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

Archives index for September 1 – 15, 2015

15 September 2015

Democratic lying about Greg Gianforte is political malpractice

They’re at it again, Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Nancy Keenan and her subordinates, calling Bozeman businessman and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Greg Gianforte a “New Jersey billionaire.”

That’s a scurrilous, baldfaced, lowdown lie.

 Updated 27 January 2017.  And Montanans know it. Gianforte’s lived, worked, and voted in Montana for the last 20 years. He was born in California, went to high school in Pennsylvania, received his college education in New Jersey, and made his first millions there, but he became a very rich man in Montana, the state he chose to make his home. Most of his millions were made in Montana, not in New Jersey.

So why are Montana’s Democrats calling him a New Jersey billionaire?

…read the rest

Northwest Montana political briefs

Although formal filing for the 2016 election must wait until January, candidates are already announcing their interest, and formalizing fundraising, by filing C-1 statements with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices. Getting going now is smart. Here are the legislative candidates in Flathead and Lake Counties who have filed C-1s as of today.

…read the rest


14 September 2015

Montana’s “Medicaid expansion” is nothing to celebrate

In fact, the system inflicted on Montana by SB-405, Republican State Senator Ed Buttrey’s bill that Democrats embraced with unrestrained enthusiasm, really isn’t Medicaid expansion. It’s a scheme for helping private health insurers by converting federal money for expanding Medicaid into private health insurance policies for the poor. It levies a two percent tax (called a premium) on the poor, requires the highest possible copays,* and creates a gratuitous third party administrator to keep the program away from government. It’s designed to harass and humiliate the poor while helping hospitals and private health insurers.

It’s nothing to celebrate — those who supported and support it should be burning with shame and begging forgiveness — but on 16 September in Missoula, the Montana Budget and Policy Center is holding a get-together “…to celebrate the passage of Medicaid expansion, support the work of MBPC, and hear what exciting projects we have coming up next.”

The MBPC’s mission statement is a minor masterpiece of the genre:

To advance responsible tax, budget, and economic policies through credible research and analysis in order to promote opportunity and fairness for all Montanans.

Celebrating SB-405 is a mighty strange way of promoting opportunity and fairness.



12 September 2015

First look at Flathead Electric’s Stillwater photovoltaic array

Flathead Electric’s Stillwater community solar project is nearing completion. Although the contractor’s work wagon is still onsite, the photovoltaic array’s 356 panels are in place, clearly visible from West Reserve Drive, one-third mile to the south.


Taken an hour before sundown on 11 September 2015. Larger image.

…read the rest

The three states of net metering

Sunny Southern California is ideal for generating electricity using solar energy. Rooftop solar systems and net metering there are popular with homeowners and businesses, but not with investor owned utilities. The Vote Solar Initiative commissioned Crossborder Energy (Berkeley, CA) to produce a 101-page report (PDF), released in January, 2013, on the benefits and costs of net metering in California, that contains an exceptionally clear description of net metering. Below, the key chart from the report, followed after the jump by the definitions for each net metering state.


…read the rest


11 September 2015

Remembering 9/11, Willman comes to Ronan, Nelson on Davis

Remembering the 9/11 attacks. Fourteen years ago, 11 September was a golden late summer’s day in Kalispell, just like today. When I opened CNN’s website, there was a large photograph of smoke bellowing from the north trade tower in New York City. At first I thought CNN might have been hacked, but television confirmed that a passenger jet had crashed into the building. I knew immediately it was a terrorist attack: airliners do not accidentally fly into skyscrapers. But some people denied the obvious until another airliner slammed into the south tower.

As a nation, we were shaken. And shaken, we did not react well. President George W. Bush flew west at 500 knots, his face stricken with shock and fear, before returning to Washington, D.C., to deliver what I thought was a terrible speech (see the speech he should have given). The so-called Patriot Act followed, as did our invasion of Afghanistan and our war of choice in Iraq. More Americans were killed in those wars than on 9/11, and we are less free, and more fearful, than before.

