Friday, October 31, 2003

Like me, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman thinks the war in Iraq was a liberal war. Like me, he wonders why a conservative like George Bush supports it.
Brian Kahn, host of the "Home Ground" radio show on NPR, has thoughts worth reading on rural America.
Jackie Corr sent along a couple of interesting articles about Wal-Mart. You can find them here and here.
OK, so I'm weak (and on lunch break). Twenty Democrats have requested a Dec. 15 special session to vote on funding for the Public Service Commission and Montana Consumer Counsel to represent Montana's interests in the NorthWestern Energy bankruptcy. Estimated price tag: $1 million per year. Signers of the letter to Secretary of State Bob Brown included Monica Lindeen of Huntley.

Brown said his office would mail out ballots next Friday to see if a majority of legislators want to hold a session. Montana legislators have agreed to only one special session -- in 1973 -- since becoming a state. You can learn more about the issue in this week's Montana Unplugged column.
Don't come here looking. I'm up to my eyebrows in end-of-the-month billing, and at some point I have to put out a newspaper, too. If I do any blogging, it will be out of sheer weakness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Mtpolitics has posted Part 2 of his blogging interview with Brian Schweitzer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Dave Gallik, a Democratic legislator from Helena, says he is preparing to name a formal exploratory committee to see if he could raise enough money to run against Denny Rehberg, R-Billings, for Montana's U.S. House seat.

Gallik, who has been on what he calls a "test the waters tour" of the state, stopped by my office at noon today. The self-described "loudmouth" said that he has encountered enough dissatisfaction with Rehberg's performance to make a race feasible, but he won't run unless he can get campaign pledges of $100,000 to $150,000 to launch the race.

"There is a dissatisfaction out there," he said, "but when I ask for specifics, the specifics are kind of hard." He added, "Denny Rehberg's voting record on important stuff is under the radar screen." By "important stuff," he meant Iraq, prescription drugs and the No Child Left Behind Act, among other issues. Instead, he said, Rehberg has spent much of his time and energy on a "stupid" bill to protect private property along the Missouri Breaks. All that bill would accomplish, he said, would be to remove from landowners the option of selling their land to an attractive buyer: the U.S. government.

Gallik said the U.S. should admit it was wrong to invade Iraq without United Nations backing. He said we should do a "mea culpa" to the UN, admit that UN intelligence was better than ours, and see if we can get help to rebuild the country. He criticized Bush's $87 billion spending plan in Iraq at a time of record budget deficits as "credit card spending" while needs at home are neglected

Gallik rejected the "liberal Democrat" label, but acknowledged he is "a little more progressive than most." He said he was able to pass 12 of 35 bills he introduced in the Montana Legislature, an indication of his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion.

He said of knew of no other Democrats planning to get into the race and had talked to many of the most likely candidates. Steve Kelly was the Democratic candidate in 2002 but didn't get much support from the party.

Gallik is a Great Falls native and a lawyer in private practice in Helena. He was chief of staff for six years for former U.S. Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash., and is serving his second term in the Montana Legislature.
If you haven't been following the education debate sparked by Brian Schweitzer's comments over at Mtpolitics, you should go catch up. Scroll down to Oct. 27.
A note from Yellowstone County Commissioner Jim Reno says that he has raised $6,110 for his re-election bid. Of that total, $1,500 is a personal contribution, he said.
Caught a joint public appearance on C-SPAN last night by Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Clinton was there in all his empathetic charm and wonkishness, rattling off stats about AIDS, getting most of the best laugh lines and providing a summary of the international situation that was comprehensive, a model of clarity, hopeful and honest. My favorite part was when he said an AIDS initiative he has set up was successful in part because it took no money directly but worked through national governments. That way, Clinton said, it could still find willing supporters in people "who can't stand me but like him [Bush]." I'm no Clinton apologist -- there's no excusing what he did -- but I still found myself thinking for a moment: Shouldn't this guy be president?

Try as I might, I have never been able to warm up to Bob Dole, and last night was no exception. He is a brave and loyal American, to be sure, but his foreign policy pronouncements were, by Clintonian standards, muddled, and an edge of meanness has always seemed to me to underlie his famous wit. Knowing what I know now, would I still have favored Clinton over Dole in '96? I guess that's one hypothetical question I would just as soon not speculate about.
In today's Too-Late-for-The-Outpost edition is this unedited op-ed from Donald G. Mortenson, a retired electrician. It's longish but a good take on the Lockwood sewer bond, which is admittedly an unsexy topic (Molly Ivins tells the story of a colleague who began a sewer bond story with this - unpublished - lede: "Even a sewer plant can only take so much shit"). Here it is:

I have lived in Lockwood for over 40 years, after being born and raised in Forsyth, Montana. My wife, Sheryl, has lived in Lockwood for over 55 years. We have 4 children (3 of whom live in Lockwood), and 10 grandchildren. My 4 children, 7 of my grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews are attending, or have attended Lockwood School. My Grandparents lived and farmed in Lockwood from the mid 40's until 1963.

