Archive for February, 2014

by lizard

Is the normalizing of the surveillance state complimented by First Look Media?

It used to be anyone who thought “they” can watch you through webcams were considered unhinged. Well

Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Glenn Greenwald also has a very important article (drip) at The//Intercept about How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations. I haven’t really dug in yet, but just from skimming the documents the depth of strategic deception appears astonishing.

While I appreciate the information, I remain suspicious of the source and the ultimate intention of these disclosures because it smacks of boiling frogs.

Not a popular position, I know, but watching the lackluster reaction I can’t help but wonder.

by lizard

The debate surrounding sitting on the sidewalk in the Central Business District of Downtown Missoula hit a new low when Dan Cederberg described this problematic sitting as “gateway conduct” at yesterday’s Public Safety and Health committee meeting. A gateway to what? The aggressive solicitation that would STILL BE PROHIBITED if the amendments removing non-verbal solicitation and benign acts, like sitting, pass?

The attempt to keep Missoula from being sued by the ACLU will be taken up by City Council next Monday, March 3rd. I hope Caitlin Copple can make it this time, since she wasn’t at the committee meeting yesterday.

Emily Bentley was in attendance, and had this to say:

There is one main issue at hand. Should sitting on a public sidewalk be banned in all of the Central Business District or should it only be banned 10ft from the entrance to a business? The latter prevailed…for today. There were only 6 people in the committee meeting – myself, Jason, Jordan, Bryan, Jon, and Annelise. Caitlin was absent and many of the other Council members who have voiced support for the CBD ban in previous meetings are not on this committee. This issue will receive extensive debate and may be over turned on Monday evening. I do not support the full ban on sitting in the CBD. Although I agree there is an issue of public safety, I feel strongly that there is benign behavior that will also be made illegal. My toddler had a tantrum downtown last week. He sat down. I don’t want that to be illegal. I also sat down to breast feed him last summer. I don’t want that to be illegal either. I think the benign behavior is overlooked and people take notice of the disruptive behavior, giving the perception that there is only bad behavior. The 10ft ban on sitting is consistent with the 10ft ban on solicitation, which makes it easier for police to enforce. According to the BID, 10ft from businesses takes up about 1/3 of the CBD. The ACLU has grudgingly acknowledged that it is not de facto ban the way that the originally proposed 20ft was.

Emily’s toddler is not the only person throwing tantrums downtown (Missoulian):

“This process kind of feels like a shell game at times, as we’ve been at this for three years,” said Brent Campbell, president of the Missoula Downtown Association. “I’m not sure this is really the best way to create good statutes.”

A few years ago, the council adopted ordinances aimed at establishing some order downtown, but the city center remains messy, albeit popular. Workers still clean up human feces from shop fronts, and pedestrians run the gantlet of beggars asking or accosting them for money on the sidewalks.

What is the best way to create good statutes? How about some data? Brent Campbell is mistaken, it’s actually been 5 years since the original ordinances against aggressive solicitation and pedestrian interference were passed. So in that time, how many citations have been issued? And has the rate of citations increased over the years?

I suspect there may be a reason that kind of information isn’t a part of the conversation.

Bentley also introduced an amendment reintroducing footbridges into the ordinance language:

I made the motion to add the footbridges back into the ordinance. In my opinion when this was removed as part of the Mayors compromise, we threw the baby out with the bath water. The footbridges are the biggest problem in Missoula. There are significant concerns as people have been raped and murdered on them in recent years.

I don’t disagree, especially the footbridge over the tracks from downtown to the Northside. One way to address that is find a more appropriate spot for the Union Gospel Mission.

Speaking of relocation, I hope the MDA can try to remember there are good things happening for their downtown. By the end of the year, the Poverello Center will be moving to their new location on West Broadway, and the Salvation Army just announced their plans to relocate. I found this quote especially relevant:

The Salvation Army is the most recent of several social service providers to announce plans to move out of the downtown area, and Hamilton said it makes sense to relocate as the city tightens laws against panhandling and loitering.

Next I suggest transforming the Ox into a yogo studio and the Howard’s slummy apartments into condos. To protect all these great improvements our city leaders can create some sort of perimeter around downtown. The BID (business improvement district) can then hire more ambassadors to ensure only commerce-minded citizens enter the downtown core.

If only other Montana communities showed their compassion by not letting people sit on sidewalks, maybe that woman who died of exposure in Hamilton would still be alive. And that guy found dead of exposure in Butte.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the vote next Monday is going to go the way downtown businesses hope. There may be other options, though. This article may be 5 years old, but I think it still represents outside-the-box thinking that may be of interest to downtown businesses:

As 15-year-old Eddie Holder sprinted from his apartment for school one recent morning, he held his hand to one ear to block out a shrill, piercing noise.

The sound was coming from a wall-mounted box, but not everyone can hear it. The device, called the Mosquito, is audible only to teens and young adults and was installed outside the building to drive away loiterers.

If that doesn’t work, I have other ideas to help save downtown, like remote control sandwich board signs equipped with a cattle-prod-type device that would administer a non-lethal shock to non-commerce minded individuals misusing our public sidewalks.

You’re welcome, downtown businesses.

by jhwygirl

The City of Missoula’s attempts to criminalize homelessness has reached a ridiculous crescendo. Downtown is a mess and don’t you know, it’s all the homeless’ fault. Not the drunks – served at downtown bars – who smash up downtown businesses. Not the drunks assaulting innocent pedestrians on their way home from the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival – nope..it’s those darn homeless.

Of latest debate is the ability of people to – yeah, get this – sit downtown. Because, you know, no one should be coming to Missoula Montana and have the audacity to sit. In downtown! Of all places!

Dan Cederberg, a member of Mayor Engen’s downtown advisory committee, is quoted in this Missoulian article covering today’s committee meetings as saying that ‘the council has heard plenty of testimony that many people who sit downtown also end up harassing and intimidating people, so the act is a “gateway” to poor behavior. He said the result is a public safety issue the city must address.’

Sitting is a “gateway” to poor behavior?

Liberals and Progressives? Please phone home because your city is lost.

I’ll tell you what is “gateway” behavior to a poor downtown lacking growth: Public officials and downtown businesses and commerce organizations standing by (because, you know, sitting is bad) with nary a whisper while one of the largest and most historic pieces of commerce real estate not only in Missoula but in western Montana is eyed as a viable site for the county public library.

Let that sink in: the county friggin’ library. A non-tax paying entity taking up one of the largest contiguous parcels of downtown Missoula. A block and a half off of riverfront, and on the main bridged street through downtown?

And before the Friends of the Library come out and whine about me hating all books, I’ll pray that ya’all believe me when I say I’m a big fan of libraries and book reading. Frankly, more people should do it. Newspapers too. Everyone should read and do it often. As often as possible.

And I’m even OK if you sit while doing it!

Yeah – downtown Missoula is turning into a tax-free haven – let’s not forget the University either.

Please grow the hell up and quit blaming everyone but yourselves people.

by Pete Talbot

[What’s an emptive?  Lizard says he’s posted a preemptive strike (below this post) to a piece I’ve been working on.  Well, here’s my postemptive.  I’m finishing something I’ve started; not my strong suit.  Damn you, lizard.]

No one really needs me to defend this site.  The contributors do a fine job of responding to comments and criticism, and they even show a little introspection from time-to-time.

But I found this in my inbox a few days ago from someone I respect. For my own reasons, I’ll keep it anonymous but here’s the gist:

I hope you’re following what is going on at 4 and 20 these days.

It seems that there isn’t a Democrat they “like” anymore. Literally, not one.

I’ve been a lurking b’birder from the beginning but I think I finally may let it go.

I mean they’re even going after Pat Williams. I think we’ve got Senator Essman and the Montana Republican party doing enough of that, don’t we?

He/she has a point. This site has made many twists and turns over the years.  It started Democratically-centric, particularly in Jon Tester’s successful bid to unseat Sen. Conrad Burns in 2006. 4&20 has had many contributors since then from all stripes left of center, but it belongs to no one. The opinions are those of the writers and I appreciate them all. There are sites that espouse party line — left, right and center — and I’m grateful for those, too.

