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

Archives Index, 2017 October 1–15


15 October 2017 — 1707 mdt

Here’s why FEC stiffed Lutey on Dem’s Fagg complaint

When Billings Gazette reporter Tom Lutey tried to run down people connected with a complaint, filed with the Federal Election Commission, against Russell Fagg by a Washington, D.C., outfit associated with Hillary Clinton’s brass-knuckled booster David Brock, Lutey was unable to confirm the complaint by calling FEC:

On Oct. 6 national Democratic groups joined the ethics targeting. The American Democratic Legal Fund announced that it had filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission that Fagg’s exploratory committee was violating federal election law.

More than a week after ADLF said it filed, the Federal Elections Commission has no record of receiving the complaint. The Gazette has called the FEC daily to check on the status of alleged filing.

I prowled FEC’s website for the complaint, but also came up empty. But I did come up with these nuggets that explain why at FEC, the ADLF’s complaint is in a black hole.

…read the rest


13 October 2017 — 1519 mdt

Russell Fagg would be strongest GOP challenger to Tester


Former Republican legislator Russell Fagg retired as a district judge today after serving 20 years on the bench in Billings. He’s scheduled an event for tomorrow and is widely expected to announce his formal candidacy for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Sen. Jon Tester.

State Sen. Albert Olszewski (R-Kalispell), Gallatin newcomer Troy Downing, and Montana Auditor Matt Rosendale have already announced their candidacies for the nomination

Fagg’s been running a de facto shadow campaign for months. His exploratory website discusses issues, but trys to stay within the sideboards of an exploratory campaign by coyly asking visitors whether he should run for the U.S. Senate. Democrats think he stretched the constraints of exploratory status past the breaking point.

…read the rest


13 October 2017

Gypsies in the palace — theme music for Trump, Zinke, Price, et al

Rich gypsies, mostly. Looting is not a skill limited to the poor.


12 October 2017 — 1247 mdt

Rep. Tom Woods’ website confirms he’s running for U.S. House


Three-term Montana legislator Rep. Tom Woods (D-Bozeman) is holding a campaign kickoff event this afternoon, but through his website he’s already announced he’s running for the Democratic nomination for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He joins political tyros John Heenan and Grant Kier in the contest for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte.

Woods teaches at Montana State University. According to a cached page from his old legislative campaign website:

…read the rest


11 October 2017 — 1810 mdt

Note to readers

Flathead Memo is standing down today. We’ve encountered some issues with our computers. Rather than make temporary repairs, an option that takes less time but often leads to more problems, we’re making a full fix. We’ll be back tomorrow.


10 October 2017 — 0717 mdt

Mark Lilla on identity politics

Ten days after Hillary Clinton’s political malpractice handed the White House to Donald Trump, the New York Times published an oped, The End of Identity Liberalism, by Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University. Nine months later, Lilla released The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, a slim but provocative and thoughtful volume based on his NYT essay. The Once and Future Liberal was met with fulminating outrage by the practitioners of identity politics who aided and abetted Hillary’s loss, a sure sign that Lilla had hit the bullseye.

If you’re among the Democrats who want to rescue their party from identity politics, you’ll find The Once and Future Liberal helpful. Here are a few excerpts:

…read the rest


9 October 2017 — 1355 mdt

Seth Bodnar signs on as captain of a sinking ship

The University of Montana once was the state’s flagship university. Now that designation belongs to Montana State University. UM has become a sinking ship, its enrollment and reputation declining. No one seems to know why, let alone how to arrest and reverse the decline.

But 38-year-old Seth Bodnar, a West Pointer without a doctorate, and UM’s new head honcho, is going to give it a try. Everyone in Montana wishes him well, for he faces a challenge his new office may not have the power to meet.

If UM is declining because of things the university has done and/or not done, Bodnar might, if provided the resources necessary, be able to arrest and reverse the decline.

But if UM’s decline results in part from Missoula’s comparing unfavorably with Bozeman as a college town, Bodnar faces a problem a university president lacks the direct power to solve.

…read the rest


8 October 2017 — 0920 mdt

Does Flathead County really need a $50 million new jail?

Yes, say Sheriff Chuck Curry and County Commissioners Mitchell, Kruger, and Holmquist — and they want to build 260-bed quod in Columbia Falls, on Weyerhaeuser land near Plum Creek's old Cedar Palace, which would become the new headquarters for the sheriff's department.