Having lived in Lockwood for most of my life, I have seen many changes. A good share of these changes were foreseeable as long as 50 or 60 years ago.
My Grandfather, one of the original founders of the Lockwood Water District, always said that in my lifetime, I would see Lockwood, especially the area around Johnson Lane, change into a residential metropolis with businesses and a High School. Most of the predictions made by him and other Old Timers have come to pass.

We have one of the best and largest school systems in the Northwest, a Domestic Water System, and a Fire District, complete with paramedics, and a growing number of businesses. ThQse assets, combined with the energetic and independent people of Lockwood, have made us the envy of numerous communities.

The only piece missing in our puzzle is a reliable sewer system. Water wells are being affected by the independent septic systems failing at a rising rate, and the water table is rising in some areas of Lockwood. A new sewer system has become of paramount importance. This is all reminiscent of some of the problems experienced in the Heights 20 or 30 years ago. Some people can remember the water that used to flow out of the rims above the Billings Sewer Plant and on down the river. The smell was so putrid that a person could hardly be around it.

It is my opinion that if we Lockwoodites, as a community, don't solve our own problems, some higher authority, such as the State of Federal Sanitation officials will. We will still pay for it, and probably lose our local control. I think it is time for Lockwood to stand and be counted with yes votes for our own sewer system.

We paid off the water bond earlier than expected, and the Lockwood Water Board has dropped our water bills $5.60 per month. By taking that $5.60, and another $10.00 per month for the average $100,000 home, we can implement our own sewer system and continue our progress into the future.

Hard work and diligence by the Lockwood Water Board has already procured grants to pay a little more than half of the initial cost, along with a signed up to 55 year renewable contract with the City of Billings to process and dispose of the sewage. This will save having to build and maintain a plant to process it ourselves. The contract also contains a clause that Lockwood will NOT be obligated to be annexed into the City of Billings, thereby insuring our continued independence.

All of this hinges on the passage of the bond issue, and the starting of the project in the very near future. We would then also become eligible for more State and Federal grants, and low interest loans to complete the system.

With a sewer system started and in place, more residential and business development would be sure to follow. This would increase Lockwood's tax base and decrease the cost to each individual homeowner and business.

Lockwood, stand and be counted with a "yes" vote on November 4, for our Sewer System. We need at least a 60% "yes" vote to make this happen.

Saturday, October 25, 2003 lands an e-mail interview with Brian Schweitzer. And City Lights thinks this might be a trend. I'm skeptical. Few politicians are as accessible and energetic as Brian Schweitzer. It's hard to imagine that many would have the courage to do a high-wire blogging act a few readers at the time.

Of course, I've been wrong about nearly every internet development to come along, so you might want to place your bets on political blogging as a campaign tactic.
Today's Gazette had a particularly clueless letter about the closing of Smith's grocery (scroll down to "Don't blame Wal-Mart ... .") Money graph: "Also, maybe Montanans should be thanking Wal-Mart for offering low prices on groceries. It sure makes it easier to feed your family on an average income of around $8 to $10 an hour without benefits." In other words, shopping at Wal-Mart makes it easier to live on Wal-Mart wages. And as other competitors go broke, those wages can go even lower, making shopping all the more enjoyable.

Rather than taking responsibility for helping to fuel that spiraling downward trend, Byrd blames Smith management. Other businesses that struggle to pay above-average wages and benefits can expect similar treatment -- and similar cluelessness on the part of shoppers.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Jackie Corr sends along a string of letters from Stars and Stripes about troop morale in Iraq. A lot of it is routine grousing, but an interesting undercurrent seems to run through the letters he selected. While we have been hearing complaints here that the media are ignoring positive developments in Iraq and emphasizing death and unrest, the complaint there seems to be the opposite: The brass keep talking about how great things are going, and ignore the problems. Once again, it sounds an awful lot like the Army I served in.
Just got word that Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich is scheduled to speak in Billings Nov. 22 at the annual meeting of the Northern Plains Resource Council.
In an Oct. 23 entry, Mt.politics uses this story to take up the case for random drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities. I have written about this issue here, but am compelled to note that this matter reveals one of the most insidious effects of drugs: They cause otherwise sensible conservatives to lose all respect for the Bill of Rights. If the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect the right to pee in private, then what, for heaven's sake, does it protect? My baseball card collection?

Set aside, for a moment, the constitutional niceties. Look at this as a practical matter. Take a hypothetical 16-year-old girl who likes music. She's out with friends at an all-ages show the weekend before school starts. Somebody passes a joint around, and she takes a couple of tokes.