Now, the 4&20 reins are in lizard’s hands.  It’s great to see jhwy.girl in the mix again and a post now-and-then from JC.  But this not the site to visit if you’re looking for party talking points. After our founding father, Jay Stevens, I’m the closest to a Democratic apologist and I seldom post anymore.

I enjoy the unbridled ideology this site brings to the ‘sphere.  I can’t always embrace it because of life’s realities.  Example: I’m against coal trains, tar sands, the rape of the Bakken and the Keystone XL Pipeline.  If this was my platform for an upcoming bid for statewide office, how would I fare?  Piss poor, and having just returned from the Magic City, Montana’s largest berg,  where I did some unscientific polling, I say this with conviction.

So, I’ll continue to straddle that line between idealism and pragmatism while  absorbing the musings from the blogs, and hoping we lean to the left as far as feasible in this great state of ours.

by lizard

I’m going to preempt a post Pete Talbot is writing defending 4&20 Blackbirds (it’s been in draft form for 2 days and I couldn’t help taking a peek).

I guess Pete received an email from someone he respects, someone who wants to make sure Pete is following what has been happening at 4&20 lately. And what’s that you ask? Criticizing Democrats.

My criticism is neither new, nor original. After all, the sell out of the Democratic party has been going on for two decades now. For those who don’t wear party lenses, it’s not that difficult to discern.

I think the last 8 years have been particularly hard on Democrats, especially the progressive wing. Bush’s reign was abysmal. That’s why there was so much hope the electoral victory in 2006—returning Democrats to power in Congress for the first time in 12 years—would translate into policy push-backs on immense blunders, like the disastrous Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (because terrorism).

Here’s how an anti-war.com piece interpreted the anti-war polling leading up to the 2006 elections:

The November election is shaping up as a national referendum on the war in Iraq – and the GOP, AKA the War Party, is in deep trouble.

A recent CNN poll asked voters to rank the importance of the war issue: 48 percent said it is “extremely important,” while 38 percent averred it’s “very important.” The same poll shows overwhelming opposition to the war (62 percent, and climbing), and – the shocker – 56 percent believe the war was a mistake, while a mere 40 percent disagree – with the latter figure the lowest on record. The bad news for Republicans: when it comes to Iraq, voters would rather have Democrats in charge (51 percent). After all, a Republican administration, aided and abetted by a rubber-stamp GOP-controlled Congress, lied to them: according to a Newsweek poll, a whopping 58 percent say Bush and his team “purposely misled the public about evidence that Iraq had banned weapons in order to build support for war.”

In 2006 I was 27 years old, still idealistic and politically gullible. I can look back now and say the lack of action from the 2006 elections was the seed of my disillusionment with the only viable political alternative to Republicans. It was only a matter of time before I began putting together the implications of the Clinton years and the global reach of neoliberalism.

But it’s not the criticism of an abstract political philosophy that inspires the vice chair of the Missoula County Democrats Executive Board to slyly subtweet her displeasure at my recent criticism with these two tweets:

Only in some hallucinatory parallel universe would the local democrats be responsible for Van Valkenburg’s negligence and mess.

Oh, a new day and a new article about Fred digging a new hole.

I’m not interested in picking personal fights. I sometimes need to remind myself there are mostly good people trying to do good things within a broken system. And, I should add, there is a lot of shared frustration that gets channeled at different targets, sometimes unfairly.

That said, I don’t think it’s unfair to call out examples of Democrats deviating from the principles they are suppose to stand for.

The cover piece for Harper’s March issue is titled “Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals“. Here is how Ellen Rosenbush introduces the issue:

How will future generations view the presidency of Barack Obama? In this issue of Harper’s Magazine, we present our latest commentary on the president and his legacy with a cover story by University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. His essay is a compelling assessment of the failure of the American left. He begins with the left’s abandonment of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal principles and achievements, and goes on to criticize both Bill Clinton and Obama for having moved toward the center. Yet Reed’s harshest salvos are directed at the left itself, which he views as effectively dead: it stands for nothing, and is now defined only by its not being the right.

To watch a Bill Moyers interview with Reed, click here.

C’mon, American liberals, don’t give up like Alec Baldwin. It’s not all hopeless. I saw random strangers helping each other in the mess of snow, all day. They were getting things done, practical things, working together for the common good.

It’s still possible.

by lizard

Someone needs to take the figurative shovel away from Fred Van Valkenburg, because he clearly doesn’t have the good sense to stop digging the hole he’s in.

On Sunday, some new wrinkles appeared in Missoula County’s scandal-ridden county attorney’s office, sparking anger from apparently uninformed county commissioners:

At midweek, the county commissioners turned to Montana Attorney General Tim Fox for his take on the Justice Department report, which cited specific cases where victims said their allegations had been ignored or discounted by prosecutors. What they learned surprised them.

While he was still attorney general, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock struck an agreement with the DOJ in June of 2012 – at the outset of the DOJ’s investigation into Missoula’s and the University of Montana’s handling of sexual assault allegations.

The pact called on the DOJ to turn over to the state attorney general – whose office oversees all county prosecutors – any new allegations of sexual assaults or new information about previously reported sexual assault allegations.

Fox, as the current attorney general, sent a letter to the DOJ on Thursday requesting that information, citing the DOJ’s allegations that new evidence had been uncovered and that past cases had been mishandled or inappropriately dismissed.

The 2012 agreement wasn’t made known to county commissioners until last week, a fact that has Landquist livid. She had voted with fellow commissioners Curtiss and Bill Carey to approve a $50,000 appropriation from the county’s general fund for Van Valkenburg to challenge the DOJ’s investigative jurisdiction in U.S. District Court.

If Van Valkenburg knew about this agreement, then he had a responsibility to inform the commissioners before they gave him a $50,000 dollar check to start his legal war against the DoJ. Of course Steve Bullock, who made the agreement back in 2012 when he was the Attorney General, could have also reached out to Missoula County Commissioners, but I guess that’s asking too much of a Governor busy grooming his choice for the US Senate.

Now that Van Valkenburg has been emboldened by the commissioners, it appears there is no target too petty for Fred to take on.

After this online letter to the editor was published a few days ago, written by some obnoxious Californian, Van Valkenburg apparently began an angry email correspondence with the guy while still on “vacation”. That story is hitting the Missoulian today:

A California lawyer is crying foul after Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg sent him “vitriolic” emails in response to an online letter on Missoulian.com – attacks he said could have a “chilling effect” on First Amendment rights if leveled at other critics.

Jim Ghidella, a San Francisco-based attorney and Missoula enthusiast, wrote a letter published on Missoulian.com that was critical of Van Valkenburg’s decision to use $50,000 of public funds to sue the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ghidella received the first email, then responded, citing the “vitriolic tone” of Fred’s initial email. Here is how Freddy responded:

“You regret the vitriolic tone of my email?” Van Valkenburg wrote. “You ought to be regretting the arrogance you showed by claiming to know something about our suit against the DOJ which you obviously don’t know.”

“I don’t think you know what the word regret means,” Van Valkenburg added.

That sounds like a threat to me. And with this latest embarrassment, the hole just gets deeper and deeper. Van Valkenburg needs to be stopped from creating any more wreckage in the wake of his incompetence. That vacation he’s on should be extended indefinitely.

House of Clinton?

by lizard

I’m going to try and avoid spoilers, but consider this fair warning that the subject of this post is House of Cards. More specifically this post is about how the precursor White House fairy tale known as The West Wing has been officially devoured and deposited like a tantalizing plate of Freddy’s ribs.

If this has been mentioned I haven’t read it yet, but I’m definitely catching a whiff of the Clintons lurking behind Francis and Claire Underwood, which would be timely. Mother Jones recently reported on the return of those “crazy Clinton conspiracies of the 1990s“:

During the 1992 campaign, some right-wingers whispered that Bill Clinton was a Manchurian candidate who had been brainwashed by the Russians when he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and took a student trip to Moscow. Others circulated fliers—this was before the internet hit big—claiming he had fathered the son of an African American prostitute. And there were claims that the Clintons were connected to a major drug-running operation that had been based in Arkansas and tied to a series of murders. Yes, murders. Dozens of murders.

Yes, the Clinton body count is a rabbit hole alright, and the paranoid right is salivating over the inevitable Hillary run for 2016.