…read the rest


10 September 2015

Psst, Verdell, Bob, Larry Kogan — there’s uranium in Turkey

And there’s more than enough for a bomb or two. According to Turkey’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, that nation’s uranium reserves may exceed 9,000 tonnes, perhaps more, depending on the price of yellowcake (U3O8)

Turkey's report is corroborated by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (2014 report, PDF).

There’s even a tentative plan to mine the uranium. Tetra Tech, an engineering firm in Denver, CO, produced a pre-feasibility study (PDF) on the Temrezli project, which is approximately 125 miles east of Ankara, for Anatolia Energy Limited.

Anatolia recently merged with Uranium Resources. As a result:

A US uranium processing plant could be shipped to Turkey to fast-track uranium production under a newly announced merger of Uranium Resources Inc with Australian uranium and exploration company Anatolia Energy, owner of the Temrezli uranium project.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Uranium Resources controls extensive uranium mineral holdings in Texas and New Mexico, as well as licensed in situ leach (ISL) processing facilities at Rosita and Kingsville Dome, both of which are currently on standby. The combination of Uranium Resources’ in-house technical abilities and ISL operations, coupled with Anatolia’s advanced project, provides a potential fast-track to uranium production, the companies said.

On completion of the merger, the companies say they will investigate the possibility of relocating the Rosita processing plant to Temrezli. This, they said, would greatly reduce the up-front capital costs of the Turkish project, where Anatolia had planned to construct a 1.2 million pounds U3O8 (462 tU) per year central processing plant. The companies said that up to $8 million could be saved by reusing the Rosita plant at Temrezli, while a further $3 million could be saved by making use of Uranium Resources’ in-house design expertise.

So why would Turkey need to flim-flam the CSKT, the Hopi and the Navaho, et al, into digging up uranium in the United States?

Moreover, Turkey’s not interested in enriching uranium (increasing the concentration of the fissile isotope, U235):

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız denied Turkey had any interest in enriching uranium through the nuclear deal with Japan, claiming a demand for uranium enrichment allowance was only aimed at learning about the nuclear fuel production process.

So, let’s recapitulate. Turkey has plenty of uranium, and plans to mine it but not enrich it. Turkey signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Turkey belongs to NATO, and thus is an ally of the United States. If Turkey mines its uranium, it probably will do so with equipment shipped from from a mothballed uranium mine in New Mexico.

As an argument, the atomic scare in the Keenan v. Bay complaint is a fizzle.



9 September 2015

The great wall of Parkridge Drive

Construction of the almighty Kalispell westside bypass resumes in October. It’s going to be mighty inconvenient for residents living west of the bypass who usually travel to town on Two Mile Drive. And it’s already inconvenient for motorists and pedestrians who used to take Parkridge Drive east from Stillwater Road. Parkridge was closed on 28 August, and on the west end it was closed brutally:


Taken on the evening of 28 August. The barrier to stop pedestrians had been cut before I stopped to make this photograph.

Why the authorities tried to stop pedestrian and bicycle traffic defies explanation. Once the road was closed between Stillwater and Barron, the closed section was safer than ever for foot and bicycle traffic. The Great Wall of Parkridge was breached immediately, leading to this:

…read and view the rest


8 September 2015

What would happen to a Kim Davis in Montana?

First, a summary of the situation as of mid-afternoon today. Then, some questions.

Out of jail, but perhaps not for long. Kim Davis, the elected county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples — she says her religion forbids it — is out of jail, at least temporarily. Federal Judge David Bunning released her and gave her an order (PDF):

Defendant Davis shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples. If Defendant Davis should interfere in any way with their issuance, that will be considered a violation of this Order and appropriate sanctions will be considered.

