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

17 November 2017 — 0432 mdt

Flathead Memo is standing down today

Our editor and janitor is so exasperated by pussyfooting politicians of every persuasion, predilection, and degree of poltroonery, that he’s taking a break, and perhaps restoring his equanimity by tossing down a triple medicinal shot of John Barleycorn’s best. Cheers.


16 November 2017 — 0707 mdt

Special legislative session takeaways


Montana’s special legislative session adjourned sine die early this morning. There was a strong case for recessing and finishing up after a good night’s sleep, but there was a stronger desire to say “we’re done’ and get out of town.

Not all of the bills that were considered passed. Not all that were passed should have been considered. Those that did pass must be signed or vetoed by Gov. Bullock, leaving the final outcome of the session not fully clear until the governor acts. But it’s already clear that vital services for the poor, the aged, the infirm, and the hungry, will be cut, and those people hurt, because the wealthiest Montanans were selfish.

…read the rest


15 November 2017 — 0738 mdt

Olszewski’s distraction


After the special legislative session was expanded yesterday, Sen. Albert Olszewski (R-Kalispell), an orthopedic surgeon, and a candidate for the 2018 Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Jon Tester, introduced SB-10, a bill to overturn a new rule on birth certificates promulgated by Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services, which maintains the state’s vital statistics.

The new rule, scheduled to take effect 9 December, simplifies the procedure for changing a birth certificate following a gender transition. A public hearing on the rule was held on 12 October and comments were accepted through 20 October.

…read the rest


13 November 2017 — 0804 mdt

Special legislative session notes

The 2017 special session of our legislature convenes in less than two hours. The Republican majority has expanded the session. The governor’s proposals will be considered, but if adopted they won’t be adopted in the form proposed. I hope the legislature will adopt budget modifications, including tax increases, that prevent vital services, especially in the health and human services sphere. But I’m not optimistic. The Republicans have commanding majorities in both chambers, and believe that tax increases are intrinsic evils, not instrumental goods. That belief by definition precludes using the power of government to redress injustices and mitigate the maldistribution of wealth.

Crime may pay for Shelby

GOP Rep. Rob Cook and Sen. Llew Jones are supporting a scheme to strongarm Gov. Bullock into negotiating a new long term contract with the private prison in Shelby. In return, the prison company will return $30 million to the state’s general fund. It’s lowdown political thuggery and extortion, and Holly Michels at the Missoulian has the story and some quotes that won’t restore your faith in the goodness of humankind.

…read the rest


13 November 2017 — 0602 mdt

Montana Republican Party stands on platforms with
radical anti-tax and return to the gold standard planks

Whom to tax

Don’t tax you,
Don’t tax me.
Tax the fellow,
Behind the tree.

Last week, Logicosity’s Edward R. Burrow wrote, “Most R’s believe government spending is out of control and would prefer to chew and swallow glass than raise taxes to feed programs they abhor.” The Montana Republican Party’s platforms for 2016, 2012, and 2008, which are consistent with the national Republican platforms for those years, prove the truth of ERB’s observation.

Beyond protecting the tax cuts it enacted under Republican governors, Montana’s Republicans seek to replace the progressive income tax with a flat rate tax, such as the Fair Tax or sales and value added taxes. Those are deeply radical and regressive proposals. The GOP also proposes returning to the gold standard, a favorite of Ron Paul and his disciples (for those contemplating such nonsense, I always recommend Golden Fetters, by Barry Eichengreen). The Montana GOP’s 2008 platform was explicit on this point; subsequent platforms employ vaguer, more circumspect, gold bug language.

Here are excerpts from the platforms’ sections on taxation and inflation.

…read the rest


11 November 2017 — 0953 mdt

Faith debased communities may have normalized Moore’s predilections

If a thirty-something Roy Moore was putting dirty moves on 14-year-old girls, why are reports of his encounters surfacing only now? That’s a fair question. And the fair answer? Certain evangelical community values may have normalized his behavior. If what he was doing wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t news.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Kathryn Brightbill reports that in many evangelical communities, the courtship of mid-teenaged girls by older men is a standard practice, and thus considered normal:

…read the rest


10 November 2017 — 2028 mdt

Daines disses Moore & more on Ol’Roy


Sen. Steve Daines abandons Roy Moore. Only a few days after endorsing Moore, Daines announced he’s unconditionally retracted his endorsement, thus scrambling back to political safety.