In the meantime, we can enjoy a work of fiction that political insiders have described as 99% accurate. The 1% that’s unrealistic? Getting an Education bill passed so quickly. That meme was spread by Kevin Spacey as he made the media rounds promoting the Valentine’s day launch of Season 2:

Spacey spoke of a specific day when he had finished working on some of the episodes for the upcoming season and upon coming home had turned on the news. Watching the news he began to feel that the story-lines House of Cards works up are really not that “crazy.”

He also said that after talking to lots of different people, most said that they feel that “99% of the show is accurate and the one percent that isn’t is that you could never get an education bill passed that fast.”

The insinuation of this comment is that murdering those who get in your way, politically, is less unrealistic than the speed in which the show depicts the passage of a major piece of legislation. Kevin Spacey delivered this comment during nearly every interview I saw him in, because it was good for a few chuckles.

House of Cards does strive to be realistic, which is why pundits like Chris Hayes play themselves. There is also a minor storyline involving a hacker forced to work for the FBI that I found interesting, because the fictional character tries to leverage help for the real-life Barrett Brown. It was a curious reference that will hopefully bring more awareness to Brown’s case.

I think the creators of House of Cards are doing us a favor by trying to more accurately depict the scandalous, conniving world of American politics. And it appears insiders agree: this is how business gets done in DC.

by lizard

I missed doing a poetry post last week, so this week I’ll offer two performances. The first is Allen Ginsberg reading his Ballad of the Skeletons, accompanied by Philip Glass and Paul McCartney. The second is slam poet Marshall Soulful Jones performing his poem Touchscreen. Enjoy!

*

by lizard

The Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe had this to say about Ukraine’s 2010 presidential elections:

The first round of Ukraine’s presidential election was of high quality and showed significant progress over previous elections, meeting most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments, concluded the international election observation mission in a statement published today.

The observers noted that the election demonstrated respect for civil and political rights, and offered voters a genuine choice between candidates representing diverse political views. Candidates were able to campaign freely, and the campaign period was generally calm and orderly.

That means this evidence of US plotting is directed at a democratically elected president.

The situation in Ukraine is evolving quickly. I suggest listening to Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University on Democracy Now. Moon of Alabama also continues to provide some interesting context to what’s going down in this post.

Cold War proxy conflicts in Ukraine and Syria could get way out of control once the Sochi games end. Venezuela is also heating up.

Obama must not like Democracy very much. I hope his support of anti-semetic fascists and jihadists doesn’t give the Tea Party any bright ideas, like it’s ok to violently occupy government buildings and kill police.

by lizard

After writing about the Train-Hopping Scabs of Capitalism I felt obligated to actually watch what I was being preemptively critical of.

And I’m glad I did.

Daniel Skaggs and his support crew pulled it off with Freeload. No one can accuse this film of romanticizing the modern hobo lifestyle. And I’m left wondering, what didn’t make the cut from 18 months of traveling?

The film was very well received by tonight’s audience. I stuck around for the question and answer, then left.

On my way back to my car I came close enough to getting my ass kicked that I had to call 911 to get the guy to back off. Seriously.

As I passed Red’s bar some guy asked me if I had a lighter. I said nope, in stride. The dude replied “you don’t have to be a fucking dick about it.”

I should have just ignored him, but I didn’t. That said, I don’t think my response of “Um, I’m not being a dick, I just don’t have a lighter” warranted a sudden confrontation. Before I knew it this guy was in my face, doing the alpha chest-bump. He really wanted to take it beyond verbal, but I wasn’t taking the bait, so he pushed me against the brick wall of the Bodega.

At this point two Bodega girls spilled out. Witnesses. I didn’t escalate his push, so he got more verbally aggressive, yelling inches from my face. I kept my composure best I could. Looking around, I became aware of an older woman and another guy who apparently knew this aggressor, but they weren’t intervening fast enough, so I pulled out my phone and dialed 911. In the chaos of dealing with dispatch I gathered the old woman was mom. She shuffled her drunk son into her car. I knelt down and got the license plate number.

They took off, so with the immediate threat gone, it wasn’t worth pursuing further. That didn’t stop the other guy, the brother, from letting me know what a douche I was for calling the cops. He was at least not drunk and somewhat reasonable, but at that point I wasn’t really interested in familial justification for why I had to go into fight/flight mode.

Downtown Missoula, folks. We’ll try to pass laws to fuck with train kids but let nightly drunkenness go on and on and on, whatevs.

Two Items of Interest

by jhwygirl

There’s a petition out there demanding that Missoula County stop trivializing rape cases. Signatures are up to 6,878 as I type this, and they come from all over the world.

So there’s that. And yea, go ahead and say that 99.99% of these people have no business interjecting into our business. Whatever. But there’s our entry onto the world’s stage people. Keep cheering on Van Valkenburg’s lawsuit. Just keep going.

Secondly, Eric Hines – a University of Montana adjunct professor of political science – has tackled the question of whether the USDOJ has jurisdiction over Fred Van Valkenburg’s office. I recommend everyone read it. It’s titled, interestingly enough: Does the DOJ have the right to investigate the Missoula County Attorney? Yes, or Why Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg is wrong.

by lizard

Blogs and whether they are dying or not has been a subject touched on here and other virtual spaces as online chatter shifted from blog spaces to Twitter and other platforms.

In the last few weeks I’ve seen content I’ve written popping up in other places, which is mostly a good thing, and I’d say proof that proclamations of death for the blogosphere have been premature.

The post I wrote about accountability for bar owners was excerpted at Daily Kos in a post featuring progressive bloggers in different states writing about local issues. While I’m flattered, I feel compelled to point out that post was one of the few I’ve written about the panhandling ordinances that didn’t include the fact those ordinances were enhanced thanks to progressives like Dave Strohmaier and Caitlin Copple.

The Great Falls Tribune featured an excerpt from the post I wrote about heroin and the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Again, it’s flattering to have content acknowledged by more official sources of media, but I can’t help being a little miffed that an unpaid blogger like myself is producing content that newspapers are using as they shrink newsrooms and squeeze everything they can from their remaining employees. Free content must be nice for the failing business model of newspapers.

Finally, the piece I did riffing off Martin Kidston’s “Missoula Time” article got picked up by Aaron Flint at The Flint Report. The juxtaposition of Kidston’s Missoula Time piece with the closure of a local Missoula restaurant, Food for Thought, reminded me of Dave Budge’s Montana Regulation Project. Oh, and Aaron, if you’re reading this, how dare you refer to 4&20 Blackbirds as liberal ;)

Seeing jhwygirl’s byline again is fantastic, and I hope JC and others continue using this forum to assemble and opine on the various issues that concern and inspire.

Stay tuned…

by jhwygirl

Lizard has had two posts now calling out local democrats – Thanks for Nothing, Democrats and Rape Culture, Missoula Democrats, and Criminalizing Poverty – on their lack of acting with principles most often associated with the Democratic Party.

Lizard points out in his first post that the overwhelmingly progressive city council (yeah, they run as nonpartisans but we all know they’re democrats) are working to criminalize homelessness. He points out that the Board of County Commissioners (all democrats) is suing the feds, saying they’ve no jurisdiction over our county attorney, the illustrious Fred Van Valkenburg, and then Liz points out that oVan Valkenburg – a democrat, himself – chose to not only ignore a county initiative that decriminalized marijuana, but that he actually notched up prosecutions of possession!

A comment from former Poverello Director and State Representative Ellie Hill (HD94 – Missoula) takes us to Lizard’s second post where he takes on former Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir’s recent editorial in support of Van Valkenburg and Missoula County’s lawsuit against the feds. Now, admittedly Muir’s politics are unknown since he wasn’t an elected official – but he is standing not only in support of the very Tea Partyesque lawsuit, he’s also referring to the USDOJ as “ultra-liberal.” Liz then continues on to call out Ms. Hill’s apparent change in positions on her advocacy for the homeless, citing quotes by Hill in Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller’s blog, Missoula Red Tape.

For good measure, Lizard closes out his post with reference to former US Representative Pat Williams’ ‘knucklehead” comment about rapists at the University of Montana, finely documented by the truly lustrous architect of words, Patrick Duganz.

