Posts Tagged ‘Montana’

by William Skink

There is this quaint notion we get from Economics 101 that supply and demand drive the markets. If you want to pass some standardized test, stick with 101. If you want to grapple with what actually happens in the real world, toss the text book out of the first available window.

It’s not that supply and demand don’t matter. They do. Take, for example, the demand for houses. Most people want to live in one, so there’s demand. For supply, there are plenty of laborers and resources to make use of. But we’re talking some big numbers if you want to play the home buying game. So you need financing.

Well, a few years ago we saw what happens when supply and demand takes a back seat to greed. Perverse incentives fueled an orgy of sub-prime lending, and the contagion went global.

For Montana, the collapse of the inflated housing boom hit labor hard. Mills closed and construction slowed. But despite the pesky constraints of reality, a bipartisan effort from Jon Tester and Steve Daines aims at using big government to shelter an industry from the impacts of Economics 101. And always happy to oblige, the Missoulian is more than willing to stack the story for panhandling loggers:

The U.S. Forest Service needs to quadruple forest restoration acres, while logging could reasonably triple over current levels in Montana, Chief Tom Tidwell said under questioning from Montana’s senators.

Tidwell was before the Senate Appropriations Interior Subcommittee on Wednesday lobbying for a nearly $5 billion budget in fiscal year 2016. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Sen. Steve Daines questioned the chief on goals for Montana, pushing for increases in timber production to saw mills and other wood products.

“I don’t need to tell you how important saw mills are as a partner to the Forest Service. We don’t need to drive these folks out of business, and it becomes a taxpayer-funded problem as far as forest management,” Tester said.

Forest restoration, including logging, produced 113 million board feet (see info box) of saw logs, posts and poles and firewood on 9,000 acres in Montana during FY2014. Tester asked if current work was adequate to properly manage 17 million acres of forests.

“It’s not near enough of what we need to be doing to change the conditions on the landscape, to restore the resiliency of those forests and reduce the wildland fire threat to our communities,” Tidwell said, citing workforce reductions and shifting funds to fire budgets. “I’ve tried to be really clear about the challenge we have in front of us, and the need for us to increase the pace and scale of restoration of our nation’s forests.”

Tidwell went on to say that the number of restored acres needed to increase at least four times. He added that individual project size, with authorities granted under the 2014 Farm Bill, needed to significantly expand.

“Especially in your state, we need to be able to move forward with some larger landscape projects similar to what we’ve done in some neighboring states where we can look at not thousands but tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of acres with one environmental assessment,” Tidwell told Tester.

Daines echoed the frustrations of Montana timber mill owners, many running at two-thirds capacity. Many mills are facing layoffs due to lack of logs while surrounded by millions of acres of available timber, he said.

“They’re healthier forests; environmentally the best thing we can do are responsible timber practices,” he said.

Sustainable timber harvest figures are much higher than the 113 million board feet cut in Montana, Daines said. He then asked Tidwell if 300 million board feet was a reasonable goal.

“Three hundred million board feet is very reasonable,” Tidwell replied.

Reasonable? Based on what? Certainly not market fundamentals.

Here are some numbers worth considering, reported on five years ago:

About 3.5 million US residents (about 1% of the population), including 1.35 million children, have been homeless for a significant period of time. Over 37,000 homeless individuals (including 16,000 children) stay in shelters in New York every night. This information was gathered by the Urban Institute, but actual numbers might be higher.

Fox Business estimates, there are 18.9 million vacant homes across the country.

3.5 million people without homes; 18.9 million homes without residents.

And don’t you know, it ain’t all about subprime:

While subprime loans have justly captured much of the ink as the culprit, overdevelopment is a major factor in the dramatic number of vacancies there are today. These are not just the homes of people who took on a mortgage they couldn’t afford; these are newly constructed houses without a buyer on the horizon. It’s not about taking a residence from someone who can’t pay his or her bills and giving it to another person who can’t make payments either, it’s about using resources we have in excess.

If environmentalists weren’t so easily scapegoated, one wonders how the tag-team effort from a Democrat and a Republican to push through big government logging subsidies, while absconding from the principals for free market Capitalism, would be accepted.

The article quoted at length above is fascinating because it tries to acknowledge reality, via quotes from Mike Garrity, but still drifts toward industry propaganda:

The dip in timber for mills came with the downturn in housing demand of the Great Recession, said Garrity, an economist. The downturn was coupled with cheaper logs from Canada via NAFTA, he added.

Whether a 300 million board feet target was attainable would simply depend on where the logs came from and challenges were likely if it harmed fish and wildlife, Garrity said.

Timber-dependent industries in Montana spoke favorably of the potential for increased harvest.

“The exchange between the senators and chief is encouraging,” said Keith Olson, executive director of the Montana Logging Association. “The ability of industry to ramp up will be dependent upon certainty of access to increasing harvest levels.”

“The mills can handle it,” said Julia Altemus, executive vice president of the Montana Wood Products Association. “The mills are running at 60 percent capacity. All the mills would love an opportunity to run at 100 percent.”