According to the sheriff's website:

The Detention Center is equipped to hold adult male and female persons. It was opened in October of 1987 with a holding capacity of 63. Our average daily inmate population in 2007 was 92. The majority of persons held in this facility are pre-trial, meaning they have been accused but not convicted of a criminal offense.

By my quick review of the jail's current 117-person roster, approximately one-third of the prisoners are charged with drug offenses, such as “criminal possession of dangerous drugs.”

After the commissioners entered into a $2.6 million buy-sell agreement agreement with Weyerhaeuser, and plunked down $130,000 in earnest money, they held public hearing on the issue. At both the Columbia Falls and Kalispell hearings, public opinion overwhelmingly, and sometimes angrily, opposed building a new jail in Columbia Falls, and moving the sheriff’s office there.

Flathead County’s judges aren’t happy about the idea, either, reports the InterLake:

“We have issues now because of security,” Judge Heidi Ulbricht told the commissioners, noting the need for tighter security during highly contested civil hearings. “Security is a major concern if the Sheriff’s Department is moving to Columbia Falls.”

This decision making sequence — first buy land, then ask the voters whether building a jail on it makes sense — is standard operating procedure for these commissioners. A couple of years ago, they tried to buy the old Walmart building east of Kalispell, planning to convert it to a jail. That deal fell through when another buyer paid more for the land, thus rescuing the commissioners from their folly.

Will a higher bidder for the Weyerhaeuser land rescue the commissioners from this folly?

At some point, of course, if crime keeps up with the Flathead’s increase in population, a new jail may be needed. But before removing $50 million from the taxpayers’ pocketbooks so that pickpockets can be picked up and placed in a glorious new slammer, the emphasis should be on finding ways not to put so damn many people in jail.

How many people charged with a crime are locked up in Curry’s hoosegow because they can’t make bail? Has bail deliberately been set so high that impoverished prisoners can’t possibly make it? If so, their presence in the jail amounts to serving a sentence before being convicted of a crime. Are inmates being over-charged so that the prosecutor has more leverage in negotiating a plea agreement?

On a programmatic level, we need to reconsider whether our lock-’em up until they’re clean law enforcement approach to drug dependence is the best policy. Here’s Sarah Evans, a senior program officer with the Open Society Public Health Program, writing in the Democracy Journal:

…Legal trouble compounds the problems people struggling with drug dependence face, and the prison system is not an effective place for rehabilitation. In fact, because even a brief jail stay without drug use reduces a person’s tolerance to substance, more opioid users die of overdose after leaving jail (or rehab) than at any other point. While law enforcement has a proactive and positive role to play in responding to the overdose crisis, we need to recognize that laws that criminalize possession discourage them [users] from seeking health care and social support, increase risky behavior, and raise the risk of illness, including HIV infection. We should consider following the lead of countries that have reduced or eliminated criminal punishment for drug possession, like Portugal—where drug use rates have fallen and health outcomes have improved.

A more enlightened approach to drugs could reduce the need for expanding jails, and as a bonus, reduce the number of law enforcement officers needed for the drug enforcement task forces that have been losing the war on drugs for 40 years.

If a new jail does become necessary, it ought to be built in Kalispell, as close to the courthouse as possible. An ideal site is the city airport, a wholly unnecessary airfield. All of that airport’s operations could be moved to Glacier International, and the land freed for a new calaboose and other county and city operations.

But a new jail ought not be built in Columbia Falls, however much the Border Patrol might like it. It’s a bad idea that the voters don’t like. If a bond to pay for a new jail there is put on the general election ballot in 2018, it will be defeated.



7 October 2017 — 1630 mdt

How the NRA plans to keep bump stocks legal

Contrary to some reports, the National Rifle Association does not support legislation banning bump stocks, the rapid fire device that Las Vegas murderer Stephen Paddock fitted to his civilian assault weapons to increase their rate of fire to automatic military assault rifle levels.

Instead, the NRA is calling for a regulatory review of the 2010 rule allowing bump stocks. That would slow down the debate over bump stocks, relegate it to a highly technical rule making process — and give members of Congress an excuse to defer voting on bump stock banning legislation while the review crawled on at a pace making a near comatose snail seem like an Olympic sprinter.


6 October 2017 — 2256 mdt

There is no way schools can obtain cyber security on the cheap

Talk to information technology security specialists and you’ll be staggered by their tales of never ending swarms of hostile electrons trying to gain illicit entry to computer systems. Sometimes a weakness is detected, and the hacking begins. That’s probably what happened to the servers at Columbia Falls. The Dark Overlord got lucky, the school district was unlucky, parents and educators had the bejesus scared out of them, and an extortion attempt began.

