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

Flathead Memo Archives for May, 2015


31 May 2015

The sun is shining…

…and at Flathead Memo we’re standing down today to ride bicycles through Kalispell’s northwestern suburbs. We’ll be back online tomorrow unless we hit a French curb.


30 May 2015

Denny’s demise & Uncle Sam’s scrutiny of our bank accounts

There are no heroes in the Denny Hastert affair, but there are warnings that our government is keeping a mighty close watch on our money.

First, Denny. Apparently, Hastert, a wrestling coach before he became a politician, was being blackmailed by a former student, evidently a member of the wrestling squad he coached, a male student, an under age male student, with whom he may have had an illicit erotic encounter.

Hastert’s predicament was exposed not because Hastert complained to the authorities that he was being blackmailed, but because Uncle Sam was monitoring Hastert’s cash withdrawals and saw a pattern consistent with evading reporting requirements for large (≥ $10,000) cash withdrawals. When the FBI asked Hastert what he was doing with all that cash, he said he no longer trusted banks. The FBI said, “yeah, right.” Hollywood’s script writers will fight to land the job of scripting that scene.

At that point the jig was up. Hastert should have accused the blackmailer of extortion — the statute of limitations on statutory rape surely has expired — and endured the embarrassment. Instead, he got indicted for lying to the FBI.

Whether the alleged blackmailer will be charged with extortion is not clear. But he certainly should be charged with that crime. Forty years ago he might have been a victim. Now, he’s just a crook.

Uncle Sam and our banking activity. It appears that almost all banking transactions are being analyzed by an algorithm that hunts for transaction patterns that are possible attempts to avoid reporting large cash transactions. The government’s premise is that since money can be moved easily by electronic means, big bundles of greenbacks are prima facie proof of criminal activity. That premise may not be wholly without merit. But I’m not comfortable with the idea that the feds may be monitoring our personal banking activities so closely.



29 May 2015

Recommended reads on other blogs

Lee’s diminishing dailies. Pete Talbot, the fine writer who blogs at Intelligent Discontent, comes from a family with a fascinating history in Montana’s newspaper industry, explains in Our Dailies in Death Throes why the slow suicide of the Lee newspapers troubles him so. At Big Sky Words, Greg Strandberg reports on his interview of the Missoulian’s publisher this week. Greg’s blog also should be on your daily read list.

Is Dubya both smarter and more liberal than Jebbie? At Think Progress, attorney Ian Millhiser examines the implications of Jeb Bush’s naming Charles Murray (The Bell Curve) as his favorite author. Murray’s new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Millhiser explains, is for reactionaries who are lawless at heart:

Murray admits that the kind of government he seeks, a libertarian fantasy where much of our nation’s regulatory and welfare state has been dismantled, is “beyond the reach of the electoral process and the legislative process.” He also thinks it beyond the branch of government that is appointed by elected officials. The Supreme Court, Murray claims, “destroyed” constitutional “limits on the federal government’s spending authority” when it upheld Social Security in 1937.

Murray is a reactionary’s reactionary who makes crackpot teabaggers look like thoughtful moderates. Jebbie’s embrace of Murray is not the act of a moderate man.

Incidentally, Millhiser’s new book on the U.S. Supreme Court, Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted, is both excellent and depressing.

Should legislators represent just adults, or also babies and little children? At Balkinization, Yale law professor Jack Balkin’s legal blog, Joey Fishkin’s post, Of People, Trees, Acres, Dollars, and Voters, discusses the issues in Evenwel v. Abbott, the Texas case that I noted could affect the composition of Montana’s Indian majority legislative districts. Also on Balkinization, must read posts on the same subject by David Gans and Marty Lederman.



28 May 2015

More images of Kalispell’s westside bypass construction


The view south from the Three Mile Drive bypass overpass. The parked machinery is a few hundred feet north of Two Mile Drive. Two ponds are on the left.


Ponds north of Two Mile. At the crossing of Two Mile, the land is low and wet with flowing water.


The Three Mile overpass as seen from the south. There are walkways on both sides of the overpass. At this crossing, traffic can enter or exit the bypass.



27 May 2015

Kalispell bypass tank trap

After dinner yesterday, I walked the westside Kalispell bypass construction zone from Three Mile Drive to Two Mile Drive. Last year, the Three Mile overpass was built. This year, Montana Department of Transportation officials tell me, they espect construction on the Two Mile overpass to begin in September, after Congress approves the money. Apparently a paved detour (probably vehicles only) will keep Two Mile open while the overpass is built.

When I walked the route, no signs closed the area to visitors. Earth moving and construction machinery were neatly parked. The route obviously is not open to private vehicles, but from Three Mile to Two Mile, the wide graded route is smooth enough for passenger vehicles, and there’s just enough room for a car or small truck west of the flooded tank trap a few hundred feet north of Two Mile:


Larger image

I’m not looking forward to driving Two Mile during the construction, or after it’s finished. It’s not clear to me whether the overpass will be on the bypass or Two Mile, but either way it will be a dangerous crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists. The money would be better spent widening Two Mile and equipping it with sidewalks.



26 May 2015

Supreme Court accepts case that could affect MT Indian districts

Update, 7 July 2016. The case was decided on 4 April 2016, with the court ruling 8–0 (decision, PDF) that apportioning on the basis of total population was legal. Therefore, Montana’s reservation districts remain intact. More information on Evenwel is available at Scotusblog.