Yes, it’s hard to find what many might refer to as “true progressives” or “good democrats” here in Missoula these days. Wagons are circled, that’s for sure. That “speak no ill” rule certainly applies in state democrat politics.

A few days ago a friend pointed out to me that Ravalli County – a conservative Tea Party bastion – sure knows how to address incompetence, even when it involves what is an elected office. That person was right. With unproven allegations of malfeasance, Ravalli Board of County Commissioners had County Treasurer Valerie Stamey escorted from the building by the county sheriff. They then hired an outside audit firm, brought in a interim treasurer and also a retired judge to independently oversee the investigation. Stamey remains on paid leave as the investigation continues.

Compare that to Missoula County Board of County Commissioners. With serious allegations made by the USDOJ who have quite clearly said that County Attorney Van Valkenburg has “put women’s safety at risk,” Van Valkenenburg apparently still has access to his office! There are not only allegations of violations of state and federal law, there is significant documentation by the USDOJ that civil rights were violated – that’s the kind of stuff that exposes the county to millions of dollars in lawsuits.

Instead, the county steams forward not by addressing the allegations, but on the hope of a now disgraced county attorney who thinks that the feds don’t have jurisdiction over civil rights violations.

This situation is no longer about who has jurisdiction over who – it’s over who violated civil rights and who is going to continue to maintain the status quo.

With documented allegations of civil rights violations and the failure of the Board of County Commissioners to act, it’s not going to be just Fred Van Valkenburg and Missoula County’s name on the lawsuits that have an easy in to being filed. His enablers will also be on the hook, should they fail to act.

And – dare I suggest – that may include the State of Montana, since there are documented allegations of state law in that 20 page document also. I’ve only heard crickets out of Helena, so far.

Missoula was worried about the cost of implementing the USDOJ’s recommendations? They might start to think about those civil rights lawsuits. That stuff can be real real expensive.

Look – Van Valkenburg poked at the dragon. The dragon bit back in a big way. In doing so, the dragon shined a big light on civil rights violations. If anyone things things are going to get easier, they’re dreaming.

Not only that – Van Valkenburg can’t defend himself or the county from these allegations. Consider that. Van Valkenburg had to hire outside council to sue the feds…he and the county sure can’t defend themselves against the civil rights violations that are now on their way down the pike.

by lizard

Mark Muir, former Chief of the Missoula PD, has taken an interesting position regarding the DoJ’s interest in what’s been happening (or not happening) at the Missoula County Attorney’s Office:

With support from the County Commissioners, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg has courageously chosen a bold and wise strategy in suing the United States Department of Justice for its abuses of power.

The anticipated result is nothing more than forcing them to play by the rules and to abide by the constitutional division of governmental powers. Asking a federal judge to put a stop to the bullying tactics of the U.S. Attorney General, his pitbulls in the Special Litigation Section and even Montana’s United States Attorney is not only the right thing, it is overdue.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s team of ultra-liberal, Washington, D.C., legal staff already won two unfair matches at the expense of Missoula taxpayers; their big government staffing increases gives them the resources to bully nearly any local institution into submission, indifferent to lack of proof.

Ultra-liberal? As opposed to who, Fred Van Valkenburg?

There are clearly some confusing dynamics at play in Missoula right now. I made it pretty clear how frustrated I am with Missoula Democrats in a post that I knew would probably ruffle a few feathers. State Representative Ellie Hill had this to say in the comments:

I fail to see what partisan politics has to do with what is going on in the County Attorney’s Office or in regard to the panhandling ordinances. It seems to me that there are many “Missoula Democrats” working on opposing sides of both issues. The panhandling ordinance didn’t get sent back to committee because Will Deschamps was looking out for equal protection and civil rights.

Rep. Hill has a point—a Democrat-dominated city council vote sent the solicitation ordinances back to committee—but we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Adam Hertz (a conservative) hadn’t moved to reconsider the amendments to avoid a lawsuit, and Missoula wouldn’t be facing a lawsuit if progressive Caitlin Copple didn’t sponsor these amendments in the first place.

I find it particularly distasteful that Copple used the safety of women to justify criminalizing sitting on sidewalks. When these ordinances were first debated and passed, Ellie Hill was the director of the Poverello Center. This Missoula Red Tape post features Hill’s opinion of the original ordinances:

Pov director Ellie Hill said the nonprofit supports defining inappropriate behaviors and creating consequences for those actions. That’s as long as the rules in the ordinance* apply as equally to the aggressive Girl Scout cookie seller as they do to a belligerent old dude.

But Hill said the Pov isn’t going to get behind the ordinance* that bans sleeping or snoozing on streets and sidewalks. She said one Pov supporter called her and wanted to remind her of the story of the Good Samaritan. That good guy was helping the person on the streets — not slapping him with a misdemeanor as the ordinance proposes.

“To me, that’s the very definition of criminalizing poverty,” Hill said. “It’s wrong. How can you provide criminal consequences for being poor? Or having nowhere else to sit? Or nowhere else to sleep at night?”

I agree. But try telling that to a progressive LGBT advocate who describes a transient chasing a pregnant woman to her car as the reason to ban sitting on sidewalks downtown.

We are not going to make it safer for women in Missoula by targeting homeless people or getting rid of enablers of rape culture like Fred Van Valkenburg. Rape culture is insidious, and non-partisan.

As a reminder of that latter point, I strongly encourage everyone to read 4&20 contributor Patrick Duganz’s take on what Pat Williams said to the New York Times nearly 2 years ago regarding the University of Montana’s part in the rape scandal:

“I’m very sorrowful one of the premier universities in the Rockies has been scandalized by a few knuckleheaded students,” said Pat Williams, a former United States congressman and a member of Montana’s Board of Regents. “The football team has been terribly hurt by this.”

With friends like Fred and Pat, who needs Deschamps?

by jhwygirl

The Missoula Police Department are investigating a sexual assault on campus. A 19-year old woman has apparently reported a rape, and an 18-year old, known to the woman, is being questioned.

The article is brief, I’m sure because so little is known. That’s not to denigrate the Missoulian, and I’m glad for their reporting, however brief.

What struck me was was last sentence:

Welsh wouldn’t identify whose dorm room it was and said he didn’t know if alcohol played a role in the assault.

I don’t know – it seemed out of place Did public information office offer the statement? Was he asked?

No does mean no.

So was that statement in the context of ‘maybe the guy was drunk, which is why it happened’ as if it were some degree of a mitigating factor? An excuse for why this happened?

Or was it more in the sense of ‘the female might of been drinking,’ so anything she says might not be true?

Perhaps alcohol played a factor because xanax or rohypnol was dropped in the drink?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me – but if there isn’t much known about the case, maybe alcohol shouldn’t be mentioned until it’s known whether – indeed – alcohol did play a factor. And if it did, it should be mentioned in its full contact.

Because, you know, the mere presence of alcohol isn’t an excuse to rape someone.

And without context, mentioning alcohol perpetuates the myth that it is.

by jhwygirl

Don, over at Intelligent Discontent, called for Van Valkenburg’s removal on Friday. I fired this off the next day, not realizing it until afterwards. Does look like we’ve got the good ole’ days of Montana blogging going – an old fashioned blogswarm!

It’s nice to see Liz taking on local politics. I’m particularly glad he immediately jumped on the recent DOJ report with a pointed finger towards Missoula democrats (Thanks for Nothing, Missoula Democrats.) His post illustrates – for me, at least – the dangers of bringing too much friendship and loyalty into issues that aren’t purely political. It’s the citizens that suffer, and if the contents of the USDOJ investigation don’t show it, then nothing does.

I’ve come out of my cave to call as publicly as this blog allows for Van Valkenburg to go. Now, I don’t care if he resigns or if he retires early and with no real notice or if the County Commissioners fire him – but the twenty pages of USDOJ indictment isn’t enough, consider that even if they’re wrong about 50% of it, it’s still enough to call for this woefully inadequate attorney to go.

Hell – even if all but the one act of his office refusing to prosecute a rape where the rapist confessed isn’t true, then Van Valkenburg needs to go. Read just page 14 if you don’t believe me.