In retrospect, it appears that the IT staff at Columbia Falls may have made a mistake. Whether that mistake was a blunder, the result of not enough training for the IT staff, or using hardware and software that was vulnerable to attack, is something the public may never be told.

But comments by the district’s superintendent, Steve Bradshaw, to the Flathead Beacon suggest that parsimonious procurement practices may have contributed to the cyber break-in and data theft:

…read the rest


5 October 2017

Staying warm in September

Meet Straylena, Flathead Memo’s chief editorial assistant. On a chilly fall morning, she wraps herself in red, white, and blue, and enjoys a plush life.


4 October 2017 — 1751 mdt

Civilians should not own or possess automatic or rapid fire weapons

Stephen Paddock, the murderer who killed 59 and wounded more than 500 in Las Vegas, owned and apparently used bump stocks to turn his AR-15 rifles into the functional equivalent of fully automatic weapons. That modification would account for his firing rate of up to ten rounds a second, which is much faster than an unassisted finger can pull the trigger on a semi-automatic weapon.

There’s no reason for any civilian to own or possess any automatic or rapid fire weapon. No one has a need for such firepower. We should outlaw the manufacture, sale, ownership, or possession, of bump stocks, trigger cranks, and all like devices — and we should confiscate and melt down all that exist. We should also confiscate and melt down all machine guns now legally owned by private citizens. It doesn’t matter whether some of those citizens are collectors. No one has any business collecting hardware that lethal.

If we had a common sense Congress, and a responsible President, a law accomplishing the above could be passed and signed into law in a few days. And within a few months, the confiscations and melt downs could be almost complete, with the owners being compensated at a rate of ten dollars an item.

That would not prevent all shootings. But it would reduce the carnage by reducing the rate of fire. That’s a worthwhile goal that only cranks and bumpheads would oppose.

When will we get a common sense Congress and a responsible President? When voters stop listening to the NRA and confusing gunpowder with freedom. That might be a while.



4 October 2017 — 1227 mdt

Puerto Rico’s predicament resembles a doomer novel’s plotline

There’s a genre of literature known as Doomer Fiction. Part science fiction, part political fiction, it depicts what happens when an apocalyptic disaster, either natural or human caused, brings about The End of the World As We Know It. In some scenarios, tens of millions die in nuclear blasts. In others, they die from pandemics, from wildfires that scorch millions of square miles, from a deoxygenated atmosphere, from rising seas, or from famine. But all share a common theme: the disintegration of civil society. Governments collapse, scarcity sets neighbor against neighbor, the law of the jungle rules, and those who survive do so because they have guns, gold, grit, and faith in God.

…read the rest


3 October 2017 — 1532 mdt

Muldown bond, DNRC vs FBC, Democratic showdown in SD-41

Muldown school bond election ends today. I expect the $26.5 million bond for a new elementary school in Whitefish. The bond’s supporters have made a solid case that a new school is needed and is the best option. The proposal is not gold-plated. And for a majority of voters, the bond should be considered affordable: the individual tax burden is approximately $65 per $100k in valuation, well within the range of what voters are known to accept. The campaign in support of the bond has been vigorous and responsible, and Whitefish, a fairly prosperous community by Montana standards, has a history of supporting well thought out and argued school bonds.

DNRC’s attempt to defund FBC is a dirty bureaucratic power play

At the Flathead Beacon, Tristan Scott has an excellent story on DNRC Director John Tubb’s underhanded attempt to defund the FBC, with trenchant quotes from former FBC chairman Chas Cartwright, a retired superintendent of Glacier National Park:

…read the rest


2 October 2017 — 1739 mdt

MT’s budget crunch proves “Responsible Republican” is a null class

On 27 April, one day before the 2017 session of the Montana Legislature adjourned sine die, legislators approved SB-261, the automatic cuts bill by Sen. Llew Jones’ (R-Conrad), by wide margins: 73–27 in the MT House, 35–13 in the MT Senate (download spreadsheet of how each party’s members voted). The vote looks bipartisan, and by some definitions was, but in the MT Senate, Democrats had the option to kill the bill, which had only 25 Republican supporters. Twelve Democrats came to Jones’ rescue.

The result? No special session of the legislature is required to balance the budget. SB-261 gives Gov. Bullock the power to make the cuts all by himself, and that’s what Jones, in a letter printed in many newspapers such as the Flathead Beacon, wants him to do:

…read the rest