Archive for February, 2007

by Jay Stevens

It looks like the legislative break is coming just in time: tempers flared in the Montana House Tuesday, as Ed Butcher dismissed Democratic remarks as “nonsense,” and House Democrats asked the body to censure Butcher.

Butcher’s no sweetheart, that’s for sure. This wasn’t his first unthinking comment he’s made:

Earlier this session, Butcher apologized on the House floor for making what some called insensitive remarks about American Indians before a committee meeting. He also drew criticism in 2001 for calling American Indian reservations “ghettos,” and he publicly apologized in 2004 after referring to severely developmentally disabled students as “vegetables” at an education meeting.

Parker said Butcher has also made “derogatory comments” toward other lawmakers on the House floor within the past week.

“(Butcher’s) antics have become so time-consuming that they have distracted the House of Representatives from its rightful business, becoming a real waste of taxpayer expense,” Parker said.

The dispute arose over Koopman’s utterly meaningless “Liberty Day” bill, which would be a day “to celebrate the inalienable rights and cherished liberties that we all enjoy as Americans.” The flap arose when an amendment was proposed to replace “inalienable” with “God-given.”

[The] amendment, which later failed…drew opposition from several Democrats, including Franklin, who warned against using language that suggests elected officials have a direct connection with God.

Butcher called the gist of Franklin’s comments “nonsense.” He later said he was sorry that Franklin had taken his remarks personally but insisted he had nothing to atone for.

“When somebody defames the foundations of our country by distorting history, I am sorry, but (criticizing) that is not something to apologize for,” Butcher said. “It was not a personal comment on the individual. It was the general gist of that pattern of thought.”

Amen, Butcher. Which is why repeated attempts to inject Christianity into the government irks me so.

All in all, a silly little squabble. Butcher is a boor, and Democrats should not take his blathering personally.

Also, I think “Liberty Day” is a joke, and Senate Dems should quash it. If you need to proclaim a day of liberty in America, it means we’re in big trouble. I think every damn day is “Liberty Day,” and we should all exercise our liberties as often as possible – which is why I blog, after all. (Even if folks like Corey Stapleton try to intimidate me into silence.)

So join me in celebrating our liberty by calling Butcher a boor, and letting the world know Koopman is wasting taxpayer money and valuable legislative time with his empty bills.

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by Jay Stevens

Recently Democratic state Senator Jim Elliot introduced a resolution urging rejection of the Presiden’t fast-track trade authority, which is coming up for review this Congressional session. (Basically the fast-track trade authority denies Congress the right to tinker with the President’s trade agreements, authority that is unabashedly pro-corporate and unfair to American workers.)

Here’s the blurb from the ultimate insider journal, The Hill:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is being put under pressure from Democrats in his state to reject an extension of fast-track trade authority, which expires this summer.

The Montana state Senate, controlled by Democrats, this week approved a resolution asking Congress to create a replacement for fast track in which trade deals could be considered only in up-or-down votes.

Now, one thing I learned this past election was that the DC pundits really didn’t understand Montana’s political climate. You had nationally-known pundits misstating Tester’s position on abortion, miscalling the Senate race, blithely predicting before the primary that our current junior Senator had no chance in the primary.

This story about the Senate vote completely misrepresents the importance of the Montana Senate resolution on fast-track trade authority.

See, the bill passed on a vote of 44 to 6. Of the six that voted against the resolution, one was a Democrat – Larry Jent. That is, the resolution was overwhelmingly bipartisan.

See, now that’s important. Baucus has often argued that his position on trade, health care, taxation, and a myriad of other crucial issues affecting Montana are made based on the state’s inherent conservatism. Institutional thinking says he tacks right in the months proceeding an election in order to win as a Democrat in a “red” state.

But the Montana Senate’s vote shows that Baucus is woefully out of step with Montana on, at least, the issue of trade. This wasn’t a “Democratic” rejection of fast-track trade authority, as DC insiders would have us think – because such thinking allows Max to embrace fast-track trade authority in the name of winning the election – instead it’s a wholesale bipartisan and inherently Montanan rejection of the trading power.

And I suspect on a lot of other pro-corporate stances that Baucus embraces under the guise of electability are actually unpopular with the state’s voters. And it seems the state GOP has caught on. After all, Baucus is weak with labor and progressives right now. Our senior Senator can’t afford to continue to pursue his unpopular agenda and expect much support from his base come the fall of 2008. One thing Tester showed us recently is that money doesn’t have the final say come Election Day.

Right now I don’t think Baucus can afford to snub the Senate – and the state – by supporting fast-track trade authority.

Links…

Julie Fanselow pays tribute to former state Representative, Janet Miller, a quality person who happened to be a politician, who has terminal cancer.

The Montana Senate urged Max Baucus to reject “fast track” trade authority for the President.

Western governors get together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Good on them! (Where’s Montana?)

Public funding for judicial elections passes in the Senate.

Sarpy Sam thinks little of the GOP House’s proposal to allow runoff from coal-bed-methane extraction into “ephemeral” ponds and streambeds.

The bill requiring English-language proficiency killed in the House. House leadership relieved to be able to keep driving.

Speaking of scr*wing Montanans for profit, GOP legislators are also the willing mouthpieces for Northwestern’s bid to protect its monopoly.

Constituency accounts may be illegal, says state’s new ethics chief.

You think Montana Republicans are bad? Check out Idaho’s paleo-conservatives.

The latest from crazy people: “No Darwin, no Hilter.”

Falwell: global warming part of a Satanic conspiracy.

A Boston federal judge ruled that public schools can teach children about same-sex marriages. Why? Public schools are “entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy.”

Wyoming’s Democratic House candidate, Gary Trauner, on partisanship.

House Republicans want to keep terrorist’s money.

David Crisp on Hannity v. Gore: Gore wins in a landslide.

Oh…and Gore’s energy consumption? No hypocrisy here.

Obama, eloquent and right on Iraq – in 2002!

A presidential candidate hires a radical extremist to be on his staff, and the media…says nothing. Meet Henry Jordan, Christian conservative working for Duncan Hunter, and the double standards in media.

That’s more than you can say about Bush administration officials, who apparently can’t even remember what happened wa-a-a-ay back in 2002. Just when you think you can’t be startled by the Bush administration anymore…

Glenn Greenwald: “When historians endeavor to understand how America embarked on this dark and disastrous period in our history — how we not only collectively made our worst strategic mistake by invading Iraq on multiple false pretenses, but also proceeded to re-elect the President who did that and long embraced the obvious delusion that the chaotic occupation was going well — they can begin with this Op-Ed in this morning’s Wall St. Journal by Joe Lieberman.”

Meanwhile, Americans love Murtha’s idea to allow only those US troops that are adequately equipped to be deployed to Iraq, which the Washington Post describes as “crudely hamstringing the ability of military commanders to deploy troops.” Hm, I guess all that matters to the DC insiders is that the warm bodies keep getting shipped.

Meanwhile, what will Americans say to the news that the US government is covertly funding radical Iraqi Sunnis – with ties to al Qaeda? So much for the “war on terror.”

According to Sy Hersh, the Bush administration is preparing to attack Iran. Remember, Hersh was right about everything concerning Iraq.

In a beautiful post, Kossak Jay Elias tells us why we need to fight for the US Constitution.

Here’s one of the culprits working against the Constitution: John Yoo.