Altemus cautioned that the Forest Service in the short term may not have enough current projects in the pipeline to meet a 300 million board feet goal as the cut is typically closer to 100 million board feet.

Public sentiment had largely turned to support for increasing timber harvest and other forest restoration, Daines said. Collaborative based forest projects have the greatest chance of success, and the number of diverse groups agreeing that responsible forest management would have positive economic and environmental impacts was encouraging, he added.

“The level of agreement we have is greater today than it’s ever been in my career,” Tidwell said of collaborative pushes for increased forest restoration.

Restoration? What a joke. The push to “restore” Montana forests is happening despite a lack of demand for home construction, and that’s problematic from several different political angles. For Steve Daines, he’s aiding and abetting Big Government’s intrusion on the Free Market. For Jon Tester, he’s continuing to alienate the people he expects to help reelect him in a few years.

Both politicians will blab about jobs, as if cutting trees is the only kind of work possible in our forests. Instead of government subsidized logging, why not invest in trail maintenance? Well-kept trails would be good for our tourism industry, right?

But that would make too much sense, so don’t expect it to happen. Instead we will be treated to more shill-reporting and deceitful rhetoric from our elected officials.

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by William Skink

Sure, the Republicans who want to keep punishing poor people by denying Medicaid expansion are craven, hypocritical partisans, especially if one looks at what happened in Helena on Friday through a Democrat partisan lens, which is all the author of that post is capable of. Luckily I don’t have that affliction and am therefore able to add a little bit more context to how we got to this point in Montana.

Two years ago there was a very good chance of getting Medicaid expanded in Montana. What happened? Freshman Democrat legislator, Tom Jacobson, pushed the wrong button:

Some states have declined to expand Medicaid because they oppose Obamacare. Others worry about the financial burden of expanding the entitlement. But there appears to be only one state where the Medicaid expansion failed due to a Democratic legislator accidentally voting against it.

Congratulations, Montana.

“We’re tremendously sorry about what happened,” Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, a Democrat, said of the mistaken vote. “Montanans are the losers in this outcome.”

The mistake sent the bill back to committee to die. It was terrible. And trying to change the mistake wasn’t possible because the provision of addressing mistakes like this could only be used in situations where the change wouldn’t effect the outcome of legislation. In this case it would have, so the wrong vote stood.

After this embarrassing debacle I hoped Montana Democrats would regroup and speak with a unified voice about the dire need of 70,000 Montanans. That hope quickly dissipated when it became clear that Medicaid expansion was going to be a political football used by the Bohlinger campaign.

While Democrats were busy bickering among themselves, Montana AG, Tim Fox, successfully stalled the signature gathering for the Healthy Montana Initiative.

Then, in 2014, Democrats got their asses handed to them and now here we are. The result? Montanans will continue to suffer, hospital expenses will continue to balloon (the cost of which is passed along to all of us) and over 10,000 jobs WON’T be created.

Most of the blame should be directed at the Republican ideologues who never miss a chance to bash poor people in our state. I despise them more than words can effectively convey.

But I’m not a partisan hack, so I extend my disdain to Montana Democrats, who can’t seem to get their shit together to alleviate the suffering of 70,000 Montanans.

This is a sad situation for Montana. Those on the ground of the class war don’t have the luxury of political posturing. We desperately need Medicaid dollars. Placing blame solely on Republicans may serve political purposes for Democrats, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of how we got here.

by William Skink

A gaff is defined as a spear or spearhead for taking fish or turtles; a handled hook for holding or lifting heavy fish; a metal spur for a gamecock.

A gaffe is a mistake made in a social situation.

Maybe someone could clue in the editorial staff at the Missoulian about the difference an “e” makes: Tester lawsuit gaff reveals real frustration with logging litigation.

Here is the hilarious opening of the “article”:

Anyone who’s worked a fire lookout knows it’s tough to tell a wisp of morning fog from the smoke of a fresh lightning strike.

Not to excuse last week’s “four Pinocchios” gaff Sen. Jon Tester made regarding timber lawsuits, but it’s really hard to figure out just what the U.S. Forest Service is up to.

Let’s put aside the irony of the word selection for a moment. What the Missoulian is trying to accomplish for our senior Senator is a downshift of his Big Lie to a simple mistake. And once that’s done, change the subject:

And Tester’s misstatements about problems with national forest management may reveal a hotter issue: Congress’ fixation on changing the way people can challenge the agency in court.

It’s hard to find words to describe this kind of “reporting”. Tester lies about litigation so blatantly that he’s called out by the Washington Post, and the Missoulian decides to give the bulk of the article to those with…concerns about litigation:

“There’s nothing in the cut-and-sold reports about lawsuits – it’s just about timber sales,” said Todd Morgan of the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “And that doesn’t get at this spider web of connectivity, where one project gets litigated and it has an impact on lots of other projects. What they’re measured by is not always really clear.”

What is clear is that Montana Democrat Tester’s Republican colleague Sen. Steve Daines was on the same subject last week.

On Thursday, Daines challenged Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on “the implications of fringe lawsuits on the responsible management of Montana’s national forests and highlighted the severe effects that diminished timber output has had on Montana’s economy,” according to spokeswoman Alee Lockman.

