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

Archives for 1–15 January 2016


15 January 2016

Malheur occupiers court sheriffs in neighboring counties

Malheur occupiers may be county supremacists. Ammon Bundy’s emissaries are prowling the counties neighboring Harney County, asking the sheriffs to issue statement supporting their armed occupation of the Malheur wildlife refuge. This is right out of the organizing manual of the county supremacy movement. It’s a disturbing development, for it means Bundy, et al, are more deeply ensconced in Cloud Cuckoo Land than we first thought.

…read the rest

Every time Cruz spoke, I heard jackboots clicking on cobblestones

During the GOP debate I kept wondering whether any of the candidates could win the Presidency — and every time I wondered, a cold shiver shook my spine. It shook the hardest when Ted Cruz — Sen. Sneer — spoke. He was bombastic, menacing, full of self-regard, bereft of humility or humor. The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse? You bet; that and worse. Every time he spoke, I heard jackboots clicking on cobblestones. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t sleep well last night.

Ed Kilgore has a perceptive analysis at New York (Kilgore writes from the California coast).


Can these good looking campaign signs be reused?


In theory, yes, if they still exist. Updates could be pasted over the outdated text, but printing new signs would be less hassle and probably not much more expensive. I’d use a slightly darker shade of blue, but otherwise keep the design. From a graphic arts standpoint, these are excellent signs.

Derek and Ronalee, a handsome couple, were standing at the entrance to the Flathead fairgrounds, where they conducted a honk-n-wave on primary election day, 3 June 2014. The geometry of the scene and aesthetic considerations made placing them on the left side of the street unavoidable.



14 January 2014

Hillary smears Bernie on single-pay; is Cruz a natural born citizen?

Losing ground in the polls, Hillary Clinton attacks Bernie Sanders’ support of single-payer health care. No surprise here — HRC never has liked single-payer health care — but plenty of sleaze. And Sanders’ plan may have a dangerous defect (a defect that can be fixed easily).

…read the rest

Filing for political office begins today

The direct link to the Secretary of State’s filing site is: https://app.mt.gov/cgi-bin/filing/index.cgi?ACTION=LIST

Updated 15 January 2016 at 9:35:49 MST. Flathead Memo’s report on Flathead filings will be updated during the day, and tomorrow, with some preliminary analysis ready early next week.

Flathead filings


13 January 2016

There’s a new blog on the right side of Montana


Welcome, www.republicanuprising.com, to Montana’s political blogosphere. You’ll find it under Montana on Flathead Memo’s blogroll. And you’ll find it on the right side of Montana’s political spectrum.

Republican Uprising’s chief blogger is Rep. Matt Monforton (R-Bozeman), an attorney not running for re-election. He intends to stir the elephant stew:

This blog will (hopefully) inspire some Republicans, but by no means all of them. If you’re OK with “bipartisanship” that requires Republicans to continually abandon their principles “until we can get back the White House,” or “until we get back the Governor’s Mansion in Helena,” this site is probably not for you. Nor if you believe that a family seeking to move its third member into the White House in 25 years signifies a healthy republic. Nor if you’re a “Republican” who plans to sleep in on Election Day if the Party actually nominates a conservative for the White House.

Republican Uprising is intended for a different group of Republicans — real Republicans — and is built on four assumptions.

There’s more.

And now there’s once again a political blog on the right in Montana that will be published frequently.


Collaboration is not the answer to Bundy's Malheur occupation

I’d like to see the occupation of the Malheur refuge’s headquarters end without bloodshed. Perhaps that can be accomplished by waiting out the occupiers, the tactic that successfully ended the siege of the Montana Freemen in the 1990s. But the Malheur occupation differs from the Freeman siege in one important respect: the Freemen were holed up on private property, but Ammon Bundy’s Doofus Brigade has seized federal property and is doing damage:

…read the rest

State of the Union 2016: shorter and simpler than the seven before it

President Barack Obama last night delivered what he says was his final state of the union speech (previous SOTUs). He actually has the option of delivering another SOTU speech next January, or sending a written SOTU report to Congress, but Jimmy Carter was the last President to publish a SOTU message at the end of his final year in office. After Carter, Presidents at the end of their last year apparently were more interested in getting their papers to their presidential libraries than in inflicting one last SOTU message on the nation.

