Archive for December, 2009

by Ana J. Beard

On Saturday Dec. 26, 2009 David James DelSignore hit four girls walking down Highway 200, killing two (Ashlee Patenaude, 14 years old, and Taylor Cearley, 15), and injuring the others.

This tragic accident was due to DelSignore’s poor decision to drive home drunk. Because of this, the two surviving girls, all of their families, as well as their friends, classmates and acquaintances, have to deal with the heartbreak of losing two girls who were far too young.

On Facebook a group was made in loving memory of Patenaude and Cearley, and within five days, over 5000 members have joined. People are paying their respects and posting their sympathies for the friends and families, but looking through the comment threads (as well as the comment threads on the Missoulian coverage) there are people writing about how DelSignore deserves the death penalty or to be thrown in the middle of the fairground rodeo area so friends of Patenaude and Cearley can “get drunk and have a demolition derby.”

In times of tragedy and loss, everyone is rushing around to place blame. DelSignore is fully responsible for his actions but an eye for an eye won’t make anything any better. Hating him won’t bring back these girls, or cure any heartaches. DelSignore will have to live with this mistake for the rest of his life, it will most likely haunt him and that is punishment enough (on top of jail time, of course).

As for blaming the parents or the girls themselves (which some people have had the nerve to do), the girls where NOT breaking Missoula curfew, which is 1 a.m. on a weekend night and this could have happened on any road, at any time of night. It’s not their fault they chose Highway 200 as opposed to the dark residential streets-the EXACT streets our parents have always told us to avoid at night, in caution of rapists, kidnappers, and, ironically enough, poor lighting and drivers who aren’t paying attention or are inebriated.

All of this should remind us to hold our loved ones close, live life to the fullest and please, please, please don’t drink and drive. Call a friend, or a taxi cab. Don’t get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. Even if you think you’re okay to drive, you never know, that assumption could lead to one life-changing mistake.

A joint memorial service will be held for Patenaude and Cearley Thursday Dec. 31, 2009 at 1 p.m. in the gym at Bonner School. Also, Hellgate students plan to wear white in memory of Patenaude and Cearley on Monday, Jan. 4, 2010.

The community is also invited to Saturday’s Hellgate basketball game against Sentinel at Sentinel at 10 a.m. All four girls were on the team (consisting of nine players). Attendees will also be wearing white and there will be gold ribbons being sold for a dollar in their honor.
 
Donations on behalf of the deceased families are being accepted by Bonner School and can be sent to: Bonner School, P.O. Box 1004, Bonner, MT 59823. Also, the Missoula Federal Credit Union has set up a fund for the expenses the families of all four girls called “The Hellgate Girls Fund”.

by jhwygirl

…or was it more a chance to cater to the Faux News crowd?

Now cities and towns across the state are now wondering about some of their stimulus funds – stimulus funds granted via HB645…stimulus funds approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Brian Schweitzer himself….a governor who vetoed and partially vetoed a number of bills but didn’t see fit to do anything about those park and recreational facility funding when he signed HB645 into law…and finally – stimulus funds appropriated through HB645, a bill which Governor Schweitzer line-item vetoed for certain objects as having been unconstitutional.

Let’s also take the time to point out that under section 47 of HB645, MCA 90-5-101 was amended to include recreational facilities as projects eligible for stimulus funds. Family service projects were included too, as were electric energy generation facilities (Smurfit-Stone, anyone?), and “any facilities that are used or considered necessary to create or produce any intangible item, as defined in section 197(d)(1)(C)(iii) of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. 197(d)(1)(C)(iii), including any patent, copyright, formula, process, design, pattern, knowledge, format, or other similar intangible item.”

That last one there is pretty broad, no?

Now let’s say here first – the Governor has been looking to cut and save money from the budget. That’s a good thing. He recently denied over a half-million bucks in funding to Swank Enterprises – a late insert into the state’s budget bill by Senator Barkus – the Barkus that sailed that boat up on the rocks on Flathead Lake, severely injuring himself and the rest of his drinking buddies, one of which was our own congressperson Representative Dennis Rehberg – based on political tomfoolery, if not the clever use of the word “may” instead of “shall.”

Stuff like that is great.

Now that we’ve gotten the pleasantries out of the way…

What towns are wondering about whether they’ll be next in the Governor’s scrutiny of legislatively-approved, signed-into-law-by-him stimulus money? Why, the Governor’s own current hometown of Helena should be one of them. They got a nice chunk of cash – nearly $500,000 – that will, in part, build an entirely new park. It’ll also get them a hand-painted mural and the installation of sound reflective tile. Drummond? Dutton? Fairview? The list goes on: Livingston, Ryegate Superior? All improvements to the local park infrastructure. Terry? Twin Bridges? Bainville?

Will these towns be losing their pathways? The park benches and shelters? What about those bathroom upgrades? Sprinkler systems?

How about that county ground fairground grandstand replacement in Prairie?

What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander. Why should Prairie get a new grandstand and Bozeman be begrudged the repair of its tennis courts?

Because if Schweitzer’s gonna ignore Section 57 of HB645, what’s next? There’s a whole bunch of stuff in there that was approved by both houses of the legislature. And signed into law by you.

Is it all up for game? Where does that line stop? Or is there a line at all?

In other words: This is not a monarchy, Brian. As Bozeman City Commissioner (and soon-to-be-Mayor) Jeff Krauss points out, “It’s not frivolous. When we introduced this in the fall, a bunch of citizens came in to say how much they supported repairing our recreational facilities. It’s all about getting these kids and prying them away from the video game controls. We’re having a big crisis over health care in this country. Every time you can get a kid away from the electronic entertainment and outside recreating, that’s a good thing.”

As for Faux News? Maybe they should look at what other states are spending their stimulus money on. I highly doubt Montana is unique…and not only that – maybe they should look at our laws and see who, ultimately, got the final say on what the stimulus funds would be used.

When it comes down to it, parks are infrastructure to any community. Infrastructure just like roads and street signs and police stations.

Infrastructure requires upkeep due not only to wear-and-tear, but population growth . Ignore that upkeep and it costs more in the long run because….infrastructure doesn’t really go away.