Tidwell apparently agreed, responding: “The litigation definitely does impact and it’s not just the litigation. When we get a temporary restraining order, we have to stop and wait. Every time we get a lawsuit, the same staff that would be preparing for the next project, they have to prepare to go to court.”

My emphasis on “every time” because that’s just not true. For anyone actually following this closely you will know that litigation doesn’t always stop logging projects from continuing. But hey, for a paper that can’t even choose the right word for a headline, why bother with facts in the content of the article, right?

I sympathize with activists like Matthew Koehler. Because it’s an ongoing battle just to counter top-level politicians and local media, who blatantly lie and spread propaganda, resources must be expended in the scramble to get accurate information out. If the intent is to keep more honest organizations occupied in perpetual damage control over messaging, then it’s an effective tactic.

This is how the article wraps up:

“Clearly, there is a great deal of frustration with litigation,” University of Montana political science professor Rob Saldin said. “Tester clearly misstated the situation, but I do not feel we’re at a place where this frustration is unwarranted. Some are saying litigation is holding things up, and others say the courts are the only thing we have to prevent catastrophe on our national forests. I think we really need to have this dialogue and we need more accurate figures and information. That’s the only way we can get a better assessment if we’ve blown things out of proportion or there’s real merit there.”

Sure, let’s have a dialogue. It should start off with the people who made “misstatements” apologizing for poisoning the dialogue with lies. Anything less signals this farce will continue, abetted by the servility of our local media.

by William Skink

I wanted to do a follow up to the last post, Jon Tester’s Big Lie, because based on one commenter (Dan) I’m getting the feeling there is some reluctance to acknowledge just how blatantly obvious Tester’s lie was, not to mention the subsequent damage control, which wasn’t much better. That is why Jon Tester earned himself a 4 Pinocchio rating on the lie spectrum from Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post. From the link:

Logging on federal lands is an important part of Montana’s economy, with the Forest Service having the complex role of seeking to keep the forests healthy while also keeping the state’s mills running. Meanwhile, environment groups in the region are active in making sure the agency does not violate key laws, such as the Endangered Species Act.

Thus, there is an inherent tension. Even so, in 2014, the Forest Service’s Northern Region which includes Montana, met its timber harvest goal for the first time in over 14 years. The region harvested 280 million board feet — enough to build nearly 10,000 homes.

The Forest Service also recognizes the important role of environmental groups who challenge some of its decisions. “Things should be litigated that need to be litigated,” said Heather Noel, a Forest Service spokeswoman. “If there is something the Forest Service has missed, it is very healthy. We absolutely should be tested on that.”

But, despite Tester’s protestations, there is relatively little litigation involving timber sales — and even when there is, it generally does not halt logging operations.

First of all, let’s examine Tester’s claim about every logging sale. According to Tom Martin, a Forest Service deputy director for renewable resource management, there are 97 timber sales under contract in Montana’s national forests. Of that number, just 14 have active litigation, so about 14 percent. But only four of the sales are enjoined by a court from any logging.

These four sales are the Miller West Fisher timber sale in Kootenai National Forest, two Glacier Loon sales (Swan Flats Stewardship and Lunar Kraft Stewardship) in Flathead National Forest and Meadow Creek in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. We might question the inclusion of Meadow Creek on this list because Forest Service records show the agency itself pulled the decision without explanation. In the Flathead case, the Forest Service choose to appeal rather than accept a court decision ruling against it, thus extending the delays itself.

In any case, even if one accepts the Forest Service’s definition of enjoined sales, just 4 percent of the timber sales cannot be logged because of litigation.

This is very specific information that I doubt even the most ardent supporters of our senior senator can deny. He lied. And then he dug deeper. Here’s more from Kessler:

Meanwhile, there are problems with Tester’s revised statement. In that case, he tried to change the subject by changing the metrics. “What we gave was volume of sales,” acknowledged David Smith, another Forest Service spokesman. “That’s quite different from number of sales litigated.”

But it turns out that the volume of sales under litigation (69.4 million board feet) was being measured against annual timber volume (145.3 million board feet). That is apples and oranges, since “very little of this 69.4 million has been cut this year,” Noel acknowledged.

Moreover, “under litigation” is a rather expansive term because it includes projects which are still being logged even as disputes are settled in courts. (The Forest Service also sometimes counts as “under litigation” areas which are not under contract or where an environmental group simply has said it intends to sue.)

The Forest Service ultimately provided a figure of 271.3 million board feet that is under contract in Montana, as of Dec. 31, 2014. Given that many of the projects being litigated are being logged, it is unclear how much has been cut already. So the only reliable figure we can use is the projected volume of the four projects that are enjoined from any logging: Miller West Fisher (15.4 million board feet), Swan Flats (6), Lunar Kraft (4.3) and Meadow Creek (2).

That adds up to 27.7 million board feet, or about 10 percent of board feet remaining under contract. That’s a far cry from “nearly half.”

We should also note that of Montana’s nine national forests, only three have projects under contract that have been halted by litigation.

