Sunday, November 30, 2003

Subject line on the e-mail I am least likely to read this week: "There is 'Life After Hair Color.'"
Thane Peterson makes a point in Business Week that I have been arguing for a couple of years: "I think a major push is under way to move back toward the highly personal and politicized style of journalism that prevailed in the early days of the Republic."

Lots of people seem to think that the principle of journalistic objectivity was enshrined in the First Amendment, but as Peterson notes, it is a relatively recent convention. What journalism is now becoming is something that the Founding Fathers may not have admired but would have understood and expected.
This story about a compromise agreement to raise broadcast ownership caps appeared last week, but I missed it at the time. But Fritz Hollings says it was no compromise at all.
Pat Dawson notes that the Great Falls Tribune has administered a firm spanking to PPL Montana.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Most Montana bloggers (including this one) took it easy over the holiday, but did enough blogging for all of us.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Jackie Corr sends along a great column on Wal-Mart, but you have to register.
A new group is forming in Lockwood to push for yet another vote on a sewer system. Citizens for a Better Lockwood elected Carlotta Hecker as president, Lois Logan as vice president and Glenn Seavy as treasurer. Dave Riley was asked to handle media relations.

A news release said, "Those who attended the [organizational] meeting noted the high level of misinformation and the lack of voter turnout in the last election. That election saw a critical vote on a new community sewer system for Lockwood receive a majority of the vote but fail to reach a 'super majority' by just 37 votes."

Carl Peters, president of the Lockwood Water and Sewer board, said mail-in ballots for the next attempt will go out on Jan. 20. For my money, the group already is ahead of previous efforts just by sending an e-mail announcing the effort. I covered the sewer issue for the Gazette for a couple of years and know Carl Peters pretty well. Yet the Outpost has gotten zilch from the sewer board about previous elections. It's not that we're the most important people in the world, but when you're only a few dozen votes away, every e-mail and news release counts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I've been quoting all the criticism of Max Baucus for his vote on the prescription drug benefit, so the least I can do is give some of his spin:

“'We have passed landmark prescription drug legislation and delivered on our promise to America’s seniors,' said Baucus, who as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee one was of only two Democrats picked to iron out the final details of the bill. 'I’ve worked with doctors, pharmacists, hospitals boards, and seniors all across Montana for more than a decade to provide seniors with a prescription drug benefit. This bill is not perfect. But it brings us one step closer to ensuring seniors will never again have to choose between paying the bills and buying the medicine they need. I’m very proud of my work on this bill.'”

Baucus also defended the provision allowing a role for private insurers in the bill, arguing that it was superior to the earlier House bill. "Baucus opposed that plan because he said it would have led to higher monthly premiums for seniors. Instead, the senior senator negotiated a time-limited pilot program in six major metropolitan areas that won’t take affect [sic] until 2010 and won’t be in Montana, he said. "

Thanks to Paul Whiting for this link about media conglomeration, Dean Singleton style. Big quote: "The founders of this country believed a free and rambunctious press was essential to the protection of our freedoms. They couldn't envision the rise of giant megamedia conglomerates whose interests converge with state power to produce a conspiracy against the people. I think they would be aghast at how this union of media and government has produced the very kind of imperial power against which they rebelled."

Full disclosure: Dean Singleton once interviewed me for a job. I didn't get it.
Montana Republicans held a news conference today to announce their energy strategy. The crux appears to be in this line in the news release:

"Overall, the Republicans stressed that the key to long-term affordable energy was new production.

'The outlook for new clean-coal generation facilities in Montana is very good,' pointed out Rep. Alan Olson. 'There are several new projects at various development stages. If we can get one or two or three of these new facilities online, and include that new power in the energy contract, then I believe we will see immediate effects in our electricity bills. These coal plants, combined with new wind and gas generation, are the future of stable Montana energy.'"

I've been hearing that argument for years now, and it still doesn't make sense to me. Montana already produces twice as much energy as it uses, and it appears that the nation as a whole will have excess (and increasing) capacity for at least several years to come, judging from this chart.

Theoretically, I suppose, if you keep dumping more capacity into the market, prices will fall. And if the people producing the electricity are dumb enough, they will keep building power plants and selling power for whatever they can get forever, no matter how little profit they make. But Bob Gannon doesn't run a power company anymore. You can't store electricity until the prices go up, and you can't increase market share by refining a better brand, and you don't automatically use more just because it's cheaper. And just because electricity is produced here doesn't mean it will be used or even available here. I'm not sure who's going to invest millions in all these new plants without some sort of assurance that there's a profitable market out there.

It may make sense to generate more electricity as an economic development measure (jobs, jobs, jobs) and it might even have some long-term national impact on pricess somewhere down the road. But nobody has showed me how it does much of anything to lower or even stabilize the cost of energy in Montana. Does somebody want to try?

A Billings readers sends along this message from a friend in Jordan (no, not Jordan, Montana):

Earlier this week I spoke with a young man who was also passing through on his way back to the USA. He was ex-Special Forces and had been with them since 1995, in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. (He too was in the Al Rashid Hotel that was hit.) He retired from the military, went home to GA and purchased some land to start his own construction business. Then he "got an offer he couldn't refuse." He was hired at a salary of $400,000 a year to go back to Iraq as a private security person (mercenary). Yes, $400,000--I asked him to repeat the figure because it was so unbelievable. He took the job, thinking that in one year he would be able to get his business going without having to take a loan.