On Monday, she has to decide whether to sign up for band. Even though the intoxicating effects, if any, of the marijuana are gone, and even though she has no plans to repeat the experiment, she knows that detectable amounts will remain in her body for up to 30 days. She knows that at any time during that period, she could be randomly tested for drugs. If she flunks the test, she faces suspension, humiliation, punishment. Does she take the chance and hope to skate by, or does she go looking for her druggie friends?

Sure, she should have thought about all that before taking that first toke. But she's 16 years old. Like most teenage drug users, she's no dope addict. She's just trying to figure out where she fits into life. What's our goal here: to help her make better choices, or to punish her for choices she already has made?

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Howard Kurtz has this gem from the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he 'didn't want to see any stories' quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used."
The New Yorker takes the hardline on Rush's rehab (link courtesy of Jackie Corr).
An Outpost reader sends in this link to a Washington Post story that says the federal government has banned coverage of the return of dead soldiers shipped home from the war.

"David, when does denial of information serve the public?" the reader asks.
At least one conservative institution isn't afraid to make the conservative case against the Pledge of Allegiance (see my Oct. 15 entry). Gene Healy of the reliably conservative Cato Institute ends his op-ed this way:

"Though no one can be legally compelled to salute the flag, encouraging the ritual smacks of promoting a quasi-religious genuflection to the state. That's not surprising, given that the Pledge was designed by an avowed socialist to encourage greater regimentation of society.

"Regardless of the legal merits of Newdow's case - which rests on a rather ambitious interpretation of the First Amendment's Establishment clause - it's ironic to see conservatives rally to such a questionable custom. Why do so many conservatives who, by and large, exalt the individual and the family above the state, endorse this ceremony of subordination to the government? Why do Christian conservatives say it's important for schoolchildren to bow before a symbol of secular power? Indeed, why should conservatives support the Pledge at all, with or without 'under God'?"
In the latest Montana Green Party newsletter, party secretary Paul Stephens makes the Greens sound as far from American liberalism as, say, the right wing of the Republican Party:

"American Liberalism is best exemplified by such programs as the New Deal, the Great Society, and such figures as the Kennedy's, Adlai Stevenson, Lyndon Johnson (a strange blend of Southern populism with social democracy), and Bill Clinton, et. al. Yet, all of these, you will notice, are militarists and Cold Warriors extraordinary, and not very attractive people in their private lives. None of them was particularly interested in the environment, or even in egalitarianism or 'grass roots democracy' as such. And all were viciously partisan, masters of Realpolitik in all its forms. Now, we call them 'Neo-liberals,' 'corporate Democrats' or 'corporate liberals' for obvious reasons. ... My view has nearly always been that this 'tendency' (corporate liberalism) is wrong or ill-fated in nearly all respects, just as Soviet Communism was, and for many of the same reasons. You can't force people to be free and prosperous. You can't help people by killing them. Government by a privileged, professional class is not good for the rest of us. It seems obvious enough to us now, but for those who came from, or still maintain contacts with the Liberal Establishment, it is a lesson we simply can't seem to communicate to our erstwhile liberal associates."

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Today's City Lights column proposes a boxing match between David "Stonewall Jackson" Crisp and Don "The Cipher" Cyphers, editor and publisher of the online Montana News Association. Cyphers, who has never allowed his utter absence of editorial or language skills to interfere with his desire to be an editor, takes occasional clumsy and irresponsible potshots at the Outpost through his letters page and editorial comments. My well considered and literate shots at him have been catalogued at the Montana Fraud Association site (just scroll to the bottom for links).

Unfortunately, this worthy and potentially lucrative matchup probably never will take place. Cyphers still has never responded to my formal challenge to submit to a public test of Bible knowledge matching Outpost music writer Scott Prinzing (another preacher's kid) and me against Cyphers and the alter ego of his choice. The time for some great ideas never arrives.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

The MT GOP Ebrief says that a study by the Centers for Disease Control "has concluded that the nation’s gun control laws have not reduced gun violence. The CDC panel reviewed 51 independent studies about the effectiveness of gun control legislation and in every case found that there was 'insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness.'"

Just on the surface, it's perfectly clear that "insufficient evidence" does not amount to a conclusion. Indeed, the CDC specifically warned against reaching one.

"When we say we don't know the effect of a law, we don't mean it has no effect. We mean we don't know," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, chairman of the CDC task force. "We are calling for additional high-quality studies."