Now, my call for Van Valkenburg to go is absent the implication that the entirety of the USDOJ letter surely doesn’t detail incidents that were all immediate acts by Fred Van Valkenburg – the county’s got 17 under attorneys, with a portion of them in the criminal division – but this was all under his leadership. Twenty pages don’t lie. It establishes the pattern I’ve spoken about with dozens of people – many who have gotten so mad that they’ve left spittle on my face – and it leaves no faith that the Missoula County Attorney’s Office can recover under his leadership.

There is a 10-year statute of limitation on rape here in Montana. The USDOJ’s investigation looked back to 2008. Many of these rapes can still be prosecuted, especially when we are talking about rapes where the rapist confessed, or rapes where the rapist all but said the words “yes, I raped her.”

Do I want to see an office headed up by Van Valkenburg prosecute those?

Nope. Go to page 12 and read. Does anything there sound faintly like the Jordan Johnson case? The lack of a full fledged prosecution of a rape case? After reading that my anger once again rose, and my heart broke for the victim who stood so bravely in the face of what was not only the Johnson defense team, but a county attorney’s office that had the commitment to a conviction similar to the attention span of a two-year old.

Yep. It’s time for Missoula to quit circling the wagons – especially the County Commissioners who, very recently, continued to invest faith (and money) into Van Valkenburg’s ill advice. This rape scandal is not an attack, as Lizard recently noted, on the Missoula economy It is not an attack on the Griz football team.

This rape scandal is, now, a well-deserving attack on Van Valkenburg’s legacy of leadership of the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. A failed leadership, nearly half of which is documented is the USDOJ investigative report.

So many have put faith into every ill-advised word of Van Valkenburg – including his premise that his office couldn’t be investigated by the USDOJ because he was an elected official. A ludicrous position when you consider that sheriffs around this nation are elected and they’ve been investigated by the USDOJ for decades.

It’s time for Missoula County Commissioners to take a clue from their Tea Party-loving counterparts to the south. Ravalli County Commissioners didn’t think twice about firing the elected County Treasurer once they saw sufficient and overwhelming anecdotal evidence that she wasn’t doing her job.

Before Ravalli County Commissioners even brought in the auditor to obtain solid proof of wrongdoing, they had the county sheriff escort the elected County Treasurer from the building, and placed her on paid leave.

Now – my preference would be that Van Valkenburg leave of his own volition – that county taxpayers not be burdened with paying this man anything more. Perhaps under that set-up, he’d still be entitled to his pension. That way the local bartenders won’t suffer.

But as it stands now, Van Valkenburg isn’t going to be around long enough to turn the festering diseased criminal division of his office around. And now that’s he’s poked at thr feds w/his frivolous lawsuit questioning their authority to investigate him – summarily dismissed in the USDOJ report, and I expect the same in court – he certainly isn’t the guy who should be negotiating a settlement with the feds. Plainly speaking, it isn’t in the past, present or future sexual assault victim’s interests, and it certainly isn’t in Missoula County’s. Time to go. NOW.

Post script: Huge shout-out to the attorneys I know in the state criminal defenders office, who have taken the time over the last three years to explain to me the dozens of reasons Fred should go. Missoula needs to know that Fred has left dozens of dead bodies (literally and figuratively) in his wake, and this USDOJ investigation is just one facet of his horrible inadequacies.

by jhwygirl

I am still stuck at page 17 of the damning USDOJ report serving as all but an indictment of Fred Van Valkenburg, pretty much because I can’t see fit to stomach more shirking of duties and violations of basic civil rights by Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg’s criminal department. More than a few things have stuck with me. I’ve also had some time to read the comments at the Missoulian, too, and feel like firing off on two items this rain-soaked evening.

First off, it appears from the comments to the Missoulian article there is still a large contingent of people out there that seem to hold on to Van Valkenburg’s dream that the USDOJ does not hold authority over his office. Many of these people don’t even address the veracity of the USDOJ report – confirming that rape nation and rape apologists and rape culture thrive here in Missoula.

Scary disgusting stuff, really.

Less disturbing in the comments – but still troubling – is the apparent lack of reading comprehension skills among this group of people. It’s not like they had to read to page 12 or anything. The USDOJ summarily dismisses Van Valkenburg’s whining about the USDOJ’s lack of authority over his office quite thoroughly beginning right there on page one. In the end, the mere fact that Van Valkenburg’s office has taken federal monies suffices here – which I might add illustrates yet another legal inadequacy of Fred Van Valkenburg: contractual law.

Oh, I may as well throw in one more legal inadequacy here – the ability to select competent counsel, since he’s dropped $50K into outside counsel to fight the feds on this point.

I look forward to the Federal District Court’s summary judgement here on this point. A summary judgement is, shall we say, a pretty embarrassing way to lose a case?

The second thing I want to take on this evening is what the title suggests – Van Valkenburg’s office’s role in the USDOJ’s investigation and subsequent settlement with the City of Missoula Police. Here, again, the USDOJ lays out repeated situations where the police investigated and documented only to have their work fall into the black cave that we now know is Van Valkenburg’s County Attorney’s Office.

City police apparently got so frustrated with their work going no where, that they created a summary sheet with a spot for the county attorney’s office to provide feedback. Frequently, these weren’t even returned – and when they were, they usually contained only two words: “insufficient evidence.”

That occurred, btw, on a case where the rapist confessed.

Missoula Police are well-trained. Many would say, too much so. This aspect does, though, bode well – or should – for victims of violent crime. Missoulians certainly are getting their tax dollar’s worth in this aspect. But if Van Valkenburg’s tutelage is failing victims of sexual assault, it’s surely failing us in prosecution of other victims of violent crimes as well.

Van Valkenburg has made much of his complaint that the feds want him to have his own staff investigator. Here, too, the USDOJ makes hay of Van Valkenburg’s claims, pointing out that his office fails to coordinate with the police. While they also fail to coordinate with the police, his office also fails to tell the police where further evidence might be obtained to make a case more easily prosecuted. They’re not telling him to hire his own investigator – they’re telling him he should work together with his law enforcement colleagues.

Which is kinda what the police were looking for when they created a summary sheet and a blank section looking for feedback.

City of Missoula Police referred 85 cases to to the county attorney’s office for prosecution between 2008 and 2012. Charges were only filed on 14. Now, think about that: In an unknown number of reported sexual assaults, the well-trained Missoula Police investigated and came to the conclusion that they had sufficient evidence to file charges on 85 cases, yet the county attorney’s office eliminated 83% of them, without even any feedback to police in 29 of those..

Would that shatter any police officer’s work ethic if 83% of your efforts on just sexual assault crimes were shot down by the county attorney’s office?

From page 9:

In addition, Missoula County Attorney’s Office’s approach to sexual violence in Missoula has had significant, detrimental impacts on the law enforcement community’s overall response to sexual assault. The work of Missoula Police detectives is compromised by the fact that, even if the expend the resources to conduct a comprehensive investigation, the County Attorney’s Office often will not even charge the case. One woman reported that the Missoula Police detective in her case informed her that because “no one had a limb cut off and there was no video of the incident,” prosecutors “wouldn’t see this [the rape} as anything more than a girl getting drunk at a party.” whether or not the detective’s characterization was correct, the County Attorney’s actions over time left this detective – and many others like him – with the understanding that non-stranger sexual assault of women, and especially drug-facilitated sexual assault, mut involve physical force or overwhelming and irrefutable evidence to be considered a crime worthy of prosecution.

Mother Jones reporter and Montana native Dana Liebelson quotes a statement emailed to her by Van Valkenburg: “I think that everything the DOJ is saying about our office is false. These people are as unethical as any I have ever seen. They obviously have a political agenda they want to push and the truth does not matter to them.”

Really Fred? you want to go down whining like an 8 year old? Everyone’s picking on you?

If we’re to believe Van Valkenburg, confessed rapists lie, rape victims lie, and yes, even the Missoula Police lie.

