Intelligent Discontent

Archive - November 2010

Baucus Lays the Smack Down on Rehberg

It’s becoming quite clear that Denny Rehberg, concerned that having named a few post offices might not be enough of a resume for a Senatorial bid, is determined to ride his newfound opposition to earmarks as long a compliant media and complacent public let him get away with it. Following his most recent effort to get in the news for having done nothing, a letter to Senators Tester and Baucus, Senator Baucus responded (headings mine):

But Didn’t You Support Earmarks?

So-called earmarks have been responsible for vital projects to bring jobs, infrastructure and resources to Montana, including the following, which you sponsored or supported:

  • * The Montana State University Animal BioScience Facility;
  • MT Secondary Highway 323 from Ekalaka to Alzada;
  • The Fort Peck-Dry Prairie Rural Water System; and
  • The Rocky Boy’s North Central Montana Regional Water System

And You’re a Dishonest, Cynical Opportunist

As you said once yourself, “Earmarks are not the problem. They direct money that already exists within the program to a particular area, because who knows their district more than we do? That’s our opportunity to make our argument to our colleagues. It doesn’t add to the budget.” (Great Falls Tribune, December 28, 2009)

An honest discussion about our mutual concern over the federal deficit must bear in mind that, as the New York Times recently reported (November 17, 2010), only 0.3 percent of the government’s budget comes from earmarks.

How About Doing Some Real Work?

I urge you to join me in this effort to avoid the distractions of political stunts and find real solutions to bring good-paying jobs to Montana and get our economy moving again.

How about it, media? How about asking Representative Rehberg where the real cuts will have to come to pay for the extension of tax cuts for millionaires? If earmarks vanished tomorrow, it will not only have no impact on the deficit, but it will also do real damage to sparsely-populated states like Montana, the people Rehberg was elected to represent.

Tester’s Looking Good Early

Via Matt Singer, some good news for Senator Tester from Public Policy Polling headed into his re-election campaign: despite the strong Republican trend in Montana, he’s still seen quite favorably by Montana voters:

Tester posts a 50-40 job performance mark, putting him in the top ten among the senators PPP has measured this year. That is particularly impressive, considering that Republicans outnumber Democrats by nine points in this sample, and even independents are more prevalent.

In a hypothetical matchup with Denny Rehberg, Tester is close, at 46-48, and he has a lead over Steve Daines at 48-37.

Daines supporters will probably try to spin this as positive news, but I find it hard to believe that Montana voters will come to like Daines more as they learn more about him, no matter how many campaign laws he breaks in the process of becoming acquainted with them.

Senator Tester’s going to face a tough challenge in 2012 and he’s occasionally disappointed some of us on the left, but it’s encouraging that he seems largely to have escaped the displeasure directed at Senator Baucus by maintaining pretty close adherence to the values that got him elected in the first place.

As a side note, the continuing popularity of Marc Racicot has to be encouraging for Governor Schweitzer’s future aspirations, given that Schweitzer has actually been an effective leader of the state.

More Truthiness from Dave Lewis

While Republicans cry about Governor Schweitzer bullying them, I think more Democrats need to learn the value of calling them out on their nonsense and lies.

Senator Dave Lewis, last week:

Lewis said he is considering capping state employees’ salaries at twice the average Montana family’s income, which he estimated is about $40,000 per family. So he would cap employees’ pay at $80,000
“When I retired 10 years ago, I never made over $55,000,” Lewis said. “Management salaries have doubled over 10 years. I think that’s way more than taxpayers can afford.”

Governor Schweitzer, yesterday:

When a reporter Monday asked Schweitzer about the proposal, the Democratic governor had ready a PowerPoint slide that showed Lewis’ “actual salaries” of $70,000 and $75,000 in 1992 and 1999, and that the latter salary adjusted for inflation would be nearly $109,000 in 2010.

Maybe Senator Lewis should stick to plans to urge withdrawal from the UN.

Liberals and Their Sex Ed Agenda Strike Again!

Malaysia (well-known land of licentiousness and liberal values) is going to be teaching its students sex ed to reduce unwanted pregnancy:

"This course is not to sensationalise sex or promote promiscuity. The classes starting in January 2011 will give students information on what they are going through in terms of puberty and adolescence so that they don’t end up getting pregnant or becoming promiscuous," he told AFP.

"We must fight this problem of unwanted pregnancies, baby dumping, among teenagers and promiscuity," Wee said.

"This can only be done through education, by giving boys and  girls enough information so they can make the right decision," he added.

