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

1 October 2014

How Zinke and Romney lie about John Lewis and Medicare

Aaron Flint reports Ryan Zinke is running a new radio ad featuring failed Presidential candidate Mitt Romney accusing John Lewis of cutting Medicare.

First, the script. Then, how Romney lied.

…read the rest


30 September 2014

Did Zinke outmaneuver Lewis on 29 September debate?

I think so. When in late August Zinke first agreed to the debate, then suddenly withdrew, the Billings Gazette’s Tom Lutey reported the sticking points were Zinke’s refusal to participate in a debate that included Libertarian candidate Mike Fellows, and whether only questions meeting Zinke’s approval would be asked. Montana Public Television would have co-sponsored the debate and broadcast it live on PBS.

Mike Fellows was not invited to last night’s debate. Score a point for Zinke. The debate was not televised, thus limiting the number of people who could watch it (Yellowstone Public Radio does have an audio recording, which in my opinion isn’t better than nothing; it’s possible the debate wasn’t video recorded). Score another point for Zinke. I don’t know whether the questions were approved in advance by either or both candidates (candidates shouldn’t be given that power), but a question on foreign policy was rightly asked, and Zinke had wanted such a question.

Zinke’s about face silences criticism that he won’t debate. The debate wasn’t broadcast on television, limiting the audience to the 300 or so in the auditorium. Indeed, it may not have even been video recorded (were iPhones confiscated at the door?). If so, Zinke won’t be embarrassed by a debate gaffe appearing in a Lewis ad. And so far, there’s no written transcript, although a rough transcript could be constructed from the audio using voice recognition software.

Although Zinke seems to have outmaneuvered Lewis, in the end Montana’s voters were outmaneuvered and are the ultimate losers. We live in an age in which high quality video recordings of debates can be made at low cost (a broadcast TV crew isn’t needed), and a transcript can be prepared quickly, especially if a court reporter records the event as it occurs. Shame on the debate’s sponsors and participants for not doing what was feasible, necessary, and right.


Reviewing the planks in Amanda Curtis’ platform


Amanda Curtis’ campaign website has undergone a major revision and now includes an issues page. It’s much, much more of a bandwidth hog, but it’s also cleaner and much easier to navigate.

Curtis is running mostly on her personal story, so her platform is short and its planks thin. Her positions are pretty much those of Sen. Jon Tester: long on rhetoric, concise on specifics. Much to her credit, she omitted a plank on the deficit and national debt.

Much to her discredit, she omits foreign policy, yet she seeks an office with clear constitutional foreign policy responsibilities, such as ratifying treaties, approving ambassadors, and declaring war. If she doesn’t intelligently address foreign policy soon, she could find herself being booed on college campuses.

Below, I’ve reprinted — and annotated — her platform. What I consider boilerplate is in gray. My comments are in sans serif type on a light yellow background. Be sure to revisit her issues page frequently, as it will change to address emerging issues.

…read the rest

Voters need video and a transcript of the Lewis-Zinke debate

The spin doctors were dancing around and with the facts after the debate last night, blasting out emails declaring their candidates were victorious. I’m sure most were mostly written before the debate commenced.

I want a video recording of the debate that I can download and study. I want a transcript of the debate. And I want both placed in the public domain. Ideally, the video would be broadcast quality, and the transcript would be prepared by a court reporter, but I’d settle for iPhone quality video and a transcript created with voice recognition software. And I want it by 1800 MDT today.

Morning video: Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

Performing in 1988. Not a song to listen to alone.


29 September 2014

Tonight’s U.S. House debate must address foreign policy

Democrat John Lewis and Republican Ryan Zinke debate each other in Billings this evening. I still don’t know whether Libertarian Mike Fellows will join them (the Billings Gazette story inexplicably omitted that detail. When Zinke previously withdrew from the debate, his demand that Fellows not be on stage was a major sticking point (Zinke is afraid Fellows could attract enough Republican votes that Lewis wins with a plurality).

President Obama’s decision to wage war in Syria without a clear Congressional declaration of war should take center stage tonight, as should the cowardly decision of Congress to adjourn without fully debating the issue. In effect, Congress said to the President, “ We’re going home, you can go shootin’ in Syria.” Congress and the President have not always been so irresponsible. Witness Franklin Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy address and Congress’ declarations of war on Japan, Germany, and the Axis powers.

Sharing center stage should be a discussion of whether the facts justify the wave of fear of terrorism that’s sweeping across the nation. A large number of American now seem terrified that as they walk out of the Post Office, a screaming black clad jihadi with Islamic eyes will leap out of the bushes and lop off their heads with a scimitar. Is this fear real? Yes. Is it rational? No. But do the debaters know that fear is irrational — and will they have the courage to say so? We’ll find out in a few hours. But given his recent television ads, I would be surprised if Zinke fails to fan the flames of fear.

Meanwhile, I urge everyone to read Josh Marshall’s essay on the effect this wave of fear is having on the election. Recent polls report Republican candidates for the Senate are pulling ahead of Democrats in Colorado and Ohio. Marshall attributes this shift to a visceral fear of terrorism, and an equally visceral sense that Republicans are better than Democrats at fighting terrorism. I thin k he’s right.



28 September 2014

Two weeks of station pressure variations at KGPI

Most weather reports present the barometric pressure as corrected to sea level. METAR reports provide the actual station pressure in inches of mercury. Below, a graph of the station pressure, which varies continuously, at Glacier International Airport (KGPI), elevation 2,972 feet, for two weeks. The model for the U.S. Standard Atmosphere, by my calculations, puts the baseline station pressure at 26.85 inches of mercury.


The variation in station pressure affects the boiling point of water and the pressure altitude. Those graphs at another time.