Politicians lie. The joke is you can tell when they lie because their lips are moving. But this is more than just a lie. It’s a purposeful escalation against people Tester has labeled extremists, the same provocative term John Boehner used after Obama vetoed the Keystone piepeline. Why is that important? Because it actually endangers people’s lives, as this tweet from John S. Adams indicates:

John S. Adams @TribLowdown:

@HelenaVigilante I’ve interviewed people who were physically threatened w/ violence & had their home shot at over forest policy issues.

It’s sad, thinking back to 2006, the hope that many of us had when we cast votes for Tester. Now my hope is that a reckoning will come in 2018. Tester isn’t just a proven liar–he’s a reckless politician willfully misrepresenting an issue that some people are willing to commit crimes over. And litigation, when it works, only works because the courts determine that laws are being broken.

If low-information wing-nuts think litigation has stopped ALL timber sales, then who knows what some unhinged, gun-toting actual extremist will do to the people they identify as being responsible for something that was never true to begin with.

Jon Tester should apologize directly. So far the damage control has been no better than the lie itself. Montanans deserve better.

It would also be nice to hear something from Tester’s supporters, the ones who would be expressing their outrage if this was a Republican lying so blatantly about an issue so many people feel very strongly about.

by lizard

I had a request in the comments to write about oil, specifically the new world emerging from the new reality that we will supposedly never see $100 dollar barrels of oil ever again. At least that’s what the Saudis are saying:

Speaking to his favorite money-honey, billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal told Maria Bartiromo that the negative impact of a 50% decline in oil has been wide and deep. As USA Today reports, the prince of the Saudi royal family said that while he disagrees with the government on most aspects, he agreed with their decision on keeping production where it is, adding that “if supply stays where it is, and demand remains weak, you better believe it is gonna go down more. I’m sure we’re never going to see $100 anymore… oil above $100 is artificial. It’s not correct.” On the theory that the US and the Saudis have agreed to keep prices low to pressure Russia, the prince exclaimed, that is “baloney and rubbish,” adding that, “Saudi Arabia and Russia are in bed together here… both being hurt simultaneously.

In Montana, the inevitable next step of boom/bust is knocking on the door. Will our legislators acknowledge the new reality? Ochenski points a cautionary finger at Sweetwater, Texas, in his column on Monday:

One of the major issues being considered by the newly seated Montana Legislature is spending millions of public tax dollars on new infrastructure to meet the demands of the oil and gas boom in the Bakken formation. But as Sweetwater, Texas, just found out, not all the big promises of oil and gas booms come true.

As noted in an Associated Press article titled “City that prepared for oil boom now waits for bust,” Sweetwater, Texas, “envisioned becoming a major player in the hydraulic-fracturing boom, thanks to its location atop the Cline Shale, once estimated to be the nation’s largest underground petroleum formation.” Thus, “expecting a huge influx of oil workers, local leaders spent tens of millions of dollars to improve the courthouse, build a new law-enforcement center and upgrade the hospital. Hotels, truck stops and housing subdivisions were to follow, all catering to truck drivers and roughnecks.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s not by coincidence. That’s the scenario now being faced as “man camps” spring up on the Northern Plains, bringing all the attendant problems caused by a flood of in-migrants seeking high-paying oilfield jobs.

But as noted in the AP article, “those ambitions are fading fast as the plummeting price of oil causes investors to pull back, cutting off the projects that were supposed to pay for a bright new future. Now the town of 11,000 awaits layoffs and budget cuts and defers its dreams.”

Spending a bunch of money on infrastructure amid the collapse of oil prices is increasingly appearing short-sighted and idiotic. Same goes for pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline. Oh, and then there’s derivatives. Ochenski points that out as well:

Second, there is an enormous sum of money currently held in oil derivatives by Wall Street’s largest banks and investment firms. As precious metals expert David Morgan explained in an article in Market Analysis last week, “the amount of debt that is carried by the fracking industry at large is about double what the sub-prime was in the real estate fiasco in 2008. In summary, we’re looking at an explosion in potential that is greater than the sub-prime market of 2008 because, number one, oil and energy are the most important sectors out there. Number two, the derivative exposure is at least double what it was in 2008. Number three, the banking sector is really more fragile … and we have less ability to weather the storm.”

While the Saudis maintain the notion that oil prices are being used as an economic weapon against Russia is baloney, the effect on Russia is undeniable:

Russia’s foreign reserves have dropped to the lowest level since the Lehman crisis and are vanishing at an unsustainable rate as the country struggles to defends the rouble against capital flight.

Central bank data show that a blitz of currency intervention depleted reserves by $26bn in the two weeks to December 26, the fastest pace of erosion since the crisis in Ukraine erupted early last year.

Credit defaults swaps (CDS) measuring bankruptcy risk for Russia spiked violently on Tuesday, surging by 100 basis points to 630, before falling back slightly.

Markit says this implies a 32pc expectation of a sovereign default over the next five years, the highest since Western sanctions and crumbling oil prices combined to cripple the Russian economy.

Total reserves have fallen from $511bn to $388bn in a year. The Kremlin has already committed a third of what remains to bolster the domestic economy in 2015, greatly reducing the amount that can be used to defend the rouble.