Updated, 28 May. Today the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a Texas case, Evenwel v. Abbott, that could affect Montana’s Indian majority legislative districts. In general, the plaintiffs are asking that state legislative districts be equalized not on the basis of total population but on the basis voting age or voting eligible populations (VAP includes non-citizens, VEP includes only citizens).

A victory for the plaintiffs, the New York Times’ Adam Liptak reports, would have far-reaching consequences:

If the challengers succeed, the practical consequences would be enormous, Joseph R. Fishkin, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin wrote in 2012 in The Yale Law Journal.

It would, he said, “shift power markedly at every level, away from cities and neighborhoods with many immigrants and many children and toward the older, whiter, more exclusively native-born areas in which a higher proportion of the total population consists of eligible voters.”

Montana has six Indian majority house, and three Indian majority senate districts:


PDF for printing

Montana’s house districts are equalized on total population, with a plus or minus five three percent deviation permitted (the mean deviation achieved by the 2010 redistricting commission for both house and senate districts was less than one percent). But the voting age population in Montana’s Indian majority districts is significantly smaller than than the VAP in non-Indian majority districts:

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott, the required redrawing of legislative districts probably would have the practical effect of making it possible for Republicans to elect veto-proof majorities in both houses of Montana’s legislature.



25 May 2015

Memorial Day video — The Vacant Chair

My grandmother always called Memorial Day by its original name, Decoration Day. Regardless of the name, it’s the day when we pause to remember and honor our men and women in uniform who died fighting for our nation. Decoration Day was organized in 1868 to place flowers on the graves of the Civil War’s fallen, so it’s fitting that our virtual concert begins with Rachel Jillett singing a Civil War ballad,The Vacant Chair. Joan Baez follows with Pete Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone, and the Chad Mitchell Trio close with Bob Dylan’s classic, Blowing in the Wind.

…listen to the rest

Lilacs in civil twilight

My neighbor’s bush, my airspace.


24 May 2015

Covering the legislature with telephone, television, and temporaries

Twenty years ago, a reporter covering the Montana Legislature needed to be in Helena. Today, with committee hearings and floor sessions broadcast by television and streaming video, with bills and reports available on the internet, and cellphones, reporters can get their stories without leaving their newsrooms. Sometimes, that works pretty well.

Therefore, it’s not hard to imagine some beancounter at Lee Enterprises slapping his forehead and shouting, “Hell! We can write these stories from home. That office in Helena wastes money. We’ll shut it down, send those high priced reporters packing, and bring on J-school interns if we need more help during the next session. We’ll dateline the stories Helena, and our readers won’t miss Mike and Chuck.”

It’s long distance journalism, we may be condemned to a lot of it in 2017, and it has its limitations.

I report and comment on legislative events from my home office, using streaming video, email instead of a telephone, and conduct my research Izzy Stone style over the internet. That approach works for me, a part-time blogger, but it’s not a substitute for a full-time reporter’s prowling the capitol, buttonholing legislators, chatting-up staff, or crashing a secret rump caucus of legislative mischief makers.

And the Lee chain may decide to do something worse: treating the session as local instead of statewide news, leaving coverage to the Helena Independent Record.

In college, I took a class in community journalism, focusing on small dailies, weeklies, and publishing economics as well as the practical and political aspects of reporting in small towns. Successful small newspapers, I learned, recognized that the press was free only when the newspaper was profitable, and intended to be profitable. A good newspaper was a profitable business with a socially responsible newsroom. It’s mission statement would have been “a profit with honor.”

Lee pays bonuses to executives who lose the company money while closing its state bureau in Helena and sending packing reporters who were paid well. If Lee’s mission statement tells the truth, it will read, “no profit, no honor.”



23 May 2015

Is the Trans Pacific Partnership Obama’s payoff to Big Pharma?

To get the Affordable Care Act passed, President Obama enlisted the help of the pharmaceutical industry. In return, Big Pharma received more customers and protection from tough bargaining on prices.

What if Big Pharma demanded, and was promised, more? What if it demanded help in protecting its drug prices around the world?

That’s not idle speculation. In his Trade and Trust column in the New York Times yesterday, Paul Krugman observed:

In any case, the Pacific trade deal isn’t really about trade. Some already low tariffs would come down, but the main thrust of the proposed deal involves strengthening intellectual property rights — things like drug patents and movie copyrights — and changing the way companies and countries settle disputes. And it’s by no means clear that either of those changes is good for America.

On intellectual property: patents and copyrights are how we reward innovation. But do we need to increase those rewards at consumers’ expense? Big Pharma and Hollywood think so, but you can also see why, for example, Doctors Without Borders is worried that the deal would make medicines unaffordable in developing countries. That’s a serious concern, and it’s one that the pact’s supporters haven’t addressed in any satisfying way.

Krugman concludes:

Instead of addressing real concerns, however, the Obama administration has been dismissive, trying to portray skeptics as uninformed hacks who don’t understand the virtues of trade. But they’re not: the skeptics have on balance been more right than wrong about issues like dispute settlement, and the only really hackish economics I’ve seen in this debate is coming from supporters of the trade pact.

It’s really disappointing and disheartening to see this kind of thing from a White House that has, as I said, been quite forthright on other issues. And the fact that the administration evidently doesn’t feel that it can make an honest case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership suggests that this isn’t a deal we should support.

That’s a polite way of suggesting the TPP is really a payoff for Big Pharma’s not torpedoing the ACA. And a payoff that must be delivered certainly explains why Obama is highballing the fast track express and steamrolling the TPP’s critics. He pays his political debts even when that inflicts bitter medicine on the nation.