27 September 2014

Will Mike Fellows be in the 29 September House debate?

The answer to that simple question has not appeared in any of the news stores I’read reporting that Ryan Zinke has decided to debate John Lewis in Billings on 29 September after all. Earlier, Zinke had arbitrarily refused to debate Lewis if Libertarian Mike Fellows was in the debate. So who caved in on this — Zinke or Lewis? And why the devil are reporters omitting from their stories whether Fellows will be debating? Fellows may well draw three to six percent of the vote, virtually all of it from Zinke, so whether he’s in the debate is important.


26 September 2014

Equipment miniaturization complicates wilderness filming policy

Filming in wilderness. When Technicolor first became a viable process, it’s on-location presence included a portable laboratory housed in a huge black railcar. The TC three-strip camera used to film Becky Sharp was almost as big as half a Volkswagen Bug. Now movies are shot with iPhones.

That complicates the Forest Service’s task in writing wilderness regulations that exclude movie and television and commercial photography while not curtailing the First Amendment rights of news photographers and recreational visitors.

Hollywood’s megalomaniacal directors would never settle for a four-man shooting party, no matter how much sense it made. Working light and traveling lighter is not their way. They prefer — indeed, their psyche’s need — location camps the size of small villages. To film in wilderness, they would want to build new settlements in wilderness in violation of the Wilderness Act. Denying permits for that kind of excess is easily justified. So is denying access to television news parties that want to drive their satellite link vans into wilderness on wide trails and old roads (yes, there are grown over roads in some wilderness areas; a story for another time).

But less egocentric filmmakers have options with far less impact. Equipped with lightweight video cameras such as the Red Epic Dragon a four-person foot party practicing leave only footprints, take only photographs, backcountry travel could easily shoot a minimalist movie without damaging the land, and quite possibly without even being noticed. Using the same equipment, one man on foot, virtually indistinguishable from an ordinary hiker, and less intrusive than an amateur still photographer with an 8 x 10 view camera and a mule, could shoot footage for B-roll for and chroma key. Denying permits to these filmmakers is more difficult to justify, especially when trying to distinguish them from journalists who are protected by the First Amendment.

I’m amenable to proposals for permits allowing some B-roll and chroma key shooting — perhaps a pool arrangement with two or three shooting days a year — as long as actors and interviewees stay home. That would make wilderness scenery available for filmmakers while minimizing impacts. I’d be willing to consider proposals of that nature.

What I won’t consider are issuing permits for wilderness filming operations to Hollywood style location camps, reality shows (just the though of a reality show shot in wilderness gives me angina), television and internet commercials, and heavy on the land news documentaries.

News and movies and commercials are being made all the time. All the wilderness we’ll ever see in our lifespans has been made, and figuratively speaking, the production line has been shut down forever. What we don’t preserve now will never return.



25 September 2014

Lynn Stanley signs becoming visible in House District 8


The sign below is on Blue Crest Drive, with the northern Swan Range in the background. I found it, and like signs on Three Mile Drive and Empire Loop, during my daily walk this evening on a route taking me through the northwestern neighborhoods of HD-8 (map).

Stanley, a Democrat, and a very serious, very smart, and very nice woman, is running against Rep. Steve Lavin, the Republican incumbent in what is now HD-7 (map). I haven't encountered his signs yet. Stanley has been knocking on HD-8 doors for over a year. She wants the job and likes the voters.



Tell the Forest Service the 1st Amendment applies in wilderness

The Wilderness Act did not repeal the First Amendment, but the U.S. Forest Service’s new regulations for photography in wilderness areas do not honor that fact. Whether intentional or not, as written, the regulations, which seem intended to regulate the landscape altering armies of staff that attend the making of movies and commercials, also regulate news photography in a manner that includes, in my judgment, content control.

Although the new regulations provide more clarity than the old regulations, they also assert more government control of moving picture news photography in a way that’s troubling and just doesn’t seem well thought out. But it does seem consistent with the overly strict interpretation of the Wilderness Act that some within the Forest Service have used since 1964 to undermine support for wilderness preservation.

…read the rest


24 September 2014

Forest Service needs refresher course on First Amendment

Thanks to Justin Franz at the Flathead Beacon for alerting us to a U.S. Forest Service policy that could require a permit, $1,500, and content approval, for news photography in wilderness areas. I’ve got news for the FS: the Wilderness Act did not repeal the First Amendment. It’s one thing to regulate commercial photography, such as shooting movies and commercials, in wilderness, but quite another to try to regulate a news photographer with a DSLR or a hiker with a pocketable digital camera. The word for this kind of policy making describes oats that have passed through the horse.


Art Wittich has a health care plan: it’s sick


State Sen. Art Wittich (R-Scroogeville) has a plan for providing health care coverage Montana — a plan that spares Montana the shame and evil of accepting millions of federal Obamacare dollars, and doesn’t reward able-bodied bums for being unemployed.

The key component:

Childless, able-bodied adults earning below 100 percent of the federal poverty level still would be without Medicaid coverage, but could get access to subsidized, private health insurance policies if they got a job, Wittich said.

“If they’re able-bodied, that says they are able to work, and they should go work,” he said. “This isn’t supposed to be a new welfare program. … We want to incentivize people to work.”

Wittich calls this a compromise on health care. I call it compromised, mean-spirited, and political mischief. He’s taunting the Montanans who support a straightforward expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Conditioning Medicaid, or a replacement for it, on one’s employment status instead of on income is simply a sanctimonious excuse for denying help to low income people.

Rep. Tom Woods (D-Bozeman) thinks Wittich is moving in the right direction. Maybe so, but Wittich hasn’t moved nearly far enough — and given his past behavior and comments on the issue, there’s perishingly little reason to believe he will.

…read the rest