However, after a short time, he had second thoughts and was going home for good. He told me that conditions in Iraq were worse than before. Humvees and the military are easily identifiable targets. Whoever was his employer brought in Toyota trucks, banged them up, and tried to make them appear more 'local' so they'd blend in. He said it's best to drive in the middle of the road because many bombs are placed on the edges and camouflaged, some with Styrofoam that has been painted or covered with sand. He also told me it's safer to drive after 12:00 noon, because by then most of the bombs have been detonated. He said a few of the explosives are rigged with wires, but those require someone to set them off and require a line of sight. So you become more cautious if you're not in the desert but someplace where there's a structure or place for someone to hide, watch and wait.

In the military, he had all the latest, sophisticated equipment and worked side by side with those who were trained as he was. But when he returned, he had a gun and not much else. I think the main reason he left was that he also lacked confidence in others with whom he worked, some vintage Viet Nam era.

He said Royal Jordanian had a few flights from Marka Airport in Amman to Baghdad and that they took evasive action, such as circling down steeply instead of an expected straight-in landing pattern. (You probably heard about the DHL plane that was hit by a heat-seeking missile on takeoff yesterday.)

Since returning to Amman, Malcolm has completed training of 30 Jordanian consultants and is now working with a company that makes kitchen equipment for hospitals, the big hotels, etc. It has been difficult for him as one of the females he's training is completely covered except for her eyes. Hard to judge whether someone understands something when you cannot see a response or reaction.

He now has several days off since the Eid al-Fitr feast (marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan) should begin tonight, depending on the moon. Then, hopefully some of the 'singing' from the minarets will ease up, and the dogs will stop trying to emulate them. I swear one dog near us has a sore throat trying to keep up with the imams.

Severe sandstorms in the south affected power stations in Jordan yesterday and left most of the country without electricity for an hour or two. The Inter-Con has an emergency generator, so the elevator and some of the lights worked.

There was a big to-do in the Jordan Times this week. One of the new Ministers stated that part of the MPs salaries came from foreign funding. This offended her fellow parliamentarians and she made a public apology saying she was mis-stated. However, Al Rai newspaper commented that there should not have been such a reaction because she's right. Finance Ministry figures for Jan. through Sept. of this year show that about 30% of the treasury revenues came from foreign donations; 24.3% per cent from the US. It appears that next year Iraq will get the most US taxpayer money.

In Aqaba I would ask the front desk for the Jordan paper every day. One day the guy said, "It's always bad news." The next day I said, "Is there any good news today?" He said, "Same, same, just new picture."
The Republican National Committee notes, with glee, this quote from former Democratic Sen. (and triple amputee) Max Cleland: "We cannot afford to have a leader who weaseled out of going to Vietnam on a medical deferment for a bad back and wound up on the ski slopes of Aspen like Howard Dean."

Reminds me a bit of the criticism once aimed at Joe Namath for getting a draft deferment because of a bad knee while he was healthy enough to play quarterback in the Super Bowl. But there's a big difference. If the knee blows out in a Super Bowl, a ref blows a whistle, the networks cut to a commercial and everybody stands around for a couple of minutes while the trainers haul the quarterback off on a stretcher.

No whistles in combat.
Subject line on the e-mail I am least likely to read this week: "Never Say No to Zucchini."
E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post is easier on Max Baucus than Al Hunt was in the Wall Street Journal, but it's still painful sledding for Max. One longtime Billings Democrat sent me this note: "It seems to me that Montana Democrats ought to consider "censuring" Mr.Baucus and suggest to him that if he runs for re-election in five years(!) Democratic party support now won't be automatic. Bob Ream needs to be asked what he will do about this, too. Yellowstone County Democrats need to take a position as well--as I am sure th[e]y will. I imagine the Montana Republicans can't wait for the next Senate election cycle. A much better Democrat than Max noted that "all politics is local" -- Max forgets Montana Democrats to[o] often, not just because he forgets, which is bad enough, but because he might not just be bright enough to handle Washington politics. Max might just be the best Democratic Senator the Republicans can count on.
On one of the first days of my first newspaper job, my first managing editor said he wished there were no holidays: They made it too complicated to put out a newspaper. I looked at him with pity and disgust: How could a newspaper guy become so shriveled inside that convenience at work outweighed national celebrations?

Twenty years later, and I still think of what he said every time a holiday rolls around. And every year what he said makes more sense. This week I'm buried under monthly billing and subscription renewals, plus early deadlines because of the holiday. So yesterday I worked 15 hours on my day off so I could take a day off on Thursday. Then Friday there's another paper to get out.

I know, I'm old and rotten. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2003

John Morrison's announcement was that he plans to run for re-election as state auditor. You can read about it here, or you can move on to InstaPundit.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

This is too late for many people to see, but Dennis Kucinich apparently will be in town today after all. He is scheduled to speak to the Northern Plains Resource Council at 1:30 p.m. at the Sheraton. He had been scheduled to speak earlier but was considered likely to cancel.
Ron Selden passes along a link to the Dictionary of Bureaucratese. Sample definition: "abvise: v., to give bad council or counterproductive assistance. (L. ab viseo: blindfolded)"
The cheap shot of the week comes from the Republican National Committee, which plans to include this line in TV ads that begin running tomorrow in Iowa: "Some are now attacking the President for attacking the terrorists."