The Washington Post’s crush on right-wing bloggers. Ewww!

Colbert on the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

A liberal provocateur infiltrates Conservapedia!

by Jay Stevens

There have been a number of posts written about Montana’s House Republicans splitting up the state budget into six…or possibly seven…more, or less…different bills:

With the legislative session approaching the halfway point, House Republicans released details of the six spending bills to replace the single budget bill they jettisoned last week. The Montana Legislature had used a single budget bill to cover all agencies for the past 30 years.

In addition, the process might not be legal. The GOP’s reaction?

“That’s a lot of hooey,’’ said House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings. “We’re taking back a process that belongs to the people of Montana, and we’re giving it back to the people of Montana.’’

Sweet. The House Republicans don’t even know, or even care, about the legality of their plan, even though Governor Schweitzer has been thinking about it:

Schweitzer believes the separate bills wouldn’t be true appropriations measures, and so wouldn’t include all the restrictions previous legislatures have put on the governor’s office to control his administrative freedom….

“I could move money from one end of an agency to another,” Schweitzer said of the modified budget bills….

By Schweitzer’s reckoning, the multi-bill budget gives him several other advantages. The state Constitution also requires all bills except the main appropriations measures to have specific titles explaining exactly what they would accomplish. A bill can’t simply be titled “Natural Resources Budget” and inside, send money and priorities to dozens of different departments and projects. The more time wasted under that mistake, Schweitzer said, the less time the multi-bill advocates have to craft a legal substitute for his budget.

Looks like someone has a handle on the legality of the Republicans’ budgetary plans, and it ain’t the Republicans.

Colby thinks that the Republicans are submitting the various bills so that the legislature won’t have time to do anything else. Personally, I think his theory gives the House leaders too much credit for their organizational skills. This smells like a clusterf*ck to me, not a insidious plan to upend the Democrats or progressive legislation.

Shane thinks the House leaders may have some arguable points, but is repelled by their secrecy. While it’s true legislators can now vote on the parts of the budget they like, as GOPers claim, it’s also true that it’s impossible to tell if budget allocation is acceptable unless you can see the bottom line. A tax cut or spending expenditure may sound great, for example, until you realize it puts the state in the red.

That’s basically Matt’s point. Matt also thinks changing the way Montana mulls the budget in mid-session portends disaster.

John Sinrud (R-Bozeman) explained the choice for splitting up the budget thusly:

House Appropriations Chairman John Sinrud, R-Bozeman, said splitting the budget into six or seven independent bills makes Montana more like the federal government.

“Just like in Washington, D.C.,” Sinrud said, “we will have the same clarity.”

In that statement, David Sirota finds all the wrongs of the 2007 House Republicans:

This is what happens when a small handful of wild-eyed lunatics like Sinrud become so partisan and so determined to try to make trouble that they are willing to destroy their own state’s budget system: they offer up rationales for their behavior that actually make their opponents’ points. In this case, we have Republican legislators in a libertarian-leaning state justifying their spastic behavior by saying it’s time we emanate the most corrupt and oblique processes of Washington, D.C.

(I suspect Sirota meant “…emulate the most corrupt and oblique processes…” although there’s a certain poetry in corrupt processes “emanating…”)

I suspect Sinrud’s comment was a mistake, he was probably speaking off the cuff, and that, state-wide, Republicans as one cringed when they read Sinrud’s comments in the newspaper. Which makes the comment all the more disturbing, doesn’t it?

In the end, I think Sirota’s right: it appears that the House is in the hands of unskilled ideologues.

Links…

House passes a bill that exempts wait staff from the state’s minimum wage standard.

A friend of Colby’s penned a nice letter to the Bozeman Chronicle about Koopman’s – now dead – “intellectual diversity” bill.

Since I gave “Camp Baucus” a hit, it’s only fair I point out that Dennis Rehberg is also cavorting with lobbyists on the ski slopes.

Rick Jore’s bill would protect Montana from the UN. Um…can’t we discuss some real issues instead of a conspiracy nut’s illusionary world plots?

Climate change will bring water shortages to the West. As if we need more water disputes…

Conservatives, weary of dealing with reality, have created their own online encyclopedia – Conservapedia — which neatly subverts life, the universe, and everything to political ideology.

The bullies may be ruling now, but the idealists are coming

Over at Orcinus, Sara mulls the effectiveness of protest.

How global capitalism could destroy itself.

The Economist: Pelosi is one of the Democrats’ best assets.

Vilsack ends presidential bid. Is it me? Or is the 2008 presidential race already a madhouse?

Why is Bill Richardson being ignored? Um…let’s see…maybe because of Obama and Clinton?

A new sex-and-ethics scandal in the Bush administration – pairing a lobbyist with a Justice Department official – may have some legs. It illustrates how the Bush administration is in bed – literally ! – with big money…

Speaking of bedding down with big money…the Bush administration used the Department of Education and the No Child Left Behind Act to steer educational purchases to a handful of Bush donors

Democrats to repeal the 2002 Iraqi war resolution? Nice move. Now we’ll really see if lawmakers regret voting for it.

They’d better hurry! According to Michael Hirsch, the Bush administration is entangling our troops presence in Iraq so that we’ll be staying for years.

It always amazes me that righties compare Bush to Lincoln, especially if you consider Lincoln was a virulent opponent of the power of Presidents to start wars, especially those of choice and in the name of “freedom.”

Invading Iran would not be rational. But what does reason have to do with it?

Where does your city rank in greenness, according to the Earth Day Network? Out of 54 cities, Billings ranks 14th,Cheyenne 12th, and Boise…6th! And…Fargo, North Dakota is numero uno!

by Jay Stevens 

Look who’s proposing legislation to overhaul the initiative process: old friends Ed and Trevis Butcher!

Trevis, of course, was the Montana money handler for Howie Rich’s terrible trio of initiatives: 154, 97, and 98. Trevis is also a good pal of the Republican Liberty Caucus sweethearts. The initiatives were, of course, struck down for the pervasive fraud found to mar the signature gathering.

Representative Ed Butcher (R-Winifred) is Trevis’ daddy.

The Butcher Bill (HB 777) — one of the worst-written bills I’ve seen, BTW – allows grievances to bypass many of the offices Howie Rich’s bills got caught up in (such as the Attorney General’s office or the district courts). The bill also targets volunteer signature gathers to extra scrutiny (in one line, considering a volunteer’s work to be a “campaign contribution”). (And in one section hints that blog entries on behalf of candidates could be considered “campaign contributions”!)

Basically the bill does two things: it makes it easier to challenge a petition, but almost impossible to get it off the ballot. And it seeks to exclude or punish all those who either opposed or worked against Rich’s initiatives.

The good news is that this bill probably isn’t leaving committee:

A proposal to overhaul the state’s ballot initiative process didn’t excite much interest on the part of the House State Administration Committee on Thursday morning.

Committee members had no questions for Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, the sponsor of House Bill 777, and the only comments from committee Chairman Dennis Himmelberger, R-Billings, were to urge Butcher, several times, to be more concise.

And the only people who spoke in support of the bill were Butcher’s son, conservative activist Trevis Butcher of Winifred, and Helena attorney Chris Gallus.

And better yet, there is a bipartisan bill that’s more likely to see its way past the legislature that would make good and needed change to the initiative process:

Six people spoke against the bill, led off by Assistant Attorney General Pam Bucy, who said the legislation was rife with problematic language and legal pitfalls. She, and most of the other opponents, urged the committee to give its support instead to Senate Bill 96, which was drafted with the concurrence of the Justice Department and the secretary of state.