Last night’s SOTU was significantly shorter and simpler than Obama’s previous speeches:


Responding for the Republicans, South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley delivered even shorter and simpler remarks — remarks that would have been shorter and simpler still had she resisted the temptation to say “the great state” of South Carolina. She should have said, “I’m Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina.” I can only assume she was practicing for the 2016 national GOP convention.

I ran Student’s T and Wilcoxon tests on Obama’s numbers. His 2016 SOTU is significantly shorter and simpler than his previous SOTUs. The confidence level is 0.95. These results are good for discussions at cocktail parties, but I’d raise an eyebrow if I found them in a scholarly paper. And I would not conclude that the speech was dumbed down so that Republican voters could understand it more easily. Most likely, the differences can be attributed to the choice of subject matter and speech writers.



12 January 2016

Why is tonight SOTU address Obama’s last?

Tonight, President Obama delivers what reportedly will be his last State of the Union address. It need not be. He doesn’t leave office until noon on 20 January 2017, so it seems to me that he’s constitutionally permitted, although perhaps not obligated (Article II, Section 3), to report on the state of the union a year from now. He need not deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress. He could send a written report to Congress and post a copy on the White House’s website.

I won’t be listening to his address tonight. His oratorical style annoys me; always has. Furthermore, the format of the SOTU annoys me. It’s more political spectacle than speech; Obama hates giving it, and his failure to hide his displeasure makes listening a double ordeal.

Nor do I wish to see reaction shots of scofflaw Kim Davis and the other guests who were invited — both by the White House and Congress — to personify political points. It’s a practice that cheapens the event.

Citizens have a duty to know what’s in the SOTU. Illiterates must watch or at least listen. Everyone else has the option of reading the transcript.

Reading is what I’ll be doing, quaffing a stiff one before perusing the transcript, and having the chemicals for more stiff ones in reserve. I don’t know yet whether I’ll inflict commentary on you tomorrow.


Switching to an all vote by mail system is still a bad idea

Vote by mail cheerleader Phil Keisling, a former Secretary of State for Oregon, which votes only by mail, is at it again, this time with a screed in the Washington Monthly. Keisling, who must be much beloved by the U.S. Postal Service, thinks everyone should vote by mail. So do a lot of Democrats.

The usual argument is that switching to vote by mail increases voter turnout. That’s true in traditionally low turnout elections, such as school and municipal elections. But a better cure for low turnout is moving these elections to the standard primary and general elections in even numbered years.

I looked at Oregon’s recent voting history, found no evidence that it’s true for the turnout of the voting eligible population in Oregon for general elections in Presidential and midterm years.

At the WM, blogger Martin Longman gave Keisling’s article a loving review. What follows is adapted from my response to Longman, which was not universally well received (one Stalinist accused me of repeating Republican talking points):

…read the rest


11 January 2016

Memo to candidates for public office

Filing for the legislature? A statewide or regional office? Flathead Memo would like to hear from you. Please send your press release, which should contain the URL for your campaign’s website, and a coherent explanation of why you’re running for office, the photograph of yourself that you’ll use as your standard campaign mug shot, and if you like, your résumé or CV.

A couple of quick points:

Please explicitly describe your education. If you graduated from high school or college, say so. For example, “Graduated from the Western University of Politics in 1999 with a B.A. in gladhanding.” If you say, “Studied at the Western University of Politics,” I’ll interpret that as meaning you took courses at that institution, but either dropped out, flunked out, or were not admitted to a degree program.

I don’t care whether you sign the campaign fair practices pledge. I would not sign it — not because I would be planning to campaign unfairly, but because I believe the pledge is insulting and has no bearing on whether a candidate will run a clean or dirty campaign.



8 January 2016

MT Dems lie again, Ben Long cudgels Bundys, Malheur not terrorism

Montana Democrats demote Gianforte from billionaire to multi-millionaire. Gianforte’s rich, but he’s probably not a billionaire, so “multi-millionaire” is closer to the truth. Indeed, it probably is the truth, making the demotion an act of honesty.

But Montana Democratic Party spokesman Jason Pitt is back to prefacing Gianforte’s wealth status with “New Jersey,” which is not the truth. It’s a lie, a schoolyard taunt. It’s unprofessional, and it undermines the veracity of the rest of the press release. Why Jim Larson, chair of the party, Nancy Keenan, its executive director, and Gov. Steve Bullock's re-election campaign, think Pitt’s lies help their party and their party’s candidates is beyond my ken.

