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

24 January 2015

Political briefs

Commissioner Mitchell, the Flathead Water Compact, and the facts. At the Flathead Beacon, Molly Priddy has a great story on Gov. Bullock’s 19 January 2014 letter (PDF) to Flathead County’s Commissioners, and Commissioner Mitchell’s reaction to it, which translates to “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Mitchell, who was the primary architect behind the commission’s letter to the state, told the Beacon that though he hadn’t yet read the governor’s letter, he was going to stand by his opinions about the compact.

Mitchell objects in principle to recognizing that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have rights to minimum in-stream flows in rivers outside the CSKT’s reservation. Colloquially known as fish flows, these rights derive from the 1855 Hellgate treaty and have a priority date of “time immemorial,” a legal term of art meaning before law and anyone else. Fish flows are non-consumptive. They’re water that stays in the river providing habitat for fish and aquatic life. Although the water rights for the fish flows belong to the CSKT, everyone benefits.

For an example of how a fish flow is defined and enforced, see the compact’s Appendix 26, Swan Mainstem Instream Flow Right Abstract. I’ll present an analysis of the Swan River’s Minimum Enforceable Flows (Appendix S of the abstract) in the not too distant future.

Raw milk legalization legislation. Rep. Nancy Ballance’s bill to legalize the sale of unpasteurized milk was introduced as House Bill 245, and referred to the House’s human services committee for a hearing on Wednesday, 28 January, in Room 152, at 1500 MST. See my 6 January 2014 post for a description and discussion of this challenge to sound public health policy. Rep. Albert Olszewski MD (R-Kalispell) is the Flathead’s only representative on this committee.

Unless physicians and other members of Montana’s medical community strongly speak out against HB-245, the bill could be whooped through the House by a veto-proof margin just as a similar bill was whooped through the House in the 2013 session. Physicians, et al, should not conclude that because the science of this issue is settled, so are the politics and policy. Public health laws are always under attack from sincere zealots who can prevail if their arguments are not countered. The constituency for HB-245 is fairly small, but it’s organized, loud, comprises true believers, and knows how to make an emotional impact at a legislative hearing. If legislators do not hear opposition from the medical community, they may interpret that silence as acquiescence.



23 January 2015

Looking west from Blacktail Mountain

A pleasant view, recorded on Ektachrome a quarter-century ago, before the Blacktail ski operation and before digital photography.


22 January 2015

On Flathead rabies vaccinations, veterinarians 7, commissioners 0

At the InterLake, Lynette Hintz reports that the Flathead County Commission will let the county’s board of health manage rabies. That decision, which appears to be a good one, comes after the commissioners were lobbied by local veterinarians, and I suspect, more than a few irate dog owners and public health advocates.

There are some takeaways from this debate that are worth noting.

  1. There’s a hole in Montana’s statutes where a law requiring rabies vaccinations for pets should exist. Although it hasn’t stopped the issue from being addressed at the county level elsewhere in the state, that hole should be filled. There’s still time for state authorities to request that the legislature pass a bill this session to do just that.

  2. There are situations in which (a) state law neither explicitly authorizes nor forbids the commissioners from enacting an ordinance or making a decision, and (b) doing nothing is not responsible governance. In these situations the commissioners must stick out their necks to do the right thing. That’s what they were elected to do. And they should have the wisdom and courage to do it without first being taken to task fortississimo by an outraged community.

  3. Because there are only three commissioners, two cannot discuss an issue privately without violating Montana’s open meeting law. The problem isn’t the law. It’s the structure of the commission. I wish the voters would approve a commission comprising five or seven commissioners elected at large to four-year terms. That would allow two commissioners to have a quiet cup of coffee to informally discuss county issues without being haled into court for meeting secretly. Our current three-commissioner structure is so stupid I’m amazed that a man of the cloth has not claimed it’s God’s punishment for something.



21 January 2015

Tough guys, soft prolate spheroids, and a loose grip on the facts

Apparently, the New England Patriots played with under-inflated football in their win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday. According to various sources, 11 of 12 footballs were one or two pounds per square inch below the minimum in the league’s rulebook.

Two questions arise: (1) what happened, and (2) does the inflation rule, and the enforcement thereof, make sense?

…read the rest

Libbytarian welfare workers & the Wittich/Ehli dog & pony show

For Frances Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary Labor, social work was more than just a job. It was a life long calling. Without her efforts, the Social Security Act of 1935 might never have passed Congress. Many social workers today share her determination to help the less fortunate; many, but not all. For a few, it’s simply a job; and for a few of the few, a job serving people they resent and don’t like.

I’m wondering whether Libby public assistance employees Kirsten Brown and John Desch, who under subpoena testified at a joint House/Senate hearing on Monday —see fine reports by Lee reporter Mike Dennison, Intelligent Discontent’s Don Pogreba, and Montana Cowgirl, for more detail — are among the few of the few. Officially, I believe, they appeared as whistle blowers to expose what they believe are flaws in the software the public assistance agencies use to verify claims for help. The subpoenas may have been issued more to protect them from retaliation by higher-ups in their agency, and less to compel their testimony. That’s not an uncommon practice, nor necessarily an unwise one.