Mitt Romney says Moore’s not fit to be a senator — and thunders “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections.”

Romney appears to be 84-year-old Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s Republican heir apparent for the U.S. Senate.

Romney believes the women who say Moore sexually fondled them against their will. I doubt, however, he believes that in the court of public opinion, the standard should be, or is, guilty until proven innocent.

…read the rest


10 November 2017 — 0516 mdt

Music for an Alabama man who’s facing the music


Flathead Memo dedicates this hand clapping, foot stomping, performance of Elisha Hoffman’s 1878 gospel classic, Are You Washed in the Blood?, to Alabama theocrat Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. Roy’s a man removed — not once, but twice — as chief justice of his state’s supreme court for flouting the law — and, according to the Washington Post, a man who, 38 years ago, clapped his 32-year-old hands on a 14-year-old girl who didn’t appreciate his friendliness. He was, the Post reports, similarly friendly with three other girls, all past the age of consent, and also unappreciative of his clappy digits.

His adventures are allegations, unproven but deemed credible by some, that even if true will not result in his prosecution. The statute of limitations expired decades ago. And like all other Americans, he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. But the allegations might cost him votes, perhaps enough votes that he loses the election.

I wouldn’t count on that. Ol’ Roy draws his support from Alabama’s peckerwood evangelicals, men and women who find his theocratic defiance of civil authority a virtue, and whose theology loves a sinner come to Jesus. Even if Roy is guilty as sin, he may be able to confess his sins, beg forgiveness, asseverate he’s on the path of rightesousness, and stay in the good graces of his base. Indeed, the peckerwoods might consider his behavior proof that he’s straight and virile, virtues in their eyes. As Charles Pierce wrote in Esquire (and was quoted by Ed Kilgore):

I may be entirely too cynical but I think, if Moore has the sand for it, he will follow this up with an explanation of how he had sinned, as all fallen humans do, but that Jesus has forgiven him and washed him in the blood of the Lamb, and now it’s time for him to bring his redeemed hindquarters to godless Washington to show the heathen the path to glory that he’s been blessed to follow. That might work.

It might. It certainly would be a performance to rival Jimmy Swaggart’s and Jim Bakker’s confessions of sin and pleas for redemption, and a favorite on YouTube for decades to come.

Some Alabama Republicans, no doubt hedging their bets in case he wins, have defended him. But he’s not getting much support from national Republicans, whose disapprobation is almost universal. Their calls for his exit from the campaign, however, are conditional: “If he’s guilty, he must go,” is the standard response. It’s also the response adopted by Montana Sen. Steve Daines last night. What they're not telling you is: they don’t like Moore, but they’d rather serve with him than with a Democrat.

Now, some pickin’ and grinnin’ in Roy’s honor:



8 November 2017 — 0854 mdt

Flathead municipal elections turnout was disgracefully low

Only one in five registered voters bothered to cast ballots in the 7 November municipal elections in the Flathead (Whitefish, Columbia Falls, and Kalispell), according to the preliminary report posted online by the Flathead County Elections Department. A turnout breakdown by city and ward is not yet available (will it ever be available?).

Because registered voters is a subset of the voting eligible population, the absolute turnout was below 20 percent, perhaps as low as 15 percent.

Turnout this low is more than disgraceful. It lessens the political legitimacy of an election.

I believe two factors are primarily responsible for the low turnout:

…read the rest


6 November 2017 — 1423 mdt

Note to readers

It’s a big news day — Gov. Bullock has called a special legislative session that starts next week — and for me, a big snow removal day. Removing the snow from my drifted driveway (out of sight at the end of the arborvitae) has priority. My total snowfall since Halloween was ≈ 15 inches. I’ll be posting after dinner, or perhaps double posting tomorrow.


5 November 2017 — 2039 mst

I look forward to reading Donna Brazile’s new book

Hillary Clinton’s claque, of course, prefers that no one reads Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House , the new book by former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile, and that those who do read it dismiss it as sour grapes ravings by a disloyal woman scorned. That’s why they’re belittling Brazile and denouncing her book before it’s published on Tuesday.

Her critics are the same diehard Hillary worshippers who employed similar tactics to try to discredit Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, the unflattering account of HRC’s campaign that has withstood its critic’s attacks.

