Friday, September 29, 2006

Tester online

My Jon Tester profile for Montana Quarterly is now available to those of us in the cheap seats. In case your computer-generated ADD prevents you from reading the whole thing, Ed Kemmick has a spot-on summary.

In the Outpost comments, Rocky Smith says we should now bill ourselves as the "Democrat party weekly." Funny thing is, because of various deadlines, I did most of the reporting for that piece a couple of months ago, so I just sort of assumed that its fundamental assertion -- that Tester is a decent, likeable guy who may (or may not) have the stuff to make a good senator -- would have been called into question by now. But it hasn't. No matter how hard Burns attacks, I haven't heard him or anyone else go after Tester's basic integrity and decency.

So when a report of a near universal consensus that a human being is an OK guy is dismissed as partisan fluff, I am left to wonder what could possibly remain that isn't partisan.

Segregated swimming

Occasionally, a student nails it. In the business class I sit in on at Rocky, discussion yesterday turned to laws banning smoking in restaurants and other public places. One student expressed frustration over restaurants that place non-smoking areas just a table or two away from smoking areas.

One student chimed in: "That's like having a 'peeing area' in a pool."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Richards vs. Keenan

I watched the Butte debate between Burns and Tester this a.m., and I came out wishing that Bob Keenan and Paul Richards had been slugging it out instead. Keenan, at least, would have given us honest talk about the government's pitiful record on deficit spending, and Richards would have made sense about Iraq.

Instead we get Burns hypothesizing that we will grow our way out of the deficit, just the way Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did it. Except, of course, that what Kennedy and Reagan did didn't work. Tax cuts were followed by revenue increases, to be sure, but that didn't stop deficits from growing. Now, with a wildly expensive war going on, we get deficits piled upon deficits, with no end in sight.

And from Tester we get - what exactly? - about Iraq. I don't hear him flip-flopping, the way Republicans claim they do. I just don't hear any clear position at all. Richards would have pointed out that, if in fact the war in Iraq is leading to more terrorism, not less, then "stay the course" is not only expensive and impractical, it's downright stupid. We need a change of course, and fast. Creating the first pro-torture presidential administration in U.S. history isn't going to get the job done.

So we get a lame, watered-down debate, a greatest-hits edition of sound bites and conventional wisdom. I'm holding out for Keenan-Richards.

UPDATE: Interesting comments below about the merits of staying and leaving Iraq. This month's Harper's magazine has a plan by George McGovern and William R. Polk on how to get out of the war. I'm not expert enough to judge the merits of the plan, but what strikes me is that it is at least a plan. Why can't we get a plan from our own government? All we get are "stay the course" and "cut and run," neither of which makes any sense. Everybody knows we have to leave Iraq sometime -- my grandkids may have to fight there, but their grandkids won't -- so why not plan for it? And why not have that discussion in a public forum among representatives chosen by the people to stand up for our interests -- say, Congress, for example?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bob Lyon

I was sorry to see in the Gazette this morning that Bob Lyon had died. He was one of a disappearing breed: a tireless Democratic loyalist with a keen sense of the larger needs of the nation and the community.

I didn't always agree with him, and he didn't always agree with me. He subscribed to The Outpost from its inception until we began running Rob Natelson's column in The Outpost -- that was too much for his liberal sensibilities. As a letter writer, he was an indefatigable jewel: His letters were varied, succinct, and capably written. Although he often wrote both to The Outpost and The Gazette on the same topics, he always recast his message so we each got a fresh letter.

He had been ill for some time, and his death is no surprise. But it is a loss.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Saturday, September 09, 2006

R but not quite IP

What's Right in Montana takes note of the general lack of posting here and draws the usual sort of comments. I can't apologize for not posting more; with my schedule, it would be irresponsible to even try. I started this blog (the first by a working journalist in Montana) in part out of a hope to supplement the Outpost's weekly news coverage with daily updates and commentary. That still sounds like a good idea to me, but it just isn't practical at the moment. I've got to earn some cash.

Infrequent posting does mean that I will miss commenting on some things of which I might otherwise have taken note, including a couple of things on What's Right in Montana:

1. The remarkable discovery that "disavowed" implies liberal bias.

2. This enlightening essay on how much Jon Tester and Conrad Burns "like" taxes. The post misses an obvious point: In my 2 1/2 decades around politicians, I don't believe that I have ever met one who "likes" taxes. What politicians like is spending because spending allows them to keep constitutents happy and make election-year claims about how successful they are at bringing home the bacon. Responsible conservatives resist the urge to spend; responsible liberals have the political courage to tax. That natural tug of war is supposed to keep the system in balance.

But Tester, whose experience is in state government, doesn't have the same luxury that Burns has in Congress. The Montana Legislature has to balance its budget, so if Tester wants to spend money, he has to find revenues somewhere. Burns just has to tack a few hundred billion more onto the deficit.

What I'm waiting for is some genuine conservative to explain to me how it is fiscally responsible for a senator to support, say, a war that costs a billion or so bucks a day and then not only refuse to levy the taxes to pay for it but actually support tax cuts that dig the hole even deeper. Any takers?

Finally, I might just note that my interest in the whole blogging phenomenon has waned in recent months. I'm not persuaded that it is a good use of my time, and I'm not persuaded that I have the temperament for it. This may sound odd coming from a guy who has probably a million words in print, but writing always has been a struggle for me, and adding it to the responsibility of running a business and teaching doesn't make it any easier. Lots of days I just look at that blank computer screen and think, not my job to fill it.

P.S. I did a profile on Tester for Montana Quarterly that is now hitting the stands. Look for it everywhere!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dem bloggers

Get your blogger kit today!

So long as you are a Democrat.

Blogging up

I asked my journalism students my usual questions about blogging, something I have done for about five years now. The first couple of years few students had even heard of blogging; now they all have. But none read any of the prominent political blogs (although one blogs here) and only a scattered few had heard of any of them. Instapundit, Daily Kos, etc., all pretty much drew a blank. They do their blogging, if any, at

Where do they get their news? Nothing got a majority of votes, but local TV news appeared to be the main source. The Gazette probably ran second, especially when online reading is counted. Comedy Central and radio got a few scattered votes, but national TV, including the 24-hour news channels, didn't get much. I didn't ask about the Outpost; no need to give anyone an incentive to lie.

So how much do they know about the news? Too early to tell, but not much, if past experience holds. Not that that's a bad thing: My days on the road and my college days were the only two times in my life when I didn't read a paper every day.

And there's this: Of the 35 students in my two classes, only one had seen "An Inconvenient Truth." So you ideologues who worry that Al Gore is corrupting young minds can rest easy.

UPDATE: In comments, someone asks how many of my students had seen a Michael Moore movie. Just for the heck of it, I asked my 15 English students that question this morning. About four hands went up.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

blogged down

There actually are good reasons why you don't see me blogging here. School started at Rocky Mountain College on Aug. 22, so I've been teaching my journalism and first-year writing courses out there. MSU-Billings begins Wednesday, and I will be teaching two German courses there. And I'm teaching a community outreach course on media issues at MSU-Billings beginning in late September. And tutoring for a few hours a week.

On top of all that, the Outpost just had one of its most profitable months ever. That's good news, but bigger papers mean a lot more work. So I've been a busy boy.

And, as a final note, we also are working on a pretty dramatic overhaul of the Outpost website that could make it far more useful than it has been up to now. When that happens, the blog, at least in this form, is likely to go away forever.

So if you are wondering why there is nothing to see here, that's why.