In addition to expressing general concerns that the software was defective, they expressed concerns that applicants ineligible for benefits were being approved because of top down pressure to approve claims quickly. According to Pogreba, their testimony was long on allegations that the undeserving were getting away with welfare fraud, but short on supporting facts.

It’s highly likely that some welfare cheats are receiving benefits they don’t deserve, at least initially; that some honest applicants are initially approved for benefits for which they are later found ineligible; and that these consequences result from a policy of erring on the side of approval lest people be refused help in their hour of need. Any other policy would be inhumane — and would discourage people from applying for benefits that would improve their lives, and for which they’re eligible. Feed the hungry now, catch the crooks later.

Were Libbytarians Brown and Desch summoned to the Wittich-Ehli dog and pony show as both whistle blowers and welfare discouragers? I think that’s almost certainly the case, especially given Tom Burnett, who never met a hungry man he didn’t think was well fed, reported assisted Wittich and Ehli recruit Brown’s and Desch’s testimony.

Among humankind, there’s almost universal disdain for those who can work but instead choose to beg. This attitude is nothing new. Any student of social welfare knows it pops up in English history at least as early as the twelfth century. But in that history there’s also recognition of humankind’s obligation to help what were known as deserving beggars, those unable to work, the old, the ill, the crippled.

In the minds of many Republicans, however, there are no deserving poor; there are only able-bodied bums who suck on the public’s teat instead of getting one of the surplus of jobs for which they are qualified. In this worldview, public assistance, such as food stamps, is a nefarious, socialistic scheme to confiscate the wealth of those who have earned it and transfer it to those people who have not. They believe in catching the crooks now, and feeding the hungry later (but not feeding them too much, as that might reduce their incentive to get one of that glut of jobs).

Last week, Washington Monthly blogger Ed Kilgore, a former aide to Georgia governors and Sen. Sam Nunn, warned:

When it comes to today’s Republican Party, you should never, ever underestimate the raw power of ideology or the visceral appeal of opposing anything proposed by the devil-figure Barack Obama. Aside from the Medicaid expansion debate, that’s worth keeping in mind when it comes to the GOP’s reaction to a potential Supreme Court decision invalidating Obamacare subsidies in 36 states. Absent careful nudging and considerable education, many Republicans simply may not be able to help themselves when given an opportunity to hurt people by taking away government benefits. It’s kinda what some of them are in politics to do. [Emphasis by Flathead Memo.]

We just endured an example of that in Helena. A cruel and unnecessary example.



20 January 2015

State of the Union Address mentions war 13 times, omits food

President Barack Obama mentioned war 13 times in his State of the Union Address. That’s down from 16 mentions in last year’s SOTU.

He mentioned Social Security once, and only as a historical reference. No surprise there. The President just doesn't like older people. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s still looking for a grand bargain that would cut Social Security benefits to pay for programs for children.

He omitted any mention of food, despite more than 46.5 million Americans being on food stamps. He used the word hunger only once, and then only in a global context. Perhaps he thought suggesting that some Americans still need a decent meal would be a terrible affront to the well fed defenders of Wall Street sitting in front of him.

His reading ease scores were not significantly different from last year’s. His Flesch-Kincaid grade level was up a grade from his first SOTU, and his Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score was down a few points.

By comparison, Sen. Joni Ernst’s 1,267-word response clocked-in with a grade level of 8.6 and a reading ease score of 64.4. It should not go unremarked that she actually described herself as “…a newly elected senator from the great State of Iowa.” And her concluding paragraph may have set a new standard for bombastic piety and patriotism.




19 January 2015

DCCC demands blind support for President Obama

The DCCC is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The people running it are dedicated, relentless, and immune to shame. Once on its email list, one is on it for life: unsubscribe notices are not honored. I know. I tried unsubscribing last October. Within a week, I was again receiving abusive DCCC emails, several a day, demanding donations lest the republic crumble.

Now the DCCC wants me to endorse the President’s State of the Union address. Before he delivers it. Before I know what’s in it. That’s a demand for blind support — and I’m not going to provide it. Neither should anyone else. Not for any President.

Here’s a screenshot of the demand for blind support:




18 January 2015

Google is a big, bad bully that worships smartphones

My morning’s email traffic contained a nasty note from that 900-pound Gorilla known as Google. “Google systems,” it said:

…tested 434 pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 434 pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.

My sins include no viewport declaration or configuration, font sizes too small, and touch elements too close. Google wants me to tear up and redesign my site so that Google is happy how my pages appear on smartphones and other little screens.