22 May 2015

Johnson & Dennison leave Lee newspapers — their sin was seniority

Updated. Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison are leaving the Montana state bureau for the Lee newspapers. Montana Cowgirl, Intelligent Discontent, 4and20blackbirds, and the Last Best News, have good posts with links to key stories. Chuck is retiring, but Mike is looking for work.

They were offered an unacceptable pay cut (40 percent, reports Romenesko), which is how established reporters are fired these days. Their sin was seniority, an unavoidable result of experience. Lee believes they can be replaced, if they are replaced, by young reporters who are willing to accept entry level compensation. That will leave more money for paying bonuses to the Lee executives who led the business into bankruptcy.

I think their experience and high level of professional competence are irreplaceable.

Although busy men, Mike and Chuck always had the time, and decency, to send me a friendly note when I needed to make a correction. Mike even used me as a source on a story he wrote on Flathead politics.

I wish them well. May their journey forward be blessed with fair winds, following seas, and the bright sunshine of good fortune.



20 May 2015

Flathead Memo’s status for today

I’m taking today off to mow lawns, plant flowers, and do other fair weather chores that will make my yard look better and my back feel worse. Tomorrow I'll upload a post on the Flathead Electric Cooperative’s community solar (photovoltaic) project.


19 May 2015

Along came a Republican who wanted to be President

Prologue. Americans were dying in a foreign war we had no business fighting. Cities burned as peaceful protests turned into race riots. The National Guard was mobilized because the police could not keep order. Fear of civil unrest caused hard-working white suburbanites to embrace the politics of law and order while rejecting social programs they saw as transfers of their wealth to black people who had books of matches and vials of drugs but no jobs.

Along came a Republican who wanted to be President. Standing before a cheering crowd of thousands, he said:

For a few moments, let us look at America, let us listen to America to find the answer to that question.

As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame.

We hear sirens in the night.

We see Americans dying on distant battlefields abroad.

We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home.

And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish.

Did we come all this way for this?

Did American boys die in Normandy, and Korea, and in Valley Forge for this?

…read the rest


18 May 2015

Flathead Electric residential rates up 20 percent since 2010

It’s now become an unfailing rite of spring: the Flathead Electric Cooperative’s May bill contains a letter announcing that commencing 1 May, new and higher rates took effect. This year the overall increase is 2.6 percent.

Flathead Electric does not post historical electrical rates, although it could and should. Flathead Memo, however, does keep track of this information, which is presented in the table below:

FEC’s annual increases are a passthrough of increases in the wholesale prices FEC pays for electricity.

The true cost per kilowatt hour for residential customers — the amount billed divided by the number of kilowatt hours used — is significantly higher than the per kWhr rates in the table above. That’s because FEC’s base rate is high. I’ll have more on true costs per kWhr later this week.



16–17 May 2015

Recommended reading on civil rights and race riots

The fires are out in Baltimore, and the rioters are back in their homes, but the anger and tensions that exploded after Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of that city’s brutal and racist police department remain. And not just in Baltimore.

More histories on civil rights and race relations exist than can be read in a person’s lifetime. There are numerous official reports, academic studies, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs. In recent years, as official documents have been declassified, new and interesting histories have emerged. Two recent histories and one half-century-old official report may interest you:

A Nation on Fire: American in the Wake of the King Assassination. By Clay Risen, 2009. Washington, D.C., resembled a banana republic’s capital during a coup d’état. The national guard was federalized, and U.S. Army units trained to suppress domestic insurrections were flown to Washington from as far away as Colorado. At the entrance to the White House there were machine gun emplacements. Snipers were stationed at the Capitol. Thousands of rioters, when they weren’t looting, set hundreds of buildings ablaze. The flames’ yellow glow and tall columns of black smoke were visible from the White House. And Washington, D.C., was not the only city on fire. New copies of Risen’s book are available for just a few dollars from many of Amazon’s affiliates.

The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. By Gene Roberts and Hank Kilbanoff, 2007. Reporting on the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s was not just exciting, it was downright dangerous. This reads more like a thriller, so well is it written, but it all happened. In fact, if you’re of my generation, you read about it in your newspapers and watched it in grainy black-and-white on your television sets. Available in paperback and on Kindle, but I recommend obtaining the printed book.

Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (PDF, 11.4 MB), generally known as the Kerner Commission Report. Released 29 February 1968. President Lyndon Johnson established the commission to determine the causes of the deadly race riots in 1967. The commission concluded that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” Forty-seven years later that conclusion still holds true in Baltimore and probably in many other places.



15 May 2015

Bloggin’ lite continues through the weekend

I’ve had a narrow writing window the last few days thanks to the demands of repelling hostile microbes and trying to rescue and restore my flowerbeds (trying to make a living as a farmer would have starved me to death). That probably will continue through the weekend.

Pencil and paper standardized tests still have merit

Unlike a good many educators, parents, and students, I favor standardized tests, and frequent standardized testing. I also favor a national curriculum, but that’s a subject for a future post. But I’m a bit skeptical of the trend to administer standardized tests by computer.

It’s not that I’m an old fogey who’s nostalgic for paper and pencil tests. In theory, a computer can tailor a test to an individual through if Answer A, then Question C, if Answer B, then Question X, logic. In practice, that gets very complicated very quickly, and validating the scores, proving that the test measures what it’s supposed to measure, is difficult. Yet the power of the computer is seductive, enticing test designers to attempt more than they should. And because the tests are developed by private companies instead of government agencies, competitive pressures lead to promises that can’t be delivered. That’s what happened recently in Montana with Common Core (which I also support) related tests.

