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

Archives index, 1–15 October 2015


15 October 2015

In Missoula, the functional equivalent of voter suppression

Missoula blogger Greg Strandberg has an interesting post on the campaign to pass a huge school bond in his town, and Derek Brouwer has the detailed story at the Missoula Independent. Backers of the $158 million bond issue are trying to boost turnout, Brouwer reports:

Unlike statewide issues, local initiatives typically see lower rates of voter turnout and don’t usually face an organized opposition. Campaigns, then, can focus their outreach to mobilizing supporters. One way the Missoula campaign is doing this is by contracting with Forward Montana to connect with younger voters. The organization collected some 800 pledge cards from bond supporters earlier this year, which it is now mailing back as reminders of their commitment to vote “Yes.”

Turnout wouldn’t be a concern if school districts would put bond issues on the general election ballot in Presidential years. That would ensure the highest possible turnout. There’s precedent. The bonds for building Glacier High School in Kalispell were approved in a general election.

So why don’t school districts do this? Because they don’t want the highest possible turnout. Instead, they want the highest possible turnout of pro-bond voters and, ideally, no turnout of anti-bond voters. Therefore, they want only the bond issue on the ballot. They want elections in which school faculty and staff, and parents of students, turn out and others stay home. The general election election ballot will feature many offices and ballot measures, some of which may attract voters disinclined to approve the bond.

Derek Goldman, the canvass director who works for M+R Strategic Services, the hired guns directing the vote for the bond campaign admits as much:

[The pro-bond canvassers] won’t be visiting every home in their neighborhoods, Goldman explains to Democratic state Sen. Diane Sands, one of the volunteers. Instead, they’ll focus on the likely school election voters as identified through a scoring system. The volunteers, too, will be scoring the neighbors they talk to based on how likely they are to vote in favor of the bonds. That information, as much as the conversation at the door, is what’s “really important,” Goldman explains.

This is the functional equivalent of voter suppression. It undermines the political legitimacy of the election, and it contributes to increased cynicism among the electorate. That’s too high a price to pay for winning an election.



14 October 2015

Ryan Zinke and the art of trolling


Rep. Ryan Zinke’s sense of humor, always better than Democrats are willing to admit, was on display yesterday when he said he was thinking of running for Speaker of the House if Paul Ryan didn’t. That would give Republicans a second chance for a Speaker Ryan.

His quip reeled in outraged posts at Montana Cowgirl and the Rachel Maddow Blog, and a top of the page headline at the Flathead Beacon.

Come on, friends. Speaker Zinke is not an idea to taken seriously. If you make that mistake, you’ve been punked.

On a serious note, Zinke earned a well done with his vote supporting renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He’s having a good week.



13 October 2015

Notes on the debate

CNN and Anderson Cooper treated the debate as a political reality show, or perhaps as a prize fight. They sought sparks, not enlightenment.

Hillary Clinton smirked a lot, but was polished. She also pandered to gender identity politics, which was not Presidential.

Bernie Sanders was forceful, straightforward, and spoke clearly. One can easily imagine him as President. His comment about HRC’s emails provided the evening’s best quote.

Martin O’Malley should rename himself Martin Milquetoast. He’s intelligent and informed, but can he — will he — raise his voice and pound on the table when necessary?

Jim Webb was his usual idiosyncratic self. He’s probably the first choice of many Reagan Democrats. But he won’t received a boost from the debate.

Lincoln Chaffee, who appeared ill-dressed without a polkadotted bow tie, shattered his credibility with his bizarre defense of his vote to repeal Glass-Stegall. He’ll be an ex-candidate by the end of the month.

Ken “Earthbuster” Miller endorses Greg Gianforte for MT Governor


Former Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ken Miller is a man immune to accusations of being a liberal or moderate. After losing the primary, he was injured in a hunting accident from which he’s fully recovered. He’s renewed his focus on business, but he hasn’t lost his interest in politics.

Today, Miller blasted out an email that mixes business and politics. He’s manufacturing and selling the Earthbuster, an “…attachment for skidsteer loaders that utilizes compressed air to “bust up” compacted or saturated soils.” Among its many virtues:

The EarthBuster is an amazing and totally environmentally friendly solution to restoring failing septic drain fields. In addition to being a great solution for septic systems, the EarthBuster is the perfect tool for poor drainage issues in areas like golf courses or parking lots. Agriculture can also benefit by breaking up the hard pan or improving the utilization of poor soils.

