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

Flathead Memo Archives, 1–15 February 2016


15 February 2016

Presidents Day briefs

Legislators stretch per diem and ethics by dining on lobbyists’ dime. It’s legal, reports Rep. Andrew Person (D-Missoula) in an oped in today’s Missoulian (thanks, Bob W., for calling this to my attention). The most innocent explanation is that it helps cash strapped legislators stretch their per diem and reduce out-of-pocket cost. But at heart, it’s a bribe and a corrupt practice. Person would prohibit all “gifts” from lobbyists to legislators. He’s right.

Updated at 18:42:36 MST. Not performing an autopsy on Scalia was a mistake. The official cause of death is natural causes. That was determined by official proclamation, not by scientific investigation, and accords with his family’s wishes. But he died unattended, was a sitting justice on the Supreme Court, a figure of enormous importance, and the public’s need to know for certain what caused his death far outweighs the wishes of his family. There is already speculation that his family is covering up evidence of dementia. And at some point, right wing nutcases will allege he was murdered by unknown persons loyal to President Obama — and without an autopsy, there won’t be solid fact to refute such accusations.

Update. Some people vehemently disagree with my position, and have let me know in the kind of clear language Scalia would applaud. They see it as an issue of personal privacy, which is their right. But as the Washington Post notes tonight, authorities in Texas already are coming under fire for their incurious conduct and embrace of diagnosis by telephone. Justice, and the justice, are not being served well.

Identity politics and Obama’s next nomination to the Supreme Court. There are reports aplenty that the leading candidates are mostly women and racial and ethnic minorities. There are disproportionately few white men on these lists. I know some will think it racist of me to say so, but I think Obama should select the best person for the job on the basis of legal knowledge, intelligence, an appreciation of, and compassion for, the human predicament, and judicial temperament. Race, ethnicity, and gender, should neither matter nor be selection criteria.

Montana’s Democrats, as usual, are slow to file for statewide partisan office. So far, only candidate for auditor Jesse Laslovich has filed. Gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock has not filed. Neither has secretary of state candidate Monica Lindeen nor superintendent of public instruction candidate Melissa Romano-Lehman. All have filed C-1s, which allows them to raise money. And, of course, no Democrat has filed for, or filed a C-1 for, or even announced for, attorney general because the MT AFL-CIO and MEA-MFT have endorsed Republican incumbent Tim Fox for the office. Fox filed while the unions were defiling their reputations.

Statewide Democrats like to wait as long as possible before filing, perhaps to collect interest on the filing fee, then hold a series of filing rallies on the steps of the capitol. The rallies are good for a news story, but mainly serve to inspirit the campaign’s staff and volunteers. I think it’s best to file and rally on the first of filing, then from the gitgo run as though one were being chased by the sheriff.

LaVoy Finicum’s death has temporarily deranged Oregon’s legislature. Finicum was killed — and instantly transformed into a martyr — by Oregon’s state police. Exactly how his shooting went down now is being investigated by the Deschutes County (Bend) sheriff’s office. I have questions, but I’m waiting for the report. Meanwhile, the state police, having received threats against the yet unnamed officer who killed Finicum, have asked Oregon’s legislature for a law authorizing police to withhold the officer’s name for three months (the police asked for six months). That bill is being whooped through the legislature as quickly as the Patriot Act was whooped through Congress. I used to live in Oregon, but I don’t remember such reckless behavior by the legislature. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown, incidentally, has not earned accolades of glory for her conduct during the Malheur affair. She never did visit Burns to let its residents know they were just as important to her as the liberals in the Willamette Valley. Then she started screaming for action, which I think could have been a factor in the hastily planned ambush that captured Bundy and killed Finicum.

Ammon Bundy used the occupation as a soapbox for his off the bell curve views, which was his intent, but the occupation also called attention to the right wing land use thugs who have been harassing government workers for decades, which was not his intent. I suspect Bundy and others will be convicted of conspiracy and do hard time, but it would not surprise me if some of the small fry occupiers wangle plea bargains to lesser offenses or even have the charges against them dropped. That’s because it would surprise me if all of the occupiers were found to have the mental capacity to knowingly engage in a conspiracy.