At the Washington Monthly’s College Guide blog, Daniel Luzer, in a must read post, today discussed the drawbacks of administering tests by computer in Students Hate to Take Standardized Tests on Computers, concluding:

If we went back to paper tests, that would cost the companies that administer the tests a hell of a lot of money. But this way, it’s not the test makers that suffer here; the schools have to run around to make it work for the testing companies. It’s just the students who suffer.



14 May 2015

Of sports and punishment

The National Football League’s investigation of the deflated footballs used by the New England Patriots is a classic farce. When this affair becomes a direct to tape television movie, Hollywood will exhume the spirit and modus operandi of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, choosing Steve Martin to play both Roger Goodell and NFL investigator Ted Wells. Sen. Tom Cotton, a bad actor in Washington, will take a sabbatical from writing letters to Iran to play Tom Brady. The fool sportswriters who are calling for Brady to be strung-up from the middle of the crossbar between the goal posts will play themselves. And the movie’s title? Soft balls, bathrooms, and lawyers.


13 May 2015

Why I don’t ride trains

They crash far too frequently. Bad tracks. No seat belts. And sometimes no safety systems. A simple GPS controlled system would have prevented this week’s AMTRAK disaster in Philadelphia even if the engineer had been drunk, stoned, asleep, or dead. Instead, the train roared into a 50 mph curve at over 100 mph. The engineer survived; there’s a high probability he will and should end up in the slammer.

Stay off trains and buses. Fly or drive.


12 May 2015

Tuesday quicktakes

Stanford and Dartmouth guilty as charged on election meddling. Remember that official looking card that rogue academics from Stanford and Dartmouth mailed to 100,000 Montana voters just before the election last fall? The card that tried to make incumbent Montana Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat look like an Obama lovin’ big city liberal? The card that was mailed from Utah using a postal permit held by the now defunct Corinthian (for profit) College? The card that caused Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch to file a complaint with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices? That card?

Well, MTCPP Jonathan Motl handed down his decision yesterday. He concluded the card was advocacy (the rogue academics contended it was research), and referred the unpermissioned use of the Great Seal of Montana to the county attorney for prosecution. I rather doubt that if convicted the rogue academics will get more than a timid tap on the wrist — but it would be fitting if they were sentenced to hard time behind the Great Iron Bars of the state’s penitentiary.

Is Whitefish headed for a tax revolt and a hard right turn? That’s certainly a possibility given the hefty increase in the city’s budget, plans for a tax increase, and discomfort with a proposed new city hall that seems extravagant (a parking garage?) for such a small town.

Whitefish just approved a 50 percent increase in the resort sales tax, and just a few years ago approved a big bond issue for a needed new high school. All of that adds up, and at some point voters will say “stop, that’s enough.” That point is reached sooner than later when voters question the need for a project, which is what seems to be happening with the $14 million city hall the community’s leaders want to build.

Whitefish’s mayor and city council should be mindful that elected officials with visions of grand civic architecture sometimes are viewed by the voters as spendthrift bums who must be thrown out.

Does the National Park Service want to ban private cars from the Sun Road? That question is raised by the review of the road that Glacier National Park is now conducting. I suspect this may be the beginning of a campaign to get park visitors out of their automobiles and into buses.

If so, count me opposed. I hate buses. They almost always don’t have seatbelts. Someone else is driving. The view is out the side window, not the windshield. And someone might sit next to you — a perfect stranger, fat, smelly, and pathologically chatty. I want to enjoy the park, which is why I prefer traveling the Sun Road alone in my Ford. Don’t ban private cars. Ban buses and those road-hogging red jammers.



11 May 2015

Election administration in Alberta is nonpartisan

Election administration. Election administration in Alberta is nonpartisan, with an appointed Chief Electoral Officer whose job is to “administer open, fair, and impartial elections.” Contrast that with our system of selecting election administrators with partisan elections. I think Alberta’s system is much better.

So is Alberta’s method of reporting election returns online. Alberta uses a two dimensional array in which the rows are the records of the votes cast by the parties, and the columns are the fields. The name of each legislative district is the name of the record, and links to a second table in which the rows are the polls (what we call precincts) and the columns, the fields, are the candidates for the parties. It’s easy to navigate. The data can be copied and pasted into a spreadsheet. Montana’s online reports are not organized the same way and are much harder to use. Alberta’s system is better; Montana should adopt it.

Perils of first past the post in a multi-party system. Alberta’s election provides one example. Last week’s election in the United Kingdom provides another. At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall reports that the United Kingdom Independence Party received 3.9 million votes, but won only one seat in Parliament, while the Tories won 331 seats, a majority, with 11.3 million votes, and Labor won 232 with 9.3 million votes. And Montana State University political science professor David Parker observes that an alternative to the UK’s splitting into several independent republics is the adoption of a federal system on the American model.


Attending an unlawful dogfight? Relax. That’s still legal in MT.

Did you know that Montana is the only state in which a person can legally watch an unlawful dog fight? Neither did I — until I read Kathleen Stachowski’s fine guest post, Win a few, lose a few: Animal fighting, commercial breeding get another pass, at Montana Cowgirl.

Stachowski writes at Other Nations Justice in Missoula. I’ve added her website to Flathead Memo’s blogroll. She presents her arguments with conviction, clarity, and respect for the intelligence of her readers. I don’t agree with her on everything, but I do agree that her voice should be heard.