…read the rest


3 November 2017 — 0635 mdt

A Montana budget deal will be an abomination, not a miracle

There are reports that Gov. Bullock and some Republican leaders are closing in on a deal to temporarily raise a tax or two to pay for fighting forest fires, and to allow funds to be transferred from Peter to pay Paul. Once a deal has been cut, at least in principle, Bullock will call a special session to ratify the agreement. An agreement must be reached sooner than later because the state is rapidly burning through its cash, and big payments are coming due.

At this point, there’s a lot of posturing, maneuvering, and low and high dealing. Nothing is settled until everything is settled. Except for the negotiators, no one knows all or most of the details. But all of us know this is no way to run a government — and that whatever agreement is reached will stink like a startled skunk no matter how much perfume the politicians spray as they attempt to spin it as a sweet deal.



2 November 2017 — 0711 mdt

Only John Heenan and Tom Woods have strong health care planks

Six Democrats are running for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Two, John Heenan and Tom Woods, have strong health care planks in their platforms. Two, Lynda Moss and Kathleen Williams, have no platforms, but have made statements concerning health care. Jared Pettinato’s one-plank platform does not mention health care. And Grant Kier’s health care plank is Hillary Clintonesque mush.

In their own words:

John Heenan believes health care is a right

John believes that we need to put people’s health above insurance company and health industry profits. The current proposed healthcare law would be a disaster for families in Montana. It eliminates protections for people with pre-existing conditions, rips away coverage from 70,000 Montanans and causes premiums to increase for countless others. John believes healthcare is a right, and he supports affordable healthcare for everyone, and would vote for Medicare for All.

…read the rest


1 November 2017 — 1832 mdt

New website kicks off campaign to pass 6-mill university levy –
and there’s already organized opposition to the levy

Updated. Montanans for Higher Education’s (MHE Facebook) campaign to pass the six-mill university levy in the 2018 general election hit the internet this week with two new websites, https://www.montanansforthesixmill.com/ and https://www.nohightaxes.com/. Both domains were registered with GoDaddy this week.

There’s already opposition: Montanans Against Higher Taxes, whose C-2 form on file with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices lists Timothy Adams of Bozeman as its treasurer. MAHT has a Twitter page.

…read the rest


31 October 2017


31 October 2017 — 1352 mdt

Don’t give money to candidates who don’t publish their platforms

Revised 31 October. Six Democrats (table below) have announced they’re running for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. A seventh, former State Rep. Pat Noonan, is testing the waters. Four of the six announced candidates, John Heenan, Jared Pettinato, Grant Kier, and Tom Woods, have published their platforms on their campaign websites. Thus far Pettinato’s is a one-plank wonder, but that’s one plank more than Williams and Moss offer.

Their ages range from Pettinato’s 38 to Moss’ 67. Heenan, Kier, and Pettinato, are political tyros. Moss and Williams are former state legislators. Woods is serving his third term in the MT House.

Williams, who announced her candidacy last week, has a website that asks for money — all candidate websites ask for money — but says nothing on issues. Moss has filed with the FEC, but is waiting until Saturday to kick off her campaign. Her website is just a holding page that doesn’t even ask for money.

…read the rest


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.

…read the rest


27 October 2017 — 1934 mdt

Note to readers

We began the day in an involuntary stand down: a hardware failure severed our internet access. Time that would have been spent writing was spent trouble-shooting and providing oral commentary that came close to setting our office afire. Eventually, swapping out a cable restored internet access, and various liquids and pharmaceuticals restored the editor and janitor’s equanimity. We’ll resume posting tomorrow.


25 October 2017 — 2353 mdt

Is Whitefish Energy’s Puerto Rico deal emitting a foul odor?

Updated. Whitefish is closer to Hawaii (≈ 3,000 great circle miles) than to Puerto Rico (≈ 3,400 GC miles), and tiny Whitefish Energy is basically just a couple of guys making a living by being the prime contractor for building and rebuilding small sections of powerlines. But somehow they managed to obtain a $300 million no-bid contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was damaged by hurricane Irma, and wrecked by hurricane Maria.

The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Daily Beast (Story 1, Story 2, Story 3) have the details.

Because the powerline dudes and SecInterior Ryan Zinke are from Whitefish, and know each other, and because the awarding of the Puerto Rican contract was so irregular, at first sniff the deal seems to emit something between a whiff of something fishy and the reek of something rotten; seems to suggest that Zinke may have lent his hometown acquaintances an improper helping hand. But the whiff may be emanating from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, not SecDOI.