Miller is also beating the drums for Greg Gianforte’s bid for the GOP nomination for Governor of Montana:

As I mentioned before, it was business that got me involved in politics and it was that background that helped me greatly as a legislator. As one of the most successful businessmen in Montana we have a great candidate for Governor in Greg Gianforte. Peggy and I ask that you join us in supporting Greg for that office. With Greg as governor, I believe Montana can once again have one of the strongest economies in the nation.

Additionally, I very much appreciate the many friends and supporters that have urged me to run for public office again. With the state of politics in Montana and the U.S. it is very tempting. However, in the past I ran for office when I felt Montana did not have a candidate that represented our values well and was firmly rooted in Constitution. I believe Greg is the right person, at the right time for Montana. Please take the opportunity to get to know Greg and Susan, as they will serve Montana well.

Gianforte’s official status remains “exploratory,” but he recently hired Aaron Flint as his communications director, so it’s just a matter of time before he drops the exploratory nonsense and becomes a full-fledged candidate. Flint’s a professional who would not have taken the job had he had any doubts that Gianforte would decide not to file for governor.

I would not remove Miller from the short list of Lt. Governor candidates for Gianforte.



12 October 2015

Things Flathead Electric won’t tell us directly — but others will

Looking for the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of the Flathead Electric Cooperative’s manager and board of directors? You won’t find them on FEC’s website or Facebook page, but you will find them in this PDF provided by the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the PDF, but the email addresses seem logical.

Use this information judiciously, as it’s clear from its absence at FEC that the members of the board aren’t that keen on hearing from FEC members by email.

And are you wondering how many net metering connections FEC has in addition to its Stillwater community array? The number is 39, with a total nameplate capacity of 160 kilowatts. Again, that information won’t be found on FEC’s website or Facebook page, but it’s in the data that the MECA submitted to the Legislature’s Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee that’s tasked by SJ-12 with studying net metering. Here’s how FEC’s net metered photovoltaic and wind installations break out graphically:

The mean residential photovoltaic array is 4.4 kW, but the median installation is only 2.9 kW. The Stillwater array is 100 kW DC, 83 kW AC, according to FEC’s request for proposal.



10–11 October 2015

Let’s take the take-out slide out of baseball

Los Angeles Dodger Chase Utley earned himself a place in the Baseball Hall of Shame yesterday, right up there with Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach and meanest man ever to play the game, and Pete Rose, Charlie Hustler the betting man.

Cobb slide into bases with hostile intent, his spikes up and ready to duke it out with anyone who complained. Rose barreled into everyone, but he’s most remembered for barreling into catcher Ray Fosse in the 12th inning of the 1970 All Star game, breaking Fosse’s shoulder and later behaving as though he was proud of the damage.

Dirty players, both of them. Cobb’s in the Hall of Fame, but Rose, banned from baseball for betting on baseball, never will, nor should, get there.

Yesterday, Utley proved himself an equally dirty player, sliding wide of second base into the back of Met’s shortstop Ruben Tejada, breaking Tejada’s leg. Utley should have been called out for interfering with the play, but instead was called safe in an epic officiating blunder.

Utley claimed he was just trying to break up a double play. No doubt he was. There’s a long tradition of that in baseball, but it’s not an honorable tradition. It’s a tradition of mugging the infielder instead of beating the throw — and it has no place in baseball.

It’s a dirty play. Take it out of the ballgame.


The “you weren’t born in Montana” obsession of Montana’s Democrats

In every state in which I’ve lived, there are people who believe that being born in that state should enjoy a special status, a birthright, not available to Americans born in another state. Occasionally, someone tries to get that written into law — for example, Greg Hinkle’s attempt to establish a hereditary hunting aristocracy in Montana — but usually it takes the form of a brag — for example, “I’m a seventh generation New Yorker” — and is enforced by social sanctions. For some, this is a very serious business.

In fact, it’s serious enough to Montana’s Democrats that they included in their 2014 platform (PDF) a plank (page 30) aimed at what they consider an illegitimate attempt by Sen. Steve Daines to claim he’s a fifth generation Montanan:


That’s as petty and petulant a party platform plank as I’ve ever read.

Why does this matter so much to Montana’s Democrats that they put this plank in their party’s platform? Why does it matter at all whether someone was born in Montana?