Interesting, too, that the ebrief didn't find this 1997 CDC study worth mentioning. Key conclusion: Among 26 industrialized countries, the United States has a rate of firearm-related deaths among children that is 2.7 times greater than that of the next highest country. Guns don't kill people; children do.
Butte's share of the $87 billion for Iraq: $4.8 million. At least, according to this website. The link is from Helena Peace Seekers.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly takes a look here at drilling on the Rocky Mountain Front. Also here and here. Thanks to Linda, Gene and Sarah Sentz for the links.
From Jackie Corr comes this interesting story on the origins of white-collar crime.
My Oct. 12 link to Spoons' website elicited comments both here and there. Now Spoons reveals (scroll down a ways) the real source of his animus toward journalism: He was the tragic victim of an awkward transition graph when he was 10 years old. In adult life, he says, only 10 percent of journalists he has dealt with have even tried to do their jobs competently and honestly. But can his percentages be relied upon? Or has his childhood trauma biased him forever and rendered him unfit to judge the work of people in a profession that has scarred him for life? You decide.

UPDATE: In the interests of full disclosure, I should reveal that I, too, witnessed a gross act of journalistic injustice when I was a tyke. My older brother had won some sort of book reading award through the local library back in Texas, and the Victoria Advocate lined him up with the other winners to take a picture. But when the photo ran in the Sunday paper, my brother had been cropped out! Was it to save space? Was it simple incompetence? Or was it perhaps that he just didn't know the right people?

It was on that dark day that I resolved to devote my life to cleaning up corruption and favoritism in journalism, vowing to concentrate all my energies on creating a world where reading award winners everywhere would receive the public recognition they so richly deserve. Spoons, I feel your pain.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Former Gov. Stan Stephens has endorsed Bob Brown in the Republican primary for Montana governor.

“Bob represents conservative values, but also is a great consensus builder," Stephens said in a news release. "He's a guy who can help us get done the things we need to do to move Montana forward."
This unscientific survey of troop morale in Iraq seems consistent with what I have argued all along: The war in Iraq is the least popular war in U.S. history, including Vietnam and the Mexican War. The morale numbers probably were worse when I was in the Army, 1970-73, but that was a half-dozen years into a war with no meaningful victories in a conscript Army.

In part, perhaps this survey just demonstrates the truth of an old military axiom: To keep the troops happy, keep them busy. Working security detail is no fun for anybody.
A comment on the Oct. 15 postings for City Lights says that any fan would have done what the hapless Chicago Cubs fan did who interfered with the chance of a Cub to catch a foul ball. Have fans really fallen so far? Any real fan knows that you don't mess with foul balls if they are anywhere near where a player could get to them, and you never, ever, ever reach for a ball in fair territory. I hate to think that greed for souvenirs now outweighs even the game itself.
Speaking of talk radio (below) let's hang this assertion on the clothesline and see if anyone disputes it: Only one drug addict in world history has ever received sympathetic treatment on talk radio.
Paul Whiting sends along this story about how liberal became a dirty word. The argument isn't new, but the piece contains some details and background about the origins of conservative talk radio that were new to me. Hint: It's all part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Supporters of the Iraq war keep wondering why media coverage seems so negative. Here's one reason. In war, personal experiences weigh more heavily than strategic aims.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Rep. Dan Fuchs, R-Billings, says in a news release that he is in "the preliminary stages of spear heading a citizen initiative that will provide a constitutional protection while empowering the legislature to develop a fair and balanced tax structure." That means a sales tax that doesn't allow the Legislature to restore whatever other tax it replaces. Fuchs said he has been promoting a sales tax since 1994 but has voted against it because he, like other Montanans, had "fear of a future legislature bringing back the tax that was promised to be reduced or eliminated."

"Fuchs is in the process of building a coalition of interested parties across the state that can help with the financial costs associated with this type of endeavor," he says. "He is convinced that it is this type of provision that will allow Montana to finally move forward with real tax reform. To a balanced tax approach that utilizes a tax structure for the times, while providing important tax relief to those who have been shouldering the ever-increasing burden of one of this countries largest state governments.

"If you or your group are interested in helping with this endeavor either physically with signature gathering or with financial support please contact Rep. Dan Fuchs @ 395 Windsor Circle N. Blgs, MT. 59105. You can reach him at his office 252-8364 or on his cell 855-2537."
Mt.politics and I both noticed the disparity between Tuesday's GOP e-brief and today's Lee State Bureau story about a feedlot in Custer. I'm guessing that the state bureau is closer to right.
The Associated Press had an odd error in today's story about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to consider whether government can encourage students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. The reporter wrote, "The First Amendment guarantees that government will not 'establish' religion," which is not what the First Amendment says. The amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," a considerably more nuanced phrasing. One reading of the "establishment" clause is that Congress shall not establish an official church; another is that Congress shall make not laws that give preference to any religion (even Christianity) over any other.

