Friday, December 28, 2007

Gazette campaign spending

Here's my little scoop, by the way.

At least I think it's a scoop. I've paid so little attention to local news lately that I might have missed it somewhere else.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bohlinger for McCain

Good choice. McCain increasingly seems like the only Republican presidential candidate it is possible to vote for. Much as I like Ron Paul, he strikes me as too ideologically pure to govern successfully as president. And the rest of the GOP batch are too soft on torture and civil liberties for my taste.

McCain worries me because I don't like his position on the war, or on campaign finance reform, and his age bothers me a little. But he does seem to be an honest man, willing to take public hits on positions he believes in strongly, and I really don't see that Republicans have anyone else to turn to.

Now we'll see how much heat the endorsement takes off Bohlinger.

UPDATE: In comments, Eric says I'm too liberal for McCain and Mark T. says, in effect, that McCain's war position disqualifies him for the presidency. Mark also indicates that he has trouble telling liberals from conservatives.

Of course, I argue that all Americans are liberals because America is a liberal democracy founded on liberal principles and almost nobody rejects those principles. We pretty much all believe that humans are capable of self rule, that they should be equal under the law and that they have rights that outweigh the power of government. Those are all liberal ideas.

Real liberals and real conservatives both embrace those ideas, which can make them hard to distinguish, and that's a good thing. Telling them apart often boils down to what percentage of GDP they are willing to spend on taxes. But the right-wing talk machine has done a great job of conflating liberalism with socialism, an absurd but politically powerful gambit. And so-called conservatives have in large measure abandoned traditional American principles on torture, on foreign wars and on individual liberty. They should not be confused with real conservatives, who are people I respect and would, in fact, vote for.

As for McCain, I find his war position hard to take. But none of the other Republicans, outside of Ron Paul, is any better. And among the Democrats most likely to win, only Obama was against the war when it really mattered. So yes, I might vote for McCain if it comes down to a choice between a candidate who voted for and still supports the war and a candidate who voted for the war and has been running from the vote ever since.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A merry Christmas

Despite the death of Russ Brown (see below) Arlene Becker went ahead and held the annual Christmas party that she and Russ have hosted for years. It was a brave thing to do but, as she said, the tradition had to go on. The food was great, as always, and the crowd was eclectic. All that was missing was Russ' distinctive charm as host. He is definitely missed.

My daughter, Rachel, home from Missoula for the holiday, and I still had to go back to the office after the party to finish the Outpost. Christmas Day was our normal production day, and typically I don't put the paper to bed until the wee hours (or later) Wednesday morning. Pushing the schedule up by a day and a half is a real challenge for a weekly, especially with our regular production person gone on vacation, a vacancy in classified and last-minute Christmas shopping to do. So my wife did the classified pages, Rachel built ads, and I put the paper together, and we got done around midnight, just as Christmas Day broke. I even broke a bit of news, which you can read tomorrow.

So we slept late, opened presents, then cooked tamales for Christmas dinner -- a Southwestern tradition that we have been importing to Montana for years. They were wonderful, accompanied by Mexican rice, beans and a huracan gravy that was the best I ever made, I think.

Then the best part: a few cold tamales for breakfast today. Most tamales served cold are an abomination -- mealy, greasy and unpleasant. But really good homemade tamales take on an almost supernatural quality straight from the refrigerator -- firm, rich and painfully addictive. Then a slice of cherry pie, and back to work.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chamber for Brown

The Montana Chamber of Commerce has given Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown a Champion of Business Award for his 95 percent "pro-business" voting record.

Ninety-five percent? Saddam Hussein didn't do much better than that when he was at his peak. Do you think the Chamber is on your side 95 percent of the time? Heck, I own a business, and I don't think the Chamber is on my side that often. Incumbent Gov. Brian Schweitzer, by contrast, rates only 12 percent.

I'm not too happy with either of those numbers. I'd like somebody who knows what it takes to help the economy but realizes that sometimes what it takes is slapping the Chamber of Commerce around a little.

The partisan card

In response to this post, a commenter at Montana Headlines suggests that I have failed to take into account the extent to which the Schweitzer administration is playing the bipartisan card for cynical political purposes.

There might be some truth in that. But my sense is that Schweitzer doesn't really care much about partisan politics. What he does care about is winning, and he will play whatever cards are in his hand to do that.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Paul vs. Romney

This is amazing. Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe asked all presidential candidates a series of crucial questions about the powers of the president, the Constitution, surveillance and unlawful combatants. Here's where Ron Paul stands. Now here's where Mitt Romney stands.

All of which raises two questions of my own:

1. Any doubt why Ron Paul arouses more public interest than the rest of the candidates put together?

2. Did Mitt Romney give a real answer to even one of those questions?

Additional note: Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee refused to respond at all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Election update

Taylor Brown, who has owned the Northern Broadcasting System since 1985, is running for Senate District 22. Outside of his radio broadcasts, Brown, 51, may be best known for getting former broadcaster Conrad Burns into politics. This is his first run for office.

According to his news release, "Senate District 22 includes the Briarwood and Lockwood communities on the south edge of Billings, then runs down the Yellowstone River to the edge of Miles City. It includes Colstrip on the south, and runs north to include all of Treasure County." The seat is held by Lane Larson, who is running for re-election and is stopping by the Outpost tomorrow as he kicks off his campaign.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Person of year

This isn't exactly happy news either, but at least one Montanan has won a Person of the Year award.