10 May 2015

A wild rose for all the world’s mothers

This probably is an example of rosa woodii, or possibly rosa acicularis. They’re so similar it’s hard for me to tell them apart. The later is the official flower of the Canadian province of Alberta. I photographed this specimen by the light of the early morning sun in my backyard in 2002.




9 May 2015

Alberta election sends shudders through the Oil Patch

Alberta’s voters spoke four days ago. After 44 years in power, the Progressive Conservatives are out, the New Democrats are in, the new opposition is the Wildrose Party — and the outcome, while real, may be a fluke that won’t be repeated in the next election.

Alberta, which has three major and several minor political parties (complete list of parties on the ballot), determines winners on a first past the post basis; the candidate with the most votes wins. It’s the same voting system we use in Montana and it works reasonably well in a predominately two-party system.

In a multi-party system, however, a party without majority political support can, in a first past the post election, capture a majority of the legislative seats. That’s what happened in Alberta.

Although the New Democratic Party captured at least 53 of the 87 seats (“ridings” in the local argot), it did so with only 40.6 percent of the provincial vote. The NDP received majorities in 21 districts, and pluralities in 32 districts (download Excel spreadsheet).

…read the rest


8 May 2015

Flathead Memo: Bernie’s health care mistake and a bullyboy judge

Bernie Sanders’ weak platform plank on healthcare. Sen. Bernie Sanders has the most progressive health care plank in the Democratic Party:

Health care: Shamefully, the United States remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all people. The United States must move toward a Medicare-for-all single-payer system. Health care is a right, not a privilege.

He’s right about needing a single-payer system, and that health care is a right, but he’s wrong to use Medicare as an example of the kind of single-payer system to which we should aspire and move. Medicare is single-payer, and much about it is good, but it’s also stingy-payer. It doesn’t cover everything, forcing Medicare recipients to purchase expensive private “medigap” policies, and the prescription drug benefit is provided through private health insurers.

What we need is what I call American Care: a cradle to grave, all citizens enrolled automatically at birth, everyone covered for everything, no copays, federal single-payer system financed through progressive taxation.

What kind of judge keeps a jury deliberating 18 days in a simple murder trial? A judge that’s trying to bully the jurors into convicting the defendant. A judge in New York, Maxwell Wiley, almost got away with doing that this week. In the end, he declared a mistrial because the jury was hung, 11 for conviction, and one for not guilty.

The case was notorious. Thirty-three years ago, six-year-old Etan Patz disappeared on his was to school and never was found. In theory, he could still be alive today.

…read the rest


7 May 2015

Carl Glimm’s glum view of public debt


Republican State Representative Carl Glimm (HD-6, map) voted against HB-416, the modest infrastructure improvement bill that failed to secure the constitutionally required two-thirds majority for issuing bonds. In today’s Flathead Beacon, he explains why he voted to let roofs continue leaking, and potholes continue growing: “I am not for bonding, especially when we have the money in the bank to do the work.”

His conclusion:

In the end, I voted against the bill SB 416. Not because I am against infrastructure, quite the opposite, but because I am unwilling to put our kids and grandkids on the hook for spending that we have the money to pay for right now. The federal government has went down that road to a place I’m not sure if we will ever return from. I refuse to put Montana on a course that would follow.

I hope you understand my position.

I do understand your position, Rep. Glimm, but I don’t agree with it. Neither did two-thirds of the MT Senate. Neither did almost two-thirds of your colleagues in the MT House. Neither did virtually all of the financial experts who testified before the legislature that with interest rates very low, now is an especially good time to borrow.

Keeping money in the bank to deal with unexpected contingencies, for a rainy day, and judiciously borrowing when advantageous, is prudent for both citizens and their governments. Spending down a comfortable bank balance to a dangerously low level is not.

Glimm’s rationale for his vote evinces a deep, and I think unreasonable, fear of debt that works against an individual’s enlightened self interest as well as against a state or nation’s enlightened self-interest. Taken to a logical extreme, it would lead to raiding a retirement account to pay for a house instead of taking out a mortgage to spread the payments out over time in order to preserve the retirement account or, say, money set aside for a child’s college education.

His comment on the national debt, “The federal government has went down that road to a place I’m not sure if we will ever return from,” does not square with history. Expressed as a percentage of the gross domestic product, our current level of debt is lower than it was at the end of World War II and the Korean War:

John F. Kennedy, citing folk wisdom, once said, “The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” Bond rates are low, the economy is improving, unemployment is falling. The sun is shining. So I’m not buying Rep. Glimm’s argument that it’s a good day to stay inside and leave the roofing tools in the box. I think he and his naysaying on infrastructure colleagues simply thought it was a good day to subordinate fixing roofs and filling potholes to poking Gov. Bullock in the eye. Revenge before responsibility, poisonous partisanship über alles.



6 May 2015

Whitefish school board election analysis

Let’s begin with the turnout. Despite using a mail ballot, and having a contested election, only 15.8 percent of the registered voters in Whitefish’s school district cast ballots. (Table of returns.)

That’s dismal and shameful. Just a week ago, in a mail ballot election on whether to raise Whitefish’s resort tax by 50 percent, 49 percent of the registered voters cast ballots.