Kudus to Bernie Sanders’ Montana supporters for gathering enough signatures to qualify him for the Montana primary in June. Hillary Clinton’s filing for the primary is still pending. She’ll make the ballot, eventually.

Should Donald Trump have been arrested for disorderly conduct at the Republican debate on Saturday? Or should he just have been sent to sit on a stool in the time-out corner until he improved his manners? And why was Dr. Ben Carson invited to the debate? He received less than three percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. His answer to the two o’clock phone call question — basically, “take two aspirin and see me in the morning after I learn something about the subject” — was embarrassingly naive even for a 13-year-old.



14 February 2016

Bernie Sanders and the Upton Sinclair nightmare scenario

Cartoon in the Los Angeles Examainer

This is the worst case scenario for the Democratic establishment. In 1934, muckraking novelist (The Jungle) and socialist Upton Sinclair won the Democratic nomination for governor of California, receiving more votes than the Republican nominee, sitting governor Frank “Old Baldy” Merrian. Sinclair’s EPIC (End Poverty in California) project proposed public works programs to put people back to wor.

Sinclair led Merrian after Labor Day, scaring the bejesus out of the California establishment, which unleashed a scorched earth campaign against him that was as dirty as it was sophisticated and effective. The definitive account of the campaign is Greg Mitchell’s THE CAMPAIGN OF THE CENTURY: Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics, now available as a $4.99 ebook. But Harold Meyerson’s 5,000-word essay, Bernie and the New Left, neatly summarizes how Sinclair was taken down.

…read the rest


13 February 2016

Scalia’s death

Arch conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, died last night. It was sudden, but he had become increasingly cranky the last couple of years, so to me it wasn’t much of a surprise. No cause of death has been announced yet (16:22:27 MST,) but I suspect it was a stroke, heart attack, ruptured aortic aneurysm, or something similar.

His death opens a seat on the Supreme Court. President Obama will nominate a new justice, but even if he nominates another Scalia, his nominee won’t be approved by the Republican controlled U.S. Senate — unless Mitch McConnell and his colleagues become convinced that a Democrats will win the White House and senate in November. In that case, they might approve Obama’s nominee as the lesser of evils. At least in theory they might do that. In practice, don’t count on it.

And don’t count on Obama’s nominating a progressive. He loves to compromise — he regards compromise as an intrinsic rather than an instrumental good — and might be tempted to nominate a conservative if he deludes himself that the Republicans can be bought off by adopting their position.

Scalia’s passing hurts Bernie Sanders, 74, more than it hurts Hillary Clinton, 68, for it reminds voters that one’s lifespan is not infinite. And in that regard, it helps all Republicans, except Donald Trump, 69, more than it helps Democrats.

I seldom agreed with Scalia, but I usually appreciated his writing, which in his last years degenerated from colorful to strident.



12 February 2016

The New Hillary started the debate, but the Old Hillary finished it

Against my better judgment, I watched Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton debate in Milwaukee last night (transcript), but stopped after 90 minutes because the softer, more refined Hillary at the start of the debate had reverted to the self-important scold that’s her real self.

A few takeaways:

…read the rest


11 February 2016

Note to readers

11:31:34 MST. Flathead Memo is standing down today, but will be back tomorrow.


10 February 2016

If elected President at 75, would Bernie Sanders live two terms?


He probably would, although he might not be as hale at 83 as he is now at 74. According to the National Center for Health Statistics vital statistics report (PDF; Table A, page 3) issued on 6 November 2014, a 75-year-old white man can expect, on average, to live another 11 years. In fact, all of the candidates in both parties can expect to live longer than they would serve as President:


Here are data from Table A presented as a graph:



9 February 2016

Billi files for HD-5, Gianforte bungles fundraiser, and more


Teenaged gun lover Chet Billi files for House District 5 as a Republican. A senior at Whitefish High School, Billi is both running for office and ramrodding an initiative campaign (I-175) to legalize teachers’ packing heat in the classroom. He doesn’t appear to have a campaign website yet, but he does have a Twitter account.