Sad news

Kevin Dowling just called with news that Russ Brown has died. Probably heart-related, but that isn't certain yet.

Russ was one of my favorite people, the best kind of political activist with plenty of energy and good will and a sense of humor. In recent years, our favorite event of the holiday season has been to go to his and Arlene's house on Christmas Eve for a seafood feast: oysters on the half shell, soup, dessert and whatever dish anyone cared to bring. We like to bring shrimp jambalaya. I'm not much of a party guy, but the food is always great, Russ was a first-rate host, and the crowd was so interesting that I always looked forward to it.

In fact, Russ left a long, rambling telephone message on our machine yesterday about this year's event. He said he was counting on us for the jambalaya. We were in full production at The Outpost yesterday, so I didn't hear the message until this afternoon. By that time, Russ was already dead, although I didn't know it at the time.

It's a sad day.

UPDATE: This from Ray Tracy, chairman of the Yellowstone County Democratic Central Committee:

It’s with a very heavy heart that I inform you that this morning Russ Brown passed away. Russ’ death was from natural causes but was also unexpected and tragic. If anybody knew Russ, they knew his life was all about Montana politics and helping out in any way he could. Russ was known for his spirited character, his capacity for vibrant debate, and volunteerism. His wisdom, experience, and cheerful presence will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

I will announce Russ’ memorial service as soon as it’s known.

In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and treasure every moment with each other.

UPDATE 2: Russ Brown’s memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28, at the Elks Club. Donations may be made an environmental organization of your choice.

Monday, December 17, 2007

He's back -- no, really

OK, it wasn't much of a comeback. I underestimated how many papers I still had to grade and how much catching up around the office. Then there were a few hours of pure indolence: grocery shopping, movie watching ("Beowulf" in 3D!), even a TV football game. And there's that thing about blogging: The further away I get from it, the smaller it looks. If I don't have my nose in it every day, it doesn't seem to much matter.

But there was this: My annual survey of news consumption habits among my journalism students once again turned up not a single regular consumer of news and political blogs. I have asked every year since I first heard about blogs, and while I no longer have to explain what a blog is, I still haven't found a student who regularly reads blogs for news and commentary.

As I told them, failing to follow the news when one is in college isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's one time in life when it makes sense to focus on news that never stops being news, like "Beowulf" in 1D, which I spent a whole semester on in graduate school. After seeing the movie, I picked up my copy of the poem, wondering whether I remembered any of the language. In short: No. It might as well have been my blog.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

He's back

I promised not to let the blog go totally dark during the fall semester, and I kept that promise -- but just barely. Now I'm back -- but just barely. I taught my last class on Friday and still have a couple of finals to give and quite a few papers to grade, but I have gained a little breathing room. So a few scattered comments:

1. I was disappointed to see that Roy Brown was listed as signing a no-tax-increase pledge in his campaign for governor. Why? It isn't like Brian Schweitzer is going to run to the right of him on tax increases. If low taxes are all you care about, then Brown is your man.

So the pledge gains him nothing and costs him something I would hope for in a governor: the flexibility to deal with changing circumstances, no matter what they might be. A no-tax pledge says that no imaginable situation, crisis or emergency is important enough to raise taxes, even temporarily, or even while other taxes are being cut. I don't particularly want taxes to rise, but I also don't think it's the worst thing in the world. I can think of a lot of things worse than higher taxes -- wars, fiscal crises, natural disasters -- and I don't want politicians to unilaterally disarm.

2. Montana Headlines has an interesting post about Republicans' hate-hate affair with John Bohlinger. Montana Headlines makes some good points -- I, too, would like to see Bohlinger face Republicans in their natural lair -- but I think he misses an important point: What makes Republicans so annoyed with Bohlinger is exactly what makes him popular. Like it or not, Americans increasingly identify loyalty to party with disloyalty to country. Many of us fear that politicians in both parties are sacrificing the well-being of their constituents on the altar of partisanship.

Every day Bohlinger is in office, he makes a quiet statement that what unites us as a people is far more important than what divides us as political partisans. And Republican attacks on Bohlinger just reinforce that statement.

3. Montana Headlines also is worth reading on the presidential race, where John McCain is seen as making a comeback. I liked McCain against Bush, but this year it seemed that time had passed him by. He is no longer the newest thing on the shelf, and he gives activists at both ends of the political spectrum reason to dislike him: liberals because of his support of the war and conservatives because of immigration and campaign financing reforms.

Still, he is the only Republican who seems to understand that torture is a war crime. And, as Montana Headlines points out, McCain sensibly declined to sign a no-tax pledge (see No. 1 above) while still acting like a fiscal conservative.

The only other appealing Republicans from this chair are Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. Admirable fellow that he is, Paul probably is unelectable and would quite likely be a disaster as president. Huckabee is an amiable sort, but for me he is disqualified by his statements that the president should have the power to start a war even if Congress says no. I don't want to vote for a president who would be perjuring himself the moment he swore to defend the Constitution.

UPDATE: Here's another reason not to like Huckabee. I don't care what he thinks about homosexuals, but the idea that the cost of AIDS research should be borne by "multimillionaire celebrities" is the sleaziest kind of pandering -- not to mention wildly unchristian.