Background information. Here’s the Wikipedia’s description of the dispute:

Daines was born in Van Nuys, California,[2] the son of Sharon R. (Erickson) and Clair W. Daines.[3] He moved to Montana with his parents when he was two years old.[4] He was raised in Bozeman, Montana where he attended school from kindergarten through college.[5] Although born in California, he asserts that he is a fifth-generation Montanan, based on having a direct family line of people who have lived in Montana since his great-great-grandmother Karine Dyrud immigrated from Norway to Minnesota in 1869, and later moved to Montana. His parents both grew up in Billings, Montana, and returned to Montana to start their own home-construction business.[6]

Daines’ can invoke the Naturalization Act of 1790 in support of his claim that he’s a fifth generation Montanan:

And the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond Sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born Citizens:

That’s not the same as claiming he was born in Montana, which clearly he was not, and does not so assert. Still, he would have been smarter to have said his family had lived in Montana for generations, and not left himself open to being whacked by a “he’s not a fifth generation Montanan” plank.

It occurs to me that the mindset that generated the Democrats’ Daines plank probably is behind the current Democratic lie that Greg Gianforte is a “New Jersey billionaire.” Gianforte was born in California, but we associate California with sun and surf, and New Jersey with the mob and corruption, so it’s more fun for birthright Democrats to pretend that Gianforte’s from the Garden State.

This entire business reminds me of arguments over breeding dogs and horses.



9 October 2015

This was the week that Republicans wish was not

The descent into Banana Republicanism by the GOP caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives is the big story, but there were also strange happenings in Montana’s Republican Party.

I’ll start with the latter. Montana Cowgirl reported that Chris Shipp was fired as executive director of the MTGOP, a report confirmed by the Associated Press, and that the party was short of money. I’m not sure whether the money shortage has been confirmed, but state political parties are always short of money and sometimes get into trouble through unwise spending. Ap parently Shipp’s departure was abrupt. And it wasn’t announced immediately, which suggests the circumstances may not confer honor upon the party.

…read the rest

Making sense of campaign finance reports

Campaign finance reports for the quarter ending on 30 are becoming available at Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices and the Federal Election Commission. When I examine a CFR I begin with the big four:

  • Amount raised. As much as during the last quarter? Compared to the opposition? Compared to what’s needed for the campaign’s budget?

  • Amount spent. Same questions as above, plus where the money went. The less spent on consultants and staff, and the more on direct communication with voters, the better.

  • Cash in the bank. At this point, campaigns for 2016 should have more in the bank than they did last quarter. And that amount should be commensurate with what a winning budget requires.

  • Burn rate [(amount spent/amount raised) * 100]. If the burn rate approaches or exceeds 100 percent, a red flag appears. There may be a good reason for burning so much cash, but the burn might simply be the result of lax fiscal discipline and/or bad decisions. Hillary Cinton’s campaigns are notorious for high burn rates.

Next, I look for:

…read the rest


8 October 2015

Draft explanatory language for Confederate fountain fails to explain

Remember that fountain in Hill Park in Helena that honors Confederate soldiers? The fountain sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as part of its campaign to persuade the nation that the boys in gray were southern patriots defending states rights, not traitors fighting to preserve slavery? The fountain that city commissioners in Helena decided needs an explanatory plaque?

The Helena Independent Record reports that draft language (below) for that plaque has been prepared by the Lewis and Clark County Heritage Council, which provided five options. Not one is satisfactory because all fail to explain that Helena’s fountain was part of the UDC’s national campaign to perfume Johnny Reb’s reputation.

Here’s what I would put on the plaque:

This is one of hundreds of monuments sponsored by the UDC to present Confederate soldiers not as traitors fighting to preserve slavery but as patriots defending southern culture and states rights.

Those are the facts. They provide context for visitors, among whom will be citizens of other nations. Nothing more is needed.

Earlier this year I prepared a short list of recommended reads on the subject.

…read the rest


7 October 2015

An unnecessary groundbreaking ceremony

When a construction project brings $35 million into the community, the bid winning contractors and politicians supporting the project like to hold a little ceremony to break ground and call attention to all that money. That’s what happened today near Glacier High School. Ground was broken, again, for another bout of building the westside Kalispell bypass.

Dillon Tabish’s story for the Flathead Beacon does not report how many voluntarily attended the ceremony. The absence of that number probably indicates there may have been an absence of a voluntary audience. So does the absence of a wide photograph of the event.

I’m not looking forward to this highway construction. For those of us living west of the bypass, there will be blocked roads, bumpy detours, long waits, and inconvenience aplenty. That’s nothing to celebrate, and I could have done without the bypass caucus’ publicity stunt.



6 October 2015

What photons, fertilizer, dihydrogen oxide, and luck can produce


5 October 2015

Notes on an American ship that foundered in a hurricane

Note to readers in Montana. If you’re wondering why this topic, Flathead Memo is followed by people on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and members of my family have gone to sea.