Friday, November 21, 2003

Jackie Corr found a link to the full Al Hunt bashing of Max Baucus in the Wall Street Journal.
Askar Akaev, president of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, will visit Montana Dec. 2-3. According to the governor's office, this marks the first time a president of a foreign country has visited Montana.
This from the GOP E-brief: "In a letter to Governor Martz this week, State Auditor John Morrison requested that the $1 million fine he collected from a recent lawsuit be directed into the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That letter was then purposely leaked to the press. The whole situation reeks of the worst kind of politics. Governor Martz has no legal authority to spend the money, and Morrison, a lawyer himself, likely knew it. This sort of blatant dishonesty by a public official would garner front-page newspaper headlines anywhere else but Montana."

Hey, well, it made the front page of a blog.

UPDATE: Here' s the letter that upset Republicans:

Dear Governor Martz:

I wrote you on July 22nd to ask that you invest $3 million of the Medicaid savings in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. You declined citing the uncertain costs of fires.

Since that time you have taken action to provide funds for children on the CHIP waiting list. I applaud you for that action. But, our most recent information says that there is more than $25M of federal funds still available for the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Montana.

Today I am bringing you a check for $1 million dollars. It is the result of a fine in an enforcement action. It is general fund revenue that was not anticipated in any revenue estimate.

I am again asking you to expand CHIP. Investing $1M of general fund in CHIP will bring $4M of federal matching funds already available for Montana. It will allow us to insure approximately 3,000 additional children. Providing health coverage to Montana’s children should be one of our top priorities. Now that unanticipated funds are available, I urge you to act.

Reducing the number of uninsured Montanans is one of the most important things we can do to improve Montana’s economy.

Providing health insurance coverage for more Montanans will reduce the cost of insurance for those already insured. When one of the 33,000 uninsured kids in Montana gets injured or sick and their parents can’t pay the bills for the emergency room or doctor’s office, the costs are shifted to others through higher provider fees and higher insurance premiums. The uninsured often delay medical care until a condition is more serious … and more costly. That is bad public policy and bad economic policy. Providing more CHIP coverage would reduce our cost-shifting problem.

I hope we can work together to use these new funds to extend health insurance to more Montana kids.

Sincerely yours,

State Auditor

Doesn't sound too blatantly dishonest, does it?

Rob Natelson of Montana Conservatives is blasting Gov. Judy Martz for spending the federal tax windfall. The money should have been returned to taxpayers, he says.

"They had a historic opportunity to reduce property taxes while preserving all their spending – and they blew it," he says. "The reason Montana salaries are the lowest in the nation is because we’ve been misgoverned by this group of insiders. This is another example of an inside job."

In remarks today to the Board of Regents, the governor said she had spent $27 million for fire suppression last summer. On Thursday, she announced that $2.7 million would go for K-12 education. Today's announcement included $450,000 for community colleges and $250,000 for distance-learning programs. $11.8 million is left to fight fires next year, she said.

You can read more about Natelson's take here.
State Auditor John Morrison has called a news conference to announce his "plans for the future" on Monday. The Billings conference will be at 9:45 a.m. at the Mansfield Center.
This may be the most complete story on the decision by Rep. Jeff Laszloffy, R-Laurel, not to run for re-election.
I wrote a column here about the study of environmental journalism in the West conducted by the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources in Missoula. Now Frank Allen, who heads the Institute, has written a column for Headwaters News discussing the study, and he responds to numerous reader replies. Read all the way down the right-hand column, then hit the link for more responses. This is good stuff.
Think the Lewis and Clark County Democrats were hard on Max Baucus? The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt blisters Baucus in this column (available only to subscribers). Key quote: "The Montana Democrat is a case study in legislative weakness. More than ideology or seniority, effective legislators, whether a liberal Democrat like Sen. Ted Kennedy or a conservative Republican like Rep. Bill Thomas, are knowledgeable, resourceful, tough and politically calculating; they know when to hold, and when to compromise.

"In more than 30 years as an elected legislator -- 25 in the Senate -- these are skills Max Baucus never acquired. He's always looking over his shoulder politically, usually willing to accommodate and often more interested in a
result than the result."
A reader sends along this critique by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of the Bush administration's environmental policies. It's one-sided as hell, but also comprehensive and impassioned.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Secretary of State Bob Brown is attacking Democratic governor candidate Brian Schweitzer for remarks he made about public access earlier this year at a Democratic Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Libby.

The inflammatory quote, as reported by the Western News: "We love access to our public lands. If we have leadership that takes access away from us, then what are we left with? Open the gates. Cut a padlock. We have a right to be there."

Says Brown: "That law has stood up over time, and if we need to fine tune it some, we can. But it serves no good purpose for Mr. Schweitzer to be throwing verbal bombs at Montana's private property owners. Both sides of the issue need to cooperate and compromise to make this law work. Telling recreational users to cut padlocks on private land is so over the top that it clears Granite Peak by a mile."

Why so lame an attack so early in the campaign? Maybe Brown heard the same rumor I did -- that both the AP and the Lee State Bureau are working on stories on Pat Davison's role with the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represented landowners who sued the state of Montana over its stream access law. Davison is still listed as a board member on the Legal Foundation's website, and he has not, to my knowledge, repudiated the unsuccessful suit, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear on appeal.

Could Brown be a sneaky -- I mean, astute -- enough politician to take an easy shot at Schweitzer while establishing his public access credentials without directly attacking a Republican he hopes to defeat in the gubernatorial primary? Nah.

UPDATE: Maybe this is a repudiation.