Ben Long’s essay on public lands and Bundy’s militia. The Hill today published an essay by Kalispell writer and conservationist Ben Long that puts the occupation of the headquarters of the Malheur wildlife refuge into political and historical context. As he rightly observes, this incident is part of a long standing, powerful, and determined movement to convert the lands we all own to private ranches, mines, and oil fields:

Make no mistake: the Bundy clan is one arm of a political monster that wants to grab and demolish America’s legacy of public lands. This “land transfer” movement isn’t all hicks in felt hats, spewing legal nonsense and toting granddad’s horse pistol. It includes lobbyists and attorneys with polished boots and fat wallets, working diligently from western capitals to Washington D.C.

Like the old song says: Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.

Today, they are aiming at a remote National Wildlife Refuge. Tomorrow, it will be your favorite national forest campground, fishing stream or hunting spot. Who knows where they will stop: Yellowstone and Grand Canyon are on their maps.

That may sound over the top, but it’s not. Modern efforts to make public lands private date from the post-war 1940s, when the stockgrowers, then as now ringleaders of the movement, tried to grab public land. Their attempting hijacking failed after historian Bernard DeVoto, in his classic in Harpers, The West Against Itself, blew the whistle on their scheme.

The Malheur occupation is neither civil disobedience, nor terrorism, not sedition. Instead, it’s a dangerous publicity stunt by potentially dangerous people, but that so far has been peaceful.

The refuge’s HQ was not occupied when Bundy’s adventurers arrived. Nothing was seized at gunpoint or by threat. The Doofus Brigade just opened the bunkhouse door, possibly without force, and walked in with their cigarettes, canned beans, ramen noodles, and cell phones, over which they announced their grandiose objectives. Yes, they had long guns and sidearms, but they didn’t use them.

  1. It’s not civil disobedience because the occupiers not protesting the laws against the unauthorized use of federal property that they’re breaking.

  2. It’s not terrorism because the occupation of the Malheur has not been violent. The actual terrorists are the Hammonds, now in prison for arson, and with a history of threatening federal employees, and other scofflaw reactionaries in the Great Basin.

  3. It’s not sedition because they’re not trying to overthrow the government, the local sheriff’s incendiary characterization of the incident notwithstanding.

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall, who becomes more stridently politically correct by the hour, calls the occupation “white privilege performance art,” a term Paul Krugman likes. But while that’s a colorful rhetorical flourish, it’s not accurate. The occupation of the Malheur is not about race. It’s about land management policies that the Bundys and their ragtag militia don’t like. Occupying the refuge’s HQ gives them a soapbox for venting their frustrations and grievances. It’s cow pasture political theatre. Think Viva Max!, or Gilbert and Sullivan, not 9/11 or the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City.

The occupation will continue for awhile, but not forever. Law enforcement officers are standing back, with federal agents standing way back, letting Bundy and his boys stew in their own stupidity. It’s the same approach that succeeded with the Montana Freemen 20 years ago. At some point, the Malheur occupiers’ story will cease being interesting, their wives will tell them to come home, and they’ll pack up and leave, taking advantage of Sheriff Ward’s offer of safe passage out of the county. Then they’ll face federal charges.

The Malheur occupiers’ provocations are exasperating, infuriating, and not without an element of danger. But it’s important not to overreact to them. That’s what they want. Let them strut and preen and prattle until reality sinks in fully and they’re finally ready to listen to reason.

And its equally important to focus less on the publicity stunt at the Malheur and more on the low level terrorism — threats, slashed tires, etc. — against federal employees that occurs on an almost daily basis in the American west’s empty quarter — low level terrorism that’s sometimes tacitly countenanced by politicians of both parties. The Bureau of Land Management and federal government backed away from a confrontation with Cliven Bundy, perhaps wisely, then failed to follow through by collecting Bundy’s unpaid grazing fees by another method, and quietly arresting the militia types who brandished weapons and threatened federal employees. That lack of follow through emboldened Ammon Bundy and his brothers to believe they could occupy the Malheur with impunity.