These cities and towns could say that they are using their stimulus funds for road repair and instead redirect the money that their own budget would have paid for in road repair and place it in the local ball fields that have been neglected for the last decade…..OR they could be more honest, keep their baseline budget intact for streets and roads and the bare minimum basics that they themselves have been scraping by on for the last 2 years while businesses are closing and houses are being foreclosed upon and building permits are down, and ask for stimulus funds to employ local people to keep the local infrastructure maintained.

Frankly, I’m a fan of the latter,but I’m not so sure about other state democrats – certain state democrats, trying to negotiate our own budget bill this last session (for example, folks) agreed to defund the Department of Public Health and Human Services and use supplemental stimulus funding to supplement DPHHS for the next two years. This was, at the time, called a “negotiating tactic,” meant to conceded ‘temporarily’ some funding of DPHHS (because you know how that GOP loves social services) in order to get that budget passed.

Well – tell me what is going to happen next legislative session? DPHHS and other socially conscience elected officials are going to be scrapping and scraping to bring DPHHS up to 2009 levels, yet along make adjustments that are normal for increases in population or service needs.

This isn’t about tennis courts. It’s about local governments being able to govern their local governments. It’s about laws and legislative powers of appropriation. It’s about separate branches of government. It’s about democracy, not a monarchy.

Give Bozeman its tennis courts. Give all the other towns their money. And bring us some sustainable, high-paying, low-impact technology and health industry jobs.

by jhwygirl

Let’s see the legislature avoid stricter DUI laws now. Is this state still going to facilitate the Montana drinking culture, or have we had enough yet?

I was looking on the jail roster for Missoula’s detention center. I quit counting at fourteen the number of offenders incarcerated on their fourth DUI.

Fourth? Don’t public defenders have enough to do? Good Lord – its as if my tax dollars are being spent to condone this culture of alcohol.

Those fourth time offenders were driving the streets of Missoula, folks. The streets of Montana. Just think of what the cops don’t get at.

Make no mistake – this is no “faux moral outrage,” as was the accusation during the Barkus Rehberg Flathead Lake Drunken Boating Accident this past summer. When we look at the issue as “something for the courts,” or “not a big deal,” instead of something that destroys innocent lives, we are part of the enabling of the next death or accident.

We’re not done with the year yet, either…please, people – take advantage of cabs and friends and all kinds of free rides offered out there right now.

So many lives shattered. Horrible and tragic. Sad and unnecessary.

by jhwygirl

The world runs on software. That’s not going to change.

Coal mines eventually run out of coal.

RightNow currently employs 450 in Bozeman and will be hiring an addition 100 more people in Montana, at least 60 of them for the Bozeman area. Most of those jobs require a 4-year college degree, and all come with full medical, retirement and paid time off for community volunteer work.

The entire coal industry in the State of Montana employs 1,008 people.

People are always going to need software.

What happens when all the coal is gone? I guess we can ask Butte, see what they have to say.

There’s a $150 million figure in there for RightNow, and the state’s own coal council has its numbers, too – but again, I’ll repeat – those coal figures, those coal jobs, those coal taxes – all of it – goes away once the market drops out of it or the coal is out of the ground. Plus we get that mess those mines always always always leave behind.

And regardless of how you look at those numbers over there at the Montana coal council, RightNow compares quite nicely next to not just one coal mine, but several at once.