…read the rest


5 May 2015

Gov. Bullock vetoes one bad bill, but signs another


Bullock vetoed SB-334, Sen. Jennifer Fielder’s (R-Thompson Falls) bill to define fur bearing animals as game animals under the provision in Montana’s constitution that protects hunting. SB-334 was introduced and passed to preclude a citizens initiative banning trapping on public lands. I’m surprised that Bullock vetoed the bill, but I’m glad that he did. Veto messsage (PDF).

How Flathead legislators voted. On the third reading in the MT House, Flathead Democrats Ed Lieser and Zac Perry voted Nay, while Republicans Keith Regier, Carl Glimm, Frank Garner, Steve Lavin, Randy Brohdel, Mark Noland, and Albert Olszewski vote Aye. In the MT Senate, Flathead Republicans Dee Brown, Bruce Tudvedt, Mark Blasdel, and Bob Keenan all voted Aye.


Updated and corrected. Unfortunately, Bullock signed SB-375, Sen. Scott Sales’ (R-Bozeman) bill that raises the speed limit on some sections of rural interstate highways to 80 mph, and mandates hefty increases in fines for speeding. The highway patrol supported the bill because of the revenue increases generated by the bigger fines. Speed kills, so this is blood money for the highway patrol.

Rep. Steve Lavin (R-Kalispell), who works for the Montana Highway Patrol, generously sent me a note explaining why the highway patrol supported SB-375:

…read the rest

Vetter Ehrenberg runs afoul of write-in law, endorses Kamenski

Joan Vetter Ehrenberg’s quixotic write-in campaign for the Whitefish school board ended just 36 hours after it began when she learned yesterday that a peculiarity in Montana law forbids last minute write-in candidates.

…read the rest


4 May 201

How to cast that write-in ballot for Joan Vetter Ehrenberg


Ballots must be delivered to the School District 44 office at the Whitefish Middle School, 600 East Second Street, by 8pm Tuesday, 5 May. Ehrenberg’s campaign released instructions on how to mark your ballot so that your write-in vote is legal. The instruction sheet has a sticker you can use, but printing her name, spelling it correctly, works just as well. Be sure to put an X in the box next to her name.

Here’s the campaign’s advice:

It’s a simple matter to write Joan’s name on the ballot, also making sure that you mark an X in the box beside her name. Only ballots with her correct name will be accepted. Please use the attached sticker for simplicity.

The ballot will ask you to vote for two people. There is a box beside each name and then a blank line with a box beside it. Write Joan Vetter Ehrenberg on the line, or use a name sticker, and then put an X in the box.



3 May 2015

Ehrenberg launches last minute school board write-in campaign


Whitefish community activist Joan Vetter Ehrenberg has launched a last minute, but full hearted, write-in campaign for the Whitefish school board (District 44). Ballots are due Tuesday, 5 May.

Two positions on the board are up for election. There are three candidates on the ballot: incumbent and school board chair Pat Jarvi, Bob Auerbach, and Marguerite Kaminski (see the sample ballot below)

Ehrenberg is well known in Whitefish for her work on the successful campaigns to approve bonds for a new high school and raise the resort tax by 50 percent to protect Whitefish’s drinking water. Her daughter, Kate, who attends Whitefish High, is currently in Washington, D.C., serving as a Senate page in a work-study program.

Earlier today she released an endorsement video and a 473-word statement explaining why she's running:

…read the rest
there’s plenty more

Plum blossoms in the Flathead


Plum blossoms in my backyard northwest of Kalispell, brilliant in late afternoon light. The payment for this spring beauty comes due in the fall, when the plums must be picked, an increasing onerous task as the years go by.

…see the big pix


2 May 2015

Seattle’s May Day thugs belong in the slammer

Seattle’s anarchist thugs emerged from their caves yesterday, wearing masks, burning and bashing, and assaulting police officers. Both the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer have useful accounts of the mayhem.

What do these fools hope to accomplish other than experiencing illicit self-gratification? Conventional wisdom holds they’re leftists, but they could be right wingers hoping to discredit the left. Whatever their politics, they bring opprobrium not only upon themselves but upon the thousands who engaged in peaceful, legitimate May Day (International Workers Day in most parts of the world) activities in one of my favorite cities.

Find them. Arrest them. Burn their masks and hoodies. Prosecute them. Convict them. Throw them in the slammer. And throw away the key.


Farmers market, Medicaid waivers, Nixon redux, linguistic thuggery

The Kalispell Farmers Market kicks off today at Flathead Valley Community College. Just before sunrise, I saw venders start pulling into the FVCC parking lot. This is a sure sign of spring. According to the market’s Facebook page, the event opens at 0900 and closes half-past noon. These are farmers’ hours. I prefer a more civilized schedule.

Montana Medicaid expansion. The bill (SB-405) just signed into law by Gov. Bullock may be in trouble with the Department of Health and Human Services, reported Mike Dennison in the Missoulian late yesterday. The scheme requires waivers from Affordable Care Act’s standard expansion of Medicaid, but what Montana wants is so radical it’s raising federal eyebrows:

Obama administration officials said Friday they are “concerned” that the state plans to charge premiums even to people earning below 50 percent of the federal poverty line (about $5,900 a year for a single person) and that the plan has other “cost-sharing” requirements for those covered.

The word “premium” is in the law, but it’s really a two-percent tax on income. A true premium is based not on the beneficiary’s income but on the benefits provided and the risks taken.

It’s good that HHS is skeptical of taxing the poorest of the poor, but the Obama administration seems willing to approve waivers for some pretty awful practices as long as people are added to the ranks of the insured.