Appeasing Google would require dumbing-down and uglifying Flathead Memo’s pages, which already have a simple, two-column design that accommodates text, images, tables, and graphs. On little smartphone screens, Flathead Memo would be reduced to text and graphics too small to be useful. On 24-inch screens like my primary display, Flathead Memo might sprawl from side to side, forcing viewers to resize their windows from website to website.

Some good people will think this is good advice, that Google’s just being helpful, and that old fogies like me need to be pushed into the viewport design era. I think it’s bullying. In fact, I think that having the power to bully on a large scale is one of the attractions of working for Google.

So far, I’ve received no complaints from the smartphone users who visit Flathead Memo. They must be finding ways to work around the things that so infuriate Google’s mobile worshiping viewport crusaders. So for the moment, I’m not inclined to take time from writing to recode Flathead Memo to improve the user experience on smartphones at the cost of degrading the user experience on desktops.



17 January 2015

After the snowstorm

A pleasant scene, but one with a large dynamic range and highlights in which detail is not held easily. The solution: shoot using the RAW format, expose to hold the highlights, open the shadows during image processing. I used a digital point-and-shoot.


16 January 2015

What’s the best way to lower your state & local tax rate in Montana?

Get rich. According to the 2015 Who Pays? report by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, the top one percent in Montana pay 4.7 percent of family income in taxes, while the bottom 20 percent pay 6.1 percent. In no state do the top one percent pay more than the bottom 20 percent — all 50 states have regressive tax systems — but Montana has the fourth least regressive system. Washington, which has a crushing sales tax but no income tax, is the most regressive.

Here’s an ITEP graph of the breakdown for Montana:s

Neil Buchanan, who writes at Dorf on Law, notes:

The bottom line of the report is that state taxes are, indeed, “mostly regressive.” Indeed, if you take each state’s tax system as a whole, there is not a single state in the country that is running a progressive tax system. According to the study, this year the bottom 20% of income-earners nationwide will pay an average of 10.9% of their pretax incomes in state and local taxes, while the top 1% will pay 5.4% on average. As I noted in my 2010 Dorf on Law post, the combined impact of federal and state taxes adds up to a proportional system, in which the poorest and richest all pay the same rates of taxes. (That is bad enough, but there are further reasons beyond the scope of this post to believe that the measured tax rates for upper-income people are seriously overstated.)

Amazingly, not a single state has a progressive tax system. Delaware is the least regressive, with the bottom 20% paying 5.5% and the top 1% paying 4.8%. That is still regressive, of course. The most regressive state is Washington, where the tax rates are 16.8% for the bottom fifth, and 2.4% for the top 1% of earners. To Washington’s credit, the Democrats there are at least trying to make their state’s taxes less regressive, but the best way to do so is by adopting a state income tax, which voters there rejected in a ballot initiative a few years ago.

The next time Mitt Romney or another Republican complains that 47 percent of Americans are freeloaders who pay no federal income tax, remind him that at the state level, more of a poor family’s income goes to taxes than does the income of a wealthy family. In every state.



15 January 2015

Welcome to the Montana blogosphere, Rep. Ellie Boldman Hill


Montana has another progressive blog, Tales from the Dome, by Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula), a legislator known for her determination to repeal reform Montana’s castle doctrine law, and her refusal to be cowed by, or take guff from, Gary Marbut. She says of herself:

My posts are a reflection of me and my politics, which is a hybrid of progressive liberalism and Libertarianism. I don’t think government is all bad, nor do I think it will solve all our problems. I am a Democrat and I genuinely do like Republicans. I really don’t like bigots or obstructionists or people with no sense of humor or Fox News.

I don’t toe the party line. I like college football. And beer.

I’ll consider forgiving her for liking America’s favorite concussive, IQ lowering, knee destroying, gladiatorial contest. In Missoula, where leather-like prolate spheroids are objects of religious devotion, and criticism thereof is taboo, not rooting for the Grizzlies might be political suicide.

But not toeing the party line? Nothing there to forgive. I don’t do that, either.


Did Tutvedt & Salomon conspire with CSKT to promote majority rule?

Did State Sen. Bruce Tutvedt (R-Kalispell) and State Rep. Dan Salomon (R-Ronan) conspire with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to block a rules change in the Montana House of Representatives so that a mere majority of that chamber could approve the Flathead Water Compact? The anti-compact group Concerned Citizens of Western Montana — which is hopping mad that Montana’s Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission approved the renegotiated compact; see today’s post, Troubled Waters, at Montana Cowgirl — thinks so, and explained why on 8 January:

…read the rest


14 January 2015

Montana’s horse and buggy internet

Got a narrow view of broadband in MT? If so, the Missoulian reports, you’ve got the picture. Compared to most states, Montana’s internet is sluggish and not up to the needs of modern communications requirements. We pay too much for not enough speed. Apparently, we prefer tooling down narrow highways at 90 mph, swigging red beer, to cruising the internet at light speed.