…read the rest


24 October 2017 — 1458 mdt

Montana budget woes: working together is a delusion

The options for resolving Montana’s budget imbalances are higher taxes, preferably on the wealthiest, or tighter belts and less medicine for the least fortunate. Hurting the poor requires only that Gov. Bullock wield the knife and ignore the blood and screams of agony. Raising taxes requires a legislative act, a highly improbable occurrence.

In posts at Logicosity today and yesterday, ERB notes that Gov. Bullock may call a special legislative session to convene on 13 November — and that progress on convincing a majority of legislators to raise taxes instead of reducing expenditures has been slow. The result may be a contentious session that clearly exposes Republican callousness toward needy people, but does nothing to rescue those people from the appalling cuts in social services that are the alternative to an increase in taxation.

But will the legislature even consider raising revenue? I would not be surprised if the Republican legislative leadership tries to adjourn sine die immediately after convening. For these legislators — and the voters who sent them to Helena — discharging their constitutional obligations mean cutting taxes and showing that spendthrift, libtard, bleeding heart, governor who steals from the hard working and gives to the improvident who’s boss.

Democrats who want to avoid a similar outcome following the 2019 legislative must find a way to win a majority in both legislative chambers. As the current impasse proves, the notion that a coalition of Democrats and so-called moderate Republicans can form a stable and progressive governing majority — working together — is a delusion.



23 October 2017 — 1554 mdt

Cole Lecture fiasco hurts UMT journalism school


Larry Abramson (left), dean of the University of Montana’s journalism school, has sterling journalism credentials, and is neither a bigot nor a fool. But in rejecting Maria Cole’s choice of Mike Adams for the 2018 Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture, he foolishly did too much explaining. Now he’s in trouble, and so are UMT and the university’s journalism school. Keila Szpaller (Story 1, Story 2) at the Missoulian has the details, which I’ll summarize.

…read the rest


22 October 2017 — 0218 mdt

Karen “I would have shot him” Marshall’s Facebook page

Karen Marshall, the Bozeman Republican leader who called into a radio program to assert — in my opinion figuratively but foolishly — she would have shot Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs if he had tried to interview her in the way he tried to interview Greg Gianforte, does not waffle or wobble when expressing her political opinions, especially on Facebook. She’s not, as I’ve learned from my Twitter traffic over the last 18 hours, popular among progressives in Bozeman and Gallatin County.

A look at her timeline explains why. She shares numerous stories from websites on the political right, and some would say, the lunatic fringe right. Examine her timeline and draw your own conclusions, but I suspect you’ll agree she may be too far right to be considered a mainstream teabagger.

…read the rest


21 October 2017 — 0556 mdt

Heenan plays Gotcha!, Fagg attempts cover-up, put your bets on GG

Heenan twists woman’s words to play political Gotcha! Karen Marshall, a member of the Gallatin County Republican Women, used an unfortunate expression when she called into the Voices of Montana radio program, which was interviewing Billings attorney John Heenan, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, now held by Greg Gianforte, the Lee Newspapers’ Holly Michels reports:

…read the rest


20 October 2017

Note to readers

Flathead Memo is standing down today.


19 October 2017 — 1447 mdt

A 6-candidate primary is fine — but only with instant runoff voting

Montana’s Democratic primary for the U.S. House is getting crowded. John Heenan, Grant Kier, and State Rep. Tom Woods have announced they’re running and have begun campaigning. Former Billings State Sen. Lynda Moss is hiring campaign staff, reports Nathan Kosted in a nicely researched post at The Montana Post. Kosted also reports that former Butte State Rep. Pat Noonan may throw his hat in the ring. And Logicosity reports that former Bozeman State Rep. Kathleen Williams, an expert on water issues, may run. That’s six — and there could be more.

…read the rest


18 October 2017 — 1618 mdt

Richard Spencer is a headline grabbing nuisance, not a threat to humanity

Tomorrow, at 1430 EDT in the University of Florida’s Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Spencer will deliver a speech, presumably on his love for people with white skin. He’s probably not hoping that his audience will listen respectfully. Instead, he’s probably hoping that leftist AntiFa thugs will shut him down, and with fists and clubs knock down and bloody his supporters, if any show up, so that he can present himself as a martyr to free speech.