Long term Whitefish school board member David Fern filed for the Democratic nomination for HD-5.

HD-5 (map) is an open seat — two-term Rep. Ed Lieser (D-Whitefish) is retiring — that leans Democratic.


Greg Gianforte has a campaign advertising quality control problem. Montana Cowgirl reports that just before the Superbowl, he “…sent out a football metaphor-laden fundraising email…” that featured a photograph of Gianforte’s lacrosse team. He had a head of thick hair in those days.

Gianforte needs to hire smarter fundraisers. And he needs to be smarter about hiring them, and smarter about supervising them. Getting the facts right matters.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin will be the featured speaker at the Montana Democrats’ Mansfield-Metcalf dinner. That’s 19 March at the fairgrounds in Helena. Tickets are $60 each, but there are ways for Democrats to pay more, a sure sign the economy is improving. Baldwin’s job as speaker is to excoriate Republicans and incite Democrats into a rip-roaring partisan frenzy. I hope she doesn’t take potshots at Bernie Sanders.

Other Democrats will speak. And speak, and speak, and speak. It will be a long evening that requires a special kind of madness to enjoy. I’ll be in Kalispell on 19 March.

Berni Bros dustup is much ado about nothing. Some internet commenters, known as Bernie Bros, are posting demeaning vulgarities about Hillary Clinton. They're independent guttersnipes, not part of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. In fact, some could be pro-Clinton mischief makers conducting a false flag operation. Clinton's campaign is in high dudgeon about the Bros, possibly, asserts Glenn Greenwald, to try to delegitimize all criticism of Clinton, thus precluding a discussion of whether she has the temperament to be President.

This crap, to borrow Bernie Sanders’ term, goes on all the time. Unless it can be traced to a campaign, it’s not a major issue. It’s not a minor issue, either. It’s just an annoyance that’s best ignored.



8 February 2016

Big Dog bites Bernie to protect Hillary

What else would one expect from a husband defending his wife? Yesterday, speaking to a small gathering in New Hampshire, Bill Clinton ripped into Bernie Sanders in a speech that became more mean-spirited the longer he spoke, reports the New York Times:

The former president, addressing a few hundred supporters at a junior high school here, portrayed his wife’s opponent for the Democratic nomination as hypocritical, “hermetically sealed” and dishonest.

…read the rest


6 February 2016

Rosendale goes for state auditor, GOP goes for lands board


State Senator Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive) announced yesterday that he’s running for state auditor. If elected, he would serve as Montana’s commissioner of insurance and securities, and have a seat on the state’s lands board.

Rosendale, a wealthy real estate developer, spent approximately one million dollars of his own money in an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House in 2014. He released a zany campaign video in which he used a deer rifle to shoot down a peeping drone. He also spoke at a Second Amendment Rally in Kalispell that was sponsored by the Oath Keepers.

…read the rest


5 February 2016

Montana Democrats still committing credibility suicide

Jason Pitt, spokesman for Montana’s Democratic Party, was at it again yesterday, issuing a press release calling Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte a “New Jersey multimillionaire.” That’s a lie. Gianforte’s a Montana multimillionaire.

And Pitt’s not the only one lying about Gianforte. In a post at Montana Cowgirl this morning, Justin Robbins called Gianforte a “New Jersey billionaire.”

I’m not going call out Pitt, et al, every time they employ this lie. But I will from time-to-time to remind them that they’re committing political malpractice and credibility suicide, and helping Gianforte instead of hurting him.



4 February 2016

Hillary is a self-righteous scold I’ll never listen to again

I’ll vote for the Democratic nominee even if that nominee is Hillary Clinton. But I’ll never again watch her debate. Or give a speech. Or deliver a sound bite on the evening news. She’s not Presidential. She’s a self-righteous scold. I cannot imagine her staying calm in the Situation Room. I can imagine her getting us into war, but that probably won’t happen because I also can imagine her losing to a Marco Rubio/John Kasich ticket.

