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

Flathead Memo Archives, 1–15 May 2016


15 May 2016

Why Republicans are falling into line behind Trump


Across the nation, reports Politico, state and local Republican parties, with varying degrees of grumbling, are deciding that resistance is futile as well as disloyal, and are getting behind Donald Trump as their presidential nominee.

Anyone who is surprised by this might consider the behavior of Catholics (no, my name notwithstanding, I’m not Catholic) upon learning that their priests bugger choir boys and that some of their popes are reactionary tyrants. Their souls may be shaken, their hearts may be saddened, but they neither abandon their faith nor leave their church. Instead, they pray for reform, demand changes, but keep going to mass. Men of the church have failed, but their church and their love for it endure.

Thus it is with Republicans (and Democrats). A political party is as much a secular religion as it is an organization for seizing control of the government. Membership in a political party is a statement of agreement with a political philosophy; agreement with a set of principles and prescriptions for governing our worldly conduct with each other. Just as devout Catholics distinguish pedophile priests from their church’s greater glory, loyal Republicans distinguish a nominating mistake from the great truths they believe their political party represents. They will stand by a nominee they consider an embarrassment and menace because party loyalty is a Republican virtue, because they believe the party is larger than the nominee, and because they want to rescue their down-ballot candidates.



14 May 2016

I survived a Syrian immigrant’s commencement speech


Salmon Rizk was the commencement speaker at my high school graduation in the spring of 1965. The best selling author of Syrian Yankee, he spoke at many small town graduations, providing a sanctimonious but rather entertaining alternative to local politicians armed with clean jokes cribbed from the Reader’s Digest. He had something better than jokes: an interesting story and the blessing of DeWitt Wallace, Mr. Reader’s Digest himself, and, I suspect, co-author of Rizk’s book.

No one in the hot, steamy, gymnasium that night was more American than Rizk. Born in the middle east, possibly in that part of Syria which now is Lebanon, to an American Christian mother who died while he was a boy, he made his way to America after World War I, his journey financed by relatives in Iowa. Once here, he learned English. Not many years thereafter, he began his public speaking career.

In his forward to Syrian Yankee, Wallace wrote:

…read the rest


13 May 2016

Recent stories of note from the bottled water wars

There’s news of interest out of Creston, MT, and Cascade Locks, OR, on proposals to bottle and sell local water.

In Creston, report Sam Wilson of the InterLake and Tristan Scott of the Flathead Beacon, Montana’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says there are enough valid objections to the 710 acre feet per year water right for the Montana Artesian Water Company that the issue will go to a formal hearing.

Given the DNRC’s sloppy analysis of the application for the water right, that news is not surprising. But it is welcome news for the objectors.

In Cascade Locks, reports the Seattle Times, a complicated proposal to bottle local water has become so controversial that it’s being put to a vote on Oregon’s primary election ballot next week.

I’ve come to regard both disputes as largely not in my backyard affairs. That’s especially the case in Creston, where all sorts of allegedly transcendent issues are being claimed, but I think the fundamental objection is that a water bottling factory is not compatible with the character of the local community.

There are some differences. According to Nestle spokesman Dave Palais:

…only 1.38 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of Nestle bottled water, compared to an average of 5 gallons of water for 1 gallon of beer.

In Creston, as I reported last month, MAWC uses a lower figure, approximately 1.2 gallons per bottled gallon. Perhaps MAWC has a more efficient process, or perhaps it’s just more optimistic in its assumptions.

Then there’s the hypocrisy of beer brewers who use four gallons of water to make one gallon of suds, a popular product that causes great social harm, but rail against bottled water:

Thunder Island Brewery sits right along the Columbia, near where the Bridge of the Gods — part of the Pacific Crest Trail — links Oregon to Washington. Head brewer Brian Perkey said the brewery uses municipal water and pays for it.

But for Perkey, the main issue is not water.

“I see no place on this green Earth for water in a plastic bottle,” he said. “Why would I want to support people putting water into a plastic bottle for profit?”