Court cases generally have preferred the letter reading; the reporter seems to be in the first camp. Is this just more of that ol' conservative media bias? Well, it's probably just sloppy work, but it is interesting that so few people are willing to make the conservative case against the Pledge. I considered it here, and Roger Clawson mentioned it here. In my fundamentalist religion, saying the Pledge was just one of many real-life examples of how hard it was to live the proper Christian life. We were taught not to take oaths, nor to take the name of the Lord in vain. That meant more than not cursing; it included any casual reference to God, such as "Oh, my God," and rote phrases such as the Lord's Prayer and, yup, "one nation under God." When that phrase came around in school recitations, I clammed up.

This wasn't some wild-eyed notion. Hesitancy about naming the Deity was once a common feature in many religions, including Catholicism; monks used to wash themselves before the writing the name of God when they were copying the Bible by hand. And the Pledge case makes a good argument for returning to the practice of keeping God out of public rituals: Everybody agrees that you can't force people to swear fealty to God and be true to the First Amendment. The pro-Pledge argument is, essentially, that its reference to God is so generic and watered down that it doesn't amount to a religious sentiment. Is that an argument that religious people really want the Supreme Court to adopt?

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The High Country News has published an excellent story on the weaknesses of daily newspapers in the West. For instance:

"It’s often said that we’re in some golden Information Age, with more news available than ever before, thanks to cable TV, the Internet, specialty magazines and other burgeoning news sources. But the foundation of the news-gathering system, the daily papers, is shaky.

"No matter how short-staffed they are, the dailies put the most reporters on the ground, and they are the place other news operations go to get the basic facts and look for emerging trends. Yet of the West’s 240 English-language daily papers, only a few do their work well. Most are mediocre, with flashes of good work. Some are downright bad."

The story takes off from the report mentioned here recently by the Institutes of Journalism and Natural Resources in Missoula, but it takes the story much further. Be sure to read far enough to get to the quotes from Michael Milstein, former Billings Gazette reporter now with the Portland Oregonian.

By the way, has anybody seen a story about this study yet in a Montana newspaper? I hope to get my version done for next week's Outpost. Maybe someone has done it, and I just missed it. Or maybe everybody is too short-staffed.
The editor of the Los Angeles Times takes the heat, in what strikes me as an unusually graceful way, for publishing stories about Arnold's sexual indiscretions.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

In case you were wondering: Here's how George W. Bush and Marc Racicot met (thanks to Jackie Corr for the link).
Al Neuharth says that newspapers had better start appealing to teens and preteens if they are to survive. Interesting, though, that this shallow, bullet-by-bullet column typifies the bland, dumbed-down journalism that Neuharth pioneered at USA Today -- and that has gone hand-in-hand with national newspaper readership declines.
This post criticizing "professional" (the blogger's quotes) journalists is typical blogosphere rhetoric. I dunno. I've been a "professional" journalist for a couple of decades and a blogger for only a couple of months, but blogging strikes me as just about the softest gig I ever had. You can work when, and if, you want, you can take easy potshots at other people's hard work, and you can rely on links to do all of your heavy-lifting research. The old journalism axiom is "Get it first, but get it right." In the blogosphere, that seems to have been replaced by, "Get it when you get around to it, and get it right eventually." Of course, there's no money in blogging, but there's not much money in journalism for most reporters either.

The blogger does have a point that most "professional" journalists are excessively reluctant to own up to mistakes. But he misses the very practical reason for that: Making errors in "professional" publications is highly career threatening. Those who would argue that Jayson Blair proves I am wrong have it exactly backward: Blair's bosses' got fired precisely because they didn't treat Blair the way most erring reporters would have been treated. Normally, fact-challenged reporters get canned.

It would be nice if "professional" journalists were more willing to admit their mistakes, but that requires a level of courage that isn't necessary to survive in the blogging world.
The big debate over changing Federal Commuications Commission rules about media ownership may not amount to much. At least that's what this Bill Moyers column seems to imply.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

This article in Slate elaborates one of my favorite themes: Don't blame Wal-Mart for the lousy jobs the American economy is producing. Blame the people who shop there.
The always helpful Missoula Independent runs a want ad for Brian Schweitzer's running mate.
Pulled off the Tuney Awards last night with co-emcee Scott Prinzing. The Depot was nicely filled, we had the best lineup of musicians in the three years of the celebration, and the whole thing actually finished a couple of minutes ahead of schedule.

The big winner was Jared Stewart, in nearly every category he was entered in. While some people have suspected Jared Stewart fans of stuffing the ballot boxes, I can vouch that that isn't true. Sure, there were straight Stewart ballots, but so were there also for at least a half-dozen other performers. I counted a fair chunk of this year's ballots myself, and I can attest that Stewart's support cut across all geographic and genre boundaries.

Why so many votes? For one thing, Stewart is successful. His band draws big crowds everywhere he plays, and he just released a second potent CD. For another, his music appeals to fans of lots of different kinds of music: blues, rock, pop. He combines superlative covers with original tunes. His band cooks.