I guess Montana just wants to be West Virgina when it grows up. Who knew.

~~~~~
And funny thing, to note – The Great Berkley Copper Pit was taken out…not by them evil union folk, no sir….but by (drumroll please…) the collapsing world market for coal, driven by some other largest and biggest and greatest discovery of copper. Somewhere in South America. Where – ironically (talking about the evils of unions/snark) – the mines were nationalized.

What is they say? – what comes around, goes around?

What Baucus Said

by JC

Ok. Now that I’ve stirred the pot here by posting Baucus’ video, let me post up the transcript of his words and video, from CSPAN, and let them speak for themselves. Read his words, not in the context of how he sounded saying them (which is what the conservablogs are doing), but in the context of when, where, and in what role did they occur.

Max Baucus is the chairman of the Senate Finance committee, arguably the most important position to advancing a health care reform bill. We have debated Baucus’ role on this committee endlessly, here and on other blogs. While my opinion on Baucus’ efforts are well known, it appears that his tirade, as filmed by CSPAN, and rebroadcast by YouTube are casting him in another light.

I thought early on that Baucus was naive to think he could garner any bipartisan support, and that his strategy of positioning his legislation such that it could gain bipartisan support would eventually implode. Which it seems to have done, as it has ignited a firestorm between progressive, left and liberal factions in the health reform debate, and castigation from the right.

So when Max goes on the floor two days before the final vote, and unloads, he does himself and his legislative fforts a great disservice, as he hands his opposition the tools to derail his efforts to shepherd his bill through conference. It was a serious tactical breach in what to this point had been a carefully thought out, though misguided, strategy of bipartisanship.

I’d offer up that the chairman of the Finance committee melting down right before the final vote on his bill to be not his finest hour, when in essence it should have been. If I were of the “kill the bill” mentality–which I am not, though I think the mandate needs to be struck from the bill, and much backfilling needs to be done–then I would celebrate this outburst as being Baucus’ “macaca” moment.

While history will look at Baucus and his role in health reform, I don’t think that moments like this reflect positively on his legacy, given that they are a reaction to his own failed strategy of bipartisanship.

Full transcript of Baucus’ words below the fold.
Continue Reading »

by JC

Days like this you wish you weren’t a Montanan. Found this top o’ the Drudge Report today:

And it’s plastered all over the conservablogs today. Guess the Melodee Hanes story was just a warm up.

Happy Hollydays!

by jhwygirl

Wishing everyone the very best. Hope you’re all warm and toasty.

by jhwygirl

Conrad Burns?

by jhwygirl

Ok – I’ve probably heard it a half dozen times the last couple days lately, and the last time I just turned my head and walked away. “Oh, of course it’s the union’s fault. You know it,” as if I did. I left, but wanted to walk back and say “So the 47 million they paid in bonuses to top executives just before starting this whole eventual shut down was OK?” or “Why isn’t it dumb management fault?” or “They were a cardboard box place and the economy sucks,” but I didn’t. And I’m ashamed I didn’t.

Maybe tomorrow I print this out and leave it on the copier, because, boy – when you talk about poor business choices, sure sounds like Smurfit is an education in what not to do.

The whole union-bashing thing is crap. It’s a bunch of bunk to think that any entity is going to enter into a labor contract and not make money. Those things are done eyes-wide-open on both sides…meaning union negotiators are looking at books and businesses are opening books trying to justify not giving up one more penny. The process might seem offensive to some, but it’s a give-and-take relationship in industry and union jobs especially – business needs labor, labor needs business. Why should only one side be expected to trust the other blindly? When both rely on each other for survival?

And if Smurfit was really in the business of staying in business, they’da gone to the union and the union – also in the business of staying in business – would of made concessions, regardless of whether the contract was up or not. Because that is how it works if both sides are working together for the mutual interest of each other.

That is how it would work if Smurfit was really intent on keeping that plant open. That is how it would work if they were committed, in part, to the people they employed. But alas, Smurfit has other gods to answer to, and they have no interest in anything but their pocketbook.

Which is why – always – the employed should consider themselves first, just as the employer does.

Anyways – the Bunkster has a great piece over there…don’t miss it.

by jhwygirl

Montanan’s got a give-me in the bill, just like Nebraska. Read it at hummingbirdminds.

by jhwygirl

Governor Schweitzer will be in town tomorrow, 11 a.m to 1 p.m. at the University Theater to discuss the impact of the Smurfit-Stone plant closure.

They like to get a count before hand, so try and RSVP to Debbie Evans at debbie@maedc.org.

This was announced pretty late, I have to say – a 6 p.m. announcement on Bob Jaffe’s liserve, which was a few hours after Mayor Engen organized a conference call – which included White House representatives and our Senator’s aides – to discuss where to go next for the displaced workers, and where to go next for Missoula.

I mean – when other elected officials are saying stuff like this: “I don’t think any of us really has any particulars on how it’s going to play out, but I’d be darned surprised if it didn’t have a pretty major impact on this county,” on the morning of the closure, it sure makes me glad we got people like Engen thinking that we better do something sooner than later. Pick up the phone. Make some calls. Get leaders involved. Like now. ASAP.

Going Christmas Shopping?

by jhwygirl

Maybe you have room in your wallet to grab an extra item or two?

Reporter Keila Szpaller points out in this comment that the Missoulian has a column dedicated to helping bring Christmas and the holidays to locals who might not be able to do so for themselves or their own loved ones.

Most of it is pretty small stuff, and includes things like a sleeping bag or kids clothing or shoes.

How easy is that?

by jhwygirl

The Otter Creek leases were approved today on a 4-1 vote, with Denise Juneau, State Superintendent of Public Instruction the lone dissent vote.

Denise Juneau is a visionary for the land and trust stewardship in Montana. Many people have nothing but thanks for her today after her dissent.

Big Sky High School students, too, were there to provide testimony, and they were fabulous. I’m glad that Missoulians were so well represented.

The Button Valley Bugle tries to put some lipstick on it, explaining that there will be other opportunity to comment on other phases. Me? I’m not up to it.

The Editor also points to the “bonus” payment, an amendment offered by Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – and increase of .15/ton over the minimum bid of .10/ton. This “bonus” payment is to go directly to the schools, over and above the funding for K-12 that is set by the legislature.

As BVB points out, whether the legislature is going to be OK with that is another thing…..

It all sounds good upfront, huh? A bonus payment to the schools of what I think Bullock referred to as $35,000,000 (and feel free to correct). It’ll be interesting to see how that all works out since in practical terms, the legislature is just going to fund the schools the barest of minimums, knowing that that extra cash is coming in to actually fund the schools in a meaningful way. Beyond that, a “bonus fund” seems ripe for corruption – kinda like how the federal government was found out in their own oil and minerals revenues department.

Make no mistake – that “bonus” payment is intended to buy the silence of the citizens – “it’s for the schools,” and “it’s for the children,” how can anyone object? What’s a little arsenic in the water? What’s a billion tons of CO2?

Is this a precedent? Will we see this with every project that brings out packed hearings and reams of paper in objection to the project? Screw degradation, well call the “bonus” payment mitigation.

Meh.

~~~~~~~~~~~
Today the minimum bid was set for the coal lease. That minimum bid is 10 cents, with an over-and-above bonus payment of 15 cents per ton. The bid period is 45 days.

Much of the criticism was concerning the value of the coal. Theoretically, you’d think that the minimum price set for that coal was the going market rate, right? I mean, the state wouldn’t sell its stuff under market, right? So it’ll be interesting to see how quick Arch Coal grabs at a minimum bid that is now essentially 250% of what is presumably the market price.

In other words, if they jump at that price, one has to wonder whether the state was indeed – as some had suggested – subsidizing the industry.

45 days or so will tell.

Not only that – but the legislature can argue that the minimum bid was guaranteed by the “bonus” payment, robbing the legislature of the full amount of funds that should be available for legislative funding since anyone bidding on the coal was unable to avoid the “bonus” payment.

Time may tell a lot of things, I guess.

by jhwygirl

First day of winter, it is – and longest day of the year. With winter formally upon us, and the holidays bearing down, its easy to forget that while this time of the year puts us indoors more than usual, there are people out there who eat and sleep and live outside, lacking a roof over their head, yet alone a soft bed to sleep in.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has organized National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day as a way to remind America that there are people that not only live but that die on our streets.

How many homeless die on the streets and roads of Missoula? How many this year? I admittedly don’t know. Because I don’t know doesn’t make those men and women not exist. They rarely get a mention in the news or elsewhere. It’s why homelessness is so difficult – it often lacks a face, a name. Two were mentioned in the paper this year – but without a name, there’s not much but a few sentences. Beyond that, the homeless were of little consequence in our day-to-day news, our day-to-day lives.