Does he fear that clean water will sell better than hopped up water in cans and bottles?

Bottled water has the fewest manufacturing impacts of any beverage in a small container, and does great social good without doing any social harm. There can be good reasons for disallowing a particular water bottling plant in a particular place, but the argument that the product is intrinsically evil is not one of them. I'd much rather live next to a water bottling plant than next to a pig farm, a chicken coop, or a feedlot.


Does mass break-in at FHS indicate a gang problem?

That’s a fair question. This wasn’t a case of an individual or two getting out of line. According to Kalispell’s police, the criminals numbered 21. To me, that suggests a strong possibility of gang activity and a potential huge public safety threat to our community.

The break-in was neither a school prank nor an academic transgression such as plagiarism. A mob broke into and vandalized a public building. That building was a school, but it could have been a museum, a hospital, a road department machine shop, a national guard armory, or an old folks home. It was straight out criminal behavior and must be treated as such, handled not by educators but by our criminal justice system.

…read the rest


12 May 2016

Prosecuting & punishing the punks who vandalized FHS

Sometime in the wee hours of Tuesday, 10 May, a group that may have numbered 21 broke into and vandalized Flathead High School. No one was injured. The vandals may all be FHS students, but that’s not yet proven.

Was it a student prank? No.

Should the schools punish the students? Some school authorities will find that tempting, but they should resist the impulse.

This was not an academic violation, such as cheating on a test. It was a violation of Montana’s criminal code.

Let school authorities focus on drawing up the bill and repairing the damage.

Let our criminal justice system handle the investigation and bring charges if warranted.

Should the miscreants be prosecuted as adults? Quite possibly, some should.

If found guilty, should they be sentenced to jail? Yes, but for no more than one day. Sentence them to community service, such as picking up trash along the highway. And make them and their parents pay for repairing the school.



11 May 2016

Kudos, Cowgirl, on the Gianforte easement report


Kudus to Montana Cowgirl for her report that Greg Gianforte, the Bozeman businessman running for governor as a Republican, tried, and not that long ago, to eliminate a one-acre easement that allowed public access to the East Gallatin River.

Cowgirl’s initial report became the hook for a story on the issue by the Lee Newspapers. Today, Cowgirl provides the fascinating backstory on how she became aware of the issue.

Public access to public water is an important issue in Montana, especially in the state east of the Rockies. Gov. Steve Bullock is a stalwart supporter of liberal access to stream laws, deserving considerable credit for his efforts.

The issue never will go away. Many wealthy landowners never will stop trying to close access to streams running through their property.

Gianforte did not succeed in extinguishing the easement, but he did obtain some mitigation measures that settled the issue while preserving public access. Looking back at events, he may now wish he had neither filed suit nor hired Art Wittich as his attorney.



10 May 2016

$89 million school bond issue being promoted with dishonest graphs

Are School District 5’s voters ready to approve $89 million for school construction? A planning committee associated with School District 5, assisted by a firm that may stand to gain from the project, hopes so, reports the Flathead Beacon. The committee will recommend to SD-5’s board of trustees that it hold a fall election to approve $62.4 million for the elementary school district, and $26.7 million for the high school district.

A fall election might be separate from the general election that ends on 8 November. School districts can be sneaky about that. If the issue is put to the voters, I favor putting it to them on the general election ballot.

Meanwhile, the committee recommending the bond is using dishonest graphs to make its case for raising taxes.

…read the rest


9 May 2016

Made in China, sold in America — but made of what?


I bought this 550 ml water bottle at a local big box store last night. The bright yellow is perfect for some photographic experiments I’m planning.

And the bottle probably is perfectly safe for storing cool water for a day’s outing. There’s no odor.

The container with cap weigh 59 grams, and is stiff. It’s reasonably durable if handled with care, but it’s also brittle and could crack if dropped or knocked against a sharp object.