Most importantly, it seems to me, is that Stewart takes everything he does seriously, from his music to his service to the Crow Tribe. He works hard, come prepared and gives his best. His speeches as he accepted his awards last night bore that out, from his tribute to Dale Renee to his one-sentence homage to artist Rabbit Knows Gun. Jared Stewart appears to be headed straight up, and it has been a pleasure to meet and hear him here.
Just sitting here reading a Democratic response I won't print to a Republican commentary I didn't print. That Republican response, in turn, was to comments by Brian Schweitzer that I didn't print. What's striking is not that I don't have room to print all these charges and counter-charges -- that's a commonplace in a small weekly. More significant is how little value there is in it all.

I get far more good submissions for guest columns than I can print from Montanans with all sorts of notions and political persuasions. Many of these fine columns sit in the computer for weeks waiting for space to open up; many never even get in the paper because they become dated before I can squeeze them in.

But this supply of good commentary rarely includes the broadsides from the two big parties. While some individual legislators write good stuff -- Jim Elliott comes to mind -- the stuff that comes from the parties is nearly always narrowly partisan, accusatory in tone, pedestrian in style and devoid of ideas. No wonder so many people find political parties irrelevant.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

City Lights Daily quotes a local lawyer calling for a celebrity governor in Montana. He favors David Letterman. I'm holding out for an Andie McDowell-Mel Gibson ticket.
In election news from the Arnold-free zone, the Billings Area Chamber of Commerce has endorsed candidates in the upcoming Billings City Council election.

Ward 1: Incumbent Peggie Gaghen over Leon Pattyn.
Ward 2: Incumbent Larry Brewster over Angela Cimmino.
Ward 3: Eric Coobs over Vince Ruegamer.
Ward 4: Nancy Boyer over past council member Jack Johnson.
Ward 5: No endorsement due to "insufficient information" (former councilman Dick Clark vs. Rod Hein).

Interesting set of choices: two previous incumbents rejected, two current incumbents accepted. A retired banker with experience on the Big Sky Economic Development Authority board (Ruegamer) rejected. No endorsement in a race that includes the man who runs the Kwik Way stores in town (Clark).

The Chamber newsletter didn't provide much insight into the decisions, which were based on candidate surveys and interviews, other than to say that the chamber's Civic Affairs Committee "took the interviewing process very seriously" and that the Chamber "has made a very conscious [sic] effort" in endorsing candidates with views "such as pro business, a better business environment, option tax, the removal of disincentives, and greater examination of the city's budget and what programs the money is being spent on."

Meanwhile, Chamber members appear to be continuing to vote with their feet. The latest newsletter listed one new member and 10 departing ones. I don't see the newsletter much anymore since we voted with our feet and quit the Chamber, but a huge gap between new members and exiting ones was a feature of nearly every newsletter during the five years we were members.

As Chamber Chairman Scott Godfrey puts in this month's newsletter, "I have been asked many times why join the Chamber or what does the Chamber do for me?" If people have to ask, that's already part of the answer.

UPDATE: I asked Eric Coobs why he thought he got the Chamber's endorsement and he responded by e-mail that he thinks Ruegamer's endorsement of an optional sales tax did him in with the Chamber. Coobs says the city should cut what it can from the budget, and if it can't cut enough, "go to the voters and tell them what we need."

"The other thing I told the Chamber," he wrote, "is that I make my living doing business in this town, and since I've got 4 kids still at home, that I've got a personal stake in this town's future. The council shouldn't be a club for retirees, we should have a few working families on it, don't you think?"

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

More news that arrived too late for The Outpost:

A Bozeman man was awarded a car every three years for the rest of his life in a ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 7, in Billings.
According to a news release, Robert Young was named America's Greatest Hometown Hero in a competition sponsored by Volvo Cars of North America. Mr. Young was to be presented with the keys to a 2004 Volvo XC90 SUV at Underriner Motors in Billings. He also will receive $60,000 in grants.
Mr. Young, 42, is executive director of Red Feather Development Group, which attempts to work within native cultural traditions to improve housing on Indian reservations. Among other projects, Mr. Young has entered a partnership with the University of Washington and Penn State University to design a model home that is three times more energy efficient than a typical home. Red Feather also has been involved with a project designed by four students on the Crow Indian Reservation to build homes out of straw bales.
Mr. Young is a native of Seattle, where he founded Red Feather. He moved the offices to Bozeman in May.
Celebrity judges - including Hank Aaron, Bill Bradley, Paul Newman and Caroline Kennedy - selected Mr. Young from more than 2,000 nominations, the news release said.
For more on the awards, go to For more on Red Feather, go to
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch just announced at the State Capitol that she is running for re-election. You can find sound bites here and here.
In the Too-Late-for-The Outpost category is this news release:
The annual Democratic Steak Fry on Saturday (October 11) will feature grilled-to-order steaks plus a diverse silent auction at the Billings Depot from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

Democratic candidates for secretary of state, Jon Ellingson of Missoula and Bill Kennedy of Billings, are scheduled to attend.