While Americans are enjoying cheap gas prices at the pump, and the extra dollars will probably act as a sort of stimulus for increased consumer spending (unless consumers behave crazily and spend down debt instead), the overall impact will be destabilizing, especially if falling oil prices trigger another economic crash, which is looking more than plausible.

But so far Montana legislators, and the Governor, don’t seem too worried:

Montana legislators will debate over the next three months how and where to spend money from the state budget. Neither party has expressed outward concern over plummeting oil prices, nor have they pulled away from plans to invest an estimated $45 million in eastern Montana communities that serve the Bakken.

Gov. Steve Bullock said that while oil prices are volatile, production is likely to continue into the future. Of the state’s $2.5 billion budget, he told the Missoulian, the $121 million generated by oil and gas taxes was relatively small.

“We shouldn’t be setting state policy based on the fact that oil prices have dipped a little,” Bullock said. “But for those who say we don’t need $300 million in the bank, some of them are the same ones who are saying state revenues are going to be short because of oil prices. If that ends up being true, then we really do need $300 million for our rainy day fund.”

From that same article, though, the writing is on the wall:

For companies to continue drilling, the math often comes down to the break-even price, or what it costs to extract and ship the oil. Depending on the company, the price point for oil in the U.S. ranges from $38 to $77 a barrel, Seidenschwarz said.

The price on Friday was roughly $49 a barrel. Because of a pipeline shortage, the New York Times reported, Bakken shale producers are selling crude for roughly $34 a barrel.

What’s more, Seidenschwarz said, a lot of recent high-yield bonds were issued by the nation’s oil companies to finance the acquisition and expansion of projects.

“We’ve already seen a pull-back on bond prices out of concern over producers’ ability to meet their debt obligations,” he said. “That could be further exacerbated by a prolonged downturn in energy prices.”

Oil prices could be one of the biggest stories of 2015. Stay tuned…

By CFS

Since the Republicans showed their true communist colors and adopted the slogan “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” with the passage of SB 423 ridding the fledgling medical marijuana industry of the profit motive patients will inevitably suffer and the black market will invariably fill the void left by the current caregiver system.

I wonder what the Republicans think all these MMJ growers will do once they become outlawed… Sell their equipment on craigslist? More likely, these growers that have sunk thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of dollars into their business will continue to grow for the black market where they can actually make money… Tax free at that. These people are small business entrepreneurs after all, and they just need government to get out of their way.

Anyway, there is a great Slate feature that I suggest anyone interested in this issues should read. The article is written by a woman whose son suffers from a severe form of autism and the only thing that she has found that helps her child is marijuana. There are four parts to the series spanning a two year period of her family’s struggle with the disorder and how, through the use of medical marijuana, they have been able to live a more normal and happy life.

by Pete Talbot

This is insider stuff.  About three weeks ago 4&20 notched one million hits.

I was hoping jhwygirl or maybe even founding father Jay Stevens would announce this and also add some pithy commentary. Didn’t happen, though, so I guess it’s up to me.

First, I’m not sure what a hit is versus a visit versus a ‘unique visit’ and I don’t really care.  Our traffic is nothing compared to Huffington Post, Daily Kos or most of your celebrity websites, but one million seems like a lot to me.

Here’s some history — corrections appreciated.  4&20 was started by the legendary Jay Stevens in February, 2006, as a progressive political blog (and vehicle to help get Jon Tester elected to the U.S. Senate).  Jay also mixed in some arts and culture and observations.  He held the position of chief contributor and site administrator until around April, 2007, when he was invited by Matt Singer to join Left in The West.

Jhwygirl took over as the main contributor and site administrator, although Jay continued to post from time-to-time.

I joined in June, 2007, followed by Rebecca Schmitz and, I think this order is correct: Jamee, problembear, JC, carfreestupidity, Duganz and Lizard.  Rebecca retired and Jamee moved on except for the occasional post.  Everyone else is still going strong.

Other occasional contributors included Jason Wiener, Matt Singer (particularly when his site crashed) and Ross Keogh (hey Ross, what’s happening with Mountain Water?).

Here are some stats: As of 2011, we’re averaging about 850 hits a day.  Our top day was 3,885 visits on March 5, 2009, the day of the natural gas explosion that leveled several Bozeman buildings and killed a woman.  We’ve logged 3,107 posts, 28,887 comments and 78,930 spam comments (most of them, thankfully, caught by the filter). Lately, most of our referrals have come from MT Cowgirl, followed by Wulfgar!, Left in The West and Intelligent Discontent, although this ebbs and flows weekly.

It’s been a great ride and I’ve learned a lot.  The current crew of contributors got together a couple of weeks ago for some celebratory beverages. I hadn’t even met most of them.  We all have different styles (we can’t even agree on a headline format) and different issues.  It’s what makes this site, well, different.

They are a well-spoken, out-spoken bunch of guys (jhwygirl couldn’t make it) and passionate about what they do and what they write.  I like ’em.  They want what’s best for our community, state, nation and world.

