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

28 October 2017 — 1455 mdt

Saturday roundup: Zinke, Corey, Spencer, UMT J-school

SecDOI Ryan Zinke denies involvement with Whitefish Energy’s $300 million contract with PREPA — and I believe him. Yesterday, Zinke issued a formal statement asserting that although Whitefish Energy had gotten in touch with him, he had not been an advocate for the company.

The information available to me suggests that the contract was the result of panic at PREPA, and shameless opportunism at Whitefish Energy. I suspect the contract will be voided or modified.

Zinke’s detractors argue that he’s pretty shameless and opportunistic himself, an assessment that contains a large kernel of truth. But that doesn’t mean he guilty of facilitating a contract that’s of dubious merit and enjoys virtually unanimous disapprobation.

Montana Post’s boot in the backside produces results at MTSecST

For years, daily voter registration totals for Montana’s counties were available at the MTSecST’s website. But starting 17 August, the updates, which appear to be automatically generated reports, stopped — and they didn’t start again until last night. No one knows why. It could have been a deliberate attempt to deprive Montanans of up to date information, but I suspect that amid the turmoil someone either failed to notice something was amiss, or worse, noticed but didn’t care. But, reports The Montana Post today, daily voter registration totals are available again.

That’s good news — but it wouldn’t be news if MTSecST Corey Stapleton had been fully concentrating on the job he was elected to do. Unfortunately, Don Pogreba noted this morning, that’s not the job on which Stapleton is focused:

Secretary Stapleton has had a rough start to his tenure as Montana’s elections chief, a position he clearly sees as a stepping stone to his ultimate ambition to become governor. Helena insiders tell me that Stapleton is receiving “Rasputin-like” advice from a very close staffer that he “is governor material,” which would explain why his office has spent thousands of dollars on self-promotional videos and transformed the official Secretary of State’s web page into the kind of online narcissism I haven’t seen since the early days of MySpace.

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The plan to use the Secretary of State’s office as a platform from which to launch a bid for the east wing of the Capitol, though, depends on something Stapleton just seems to lack: the basic competence to do his job. Whether it’s been alienating the county election officers, badly mishandling a nakedly political effort to suggest voter fraud, or even maintaining the staff necessary to do the work of his office, Stapleton has failed every test.

Stapleton might be wise to consider whether he’ll win votes with the message “Sure, I screwed-up as Secretary of State, but that’s because I was preparing to be a great governor.”

How Richard Spencer keeps outwitting leftists

At the New Republic, an exasperated Bob Moser, commenting on Spencer’s appearance at the University of Florida, acidly observed:

The American left wasn’t always so hapless when it came to responding to charlatans like Spencer. The historical figure he most closely resembles, George Lincoln Rockwell, self-proclaimed dictator of the American Nazi Party in the 1960s, was also—at first—a master at garnering publicity that was completely disproportionate to his actual influence. The Nazi “party” had perhaps 200 members at its height, and was just as toothless as Spencer’s National Policy Institute. In an investigation of his movement, the Anti-Defamation League accurately called Rockwell “a nuisance, not a menace,” and characterized him as “a mere pimple on the American body politic.”

After first mounting protests, Jewish groups—Jews and blacks were Rockwell’s prime targets—mostly decided to steer clear of Rockwell’s rallies and speeches, determining that they were only giving him more publicity. Their strategy to “quarantine” Rockwell—denying him the notoriety and furious response that he sought—helped ensure that he remained a marginal figure, more a joke than a menace.

Spencer is smarter (relatively speaking) and less delusional (also relatively speaking) than Rockwell, who seemed genuinely convinced he was on a path to the White House before he was assassinated by an alienated Nazi Party “trooper” in 1967. Rather than sport Nazi uniforms and talk endlessly of “niggers” and “kikes” as Rockwell did, Spencer and his twenty-first-century allies have eschewed the uniforms and swastikas—though Spencer does enjoy a good Nazi salute now and then—and euphemistically labeled themselves “alt-right,” which sounds more cutesy than threatening, and which the media obligingly went gaga over. But the number of Spencer’s true believers is only marginally greater, at best. Aside from the once-in-a-generation convergence of white nationalists in Charlottesville for Unite the Right—which the media falsely and routinely credits Spencer with “organizing”—Spencer has never been able to draw a crowd, if you don’t count counter-demonstrators and reporters.