Silent auction items include an Elliot Eaton print, a Clint McCullough antler sculpture, plus themed gift baskets.

The cost is $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12 years.

For reservations, contact Ed Logan at 252-0992, Emelie Eaton at 628-2164, Janice Munsell at 208-0258, or Jeanne Forrester at 259-7243.

The Northern Plains Resource Council claims in a court case filed Monday that the state's coalbed methane plan violates the constitutional guarantee of a clean and healthful environment in Montana, plus two other constitutional provisions. You can read NPRC's news release here, and you can find a copy of the lawsuit here.
Are Republicans in trouble in the West? Rocky Barker thinks so. But be sure to read John C. Downen's response in the right-hand column.
If the post below didn't persuade you that watching TV damages your mind, you may not care that newspapers are doing themselves in.
Thinking of launching a new magazine? Remember, it's not about readers. It's all about Wal-Mart.
This new study says that the more TV news you watched about Irag, the less you understand about the war. That's especially true if you watched Fox News. The most intriguing paragraph is the last one:

Among Bush supporters, those who said they follow the news "very closely", were found more likely to hold misperceptions. Those Bush supporters, on the other hand, who say they follow the news "somewhat closely" or "not closely at all" held fewer misperceptions. Conversely, those Democratic supporters who said they did not follow the news very closely were found to be twice as likely to hold misperceptions as those who said they did ... .

There may be methodological problems here, but it's consistent with other studies I've seen that have found a negative correlation between how much TV news people watch and how well they understand the world. I don't have enough Goggle time to track those down for you today -- except for one that showed how TV influences perceptions of how dangerous the world is. And, darn it, I've misplaced that link already.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

If you can stand only one more article on Rush Limbaugh, then you should read this one by Thomas Boswell. If you can stand two, then it's worth mentioning that Colby Cosh's blog mentions both my blog and Ed Kemmick's in this post.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Jim Hartung says I should be paying attention to more important matters than Rush Limbaugh, like this for instance.
Republican candidate Ken Miller, on the other hand, is putting the best face on his gubernatorial campaign, which has raised just $12,000. He said in a news release that he has been concentrating on travel and meeting people and just sent out his first fund-raising letter. He said his only disappointment has been trying to get other candidates to appear at public forums. An understandable strategy for someone so far back in fund-raising -- nothing like a free forum to help make up ground.
David Corn's book "The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception" came out a couple of days ago. But if this Top 10 list of Bush's lies characterizes the book, I will let it stay on the shelf. If Bush can't lie any better than this, he might as well tell the truth.
In case you missed it, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., voted to kill a Democratic amendment that would have paid for the Iraq War in part by canceling tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He was one of only seven Democrats to vote against the amendment
I was out delivering papers most of the day Friday (not the Outpost but Montana Senior News -- anything to make a buck) and listened to commentary about Rush Limbaugh nearly all afternoon. But that was mostly garbage. The best line of the day had nothing to do with Rush. It was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright commenting on the Bush administration's policy toward other countries. "Hubris," she said, "is not a policy."

As for Rush, The Weekly Standard has a thoughtful piece (courtesy of Jackie Corr) about the larger implications of the issue. And this piece in Slate says that Rush was right and is being punished only for having the courage to say what others dared not.
Pat Davison, the Billings investment adviser who is running for governor, says he pulled in $25,000 at a fund-raiser here this week. About 250 people showed up at Highlands Country Club, and some contributions went as high as $400, he said in a news release. The campaign finance report he expects to file on Monday will show more than $150,000 in campaign contributions from 500 donors, he said.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Rush Limbaugh doesn't get it, never got it and never will get it. Even as he was resigning as an ESPN analyst, he was still defending himself for comments he made about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Rush says he was commenting on the media, not being racist, but that misses multiple points:
1. In no profession in America is race less of a factor than in professional sports. To imply that McNabb was a beneficiary of affirmative action in the one job in America where that is least likely to be true is not only offensive but moronic.
2. Pro sports haven't always been so color blind. Even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, black and Latin American players continued to endure discrimination. For a school paper once, I did an informal study of a common charge at the time: Although blacks by the mid-'60s were well represented among baseball's best players (Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, et al) they remained grossly underrepresented outside the star ranks. I simply counted the numbers of players in less elevated positions: backup catchers, pinch hitters, utility infielders, middle and long relievers. I can't remember the numbers anymore, but the critics were right on the money: While the best black players were getting good major league jobs, the marginal players weren't on big league rosters. There may be other possible explanations for this than racism, but I have never heard one.
3. Limbaugh didn't just insult McNabb but also sportswriters. It's a rare bird who will defend sportswriters, but call me a whooping crane. Most sportswriters are way ahead of Limbaugh: They stopped even noticing which players were black and which ones were white a couple of decades ago. That battle ended while Limbaugh was still in the 19th century. To suggest otherwise insults both their integrity and their judgment.
4. Limbaugh sees everything in the world through a political lens. It's inconceivable to him that people who disagree with him might by motivated by honest differences in opinion rather than by a desire to score political points. ESPN knew, or should have known, that when it hired him. If you want your sports served with politics, Limbaugh is your man. If you want sports pure, hire an ex-jock.
5. Most Americans want their sports pure.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Chicago Tribune provides this view of media concentration from the front lines of the smallest broadcast market in the nation: Glendive, Montana. Sample quote:

"I'm not for consolidation, period," says Paul Sturlaugson, 51, vice president and general manager of Glendive Broadcasting, which owns KXGN-TV and a pair of AM/FM onsite radio stations. "It's less people making more decisions for all of us, and when corporate America takes over, the bottom line becomes more important than the community."
Back on Sept. 29 (ages ago in blogging terms) City Lights noted that his Gazette-linked blog was running with editor approval. Just for the record, every word that appears in this blog is personally approved by the editor and publisher of The Billings Outpost. Sometimes the bookkeeper takes a look, too.
Big Sky Dave notes that Montana is more like Texas than Texas ever was. Funny, I've said that for years.
The Queen City News believes in calling an a--hole an asshole.
Both and City Lights Daily are weighing in this morning on the shutting down of news operations at KSVI and Fox 4 and the sale of KULR-8. The story had special significance for me, since this not-quite-fledgling-but-still-struggling news operation just completed its sixth year. I'm a natural rooter for the underdog -- it was a real challenge for me during the Iraq War to remember that I was for the side that was winning -- so I felt some sympathy for the two freshmen news operations.

But as City Lights points out, they did some appalling things. The early tilt to the teachers' side during the strike may have been a fatal error. Despite all the money the stations spent, the broadcasts retained an amateurish feel. And the stations' reporters made no friends among their colleagues by their perceived pushiness and poor judgment.

Being liked can be overrated for news media: I hear nearly every day from people who say they hate the Gazette, but that doesn't stop Lee Enterprises from pumping millions of dollars out of the local economy every year. Unfortunately, KSVI and Fox 4 combined an aggressive news stance with a management style that was a nasty combination of arrogance and ineptitude. When people neither like nor respect you, you are in trouble.

TV stations change owners every couple of years these days, so the larger implications of this story are difficult to ferret out. But note this: Evening Post Publishing Co. out of South Carolina, which owns KTVQ (Channel 2) in Billings, also owns stations in Kalispell, Butte, Missoula, Great Falls and Bozeman. Max Media, out of Virginia Beach, Va., which just bought KULR-8, also owns stations in Great Falls, Missoula, Kalispell, Butte and Bozeman. The purchase of a second Great Falls station, announced at the same time as the KULR-8 buy, violates Federal Communications Commission rules, but Max Media's Gene Loving said the company "is pursuing a strategy that will meet the Commissions [sic] ownership rules." I wonder if that strategy involves campaign contributions to prominent Republican candidates?

In announcing the decision to sell KULR-8, Wooster Republican Printing Co. Chairman Robert C. Dix said "it made business sense to exit what is a rapidly consolidating industry." Do I detect convergence coming on?

Of course, I have noted often before that two newspaper companies, Gannett and Lee Enterprises, control 80 percent of Montana's daily newspaper circulation. Similar patterns prevail in most other Western states, and as this graph shows, it's getting worse.

At a personal level, the closing of the two news operations was another painful reminder of just how tough it is to go up against entrenched local media. KSVI and Fox 4 spent millions and captured a 3 percent share. I've worked at The Outpost day and night for six years and have barely made a dent in the print market. The big boys undercut us on ad rates, steal our best ideas and ignore us in public. They hold a lot of cards.

Still, we have outlasted a lot of much fancier operations: not just the two news stations, but George, Talk and Content magazines -- all big, glossy launches -- and much more modest Montana efforts for weekly newspapers in Great Falls, Whitefish and Livingston. If it were just about money, we would be gone, too. But as the Missoula report linked here yesterday points out, major Montana media just aren't doing the job. They're raking in big profits -- far greater than national averages -- while keeping staffs small, cutting jobs and scanting coverage. People bitch about it every day, but getting them to actually do something about it is almost insanely difficult. Now heading into year seven, we're trying.