SECOND UPDATE: Brian Schweitzer fires back: "Bob Brown’s recent press release sounds like nothing more than a professional politician’s attack. As a third generation Montana farmer who has owned land in Flathead, Sanders, Rosebud, and Judith Basin counties, I understand private property rights better than a lifetime lobbyist, bureaucrat and politician. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sportsmen have a right to access public land, and they have a responsibility to respect private property rights. This is exactly why Montana needs new leadership that draws people together for common sense solutions, instead of relying on the politics of personal attacks."

The Lewis and Clark County Democratic Central Committee has issued a news release condemning U.S. Sen. Max Baucus for supporting the Medicare bill.

“This horrendous bill is a first step toward the goal of the Republican Congress and the Bush administration to destroy Medicare through privatization,” said Paul Edwards, Vice-President of the County Central Committee. “We condemn Senator Baucus’s contribution to that effort.” The release favors a compromise bill that passed the Senate earlier.

The release calls on other Democratic central committees in Montana to condemn Baucus as well. First the Republican attack him; now the Democrats do. Can't a fellow just get along?
I wonder if all those Reagan fans who blasted CBS for putting made-up quotes in the former president's mouth will take similar umbrage at a History Channel documentary that accuses another former president of murder. Oh, never mind. He was a Democrat.
The group blog from the Online News Association conference last weekend is worth a look. My favorite entry gave panelists' one-line predictions for the online future. The best prediction was from Ruth Gersh, editorial director of AP Digital: "The Nigerian e-mail will turn out to be true."
The interview with Gus Koernig is in the can, and you can see it on KULR 8 at 9 a.m. Sunday. Or not. It was pretty fun, but Dick Wesnick nearly screwed the whole thing up. He violated all of the known canons of journalistic ethics by actually doing research before making a TV appearance. I was shocked, but recovered in time to fake my way through my small end of the conversation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

As long as we're talking about Wal-Mart (or was that last week?) here's the most in-depth piece I've ever seen on how Wal-Mart pressures suppliers -- sometimes into bankruptcy -- to ensure ever-lower prices.
In the Too-Late-for-The-Outpost category comes this from the Wayman Chapel A.M.E. Church, 402 S. 25th St.: Members of 'Team Hollywood' from the ESPN 'Streetball ' series will be worshiping and ministering at the 11:00AM Worship Service [on Nov. 23]. The public is invited.
Harsh words from Scott Proctor in this week's Montana Green Party Weekly Bulletin about Bob Kelleher's plans to run as a Green Party candidate for governor:

"I'm frankly tired of seeing people like Kelleher, who have shown no interest in the party since it received ballot status, waltz right into the general election with no opposition. If people are willing to donate a little money so that I can pay my entry fee, I will put my name in the ring if nobody else will. For those who say that a Green Primary will make us look bad because we're costing the state money, I would say that it looks like we'll be having one in 2004 anyway, because there will be a range of different choices in the presidential race.

"As the Green Party candidate for Governor, I would try to promote actual Green Party ideas, and push things like "Living Wage" and "Instant Runoff Voting" rather than ideas such as changing the Montana Legislature to a "One House Parliament" or other such ideas that will result in our party being marginalized by the media for the rest of its existence."

Proctor, a Billings computer technician, ran for the Legislature in the last election. Paul Stephens, who edits the Bulletin, was a bit kinder to Kelleher but said the Green Party needs multiple candidates in the primary. He suggested going after such names as Ken Toole, a state senator and Montana Human Rights Network director; Tom Power, a University of Montana economist (you can read his take on the Healthy Forest Initiative in the Nov. 20 Outpost); Steve Kelly, who ran against Denny Rehberg as a Democrat for the U.S. House seat; and Jim Jenson of the Montana Environmental Information Center.

"The important thing," he said, "is to break with the past image we've somehow accumulated as being the 'junior league of the Democrats.' In my opinion, the Democrats as a party is doomed, and as long as we stay tied to it, they will drag us under, as well. We can provide a lifeboat for those survivors who sincerely wish to join us."

The Missoula Independent has a pretty devastating analysis and critique of Qwest phone service. The story covers not only the company's financial shenanigans and customer service complaints, but also includes a fair number of interviews with Qwest employees about how lousy the company is to work for. It also refers to this website, which catalogs Qwest gripes.
Several times a week, the Republican National Committee distributes a feature called "They Said It!" that attempts to point out contradictory or disingenuous quotes from Democrats. Today, Max Baucus makes the feature for this: "If Democrats stand up and filibuster and oppose the [Medicare prescription drug] bill, I think frankly, Democrats will be blamed for failure to pass legislation that would finally begin to help our senior citizens."
I'm supposed to tape a show tomorrow with Channel 8's Gus Koernig on the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Also appearing will be my old pal, former Gazette Editor Dick Wesnick, so I want to look and feel my very best. If anybody out there has any insights in the Kennedy legacy, I would be interested in hearing about them here no later than noon Wednesday.

Here's my not-terribly-original take so far: John F. Kennedy was one of the most gifted politicians ever to hold public office. He was handsome, smart, witty, vigorous, married well and had smart kids. He was a speed reader and wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Is that enough for a presidential legacy? No, of course not. And his actual achievements were fairly small. The Bay of Pigs was on his watch, and civil rights came later. He got us started in Vietnam, but would that war have turned out better if he had survived? Who knows?

I've always thought that one way to judge Kennedy's place in history would be to see whether we would eventually remember him on his birthday, as we do Lincoln, rather than on the date of his death. After 40 years, we still remember him more for how he died than for what he did while alive.

