Archive for September 26th, 2006

By now, you’re all dialed in on the Butte seating scandal. A Burns and Montana GOP corporate sponsor – Resodyn Corp – put up $200 in exchange for about 100 front-and-center seats to stock with Burns’ supporters. The press got on it, the FEC complaints are being made, it’s likely the ethical entanglement will be a footnote in the Senate race.

But what you didn’t know is that there was a third sponsor at the debate: Rhodia Inc. It’s a France-based international chemical company…sponsoring a Senate debate in Butte, Montana.

In 2004, Rhodia was assessed fines by the EPA for improperly storing hazardous waste in its Ramsey plant. The EPA levied on the corporation 1,000 hours of community service, 5 years probation, and $18 million in fines and restitution, and ordered the company to perform environmental remediation at the site. (NY Times article.)

According to the Montana Standard, it was the “second-largest criminal penalty lodged nationwide under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act…”

As a condition of probation, Rhodia must clean up the Silver Bow site, and those costs will likely far exceed the fine amounts, McLean said. He’s seen estimates ranging from $50 million to $100 million.

Rhodia must now work with state and federal environmental agencies to devise a clean-up plan and make quarterly reports on how it’s going.

I’ve heard rumors that the cleanup is…not happening. And I’m curious about the fine, too.

I’ve got some emails and phone calls out to confirm the state of the Ramsey plant cleanup. I’ll update you as soon as I find out.

Now, my implication is clear. A company fined an exorbitant large sum of money by the federal government and ordered to conduct a costly cleanup of the site co-sponsoring a debate involving a federal-level Senator infamous for his ethical improprieties? It looks…odd.

To be fair to Rhodia, the plant manager, Dan Bersanti, is a member of the Butte Chamber of Commerce and could have just plunked down the money because he was genuinely interested in presenting Butte with a Senate debate.

And I didn’t see: did Rhodia also reserve seats for Burns supporters?

The other day in my daily Links post, I brought attention to a Harper’s blog interview with Professor Kate Brown of Maryland University about her comparison of Guantanamo and the Soviet Gulags alongside the comment “You proud to be an American? For how much longer?” Like most Links comments, it was an off-the-cuff remark, a snark, a quick jab, but carrying with it enormous baggage.

Namely, patriotism.

One of the favorite conservative attacking points is that liberals don’t love their country. Certainly it’s true that the left tends to be less absolutist about…well…everything, including country. (I’ve written about this topic before when it comes to foreign policy, noting that a non-absolutist or liberal policy actually works compared to a simplistic, absolutist conservative one.) I do, for example, often decry events from our past policies that were wrong. Slavery and segregation. Support for Pinochet and the Shah of Iran. The invasion of Iraq. The designated hitter.

And it’s the people, friends, and places in the country I love, not the symbols and trappings. I love jazz, folk, and rock, but could care less for the colors blue, white, and red: I prefer orange and green. I love climbing Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, the Cascades in Washington, and the Bitterroots in Montana. I don’t own a single American eagle belt buckle although I nearly got clocked by a real eagle near Washington’s Mount Baker. I’ve lived in other countries – and to be honest, people are pretty much the same wherever you go: generous, greedy, caring, fearful, prejudiced, irrational, and affectionate. There are unique characteristics to Americans that I prefer: I love our informality and spontaneity, resourcefulness and optimism. But…is that because I’m American, and those are the traits I value? I prefer German produce and beer. I like Krakow, Poland, better than Springfield, Massachusetts, or Hartford, Connecticut. I prefer Montana to them all.

It all boils down to one question: what is a country, exactly?

But there’s one thing that’s clear, there’s one aspect of my country that I can point to and say without a doubt, there’s one unequivocally good thing about this country I love, and that’s its political structure: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the everyday democratic possibilities that come with it. To me that’s what America is about, that’s what makes me proud to be an American.

I think that’s what hit me about Dave Neiwert’s post on torture. It’s this sense that the Bush administration – and the GOP by standing by – is actively hacking away at the one, clear attribute of the United States that is demonstrably, absolutely positive.