She’s apparently learned nothing from her stay in the quod. According to Talking Points Memo:

…read the rest


7 September 2015

Labor Day anthem: The Banks Are Made of Marble

An apple farmer in New York, Les Rice, wrote The Banks Are Made of Marble in the late 1940s. Pete Seeger made the song famous (lyrics and album liner notes). Others, such as the Solidarity Singers below, have written lyrics relevant to their occupations. Some have messed with, and messed up, the melody. Yet others have added instruments not usually associated with folk music.

Contemporary protest singer David Rovics delivered a stirring, upbeat performance befitting the song at Occupy Memphis. The video is dark and the sound a bit harsh, but no matter: the power of the anthem transcends all. Seeger’s version lacks Rovics’ urgency, but still provides uplift. The Fulkinetic performance provides funk. And the Solidarity Singers — who may be part of the Solidarity Singers who hound Scott Walker in Wisconsin — well, they provide a trombone, a sousaphone, and tremendous enthusiasm.

…listen to the rest


5 September 2015

Kerr Dam renamed Salish Kootenai Dam; TRO denied

Kerr Dam on the Flathead River below Flathead Lake was named for Frank Kerr, chairman of Montana Power when the dam was built. Montana Power is no more, a victim of corporate suicide. Frank Kerr is dead. And the concrete arch dam, now owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, has a new name: the Salish Kootenai Dam.

“I look forward to not ever mentioning the previous name again,” said Vernon Finley, chairman of the CSKT, this morning near the conclusion of the transfer ceremony and celebration in Ronan.

Broadcast over the internet to CSKT members in all 50 states, the event featured fascinating movies and still photographs of the dam’s construction, much traditional music and many drums, and a fine a cappella performance of the Star Spangled Banner.

The CSKT’s acquisition of the dam, built on tribal land, ends a great injustice. In allowing private investors to build and own the dam, the federal government failed to discharge its obligation to protect the best interests of the tribes, which should have had ownership of the dam from the gitgo.

…read the rest


4 September 2015

If the CSKT get Kerr Dam, will Turkey get The Bomb?

Jackson Grable_blast

That’s a distinct possibility, State Senator Bob Keenan (R-Bigfork) and former Montana legislator Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell), now a Flathead Conservation District supervisor just told a federal district court. Never mind that Turkey is a 28 January 1969 signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. According to Keenan, et al, there may be uranium within 100 miles of the CSKT reservation, Turkey is active engaged with various American Indian tribes, the Muslim Brotherhood is active in Turkey, and maybe the CSKT can’t be trusted to operate Kerr Dam (which will be renamed) in the national interest.

Therefore, Keenan, Jackson, and co-plaintiff Pointer Enterprises, Inc., a Bigfork tour boat operator, want the court to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the scheduled 5 September transfer of the dam’s ownership from Northwestern to the CSKT and the CSKT subsidiary, Energy Keepers, Inc., that will operate the dam. Time is needed, the plaintiffs allege, to investigate the national security implications of the transfer.

I’m not making this up. This argument — or delusion — is laid out in vivid detail in Keenan’s and Jackson’s brief. Here’s a sample:

…read the rest


3 September 2015

Ambush videographer James O’Keefe should jump in the lake

Which lake? Flathead Lake. O’Keefe will be in Bigfork next week, speaking at the Crossroads Church to aficionados of his Nixonian style of video based clandestine political investigation. Admission is two sawbucks for those old enough to vote, five bucks for those too young to vote.

O’Keefe’s a political stalker. His supporters think he walks on water, so while he’s in the Flathead he should jump in — or on — the lake.



2 September 2015

Summer of 2015 third driest for Swan River

For June through August, 1923–2015, only during the summers of 1941 and 1944 did less water flow down the Swan River than did this summer (download spreadsheet). The spring of 2015 is another story, as an early runoff sent a lot of water down the river. For much of this summer, the Swan’s streamflow was lower than the Minimum Enforceable Flows in the CSKT water compact approved by the Montana Legislature and Gov. Steve Bullock.


Gianforte lets Democrats build his platform


Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte has a website that asks for your contact information and money, but lacks an issues page. It even lacks a biography.

