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

Archives Index, 2017 February 1–15


15 February 2017

Tester votes to let crazy people own guns


Montana’s Democratic U.S. Senator, Jon Tester, knows his constituents are crazy in love with firearms. Perhaps that’s why, with his 2018 re-election campaign on his mind, he voted today to let crazy people own guns. So did three other Democrats, and one independent, up for re-election next year: Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), and independent Angus King (Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats.

The 57–43 vote, reports Politico, blocks:

…read the rest


14 February 2017

From Russia with Love — happy Valentines Day, Общие Flynn

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn didn’t last a month as President Trump’s half-wrapped national security advisor. Last night he resigned following revelations he cozied-up to Russian officials before the election, then lied about it to Vice President Pence.

What amazes me is that Flynn got tapped for national security advisor after at the Republican National Convention he for all intents and purposes accused former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of treason and, with a snarl on his face, and a mad glow in his eyes, led the crowd in a chant of “Lock her up. (Yeah, that’s right.) Lock her up.” Now he’s locked out of the White House, and may be in some danger of being locked up himself. General, time for you to face the music.



13 February 2017

Garner’s 8-cent gas tax increase is only half of inflation loss


Updated 15 February 2017. Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell) announced Friday that he will introduce legislation to increase Montana’s fuel tax by eight cents a gallon for gasoline, and 7.25 cents per gallon for diesel, bringing the tax for both fuels (diesel is called “special fuel” in the MCA) to 35 cents per gallon. Garner’s draft bill now is online for review.

Gasoline’s energy content is 120,400 Btus/gallon, diesel’s 137,400 Btus/gallon; therefore, diesel, the more polluting fuel, is doubly favored by Garner’s bill.

The federal excise tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon; on diesel, 24.4 cents per gallon.

The current 27 cents per gallon gas tax took effect in 1994. Using a standard price deflator, I prepared the following graph that displays how much the fuel tax would be had it been adjusted for inflation. Garner’s increase recovers approximately half of the tax’s purchasing power that was lost to inflation since 1994.

I take no position on whether Garner’s proposed tax increase should be adopted (at The Western Word, J.M. Brown does). But I do take note that although going a quarter-century without adjusting a fuel tax rate may be popular politically, it generally is not wise governance. There’s a good case for automatically adjusting the tax rate for inflation, but Garner’s bill does not include an indexing mechanism.



11 February 2017

Big Sky Rising must not focus exclusively on national politics

Big Sky Rising and it’s local Indivisible affiliates are largely focusing on, and opposing, the nominees to President Trump’s cabinet. Those are battles they will lose. Unless a nominee is caught selling national secrets to a Syrian spy at high noon at the White House gate, Trump’s cabinet choices will be confirmed.

Progressives, by smart lobbying and local organizing might be able to oppose with some success the efforts of Trump, Ryan, and McConnell to repeal the Affordable Care Act, convert Medicaid to coverage weakening block grants, privatize Social Security and Medicare, and gut or kill food stamps and other programs that help the less fortunate.

Opposing Trump’s nominees provides the political tyros of BSR valuable experience, but it also introduces them to demoralizing defeat. Equally important, it diverts their energy from local politics where they might do some tangible good. All politics is local. So is most government. It’s not glamorous like a Presidential campaign, but it has direct and profound effects on people’s lives.

As Harvard sociologist Theda Skocpol recently observed in an interview in the Democracy Journal, the forces of which BRS is a part need to channel marching into durable, effective, political action.

BSR needs an indivisibles style manual for Montana poliotics, one written by experts who are independent of the organizations currently involved in lobbying and petitioning government. And then, BSR needs to get involved with politics at every level right down to advisory boards for dogcatchers.



10 February 2017

Big Sky Rising

It’s not the name of a novel. It’s a new political group, progressive in nature with an indeterminate relationship to the Montana Democratic Party, that’s apparently an outgrowth of the Pantsuit Nation phenomenon that materialized three weeks before Hillary Clinton lost the election. BSR’s mission statement:

Big Sky Rising empowers individuals and connects communities while fostering equality, diversity, human rights, civil liberties and a sustainable future through respectful dialogue, education and advocacy.

My sources report the members are mostly women, mostly new to politics, mostly progressives, and were jolted into action by Donald Trump’s victory. Their organizing manual, a good one, is the Indivisible Guide written by former congressional staffers.

Right now, they’re learning how to organize and agitate for social change, politely getting in the face of Republican politicians, and sending “we love you” messages to Democrats such as Jon Tester. At some point, some may develop the wisdom and courage to run for office, or to work for progressive candidates, as it’s always more effective to win elections than to lose them and raise a ruckus while out of power.