…read the rest


1 May 2015

Whitefish sales tax, thugs, Christie’s demise, & what’s responsible

Whitefish watershed election. Seeking to protect their city’s source of drinking water, the voters in Whitefish on 28 April approved a 50 percent increase in their city’s resort (sales) tax by a four to one margin. Forty-nine percent of the voters who were mailed ballots cast votes. That’s a much higher turnout rate than usual for a special election.

“Thug” is not a racially tinged word. Some people, who don’t know their history, think “thug” is a code word for “nigger.” As Megan Garber explained in The Atlantic a few days ago, the word’s roots are in India and are centuries old

In all that, the history of “thug” goes back not just to the hip-hop scene of the 1990s—to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, to Tupac Shakur and the “Thug Life” tattoo that stretched, arc-like, across his abdomen — but back, also, to India. To the India, specifically, of the 1350s. “Thug” comes from the Hindi thuggee or tuggee (pronounced “toog-gee” or “toog”); it is derived from the…ṭhag, which means “deceiver” or “thief” or “swindler.” The Thugs, in India, were a gang of professional thieves and assassins who operated from the 14th century and into the 19th. They worked, in general, by joining travelers, gaining their trust…and then murdering them — strangulation was their preferred method — and stealing their valuables.

Thug is a colorblind word. I’m going to continue using it to describe muggers, rioters, and thieves, among others.

Chris Christie’s Presidential campaign just ended. He isn’t ready to admit that yet, but one of his top associates just pleaded guilty to shutting down two lanes of traffic on the first day of school to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s run for governor of New Jersey. There’s a word for people who do things like that: morons. We don’t know whether the grand jury named Christie as an unindicted co-conspirator, but we will at some point, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he received that honor. Figuratively speaking, Christie is a thug.

Independent political bloggers can’t get MT Legislature press credentials. Mike Brown has the story at The Western Word today. Mike knows his politics and has blogged six days a week for a decade. The same is true for Don Pogreba at Intelligent Discontent. Montana Cowgirl has better sources than many mainstream media reporters. In fact, some Montana political blogs are read daily by Montana’s elite MSM political reporters. Independent political blogs with a history of blogging on an almost daily basis should qualify for press credentials at the legislature, and “almost daily” be be interpreted liberally.

Truly responsible Republicans would have voted for HB-249. That was Gov. Bullock’s pander to private insurers Medicaid expansion bill that would have covered 65,000 uninsured Montanans by fiscal 2019. Instead, they joined with their tea bagging party mates to kill HB-249 and supported SB-405, Sen. Buttrey’s bill that covers only 46,000 by fiscal 2019. Someone please tell me what’s responsible about denying health insurance to almost 20,000 people who need it.



30 April 2015

Bernie Sanders announces he's running for President


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced today that he’s running for President as a Democrat. At 73, he’s six years older than Hillary Clinton, but he’s not the old fogey on policy that she is. He supports a single-payer health care system, while she was the principal architect of the awful Hillarycare proposal that emerged and died during her husband’s Presidency.

Sanders’ candidacy begins a long overdue policy debate in the Democratic Party. He’s a genuine liberal who will expose Clinton as the opportunistic centrist that she’s always been and always will be. Paradoxically, that will help protect her from accusations that she’s a wild-eyed redistributionist who will take Harry and Louise’s hard earned money and give it to black welfare bums.

…read the rest

Let’s never again hold a baseball game without fans

That was an odd and unsettling sight in Baltimore yesterday, the Baltimore Orioles playing the Chicago White Sox in Camden Yards without a single fan in the seats. Apparently the city’s leaders thought the fans would pack the stadium, have a good time, and start a riot.


Players, but no fans, in Camden Yards. Baltimore Sun.

Let’s hope that kind of foolish fear never again locks fans out of a Baseball stadium in America. European and other foreign soccer fans are hooligans who attend matches looking for, and starting, trouble. American baseball fans come to games looking for a good time and behave themselves, a few dust-ups between drunks in the parking lot not withstanding.

Were I Baltimore’s mayor, I would have said, “Let’s go to the ball game and have a good time.” I would have banned booze. I would have led a moment of silence for Freddie Gray before the first pitch. And I would have trusted the fans to cheer for the Orioles, and not throw bricks at the Sox.

…read the rest

Grading the 2015 Montana Legislature

Several Montana political blogs have published initial reviews of what the 2015 session of the Montana Legislature accomplished, and failed to accomplish, as have most of the state’s major newspapers. At the Flathead Beacon, for example, former Democratic legislator Mike Jopek reported instances of local bipartisanship he found praiseworthy. More reviews, some awarding grades, will follow.

Later, organizations with major stakes in legislation — for example, the Montana Chamber of Commerce and Montana Conservation Voters — will publish scorecards on what happened to their legislative objectives and give legislators scores that will be cited in campaign literature. That chore takes considerable time and hard work, and the product seldom is devoid of some political spin.

…read the rest


29 April 2015

Gov. Bullock should deep-six the MDC shutdown bill

Over at Intelligent Discontent, Don Pogreba has a persuasive post arguing that Gov. Bullock should veto the bill, SB-411, that shuts down the Montana Development Center. The more I learn about this institution and its troubles, the more I become leery of shuttering the institution instead of reforming it. There’s a whiff of union busting about the bill, and the Democratic sponsor is a bit too close to entities that could profit from the shutdown. This should have been a interim study. But it’s not, and therefore it should be vetoed.