SB96, introduced by Sen. Carol Williams, D-Missoula, would prohibit paying signature-gatherers on a per-signature basis and would require the gatherers to be residents of Montana. The bill would also seek to simplify and streamline other aspects of the initiative process.

A member of the House State Administration Committee, Rep. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, intends to sponsor Williams’ bill in the House.

In other words, good stuff. A bill that, in a reasonable world, would be passed without much of a fuss. But then, this year in the House, all bets are off.

by Jay Stevens 

Today the Montana Senate voted to abolish the state’s death penalty on a 27-22 vote, which actually surprised me. I didn’t think this bill would get past committee – which it did – or a general Senate vote – which it did.

While the vote was largely carried by Senate Democrats, there was plenty of crossover on both sides. That’s the surprising thing about this bill, and that’s what has to be giving anti-death-penalty activists some hope that the House might go for it, too.

I admit I’m generally against the death penalty for a number of reasons. First, there have been too many mistakes made in death penalty convictions to make me confident we’re actually killing the right people. Also, as Ty Alper mentioned in his conversation on this topic, the poor and racial minorities are too often targeted by the death penalty, thanks to abysmal lawyering. That is, it’s not administered fairly. Finally, like Ty, I balk a little at the notion that our government can kill people. It’s a little creepy.

Like Ed Kemmick, though, I’m still a little conflicted. In a perfect world, without unequal or unfair or mistaken death penalty prosecution, maybe it would be better to simply dispatch those that we can’t rehabilitate or who are chronically violent.

But it’s not a perfect world. And maybe a lifetime in jail is actually a worse punishment, as Ed says. It’s certainly cheaper.

So, all things considered, I support the ban.

I’m curious to see how the House goes in this issue. Personally, I don’t think it has a chance. The Republicans in the Senate who voted for the abolishing of the death penalty no doubt did so because they knew the Republican-led House would have the last say on the matter. No doubt conservative leaders are lining up the votes to kill the bill and keep the illusion going that Republicans are tough on crime.

Still…all this bill needs is a couple of defections and the death penalty is gone from Montana.

by Jay Stevens 

Sarpy Sam nailed the story about a Billings high school basketball coach who was fired for refusing to reinstate a player who had been drinking.

The coach, Larry Lee Falls Down, had a rule for his Plenty Coups High basketball team: no drinking. The punishment was a full year suspension. Then one of the varsity members was caught drinking, and suspended. His parents complained, the superintendent ordered the boy back on the team, and the coach refused.

The Pryor School Board subsequently ordered that the coach be fired in an illegal closed-door meeting.

Sarpy Sam:

WHERE IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OUR SCHOOLS HAVE TO TEACH OUR KIDS IN THIS SCENARIO!!!! Yea, teach them to get away with something clearly illegal, but I thought our responsibility was to teach them right from wrong, not if you are good at sports you can get away with anything you like.

What is happening to us as a society that venerates athletes over the law? How sad.

Amen.

Links…

The House Republicans’ hijacking of the state budget may create a crisis, claims the Good Gov.

Old friend Conrad Burns is now the poster boy for all that’s wrong with the loopholes in the “cooling off” period, whereby Congressmen are required to wait to become lobbyists.

President Bush touts his health-care tax breaks, which basically amounts to subsidies for the insurance industry. Max Baucus calls it “an outside-the-box proposal” that merits discussion. Blech.

On the other hand, Baucus tells the state legislature that our troops have to come home “as soon as possible.”

Dennis Rehberg supports Iraqi troop escalation.

Koopman’s “intellectual diversity” bill earns a well-deserved death.

My House rep, Theresa Henry, introduced a bill that would fund state sex ed classes. You think it makes it out of the GOP-dominated committee? Me, neither.

Here’s a cute bill: a state Republican wants to make the legislature meet every year instead of every two years. Ironic, isn’t it? It’s his party that looks like it’ll put the current session into chaos with its budget shenanigans…

World-wide Islamic terrorism up sevenfold since the start of the Iraq War. So much for the “we’re fighting them there…” line.

Joe Lieberman to switch parties? Again, how many Connecticut voters regretting their Election Day ballot?

So…why isn’t the fact that a Republican funder turned out to be a terrorist financier a big story? If he had donated to the DCCC, what do you think would have happened?

Rudy Giuliani: running for President of 9/11. Giuliani is promising to make 9/11 great again!

Neocons again trot out WMDs. What’s up? Can’t think up new justification for the war, so you have to recycle an old one?

Matt Tabbi rightfully slams Bush’s budget, which gives enormous tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest families while cutting services for the elderly and veterans. Classy.

Jonah Goldberg Glenn Reynolds: the right’s Ward Churchill.

And why is Jonah Goldberg talking about global warming on NPR, anyway? Is their idea of “balance” putting someone on the show who knows nothing about the topic?

A bunch of DC insiders pooh-pooh the blogs. Accountability is a b*tch.

A nice story about two little old ladies who were arrested for trying to speak with their Senator, Gordon Smith (R-OR).

by Jay Stevens

Recently, state Senator Corey Stapleton slammed the blogs in a puff-piece profile:

Stapleton himself was later attacked on state and national blogs after the Great Falls Tribune reported a joke he made that “no one in the Negro caucus” objected to the Legislature working on Martin Luther King Day.

Matt Singer of the blog “Left in the West,” called the remarks “deeply, racially insensitive.”

Stapleton said he was frustrated by the media attention, especially from bloggers, whom he calls the “angry, unaccountable, anonymous media.”

“We change our language that we choose almost as frequently as we change the passwords on our laptop,” Stapleton says. “We’ve just learned to hide our differences in political correctness.”

Criticism by liberal blogs does more harm to a citizen legislature like Montana’s, Stapleton says, than to professional politicians. “It dissuades average, moral people from wanting to get involved.”

Last night I was all eager to write about this, about how Stapleton’s remarks were unfounded, that what we do is write about stuff that legislators actually do or say, and that should not discourage any honest or “moral” people from serving. Quite the opposite.

But then I read Matt Singer’s reaction to the remarks. He – justly – notes Stapleton’s own double standard, where he felt free to use his position to belittle and humiliate others, but he also recognized similarities in his own blogging style and Stapleton’s sweeping statements:

In fairness to Senator Stapleton, though, I think people — both in Montana and across the country — are sick of the sort of partisanship that both he and I probably practice more often than we should. That’s one of the reasons why when he accused myself and others of being unpatriotic, I asked advice from some people, took a deep breath, and asked for an apology, rather than moving to denounce immediately.

I’m not sure that I support Barack Obama for President, but I do know that I think he’s right when he says that our problems aren’t too big, but that our politics has become too small. We rarely see leadership any more — from the blogs or from elected officials. We see people playing leaders. And by we, I mean you, dear reader, because I often worry that I’m as much a part of the problem as I am part of the solution.

With that, I’d actually like to thank Senator Stapleton for reminding me that I have some obligation in this process — to work harder to treat my opponents with respect.