Forget the stolen 2000 election or the Diebold vote-tampering. Think about Bush’s attacks on the fabric of our Constitution, the changes he’s making to centuries of democratic legal traditions. The signing statements, the Patriot Act, the undeclared war in Iraq, warrantless wiretapping, domestic spying, “enemy combatant” status, rendition, secret prisons, and torture.


The baseline problem with torture, after all, is that it is prima facie immoral, a violation not just of the Golden Rule and basic Christian precepts, but of nearly any system of ethics. Even the most hard-nosed rationalist will come to this conclusion (see, e.g., Kant’s Categorical Imperative). It’s an obvious one if you’re a Christian.All you have to present to any Christian, when it comes to torture, is their own favorite moral-guidepost aphorism: What Would Jesus Do?

To anyone familiar not just with Jesus’ teachings but the story of his martyrdom — including his torture at the hands of authorities — the answer is crystal clear.


Republicans, of course, want it to be a question of toughness: Are we willing to do “what it takes” to defeat terrorists?

But torture is not “toughness.” It is in fact a sign of weakness — particularly the moral kind.

It is, in the end, a moral issue, and one drawn in stark black and white. As the late Joan Fitzpatrick put it: The torturer is the enemy of mankind.

Unlike, say, patriotism or foreign policy, there is nothing equivocal about torture. It violates the principles at the heart of our legal system. It doesn’t work. It is bad. In any form, whether you’re ripping out fingernails or water boarding.

As Neiwert points out, morality has long been the main tool in the conservative toolbox to manipulate votes. So there’s a little uneasiness among progressives to make torture a moral issue. But it is a moral issue – a clear moral issue.

So, yes, Bush’s policies are making me ashamed of being an American and destroying the one thing I love without reserve about the country. With the whittling away of Constitutional rights and by his placing the state above the individual, the President is destroying our political system.

I could rail against the administration and Congress, but really it’s you and me who are responsible for who’s in office and why these people aren’t being held accountable. And by “you,” I do also mean journalists and campaign staff and DC insiders and activists. Have you put your political party above your ethics? Have you put re-election over principle? Are you putting journalistic ethics and profit ahead of morality? There comes a time when you have to make a stand.

Now is the time. If you love your country. Speak your mind.


Guess who turned three?

Catch Monica Lindeen’s YPR interview.

Charles Johnson and Jennifer McKee on the Butte seating scandal. Kemmick pretty much nails it when mulling the controversy.

Montana Standard editor O’Brien gives Pogie the run-around.

Salon’s profile of Burns getting testy about Abramoff. “Are you a subject of the investigation?” “I’m not a target.” “Are you a subject of the investigation?” “I’m not a target.” Burns also said he answers only to Jon Tester during the conversation. Someone needs a civics 101 class. (Via Missoula Justin. He’s also got video of the conversation.)

USA Today has a feature on the GOP’s precarious position in the West.

New group in Wyoming: “Republicans for Gary Trauner.” Cubin “nervous.”

The GOP drops the country from first to sixth in global competitiveness.

The GOP warns lobbyists away from Democratic candidates…in typical sc*mbag fashion.

Meanwhile DC Democrats plot to throw their party under a bus in time for the 2006 midterms.

Dave Neiwert’s post on torture is a must-read. “Torture: what would Jesus do?

Meet the political center on the topic of health care.

Oops! Not just in Virginia…but now in New Hampshire, too! A staffer for a conservative lawmaker was caught posting fake liberal posts on New Hampshire blogs. Could it be that the GOP is trying to manufacture its own comments to use in smear campaigns?

Jon Stewart on Clinton beating up Fox’ Chris Wallace and its subsequent coverage.

Olbermann on Clinton’s Fox interview.

New West is having a contest for two Rolling Stones tickets for the upcoming October 4 mega-show. (Seventy trucks rolling to town with the stage setup! Let’s hope it doesn’t rain!) I’ll be out of town, but this is your big chance to see the Stones live in Missoula.

But there’s a catch. You have to earn the d*mn things. That’s right, it’s an essay contest!

…if you were named King of Missoula (or Queen) for a day and could enact policies that would improve life in our growing city, what would you decree and why?Give us 300-500 words on your day as King of Missoula…

I can hear Dave Budge licking his chops now.

As for me…I’m thinking cigarette trees, lemonade springs, little streams of alcohol, and a lake of stew…

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