I’m not buying it, and I’m not sorry that I don’t. And neither should you.

by lizard

It’s too bad Bob Dylan didn’t die like a decade ago, because then maybe we could remember him for being the folk-strumming poet of a generation that he was. I say was because one can make a good case that, though Bob Dylan is still alive, his integrity is dead. If you think that’s harsh, read Bob Dylan and the Ethics of Market Fascism at Truthout eviscerating the terrible Chrysler commercial featuring Dylan which aired during the Super Bowl. Here’s a snip from the article:

When corporatism manages to buy the soul of an icon, the poet of the American civil rights movement, we are witnessing a clear sign of the market becoming an Ethics in itself. This is the man who, in May of 1963, walked out of “The Ed Sullivan Show” after CBS executives asked him not to sing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” because it would offend the racist right-wing John Birch Society. Bob Dylan inspired many Americans then. But he must have broken many a liberal and progressive heart with his awfully scripted Chrysler commercial, which is filled with jingoistic lines about American pride and a seriously proto-fascist undertone.

It’s fitting that Dylan killed what little scraps of integrity he had left with a commercial—in terms of mediums, it’s the quintessential vehicle for the ubiquitous consumerism we are all entangled in. And though Dylan is just one symbolic loss on the road to a modern realization of Orwell’s 1984, it feels like a major blow to the once hopeful imagination of the Baby Boomer generation.

Speaking of idealistic Baby Boomers who became willing peddlers of neoliberalism, I was poking around this morning looking for some info on Bill Clinton’s Telecommunication Act and I found this hilarious depiction, which includes gems like this paragraph describing the act’s goals:

The main goal of the Telecommunications Act was to free up the market in the communications industry. President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and a majority of the members of Congress supported the Telecommunications Act because it would give members of the public more choices in terms of the telephone services and media they could enjoy at home. This increase in choices would in turn allow Americans to subscribe to various communications services at prices they could afford. Since the Internet had become an important part of many Americans’ lives by this time, federal leaders also wanted to place regulations on it that would protect children from stumbling upon pornographic material. In addition, they hoped to make television more family-friendly by giving parents advanced warnings about the types of content programs might contain.

Choice, competition, lower prices. That is what I call a giant load of bullshit, which should be obvious as Comcast tries to merge with Time-Warner, further exposing the consolidation of our media landscape. In 1983, there were 50 media companies. Now there are just 6, and they are corporate monsters.

So what does this latest merger mean? It could mean Coming Soon: the United States of Comcast (New Republic):

Large companies, even monopolies, are not necessarily contrary to the public interest if they are strictly and intelligently regulated. But in the wake of the 1996 telecommunications act (which idiotically assumed that deregulation would lead to competition) and a pliant Federal Communications Commission, the big telecom companies have progressively avoided regulation. As a result, they are already committing many of the abuses that come with monopoly power, and if the new merger passes muster, will do so with a vengeance.

Monopolies make it more difficult for new entrants to compete. As a result, they allow the larger companies to raise prices without fearing a loss of market share. Since deregulation in 1996, cable prices have risen at about three times the rate of inflation. According to a study from the Free Press, prices for expanded cable service (what most consumers purchase) went up five percent from 2008 top 2013 –almost four times the rate of inflation. Monopolies also allow companies to neglect service to consumers. The American Customer Satisfaction Index rated Comcast and Time-Warner the two worst cable and broadband companies.

Monopolies can also have a corrosive effect on related industries. The big cable companies have been able to squeeze cable content providers—even to cut off access to customers, as Time-Warner did with CBS last fall. If they also own content providers, as Comcast does, they can harm rival content providers—as Comcast seems to be doing to Netflix.

Monopolies also slow innovation, because companies have less incentive to replace older equipment. That was a major argument for the breakup of the old AT&T telephone monopoly in 1982. According to a report from the New America Foundation’s, Open Technology Institute, the United States has lagged behind other countries in the price and quality of its broadband service. The American city with the highest quality internet is Chattanooga, Tennessee, which gets its service from a municipally owned provider.

Under the new merger, the new company—let’s call it Xsanity—will be in an even stronger position to raise prices, neglect service to its customers, squeeze content providers, harm rival content providers and slow innovation. If local, state or national officials attempt to police them, the single big company will have even greater clout. Of course, Comcast will promise to keep prices down, enforce net neutrality, and spur innovation. There is reason, however, not to take these promises seriously.

The times they are certainly changing…but not for the better.

New Blogs

by jhwygirl

Just added two new blogs over there under Mountain Blogs – Preserve the Beartooth Front and Mountains, Plains & People.

Preaerve the Beartooth Front is written by David Katz, and offers us insights into fracking dangers here in Montana.

Mountains, Plains & People is written by Eric Dietrich, Cops & Courts reporter for the Great Falls Tribune.

Go. Explore.

by jhwygirl

I’ve still yet to finish off the USDOJ investigative report into the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, but I am now on page 17. The problem I’ve had in finishing it isn’t time, but that my blood pressure goes up so much I have to get up and punch a wall or two, and then go for a walk. But I”m scaring the neighbors now with all my gesticulations as I power walk Misdemeanor Meadows, so clearly it’s time to fire off a post.

The USDOJ’s report is lots of things. It’s damning. It’s infuriating. It’s disgusting. It’s heartbreaking, It’s sickening. It’s maddening. The adjectives and the feelings are endless. But lessons need to be learned, and actions must be taken.

As I read the USDOJ’s report of sexual assault after sexual assault. Of gang rape. Or rapes unreported because victims already knew of the humiliation that would be handed down by Missoula County criminal prosecutors…I ponder the concept of justice and whether any semblance of it is, at all, reachable.

Does exposing Van Valkenburg’s leadership of the Missoula County’s Attorney’s office suffice? Certainly not – and especially if you attempt to think of it in the perspective of a sexual assault victim.

The statute of limitations for sexual assault in Montana is 10 years. If the victim is less than 18, then the 10 year timeline begins when the victim turns 18. I’ll further point out that having the victim testify is not always needed to prosecute rape.

The USDOJ report lays out violations of not only civil rights and equal protection under our U.S. Constitution, it lays out violations of the same in the Montana Constitution, along with Montana law. As I mentioned above, I’ve only gotten to page 17, but that does mean that I’ve read of at least two specific violations of Montana Code by the Missoula County Attorney’s Office.

Page 10 refers to MCA 46-24-104, which requires the prosecutor in any criminal case to consult and coordinate with the victims of criminal acts. Van Valkenburg’s County Attorney’s Office failed to do this to disastrous results.

Page 17 points to violations of MCA 45-5-501(1)(a) which says that a victim who is incapacitated is incapable of consent. Again – and in a town where it’s well-known by women the need to guard their drinks – this was a part of Montana law that Van Valkenburg and his crew of prosecuting criminal attorney’s were apparently unaware of it’s existence in code.

Both of those state law violations applied to multiple cases investigated by the USDOJ, who operated (let us not forget) without the cooperation of Van Valkenburg’s office. All of these violations, aside from Montana’s constitutional guarantees – many of which mirror the U.S. Constitution – went unprosecuted.

I point these out because this is the area which is now under the purview of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. In this situation, the groundwork has been laid out painfully and publicly by the USDOJ’s office, and I dare suggest that not only is this is something Tim Fox can not ignore, it should now be his job to take on prosecution of these cases.

I’d like that he also review the negotiated plea agreement with the rapist of a 5 year old, too.

Fred Van Valkenburg is out of the office until something like the 24th of the month. I realize Monday is a holiday, but I would certainly hope that Tim Fox can see fit to have a state investigator in Missoula County’s County Attorney’s Office by Tuesday, beginning interviews and investigations into these state violations and unprosecuted cases.

Justice demands it.

Tim Fox focused a large part of his run for office on sexual predators of children, and his office did take swift action on that issue. It’s time for Tim Fox focus on sexual assault victims, many of whom are (or were) students at the University of Montana. Just as the USDOJ’s agreement with the University is being held up as a model for university and college campuses around the United States, Tim Fox’s intervention here into Missoula regarding violations of state laws concerning sexual assault can be a learning experience for communities around the state – and perhaps legislator’s also.

by lizard

Earlier this month, Missoulian reporter Martin Kidston wrote a sort of ridiculous piece about “Missoula time” and how this alleged concept of “just chilling” may explain Missoula’s economic stagnation. Though the framing Kidston uses is a bit ridiculous, the complicated issue of Missoula’s economic woes is not. Contrasting Bozeman with Missoula, Kidston makes some interesting observations:

As goes UM, so goes Missoula. It works the other way around as well; it’s a symbiotic dance we can’t escape.