28 April 2015

Legislature adjourns, good reads on other blogs

It’s over. The Montana Legislature adjourned sine die early this morning after a last, half-hearted, unsuccessful attempt to pass SB-416, the infrastructure bill so loathed by debt-phobic Republicans in the MT House. Infrastructure improvements now become an issue for the 2016 general election.

Attention now turns to Gov. Bullock, who must decide which bills he will sign, let become law without his signature (a bad practice), or veto.

Does Montana have a de facto three party system? Are there “moderate” Republicans? Montana Cowgirl advances that thesis in her legislative wrap-up post today. I disagree. If we had a true three party system, Democrats and the self-styled “moderate” Responsible Republicans could have formed a coalition and elected a genuinely moderate speaker of the House. That didn’t happen. Instead, the “moderates” voted with their teabagger colleagues on procedural issues, thereby preserving Republican control of the speakership and the composition of committees. There are no moderate Republicans — only teabagger Republicans and conservative Republicans who look moderate compared to their reactionary colleagues.

Riots and the President. At the Maddow Blog, Steve Benen published a transcript of President Obama’s remarks on the race riots in Baltimore. It’s worth reading. I just wish he would stop bashing the news media.

Conservative commentators cudgel Elizabeth Warren. She rightly opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership, so President Obama and the free trade zealots on the red side of the Democratic Party are taking pot shots at her. At Esquire, Charles Pierce uncapped his pungent pen to write a rebuttal that ought to be required reading for every Blue Dog and Blue Dog wannabe.


If you can spare a dime, the Nepalese sure could use it

When a major natural disaster — a flood, hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption — hits, its victims often are on their own for the next 48 to 72 hours. That’s how long it takes for the world outside the disaster zone to learn what happened, what’s needed, and to organize and dispatch the relief mission.

After three days, some outside aid is reaching Nepal, where a 7.8 earthquake killed thousands and heavily damaged that nation’s fragile infrastructure. Below, there’s a map of Montana and surrounds on which I’ve superimposed the boundary of Nepal. Flathead Lake marks the quake’s epicenter. The mostly mountainous nation encompasses approximately 56,000 square miles, has 27 million people, and an average annual per capita income of $740. If you can spare a dime, the Nepalese can use it.

…read the rest

In Baltimore, two wrongs don’t make a right

Freddie Gray, a black man, died of a severed spine, an injury he suffered in the custody of the Baltimore police department. The incident is under investigation, but no charges have been filed, at least not yet.

After Gray’s funeral yesterday, protests turned into anti-police riots with many police officers suffering serious injuries. Police cars were vandalized, drug stores were looted and burned down, some thugs using the occasion to steal and commit assault and battery. Baltimore officials imposed a curfew and the governor of Maryland sent the national guard to keep order.

…read the rest

Meet the infrastructure naysayers in the MT House

Whether the MT House will pass an infrastructure bill today before adjourning is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t advise betting the ranch on it. SB-416 received a 66–33 majority on the third reading in the House yesterday, but it needed 67 Ayes to pass because it contained bonding authorities.

Four of the Ayes were cast by Flathead Representatives Ed Lieser, Zac Perry, Frank Garner, and Steve Lavin. In the MT Senate all of the Flathead members, Dee Brown, Bruce Tutvedt, Bob Keenan, and Mark Blasdel, voted Aye.

Here are the Republicans in the MT House who voted Nay:

…read the rest


27 April 2015

Young legislators, old and tired ideas

Republican State Rep. Sarah Laszloffy represents House District 53 (map), where live some of the most conservative people in Montana. Last week she wrote an oped in the Billings Gazette, signed by several other young GOP legislators, denouncing fellow Republican legislators she calls “liberal,” bemoaning the modest expansion of Medicaid (SB-405), and making this remarkable assertion:

…read the rest


26 April 2015

Legislature’s last days, cop cams, oil trains, Johnny Reb Day

Tomorrow is Confederate Memorial Day, a state holiday in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. Will Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio join the festivities? Will Hillary denounce the event? Will Ted Cruz strut down the street waving the stars and bars and singing Dixie?

The Montana Legislature may finish its business and adjourn sine die tomorrow. That’s probably the plan, but legislative sessions have a habit of expanding to fill the time allotted for them. The final sticking point is how to pay for statewide infrastructure improvements. Democrats, noting interest rates are low, want to issue bonds, which is the smart move. Some Republicans, enough to deny the two-thirds majority needed for approving bonds, want to take the surplus out of the state’s piggy bank. Austin Knudsen now knows how John Boehner feels.

Police cameras are being purchased by Kalispell’s cops and the Flathead County Sheriff’s department. Police cameras aren’t a panacea for police brutality, or false accusations thereof, but they’re a credible deterrent to such misbehavior, and will provide valuable information for law enforcers and citizens alike. But there are yet unresolved issues over access to cop camera videos and protection of privacy. That’s why the legislature made a mistake when it tabled in committee HJ-22, which would have authorized an interim study of these issues.

Oil trains from the Bakken fields will be under close scrutiny in the state of Washington thanks to legislation just approved in the WA legislature. The refineries at Anacortes and Cherry Point are more and more relying on Bakken crude, which means more and more crude cars cruising down the canyon of the Middle Fork Flathead and through Whitefish. There also are plans to build a new refinery in Longview, and a huge oil terminal in Vancouver, on the Columbia River. Oil would be carried down the Columbia in barges, then transferred to ocean going ships bound for west coast ports. Barging oil down the Columbia is asking for trouble.