I’ve lately been mulling a similar thing here at 4&20 blackbirds. I’ve often used this blog to attack letter-writers or conservative activists in my “Creep” category. While their rhetoric needs to be countered or corrected, I think my criticism has often crossed over into attacks on their character. That’s fine for politicians, IMHO, who abuse their offices and the public trust – like Corey Stapleton has – but I think it’s a little over-the-top for folks who are just letting off a little steam. I should know, I’ve been the subject of a few invective-laden tirades and some threats. Not at all fun.

So the Creep category is being retired.

I’m not so sure I would go as far as Matt, though. The Republican Party has exercised ruthless partisanship and vitriolic rhetoric during their recent run, using fear and hate to motivate their base and draw votes. I don’t see much hope in laying off legislators who, say, declare war on the Democratic party, who subvert the legislative process to create a budgetary crisis, or who start fistfights on the House floor. In the end, I will respect those that earn respect, and call out those who deserve it, regardless of party affiliation.

by Jay Stevens 

Jonathan Windy Boy (D-Box Elder) has introduced HB 586, which would reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent from the state’s power plants:

House Bill 586 would require existing fossil-fuel or biomass power plants to reduce mercury emissions by at least 90 percent by Jan. 1, 2010. Plants that had not received a state air-quality permit before the effective date of the legislation would be required to build to that standard.

In the recent hearing on the bill, representatives from the utilities claimed that reaching 90 percent reduction would either be impossible to achieve, or would encourage the use of dirtier coal. (See, the more mercury in your coal, the easier it is to remove 90 percent of it…get it?)

And wouldn’t you know it, but the fight over coal plant mercury emissions standards has an interesting history?

First, according to Senator Patrick Leahy’s website (which is very informative on the issue of mercury emissions):

Coal-fired electric power plants comprise the largest single source [of mercury], producing about one-third of U.S. emissions. Mercury is an impurity in coal, released into the air when the coal is burned. Because coal is cheap and abundant, these power plants enjoy widespread use both domestically and internationally. Most U.S. power plants are exempt from the pollution controls mandated by the Clean Air Act, and power plant mercury emissions are not yet specifically regulated.

Mercury is a dangerous chemical that causes major health problems, especially in fetuses, infants, and children. Even small amounts can inhibit neurological development in children. Unfortunately, because of the unregulated utility emission standards and the increased popularity of coal-burning utilities, the amount of mercury in our environment is growing.

Just before Clinton left office, the EPA proposed a similar 90 percent reduction in coal-burning utility emissions by the end of 2007. The Bush administration quickly amended the Clean Air act, calling for a 70 percent reduction by 2018 in its notorious “Clear Skies” Act of 2003, and allowing for 163 more tons of mercury to be released into the environment by 2020.

Windy Boy’s bill, then, would set the emissions mark back to its 2000 levels.

I haven’t found evidence that proves or disproves the claims that representatives from the energy industry made during the hearing for HB 586, but one thing is certain: their coal-fired plants put upwards of 300,000 children each year at risk.

But don’t hold your breath, folks. This bill doesn’t stand a chance in the Republican-controlled House. Montana’s GOP unabashedly supports big business on just about every issue, even it means endangering the health and well-being of our state’s children.

It’s a shame that this issue isn’t getting the attention it deserves…

by Jay Stevens 

Some time ago, a report was released by Syracuse University on terror prosecutions by the U.S. government, which found that prosecutions had dropped to pre-9/11 rates. I wrote up a lengthy post analyzing the report, and concluded:

So, after 9/11 there were more prosecutions, but which resulted in a lower percent of convictions. And those convictions were for much less serious crimes. The number of actual violent terrorists caught, prosecuted, and convicted remains the same or near pre-9/11 despite the Bush administration rhetoric and tough-guy methods, which apparently result in more agency referrals.

In other words, all this extra-constitutional bullsh*t is not cutting down on terror, only creating more dubious referrals. It also means that the Iraq War has had no discernable effect on terrorism.

(There are a couple of conclusions you could take away from the report: either terrorism isn’t as big a threat as the rhetoric would have us believe, or our draconian anti-terror methods aren’t effective. Personally, I suspect it’s both.)

If the Syracuse weren’t enough of an indictment against the Bush administration, a recent audit of the US Justice Department reveals that Justice officials are padding their prosecution numbers:

The report, released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s inspector general, concluded that the department in most cases “could not provide support for the numbers reported or could not identify the terrorism link used to classify statistics as terrorism-related.”

All but two of the 26 statistics reviewed from October 2000 through September 2005 were wrong. “…

Part of the problem, according to Fine, was that the Justice Department routinely counted criminal cases as terrorism-related even when prosecutors had found no links to terrorism. Fine also blamed a “decentralized and haphazard” system.

Which means that Syracuse report actually overestimated the effectiveness of the administration’s anti-terror programs!

So, basically the government is reading your email, tapping your phone, looking at your Internet traffic, suspending habeas corpus, kidnapping and torturing, and pursuing a Quixotic Middle East policy – and not catching terrorists.

I think it’s time for an overhaul on how we think and act towards terrorism.

Links…

The Tribune’s profile of Jon Tester is a worthy read. Zoinks! He’s doing what he promised! (Matt chimes in, emphasizing how accessible he is to Montanans…)

Montanans and other small-town Americans shoulder a disproportionate burden of the war.

Kemmick to plunge into the bowels of state government. Hopefully he’ll sniff out some good stories before evacuating Helena.

Rick Jore wants to end mandatory schooling. Proponents of the bill compare educators to Nazis.

Montana’s House Republicans to roll out top-secret budget proposal, “X5.” So…they’re creating test budgets? Shouldn’t they…you know…draft a real budget proposal?

Then again, it could be worse

The worst piece of legislation of this session headed for a fitting end.

Lindeen to take a run at the State’s Auditor seat

Meet Ed’s opinion on the proposed bill that would abolish Montana’s death penalty.

And here’s Ed’s column on the Westboro Bapist Church. The profile urges us to ignore them. (And yes, he sees the irony.)

The Notorious Mark T does the math and reveals that we working- and middle-class actually pay more taxes than the wealthy

Julie F mulls over objectivity, the media, and bloggers in the context of the Libby trial and concludes we’re entering a “squishy” era.

Why Washington pundits will always be wrong.

Why do terrorists love the GOP? Okay…why does this one terrorist financier love the GOP?

Speaking of the media, the Iraq War wasn’t the first story keeps oil prices high. That is, the market is driving the tough talk.

Support the troops! Abandon them when they come home wounded!

John at Blogenlust is right: all you need to see that Iraq was going to be a disaster was little common sense. Why does anyone listen to the administration *sshats anymore? Oh…that’s right. They don’t.

Meanwhile, the language of *sshats remains constant over time.

War profiteers off the hook, thanks to a technicality. Time to get out the pitchforks and torches?

Conan O’Brien: Meet the Press, For Idiots.

Survivor, Idaho-style.

World’s worst television commercial? You decide!

by Jay Stevens 

Another of Roger Koopman’s “brilliant” ideas is HB 525, a bill that would “encourage intellectual diversity in the university system.” In other words, Koopman wants to legislate political instruction into the classroom. And one presumes the instruction Koopman wants to promulgate is his own.

First things off, this bill is not at all popular with Montana students:

Opponents to the bill outnumbered supporters several times over Friday, and the hearing lasted three-and-a-half hours.

Under questioning by Rep. Doug Cordier, D-Columbia Falls, Martin said that about 60 percent of the students on the three campuses he represents identify themselves as Republican and conservative.

