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

Archives Index, 2017 September 16–30


30 September 2017 — 1508 mdt

Note to readers

I hope to post late tonight. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the fine fall weather has priority.


28 September 2017 — 1459 mdt

Defunding the Flathead Basin Commission
would be penny wise and damn foolish

Gov. Ted Schwinden signs the 1983 act creating the Flathead Basin Commission.

Responding to Gov. Bullock’s austerity order to identify budget cuts, the Montana Department of Natural Resources proposes cutting the funding (page 1) of the Flathead Basin Commission by 90 percent, according to the Daily InterLake, making it impossible for the FBC to pay its executive director. That cut would have the practical consequence of reducing the commission to an on-paper-only entity, unable to do much except meet, and perhaps not even able to do that, and in danger of receiving a coup de grâce in the 2019 legislative session.

That outcome might please several agencies that consider the FBC a drain on their resources and competition for their jurisdiction, but the demise of the FBC would be a huge setback for efforts to manage the Flathead Lake and River basin as a single environmental entity.

The commission was the product of the five-year Flathead Basin Environmental Impact Study that Max Baucus got authorized; a project governed by a citizen’s board, and the result of fears that a giant coal mine would be dug at Cabin Creek (map), six miles northwest of where the North Fork Flathead River crosses the border with British Columbia. The FBC, which includes representatives from British Columbia, possesses a trans-jurisdictional perspective that was, and is, far greater than the sum of the perspectives of the agencies and individuals comprising the commission. The FBC collected the evidence and marshaled the arguments that led the International Joint Commission to rule that the Cabin Creek Mine would harm Montana fisheries.

Later, the FBC’s work led to the adoption of the limited phosphate ban in the Flathead, a step that slowed the eutrophication of Flathead Lake, and to current efforts to prevent the introduction of invasive aquatic species — zebra and quagga mussels, especially — in Flathead Lake.

Over the decades, the FBC has enjoyed bipartisan support in the Montana Legislature because there has been widespread citizen support in the Flathead Basin. If the FBC’s good work is to continue, and the basin’s environment not to be imperiled by the absence of a trans-jurisdictional guiding hand, citizens must now let their legislators know that the DNRC’s plan to eviscerate the FBC’s funding is penny wise and damn foolish, mighty damn foolish.



27 September 2017 — 1724 mdt

Jon Tester gets high ranking for legislative effectiveness; &
For profit academic journals are for deep-pocketed elites

First, a journal ripoff. When I visited Vanderbilt University’s Center for Effective Lawmaking to see its effectiveness ratings for members of Congress (Jon Tester is ranked fourth among Senate Democrats; thanks to David Parker for the tip), a 2013 paper in the American Journal of Political Science, When Are Women More Effective Lawmakers Than Men?, looked interesting:

…read the rest


26 September 2017 — 1044 mdt

Democrats must ignore interesting but dangerous distractions

There are a lot of interesting stories in the news: Puerto Rico’s predicament; Christian Soldier Roy Moore’s campaign against Big Luther Strange; President Trump’s speaking incoherently and swinging an atomic stick at North Korea; SecDOI Zinke’s dismay that his agency’s employees are loyal to the nation instead of to Trump personally; Zinke’s pandering to the rebuild Sperry Chalet caucus of the Stone Tent League; Legg rules in the USDA; Flathead County’s hoosegow hunt; high paid jocks kneeling during the national anthem; the advent of astroturf at Concussion Flats in Kalispell; to name a few.

All are distractions, invitations to go chasing after a wild hare while thieves strip your car and clean out your checking account.

For Democrats, the priority issues are, and must continue to be, (1) the attempt to repeal or gut the Affordable Care Act, and (2) in Montana, the terrible budget cuts that threaten the state unless the Martz administration’s income tax cuts for the wealthy are repealed in a special legislative session.