13 January 2015

Flathead H2O compact, senior center costs, GOP science fiction

Flathead Water Compact. Last night in Helena, the Montana Reserved Water Rights Commission unanimously approved the renegotiated Flathead Water Compact. Now the legislature must approve the compact, or there will be years and years of ugly litigation. I hope the Republicans who opposed the compact two years ago will recognize that the changes in the renegotiated agreement make this a good deal, and will approve it as a practical matter instead of opposing it as an idealogical imperative.

Flathead County senior center. Commissioner Phil Mitchell wants a special meeting on Friday, 16 January, to discuss ways of reducing the cost of the building. One way of reducing the capital investment, reports the InterLake, is using cheaper but less efficient heating and cooling equipment:

During the process of awarding the contract, David Mitchell of CTA Architects Engineers told the commissioners the heating and cooling system could be downgraded to a less costly but less efficient rooftop model.

That’s like buying gas guzzling automobile to save on the purchase price, then spending the “saved” money and more on gasoline. It’s not a good bargain. The county should insist on a super-insulated building, super-efficient heating and cooling equipment, and a roof strong enough to support photovoltaic panels for a net metering connection. Fossil fuel prices are low now because an economic turndown abroad has reduced demand, but that demand will return. Over the long term, fossil fuel prices will rise.

Homeowners and businesses use life cycle cost analysis to determine whether they can afford a building, accounting for both construction and operational costs. Governments do not, but should. Governments subordinate energy efficiency to maximizing square footage, thus ensuring that future taxpayers will be burdened with expensive retrofits and high energy consumption and costs.

Republicans believe a legislator can be in two places at the same time. Montana Streetfighter infers this amazing belief from its discovery that:

…the TEA party Republican leadership in the Montana Senate have stacked some of the chamber’s most important committees with the same few far right-wing legislators. The only problem? Many committees meet at the same time, meaning these senators will necessarily have to miss their committee meetings.

There’s more. Republicans may not be all that enthused with science, but it appears they’re really into science fiction.



12 January 2015

Orange sky at morning

Orange light washes the clouds on a recent winter’s morning as the sun rises behind the Swan Range. It was the chromatic highlight of the day.




11 January 2015

So far, our blessings in the legislature have requested 2,230 bills

Our legislators are not yet out of ideas for new laws. As of today, 327 bills have been introduced, and another 1,903 requested, for a total of 2,230.

Bills that are “probably dead” number 88. Of these, 43 died in process, and 45 were drafts that were canceled. Bills that are probably dead can be resurrected by “…a supermajority vote (usually a 2/3 vote) by the House or Senate.” So a bill only becomes really dead after the legislature adjourns sine die.

A larger subset of unintroduced bills is draft on hold, which means the legislators isn’t ready to cancel the draft but for various reasons no longer assigns the bill request a high priority. As of today, 889 drafts are on hold.

In its 2013 session, the legislature batted .237: 2,218 bills were requested, 1,201 introduced, 596 passed, 71 vetoed, and 525 signed into law.

Summary information on bills requested and introduced is available online. Internet access to the bills is getting better, but it’s still pretty primitive. There’s no free download of all of the information, including the text of bills, in a format that can be opened in a relational database. And while the summary information can be downloaded as tab delimited text, then imported into a database, some of the fields contain more than one kind of data, a practice universally frowned upon by database professionals. The net result: meta analysis of legislation is made much more difficult and time consuming because of the need to parse, convert, and standardize data.

What money can buy at the legislature

But if you have money — if you’re a lobbying or law firm — you can buy better organized data that the taxpayers have already paid for and should be able for everyone to download for free. Here’s an example (I don’t know how useful this subscription would be, or whether it’s even electronic):


I’m sure most lobbyists and big spenders find this situation just dandy. They can afford the pricy subscriptions and data conversion experts that independent bloggers in Montana cannot.

Is that fair? Of course not. Is that politics? You betcha.



10 January 2015

Morning drivin’ to work video: Southern Pacific & Pink Cadallic

From the 1985 Farm Aid concert, Southern Pacific and Emmy Lou Harris blasting out a toe-tappin’ rendition of Springsteen’s Pink Cadillac that will get you to work on time if you don’t get a speeding ticket or spin out on black ice.



9 January 2015

Commissioner Mitchell off to a noisy but inglorious start

Updated at 1706 MST. Download the Mitchell-Holmquist letter (3MB PDF). Warning: reading it may make your mind boggle.

Phil Mitchell’s been a Flathead County Commissioner for less than a month, but he’s not waiting to make mistakes that a fellow commissioner thinks could be violations of ethics.

Lynnette Hintze has the juicy details in a wonderfully deadpan, must-read, story at the InterLake, so I’ll only mention a highlight or two here.

Yesterday, Mitchell and Commissioner Pam Holmquist voted to send a letter opposing the Flathead Water Compact to Governor Bullock, Attorney General Fox, and much of the rest of Creation in Montana. They did so even after Fox had called and sent a letter Wednesday asking for a delay on the letter. And they approved the letter without its first being reviewed by the Flathead County Attorney, official counsel to the county commission.