The homeless are to American what the untouchables are to India. Make no mistake – there’s little difference.

America the beautiful. America the great.

~~~~~~~
You can help out Missoula’s homeless assistance and crisis center, The Poverello Center by donating here.

by jhwygirl

That’s really what they’re saying when they they send a letter to the Land Board telling them to support leasing the Otter Creek tracts.

As Wally McRae, a rancher who will be on the receiving end of such eminent domain condemnation proceedings has said:

“If you vote in favor of leasing the Otter Creek coal, come say to me, face to face, that you don’t mind if the Tongue River Railroad, a for-profit corporation, condemns my land under federal eminent domain.”

And – just to be clear here – if Montana’s state Land Board votes in favor of the coal leases, they, too – the state’s 5 highest elected officials, all Democrats – will be sending an “all clear” message to Montana’s citizens – and the federal courts – that condemnation of private property in the name of a private entity (isn’t this sounding strangely like Kelo v. City of New London Connecticut?) is OK, and we support it. Because that coal has no access right now…and it is a public entity approving that lease.

And landowners around Montana – and ranchers around the state who own land interspersed with state trust land – will then wonder how well Democrats in this state will protect their private property rights when a private entity like Great Northern Coal comes a-knockin’.

by jhwygirl

Left in the West’s Yellowstone Kelly has a post up predicting tomorrow’s state Land Board decision regarding the leasing of the Otter Creek coal leases in eastern Montana.

I won’t be so bold as to make a prediction – and even if I were, it wouldn’t be the 4-1 supposition that Yellowstone Kelly put up, mainly due to my continued hope that Montana’s 5 highest elected officials will see the sense in their party’s platform that supports clean energy and the lunacy in bringing up a billion tons of coal from the ground. Someone’s gonna burn it, and it’s gonna be dirty and that is an unchanging fact.

Not only do we – do Democrats – have a responsibility to our school children, we have a responsibility to the environment. Leasing 1 billion tons of coal is not environmentally responsible.

Sec. of State Linda McCulloch can speak all she wants about funding the school children, but she makes that statement without any regards to the other income potentials to the Otter Creek tracts – income that can be cleaner and sustainable (as opposed to mining for coal).

In fact, the decision on Otter Creek has been framed as being “for the children” and “for the schools” – and anyone saying that is taking advantage of the public’s lack of knowledge concerning trust land revenue and how it effects school funding. It’s irresponsible, and it is dangerously close to being untruthful.

Let’s say this to be clear: Leasing the Otter Creek tracts will have NO direct effect on the funding levels for schools. That is a fact, pointed out aptly enough by MEA-MFT president Eric Feaver MEA-MFT is the union which represents teachers, and has been behind repeated calls for increased funding to the state’s K-12 schools.

Funding for schools is set by the legislature. Revenue from any income generated on school trust land is deposited in the trust (which is really what having a trust is all about) and the interest is what may be used to fund schools. It is the interest, and that amount it what helps fund schools. What is available and what the legislature uses are completely independent of each other.

Montana’s citizens – and its press – would do well to better understand the school trust and the school funding system. It’s complex – I won’t pretend to be an expert – but I will say that hearing what I’ve heard from a number of elected officials has made me cringe over the years.

Leasing of the Otter Creek tracts has along list of ramifications – degradation to the environment, degradation to water quality…condemnations under governmental actions of eminent domain – all of which being with the destructive act of bringing the stuff up out of the ground.

Help out the many ranchers who live in and near the Otter Creek tracts that will be effected, and write a short email to the Land Board members tonight and let them know that leasing the tracts is a bad, bad idea. Monday’s meeting is 9, so time’s a wastin’ people – get ‘er done:

Gov. Brian Schweitzer — (406) 444-3111, governor@mt.gov

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau — In-State Toll-Free 1-888-231-9393, Local (406) 444-3095 OPISupt@mt.gov

Attorney General Steve Bullock – (406) 444-2026 contact doj@mt.gov

State Auditor Monica Lindeen – (406) 444-2040 mlindeen@mt.gov

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – (406) 444-2034 sos.mt.gov

OR you could cut and past these into your email: governor@mt.gov; OPISupt@mt.gov; doj@mt.gov; mlindeen@mt.gov; sos@mt.gov Be sure to put “Otter Creek” in the subject line.

~~~~~
For more information on Otter Creek, you can put the words “otter” or “Tongue” into our search here (over there on the rigth) or, even better, head on over to The Button Valley Bugle and do the same. The Editor at The BV Bugle has done the finest of jobs in covering the issues on Otter Creek – and both of us have peppered our posts with plenty of links providing additional sources of information. In fact, I see The Editor has a “final push” post up too – titled “Otter Creek and Utter Rhetoric” that shouldn’t be missed.

by jhwygirl

Update: I have turned off comments to this post.

Please consider this an open thread.

I’m a volcano/Yellowstone/earthquake/geology geek. Geek may be the wrong word, but whatever. This is the coolest thing. Then there’s the video 3-D imagery showing the plume, which can be found here. Wild stuff.

Seem like someone has finally decided to give the Kootenai sturgeon some water. That would be a good thing. Here is where the sturgeon survive today:

If you click on the pic, you get a report that includes some interesting how-did-we-get-here information. NewWest has a great article with more information on the current situation surrounding the sturgeon.

Former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfield has bought a ranch in the Big Hole.

I’ve actually pondered this recent situation in Helena, wondering whether that sort of thing’d be a problem. Apparently it is.

Them teenagers in Helena sure seem to get in to a whole lot of trouble, don’t they?

Don’t miss this shocking post from Mark Tokarski.

Just to be clear, it’s the “there, I said it,” part that is shocking. NOT.

I read this and I think this is harassment of the homeless. I mean – does this town allow its citizens to lock up its bikes? What is the point in fining him?

Now, here’s a class act, NOT.

I can’t get why people like her. I get the sense that at a party, I’d want to avoid her..

Our Governor has been on, quite frankly, a roll. First, as guestnote speaker for the Montana Stockgrowers Association meeting in Billings last week, Schweitzer took a big ole’ jab at the leadership, telling its 2,000 members (over dinner) that they “don’t always act” in their best interests. That, after making peace with them a while back.