Two of his primary opponents, Brad Johnson and Mark Perea have fully developed websites with biographies and platforms. Johnson is an experienced candidate who knows how to launch a campaign. Perea is a rookie, but he took care to define himself lest others do the defining.

Gianforte is taking no such care. He’s been traveling the state for months in an undeclared campaign mode, listening to voters and speaking his mind. He clearly has some some notion of what he would do as governor — but so far, he’s not nailed his rough hewn planks into even a rudimentary platform.

Therefore the Montana Democratic Party is building his platform for him, issuing press release after press release defining his stands on the issues.

Gianforte’s approach amounts to letting one’s ex-spouse-to-be write one’s briefs in a divorce case. Democrats will not define Gianforte in a way that burnishes his political profile. Why is he letting himself be defined by the Democrats? What kind of political advice is he receiving? And if this advice is coming from his political staff, he may need to adopt Donald Trump’s approach to correcting a mistake in hiring.



1 September 2015

Greg & Dr. Ed & Mr. LaBreche; fire stats; Lair v. Bullock amended

Scientist and plumber pound on Gianforte. Greg Gianforte, the Bozeman businessman who sold his company and now is looking for steady work as Governor of Montana, is in trouble with a Republican physicist in Bigfork, and a Democratic plumber in Butte.

…read the rest


31 August 2015

SD 5 trustees should review Glacier High’s Smoke Bowl decision

We’ve enjoyed fresh air in the Flathead since Saturday, but for Monday through Friday the smoke got in our eyes, our lungs, and on our nerves. Our air was officially Very Unhealthy. That didn’t deter football crazed Glacier High School from playing Helena at Legends Field (a better name would be Concussion Flats) in Kalispell. Glacier canceled the junior varsity game scheduled for 1500 MDT because of smoke, but played the varsity game at 1900 despite the quality of the air in the evening being more unhealthy than before the junior varsity game.

School District 5’s trustees meet on 8 September. They need to review Glacier High’s decision to play. Later this week, I’ll have more on the questionable decision making that led to the Smoke Bowl. Meanwhile, here are the Flathead’s air quality numbers for 28 August.



29 August 2015

A reminder: there really is such a thing as clear, cool, mountain air

Here’s Oesch’s die Dritten’s antidote to summer smoke. The melody is pleasant enough — I love yodeling — but I chose this video primary for the snow and the cool, clear mountain vistas, and the virtual relief from our hot and smokey predicament they provide. Vom Berg hallt ein Jodler roughly translates as “From the mountain echoes a yodel,” or perhaps as “A yodel echoes from the mountain.”



28 August 2015

Glacier High should cancel its Smoke Bowl football game

They take football seriously at Glacier High. Too seriously. The Flathead Beacon reports that Bigfork canceled its home football game tonight — but that Glacier High still plans hosting Helena in Kalispell after dinner. The GHS junior varsity game was scheduled to begin half an hour ago. Although the one-hour concentration might drop below 100 µg/m^3 by 1900, the players have been breathing bad air for a week. That has to have a cumulative effect. It’s hard to make a case that Glacier’s officials are making a responsible decision by going forward with the games.

I do not, incidentally, entirely trust the low late afternoon one-hour particulate concentrations for the Flathead. From my vantage point, there’s not been a corresponding improvement in visibility.


Do only mad dogs and Montanans go out in the midday smoke?

Update, 1530 MDT. The graph now displays data through 1400 today. There’s not much sun at solar noon — the coughing hour — this week, but there’s certainly plenty of smoke. That, as displayed by the graph below, is when the particulate concentration in the Flathead has been peaking.

Historical note. After Mount Saint Helens erupted in May, 1980, fine ash from the eruption filled the Flathead Valley. At its peak concentration, the load of total suspended particulates in the Flathead was at least 7,366 µg/m^3 (in Washington, loads triple that were reported). The now defunct Kalispell Weekly News, mixing up its units, reported the total particulate load was 7,366 megagrams per cubic inch, an error of almost 18 orders of magnitude. Data for ≤ 2.5-micron particulates for the Saint Helens ash in the Flathead may exist, but I have yet to locate that information.