One certainly hopes that some of the protesters from Helena can make the trip to protect Malaysian children from science and health facts.

Facts in Five: Links

  1. Interested in how the 2012 Senate races look today? Public Policy Polling has the early numbers for 18 races, though unfortunately, Senator Tester isn’t listed.
  2. Steve Daines is at it again: breaking the law before announcing his candidacy one more time. I guess it makes sense: it’s one way to distinguish himself for the seat Republicans regard as Senator Burns’ seat.
  3. What makes a slur and why can’t we neutralize their impact?
  4. Krayton Kerns thinks he should be the Speaker of the Montana House. I honestly think nothing could be better for Democratic prospects in Montana.
  5. A visual representation of the vanishing middle class in the United States shows just how hollow the claims of class warfare by Republicans are.

Senator Barkus and the Amazing Technicolor Plea Agreement

It’s hard to know what’s most offensive about the plea agreement reached between Senator Greg Barkus and Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan—the transparently political decision to delay its announcement until after the election or the scandalously generous terms afforded someone who put someone in a coma.

Politically, it’s perfectly clear that this plea agreement and delayed original trial were done to benefit Representative Rehberg, who might have had to answer some uncomfortable questions at trial.

More importantly, one has to wonder how long Montana can continue to be the laughingstock of the nation when it comes to enforcing laws about drunk driving. Despite facing 30 years of prison time and $70,000 in fines, Barkus:

  • will not face any jail time.
  • will only be asked to pay restitution of $4,000, which one can only assume is a tiny fraction of the costs incurred by Flathead County during its extensive year of work on the case.
  • will have his record expunged, if he manages not to commit another felony in the next 18 months.
  • is only subject to a deferred sentence, during which he will be under UNSUPERVISED probation.

There’s no excuse for this kind of “justice.” The Flathead County Attorney is either endorsing the idea that operating a motor vehicle while incredibly intoxicated is largely acceptable or the idea that it’s only acceptable for certain people.

Incredibly disappointing.

Peculiar Timing for a Plea…

It’s hard to imagine that it’s coincidental that Senator Greg Barkus is going to be taking a plea deal six days after the election, isn’t it?

Remind me if I ever decide to get plastered and drive a boat into the shore at night that I should do it in the Flathead.

Time to Retire from Blogging?

It was certainly an interesting choice to take a vacation from blogging the weeks before the past election. Some of the reason for my absence was what has always been a struggle for me, balancing the demands of an incredibly time-consuming job with finding time to write, but over the past few months, there has been something deeper, a sense of exhaustion that goes beyond merely being busy.

Some of what I’m feeling is what Jay described in his departure post from Left in the West: I’m tired of reading through my RSS feed, tired of reading the same six stories in Montana’s papers over three days, and tired of reading anonymous comments.

But there’s something more: I’m tired of the whole cynical game of American politics. While I’m certainly disheartened by the election results last Tuesday, they’re just symptoms of a system that treats political problems as issues to frame for media dissection rather than as real concerns.

The nation is facing deep systemic crises and is past due on making critical choices about budgets, domestic policy, and power projection in an increasingly complex world. No matter what Chris Matthews might imagine, the sound bites offered in the 24-hour news cycle are unlikely to address those problems.  It’s time that both sides move past posturing and sloganeering, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely when the media doesn’t demand more.

So, is this a farwell for me as well?

To be honest, I was planning to shut down rather than continue the slow fade away from this site, but then I did some soul searching this weekend about why I’ve always been interested in politics.  I still believe that, when practice to improve our society rather than score points in the press, the political process can be authentic, can seek answers, and can actually make a difference.

When I read the story that featured a few of my students in the New York Times, it became clearer: what I want to feel again is idealism. Those students have taken the stand they have not for appearance or to score points in the endless partisan debate that makes bad community theater look authentic, but because they care deeply about something. Cynics are fond of tearing down idealists as naïve, and perhaps they are, but couldn’t we use a few more idealists and a lot more ideologues? I’ve always described myself as a cynical idealistic, and it’s time for more of the latter and less of the former. It’s not time for me to quit yet.

So, I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to try to do a better job of highlighting solutions, focusing more on local issues and education. I can’t promise that the snark’s going to go away—we have a legislature that will probably honestly debate UN withdrawal, for God’s sake—but a little more time on what’s right can’t hurt anyone.

We’ll see how it goes.

Matt and Jay, thanks for showing us all how it’s done and what blogs can be. We’re all going to miss your contributions and insights about Montana politics.