The symptoms of stagnation are all around us, punctuated perhaps by the Missoula Mercantile, which sits empty year after year. Bozeman, in contrast, reports a downtown vacancy rate of just 5 percent.

Looking for other comparisons? Why does the proposed Hotel Fox in Missoula get pushed back while Bozeman approved and will soon see construction begin on a new eight-story, 102-room hotel, making it the tallest building in the city?

“A downtown has to change or it dies,” Bozeman Deputy Mayor Jeff Krauss told the Daily Chronicle. “You see small towns fading away everywhere. We are not one of them.”

This isn’t pointing blame at our local leaders. Rather, I’d like to ask the larger question: What does Missoula want to become and how (and when) will it find its new post-recession identity?

I think a lot of Missoulians would like to see themselves as part of an idyllic liberal college town where we buy healthy food at the farmer’s market and recreate in the wilderness. This is the image of Missoula found in outdoor magazines. For those with the money to make this image their reality, it’s great.

A lot of recent conflicts stem from how Missoula leaders have decided to respond to issues that deviate from the ideal image. From what I have seen, it appears our city leaders are more interested in protecting the image than they are in understanding and addressing the issues.

Chronic homelessness is therefore framed as a debilitating phenomenon disproportionately impacting downtown businesses, and resources are allocated to specifically police the issue. Of course, having their own police officer was deemed insufficient, so businesses decided to push for more, and in their misguided attempt to deal with aggressive behavior, they advocated for ordinances that would criminalize sitting on downtown sidewalks.

Then there are the systemic problems with how our justice system responds to accusations of sexual assault and domestic violence. While some of our leaders have taken steps to improve how victims who come forward to report crimes are treated, the Missoula County attorney’s office, headed by Van Valkenburg, is resisting accountability, and putting taxpayers on the hook.

In tough economic times, societal problems, like substance abuse and domestic violence, increase. This Huffington Post article from two years ago makes that very point:

A new survey by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) has found that police departments across the country are encountering more instances of domestic violence related to the poor economy, USA Today reports.

More than half of the 700 law enforcement agencies polled for the survey reported seeing a rise in “domestic conflicts” related to the economy during 2011, according to USA Today. That’s a sharp increase from the numbers reported in a similar 2010 survey, when 40 percent of agencies reported seeing an increase in such cases.

Scott Thompson, the Chief of Police in Camden, N.J., spoke to the paper about the survey results and said that his city saw a 20 percent increase in domestic incidents and a 10 percent increase in domestic-related aggravated assaults from 2010 to 2011. Thompson noted that the unemployment rate in the city is currently 19 percent.

“When stresses in the home increase because of unemployment and other hardships, domestic violence increases,” Thomson told the paper. “We see it on the street.”

In today’s Missoulian, this article looks at the same issue, and despite significant increases in reported incidents of domestic abuse, there has been a decrease in cases filed and a decrease in offenders enrolled in court-ordered programs:

According to the Montana Board of Crime Control, violent crime is on the rise – a factor that law enforcement attributes to the recession and the community’s slow economic recovery. When frustrations about money – or the lack thereof – run high, violence in the home is a real concern, explained Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks.

“I can’t tell you how many (partner/family member assaults) I’ve read where they were arguing about money and it escalated radically from there,” he said.

Missoula County prosecutors filed 132 partner/family member assault cases in 2011, but by 2013 there were only 94 cases on the docket.

That’s a 30 percent decrease in filings.

The city of Missoula’s numbers are similar. In 2011 and 2012, there were 241 and 250 cases, respectively. In 2013, the number of domestic violence cases filed by prosecutors decreased to 187.

The sharp decline could be attributed to more crimes being charged as a higher felony with stricter penalties and longer probationary period, Marks explained.

He doesn’t see the decrease as a problem.

A heightened awareness of domestic violence could be the reason the number of law enforcement reports of partner/family member assault are up, Marks said. He also argues that there’s not a direct correlation between law enforcement reports and cases filed in court.

Doesn’t see the decrease as a problem? Really? Here’s more:

Neither city or county prosecutors could account for the falling number of convicted offenders enrolled in the CAVE and MAN programs.

Scott noted that some offenders are Native American and attend counseling sessions on the Flathead Reservation. Missoula Municipal Court, he said, routinely orders petitions to revoke to make those shrugging off their mandatory counseling enroll in the programs.

“But we don’t handhold them and walk them down there ourselves,” he said.

He said a grant from the Montana Board of Crime Control in 2011 has evolved to help the city court keep tabs on convicted abusers by ordering more petitions to revoke and applying a period of misdemeanor probation.

A study conducted that year by the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants concluded that seven out of 10 people sentenced to anger management classes for domestic violence charges didn’t complete them.

When you contrast this information with how downtown businesses want to increase accountability for the discomforting behavior of people suffering from addiction and mental illness, something is seriously fucked up.

So what do we want to protect, Missoula? Our image, or our citizens?

by lizard

Missoula Democrats, man, you gotta love ’em. While “progressive” Caitlin Copple was busy conflating women’s safety with the ordinance amendments she sponsored, criminalizing sitting on downtown sidewalks, Fred Van Valkenburg was busy preparing to go after the Department of Justice to keep Federal scrutiny from uncovering the pattern of awfulness regarding his office’s handling of sexual assaults. It’s no coincidence that just 3 days after Fred filed a motion in district court, the DoJ released their 20 page report citing examples of “terrible things” prosecutors said to sexual assault victims:

Missoula County prosecutors said “terrible things” to victims of sexual assault, told a mother whose 5-year-old daughter had been assaulted by an adolescent that “boys will be boys,” and told another woman “all you want is revenge,” in discussing a decision not to prosecute her sexual assault.

Those were all part of a “disturbing pattern” of deficiencies in the handling of sexual assault cases by the Missoula County Attorney’s Office that place the safety of all women in Missoula at risk, a strongly worded statement from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said.

Reacting to this news, Van Valkenburg threw a little tantrum:

Later Friday evening, Van Valkenburg received word of the DOJ’s action and called the Missoulian with his response. He was incensed at the federal government’s “totally irresponsible” behavior.

“First and foremost, I think that this is one of the most unfair, unethical things that I have witnessed in 35 years of public life,” Van Valkenburg said. “For the DOJ to dump this report on the news media at virtually 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, three days after we have filed a complaint for judicial relief, is totally irresponsible.

“They are trying to manipulate the news in a very, very unfair fashion.”

When I hear Fred whining about ethics and fairness, I think back to how Van Valkenburg crusaded against Missoula voters after we voted to place prosecution of Marijuana offenses at a low priority. In order to circumvent Missoula voters, Fred asked for some help from a state Republican to get legislation passed. Fred got his way:

Marijuana once again is a priority for law enforcement in Missoula County.

So says Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who issued a reminder Friday about a new law that takes effect Saturday.

“We’ll be prosecuting the misdemeanor marijuana cases that we have not been doing for the last 4 1/2 years,” he said.

Under the new law, sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Berry of Roundup at Van Valkenburg’s request, “the power of initiative does not extend to the prioritization of the enforcement of any state law by a unit of local government.”

The law applies only to Missoula County, where in 2006, 55 percent of those voting approved Initiative 2 recommending that crimes related to marijuana be the lowest priority for law enforcement.

It didn’t matter to Fred that the legislation was retroactive. Here’s more from the article:

“Since no other community in Montana can adopt such an initiative and, I’m the person who sought the adoption of this law, it would be hypocritical on my part to continue to follow the lowest priority of enforcement policy in Missoula County,” Van Valkenburg’s announcement said. It asked that Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen and Montana Highway Patrol Captain Greg Watson pass the message along to their deputies and troopers.

Not so fast, said Cynthia Wolken of Missoula, who lobbied for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, at the Legislature.

“It’s not retroactive,” she said, suggesting that the new law applies only to any future such initiatives that might be passed. ” … It troubles me that we have elected officials ignoring the will of the people.”