When Mitchell said he had several lawyers look at his proposed letter, Krueger said those lawyers should then be paid for their legal services.

Krueger further said his information indicated a local attorney named “Duncan” had made the most recent revisions to the letter, so it appeared the draft “is a product of Duncan [Scott].”

Mitchell said Scott was only one of about eight people who helped him draft the letter.

Krueger countered, saying the letter was “no longer anything Commissioner Mitchell is working on by his own [self].

“If Commissioner Mitchell has taken professional services” without the county paying for them, it’s a code of ethics violation, Krueger maintained.

One’s mind reels at moves this boneheaded. The substance of a letter under consideration by the commissioners can be debated, but surely the residents of Flathead County have the right to expect that their county commissioners will follow proper procedure when considering that letter’s substance.

And the substance of Mitchell’s letter? Let Krueger have the last word:

Alluding to the people who helped Mitchell draft the letter, Krueger said “a small group of radicals got our county commissioners to mass-mail a bunch of crazy propaganda.”



8 January 2015

Flathead Water Compact updates

A summary of the renegotiated compact is now available online (pdf), but the updated appendices still are not available.

The modified compact will be presented in Kalispell at 0900 Saturday morning, 10 January, at the Hilton.

At Polymontana, Dr. Ed Berry has been methodically and convincingly refuting the anti-compact arguments being made by some of the compact’s most adamant detractors.

Rescued by Congress? I still suspect that some of the opponents who prefer to duke it out in court regard litigation not as a path to victory, although they hope they might get lucky, but as a delaying tactic so that in 2017 a Republican Congress and President can provide a legislative solution. Conrad Burns and Rick Hill tried that in 1999, and failed, but the hope that the federal government will sell the Hellgate Treaty down the river springs eternal.

An interesting history of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project (pdf) is available from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.


Why publish fuzzy photos when they can be refocused?

France’s gendarmes are searching for the men below, Chérif Kouachi on the left, and his brother, Said, on the right. They’re the chief suspects in yesterday’s terrorist murders at the Paris based satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The images are appearing all over the world and were, I presume, provided by French law enforcement authorities.

The left image of Chérif is the result of a few minutes work on my part. I used off-the-shelf software (Photoshop and Pixinsight) to make tonal and color corrections, and to bring his face into sharper focus. CNN (where I obtained the image), the New York Times, and other major news outlets can do this at least as well as I can. So can France’s constabulary. So, why didn’t they?




7 January 2015

Commissioners Holmquist and Mitchell muddy the compact waters

Updated at 2213 MST. Need another example of the consequence of an election? You’ll find it at the Flathead County Commission tomorrow morning, when the commissioners consider approving a letter telling Governor Bullock (D) and Attorney General Fox that the Flathead County Commission opposes the Flathead Water Compact.

According to the InterLake’s Lynnette Hinzte, newly elected commissioner Phil Mitchell, who replaced Cal Scott, drafted the new letter, which would replace a letter approved last fall supporting, with numerous caveats, the compact. I could not find Mitchell’s letter on the County Commission’s website.

Nor could I find the renegotiated compact on the Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission’s website. But I did find this:

December 2014 Revised Compact

Thank you for your interest in the proposed water rights compact between the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes and the State of Montana. Revised compact language is currently be drafted and will be posted soon. Please check back for updates.

The new language may be released this week. Update. It will be presented in Kalispell at 0900 on Saturday, 10 January, at the Hilton — two days after the commissioners consider their letter.

The inconvenience of not having the official facts about the renegotiated compact has not deterred Mitchell and fellow commissioner Pam Holmquist from opposing it. They've been attending meetings of the compact's opponents, talking to local legislators, and they think they know enough.

Besides, as Mitchell told Hintze:

“If they address the issues I address, then my letter is moot,” Mitchell said, adding that he expects any proposed changes to be “unbelievably minor.”

Mitchell’s letter presents a uniquely irrelevant statistic:

…under the proposed Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes compact, the average acre feet per tribal member is 6,827 acre feet of water, which is 77 times more water than the average outlined In compacts for the other six Indian reservations in Montana. [Hintze]

No kidding. And it might even be true (I haven’t checked Mitchell’s math). But even if true, so what? Might that average simply be a consequence of Western Montana’s being wetter than Eastern Montana?

Frankly, considering this letter before the release of the officially renegotiated compact language is both farcical and an embarrassment to Flathead County.



6 January 2015

Ballance’s raw milk bill is a raw deal for public health


Rep. Nancy Ballance’s (R-Hamilton) raw milk bill, LC-1110, is in the “draft in input/proofing” stage, but the current text is available on the legislature’s website. Similar to former Rep. Champ Edmunds’ original raw milk bill that was whooped through the Montana House of Representatives two years ago, but, as I noted in my 9 December 2014 post, fortunately stalled out in the Montana State Senate, it carves out a small herd exemption that exempts holders of small herd permits from the “…licensing, sanitation, quality, and labeling requirements…” to which owners of larger herds are held.