27 August 2015

Mike Dennison returns to the newsroom

There’s good news for Montanans who appreciate excellent reporting. Mike Dennison just announced via email that starting Monday, he’ll be the chief political reporter for the Helena based Montana Television Network:

I’ll be covering the same beat and subjects as I have before — campaigns, Congress, the Legislature, the governor, health care, energy, corrections, education — and hopefully much more. I’ll be working with Sanjay Talwani in MTN’s Helena office, as well as everyone else on the talented MTN news team across the state. I’ll be writing for MTN’s websites, appearing on TV to talk about the stories, and helping develop stories for broadcast on MTN’s newscasts statewide.

My new work email will be mdennison@kxlh.com and my telephone will be 406-465-7476. You’re welcome to email, text or call me, or contact me via Twitter or Facebook, with news tips, or, of course, to say hello and talk!

I’m thrilled to be back in the biz after departing from Lee Newspapers in May, and thankful that MTN is committed to investing in good journalism in Montana.

We’re glad you’re back in the saddle, Mike, and ready for another long and interesting ride with you.


Bad air in the Flathead

Yesterday was one of this summer’s most miserable days in the Flathead. A high of 93°F, relative humidity down to 14 percent, almost a dead calm, smoke dimmed sunlight, and the highest particulate concentrations of the year. At 1100 MDT, the one-hour concentration was 141 µg/m^3. Two hours later it had doubled: 282 µg/m^3. This is heat exhaustion weather. It’s also weather that makes people edgy and irritable.

Below, a graph of particulate concentrations in the Flathead for the last seven days.

…read the rest


26 August 2015

Autofocus does not work well in heavy smoke

Autofocus does not work well for low contrast, smoke veiled subjects. I’m compiling a timestamped visual history of the visibility from my front porch by photographing Kalispell Regional Hospital, which is a bit less than two miles distant. When the hospital fades into the haze, which it started to do around 1100 MDT today, the particulate concentration is high. When I made the image below, the concentration was 141 µg/m^3. Two hours later, the concentration had doubled to 282 µg/m^3.

Ordinarily I use an 18–135mm or 55–200mm autofocus zoom with my DX DSLR (and a tripod), but with the heavy smoke we’re experiencing, each lens hunts for, but misses, sharp focus much of the time no matter whether I use phase or contrast detection autofocus. The solution, of course, is manual focus. Neither zoom, however, is easily focused manually. Therefore, I’ve been using a 30-year-old manual focus lens, a Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ais telephoto, that has a hard stop at infinity. At f/8, it’s just as sharp as my autofocus lenses, and much easier to use in this situation.


If you don’t have the option of using an old manual focus lens, and you’re having trouble focusing on a soft, low contrast target at a distance, see if your camera has a landscape mode that sets the lens to infinity. Otherwise, bracket your focus.



25 August 2015

Flathead air quality for August

Note to readers. Flathead Memo will be on a posting-lite status for the next few days as I tend to exigent matters and perform some under-the-hood maintenance on the website.

It’s seriously smokey in the Flathead, eye-wateringly smokey, unhealthily smokey. As of 0800 MDT this morning, the one-hour count for respirable particulates (≤ 2.5 microns in diameter) was 99 µg/m^3, the 24-hour average was 116 µg/m^3, and visibility was only two to three miles. The 24-hour average falls into the Very Unhealthy category according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. And we’re not the only area in Montana where visibility is low and particulates are high. St. Mary, Frenchtown, Missoula, and Hamilton, also have Very Unhealthy air.

Below, I’ve plotted the one and 24-hour averages for the Flathead for 1–24 August. The DEQ posts daily time series plots for the Flathead, but it does not seem to post monthly graphs. Later today, I’ll try to post a spreadsheet with the data used for the graph, and daily box plots for August.