Wolken, now a Missoula City Council member, said that “I don’t like to see city resources put into going after people for something we said is the lowest priority. I’m troubled that (Van Valkenburg) is over and over attacking what the large majority of Missoulians have sent as a message, loud and clear.”

It looks like 2014 is going to be a great year for lawyers, not so great for Missoula taxpayers, and we have Missoula Democrats to thank. Caitlin Copple has positioned Missoula to get sued by the ACLU, Fred Van Valkenburg has filed suit against the DoJ, and John Engen will be trying to legally wrestle our water from the deep (and evil) pockets of the Carlyle Group.

I am so damn tired of Democrats in this state. Their disturbing pattern of arrogant disregard for their constituents stems from an utter lack of alternatives. There seems to be a prevalent assumption among Montana Democrats that all they need to do is say BOO, THE TEA PARTY!!! and then they can just go along and do whatever they want.

Ethics? Fairness? That’s rich. Missoula Democrats, get your shit together. The cost of your arrogance is not a cost Missoulians can afford.

Love More, Love Better

by lizard

That is all.

by lizard

The owners of the Badlander and the Rhino support the Mayor’s version of the panhandling ordinances because they want to protect their paying customers from “solicitors”, the new euphemism for the chronically homeless. This term reflects the messaging from the business community that these ordinances are all about behavior and won’t selectively target specific groups of people, like those without homes. That’s bullshit, but let’s stick with the “behavior” thinking for a minute.

Another word batted around is accountability. The ordinances, it is claimed, are suppose to be tools of accountability for law enforcement. The overreach that undermines this claim is the inclusion of just sitting, sleeping, or lying on the sidewalk as excluded behavior.

Putting that aside, let’s apply the concept of accountability to downtown bar owners and their employees. I took a quick look at the Responsible Alcohol Sales and Training Program (PDF) and under “key laws” I found the Montana statute regarding selling alcohol to intoxicated people:

It is unlawful for any licensee, a licensee’s employee, or any other person to sell, deliver, or give away or cause or permit to be sold, delivered, or given away any alcoholic beverage to any intoxicated person or any person actually, apparently, or obviously intoxicated.
16-3-301(4)(b) MCA

If downtown bars were fined every time they violated this statute, they would go bankrupt. But I guarantee Missoula would be a safer place if bar owners were held more accountable for the rampant binge-drinking they profit from, damn the personal consequences and costs.

And the costs, which I’ve written about before in greater detail, are staggering and bear repeating. This is a breakdown of the annual economic impact on just Montana:

Alcohol induced medical care: 100.7 million
Criminal justice system: 49.1 million
Early mortality/lost earnings; disease/vehicle accidents: 296.8 million
Lost productivity: 53.3 million
Treatment costs: 10.7 million

So yeah, let’s talk about accountability, downtown Missoula bar owners. Let’s talk about going after your profits for destroying people’s lives.

The only time you’ll catch me in a bar downtown these days is after a long week at work with co-workers. Our spot used to be the Rhino. I think it’s time we find a different spot.

by lizard

I wasn’t sure what to expect at tonight’s city council meeting. I knew there were two competing versions of fixes for the aggressive solicitation/pedestrian interference ordinances in a reconsideration effort initiated by councilman Adam Hertz to avoid a lawsuit by the ACLU. Exhibit A was the Mayor’s version, and Exhibit B was Jason Wiener’s version.

I’m not informed enough to speak to the legal aspects of how the two versions differ, but one bone of contention seems to be whether to include silent solicitation with a sign as part of the prohibitive scope of the ordinances. Wiener’s version removed that part, the Mayor’s version did not. There is also the issue of criminalizing sitting/sleeping/lying on the sidewalk, which would be very problematic if enforced equitably, and a civil liberties issue if selectively enforced.

And then, public comment.

For context, remember these amendments were quickly rushed to a vote last December, so the holidays kept awareness—read: opposition—from poking up its inconvenient head.

Tonight, in addition to comments from MT ACLU’s Anna Conley, Olivia Riutta from the Montana Human Rights Network submitted comments in support of Wiener’s version, albeit with reservations.

Both Riutta’s comments and Sara Howell’s comments, from Montana Women Vote, took issue with how women’s safety has been used to justify the need for these restrictive and probably unconstitutional ordinance amendments. I can’t imagine it was easy to make those comments, considering Copple’s previous alignment with the groups now publicly expressing concerns.

Another notable comment came from Scott, a criminal defense attorney. I was pleasantly surprised someone who deals with the revolving door of disorderly conduct in the legal system spoke up. I also enjoyed the succinct reminder that assertiveness and pepper spray are legal tactics for the public to consider when dealing with threatening behavior (who was that guy?).

And let’s be clear, there absolutely is unsafe behavior happening nightly in downtown Missoula. This is perhaps my favorite part of the public comments.

Scott, the owner of the Badlander, decried the behavior of “solicitors”, like how they puked on his building. No, seriously, he complained about drunken behavior using the term “solicitors”. I’m guessing the preferred shorthand, “transients”, didn’t jive with the “it’s-not-about-homelessness” messaging coming from ban-sitting contingent.

Scott wasn’t the only bar owner who decided to back the mayor. Kevin Head, proprietor of the Rhino, also stepped to the microphone. He made it very clear the panhandlers are not his customers, that they “hit on” his customers.

Hearing that reminded me of a conversation  I had with a bartender at the Rhino a few months ago.  We were actually talking about these ordinances and she mentioned how a few patrons had put on Santa hats around Christmas and went to the streets, handing out pints of vodka.

Considering tonight’s comments from bar owners, I would appreciate a little criteria for the Missoula public regarding proper drunkenness to help guide us in differentiating respectable drunks from “solicitor” drunks.  I would also like a way of analyzing urine samples, to make sure people who drink at their establishments aren’t improperly depositing their fluids.

Ultimately the result tonight was a punt back to committee. And still no indication what the ACLU may do.

Stay tuned…

by lizard

Man, it must be tough being president. President Obama is currently grappling with a difficult decision. Should he kill another American with a drone strike? And how is he going to make it “legal”? Apparently Obama’s pledge to shift drone killing from the CIA to the Pentagon has further complicated the issue:

An American citizen who is a member of al-Qaeda is actively planning attacks against Americans overseas, U.S. officials say, and the Obama administration is wrestling with whether to kill him with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy issued last year.

The CIA drones watching him cannot strike because he’s a U.S. citizen and the Justice Department must build a case against him, a task it hasn’t completed.

Four U.S. officials said the American suspected terrorist is in a country that refuses U.S. military action on its soil and that has proved unable to go after him. And President Barack Obama‘s new policy says American suspected terrorists overseas can only be killed by the military, not the CIA, creating a policy conundrum for the White House.

Remember, it’s only killing Americans without due process that creates conundrums. Killing foreigners in countries we aren’t at war with remains conundrum-free.

To keep us informed about Obama’s killing machine and the other fun tools of state control, The Intercept launches today—Greenwald and Scahill’s new online home.

Have a good Monday, comrades.

by lizard

In the midst of our deep freeze, Missoula had a little excitement last Thursday when two armed robberies triggered a University lockdown. Other schools and businesses also took precautionary measures.

The suspect—who is still at large as I write this—appeared to resemble a 28 year old man, Kevin Briggs, who escaped custody in Bozeman. Earlier in the week police put out an alert that indicated Briggs had ties in Missoula and was presumed to be armed and dangerous.

Yesterday, the Missoulian reported that there is nothing to suggest the armed robber is Kevin Briggs. Police think Briggs may have already left Missoula on a bus. At least that is what they are saying in the paper. I’m not so sure.

Kevin Briggs has escaped custody three times now, this last time in leg shackles. Personally, I think it was Briggs who pulled off the two armed robberies, slightly changing his appearance after holding up the Motel 6, then slipping away as police swooped in.

Putting UM on lockdown was the right call. Students may have laughed it off on twitter, but they are lucky events didn’t take a violent turn on Thursday.

I think Kevin Briggs is still in Missoula, and the indication he may have left via bus could be a ruse set up by the suspect to send police on a wild goose chase. The police may know this, and are using the media to make it look like they’ve taken the bait. I know that sounds like a bad movie plot line, but for some reason I think that scenario is plausible.

Stay alert, Missoula.




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