Then Schweitzer blocked payment of some mis-appropriated funds to Kalispell-based Swank Enterprises, a long-time generous supporter of the Montana GOP’s latest felon, Sen. Barkus. Schweitzer’s taking the late-minute insertion into the state’s budget bill quite literally – using the words “up to” in “up to $600,000” quite literally, and saying he’ll get nothing.

Now, I’ve no love for the Stockgrower’s Association, nor Barkus – so reading these had me, quite frankly, laughing. Pretty damned bold. But then I read this, where he brags to the Stockgrowers that he’d “sent more bison to slaughter than any other governor,” which only leaves me shaking my head, reminded that slaughtering wildlife for no frickin’ reason is one of his several UNendearing qualities.

Way to go.

Speaking of “way to go” and Sen. Barkus, seems they guy wants all his felonies dismissed.

My thoughts? Hey – a guy can dream. I’m also sure Rep. Rehberg is just thrilled to have Barkus eeking out every delay possible, especially when you consider the possibility of Rehberg’s subpoena increasing looking like it will be coinciding right smack-dab in the middle of his 2010 re-election campaign. Whee!

by jhwygirl

Your Friday smile: The Missoulian’s Tom Bauer captures that guy. In a dress.

(jhwygirl) Public comment for the proposed leasing of the state’s Otter Creek coal closes soon. A public hearing, continued from last month, is next Monday. I question our state’s commitment to green energy. You don’t pull a billion tons of coal out of the ground to look at it. Coal is filthy. Someone’s burning it somewhere. Ironically, Otter Creek is an area identified as viable for wind energy. The Button Valley Bugle (who has been on a roll lately) reminds us that some dogs are best left sleeping.

Anne Millbrooke, of Bozeman, has done a lovely job at touching at the myriad of issues surrounding the decision on whether to lease the coal tracts. I thank Anne for sharing her letter to our State Land Board, which is comprised of Governor Schweitzer, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, Attorney General Steve Bullock, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and State Auditor Monica Lindeen:

Dear Montana Land Board:

As the state’s website says, the Montana Land Board oversees more than five million acres of school trust lands in order to generate revenue for the trust — for schools in the state. But the task is not simply economic. Inherent in public education are responsibilities for the health and well being of the students and the future of the students. That is why the Land Board should carefully consider all decisions about coal lands.

The environmental damage and health consequences of mining and burning coal are enormous, and the projected 40-year life of the proposed Otter Creek mines means any contemporary decision to lease coal lands binds the future to a dirty-energy infrastructure.

Otter Creek is the decision at hand. There are options for revenue that do not required strip mining the land and polluting air, land, and water, and the associated negative impacts on the health and well-being of children. Coal is not clean, coal power is not clean, and coal mining is not clean: step by step, decision by decision, we should be going green.

Furthermore, Otter Creek is not about jobs, nor the economic health of Montana families. According to the coal companies’ own Montana Coal Council website, the five big strip mines and the new underground mine in the state employ a total of only 1008 people. The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation estimated in its June fact sheet that two proposed mines on Otter Creek lands would employ fewer than 500 people. Coal mining is highly mechanized. It is not labor intensive. The poorest counties in the poor state of West Virginia have coal mines: corporate coal takes the local resources to enrich distant stakeholders.

In the big picture, Otter Creek is not really even about revenue. The nearly $6 million coal revenue reported for 2008 is helpful, but it is a very small percent of the school funding in Montana. Coal mining is not funding our schools, and not mining will not financially break our schools.

By treaty and ethics, the State of Montana has responsibility for the young people of the indigenous tribes of Montana. A few jobs will not compensate for the negative impacts on Native Americans and their lands. Coal’s negative impacts on Native Americans are fact, as recorded in the documentary film “Power Paths” about the Navajo experience with coal.

Montana’s state lands are held in trust, for perpetuity, not for a limited revenue stream. There is a responsibility to protect the land in trust. Yet reclamation remains more promise than reality in lands already disturbed by coal mining, and much of the restoration done has not been to natural habitat.

The out-of-state corporation that holds an in-state railroad monopoly and the out-of-state coal corporation that wants Otter Creek coal could take the educational, economic, environmental viability and sustainability of coal development beyond state’s borders and perhaps beyond the state’s control and regulation.

There is even a question whether development would happen, or whether the coal corporation simply wants to acquire the rights as a immediate tax maneuver and for possible development someday in the future under the financial and regulatory terms of this depressed economy. According to the Trust Land Management Division’s 2008 Annual Report, there are currently 29 coal leases, but only four producing leases. I think the coal industry has plenty of reserves on hold without acquiring the leases to more state lands.

Coal need not be developed at Otter Creek, where the wind blows mightily; for example, the school trust lands could become fields of wind turbines. Now is the time to transition away from coal, not the the time to expand the dirty-energy infrastructure in Montana. Mining Otter Creek coal — with current technology — would not teach our children well about living in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner, and it would harm the health of school children near the mines as well as downstream and downwind of the mines and coal-fired plants burning the coal.

Building new dirty-energy infrastructure designed to operate for 40 years is not in Montana’s interest in terms of the health and education of school children, the sustainability of local economies, clean air and water, and respect for downstream and downwind neighbors of the mines and the coal-fired plants to be fueled by Montana coal.

Please understand that Otter Creek has potential beyond coal and that coal lands should not be leased lightly. High environmental standards for any coal operations in Montana are necessary. Regulation and enforcement are necessary. But coal development is not necessary.

Yes, coal is a reality in our existing energy structure. Any new coal mining to support the existing infrastructure during our transition to clean-energy technologies, and any coal burning, should require CO2 sequestration. Coal seams sequester CO2 naturally. Mining and burning coal releases the CO2. The cost of developing and using new sequestration techniques will be offset by savings in terms of the health and in terms of the environment. Any plant burning Montana coal should be sequestering CO2 — by terms of contract as required by the State of Montana.