Here’s her Tammy Wynette moment during Bill Clinton’s Presidency. You’ll recognize her way of expressing disdain if you watched tonight’s debate:


Are Montana’s independent political bloggers a vanishing breed?

The Missoula Independent asks that question in a 4.500-word article by Alex Sakariassen in which Flathead Memo is mentioned:


…read the rest


3 February 2016

Iowa’s Democratic caucuses are unnecessarily complex and opaque

In the Iowa caucuses, Republicans count the votes, but Democrats count the votes, make arcane calculations, then announce the outcome not in votes but in delegate equivalents, keeping the raw vote tallies secret. I’ve never understood why. It complicates the process, obfuscates rather than clarifies, and multiplies the opportunities for error. That’s a problem in close contests.

Did this gratuitous complexity and opacity result in an inaccurate Democratic count? Some think so. USA Today has a good story on the situation.

…read the rest

MEA-MFT and the GOP, and other Montana briefs

Montana’s biggest union endorses Republican Tim Fox for attorney general. Although organized labor usually endorses Democrats, it’s not a wing of the Democratic Party. In 1972, for example, the Teamsters endorsed Richard Nixon, possibly in exchange for Nixon’s pardoning Jimmy Hoffa. Now the 18,000-member MEA-MFT has endorsed Republican Tim Fox, Montana’s incumbent attorney general, for re-election. If re-elected, Fox reportedly plans to run for governor in 2020, so the union’s leadership is playing a dangerous game.

…read the rest

Where does Denise Juneau stand on the issues?


Democrat Denise Juneau wants to be Montana’s next representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, but she doesn’t seem to want to tell us where she stands on the issues. After Mike Dennison reported yesterday that she’s gay, which caught me by surprise, I checked her website: lots of her personal story, but nothing on the issues.

To borrow a term of emphasis from Bernie Sanders, I don’t give a damn whether she’s gay — that will neither hurt her among Democrats nor help her among Republicans — as long as she doesn’t run an identity politics campaign and comes clean on the issues.

I want to know where she stands on Social Security, health care, energy, foreign policy, breaking up the big banks, college tuition, progressive taxation, helping the middle class get ahead instead of falling behind.

As a citizen and voter I have a right to know where she stands on the issues. As a candidate, she has a responsibility to come clean on the issues.

In detail.




2 February 2016

The natural laws governing average drivers

These laws are not theoretical. They are derived from observations I made while driving through a snowstorm yesterday.

  1. The average driver’s speed is inversely proportional to the road’s coefficient of friction.

  2. The average driver’s speed is inversely proportional to the visibility.

  3. Average drivers believe that reducing risk requires increasing speed to spend less time in the danger zone.


Preliminary takeaways from the Iowa caucuses

8:11:58 MST. With the counting 99+ percent complete, the New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by three tenths of one percent, and that Ted Cruz won the Republican caucuses with 27.7 percent of the vote. Some quick takeaways:

…read the rest


1 February 2016

Gianforte is picking cherries and sour apples

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Greg Gianforte ran into some quantitative turbulence on MTN’s Face the State (watch it on YouTube) yesterday when Montana State University political scientist David Parker asked him whether Montana’s economy was really as bad as he claims.

Gianforte’s been saying that Montana ranks 49th in wages, just above Mississippi, a right to work state that still enjoys the Confederacy’s love of cheap labor. His number comes from the Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

Writing at Big Sky Political Analysis, Parker reports that by other measures, Montana is doing better than next to last:

…read the rest

What I learned at the precinct caucus

I grew up in Minnesota, and thus have some experience with the precinct caucus system as was practiced there by the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. Iowa’s caucus system is similar.

Precinct caucuses reward motivation, enthusiasm, and organization. An insurgency with fired-up and well led activists can have disproportionate success at a caucus if more mainstream campaigns are caught napping and fail to get their activists to the precinct.

…read the rest