Kennedy's most important legacy may have been the grace he brought to office. He made public service -- especially through the Peace Corps -- seem desirable and honorable, and a whole generation of, well, bureaucrats were inspired by his example. But it's remarkable how little of that legacy survives. The notion that government workers are lazy, incompetent and corrupt is thorougly ingrained in Americans. The only exception is for soldiers. Why military service is considered honorable while the peace-making arts are belittled is one of those mysteries of American life that I have not been able to get my imagination around.

I have an old LP record of Kennedy's press conferences that I retrieved from a library that was about to discard it. Some of the fun in the record comes from the anachronisms: It's delicious to listen to a Democratic president making the case for tax cuts and defending himself from attacks by Republicans that he was spending too much on defense. He didn't like spending so much on defense either, he said, but "we live in a dangerous world."

Listening to the record yesterday, I was struck less by Kennedy's wit -- which was formidable -- than by his utterly relaxed and candid manner. It was striking how many of his answers began with a chuckle at the question. He seemed thoroughly at ease and utterly unintimidated. I don't believe we will ever see a president like that again.

As a wit, he was no standup comedian, but he was sharp. Asked about reports that Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater had been "captured by the radical right," Kennedy said it wasn't clear who had captured whom. Asked about former President Eisenhower's endorsement of term limits for congressmen, Kennedy said that sounded like the sort of proposal he might endorse in his post-presidential period. Asked if his administration was trying to "manage the news," Kennedy said, "Well, we're not managing it very well, if that's what we're trying to do." Asked to comment on a resolution by the Republican National Committee that declared the Kennedy administration a failure, he said, "I'm sure it passed unanimously."

Comedian Mort Sahl used to tell a story about riding on Air Force One. While Kennedy was joshing with the passengers, Sahl made a smart-alecky comment, and Kennedy looked at him. You know, he said, if this plane were to crash tonight, tomorrow in the papers your name would appear in very small print.

That was Kennedy: sharp, sure of himself, and on target. Too bad we lost him so soon.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

More bad news about the environment from the Bush administration? Gee, it must be Friday.
My annual Veterans Day proposal (inspired by Mike Royko) drew its annual underwhelming indifference from the public. Maybe that's because it appeared only in the Nov. 11 Calendar entry of the Outpost. To reach an even smaller audience, I am reprinting it (in slightly edited form) here:

This is Veterans Day and time to push our annual editorial campaign to honor U.S. veterans with a genuine holiday each year on this date. The rules are simple: If you are a veteran, you get today off, no matter who you work for, no matter how lousy your other benefits might be. It’s a way of returning to veterans at least a small portion of the time they devoted to their country. And it’s a small price to pay: If this holiday had been in place in 1945, a World War II veteran now well past retirement age would have been returned fewer than two months of the service time spent during the war. Too expensive? Then what the heck does “Support Our Troops” mean? If the goal is to honor veterans, then why are bankers and bureaucrats the only ones who get the day off?
Sometimes it seems that the two major political parties not only sit on opposite sides of the aisle, they are at opposite ends of the earth -- or maybe on different planets altogether. Witness the opposing guest columns that appeared in today's Gazette, here and here.

Corey Stapleton's piece accuses the Democrats of aiming at "confiscating or 'condemning'" assets from PPL and possibly other companies. The Democratic article by Jon Tester and Dave Wanzenried proposes no such thing -- indeed, it proposes almost nothing substantive. Instead it "promotes" diversification, "calls for" conservation and a Montana-based solution, "encourages" better technology and "benefits" Montanans. At one point, the two Democratic legislators came dangerously close to using a verb that actually requires action: the plan "gives" Montanans -- but Montanans are given only a say, not any actual energy plan.

If you look at the real plan, you become slightly better informed. There the Democrats straightforwardly propose that a cooperative or public power organization should purchase and manage NorthWestern Energy's Montana system. Democrats are less straightforward about PPL than they appeared to be in a news conference last Monday. They say in the plan only that PPL's hydropower should be "dedicated" to Montana use. If Democrats have a plan for how to do that, I couldn't find it. Instead, they propose to form an Energy Action Group to determine how to proceed.

So is Stapleton attacking a straw man? Probably even he doesn't know for sure. If Democrats have a real plan lurking behind that Sunday op-ed piece, then it remains in the shadows. And voters who might actually be willing to support a genuine plan are in the dark, too.

UPDATE: In his upcoming Unplugged column (see Nov. 20 Outpost), Pat Dawson notes that Republicans don't have much of a plan either.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Pat Davison, a Republican candidate for governor, is touring 32 Montana cities in eight days. He started Friday in Fort Benton and finishes Nov. 21 back in Billings.
TL Hines attacks the alleged victim who is suing the Billings teachers union for defamation. I don't know if Trey Ransom has a case or not, and neither does Hines, which just shows how powerful defamation can be. I do know that I wouldn't take Brian Ehli's word for it.

BTW, that story first appeared here. Weeklies don't get to break that many stories, so kindly give us credit when we do.
Ed Kemmick's defense of fairness in journalism is today's required reading. Just scroll through the comments in the "Victory in the other war entry."

Friday, November 14, 2003

State Sen. Debbie Shea, D-Butte, announced today that she is running for Public Service Commission. In a news release, she said she will "seek election to the seat now vacant because of redistricting."

"As a member of the legislature that approved deregulation only to see the promise of free enterprsie and competition fall way to mismanagement, greed and the sale of MPC Generation, I know only too well the need to be ever vigilant in protecting consumer rates," she said.