It is time to move beyond our historical reliance upon coal. In a popular and accurate analogy, we live in a global coal mine. We have since the 19th century. Now the “canaries” are dying: frog, bee, and bat populations are plummeting around the world, and those deaths are but symptoms of the larger problem of polluting our planet, our state, our homes. It’s time to clean-up our act, step by step, decision by decision.

Montana’s students need a clean, healthy environment in which to live and learn. They need a sustainable economy in which some day to work. They need to grow and learn in a setting with sustainable energy more than they need royalties from another coal lease. Please remember this as you consider appropriate use of Otter Creek and other trust lands.

by Pete Talbot

The sad news out of Frenchtown has everyone speculating on the cause of the Smurfit-Stone closure. Here are some of the reasons given by misinformed wags:

— It was those damned environmentalists.

— It was the greedy labor unions.

— It was the potential rollback of “black liquor” tax credits.

Let’s tackle the environmental claim first. From the Missoulian’s online comments: “I hope all the tree huggers are happy … ” Tree huggers had nothing to do with the mill’s closure. There were sufficient amounts of wood chips, hog fuel and recycled cardboard to provide the raw materials to produce liner board. And with the congressional forest restoration/fuel reduction acts, it looked like there would be a continued supply. There just wasn’t an adequate market to generate the profit margin that Smurfit-Stone wanted out of the Frenchtown mill. Blame the damn invisible hand of the free market.

” … burdensome union rules and inflexible wage rates … ” (from a comment over at Missoulapolis). My understanding is the labor union did everything it could to improve efficiency, improve workplace safety and negotiate reasonable contracts. I suppose the union could have taken pay cuts to match the wages of third-world mill workers — something less than minimum wage — but is that the direction that labor in this country should go? And would management be willing to make the same sort of sacrifice?

And then there’s this gem over at Electric City Weblog: there’s a move in Congress to eliminate a tax credit for what’s considered an alternative fuel used at the Frenchtown mill. “Black liquor, a fuel produced from paper byproducts and a small amount of diesel fuel, qualified as an alternative fuel eligible for tax credits under legislation passed in 2007.” Black liquor could possibly lose its status as a blended fuel tax credit. Thing is, Smurfit-Stone had already filed for bankruptcy before it became eligible for the tax credit, so the POTENTIAL loss of this credit can’t be the reason Smurfit-Stone is closing mills.

Let’s focus on what can be done to help the displaced workers, not on scurrilous excuses as to why the mill closed. It’s time to think outside the (cardboard) box.

by jhwygirl

Smurfit-Stone closes. Saw it on the front page of the Montana Standard.

Not that it wasn’t elsewhere, or aptly covered locally – but it’s that big, that it’s front-page on the Butte paper.

417 families. 417 households. How many others that bought and sold into that mill?

Nothing to say that hasn’t been said. My deepest condolences. I know it. I’ve lived it. It’s a gut-punch, quite literally.

Then there’s Lee Newspapers, taking health care away from its retirees. Read it at the Indy’s blog.

People can preach the “pro-business” mantra all they want – and they can toss the “anti-business” epitaph all they want – but in the end – in the reality that is very apparent to Missoulians (and Missoulian retirees, for that matter) today – is that “business” will do with its workers what they please.

They’ll pay themselves $47 million bonuses, leave you out in the cold with 60-days pay.

Which is why workers should take no shame in wanting to extract 100% of their labor’s value from their employer.

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners were on the defense again today with an editorial in the Missoulian, titled “Voter accessibility will still be better than ever in Montana”.

In it, they lay out much what has been written or discussed openly: The cost savings of reducing the number of judges and the costly automark machines they are going to have to buy because of a lawsuit and the difficulty it getting judges, training judges and keeping judges. The proposals they’ve put forward will save taxpayers $19,000 per election.

So the number of election judges is the problem…or the major part of the problem, other than what even they admit is the one-time only cost – that can’t be avoided – of buying those automark machines (which I assume is going to be the burden of all other communities around the state too).

Wherein I begin to wonder ‘Aw, shucks, what does the law say?’

Which is where I first find that the county does have to set precincts 100 days before a primary and they can have as many as is convenient.

But what polling places?

What I find out there is that the county can set polling places 30 days before a primary.

Guess what else I found out?

The building must be furnished at no charge as long as no structural changes are required in order to use the building as a polling place.

So no savings there, per se, in shutting polling places.

What about those expensive judges? How can we reduce the number of judges? What triggers that?

What I find there is that judges are appointed 30 days before an election by the county governing boy who shall appoint three or more election judges for each precinct.

Judges are based on precincts? Not polling places? Get what I’m getting at?

So when the county commissioners say “Missoula County is proposing to consolidate 60 precincts (from 102 to 42) and 13 polling places (from 37 to 24). These changes would reduce the minimum staffing requirements by 186 election judges,” they are incorrect.

Consolidating precincts saves money. That reduces the number of judges required.

Consolidating precincts and polling places – which is what they are saying above – does NOT “reduce the minimum staffing requirements by 186 judges.” Polling places have nothing to do with reducing the staffing requirements of election judges.

There is nothing in what the county commissioners have said or put out there – or even County Clerk Vicki Zeier has said – yet alone what the law says – that provides any basis for suggesting that a cost savings of $19,000 per election.

Consolidate the precincts, I don’t think anyone is upset with that. As for polling stations? Clearly, many aren’t very happy. Many. That being said – there is absolutely no rush to set the polling places. The current proposal makes absolutely no sense in a few ways that I can see – and yes, goddamnit, I am sentimentally attached to having voting at the courthouse, and that sentimentality is attached to logic.

1) Having only one polling station in the Rattlesnake is nuts. Even nuttier is closing Prescott (at the bottom of the hill) and leaving the Rattlesnake School up the hill. Have everyone driving up the hill and back? From a transportation point of view it makes absolutely no sense. ALSO, though, let me say this – I worked the Rattlesnake School in ’06, for about 9 hours. That was the first big absentee mail-in ballot year. The lines there to vote on election day? Long. All day, practically – but they kept moving. Parking? Crazy. People were walking probably a 1/2 mile from where they parked to get to the school. Closing the lower polling place, which is denser with more voters, is nuts.