There’s a Flathead group that next meets in Whitefish on Monday, 13 February, from 1800–2000 at the Whitefish Community Center.

I’ve added Big Sky Rising to Flathead Memo’s blogroll.


Have national Democrats already written off
Montana’s special congressional election?

Probably, according to a story, Should House Democrats write off rural congressional districts?, published in yesterday’s Washington Post. Montana may be too rural, too white, and have too few college graduates for a Democrat to win a seat in the U.S. House.

New York Democrat Rep. Sean Maloney, a data driven attorney who represents the Hudson Valley, has been reviewing the 2016 elections.

Some findings are surprising. “Did the unemployment rate matter or not?” he said. “Turns out it doesn’t matter much at all.”

Maloney also wants to abandon the longtime party metric used by operatives known as the Democratic Performance Index, a complicated formula based on presidential and congressional candidate performance in specific House districts. Instead, he said, the three biggest predictors of the partisan bent of a House district are the percentage of it that is rural, how much of its population has received college degrees and how diverse it is.

In 2016, Trump won white working class (less than a college degree, working for wages or as independent tradesmen) men and women by huge margins. There are identity caucuses in the Democratic Party that are deeply opposed to welcoming white working class voters, whom they consider deplorable racists and homophobes, into the party.

The question neither Maloney nor Luján [head of the Democratic Congressiona Campaign Committee] will answer is whether they should recruit moderate to conservative candidates in rural districts or just abandon them altogether.

A beta test for 2018 will come in two special elections this spring to replace House members getting elevated to Trump’s Cabinet. Democrats regularly win governors and Senate races in Montana, where Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) is set to become interior secretary, but it’s unclear whether the DCCC will invest in that mostly rural at-large district.

Instead, Maloney said, “Watch the special election for Tom Price’s seat in suburban Atlanta.”

Rep. Price (R-Ga.), who is expected to win confirmation as Trump’s health secretary, has never faced a difficult race in 12 years in Congress, but his district snapped from favoring Republican Mitt Romney by 14 percentage points over Obama in 2012 to a narrow win for Trump of just two percentage points.

Georgia voted for Trump. Nevertheless, together with Texas and Arizona, it was one of three red states where Hillary Clinton’s campaign poured money down a rat hole instead of spending it in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the states that cost her the election. Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, are states that civil rights attorney Steve Phillips, author of Brown is the New White, identified, in a speech to the City Club of Cleveland, as states where demographic changes would produce Democratic majorities.

Montana will be a heavy lift. National Democrats have written off our House seat ever since Nancy Keenan lost to Denny Rehberg in 2000. But that’s no reason for abandoning Montana in a special election. There should be plenty of money available if the national party decides it’s in keeping with the party’s current priorities and principles to bother with a House seat in a white rural state where not that many have college degrees, and where those that have degrees are clustered in towns instead of on the farms and ranches.

Democrats cannot afford to write off rural America if they want to reclaim the White House, Congress, and state legislatures and governorships. But if the fools who nominated Hillary Clinton stay in charge of the party, rural American will be written off and a permanent Republican majority will emerge.



9 February 2017

Daines was the designated hit man in a Rule 19 ambush

Some Democrats and progressives are arguing that Sen. Daines’ Rule 19 takedown of Sen. Warren was sexism. According to this theory, Daines disdains women, especially assertive women like Warren. When presented the opportunity to slap her down for being uppity, to took it, invoking Rule 19 to justify his action.

But according to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, that’s not what happened. Instead, Daines was simply the presiding officer when the Republicans executed an ambush:

“They were waiting to Rule 19 someone and they specifically targeted Elizabeth,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “I think because she’s effective.”

It was a partisan cheap shot, not an independent act of sexism.

Nor was it an abuse of the First Amendment as some have suggested. The Constitution gives both chambers of Congress the power to adopt their own rules of debate. But it was an interpretation of the rules that was intended to prevent a full discussion of a nominee’s fitness to serve in the cabinet, and as such it was an unwise constraint on the Senate’s ability to exercise its duty to advise and consent on nominations.


Raw milk legalization hearing is today


At 1500, the Montana House’s agriculture committee will hear HB-325, Rep. Nancy Ballance’s (R-Hamilton) irresponsible bill to legalize certain sales of raw milk, an unhealthy substance that only zealots and fools drink or feed to their children. Ballance carried a functionally identical bill in the 2015 legislative session that almost passed. Two years earlier, Champ Edmunds almost got a raw milk legalization bill passed.

If history is any guide, dozens of earnest, self-confident, advocates of raw milk will stand before the microphone, extolling the virtues of drinking untreated milk, rejecting science, and quoting crackpot after crackpot. Some will attempt to frame the issue as a question of food freedom.