Had not the college killings in Oregon and the deadly attack on a hospital in Afghanistan dominated the news for the first days of October, the extraordinary disappearance of the U.S. flagged cargo ship, El Faro, now presumed sunk, would have pushed everything off the front page.

Large American built, crewed, and flagged merchant vessels seldom go missing. El Faro’s disappearance already has produced online mention of two famous disasters more than 30 years ago: the sinking of the Marine Electric in 1983, and the disappearance of the Poet in 1980. Both were old ships in disrepair. Now commenters on maritime websites such as gCaptain are wondering whether El Faro was an old rust bucket that should have been in a breaking yard instead of on the high seas.

As the search for survivors continues, two questions that will dominate the inquiry already are being asked: (a) how seaworthy was El Faro, and (b) why did it sail into the eye of a Category III hurricane?

…read the rest


3–4 October 2015

Were these deaths preventable?

Bloody headlines have dominated the first days of October.

Nine died at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR, murdered by a deranged student who committed suicide after being wounded by local police detectives. He’d been kicked out of the Army for being off kilter, had a history of mental issues, yet was able to acquire 14 firearms; and able to acquire them legally, says the local sheriff, who himself has some loose screws. Were these deaths, or at least some of them, preventable? Probably, if firearms were much more difficult to obtain. Will this mass murder cause our nation to come to its senses on firearms? No.

Nineteen nurses, doctors, and patients died when U.S. aircraft bombed and/or shot up a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Taliban fighters reportedly were using the hospital for cover, so someone called in an airstrike, which probably was conducted by an AC-130 gunship. An investigation has started. The person responsible for approving the air strike could be in very hot water. Bombing a hospital is a war crime. Were these deaths preventable? Yes. Will this be the last time our nation makes so deadly a mistake in Afghanistan? We hope so, but we know that as long as we’re there, it’s likely to happen again. Bring our men and women home. Let the locals cut each other’s throats.


FVCC student chefs warn that raw milk is dangerous

When I began reading the menu (PDF) for the Nurture Me restaurant run by culinary students at Flathead Valley Community College (Flathead Beacon story), my first thought was, “these offerings are so pretentious — Trout en Papillote — that success is assured.”

Then, at the bottom, I found words I’ve never before found on a menu:


Bravo! This is both wisdom and rare honesty, not to mention a great defense for burning food. I’m almost tempted to buy a lunch there so I can lobby the culinary institute’s students to implore their state legislators not to legalize the sale of raw milk in Montana.

Almost, but not quite. I have a narrow pallet. When I read a menu, I want to see roast beef, well done, with mashed potatoes and gravy, and steamed green beans, not a mad chef’s latest experiment in combining kale and snail and fermented turnip garnished with Wisconsin stinkcheese, all served cold with an attitude that would earn the applause of the haughtiest head waiter in Berlin. So I won’t be dining at Nurture Me, which has an exotic menu if not the snob waiters. But if you like trendy fare, consider giving the FVCC eatery a try.


Saturday morning video — Cheesburger in Paradise

A barefoot and balding Jimmy Buffet singing his ode to junk food.


2 October 2015

Montana Public Service Commission becomes dam meddlesome

Yesterday, Montana’s all Republican Public Service Commission petitioned (document, PDF) the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a rehearing on the transfer of the license for the Salish-Kootenai (Kerr) Dam to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Kim Briggeman at the Missoulian has the story.

The PSC did not announce it was considering this rehearing request, let alone hold its own hearing on the wisdom of filing such a request:

The PSC’s filing came “out of the blue,” Brian Lipscomb, president and chief executive officer of Energy Keepers, said Thursday evening.

“We’re a little perplexed by it,” Lipscomb said. “Of course we’ll study it and look at it and the issues the Public Service Commission is raising.”

Ambushing the CSKT like that is dirtier than a crackback block administered after the play is dead. And this play has been dead for 30 years:

…read the rest


1 October 2015

A shooting in Oregon

Updated, 3 October 2015. First reports are often wrong. That’s the first thing to keep in mind about the massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. As of 2014 MDT, the New York Times reports ten persons are dead and seven are wounded. That can change.

The second thing to keep in mind is that it will take days, perhaps weeks, to learn why the now dead shooter, 20-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, conducted his rampage. As additional information is reported, there will be a temptation to fill in the blanks through argument and assumption — that’s the natural consequence of our species’ desire to provide closure and understanding — but it’s best to resolve ambiguities and uncertainty by waiting for more facts.