2) Closing the Franklin School makes no sense. That is in the middle of a dense single and multi-family zone that is heavily reliant upon using the bus lines. Franklin is right on the bus line. The proposal will close that and push those voters either across Reserve (again – bad bad transportation planning there) or across Russell (which is almost as bad.) Frankly – I don’t know how those precincts are drawn there, but I have to say that I live on the northern side of that neighborhood, yet I currently vote at Porter (which is probably 20 blocks from me where Franklin is about 4).

3) Continuing on #2 – and take a look at the map – they are proposing to whip out every polling place in the heart of the river road neighborhood (dense, multi-family) and Franklin-to-Fort. The are proposing to keep both the Senior Center and St. Josephs – and those two are just a few blocks, relatively speaking, away from each other.

Hell – the Senior Center, St. Josephs and Paxon are the the protected triumvirate there.

Finally (for me) Closing the UC makes no sense, especially when the excuse for closing it is to say that not enough kids are voting. How many kids are going to vote if you require them to go 1 mile down the road in early November when they’ve got no car?

The map really puts it out there pretty easy for anyone trying to make sense of it. And now that I know that the number of polling places has nothing to do with the number of election judges, which is the repeated and reiterated reason of why elections are costly, I got no support for closing polling stations.

Let me add – when conservatives and progressives are joining together in protest to the proposal, I’d say clearly this isn’t a bunch of people whining about nothing.

As for me, I’m already wondering who’s gonna run in those next elections that Ms. Zeier was elected to officiate.

by jhwygirl

Sounds like the county is on the defensive over its plan to consolidate precincts and close polling stations, with The Indy first on the story.

KPAX has covered it too, and The Missoulian has hit it twice, here and here.

For some time, the county has planned to consolidate precincts. That’s pretty uncontroversial – few even know their precinct. Announcing the consolidations, along with polling place closures has put more than a few people up in arms.

To understand the impact of what it is that the county is proposing to do, check out Forward Montana’s google map of the polling closures around the county, which is darn helpful to visualize the impact to voters.

Honestly, the whole thing has opened me questioning the efficiency of what we had in the first place. They’ve got one polling station there west of Russell and east of Reserve – a dense single and mulit-family saturated area. I live there – yet, I’m currently driving across Reserve to one of the two polling stations east of Reserve, and in what is really a significantly less dense neighborhood, instead of using the polling station about 4 blocks from my home.

How is that making sense? Closing one Franklin School and pushing the bulk of people over Reserve and over to C.S. Porter or Hawthorn? Because Frankly doesn’t seem to be used efficiently right now.

That ain’t planning.

So take a look, people – you too out there in the county. Because instead of talking to the neighborhood councils, at least – who might of been able to provide some cohesive transportation-on-the-ground-practicality to a plan, instead, we’ve got a bunch of colored lines on a spreadsheet that we’re supposed to make sense of.

So glad Forward Montana did that map.

If you are concerned about the closing of polling stations, and want the county to take time to get community input on putting together a plan that is workable, why not sign Forward Montana’s petition?

While you’re at it, think about sending off an email to the Board of County Commissioners. The county Elections Office is asking that public comment be submitted there – and here is a link to their information on the proposal.

Look. I don’t think there’s any evil conspiracy going on here, but I do see one thing that seems to reoccur periodically when it comes to county government business: There’s not a lot of public information put on there on what they’re doing. How many times have I blogged that? Noticing – if it occurs – is short. Stuff like staff reports or maps or attachments aren’t generally available online.

Plain and simple, it isn’t geared towards serving the 2009 citizen of Missoula.

And when there isn’t a lot of public information put out there, and people start asking the county what is going on, county officials sometime seem to get downright indignant, which appears to be the case now. Remember the time-out county administrator Ann Mary Dussault needed when pressed last year about the undefined plan to bring numerous bonds and levys before the voters?

Read that first Missoulian story. Numerous county officials seem to be taking it personally that there is (1) media inquiry into the matter, (2) public interest, and (3) interest groups on both sides of the aisle.

Goodness forbid people get uppity about where and how far they might have to go vote on election day.

Even Ann Mary, though, is in there defending the questions.

So just who is it that’s dug-in on this?

Of all the things government does – and it does a hell of a lot of stuff – everything they plan for is generally geared towards worst case scenarios. Buildings are built to certain earthquake and snow and wind loads….roads are built to roll certain weights. Our highways are built to roll military tanks. Police and sheriff departments train for any number of maxed events, and yet here is the county, closing polling stations based on off-year election traffic.

by jhwygirl

Please consider this an open thread.

I’m looking for craft shows around the area – and by area I mean Kalispell, Helena, Bozeman, Butte, Deerlodge, Billings, Great Falls. Know any? Let me know below. (Thanks.)

Goddess knows there are plenty of people upset about the County’s plan proposal to consolidate precincts and close polling stations. If you are concerned about the closing of polling stations, and want the county to take time to get community input on putting together a plan that is workable, why not sign Forward Montana’s petition?

Via Missoula’s Heavy Metal Hippy, we learn that Big Foot has been sighted. In Minnesota.

Cool.

Montana’s lone congressman, Representative Denny Rehberg voted against reforming Wall Street in a vote on the floor of the House yesterday.

We’re making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and who’s nice – congressional elections are coming, to town.

Missoula’s Poverello Center – like other homeless shelters across Montana – have been inundated this week due to sub-zero weather. The Pov has been overmaxed this week, sleeping over 100 on Thursday night. You can help by clicking that link above and dropping $5 or $15 or $50 bucks.

Sometimes you come across something on the intertubes that is unexpected and smart. This post did that for me, and it’s about the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. A superb arrangement of words which ignored all economy.

Couple of short interesting ones….

Out of Bozeman, a 140-year old Christmas cactus.

There’s a huge-ass iceburg floating off of Australia. Be sure to click through the pictures.

Global warming, schmobal warming, right?

In geekdome this week, I found a link on the state’s website for all the state’s online news sources.