ACA repeal. Graham-Cassidy is not dead. Sens. Collins and McCain have announced they’ll vote no, but Murkowski has not. Sens. Ryan, Cruz, and perhaps Lee, say they’re against Graham-Cassidy because it doesn’t fully repeal the ACA, but in the past they’ve found ways to vote for other repeal bills and they’ll find a way to vote for Graham-Cassidy. So will their colleague from Bozeman, Steve Daines.

But even if Murkowski joins Collins and McCain to kill Graham-Cassidy, a bill to repeal or gut the ACA will return and return until it passes or the Republicans are driven out of power in both houses of Congress. The crusade to repeal the ACA is no longer about public policy. It’s about appeasing the GOP’s teabaggers and fat cats, who are furious that their politicians hold a majority in Congress but can’t deliver on the most holy campaign promise ever made (Roy Moore’s promises excepted).

Montana budget shortfall. The Republican controlled legislature overestimated, deliberately say some, the revenue available for the budget adopted, then passed, with Democratic help, SB-261, the Sen. Llew Jones Cut ‘Em Where it Hurts Act of 2017. One glaring mistake, evidently committed by almost everyone, was concluding that a wet winter would be followed by a mild fire season, and therefore assuming it was safe to divert money for fighting fires to other activities. Now the combination of a big, expensive, fire season, and reduced revenues from various taxes, means Montana must either cut government spending, raise more money, or both. The cuts, which could exceed $200 million, would fall most heavily on the old, the poor, and the sick, the people who need help the most but have the least political clout.

The best solution is a special legislative session that restores the reckless, greedy, state income tax cuts rammed through the legislature during Judy Martz’s only term as governor. That remedy, of course, is anathema to Republican legislators, a class that never has met a rich man who wasn’t overtaxed and struggling to pay his country club dues because of it. The odds of persuading the so-called “Responsible Republicans” like Llew Jones to join Democrats in restoring even a little bit more progressivity to Montana’s tax code are only slightly higher than the odds that Old MacDonald’s cow will jump over the moon.

But the odds of failure are 100 percent if a special session is not called. Gov. Bullock and his political aides may be leery of calling a special session that fails to resolve the issue. That approach is understandable, but it’s too cautious. If Bullock calls a special session that, because of Republican intransigence, is a do nothing legislature that fails to approve more revenue, and thus fails to prevent destructive cuts to government services, he’ll get credit for trying to fashion a solution to help Montanans — and the Republicans who refuse to raise the needed revenue will get credit for trying to hurt those with the least. But if Bullock fails to call a special session because he cannot get a guarantee that income tax progressivity will be increased, he’ll be blamed for not trying, and thus blamed for the cuts.

That’s the short term solution. The long term solution is electing legislators who believe that government can better the lives of those it serves. These days, those legislators are Democrats.



23 September 2017 — 2233 mdt

Note to readers

Thanks for visiting Flathead Memo. Our chief blogger and janitor has been waylaid by events and microbes, but hopes to resume posting on 24 or 25 September.


21 September 2017 — 1629 mdt

Deer Park bond failure underscores need for school district consolidation

Proponents of the $26.5 million bond for a new Muldown elementary school in Whitefish probably experienced cold chills late Tuesday when they learned that the $3 million Deer Park elementary bond was rejected resoundingly by the district’s voters, 126 for and 207 against.

Deer Park, a rural district south of Columbia Falls that dates to 1886, is one of the Flathead’s smallest school districts, and its elementary school spends less per student that any other Flathead school district.

The defeat of the Deer Park bond probably is not a harbinger of the outcome of the 3 October Muldown bond election, for which ballots were mailed last Friday. Although Whitefish is asking for almost ten times as much money, its much larger tax base means the Muldown bond’s burden on individual taxpayers will be only 40 percent of the burden that Deer Park’s voters rejected.