7 January 2016

Example of an independently distributed energy resource

After I posted an essay on distributed generation, a term I find maddeningly imprecise, Travis Kavulla Tweeted “Use ‘distributed energy resources:’ a more encompassing, descriptive term than generators.” A fair point, and I thank him for taking time to make it. Energy resource includes energy storage as well as generation, making it a more useful term for utility regulators (and a more maddeningly imprecise term for me).

Distributed energy resources are connected to the grid. Independently distributed energy resources can be but not always are. For me, the fundamental distinction is that when the grid goes down, independently distributed energy resources do not. For others, drawing the distinction may require a masterpiece of Medieval hairsplitting that would make a Jesuit jealous.

Here’s a photograph of an independently distributed — and unregulated — LED sidewalk light powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery charged by a thin film photovoltaic system. No net metering here; just the immense satisfaction of owning my own micro electric utility and operating it without government interference … so far.



Stand alone dead tree edition of Bigfork Eagle, RIP

Long live the digital edition. The Eagle’s final stand alone printed edition of 2015 was the Eagle’s final stand alone printed edition. A printed version may return as a wrapper for the Daily InterLake, but for now the Eagle survives as a website.

According to publisher Rick Weaver, the Eagle wasn’t profitable. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Eagle was losing money. It could mean it wasn’t making enough money to justify the effort required to produce a stand alone printed edition.

The printed Eagle’s demise is not surprising. Bigfork is too small to support a traditional weekly, and the Eagle faced competition from the InterLake, Missoulian, Flathead Beacon (an outstanding weekly), and local television stations. Publishing only online makes both more cents and more sense.

My thanks to Pete Talbot at Intelligent Discontent for his post on the Eagle’s predicament. I would have missed it otherwise. And my best wishes to former Eagle staffers Dave Reese and Sally Finneran.



6 January 2016

Guns and Obama, judges and money, blogger attacks older Americans

No, President Obama isn’t planning to confiscate our firearms. But he is planning to require checking the background of everyone attempting to purchase a firearm. Unless you’re a crook, a crazy, or a crackpot, this won’t affect you. I’d elaborate, but J.M. Brown’s post at The Western Word this morning makes that unnecessary.

Dan Wilson is taking another crack at being elected district judge. He filed a C-1 statement of candidacy with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices on 3 January. He’s going after the vacancy created by Judge David Ortley’s retirement. In 2012, Wilson ran for the district court judgeship won by Robert Allison.

Wilson’s quest will be joined by others. All will promise justice so pure that by comparison newly fallen snow seems as dirty as coal dust mixed with ordure. Meanwhile, they’ll be grateful for campaign contributions from attorneys who may try cases before them.

East of Billings blog claims older Americans are climate ignoramuses. In an otherwise interesting post on Gov. Bullock’s new Interim Clean Power Plan Advisory Council, EOB blogger (and outstanding photographer) Alexis Bonogofsky cast aspersions on what I presume is her parents’ generation:

Let’s start with the age problem. Besides Diego Rivas, who is 34, as far as I can tell, almost all of the other appointees are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. To be completely blunt, this is a generation that will not be around to deal with many of the extreme impacts from climate change. I’m not even sure half them believe climate change is happening. How are they supposed to come up with a plan to address something they don’t think is real?

Age problem? Bill McKibben, 55, is too old to think climate change is real? Al Gore, 67, is too old to think climate change is real? Bernie Sanders, 74, is too old to think climate change is real? Gov. Jerry Brown, 77, is too old to think climate change is real? Retired University of Montana economics professor and State Senator Richard Barrett is too old to think climate change is real? Retired University of Montana economics professor, and outspoken critic of coal smoke, Tom Power is too old to think climate change is real?

If there’s an age problem, it’s that Bonogofsky is not old enough to know better than to write such nonesense.

She also isn’t old enough to know better than to write sexist nonesense:

As a woman and someone who knows many qualified and smart Montana women in the energy and climate change field it is shocking to see that we make up a meager 14% of the council with only two who live in Montana. Two of those women are lawyers from utilities in Washington and Oregon that are invested in Colstrip. One is an attorney in Bozeman who seems to have recently moved there. One woman, Kathy Hadley, is from Montana and has extensive experience and knowledge of Montana’s energy history and also a personal commitment to the state of Montana.