Updated. Lastly, we should remember that although Oregon is one of seven states that allow carrying concealed weapons on campus, police summoned to the college after the shooting started killed wounded the gunman, who fled, then shot himself and died in an ambulance. Concealed carry didn’t save a single life.


More on Taylor Rose, no big box Flathead jail

Taylor Rose. Montana Cowgirl has more information on Rose, who’s preparing to seek the Republican nomination for House District 3. A Libertarian usually files in that district, sometimes drawing enough votes that the Democratic candidate wins by a plurality. That’s what happened in 2014. Given Rose’s support for Ron Paul, a friend astutely observed that the possibility there could be a Rep. Rose might deter a Libertarian from filing.

Flathead County jail. If there’s a new jail, it won’t be in the old Walmart big box on Highway 2 East. The county tried to buy the building, but was rescued from that folly by a higher bider. Jails should be purpose built, not remodeled department stores.



30 September 2015

Founder of Montanans for Ron Paul files C-1 for House District 3


His name? Taylor Christian Wildebour Rose. His party? Republican. His ambition? To replace Democrat Rep. Zac Perry as Columbia Falls’ representative (HD-3, map) in the Montana legislature. His platform? As yet, unknown, but it may include white planks. His C-1 was received by Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices on 21 September 2015.

Wildebour, in case you’re wondering, is an established surname, probably with roots in Dutch, German, or Afrikaans. Wilde roughly translates as “wild.” Bour may be Romanian for aurochs, the now extinct wild ox from which domestic cattle derive. Wildebour: an interesting name.

And, Taylor Rose, an interesting man.

He graduated in 2011 from Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University in Lynchberg, VA, with a “B.A. in International Relations with a minor in Strategic Intelligence at the Helms School of Government.” He’s bilingual in English and German.

According to his résumé, he’s “…affluent with modern campaign technology such as i360,” and has an “Affluent knowledge of international, national and local politics.” I probably should have inserted [sic] after “affluent,” but perhaps he became a rich man through his association with campaign technology, and perhaps his vast knowledge of politics is that of a rich man.

Rose has been organizing for the Montana Republican Party in Great Falls and Kalispell. Of more interest, perhaps, is his association with the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research, and his former association with World Net Daily, a right leaning internet news outlet that does not enjoy universal respectability.

…read the rest

Service academies prepare future officers for bar fights

Do we want punch-drunk officers leading our military forces in battle? That seems like a stupid question — of course we don’t — but the answer, reports the New York Times, is: Yes! Boxing is a required course at our Army, Navy, and Air Force academies.

According to academy officials, it’s justified despite causing more concussions than football because it’s the best, perhaps the only, way to instill courage in battle in our future officers. Unless those officers are products of R.O.T.C. programs:

…read the rest


29 September 2015

An iPhone and selfie stick will neither impress nor intimidate

Years ago, a political operative in Minneapolis whom I knew used to inflate the importance of a political event by sending to it a camera crew with a huge video or movie camera and powerful lights. Neither videotape nor film was needed. If the event merited the expense of that much equipment and manpower, it must be important.

I was reminded of that showmanship by today’s story at Petapixel on a Swiss television station’s switch from a big crew and equipment to a lone reporter with a iPhone and selfie stick. iPhones lack telephoto reach, but they have excellent image quality; better image quality than the video and 16mm movie cameras of yore. But the presence one person with an iPhone never will hype the importance of an event the way Pete’s camera crew did.

An iPhone, incidentally, is ideal for covering a lot of events. It’s inconspicuous, has high image quality, and can send photographs to the internet in near real time. There are even applications for instantly sending to the internet videos the police might attempt to confiscate.

Do I use an iPhone? No. I prefer a small but high quality camera with better optical reach (a Nikon P310, usually) that doesn’t look like a professional camera and thus attracts much less attention than my big DSLR and telephoto lenses. Sometimes a big camera has its place, but more often than not iPhones and small cameras are the best choice for photographing events at which one can move around freely.



28 September 2015

Flu shot refuseniks are fools and public health menaces

I’m on a blogging lite schedule for a couple of days while I tend to exigent matters, one being obtaining a flu shot. If you have Medicare Part B, you’re covered — your shot costs you nothing — but if you’re condemned to private health insurance, as Jon Cohen reports in Slate, you might not be covered.

There are several flu vaccines, including a high dose variant for old people. The Center for Disease Control has a good table of the different approved vaccines, and there’s even a special website, www.flu.gov, for the malady.

Everyone not allergic to the vaccine should get an influenza vaccination. That’s especially so for health care workers. Refuseniks are both fools and menaces to public health.