But she may need a tad of brushing up before she's ready for prime time. The news release says that she has served for four years on the "Consumer Council." It's the Consumer Counsel.
The Outpost poll asks why Missoula voters turned out at a higher rate (27 percent) in the Nov. 5 election than Billings voters did (26 percent). Of course, the difference is too slight to mean anything for sure, but it does kind of undercut the stereotype that conservative Billings has a stronger sense of civic obligation than loose-living Missoula, doesn't it?
Apparently it was just me, but I was fascinated by the 39-hour Senate debate over Bush's judicial appointments. Monday Night Football puts me to sleep, but I watched C-SPAN for hours and would have watched longer if I had had time. Dunno why. It all boils down to a quite simple question: Should judges be required to get 60 Senate votes (the number needed for cloture) or just 51?

I thought Republicans were right on substance but the Democrats won on the hypocrisy issue. I can't see that the Democrats' tactics are unconstitutional, as some Republicans claim, but it is a safe bet that a half-plus-one majority is all the founders had in mind, and they were smart guys. It makes sense, too: It's better to have slightly-less-than-perfect judges hearing cases than to have cases languishing because nobody can carve out a 60-vote majority to get a judge on the bench.

But the Republicans may have lost points on legislative theater. They could argue, correctly, that there's a difference between a filibuster against an appointment (which they say they would never do) and a "hold" against an appointment (which they often did to Clinton) but it's a distinction that's lost on many voters -- and even on quite a few congressmen.

And not all Republicans were sure they wanted to win this fight. I heard Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., say on Sean Hannity's radio show that perhaps a dozen Republicans would rather keep the filibuster option open in case they need to use it to fight liberal judge appointments under some future president.

Moreover, Democrats capitalized on the extended debate to repeatedly draw attention to all of the things the Senate wasn't discussing: minimum wage, jobs, health care, etc. It was all beside the point, but I suspect it worked.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Dullest Blog in the World is back, and it is as dull as ever.
Interesting discussion of partial-birth abortion at by way of Res Ipsa Loquitur. The nub appears to be whether the new law allows partial-birth abortions when the health of the mother is at risk, as opposed to cases where her life is at risk. The link to the actual bill doesn't work, but you can find it here.

But the discussion doesn't deal with my two questions:

1. Why is this a federal issue? Crimes against fellow human beings (rape, murder, robbery, etc.) are nearly always governed by state law, not federal law. What makes this different? I mean, except for the politics, of course.

2. Why does the bill punish only abortionists for violations? It specifically excludes women who have abortions from prosecution. Isn't that a bit like saying the hitman should go to jail but the godfather who orders the hit gets off free? And doesn't this language betray a bit of underlying queasiness about the whole idea of getting government involved in such intimate and private concerns?
In the Too-Late-for-the-Outpost section is this note by way of Paul Whiting: "Jaq Quanback passed around flyers announcing a forum on the Patriot Act to be held at 7:00 pm on 11/12 at Cisel Hall on the MSU-B campus. Speakers will be Bill Mercer, US District Attorney for District of Montana and Scott Crichton, Exec. Director of ACLU-Montana. It
is sponsored by the Billings Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship and Yellowstone Public Radio."
Details of the Democrats' energy plan are here. The Republican response, snarky even by the increasingly snarky standards of the GOP E-brief, advises, "Please contact your local news media and alert them to exactly what this plan is - a campaign tactic."

Thanks for the heads-up, guys. Although I must admit that it isn't exactly clear what's wrong with campaigning on a plan to fix one of the most serious problems Montana faces. Isn't that what campaigns should be about?

Oh, now I get it. If you read down a bit further in the GOP response, you find this: "We can't help but be a bit Skeptical of the the [sic] so called energy plan offered by the Democrat candidates since the sponsor of the plan is the infamous Ken Toole, author of the 'buy back the dams' billion dollar bad idea."

That's one bad idea that's sounding better all the time. And anyway, if one bad idea disqualifies a citizen from ever advocating any other ideas, then we had all better shut up.
Want to know what it's like to interview with Brian Schweitzer for lieutenant governor? The Missoula Independent was there.
Paul Whiting sends along this link to a local account of last weekend's National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wis. Lots of big, if somewhat predictable, voices.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Musician and newspaper fan Steve Earle weighs in on media consolidation and media bias:

"It's not that it's right-wing or left-wing, it's just that they're doing the same thing radio is doing -- doing market research and pandering to a market they've identified. I'm ready to do the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox this month, but equating that with a real political discussion is like believing pro wrestling is real. It's just pandering to our worst instincts, and it works. They've just identified a market and can sell to it. It sells more beer.

"I don't have a problem with the existence of the right, but the right has a problem with my existence. We just have a different definition of patriotism. One day this country will be remembered maybe for rock 'n' roll, maybe for baseball, and a few other things, but our Constitution is going to be like Hammarabi's code. It's a hipper document than its framers intended it to be. ...

"Newspapers have always had to turn a profit and they lived and died. It was a volatile industry and now they have sort of stabilized with nearly everything being owned by a few corporations. It comes back down to every three months, they have to report to the stockholders. For the same reason a public stock offering is a bad way to subsidize art, it is a bad way to subsidize journalism."
This interesting piece in the New York Times traces the way that the meaning of media bias has changed over the years.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Ken Miller, the Laurel Republican running for governor, has responded to questions at mtpolitics.
If you love your country -- and even if you don't -- you should look at this website.
Subject line on the e-mail I am least likely to open this week: "Correction: Dalmatian toadflax story."
Jackie Corr wanted me (and Ed Kemmick) to mention this website of Butte political cartoons. It's worth a look.
Montana Democratic legislators plan to unveil their energy plan at 11 a.m. Monday at the Capitol. The plan is called "ReFuel Montana: A Democrat Plan to Get Montana's Power Back to the People," but a news release offered no details other than these: "The Democratic legislators said Montana faces two problems: Assuring that Montana's energy needs are met and assuring an affordable, reliable energy supply for Montana customers, businesses and our economy.