This from the first state to send a woman to Congress. It’s offensive.

This is pure Democratic Party gender identity politics and affirmative action quota ideology. Do I find it offensive? No. I find it mighty damned offensive. The male to female ratio of the council’s membership is irrelevant to its task.



5 January 2016

Just what is the official, precise, definition of distributed generation?

That’s a trick question. There isn’t an official definition, let alone a precise definition. “Distributed generation” is one of those terms that sounds important, has a precise definition for each person who uses it, and almost as many precise, and thus precisely differing, definitions as the number of persons using it. But unofficially, it’s shorthand for net-metered photovoltaic, and perhaps wind, generation.

…read the rest

Malheur occupiers not terrorists, Hammonds not saints

Contrary to what some are asserting, the people who are occupying the headquarters of the Malheur refuge are not terrorists. Yes, they’re armed, some are itching for a fight, and all are piling up violations of federal law at an impressive rate, but so far they’re only trying to draw attention to a political cause. They’re not killing or injuring people, taking hostages, or burning down or blowing up buildings, trying to frighten and intimidate people to effect political change. Instead, they’re preening and strutting, enjoying and exploiting news media coverage of the event, and painting themselves into a corner by making demands to which no government can agree:

…read the rest


4 January 2016

Senate District 40 could have epic Democratic primary


Updated. Senate District 40 (map) leans Republican, but its most interesting primary may be a contest between two Democrats — Hal Jacobsen and Joshua Manning (left) — that pits experience and age against youth and hunger.

The 3,128-square-mile district begins on the west side of Helena in House District 79 (represented by Jenny Eck, D-Helena) and merges with House District 80, currently represented by Mike Miller (R-Helmsville) (he’s not running for re-election). The northwest corner of HD-80/SD-40 is only 28.5 miles southeast of Flathead Lake, but almost 100 miles from Helena.

In the low turnout 2014 midterm election, Eck prevailed in HD-79, but Miller prevailed by a wider margin in HD-80, so that overall, the senate district voted Republican by a ten point margin.


By some definitions SD-40 is a swing district. Based on the results in 2014, I’d say it leans Republican but in a high turnout Presidential election with a popular Democrat at the top of the ticket, it’s not out of reach for a hard working, well funded, straight shooting Democrat who presents himself as open minded and who doesn’t pander.

…read the rest


3 January 2016

Militia’s Doofus Brigade and Bundy’s boys secede from reality in Oregon

Could this have been inspired by watching Viva Max! and taking a swig too many of Wild Turkey? Yesterday, a militia from somewhere, and two of Cliven Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan, seized and occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which is located 30 miles south of Burns, OR.

The Oath Keepers issued a statement making clear they were not involved.

According to the Oregonian:

Ryan Bundy said there were no hostages, but the group is demanding that the Hammonds [local ranchers found guilty of arson] be released and the federal government relinquish control of the Malheur National Forest.

He said many would be willing to fight — and die, if necessary — to defend what they see as constitutionally protected rights for states, counties and individuals to manage local lands.

“The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control,” he said. “What we’re doing is not rebellious. What we’re doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.”

Government sources told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the militia also was planning to occupy a closed wildland fire station near the town of Frenchglen. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management posts crews there during the fire season.

There’s more, much more, so be sure to read the stories in the Oregonian.

The demands of the occupiers, who are piling up federal felonies by the minute, won’t be granted, of course. They may hold out in the refuge’s headquarters for days, weeks, or months, but eventually they’ll either surrender peacefully or be removed by force, after which time they’ll end up in the hoosegow for a good long while.

Meanwhile, the wildlife refuge can be administered from another location.

This is far more serious than the confrontation at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch last year, a confrontation that ended when federal authorities backed down to avoid a shootout. Exercising that restraint prevented bloodshed, but it probably also encouraged Bundy’s sons and hardcore militia members and far right hotheads to believe that the federal government will back down in this situation.

That won’t happen. Charging the Doofus Brigade with treason for conducting an insurrection would be a stretch, but occupying the Malheur’s HQ is criminal trespass at a minimum — and the U.S. Attorney undoubtedly will see it as a lot more than that.



1–3 January 2016

Happy New Year

Flathead Memo is standing down until Monday, 4 January 2016 — unless, of course, something deserving of comment happens.