If the bill becomes law, dairies with small herd permits will be able to sell raw milk directly to consumers — and they’ll be able to sell it without fear of being sued if drinking that raw milks sickens or kills someone:

Section 5. Consumer liability. The consumer of raw milk obtained from a permittee assumes all liability for health issues that may result from the consumption of raw milk or raw milk products.

Insofar as I can determine, the bacteria that make raw milk dangerous in large herds are identical to the bacteria that make raw milk dangerous in small herds. There is no scientific basis for differentiating raw milk from small herds from raw milk from large herds. There is no public health rationale for allowing the sale of raw — unpasteurized — milk, whether the raw milk is sold directly to consumers at the dairy or through resellers.

So why the small herd exemption approach? It’s to frame the question as a David versus Goliath issue instead of as a public health issue. “Take pity on these struggling tillers of soil and herders of cattle,” goes the argument. “Help them provide for their families by reserving for them a small market that industrial farms can’t disrupt. Let them sell raw milk to health food zealots, and relieve them of liability if their product sickens or kills the buyers or their defenseless children.”

Raw milk advocates also will attempt to frame the issue as one of personal liberty, as whether consumers should have the right to buy and consume anything and everything they want. If firearms were the subject, they would be arguing that they should be able to buy not only hunting rifles, but 155mm howitzers, .50 caliber machine guns, and Davy Crockett recoilless rifles with MK-54 atomic rounds.

In the last legislature, this argument — which is a crock — bamboozled Democrats and Republicans alike. Let’s hope that this session our legislators are smarter and more responsible.

This will be an interesting bill for HD-11 (map) Rep. Albert Olszewski, (R-Kalispell), a physician who sits on the House’s agriculture, human services, and taxation committees. He’s a surgeon, and no friend of bad bacteria. If faced with a bill to legalize the sale of raw milk in Montana, how will he vote?



5 January 2015

Let it snow, but not so much

It’s snowin’ heavy, so today is bloggin’ lite. Below, at mid-morning, the arborvitae along my sidewalk. It’s still snowing.




4 January 2015

Whitefish being lobbied hard to adopt non-discrimination ordinance

Both the InterLake and Flathead Beacon report that the Whitefish City Council, encouraged by the Montana Human Rights Network and the Montana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, will consider a non-discrimination ordinance that (Beacon) “…protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.”

Several Montana cities have adopted local non-discrimination ordinances, but not all (InterLake):

…read the rest


3 January 2015

Note to readers

We’re experiencing some technical difficulties, possibly at the server level, and not all links are functional. We’re working the problem, but the fix probably includes waiting on third parties to make their fixes.

MT House rules change aimed at renegade Republicans

Republicans hold a 59–41 majority in Montana’s House of Representatives — but the Republican caucus is not monolithic. On some issues, enough Republicans can, and will, join with Democrats to form a very narrow majority. That split within the Republican caucus, and the frustration and fury it generates among the 45–50 tea partiers who dominate the caucus, is the key to understanding why House Speaker (elect) Austin Knudsen (R-Culbertson), majority leader Keith Regier (R-Kalispell) and the Republican leadership are supporting new House rule that would make it virtually impossible to blast a bill out of the appropriations committee without support from the GOP’s tea party faction.

Under current House rules, a bill reported out of a committee can be re-referred by the speaker to the appropriations committee. Overriding the speaker’s decision requires 51 votes (Woods). Knudsen and colleagues want the override threshold raised to 60 votes. Last month, the rules committee approved the change, which must be approved by the full House next week.

This is aimed squarely at the self-named Responsible Republicans caucus that believes in government enough that it will form a governing coalition with Democrats. It is likely that on some bills, 10 Republicans would join with the 41 Democrats to override a re-referral, but no more likely than the cow’s jumping over the Moon that at least 19 Republicans would join with Democrats to override a Republican speaker.

If the rule is adopted by the House, it will greatly weaken Governor Bullock’s ability to form a governing coalition with the Responsible Republicans, as he did in the 2013.

Knudsen told Lee reporter Mike Dennison that:

…the change — yet to be approved — is simply a step to give the majority more control over the budgeting process.

Translation: the rule will give the Republican caucus more control over the budgeting process, because it will effectively keep the Responsible Republicans from joining with Democrats to thwart the policy decisions made within the Republican caucus. The majority Knudsen’s talking about is the majority of the Republican caucus, not the majority of the Montana House of Representatives.

Knudsen’s play is clever, audacious, and deeply hostile to the principle of majority rule that is the foundation of democratic government. If he and his associates get away with it — and I fear they might — they will not only give the speaker far too much power, they will provide a 41-member minority with a veto. That’s change, but not progress.