Additionally no grievance involving political discrimination has been filed at UM for at least two years. That’s quite a record for a conservative student body being taught by – as conservative demagogues would have you believe – liberal firebrands.

(Then again, we are talking about a legislator who thinks the Earth is 4,000 years old. Anyone who can recite the elements of the periodic table is probably a dangerous radical in his eyes.)

As someone with strong political views who taught at the university – and who expressed his views often – I can assure that, at least in my class and in every other class I’ve attended, nobody was punished or discouraged from speaking their own opinions, even if – or especially — their views conflicted with the teacher’s. Quite the opposite. I’d actually reward my students for challenging me in class and in their papers. I’d even give them assignments to come up with arguments that countered my views. And if they wouldn’t or couldn’t, I would do it for them, expressing different sides of each issue.

Of course, if Koopman is looking for “intellectual diversity,” and by that we should assume he wants to inject more of his brand of conservatism into the university system, he should be wary of what he might get. For every “faith-based” professor who believes that dinosaurs were a hoax or that the Earth stands still or is only 4,000 years old, the university would probably have find some equally ridiculous radical from around the political spectrum to preserve “diversity.” Maoist professors, say, or 9/11 conspiracy experts. And what about fascist professors or John Yoo acolytes? We’d need some anarchists and Stalinists and a few Scientologists, at a minimum.

No, this bill is a disaster. Let intellectual freedom prevail at universities. After all, a bill that creates government control over the ideology of university faculty is quite simply a form of totalitarianism.

But wait! What’s wrong with totalitarianism? Shouldn’t we teach that at schools to promote “intellectual” diversity?

by Jay Stevens

As mentioned in yesterday’s post summing up the hearings for Trudi Schmidt’s teen program licensure bill, there’s a alternative bill in the draft stage and sponsored by Trout Creek Democrat, Jim Elliot.

So, what’s the difference between the two?

Plenty.

The biggest difference between the bill can be found in the text surrounding Section 2-15-1745, MCA, which describes the composition of the oversight board over teen programs.

Schmidt’s bill calls for the board to be expanded from five to nine members, with the addition of a psychologist, physician, a representative from the superintendent of public instruction, and a representative from the department of health and human services. Basically, Schmidt’s bill puts health care professionals in the majority on the oversight board.

Elliot’s bill doesn’t include any change to the current board, which is comprised of three industry representatives and two members of the public, appointed by the Good Guv. In other words, Elliot’s bill keeps the industry in charge of its own licensing – and we’ve already seen how that goes:

In 2005 the Legislature passed a bill creating the Montana Board of Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Programs (PAARP). Later that year the five-member board—which includes three industry representatives—went to work examining the benefits of licensing such schools. Last summer the panel released a 64-page report recommending that the Legislature grant it another two years to continue considering registration and licensure.

I don’t think so.

The next big difference comes in who the licensure program covers. Under Schmidt’s bill, the board has the power to “license and regulate” any program that is a “24-hour supervised group living environment for four or more individuals,” and includes boarding schools, summer camps, religious programs and doesn’t include programs already licensed under the state or girl or boy scouts or 4-H clubs.

Elliot’s bill restricts the bill to behavioral modification programs:

“Program” means a private alternative adolescent residential or outdoor program that provides a structured, private, alternative residential setting for youth who are experiencing emotional, behavioral, or learning problems and who have a history of failing in academic, social, moral, or emotional development at home or in less-structured traditional settings.

The board does not oversee any schools with a “focus on academics,” training or vocational programs, camps, or “an organization, boarding school, or residential school that is an adjunct ministry of a church incorporated in the state of Montana.”

Call me crazy, but I think what the Spring Creek Lodge Academy has shown us is that we can’t afford to let businesses run programs for children without regulation. Period. If we have licensing for food and liquor, we should have licensing for teen programs.

Another reason to support the language in Schmidt’s bill is that Elliot’s bill creates a loophole that could be easily exploited by some of these private behavioral modification schools. All they have to do is reclassify themselves as an academic or faith-based organization, and they’re free from scrutiny. And that’s not to mention the faith-based “straight camps” would probably slither out from under regulation under Elliot’s bill.

Basically, Elliot’s bill protects the status quo, and that’s just not good enough. Not all private teen behavioral programs are bad; but some apparently are. In the end, we shouldn’t allow schools to put profit over the health and well-being of the children in their care.

Support Trudi Schmidt’s bill.

by Jay Stevens 

John Adams has a good summation of the hearing around Trudi Schmidt’s teen program licensure bill.

(If you haven’t seen my posts on this topic before, check them out.)

The interest in licensing teen programs was sparked by abuses that took place at Spring Creek Lodge Academy.

In 2005 the Legislature passed a bill creating the Montana Board of Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Programs (PAARP). Later that year the five-member board—which includes three industry representatives—went to work examining the benefits of licensing such schools. Last summer the panel released a 64-page report recommending that the Legislature grant it another two years to continue considering registration and licensure.

Schmidt wasn’t satisfied with the board’s recommendations, so she responded by introducing SB 288.

What Adams doesn’t mention, is that the 2005 bill was sponsored by Trout Creek Democrat Paul Clark, who himself runs a teen program. Considering that three of the five members of the board created in 2005 belong to the industry (and one seat belongs to a representative from Spring Creek), it’s no wonder they failed to accomplish anything.

A licensure program needs to be created and created now.

According to Adams’ piece, the hearing made evident the widespread support for Trudi Schmidt’s bill from former students, health professionals, and educators. Those that opposed the bill?

The only programs on the record opposing the legislation were Spring Creek Lodge Academy of Thompson Falls and Monarch School of Heron.
Only two people verbally testified in opposition to the bill. The first was Gary Spaeth, a lobbyist for the Montana Alternative Adolescent Private Programs (MAAPP), an organization Spaeth said represents “between 10 and 12” programs operating in Montana (Spaeth couldn’t recall which Montana schools were members of MAAPP, nor could Patrick McKenna, director of Monarch School and the organization’s president).

Spaeth wants the industry to be able to transfer licenses, like alcohol or solid waste. (Senator Kim Gillan: “I found that comment sort of a strange analogy given that we’re talking about children.”)

Spaeth is also against expanding the oversight board so that the industry is in the minority:

According to [Patrick] McKenna, having a lopsided number of board members who don’t represent the industry could stifle innovation at the expense of the teens in the programs.

But we’ve clearly seen the effects of an industry-dominated oversight board. Nothing got done.

Trudi Schmidt’s bill is popular and effective. Let’s get it done. Kids’ lives are at stake.

(There’s a link to the committee hearing audio. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I will and will bring you the highlights. Also, there’s a draft version of a modified version of Schmidt’s bill — LC 1003 — that’s sponsored by Democratic Senator Jim Elliot. I’ll be taking a look at that, too. So there’s more to come…)

Links…

Jon Tester supports tax cuts – for the middle class. There’s a roadblock, though. It requires rollback on cuts for the wealthiest. We’ll soon see who the GOP represents.

Kos uses Tester as an example of how Democrats should tout their values to win elections.

Max Baucus says he’ll amend SCHIP funding to Iraqi War spending. Sort of ironic, isn’t it? We can fund wars easily enough, but not children’s health…

Baucus also promises to block a Bush appointee to the Social Security administration, signaling his opposition to privatizing Social Security.