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In the social media age, where reality takes a backseat to propaganda, the chances of organizing a campus “quarantine” against Spencer are nil. The best we can hope for is that students and administrators take heed of the uproar-over-nothing in Gainesville—and take a cue from the woman who posed the “you’re all so ugly” question. There is a valid argument that the kind of pernicious evil Spencer represents needs to be confronted and “answered” in some way when he comes to town. But the proper approach is not to inflate his importance; it’s to treat him as the mere pimple he is.

Keeping white supremacist websites above ground. On a related matter, The Intercept reports that the neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer, is now hosted by an internet provider in Anguilla, a British territory where 85 percent of the population is black. Apart from the irony, the arrangement is newsworthy because the Stormer website is above ground again. Driving the website underground makes monitoring these jaspers more difficult, and helps them escape the sunlight that exposes their ugly philosophy, rhetoric, beliefs, and conduct. Another website best left above ground is occidentaldissent.com, which is helping organize the white nationalist rallies in Tennessee today.

Missoulian editorial says UMT J-school should welcome controversial speaker

The Missoulian’s 25 October editorial must have made the University of Montana’s administrators and regents cringe:

As the nation’s foremost institutions of higher learning, America’s public universities and colleges should be at the forefront of teaching their students about the irreplaceable role of free speech in the functioning of our country. Schools of journalism should be leading the charge.

The School of Journalism at the University of Montana fell short of its responsibilities recently when it declined to host a controversial opinion columnist to deliver the next Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture in 2018. It was a missed opportunity to practice, not merely parrot, the principle tenets of journalism.

Journalism School Dean Larry Abramson explained that his decision was based on the fact that the invited lecturer, Mike Adams, does not have a background in journalism and has made offensive comments on a frequent basis.

True, Adams isn’t a journalist, but he clearly has something to teach journalism students about the importance of free speech.

Readers following this situation may wish to read the full text of University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer’s address at Colgate on 30 March 2017, in which he observed:

First, free speech is not a natural state of human affairs. Most people actually don’t like it. They like the speech of those they agree with, which they will defend at great length—but there are fewer who are so enthusiastic about the free speech of those they disagree with. As a result, people are often inclined to silence, or at least condone silencing, those who disagree with them. They justify this in a variety of ways—morality, politics, acceptable behavior, preservation of authority, challenge to authority, opposing change, demanding change, and more. Such individuals rarely imagine that in preventing others from expressing views that they are sowing the wind—and ultimately may reap the whirlwind of someone suppressing their own speech. Fostering an environment of free expression starts with the fundamental problem that for many people, free expression itself is suspect.

One consequence for universities is that a necessary part of a student’s education is gaining understanding of the importance of free expression within the most enabling and powerful education they can have. Functioning in an environment of free expression and rigorous argumentation is not simple, nor is it necessarily intuitive. It is our collective responsibility in providing an excellent education to help students understand, value, and participate fully in this environment.

Second, suppression of speech today is a misguided response to an important national issue, namely that of diversity and inclusion. Our country, like all countries, has a history of powerful exclusionary behavior. A history of slavery and racism, closing of opportunities for women, discrimination on the basis of religion, and exclusionary and even criminalizing responses to same sex relationships are examples of real and serious issues that the country faces in fulfilling an aspiration of providing opportunities for all. Our country has surely made and continues to make very significant progress, but the legacy of this history remains salient, impactful, and even painful today. From the perspective of a university, what should this mean? It should mean a serious commitment to full inclusion of all our students in the most enriching education we can possibly provide. This in turn entails ensuring that all our students are fully included in open discourse, challenge, free expression, and argumentation that lie at the very core of providing such an education. What it does not mean is protecting students from this discourse. It is a misguided view to think that we are helping students—particularly students from groups who may have been the victims of exclusionary behavior—by protecting them from speech. This misguided view is a major problem—it is in fact just the opposite that should be happening. We should be helping these students—just as we need to help all students—to fully participate. We should not facilitate retreat and separation from the most enriching education we can provide. Doing so would be an abdication of our responsibilities as educators.