All that being said, I’m taking the hiatus I promised I would when we hit 1,000,000.  I have an addictive personality and I’m finding myself obsessed with this and other blogs.  I’m also a pitifully slow writer.  So, it’s time to take a break from the keyboard and deal with all the day-to-day responsibilities I prefer to avoid.  If I don’t, I’m afraid there will be an intervention in my future.

I know that the other very qualified contributors will pick up the slack.  I imagine I’ll be back, too, when some issue which I can’t ignore rears its ugly head.

Finally, blog traffic seems to have slowed at the Montana sites I’ve visited lately.  Blame it on the close of the 2011 legislature (which provided much fodder) or perhaps it’s this sort of spring-like weather.  It could also be the flame wars, between progressives, so apparent on these Montana sites.  I’d like to see less of that and more focus on the skanks in state and national politics who are selling your average Joe and Josephine down the tubes. Denny Rehberg immediately comes to mind.

4&20 is an ever-evolving site.  Thank you contributors, commenters and gentle readers for helping us reach one million.

by Pete Talbot

(Jhwygirl beat me to the draw, as usual, but here’s my perspective on some of her Various & Sundry observations, plus some other stuff.  Also, I changed my original Denny Rehberg headline (a strike through wouldn’t cut it) because it lacked class.  And while I have no respect for the man, I still have some for the office.)

Disingenuous Denny

I had forgotten that Rep. Denny Rehberg was going to be the speaker at Missoula’s City Club luncheon on Thursday.  I didn’t miss much, though, according to the Missoulian.  The same old: lower taxes, cut programs, reduce regulation.  Then there was this gem:

He also claimed that family planning services were losing billions of dollars by duplication between Medicaid and Title X services.

Missoula Planned Parenthood volunteer coordinator Tannis Hargrove, who asked about the family planning spending, disputed Rehberg’s duplication claim. She said Title X services were not available to Montanans eligible for Medicaid, and that Medicaid eligibility was too strict to allow that kind of double-dipping.

Rehberg also said it was the fault of the federal government that the housing market collapsed, leading to the Great Recession.  It had nothing to do with the credit default swaps of JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Goldman-Sachs, etc.  Thank God those markets aren’t better regulated.

And you can blame those pesky regulations for your $4-a-gallon gas.  That’s what’s keeping the petroleum industry from modernizing its gasoline infrastructure, which is keeping consumer gas prices high, says Denny.  I guess it’s hard to invest in new infrastructure when your first quarter profits are only $10.7 billion.

The rest of the Rehberg story is here.  Read it and weep.  KECI also has a story but I’m boycotting NBC because of that stupid Celebrity Apprentice show, which leads me to …

Rob Trump, Donald Natelson?

I like things easy and Rob Natelson makes finding a topic to post so easy.  This time, he’s picking up where The Donald left off. Couched in some historical nonsense about the English monarchy, Rob’s worried that a U.S. President could hand our country over to some foreign power.  I’m pretty sure he’s targeting Obama and the President’s penchant for all things Kenyan.  I’m surprised he didn’t raise this issue about Reagan’s Mexican proclivities.  He should also be worried about Gov. Schwarzenegger selling California to Austria.  There are just too many examples to cite. Be afraid, be very afraid.

“Extremely far-right extremists”

That’s a quote from former Sanders County Republican Chairman Mike Hashisaki.  But it looks like it’s the extremists who are running things now that state party chairman Will Deschamps says the new Sanders County Republican Central Committee will be certified at the Montana GOP convention in June.  How far to the right is the new committee?  Well, Denny Rehberg is a socialist.  According to the Missoulian:

The convention then chose Katy French of Paradise chairwoman. Her husband Mark, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg for the Republican nomination to Congress in 2010 – charging that Rehberg had backed “irresponsible, unconstitutional and socialist issues” – was elected state committeeman.

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

I guess the 62nd Montana Legislature could have been worse, but not much.  One of the major disappointments for me — the failure to pass a bonding bill that would have paid for a new UM College of Technology building, among other buildings around the state.  It would have pumped $29 million into the Missoula economy, and would be an investment in Montana’s future by educating and training Montanans.  There was plenty of other bad stuff, too, some of it yet to reach the governor’s desk.  The Associated Press has a round-up.

by Pete Talbot

At first glance, maybe this was something I should have attended. The Helena Independent Record headline read: Insight offered to bloggers.  Gosh, I thought, I wonder why I didn’t hear about this earlier.

Then some of the names in the story caught my eye: Aaron Flint of the Flint Report, Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute, Montana Watchdog, the Franklin Center — all pretty much mouthpieces for right wing and Libertarian causes.

Flint, for example, has a radio show on the Northern Ag Network, a conservative station out of Billings.  He has the Flint Report website, too, that carries headlines like: Tester Profits Off Credit Card Companies and Bullock Gets Testy Over Otter Creek.

The Montana Policy Institute out of Bozeman is a Libertarian think tank that refuses to reveal it’s funding sources.  Perhaps you’ve seen MPI President Carl Graham’s guest columns in your local paper on the wonders of a free market economy.  MPI just finished hosting a “Health Care Freedom Panel” with keynote speaker and MPI Senior Fellow Rob Natelson.