Meanwhile keep an eye on the lobbying group, Capitol Counsel LLC. Two former Baucus supporters – Shannon Finely and David Jones – will lead the lobbying efforts on tax legislation. The group also promises to obstruct significant health care reform, if former pharmaceutical lobbyist Denise Henry’s presence in the group is a significant indicator…

Tester and Baucus: “Where’s the (Montana) beef?

John Sinrud wants the Montana legislature to be more like the federal Congress, which might explain why the state GOP legislators are disorganized obstructionists who look like they won’t get the budget done on time.

The GOP dismantling of the Good Guv’s budget hints at proposed drastic reduction of public education funding.

Montana’s Senate Judiciary committee recommends abolishing the death penalty. The bill moves to the floor for debate.

The local-option sales tax dies.

So does the community benefits agreement bill.

Shane thinks the English-language requirement for driver’s licenses should die, too.

Some opponents of the proposed helmet law claim that wearing a helmet might actually be more dangerous. Apparently they’ve already taken a couple of spills on their heads.

How Michigan’s gay marriage ban has opened the floodgates for anti-gay public policy.

Nancy Pelosi now has her own blogwhich C-Span hates.

Another reason why Giuliani’s presidential campaign is doomed to failure.

Switzerland to investigate CIA “rendition” flights through its airspace. That explains why the Bush administration didn’t want to sign up for the international criminal courts…

Chuck Schumer promises to get to the bottom of “prosecutor-gate.” I’m dying for some Bush administration heads to roll…these guys deserve whatever they get…

Does David Brooks owe me an apology? Will he admit the error of his ways? Sad to say, human nature doesn’t work that way.

Meanwhile Matt Hutaff gets downright giddy over recent Pentagon-manufactured propaganda against Iran.

The Daily Show on Douglas Feith

Drew Gilpin on why we love war.

Don’t tell your kids they’re smart. It will destroy them.

Creep: Carl Farnsworth

by Jay Stevens 

Today’s creep is Carl Farnsworth, an anti-tax zealot living in Alberton. He recently wrote a letter to the Missoulian accusing Missoulians of stealing from him:

Let’s fine-tune all taxes. Looking at the Missoula crime blotter, one sees a lot of crime in the urban interface. No crimes around my house, so why do I help the city? Schools? Don’t have kids and never will. Parks? Never been to one in Missoula and never will. Open space? Like it so much I bought my own and did not screw anyone into paying for it.

That’s a little different than what occurred in the last election when a bunch of cowards who I could easily defeat individually got together and stole some more of my money for their open space. Nice folks.

I read a quote recently that basically said to beware the society that considers one person’s actions illegal but condones a crowd doing the same thing. Thanks for leading the crowd.

I’m not really sure what kind of world Farnsworth wants to live in. Private parks that charge for entry? An end to public school? No taxes at all, and everything paid for out of pocket?

It’s simplistic attitudes like this towards taxation and government that cause a lot of needless bickering in politics. It’s a complete misunderstanding of the usefulness and purpose of government.

Let me put it another way by applying Farnsworth’s ruthless logic to his own situation. That is, if he doesn’t want to pay any taxes, why don’t let him, and take everything that taxpayer money has brought?

First, do away with the roads that Farnsworth travels on, and the cars he drives (they must have been transported by public roadways).

Any power or telephone service provided by line or satellite should be cut off.

If he uses any service that employs someone with a public education, it should be denied him.

And unless he built the house he lives in entirely with his own hands from materials he could cull and carry on his own property, away it goes! Steel from overseas (passing through taxpayer-funded customs and harbors built with taxpayer money), wood from Washington (shipped across taxpayer railroads, cut from public lands), etc & company, all come courtesy of someone else’s dime.

Of course, it goes without saying that the food he eats and the clothes on his back should also be taken, since all of that was transported thanks to taxpayer money.

That’s the thing. People take for granted what tax money brings. We make compromises: we pay taxes knowing that it helps support our way of life, while knowing that our money goes to things we don’t use, or don’t even want.

I sure as hell wouldn’t pony up to support the Iraq War of my own free will.

That’s why we hold elections. That’s why there are city councils, initiatives, open debate. Farnsworth had an opportunity to speak out against public funding for parks, schools, and open spaces. We have an open compact, in which we’ve decided that we will pool our resources to fund projects that are good for the community.

If Farnsworth doesn’t like it, he has recourse to change it. And if he isn’t satisfied with the results of his efforts, he can move.

Instead, Farnsworth has decided to accuse us of theft, even while he no doubt enjoys the benefits of our money.

Links…

House GOP shelves the Good Guv’s budget with nary a glance. Classy. Tick, tock, GOP. Time to actually do some work for the state.

Max Baucus! calls for universal health care! Of course he’s not talking about single-payer insurance. Instead it’s something closer to the Massachusetts model, which compels all to be covered.

The New York Times sums up the Bison Range dispute.

Dallas Erickson’s legislative love-child is a bill that would – guess what? – enable stricter obscenity ordinances in Montana.

Apparently Roger Koopman is still angry at his school teachers.

Let’s see…a GOP legislator irked by educator’s comments that Montana has “second rate” school system…only the legislator misunderstood the remarks…the snarks write themselves, don’t they?

There’s been a lot of buzz about snowstorms and cold weather, as if it disproves climate change. As Steve Benen says, it doesn’t. I’d go further. That snowstorms make news in winter underscores the warmth of recent winters.

NASA’s James Hansen: “We cannot pour into the atmosphere all of the fossil fuels that were buried in the ground over millions of years without creating a different planet, without destroying creation, without being miserable failures in our stewardship of the planet we were blessed with.”

It’s fantasy to think that markets can police themselves.”

Al Franken announces he’s running for Minnesota’s 2008 Senate seat.

The Republican party crumbled in Iraq.

Gore…to enter Presidential race in September?

Why Hilary Clinton’s Iraq War vote matters.

Wulfgar! has written perhaps his finest post ever yesterday, on Jonah Goldberg Day, in which a wager on the lives of Iraqis is considered.

Ed mulls the attraction of war.

Finally! A voice of reason on the floor of Congress!

The Daily Show on Barack Obama and race.

Colbert on the Dixie Chicks, Douglas Feith, and John Howard.

Some Valentine’s Day questions to ponder: Is love really all about natural selection? Or neurochemistry? Or selectivity?

If chocolates aren’t your gig, try these infamous aphrodisiacs.

by Jay Stevens 

Normally I would simply plug Nicole R’s latest gem into a “Links…” post, but today’s Valentine’s Day benediction to the Montana legislature’s “Triple Crown of asshats” merits its own post, mainly because Nicole manages to sum up the apparent attitude of the radical wing of the state’s Republican party towards education quite neatly:

The way I see it, the Republicans in power in the Montana legislature have only one attitude toward public education: contempt. They see Montana’s public schools and colleges as wasteful, godless places where poorly educated teachers foist their liberal ideas on defenseless children. The only way to “save” the system is to destroy it. Make no mistake, in Rick Jore’s ultimate fantasy, homeschooling wouldn’t be an option to exercise but a requirement. And if Koopman had his way, we could declare our pet goats to be teachers, because, as we all know, anybody can teach. As for Balyeat, I’m sure he would want to rid our universities of ridiculous, distracting requirements like general education. Because college is nothing more than vocational training, in his eyes. It’s not like you’re supposed to, you know, learn how to think critically.