These testifiers and their friends already have flooded legislators with messages and phone calls, demanding that they vote for the bill.

What also hasn’t changed is that pasteurization is settled science — long settled science. It’s what high school students learn in every competently taught course on biology.

Furthermore, pasteurized milk is a tremendous public health success. Laws requiring pasteurizing milk are supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and thousands of responsible scientists and health care professionals.

Legislators — all of whom presumably paid attention when pasteurization was discussed in their high school biology classes — have a duty to recognize that pasteurization is settled science and good public policy no matter how many lovers of untreated milk testify in support of HB-325, and no matter how many calls and letters praising raw milk they receive.

This is a public health issue. It is not a food freedom issue.

Another bill, HB-352, that will be heard next week, also would legalize some sales of raw milk.



8 February 2017

Sen. Daines brings shame upon himself, the U.S. Senate, and Montana


Perhaps if Montana’s Republican U.S. Senator, Steve Daines, were a closer student of Anthony Comstock, and of how Comstock’s Banned in Boston became the best advertising for books the old prig loathed, he would not have invoked Rule 19 to gag Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

As I think all of Flathead Memo’s readers know by now, Warren, speaking against confirming Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, began reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, a letter already in the Senate record, denouncing Sessions’ fitness to be a federal judge. Sessions was not confirmed as a judge, but obtained revenge by winning election to the Senate (another successful seeker of vengeance was Alcee Hastings, who, after being impeached as a federal judge in 1989, won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he still serves).

Section 2 of Rule 19 prohibits Senators from “…directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” It was adopted in 1902, reports Talking Points Memo’s Lauren Fox, after South Carolina’s Senators, “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and John McLaurin engaged in fisticuffs on the Senate’s floor. Tillman, a white supremacist whose vile racism has seldom been matched, led a paramilitary group of Red Shirts, domestic terrorists, in the violent 1876 election in South Carolina. Compared to Tillman, Richard Spencer is an ecumenical pussycat.

…read the rest


7 February 2017

Note to readers

Flathead Memo is standing down today.


6 February 2017

NWS partly bungles forecast for 30-inch snowfall

At my home 1.5 west of Kalispell, approximately two inches of snow fell from Sunday noon through Monday noon, not the 30 inches forecast by the National Weather Service. It was a bit breezy overnight, but since 0915 this morning the weather has been calm and sunny. The east side of the Flathead Valley did receive heavy snow, as did the mountains. This was not the first time this winter that the NWS forecast for the Flathead Valley a big storm that failed to materialize. The agency needs to do a better job of forecasting.


5 February 2017

Meet Flathead Memo’s assistant managing editor

Straylena believes her place is next to the keyboard, preferably on the mouse pad, or if the senior editor isn’t paying her sufficient attention, between the keyboard and the big display. The latter positioning ensures that the senior editor’s eyes are on her, not the screen. Today, Straylena’s guarding Flathead Memo’s computer while the senior editor shovels snow.




4 February 2017

Winter storm stand down

Rain followed by what amounts to a blizzard is forecast for Sunday and Monday. Flathead Memo is standing down while its editor and janitor prepares for the storm.


3 February 2017

Kumbaya, my Lord — the prayer from the progressive wilderness

Kumbaya my Lord roughly translates as Come by here, my Lord. It was a powerful song during the 1950–1990 folk music revival, which is when I first heard it. Many artists — Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Seekers, Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Soweto Gospel Choir, to name a few — recorded it. Then, reports Steven Winick, somehow “Kumbaya” became a derisive word:

…from the 1980s through the 2000s, the song experienced a backlash. Musically, it came to be thought of as a children’s campfire song, too simple or too silly for adults to bother with. Politically, it became shorthand for weak consensus-seeking that fails to accomplish crucial goals. Socially, it came to stand for the touchy-feely, the wishy-washy, the nerdy, and the meek. These recent attitudes toward the song are unfortunate, since the original is a beautiful example of traditional music, dialect, and creativity. However, the song’s recent fall from grace has at least added some colorful metaphors to American political discourse, such phrases as “to join hands and sing ‘Kumbaya,’” which means to ignore our differences and get along (albeit superficially), and “Kumbaya moment,” an event at which such naïve bonding occurs.

I think the desperation of American progressives, now lost in a political wilderness from which they may not escape during my lifetime, may restore the dignity and power of Kumbaya as a prayer and anthem of enlightened solidarity and hope. Here’s the New London Chorale’s stirring performance of the song.