I also found Google Scholar. This week it started offering federal and state opinions and patents….which is sure gonna hit up market sources like LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Still more – I am loving Google Scholar – here is a blog post which explains how to use the site. Which means I’ll be bookmarking that blog, too.

Out of Bozeman (again!), we’ve got gravel pits and zoning rising to the surface once again. Remember and the hullaboo about gravel pits about a year or so ago? Well, all that emergency zoning (in lots of places – we’ve the same emergency zoning that occurred here in Lolo) is coming due, placing pressure on local governments to get ‘er done.

Mainly because the legislature failed us, due to GOP amendment of what had been a darn good bill from Bozeman’s representative J.P. Pomnichowski.

I’m closing here with this one: I’ve not been over to Wulfgar!’s in a while, mainly because he’s been so sporadic and I end up getting out of pattern in my surfing. His beloved pooch Mara passed away more than a week ago, and I see he has a post up about her, which I am off to read. That kind of loss is so wrenching, so loyal or pets are. I still dream of my chessie Sadie, wonderful companion that she was.

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners are taking comments regarding their proposal to consolidate a number of precincts along with reducing a number of polling stations throughout the county. Here is a link to the spreadsheet summarizing the proposal, along with statistics on the number of voters affected.

I’m one of a pretty darn large number of people who weren’t very happy with the elections office move to the courthouse for this past election. One of the main reasons offered was the lack of space. I do remember the crazy ’08 and ’06 scene down there, so I can understanding the desire to seek out more space.

This consolidation of precincts and polling is driven much the same. There’s cost, the difficulty in finding and training poll workers (along with that cost), and because of some accessibility issues, they’ll be needing to buy additional machines because they need both more machines and a different or alternative type. This is being driven by a lawsuit. There’s also something about Tuesday’s being a big court day…and I think maybe it’s also the day before delivery for the sandwich cart downstairs, so they tend to run out of coffee which really gets everyone upset.

But seriously. Closing the courthouse? It’s gonna be hard to excuse the closing of the polling station that is in the heart of the city on a very very busy day at a location where anyone – including new residents and anyone who might not have caught the news that the election office has moved down to the fairgrounds – would logically head. I mean – it’s one thing to head down to the local school and find out that they’ve moved that to another school a few blocks away – but closing the courthouse?

I’m sorry. No reasonable justification for that. There’s some basics here that need to be what they need to be, and voting in the county courthouse is one of them. That courthouse should to serve as not only a polling place, but as a location where last minute voters can register.

Since space was an issue, and the larger part of the work is tallying and administering the thing – and because it went so well down at the fairgrounds – do all that stuff there, fine..but the voting and registration thing – please! – keep that at the courthouse.

The other controversial closure is the University Center at UM. An additional driver there is that in non-federal elections there is so little interest that sometimes only a handful or less of students had voted. The secrecy of the ballot isn’t preserved or something. Do people even care about that stuff anymore? I remember my grandma did….

Another issue is that the lack of voters in non-federal years doesn’t mean they can’t put up a polling place, or move it temporarily. State law doesn’t allow it. Once polling places have been set, they are static. That’s a state law issue that I’d think a lot of different towns around the state (Helena, Bozeman, Dillon, Billings, Butte) might want to work together to change.

Now here’s a location, too, where the County should be taking special consideration. It’s the UNIVERSITY. There’s STUDENTS. They’re FIRST TIME VOTERS in many cases. Providing them with ample opportunity and easy-access opportunity to vote should be a civics matter that Missoula County should do all it can to foster with first-time voters.

And that’s kinda my thoughts on the proposal to close the UC. For me, it’s a civic obligation there that needs to be met for good reason.

There’s plenty of other closures there that residents may be concerned with. In town, it might mean a bit of a longer walk. In the county, though, I imagine that most people are in their cars to get to their polling place anyways, and for most of those people it won’t be anything more than a little out of the way on the way to work or on the way home or for the rest, it’ll be (for some) a bit of a longer drive.

The Board of County Commissioners is taking comment via email (bcc@co.missoula.mt.us), and at public hearing next Wednesday, December 16th at 1:30 p.m. in Room 201 of the Missoula County Courthouse. You can also visit the main page of the Elections office for additional information.

Solar parking meters?

by Pete Talbot

Downtown parking is mundane to many, unless you happen to work, shop and visit downtown Missoula. It’s a hot topic right now, over at Missoulagov.listserve (subscribe or visit the archives).

The short version: apparently the downtown business improvement district and, I assume, the parking commission are considering parking kiosks (one or two per block) to replace those old, analog meters. Or maybe they’ll be solar powered meters you can pay for via cell phone. Or just street signs that indicate two-hour, thirty-minute or quick-stop zones. Or meters you can plug your electric car into. Lots of ideas being bandied about.

My main concern is they’re user friendly and cheap, and they don’t discourage people from coming downtown. Either that or meters should be placed in the Walmart, Costco, Best Buy and Home Depot parking lots. Fair is fair.

I just hope this isn’t the first step toward increasing rates and fines. The cost of parking downtown should cover some area maintenance and meter patrols (there needs to be ticketing for on-street parking hogs) and a portion of the proceeds could go toward encouraging bus, bike and other forms of alternative transportation. But downtown parking shouldn’t be a cash cow for the city coffers.

There are a ton of cool suggestions, comments and criticisms of downtown parking on the listserve thread — Scott (Mr. Downtown) Sproull adds a lengthly list of insights — it’s a must read for downtown aficionados.

by jhwygirl

So very rare such a huge concession from Uncle Sam – and today, Blackfeet tribal member and lead plaintiff Eloise Cobell won her 13-year battle to collect damages from the U.S. government for mismanagement of the lands that were to be held in trust for the tribes.

Big enough that the New York Times still has it frontpaged.

The government doesn’t very often offer a settlement of $3.4 billion. It’s a combination cash payment to the 500,000 litigants, an educational scholarship fund and a fund for purchase and consolidation of land holdings to improve the quality of lands the tribes hold.

The NYT article (above) and this NPR article both include interviews with Cobell. NewWest includes some nice background, plus a statement from Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar. Bozeman’s Daily Chronicle has a local reaction out of MSU.

Quite amazing.




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