There’s definitely an anti-education strain running through conservative circles of the country. You see it in the rhetoric they use, calling anyone who opposes them “elites,” as if somehow being able to string together coherent thoughts were somehow a flaw of character. (And meanwhile these same people unwaveringly support the economic elites of the country, the people with all the power.)

By the way, don’t fall for Bayleat’s sob story. So what if he worked his way through college while living in an unheated and abandoned trailer with is his pregnant wife? (Two and a half years is a long time to be pregnant.) It was a situation of his own making. (The lesson here is have kids when you’re ready: I managed to work my way through grad school – with no loans – had twins and bought a heated home for the family.)

Instead of realizing that his incomplete education was a mistake, Bayleat wants us all to suffer just like he did. That is, his own mistakes have become assets. A bigger man would want those that follow to not have to struggle as much as he did…

by Jay Stevens 

It looks like Rick Jore’s proposed constitutional amendment giving embryos “certain inalienable rights” at conception looks like it will fail in the legislature:

…a preliminary House vote on Monday showed that only 46 of the 100 House members support House Bill 40.

Changes to the constitution ultimately need support from 100 of the Legislature’s 150 House and Senate members before being sent to the voters.

If somehow four representatives change votes and send the bill to the state Senate, all 50 Senators would have to support the bill in order for it to be added to the constitution. In other words, there’s not a chance in hell this thing will pass.

(Politically, it’s a gift to the pro-life legislators. They can vote for a pro-life bill they know won’t pass. That is, they can support the criminalization of abortion without actually having to live with the consequences.)

To be frank, the bill sounds like a stunt, plain and simple. It’s so ill considered and full of blustery rhetorical hyperbole – and its implementation so obviously would be a disaster for our courts, legal systems, and families – that it seems written specifically to fail.

In short, this bill would hand pregnancy over to the state. Miscarriages become potential murders; a fetus become potential wards of state; every possible sign of abortion would require forced examinations of women’s vaginas. (In fact, I went at length the likely results of the type of criminalization Jore is proposing.)

I don’t think anyone wants that.

Oh, and criminalizing abortion doesn’t reduce the number of abortions:

The abortion rates are highest in Chile and Peru (where one woman in 20 has an induced abortion). In Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, it’s about one woman in 30, and in Mexico approximately one in 40. (In the United States, the rate is 21.3 per 1,000 women.)

The abortion rate in Chile and Peru is 50 per 1,000 women; 33 per 1,000 in Brazil, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic; and 25 per 1,000 women in Mexico. All of these countries have outlawed abortion and – in some cases – substantially higher abortion rates than the US.

Oh, and thousands of women die from illegal abortions each year, and hundreds of thousands end up hospitalized. Most of those that are arrested, injured, or killed as a result of illegal abortions are the poor. In other words, an abortion ban targets the weakest women among us.

It’s pretty clear that most of us want to reduce abortions. It’s not a pleasant experience, physically or emotionally. It’s also pretty clear that the criminalization of abortion isn’t going to reduce abortions – and it’s going to cause a lot of extremely unpleasant, unrelated, and unintended side effects.

If you want to reduce abortion, you’ve got to create fewer unwanted pregnancies and a society that encourages more women to carry to term. That means better health care, more information and availability of contraceptives, better and cheaper day care providers, and liberal maternity laws. Those things work. Criminalization doesn’t.

If you believe a fetus is a living human and abortion is murder, you should jump off the abortion ban bandwagon and work for humane health care conditions for all.

Or you can keep fighting to ban abortions, and help keep the abortion rate where it is.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, banning abortion and contraceptives isn’t a solution, it’s a judgment.

Links…

Montana to be the first state to have an official lullaby?

The Good Guv wants to buy more parks and waterfront access for state residents.

Republicans attack Steve Gallus’ anti-escalation resolution before the Montana legislature. Corey Stapleton regurgitates talk-radio nonsense: “You can’t support the troops and not the mission.” Uh, yes you can.

If Senator Ted Stevens is asking for higher auto mileage standards because of climate change, you know the environment must be in trouble.

Edward Humes on the dumbed-down straw version of evolution knocked around by creationists.

Salon: Obama is “uppity.” And Bill Kristol claims that, if Obama were around in the early 19th century, he’d favor slavery. Ouch. The long knives are out, eh? Have to say, this kind of anti-Obama press just makes him look better to me…

Meanwhile Giuliani continues to make tracks backwards. This time by praising Bush’s “wartime leadership” and compares Dinky to Abraham Lincoln.

GOP wingnuts march on against personal liberty. This time Lamar Smith (R-TX) wants to track the Internet and email activity of all Americans.

And why some conservative wingnuts are hoping for another 9/11.

Why Joe Lieberman’s “war tax” is good idea: it’s force lawmakers to put their money where their “principles” are.

John at Blogenlust talks about some of the creepier aspects behind the show “24,” and how its misleading some of our more naive and star-struck citizens about the reality of torture…like John Yoo, for one…

Vanity Fair has a fantastic article about a man who put his country and justice above politics, and how he was punished for it.

Other examples of how conservatives “support” the troops: Bush to cut veterans’ health care.

So…why are we threatening Iran over its presence in Iraq? Apparently, they’re supporting the same factions that we are. We’re on the same side!

Victory in Iraq is not an option.

Why diplomacy matters. Too bad we have an administration with the diplomatic IQ of a houseplant.

Our Great Leader in action, mulling over the dire consequences of war with Iran.

by Jay Stevens 

One of the main issues behind the sweeping Democratic victories this past election was voter antipathy for Congressional excess when it came to milling with, and raising money from, lobbyists. Jack Abramoff, anyone? There were a lot of promises made about ethics and lobbyists and reform.

Only it looks like those promises were hollow.

According to this New York Times report, lawmakers are doing an end-around the current restrictions on accepting gifts and trips from lobbyists.

In just the last two months, lawmakers invited lobbyists to help pay for a catalog of outings: lavish birthday parties in a lawmaker’s honor ($1,000 a lobbyist), martinis and margaritas at Washington restaurants (at least $1,000), a California wine-tasting tour (all donors welcome), hunting and fishing trips (typically $5,000), weekend golf tournaments ($2,500 and up), a Presidents’ Day weekend at Disney World ($5,000), parties in South Beach in Miami ($5,000), concerts by the Who or Bob Seger ($2,500 for two seats), and even Broadway shows like “Mary Poppins” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” (also $2,500 for two).

The lobbyists and their employers typically end up paying for the events, but within the new rules.

Instead of picking up the lawmaker’s tab, lobbyists pay a political fund-raising committee set up by the lawmaker. In turn, the committee pays the legislator’s way.

Much to Montana’s shame, one of the Congressmen specifically mentioned is our senior Senator:

Among Democrats…Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, just got back from a skiing and snowmobiling trip to his state and has planned two golfing and fly-fishing weekends as well. Expeditions of lobbyists attend each trip. The top prices for the events are meant for lobbyists with political action committees.

What I’d like to know is who attended the events?

Remember, it was for stunts like this that the state turned on Conrad Burns.

Update: Looks like the Billings Gazette already reported on the story, including a list of organizations that ponied up for last year’s outing.

The PACs that gave $5,000 each during [a similar February 2005 outing] include those of the Action Committee For Rural Electrification, Altria Group Inc., American College of Surgeons Professional Association, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Comcast Corp., Honeywell International, Koch Industries Inc., New York Life Insurance Co., Qwest Communications International Inc., Siebel Systems Inc., Egovernment, Society Of Thoracic Surgeons, Sun, The Home Depot Inc., Waste Management and Zeneca Inc.