2 January 2015

Flathead Republicans join lawsuit to force closed primaries

State Representative-elect Matt Montforton (R-Bozeman) announced today that five more Republican county central committees, including Flathead County, have joined his lawsuit to close Republican primaries to all but registered Republicans. He said he expects more county central committees to join the lawsuit before the Montana GOP convenes on 10 January to consider the issue. Montforton’s full press release is below.

Meanwhile, Sen. Fred Thomas (R-Stevensville) has requested a bill, LC0137, with the short title of “Referendum to provide top two primary in certain elections.” The 2013 Legislature approved a top two primary referendum, SB-408, that the Montana Supreme Court kicked off the 2014 general election ballot for having too long a title. Presumably, Thomas’s top two referendum will have a title of legal length.

How top two and closed primaries differ. A top two primary replaces partisan primaries with a single open primary that places only the two candidates receiving the most votes on the general election ballot. As a practical matter, the top two would keep Libertarian candidates off the general election ballot. That, Republicans believe, would prevent Democrats from winning by pluralities, as did Jon Tester in 2006 and 2012, and Steve Bullock in 2012. A closed primary would not limit the number of candidates on the general election ballot. It’s purpose, rather, is keeping Democrats and independents from voting in Republican primaries.

…read the rest


1 January 2015

New Year’s Day Video — All My Life’s a Circle

Happy New Year! Here are the Kingston Trio, Limeliters, Brothers Four, Mary Travers, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Glenn Yarbrough, John Sebastion, et al, in 1982 singing Circle as a tribute to its author, the late Harry Chapin.



31 December 2014

Thanks, and see you next year

My thanks to all who read Flathead Memo and provided tips and feedback in 2014. May the New Year bring you peace, laughter, prosperity, and wisdom.

— James Conner

U. of Michigan becomes Harbaugh Institute of Athletic Excess

Update, 13:10:35 MST. You’ll want to read the LA Times’ story on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s dropping football.

Jim Harbaugh landed on his feet after parting ways with the San Francisco 49ers, where he was the head coach. He landed at the University of Michigan, which gave him a seven-year, $5 million per year, contract to practice his specialty: coaching the brutal game of college football. And according to public officials in Michigan, it won’t cost the taxpayers a cent:

It’s true – big-time programs like Michigan can pay coaches inflated salaries because the money is there, and they choose to pay the salaries because they want to keep the money there.

The entirety of deposed Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s salary and buyout – $14.4 million over his four-year tenure – came from Michigan athletic department coffers and not taxpayers, State Budget Office spokesman Kurt Weiss said. The public university is expected to pay Harbaugh solely through revenue and donations the athletic department generated, with no money from the state included.

“Our records show [Michigan’s athletic department] would likely have enough money,” Weiss said.

Sportswriters are bemoaning an athletics “arms race” that lesser institutions might not be able to afford. But few if any are bemoaning the corruption of the university as an institution of learning where books are more important than pieces of leather fashioned into prolate spheroids.

What university that values academics can afford in any moral sense to pay a coach even as much as the mostly lowly teaching assistant in the humanities, science or engineering, or law? And what university that values the human mind, that wants to develop brainpower, can in good conscience even be connected with a game that causes brain damage in addition to battering the rest of the players’ bodies so badly that a fearful number end up with metal knees and joints before they qualify for Social Security — provided they’re fortunate enough to live that long?

The University of Michigan once was a great school. Now it’s just the Harbaugh Institute of Athletic Excess. What a waste.



30 December 2014

Did Vince Lovato get busted taking photos he didn’t need?


Remember Vince Lovato? The aggressive ex-editor of the Lake County Leader who was arrested on 1 October after getting crosswise with a highway patrolman at the scene of an accident near Polson? His year is ending a lot less worse than it could have ended.

Yesterday, reports the Missoulian’s Vince Devlin, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, disorderly conduct:

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped two other misdemeanor charges against Lovato, for obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest.

Under the agreement, Lovato – who has since been replaced as Leader editor, but continues to work as a reporter and photographer for the weekly newspaper – will pay a $100 fine and $500 in court costs.

…read the rest


29 December 2014 • 21:07:07 MST

Conservative reader makes Flathead Memo’s day

An old verity — when the subject is controversial, the speaker should supply the facts and the audience should supply the indignation — governs my approach to reporting and discussing the issues. Too many adjectives usurp the reader’s prerogative to draw his own conclusions. Insults dishonor the human rights of readers and subjects. Profanity — an occasional hell or damn excepted — offends, and gratuitously; and as my grandfather used to say, is the effort of a weak mind to express itself forcefully. I don’t always abide by those principles perfectly, but I try to.

That’s why I was very pleased this morning to receive the note below from a well respected resident of the Flathead whose politics are far more conservative than mine. I’m withholding his name because I think publishing it might invite some readers to conclude that he’s endorsing Flathead Memo. He wonders whether I remember him. I do. I thank him for his generous comments, and for taking the time to express them.