…read the rest


18 October 2017 — 0134 mdt

Fire on the mountain west of Kalispell

Powerful western winds raked the Flathead Valley around the dinner hour yesterday, downing trees, knocking over lawn furniture and camper tops, knocking out power to thousands, and fanning fires to life. West of the Foys Lakes west of Kalispell, a fire reported as 40 acres burned into the night approximately 3.5 miles south of my backyard. Toward midnight I photographed the scene, first with a wide angle lens, then with a telephoto lens. Here’s what my camera recorded:


The fire is in the middle of the image along a ridgetop. That alien-like object in the upper left is not a fire starting ray. Rather, it's a antifact produced by internal reflections in the Sigma 24mm f/2.8 AIS lens that I used. Image made at 2235 MDT yesterday.


Fire details, taken with a Nikkor AIS 135mm f/3.5 lens (horizontal angle of view ≈ 10°) at 0032 MDT today. Larger image.

I prefer using these old manual focus lenses for night photography because they have a hard infinity stop and are easy to focus. Later today I’ll train longer lenses on the burn area and publish worthwhile images.



17 October 2017 — 1621 mdt

U.S. Census troubles, and a Flathead Population note

Penny wise, dollar foolish, members of Congress and the Trump administration are underfunding the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies that collect, organize, analyze, and report, thousands of statistics upon which economists, city planners, researchers, and businesses, depend, reports Danny Vinik in an excellent long-form story at Politico:

“If the Obama guys had quietly suggested delaying the Economic Census by six months, there’d be holy hell to pay,” said a former high-ranking appointee in the Commerce Department.

…read the rest


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


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


14 September 2017 — 1103 mdt

What does withholding the nature of the
threat that closed Flathead schools accomplish?

All schools in the Flathead, public and private, and Flathead Valley Community College, are closed today because someone sent the schools email and text messages threatening to do something bad. According to the Flathead Beacon, “persons of interest” are being interviewed by the county sheriff and the FBI.

Because the investigation is in progress, the public and parents are being kept ignorant of the nature of the threat. That’s the official justification for keeping secret what the texter/emailer threatened to do.

Yet, the person who made the threats knows what he threatened to do. So do school authorities and law enforcement agents. How would the investigation be harmed by releasing what was threatened to be done?

Unofficially, of course, keeping parents and the public ignorant of the nature of the threat deprives them of the information they need to assess the judgment of school officials and law enforcers. “Trust us,” demand the agents of ignorance, “we know what we’re doing and we have everyone’s best interests at heart.”

Most people will trust the authorities, and trust them blindly. The specter of children being harmed always causes parents and decent citizens to demand erring on the side of safety — to demand a risk free environment, which is an impossibility — and school administrators, skilled in covering their backsides, are happy to oblige.

But keeping the public ignorant, an objective not found in education’s mission statement, invites speculation, may leave people more fearful than the facts warrant, and generates resentment toward, and mistrust of, authority.



13 September 2017 — 1736 mdt

The Flathead’s Birch Grove private air quality monitoring station

Approximately four kilometers southwest of Glacier International Airport, a citizen scientist has installed two meteorological stations that display realtime results for temperature, humidity, and wind (Birch Grove 1, published at the Weather Underground), and suspended particulates (Birch Grove 2, published at Purple Air).


There are numerous private wind, temperature, and humidity, stations in the Flathead, many connected to the U.S. Weather Service’s Mesonet. But private particulate monitoring stations are rare. Indeed, Birch Grove 2 may be unique to the Flathead.

Birch Grove 2 employs low cost (<$500) equipment manufactured by Purple Air. Thus far, 564 Purple Air particulate monitors have been installed around the world, but mostly in the United States. There are two in Montana: Kalispell and Helena.

The low cost of Purple Air’s equipment could initiate a paradigm shift in air quality monitoring. If the equipment proves durable, and the measurements accurate and reliable, a grid of air quality monitors of the Purple Air genre could be installed in the Flathead Valley for a few thousand dollars. Being able to check the PM 2.5 realtime reports for the grid nodes closest to home would liberate the Flathead’s population from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s single station for their PM 2.5 data.

If anyone does undertake such a project, the funder should require that the realtime data be available to the public in real time, and not hoarded by academic researchers seeking the glory of being the first to publish.