Deer Park’s predicament — an aging, failing, inadequate physical plant, and too small a tax base for a first class school — underscores the need to consolidate the Flathead’s smallest school districts with their larger neighbors. Deer Park should be subsumed by the Columbia Falls District, Onley/Bissell by Whitefish, and so forth. Consolidation won’t save that much money as salaries will rise in the subsumed small districts, but it will equalize the burden on the taxpayers, produce administrative efficiencies, and provide more educational resources for the students.

The old country school is a wonderful part of American history, but as the Deer Park district’s inability to arrest the decay of its facilities reminds us, it’s an institution whose time passed decades ago.



19 September 2017 — 2225 mdt

Observations on the Flathead cyber-extortion incident

The ransom letter, and the experience of a group that paid the ransom. The Flathead Beacon, which is providing outstanding coverage of the event, has the latest details, and links to the extortionist’s ransom letter. The extortionist is the same person or group that hacked Hollywood in recent years. In one case (Variety report) a hacked group paid a Bitcoin ransom, but the hijacked information was released anyway because the hacked had notified the FBI (Variety report). Paying the ransom demanded of the Columbia Falls school district is an option that sober judgment will reject. The task now is mitigating the damage done, and making sure there’s never again an unauthorized opening of the barn door.

Flathead Sheriff Chuck Curry was right to release the ransom letter

Releasing the letter undoubtedly helped convince many that the risk of a school bombing or shooting was virtually nil. Our authorities now need to release verbatim transcripts of the threats, names and personal information redacted. Not releasing that information, perhaps with the intention of not frightening people, is a mistake, for the absence of details results in imaginations running wild. The withholding of information in a time of crisis, or perceived crisis, is a sure prescription for panic.

…read the rest


17 September 2017

A sunshine break for me, Red Molly for you

This sunshine won’t last, so I’m spending most of the day outdoors, not blogging. Meanwhile, here’s the folk and bluegrass group Red Molly (named for a character in a ballad about a 1952 Vincent motorcycle) belting out Gillian Welch’s Tear my Stillhouse Down (be sure to catch David Rawlings’ riff on his archtop guitar).


16 September 2017 — 1315 mdt

How will the school threat crisis affect the Muldown bond election?

It might just help the bond pass.

Yesterday, ballots for the $26.5 million Muldown elementary school bond election were mailed to voters (the ballots must be returned by the close of business on 3 October). If the bond is approved, Whitefish’s elementary school, a leaky building that’s half a century old and beyond economical repairs, will be replaced by a modern building that will be more energy efficient, more pleasant for teachers and students, and large enough to accommodate 20 years of growth.

It undoubtedly will be more secure, with fewer and stronger access points, and security devices such as video cameras that monitor the school inside and out. A decade ago, when I toured Glacier High in Kalispell, I was impressed by how much attention was paid to security.

Besides brick, mortar, and steel, security features, new schools can incorporate cyber security features, such as defenses against school records being encrypted and held for ransom by a crook in Bulgaria.

The folks campaigning for the bond’s approval should consider using the opportunity afforded by the current situation to remind voters that a vote for the bond is a vote for more and better security. That’s a reasonable argument, and it ought to be welcomed by the community.



16 September 2017 — 1315 mdt

Sheriff calls school threat case “cyberterrorism”

According to a press release (below) from the Flathead County Sheriff, law enforcement officers, including agents of the FBI, are in contact with the person behind the threats. They do not know who are where that person is. He could be in Kila, Michigan, Timbuktu, the Ukraine, or anywhere else on Earth. They may know what he wants, but they continue to refuse to release that information to the public. But the sheriff is calling the threat cyberterrorism. Here’s the news release, which the Daily InterLake’s Matt Baldwin published on Twitter this morning:

…read the rest


15 September 2017 — 2114 mdt

What happens if the cops can’t catch the creep threatening our schools?

Classes cannot be canceled forever. Or, as a practical matter, not for much longer. Children must be educated. Community activities must resume. Our daily round must be restored, even if it is at higher risk of disruption than before.

…read the rest