"Senate Democratic Leader Jon Tester, House Democratic Leader Dave Wanzenried and Helena Senator Ken Toole will discuss how the plan meets the state's power needs while bringing affordable, reliable power back to homeowners,
renters, churches, charities and businesses."
The editor and publisher of the Pacific Northwest Inlander reflects on 10 years in the alternative weekly biz.
Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine, is as confused about the "liberal" and "conservative" labels as I am. From the November issue:

"The meanings of the words 'liberal' and 'conservative' has been so mercilessly abused over the last twenty years that they offer more information about the person who employs them as insults than they do about the person on whose head they fall like stones."

His conclusion: "The anti-liberal" prides himself on the clarity of his intellect. ... The anti-conservative prides himself on the quality of his emotions."

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence claims it is having some success in getting Montana retailers to cover up or remove copies of the Nov. 11 tabloid Globe. That's the issue that identifies the accuser in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case.

"Albertsons and Osco Drug – including their Montana stores – have joined Walgreen's, Kroger's, Safeway of Colorado, King Soopers and the City Market of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming in pulling this issue of the Globe from their stores’ shelves," a news release says. Other major retailers were receiving a letter today, the release said. (The release also identified the group as the Montana Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence Coalition, which qualifies it directly for the Department of Redundancy Department Hall of Fame Hall.)

“The message that this edition of the Globe sends to victims of sexual assault is chilling," said Inga Nelson, the coalition's outreach coordinator. "Sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in America, and Montana is no exception. Fewer than one in five victims ever report their assault to law enforcement.”

I haven't read the Globe and won't defend its handling of the story, but the larger issues here are a closer call than the coalition indicates. Rape victims are uniquely stigmatized among all crime victims, which is why newspapers historically haven't reported the names of alleged victims. I've always suspected that the failure to report only serves to perpetuate the stigma. But few editors are willing to break new ground on this touchy issue, even when the facts appear to be seriously in dispute, as they are here, and even when the alleged perpetrator will suffer great damage whether or not he's guilty.

Guess you could say that Tuesday's election results indicated a preference for the status quo. Road bonds were approved, all the incumbents were returned to office, and one former councilman was sent back to the council.

Even the exceptions serve to prove the rule. Jack Johnson failed in his attempt to return to the council, but his opponent, businesswoman Nancy Boyer, is well known and respected and ran a vigorous campaign. Even in the Ward 3 race, which had no incumbent, Vince Ruegamer, a retired banker, would have been considered the "establishment" candidate over Eric Coobs. That's true despite Coobs' endorsement by the Billings Area Chamber of Commerce, which seems bent on making itself increasingly irrelevant in local affairs.

The most resounding evidence of voter satisfaction, I suppose, was the 26 percent turnout. Win, lose or draw, most voters just don't give a damn.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Here's this week's entry in the Too-Late-for-the-Outpost category:

The Eastern Wildlands Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association is sponsoring a free lecture entitled "Wilderness and ... Fair Chase." The lecture will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, in the Madison/Jefferson Room in Marillac Hall at St. Vincent Healthcare.
Conservationist Jim Posewitz will discuss the history of hunting in America, the issues that surround ethical hunting, and the challenges that hunters face in modern times.
Posewitz believes that hunting in North America is a remarkable expression of democracy that has its roots in the American struggle for independence, a news release said. Posewitz will also discuss how fragile the political resolve historically has been (and still is today) towards the ideas of conservation, wildlife as a public resource, and the protection of wildlife habitat.
A passionate defender of hunting, Jim Posewitz spent 32 years as a biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and he headed the agency's ecological program for 15 years. Posewitz is the founder and executive director of Orion - The Hunter's Institute, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of hunting opportunities for future generations. The institute focuses on hunter ethics and the role hunters play in conservation.
Posewitz is the author of numerous books, including “Beyond Fair Chase” and “Inherit the Hunt.” Posewitz writes, "Fundamental to ethical hunting is the idea of fair chase. This concept addresses the balance between the hunter and the hunted. It is a balance that allows hunters to occasionally succeed while animals generally avoid being taken."
Posewitz is working on a new book about Theodore Roosevelt and the impact that he had on both the preservation of hunting and the preservation of federal lands for the public.
Posewitz also serves as executive director of the Cinnabar Foundation (a Montana-based environmental philanthropic organization), and he is an adjunct professor of history and philosophy at Montana State University.
Awards he has received over the years include Educator of the Year (Safari Club International), Conservationist of the Year (Montana Hunting Hall of Fame), American Motors Conservation Award and Montana State University's Blue-Gold Award.
In addition, Orion - The Hunter's Institute has twice been named as the Conservation Organization of the Year by the Montana Wildlife Federation, and a Beyond Fair Chase video won several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America for its script and editing.
The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call Eastern Wildlands Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association at 256-3874.
Writer John Clayton has launched another Montana-based blog.
And this article in Slate argues that firefighters aren't necessarily the heroes we make them out to be. It brings up a point that I keep meaning to get around to, which is that our notions of heroism may need to be rethought from the ground up. The word has been used awfully loosely since 9-11 to categorize whole groups of people: soldiers, firefighters, astronauts, police officers, U.S. presidents, Oliver North, even an Army colonel accused of criminal assault for firing a revolver to scare an Iraqi prisoner into revealing information.