2 February 2017

Rep. Zach Brown’s physician handcuffing opioids bill


No one ever lost an election by endorsing mom, apple pie, and the flag, or by opposing drug abuse. Perhaps with those political truths in mind, and certainly with the intent of doing the right thing, Rep. Zach Brown (D-Bozeman) is preparing legislation, LC1891, still in draft form, with the title “An Act Limiting Medical Practitioners with Prescription Authority from Writing More than a 7-Day Supply of Opioids on a First Prescription with Certain Conditions and Exceptions.”

It’s an unnecessary bill that would handcuff physicians and result in some patients not receiving strong enough medication for their pain.

The 7-day limitation approximates the Center for Disease Control’s current, and draconian, guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. It also creates more paperwork for physicians, and imposes more duties on pharmacies.

Section 1.

(3) Conditions for obtaining a second prescription of an opioid drug after an original prescription of up to 7 days include:

(a) documentation by the medical practitioner with prescription authority for opioids in the patient’s medical record and an indication of why an alternative to the opioid drug was not appropriate to address the medical condition; and

(b) (i) for an adult, a consultation with the medical practitioner and payment of any required copay on each subsequent prescription;

(ii) for a minor, a consultation with the medical practitioner and a subsequent one-time second prescription unless the conditions in subsection (2) apply.

(4) The medical practitioner with prescription authority shall indicate on the prescription that the prescription is not intended for chronic pain.

(5) (a) A pharmacist filling an opioid prescription shall ask for the patient’s identification or identification by the patient’s custodial parent, guardian, or other person having legal custody if the patient is a minor.

Even if these are good ideas — and I’m far from convinced that they are — why must they be hardwired into Montana’s statutory law? What is the crisis that justifies the legislature’s politicians substituting their amateur medical judgement for the professional medical judgement of Montana’s physicians?

What is the purpose of Subsections (3)(a) and (3)(b) other than imposing a paperwork and logistics burden on physicians with the intent of discouraging them from prescribing an opioid?

Brown’s bill strikes me as premised both on a terrible fear of drug addiction, and on a cruel belief that using opioids to counter agonizing pain is a moral weakness, a character flaw, that denies the afflicted the opportunity to earn God’s grace by courageously enduring great suffering.

Only two classes of Montanans will benefit if this bill becomes law: (1) politicians, who can claim they’re curbing drug addiction by placing restrictions on irresponsible physicians, and (2) the pill police, whose job security will increase. Everyone else will suffer.



1 February 2017

Is Max Baucus sitting on $2 million in campaign funds
that could be purposed to help his son, Zeno, run for office?

Several sources report that Max Baucus is holding on to one to two million dollars in campaign funds raised for his 2014 re-election campaign — and that he intends to use the money to help his son, Zeno, run for a statewide partisan office.

When Max Baucus decided not to seek re-election, his campaign fund contained approximately $3.3 million. One source reports he donated $600,000 to the University of Montana Law School to administer his papers and create a Max Baucus center, and another $500,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In May, 2014, the Center for Public Integrity reported he still had $1.97 million, not as much as some former members of Congress, but enough to do a considerable amount of good or evil.


…read the rest

Democrats lost the Gorsuch confirmation vote on 8 November 2016

Unless Neil Gorsuch gets caught doing something unthinkably degenerate and evil — buggering pigs on the White House’s front law at high noon while spying for Iran might qualify — he’ll be confirmed as the next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether there will be sufficient votes to confirm him was decided on 8 November 2016.

Given how and why former President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court was torpedoed by Mitch McConnell’s Republicans, no Democrat should vote to confirm Gorsuch, but there’s no point filibustering the nomination. Trump is President. He has the votes. He will prevail.

Will Democratic senators in red states who are up for re-election in 2018 vote for Gorsuch to pander to Republican voters? It’s a good bet that some will, thereby allowing Trump to claim that Gorsuch was confirmed with bipartisan support.

And it’s likely Trump will have at least one more opportunity to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a frail but determined cancer survivor, celebrates her 84th birthday in March. She should have retired in 2013, when Obama had the votes to confirm a replacement, but she was too selfish and stubborn to subordinate her ambition and pride to the needs of the nation. She was holding out for President Hillary Clinton. Now she must survive another four years, hoping that Trump is a one-term President.

Will she last that long? Possibly. Will a Democrat replace Trump in 2021? Possibly. But those happy outcomes are not good bets.

Even if Ginsburg outlasts Trump, either Stephen Breyer, 79 in August, or Anthony Kennedy, 81 in July, or both, might not. By the end of Trump’s first term, there could be only two liberal justices, Sotomayer and Kagan, on the court. Unless Democrats win back the Senate in 2018, possible but unlikely, there’s nothing they can do to prevent this other than urging Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kennedy, to eat their vegetables, get their flu shots, and not step into empty elevator shafts.

Thank you, Hillary Clinton.