I suspect the material is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a favorite for for liquids. But I don’t know for sure: there’s no resin code molded into the bottom to identify the kind of plastic used. That’s not good. All plastics should carry a resin code.

I prefer glass or stainless steel for my beverage containers, but I have several plastic bottles, and they work well and seem safe. Given I have better bottles, my yellow half-litre probably do much duty storing water, but I would not be afraid to fill it with tap water in the morning, refrigerate it for a few hours, and drink from it in the afternoon.

It’s certainly safer than the old aluminum army surplus canteens we used 50 years ago.


Bernie Sanders speaks in Missoula and Billings on Wednesday


Bernie Sanders has scheduled two campaign stops in Montana on Wednesday, 11 May. The first begins at 1100 in Caras Park in Missoula. The second, in Billings, starts at 1700 in the Montana Pavillion at the METRA.

They want you to RSVP. Admission is free, and you can just show up, but Bernie's campaign encourages RSVPing. Go to http://map.berniesanders.com/, then click on the marker for Missoula or Billings to bring up event details and the RSVP link.

Security will be tight. Here’s the advisory from Paul Van Tricht in Billings:

For security reasons, please do not bring bags and limit what you bring to small, personal items like keys and cell phones. Weapons, sharp objects, chairs, and signs or banners on sticks will not be allowed through security.

It’s probably best to leave your selfie-stick at home, too.

And remember, all security agents, from the Secret Service to the lowliest village constable, are suspicious, humorless, and hoping to make names for themselves by apprehending a would be assassin. If you RSVP, I suspect your name will be run through a database of people thought to be dangerous.

If you’d like to show your support for Bernie, attending one of these rallies would be a good way to do it.



6 May 2016

Trump & down-ballot Dems, bottled H2O, campaign finance gotcha

Will revulsion for Trump help down-ballot Democrats in Montana? That’s possible, but I don’t think we will get firm indications before Labor Day. If voters who lean weakly conservative are frightened, or repelled, by Trump, they might decide that the Republican Party cannot be trusted with the power to govern. That could help Democrats in close elections — but only if the Democrat is a good candidate, well-funded, and already running a smart campaign.

Could the Flathead be dewatered by greedy water bottlers? Yes, says Sandy Perry, spokesperson for Water for Flathead’s Future, in a letter in the Flathead Beacon:

…read the rest


5 May 2016

Flathead campaign finance notes and surprises

C-5 campaign finance reports through the end of April are now online at Political Practices. I examined the C-5s for legislative candidates in the Flathead.

First, a few high points:

  • Don Kaltschmidt loaned his campaign $10,000. That’s not a surprise, but it is noteworthy.
  • Keith Regier received more than a grand from energy PACs.
  • Greg and Susan Gianforte each gave Taylor Rose $170. That’s also noteworthy.
  • Derek Skees was out-raised and out-spent by Jean Barragan. That’s a bit of a surprise.
  • Chet Billi received money from a right wing economist in Georgia.

Now, some details, especially on the contested Republican primaries in Senate District 3 (Whitefish) and House District 11 (Lakeside), plus a couple of interesting details on the Republican candidates in House Districts 3 and 5.

…read the rest


4 May 2016

Could Trump run without a vice presidential nominee?

The Republican Party will nominate Donald Trump, the billionaire reality show buffoon with the pimped-out Boeing 757 (gold plated seat belt buckles), and no governing experience, for President of the United States. Last night, after getting whupped by Trump in Indiana, Sen. Ted Cruz suspended his campaign. This morning, reports Politico, Gov. John Kasich, is throwing in the towel.

The last time the Republicans nominated a businessman with little political experience was in 1940, when they nominated Wendell Wilke (acceptance speech), who lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt. But Trump is no Wilke.

Now the question turns to the vice presidency. Whom will the Republicans nominate? Not all will want to be associated with Trump, but some, ambitious and taking notice that if Trump wins he will be 70 when inaugurated, will say yes. Here are a few:

  • Jan Brewer, former governor of Arizona.
  • Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
  • Gov. Paul LePage of Maine (he'd make Trump look like a diplomat).
  • Gov. Rick Scott of Florida.
  • Gov. Sam Browback of Kansas.
  • Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
  • Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan.
  • Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska.