The article fails to mention that the Senator’s fun-filled snow weekend is an end-around past existing ethics rules prohibiting lobbyists from funding trips like…well…like this.

Despite its soft shoe shuffle around the ethical improprieties, the article did manage to provide the quote of the day:

This summer, Baucus will also hold fly-fishing and horseback-riding fundraisers at what has been dubbed “Camp Baucus”…

by Jay Stevens 

I suppose I should let Notorious Mark T comment on this article by Matthew Yglesias on the new anti-semitism, but it just gibes with how distorted discussion about Israel has become in the past two or three years.

A form of political – or conservative – correctness has crept into the discussion, where whenever someone criticizes the state of Israel for, most notably, its foreign policy, she’s instantly tagged with the label of “anti-semetic.”

Yglesias:

…the distinguishing characteristic of the “new anti-semitism” seems to be that, unlike the old anti-semitism, it doesn’t necessarily involve a bigoted view of Jewish religion, Jewish people, Jewish culture, or Jewish anything else.

Yglesias claims that those that subscribe to this new “anti-semitism” identify “anti-semitism – hatred of Jewish people – with anti-Zionism, or the belief that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state.” Of course, this new anti-semitism is applied with a broad brush, so that folks like Tony Judt – who espoused a “binational, secular state encompassing all the territory west of the Jordan River” — is labeled an anti-semite when, as Yglesias correctly notes, he’s actually “unrealistic.”

The label of anti-semetic is earned for some for simply criticizing the worst policies of Israel’s most fervent nationalists, for example, or for questioning whether the hard-right Israeli lobbying group, AIPAC, wields disproportionate influence within the U.S. government. Yglesias:

Equating such sentiments with anti-semitism is perverse. The concept of Zionism was extremely controversial within the Jewish community when first proposed; it remains at least a little controversial today…; and it has nothing to do with hatred of Jewish people.

Such smear tactics are, of course, overt attempts to intimidate critics of hard-line Israeli foreign policy into silence. It makes sense, of course. Israel is almost completely dependent on U.S. aid for its existence. Growing criticism here could eventually lead American officials to pressure the Israeli government to change its course. The last thing that those who favor a hard line Israeli foreign policy want is to have Israeli autonomy and self-determination weakened – contaminated, even – by US interference.

Still, it’s a form of bullying and, as such, should be ignored.

Links…

Jeff Mangan thinks the Montana Republicans are making a big mistake moving to the far right in the legislature, when voters are obviously looking to moderates for their politicians.

Jeff M also looks at the tax-collection bill, and thinks there’s room for compromise. Again…where’s the Republican leadership?

Meanwhile, the state senate shoots down the Electoral College run-around. Bad move.

Mike Lange introduces his version of property tax relief — which does merit consideration – but also makes one wonder what the h*ll’s going on with the House Republicans…

The era of the tax revolt is over

One way to increase enlistment is to decrease enlistment standards

Gotta agree with JEFF: protecting religion from “defamation” is a potential blow to the First Amendment.

No wonder the GOP is f*cked up on constitutional matters: they’re not familiar with the Constitution!

For example, Cheney thinks he’s the fourth branch of government and, therefore, exempt from the limits placed on the other bodies…

Bill Clinton: Americans’ favorite President!

Is Obama too black for Tucker Carlson?

Is America ready for a black President? Martin Plissner thinks so.

Bush’s uncle may be involved in an Iraqi contractor scheme that ripped off $6 million from the government. What’s up with these Bushes? Don’t they know how to make an honest living?

Looks like the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge was enabled under the Patriot Act. So the administration would never use anti-terror tools for its own political benefit, eh?

Steve Benen: a Gitmo coverup?

Remember, the situation created by the Bush administration in Gitmo and Iraq doesn’t hurt just those that are abused, it also damages the interrogators, most of whom are not trained for the jobs they’ve been assigned to do. Not that training can help you torture.

Man, if “political correctness” wasn’t annoying enough for you, now there’s conservative correctness. Ugh.

Why bloggers swear.

by Jay Stevens 

It’s official: the Pentagon manipulated intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq:

Acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the office headed by former Pentagon policy chief Douglas J. Feith took “inappropriate” actions in advancing conclusions on al-Qaida connections not backed up by the nation’s intelligence agencies.

I’m with Chris Kromm on this one: why is this news now? It’s been pretty obvious since about, oh, 2002 what’s been going on. There’s a pattern here: national news agencies don’t take a story seriously until the government acknowledges the story.

That’s obviously a problem for a free society.

While the Bush administration has yet to suffer only political repercussions for deliberately starting a war under false pretenses, the other player in the game – the media – has also yet to suffer any serious scrutiny for its role in this national disgrace. That’s why I’m inclined to support Gilbert Cranberg’s call for an independent investigation into the media’s role in the Iraq invasion.

An explanation is due also for how the U.S. press helped pave the way for war. An independent and thorough inquiry of pre-war press coverage would be a public service. Not least of the beneficiaries would be the press itself, which could be helped to understand its behavior and avoid a replay.

Better a study by outsiders than by insiders. Besides, journalism groups show no appetite for self-examination. Nor would a study by the press about the press have credibility. Now and then a news organization has published a mea culpa about its Iraq coverage, but isolated admissions of error are no substitute for comprehensive study.

The fundamental question: Why did the press as a whole fail to question sufficiently the administration’s case for war?

A guy can always dream, can’t he?

Update: Steve Benen thinks the national media is “too chummy” with administration officials. Benen gathers his evidence from the testimony of media at the Scooter Libby trial, in which it’s obvious that all these people are friends.

But who’s surprised by any of this? It should already by glaringly apparent by the sardonic and patronizing tone from DC insider pundits and reporters towards…well…everybody else. It’s these people that create “conventional wisdom” that’s self fulfilling.

Univerisal health care (for example) too risky politically, say the insiders? Then no politician tackles it. The only thing is, a health care overhaul is desired by an overwhelming number of Americans.

Links…

Tester chides fellow Senators for not honestly debating the “merits” of the Iraq war.

Notorious Mark T tackles Baucus’ stance on the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Why Republican Representative Michael Lange’s HB 405 is the worst bill of the 2007 legislative session.

Ochenski mulls whether government agencies should be allowed to lobby the legislature.

Conservatives, rejoice! Julie Fanselow has found your ideological savior! Bill Sali for President!

Sara puts in her two cents on requiring HPV vaccinations.

Ed Kemmick’s pessimistic about our ability to wean ourselves from our energy habit in time to forestall global warming.

Do drug ads work? Bush thinks so…which, based on this guy’s track record, must mean that they don’t…

It’s Jonah Goldberg Day! It’s the day we mull the foolish arrogance that got us into the Iraq War…

Pelosi becoming increasingly popular with the American people.

More on the fired federal prosecutors: they’re given no explanation, and they’re overwhelmingly Democratic. Senate Democrats looking into the impropriety.

Colbert on the Senate’s refusal to debate the Iraq War: “Folks. This is the same heroic silence Congress employed back in 2003, when they first authorized the invasion of Iraq…because the best way to support our troops was to send them into war without discussion.”

The 50 most loathsome people in the world.

Satan: real or fiction? If you have to ask…

Proof that Jesus was not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.




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