some confirmation.

First, Bromwich:

His speech is sure to contain the following elements. Netanyahu will salute the members of both parties. He will remind us that he lived in America for a time, and his unaccented English will confirm this. He will acknowledge that his speech has become a subject of controversy, but he cannot avoid the challenge of this crisis, when his message is especially important. The fate of the United States as well as Israel hangs in the balance. The threat from Iran is the most dire that has faced the world since the rise of Hitler. Just as Fascism arose in more than one country, so has Warrior Islam also arisen in more than one country. This analogy is inevitable given Netanyahu’s ambition to inherit the mantle of Churchill — a piece of drapery several sizes too large for him. [Huffington Post, 01 March 2015.]

Next, Netanyahu:

Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation! Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before. [NYT transcript.]

Finally, Churchill, speaking to the Canadian Parliament on 30 December 1941:

On top of all this came the great French catastrophe. The French Army collapsed, and the French nation was dashed into utter and, as it has so far proved, irretrievable confusion. The French Government had at their own suggestion solemnly bound themselves with us not to make a separate peace. It was their duty and it was also their interest to go to North Africa, where they would have been at the head of the French Empire. In Africa, with our aid, they would have had overwhelming sea power. They would have had the recognition of the United States, and the use of all the gold they had lodged beyond the seas. If they had done this Italy might have been driven out of the war before the end of 1940, and France would have held her place as a nation in the counsels of the Allies and at the conference table of the victors. But their generals misled them. When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, “In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.” Some chicken; some neck.

Churchill spoke that day as a statesman. Netanyahu spoke today as a politician. Churchill was trying to save his nation. Netanyahu is trying to save his political skin. Today he stood before our Congress, delivering a speech he should have delivered in Israel, should he have delivered it at all, casting not a giant shadow but finding himself engulfed by Churchill’s.


More reasons not to nominate Hillary


She’s a scofflaw — and possibly a security risk. During her stint as Secretary of State, the New York Times reports, she used private email accounts for all of her official business. That’s not only against the laws governing record keeping, but probably also a security violation.

It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the department.

Her expansive use of the private account was alarming to current and former National Archives and Records Administration officials and government watchdogs, who called it a serious breach.

One question yet to be answered: did President Obama know of her email habits, and if he did, why didn’t he put a stop to them?

Why do so many Democrats think it would be wonderful if this arrogant and secretive woman who believes she’s above the law became President? Her judgment is appalling. She botched health care during her husband’s Presidency. Against Barack Obama, she ran a campaign known for infighting, chaos, and one of the highest cash burn rates in political history. Now we discover that as Secretary of State, she ignored a law she found inconvenient (and possibly dangerous to her ambitions). Why would anyone expect her to exercise good judgment as President? Why would anyone expect to follow the law as President?



2 March 2015

Lenio will be arraigned on 19 March; Klundt hearing Wednesday

David Joseph Lenio, charged with malicious intimidation and criminal defamation, is scheduled to be arraigned before district judge Heidi Ulbricht on Thursday, 19 March. Travis Ahner is representing the prosecution. Lenio’s attorney is Brent Getty. The arraignment session — Lenio is not the only person being arraigned — begins at 1330 mountain time.

Zachery Jordan Klundt, charged with vandalizing a health care facility, is scheduled to begin a jury trial before district court judge Ted Lympus on 27 April. Andrew Clegg will represent the prosecution. Klundt’s attorney is Peter Leander. Klundt is no longer on the roster of the Flathead County Jail. Klundt has an omnibus hearing before Judge Lympus on Wednesday, 4 March, beginning at 1330 mountain time. Don’t be surprised if Klundt agrees to a plea bargain instead of going to trial.



1 March 2015

Is David Lenio’s predicament being exploited for fame and money?

David Lenio, accused of threatening to kill schoolchildren, is in the Flathead County Jail, charged with malicious intimidation and criminal defamation, his bail set at half a million dollars. He’s not going anywhere. And he doesn’t seem to be saying anything, which suggests to me he has an attorney who advised him to remain silent.

But after reading Paul Rosenberg’s sensationalist story in Salon, it’s clear that few others are remaining silent:

Rosenberg even brought into the story Richard Spencer, the Whitefish resident who makes money selling soft core white supremacy literature and videos at gatherings of white supremacists around the country. His ideas are abhorrent. In Whitefish he’s a law abiding citizen — but that hasn’t stopped some from wanting to adopt city ordinances to run him out of town.

Does Spencer have a connection to Lenio? No one has alleged that yet, but I won’t be surprised if someone does.

There is great fear among some members of the Flathead community. It’s not necessarily what I would consider rational, but it’s not being feigned. It’s genuine, and it’s making people miserable. They don’t feel safe, and might not feel safe even with a policeman at every door and a national guardsman under every streetlight. They have my sympathy.

Others exploit that fear. Being able to point to David Lenio and Richard Spencer and the bad things they allegedly represent is a good way to raise money. Rosenberg’s article surely will be cited in pitches by fundraisers in the human rights community. Nothing opens a checkbook like a cry that the barbarians are at the door and only your money can stop them.

On the right, of course, in fundraising appeals Lenio and Spencer are replaced by President Obama, the ISIS, and or other villains of the moment. The extremes of right and left are distinguished by ideology, not tactics.

At this point, Lenio is off the street. The people involved in the case should stop talking to reporters. And the prosecutors should drop the charge of criminal defamation, which strikes me as unwise, unnecessary, and arguably trumped-up.