Or, he could run without a vice presidential nominee. That’s never been done before, but I don’t think the constitution forbids it. Once president, he could appoint a vice president, who would be subject to congressional approval as per Amendment XXV.


More school elections with disgracefully low turnouts

Turnout in yesterday’s school trustee and levy elections was disgracefully low: 24 percent in Kalispell, despite a mail ballot; 16 percent in Whitefish and Olney-Bissell.

In Whitefish, building reserve levies for the high school ($300k/yr for seven years) and the elementary school ($400k/yr for seven years) were defeated. The elementary levy lost by just 27 votes, but the high school levy lost by a 43–57 percent margin.

I suspect the Whitefish high school levy may have lost partly because voters were reluctant to approve more spending on the facility after having recently approved a big bond issue for rebuilding. But voters may also be reluctant to approve additional spending given the political uncertainty this election year, and may still have misgivings about the robustness of the economic recovery.

The elementary levy probably will pass on the next try, but the high school levy may be a harder sell.

The low turnout, of course, is by design. Teachers unions and their allies have high turnouts, and thus a disproportionate impact, in an otherwise low turnout election. But voters opposed to tax increases also turnout in disproportionate numbers, and that’s probably part of what happened in Whitefish.

Stand alone school elections allegedly insulate education from politics. Even if that’s true, it comes at the expense of low voter turnout and thus soft public support. Montana should consider placing school elections on the general election ballot in even-numbered years, extending trustee terms to four years.

My congratulations and best wishes to the winners of yesterday’s elections, and my thanks to the also-rans for stepping forward to offer their services.



3 May 2016

Gianforte’s $272k self-funding may indicate weakness or laziness


Republican gubernatorial hopeful Greg Gianforte is raising money the easy way: he’s asking himself for it, and in response writing checks for $100,000 to his campaign. Thus far, he’s contributed over a quarter-million dollars to his campaign.

He can afford it. He’s rich. That scares the bejesus out of Montana’s Democrats, who fear he’ll try to buy the election.

But, is he writing big checks to his campaign because he’s too lazy to ask Republicans for money? Because he’s asking but not receiving all that much? Both?

Writing a $100k check to his campaign takes less time, and has less fundraising overhead, than raising that amount through 10,000 ten-dollar contributions. But it doesn’t generate the enthusiasm and commitment among the voters as their own small investment in the campaign generates. A lack of grassroots enthusiasm can translate into a lackluster get out the vote effort during election month.

A quarter of a million dollars is not chicken feed, especially in million-person Montana, one of the nation’s least populous states. But on a per capita basis, it’s an order of magnitude less than what Meg Whitman spent losing to Jerry Brown in the 2010 election for governor in 38-million-person California.

Whitman spent $144 million of her own money that year, or $3.8 per Californian. Correcting that for inflation (I used the FRED GDP deflator) yields $4.1 per Californian in today’s dollars. Call it four bucks a resident. Gianforte’s at 27 cents per Montanan, so he has a way to go to match Meg’s self-funding.

It’s harder than some think for rich people to self-fund winning campaigns for high office. Sometimes they find the voters aren’t for sale.



2 May 2016

From Seattle: Molotov cocktails and high school football corruption

High school football excesses and organized anarchy are dominating the news in Seattle.

Organized anarchy. Seattle has a history of Mayday violence committed by anarchists. Yesterday was no exception. Hundreds of anarchists, clad in black and hellbent on making trouble, threw rocks and even a Molotov cocktail at police, who arrested several hooligans:

In all, those arrested included eight males and one female, ranging in ages 20 to 32. Five arrests were made for obstruction; three for assault and one for property destruction, police reported.

…read the rest


1 May 2016

Mayday plum blossom