James, not sure you would remember me from my … days … but I would like to wish you a Happy New Year. I try to avoid politics as much as possible, however when I need to take a stand I do and tend to communicate that. I occasionally take a read on your blog site and enjoy your perspective even though my quite conservative politics often disagree.

Mostly, James, I really just wanted to let you know I appreciate how you communicate and how you have not let yourself fall to the depths of antagonizing and downright appalling behavior trying to make a point like so many in the blog and response world do (both sides of the aisle). While we may not agree on some things I have never doubted your passion in what you do and I know where you stand — that is admirable in anybody.



28 December 2014

Snowin’ heavy & bloggin’ lite

My driveway this morning. Six to eight inches of new snow that fell straight down. Now the wind’s from the north, picking up speed as it begins building drifts. The height of land in the distance is Lone Pine park west of Kalispell.

Flathead Memo will be on a bloggin’ lite schedule the next few days while organizing for 2015, installing some long deferred software upgrades, and further refining Flathead Memo’s design.




27 December 2014

Snowmobiling across lakes in the dark is inherently dangerous

Two men drowned in Seeley Lake yesterday when their snowmobiles either broke through the ice or zoomed into open water. A third man survived a hypothermic dunking.

They were trying to cross the lake after dark, following dinner in one of Seeley Lake’s eateries. Whether they also drank alcoholic beverages was not addressed in early reports; we’ll know more when the investigation is completed and the official report is released.

This accident should raise red flags for other snowmobilers:

  1. Crossing lakes and rivers in the dark is inherently dangerous, especially on a snowmobile. A skier receives auditory cues from his passage — the crunch and scrape of the snow, the cracks and booms of the shifting ice — but the snowmobiler hears only his engine. Even with a full moon, visibility is limited.

  2. Three snowmobiles apparently sank in open water at virtually the same moment, suggesting they may have been advancing abreast of each other instead of traveling single file with plenty of space between the machines.

This tragedy probably will be deemed an error in judgment.


Morning video — Limeliters and the Lonesome Traveler

Left to right, Alex Hassilev, Lou Gottlieb, and tenor Glenn Yarbrough, in the early 1960s. Yarbrough, a sailor and boatbuilder as well as one of the Twentieth Century’s finest folk and pop tenors, probably is best known for Baby, the Rain Must Fall, which he recorded after leaving the Limeliters. Now 84, Yarbrough is still performing.


26 December 2014 • 11:32:43 MST

Kalispell’s city government covets a local sales tax

All tax reform, the late Sen. Russell Long (D-LA) observed, is based on a simple principle: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.” Whitefish, for example, has a two percent resort tax that nicks local residents, but also nicks tourists, who are the fellows behind the tree. Kalispell also wants to tax the fellow behind the tree, but its population exceeds the resort tax ceiling of 6,000, so it wants the Montana Legislature to approve a local option sales tax:

Local Option Sales Tax: The City of Kalispell supports legislation that would provide local communities the option of enacting a voter approved sales tax within municipal limits that would provide an opportunity to maintain infrastructure and services for our community that is impacted by a large number of people who do not reside within the City of Kalispell.

Passing a local option sales tax bill is the first of two steps. The second is putting the issue to the voters in the community that wants to tax those fellows behind the trees

In theory, a Kalispell sales tax could finance filling potholes, building grander roads, installing more streetlights to pollute the night sky, and other infrastructure projects while providing some sort of property tax relief. Whitefish, for example, kicks back some of the money to property owners.

What kind of transactions would be subject to a Kalispell sales tax? Whitefish provides a guide:

Whitefish’s resort tax is a 2% tax on the retail sale of lodging, restaurant and prepared food, alcoholic beverages, ski resort goods and services, and defined luxury items. Whitefish voters allocated the use of the resort tax as follows:

  1. Property tax reduction for taxpayers residing in the city in an amount equal to twenty five percent (25%) of the resort tax revenues derived during the preceding fiscal year;

  2. Provision for the repair and improvement of existing streets, storm sewers, all underground utilities, sidewalks, curbs and gutters, in an amount equal to sixty five percent (65%) of resort tax revenues derived during the preceding fiscal year;

  3. Bicycle paths and other park capital improvements in an amount equal to five percent (5%) of the resort tax revenues derived during the preceding fiscal year;

  4. Cost of administering the resort tax in an amount equal to five percent (5%) per year.

Whitefish’s list of goods and services subject to the two-percent sales tax excludes, as it should, groceries, medicine, and medical care. Were Kalispell to get greedy and slap a sales tax on groceries and medicines, citizens on fixed incomes would suffer a decline in their purchasing power. Therefore, any local option enabling legislation should forbid taxing groceries, medicine, and medical care.

Sen. Cliff Larson (D-Missoula) has asked for a bill (LC0599) with the short title of “Generally revise local option sales tax on tourism laws.” So far, no draft of the bill is available for public review, so whether it would affect Kalispell remains unknown. And as of the time of this writing, no Kalispell area legislator has introduced a local option sales tax bill.