I spent enough time as a volunteer firefighter to vouch for some of what the Slate article says. Finding people to fight fires was the easy part of running a volunteer fire department, a job I did for a couple of years. The heroes, if any, were the people who put together the barbecues and bake sales to keep us afloat.

Even the Army recognizes that not everybody who puts on a uniform deserves a medal for heroism. Soldiers in difficult combat circumstances, such as troops who spent years in the trenches in World War I, for instance, exhibit more courage just getting up for breakfast than most of us do in a lifetime. To become a hero, the Army decided, you have to exhibit valor "above and beyond the call of duty." So an infantry soldier who ran toward opposing trenches with bare chest exposed to machine gun fire wasn't a hero, just a soldier doing his duty. The same could be said for New York firefighters who ran up the Twin Towers as ordinary citizens were running down. They weren't heroes -- just good, brave men doing a difficult job -- but a job all the same. That should be enough.

Similarly, I have heard it argued that airline pilots who manage to land a damaged plane aren't heroes because they are acting in their own self-interest. They may be courageous, skilled and cool under pressure, but their motives aren't fundamentally heroic.

Sometimes when I think about all this I fear that I push the standard of heroism so far that no one can meet it. Once, trying to come up with a working definition of evil, I composed one that let even Hitler off the hook, at least during his insane years. That's no good. Any definition of evil that leaves out Hitler obviously needs to be reworked.

And, I sometimes think, maybe I'm too demanding of heroes. At least most people now recognize that being a professional athlete doesn't make you a hero. That's progress.

Then I ran across an item about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who left Germany when Hitler came to power and then returned to help resist Nazism. He was executed in 1945 for helping Jews escape.

Now that's a hero.
Remember that study by the Center for Public Integrity that found that the Bush administration favored its cronies and campaign supporters in awarding contracts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan? This Slate article says that the Center's research doesn't justify its conclusions.
I keep hearing Bill O'Reilly calling Bill Moyers a socialist. Those are fighting words where Moyers comes from (East Texas), so naturally I had to follow this link to a Moyers speech from Paul Stephens' always-interesting Montana Green Party Bulletin. Big quote:

"[Y]ou have to respect the conservatives for their successful strategy in gaining control of the national agenda. Their stated and open aim is to change how America is governed – to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich and privileged benefactors. They are quite candid about it, even acknowledging their mean spirit in accomplishing it. Their leading strategist in Washington – the same Grover Norquist has famously said he wants to shrink the government down to the size that it could be drowned in a bathtub. More recently, in commenting on the fiscal crisis in the states and its affect on schools and poor people, Norquist said, “I hope one of them” one of the states “goes bankrupt.” So much for compassionate conservatism. But at least Norquist says what he means and means what he says. The White House pursues the same homicidal dream without saying so. Instead of shrinking down the government, they’re filling the bathtub with so much debt that it floods the house, water-logs the economy, and washes away services for decades that have lifted millions of Americans out of destitution and into the middle-class. And what happens once the public’s property has been flooded? Privatize it. Sell it at a discounted rate to the corporations.

"It is the most radical assault on the notion of one nation, indivisible, that has occurred in our lifetime."

A socialist might say that, I suppose, but it's more in keeping with the odd populist streak that runs through East Texas politics. These are, in most respects, profoundly conservative people, suspicious of government, unwilling to give or accept a handout. But populism runs deep in the red-dirt country, and it helped keep Democrats in power for a century after Reconstruction.
This Washington Post article says that sportsmen's groups and gun clubs along the Rocky Mountain Front, including some in Montana, are upset with the Bush administration's environmental policies.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Byron Williams suspects that Wal-Mart may not be as innocent as it claims of knowledge that illegal workers were cleaning its stores. And Robert Scheer blames employers for immigration problems.
And here's more bad news for Clear Channel Communications.
TV news hits another new low.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

This letter to the editor (second one down) sums up a lot of my feelings about grocery shopping these days. I won't shop at Wal-Mart because I don't feel inclined to prop up the Chinese economy, because Wal-Mart destroys jobs and small businesses, because Wal-Mart won't advertise in newspapers (my evil selfish motive), because Wal-Mart has been sued a couple of dozen times for union busting and for forcing "associates" to work unpaid overtime, because I find the whole place a little creepy and because I have a friend who used to date a Wal-Mart heir and gave him up because the billions weren't worth it.

But the preferred shopping cards absolutely infuriate me. I don't think Albertson's headquarters in Idaho needs to know how much toilet paper or beer I bought last month. We shop more and more often at the IGA and at the Good Earth Market, but Good Earth doesn't have everything and my wife complains about the selection at the IGA. So many stores, and so few choices.

For more on Wal-Mart, read the extensive Oct. 31 discussion at City Lights. And here's yet another reading suggestion from Jackie Corr, this time on Costco (but you have to register -- which I won't do either because the Times wants to know my income. Forget it, pal; stick to Schwarzenegger's private life).

UPDATE: Michael Erickson also weighs in on the Wal-Mart issue.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Clear Channel Communications, the biggest bully in the radio biz, has coughed up $10,000 by way of apology for urging motorists to bully bicyclists in dangerous and potentially fatal ways.