There’s Montana Watchdog, another website, that is sponsored by the Montana Policy Institute and presents itself as a news organization with Front Page links to, well, Natelson’s “Health Care Freedom Panel.”

The Franklin Center, based in North Dakota and Virginia (now there’s a strange pairing) bills itself as an organization dedicated to investigative reporting.  The group’s founder and president, Jason Stverak, is the former executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party.

Here’s a line from the end of the IR story:

Also among them was Big Sky Tea Party Association board member Roger Nummerdor, who thinks it might be time to start doing some blogging.

This all happened last Saturday at the Red Lion Colonial Inn in Helena.

And these guys are joined at the hip.  I don’t begrudge some dudes holding a workshop, spreading the righteous word, maybe having a few beers, chewing the fat.  It’s just that they’re so sneaky about it.  You seldom see them flaunting their right-wing credentials.

Heck, they even fooled the IR reporter, who didn’t mention a thing in her story about these guys’ background.  I’m hoping she was fooled, anyway, because if she knew and didn’t mention it, that’s piss-poor reporting.

By CFS

In all this ongoing back and forth between the liberal/progressive/Democrat blogs of Montana (the Great Flame War of 2011) one point that is yet to be made is the differing approach that the two parties seem to deal with internal dissent.  One party gives the impression of eagerly embracing the mutiny… while the other is trying to quickly stomp out the fire before it can spread.

What started as a grassroots movement from outside the ramparts of a party historically known for it’s discipline in pulling it’s member into line on issues; the Tea People’s anger, enthusiasm, and naivety was quickly capitalized upon by the Republican establishment and old guard power base.  Organizations that, at first ad-hoc groups meeting at coffee shops bitching about how the Republicans had betrayed their ideals, were quickly provided with organizational support, funds, and training from long-time Republican political operatives.  Nation-wide organizations were built by the likes of Dick Army and elected Republicans such as Michele Bachmann embraced the mass of angry white people produced by a steady diet of Fox News.

Now that the Tea People are well ensconced in the warm and loving embrace of the GOP guess what happens whenever the Tea People get all uppity?  Thats right… Boehner quickly folds and make overtures to please his new far right base.

Contrast this with the current approach that the mainline Democrats seem to want to take when dealing the more progressive/liberal/whatever side of the party…

This attitude comes straight from the top as Obama and his press secretary have said more than once that they are tired of the criticism coming from the left.  Other Democrats have used this type of language, calling liberals “extremists.”

 The same attitude has been on display recently on various Montana progressive blogs.  Pogie actually did a great job of getting to the issue and fostering a discussion around the role of dissension within a political party in shaping policy and strategy.  Others however have been eager to follow the STFU guidelines.  From LITW:

Here’s the dealio.  Democrats still have value.  I like Jon Tester, even more for taking action on wolf control dictated by the judiciary.  Don’t like that?  Tough shit.  Leave.  I like Barrack Obama.  I think he called out the Republicans and has played them very well.  Don’t like that?  Tough shit.  Leave.  Seriously.  You don’t like Democrats?  Leave, assholes.

The problem with the STFU/your-either-with-us-or-against-us type attitude is that people really do leave.  People will choose to vote for third party candidate like Nader when they get frustrated enough which then gives us 8 years of THE ADVENTURES OF BUSHIT AND TURD BLOSSOM .

If a party doesn’t listen to internal dissent and respond to the criticism by addressing people’s grievances then people leave.  The Republicants were electorally successful in the last cycle specifically because they embraced the crazy hidden within themselves and physically manifested as the Tea People.

Do we really want to put this at the entrance to the Democratic party?

by jhwygirl

This is Montana, sirs.

It isn’t the reality that you live in, as the Cato Institute notes.

Think about that this morning as you consider the tax package compromise.

…Shadowboxing the apocalypse and wandering the land.

dscn0082

by problembear

last time i lived out here milltown market was finky’s foods and diamond dave tended bar at harold’s club and presided over the local royal order of squid as their grand poo-bah…

the mill was in full swing with champion’s parking lot nearly crammed with every conceivable pickup truck and battleship sedan you could imagine. reagan was in his second term and things were pretty ok for a little forgotten town on the outskirts of missoula….

the hellgate winds are settling down to a mild frosty lash accross the face today as i pull into the gravel parking lot of harold’s club. i notice for sale signs on several rigs parked in front. a soft tail harley with low miles, toyota 4×4 with high miles and lots of hard stops, a pontiac sedan circa late 80’s for 450.00 or best offer…

the mayor of milltown is hunched over his cup of mid-day morning coffee at the bar..”never touch booz ’til 5″ he booms when he sees me come in.         i order a glass of bud and we settle into chairs arrayed around a round table which appears to have been made out of an old sign. it says:

Harold’s Club

we cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you.

downtown Milltown MT

walter (not real name) is retired at 66 years old but he appears to look much younger. married to shirley (also not her real name) she is talking with the bartender while we conduct the press conference as they call it. Walter has a lot more color left in his greying beard than mine. he is a busy man so we get right to it:

  • Q. what do you think of the new president so far?   
  • A. dunno, wait and see what happens, i guess. i voted for mccain but shirley voted for obama. he’s ok so far.
  • Q. your office is by proclamation rather than by vote i gather?
  • A. every so often somebody gets the title of mayor of milltown. don’t really know how it happens.
  • Q. do you realize that mayor john engen is extremely jealous of your position as mayor of milltown?
  • A. laughs. i’ve heard that.
  • Q. seriously, how is the economy going for milltown?
  • A. bad. but we’re kind of used to bad around here. ever since champion closed down in ’93 it has only gotten worse. but we stack firewood. freeze game and berries, help each other out. we get by somehow.
  • Q. what do you feel about obama’s chances to turn things around?
  • A. don’t put much stock in politicians myself. look. i was a cat-skinner for a road construction outfit in juneau alaska back in the sixties. i was right near the bay the day the tidal wave hit after the eathquake. it feels like that. i was sitting in a crummy waiting for the other guys to park their rigs when i looked down and saw the water recede a couple of feet from the shoreline in just a couple of seconds time. i remember saying uh-oh…we started that crummy and drove up that mountainside so fast we broke some springs…watched the wave just wash all our bull-dozers and buckets out to sea. it was something to watch. that is what it looks like to me right now. kind of hopeful but the water just receded a little so waiting for the other shoe to drop.
  • Q. so lots more unemployment in store for montana?
  • A. kids around here have the survival skills of their parents so we’ll get by but yeah- hell yes. it is going to shock people when they see how many jobs we’re going to lose in the next several months.
  • Q. how are your kids doing?
  • A. Eric is married to a great woman who has a good job at the university with benefits and eric’s job at albertsons looks ok for now. David is a welder. divorced with two kids to support so he is getting worried. i suppose all the kids are on edge right now, though.

at mention of the kids shirley sidles up to the table. her eyes twinkle at the mention of the grandkids. she shows me photos.

  • Q. when did you move here to milltown?
  • A. right after the alaska earthquake. met shirley in ’66 while i was bumming around the woods catskinning. we met at a dance right here in Harold’s Club. used to have really nice bands here. she made an honest man out of me so i settled down and the mill hired me on and worked there for 32 years. retired in 96.
  • Q. how did they treat you?
  • A. champion was ok but stimson sure stuck it to us every way and in every opening they could find…then they left a mess here…
  • Q. any hope for some new beginnings here with the cleanup and the dam removal?
  • A. at first, i was against the dam removal but shirley eventually talked me into the good sides. the boys are excited about the whitewater park the state is building so yeah, i guess so. sure. it’s good to see folks save our bridge between west riverside and milltown. there used to be talk about a huge shopping center and lots of new houses which i wasn’t too crazy about. in some ways the economy might just slow things down enough to let us have something nice here.
  • Q. there is a special meeting this week called a roundtable put on by the Bonner/Milltown Community Council at Bonner school Wednesday night at 7:00pm. are you going?
  • A. sure we always go to local stuff if for nothing else but to get a chance to BS with the neighbors and catch up on the gossip.
  • Q how do you feel about the council’s job so far?
  • A. i think there have been some missteps for sure like not allowing the public to speak last spring but that is ironed out so i guess they are doing the best they can.
  • Q. well walter i sense that you need to get back to your shop welding that part on your snowplow blade so just one last question; are you hopeful about america’s future.
  • A. hell, yes.

 dscn0084

empty parking lot of the bonner-stimson mill closed down permanently last may… 

dscn0020

by problembear

during  the current economic collapse there will be a few winners, some survivors  and a passel of losers. who will survive? and why? what makes some businesses more successful than others?

if you get an extra good feeling about entering a grocery store in missoula chances are that store is Orange Street Food Farm. stand in line with your loaf of Le Petit Outre Champaigne bread and your gallon of 1% milk and a six pack of Moose Drool and chances are there are many people who know you. the conversation is flowing at every check stand while folks exchange greetings and catch up with each other. the employees are relaxed and friendly, the musak is usually upbeat motown or high energy oldies. the produce is fresh, the beer is well stocked, even the meat department has approached Rosauer like quality at much better prices in the past couple of years. it just feels good to shop there. what is your favorite business in your town and why do you think it will survive? or do you? if so, why? if not-why not?

by Jamee Greer

This nifty little map from the NY Times shows how Montana experienced one of the farthest shifts to the left between the 2004 election and yesterday.

Thanks to Audra for the link

by Jamee Greer

Walking back and forth across Higgins Bridge today, I watched the raising of the Wilma’s new sign – a retro throwback that looks great, but sort of reminded me of something. Joe Nickel points out exactly what that something is on his blog, nickellbag.

Customers waiting in line ahead of me at Posh Chocolat were pleased with the sign’s design, but not the scrolling electronic reader board that came with it!

Speaking of Posh Chocolat, look for changes soon as they expand their menu and remodel their space.

by Jamee Greer

Recent UM grad, and pal of mine, K’Lynn Sloan is rockin’ MTV as a Choose or Loose Citizen Journalist this election year — featuring reports on the political scene here in the MT.

Check out her videos, and read her blog. www.streetteam08.com




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