The Billings Gazette and a Broken System of Political Coverage in Montana

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Having spoken to a number of people who worked for the Lee newspapers in Montana, I found myself being a little less critical of their coverage and a bit more charitable, because reporters talked about staffing shortages and stretched news budgets. I tried to see it from the point of view of reporters who were stretched to the limit. And then I read nonsense like this.  It’s not that Lee reporters lack the resources to cover important political news; it seems to be they have no idea what really matters. Today, the Billings Gazette and reporter Tom Lutey reminded me that my charity might not be warranted. One of the four top stories listed on the Gazette web page today is a non-story called “Conservative Group Demands Government Spending Cuts,” a puff piece about the collection of 500 signatures in four months by an Astroturf organization. Continue Reading →

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Rick Hill Thinks Ryan Zinke’s Front Group Should Be Investigated

Well, this is getting interesting. Former Republican candidate for governor Rick Hill is calling for an investigation into the fundraising relationship between Ryan Zinke and his Astroturf Special Operations for America organization. From Mr. Hill’s Facebook page: In a comment, Hill explains his criticism further, echoing my complaint about SOFA. He writes: SOFA is purportedly an independent entity. The problem for me is that it was organized by the candidate and has been used to promote the candidate. Continue Reading →

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The Psychology of Online Comments

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Maria Konnikova at the New Yorker writes about the problem created by anonymous online comments: on one hand, they increase interaction and contributions, but on the other, they encourage rude, hostile behavior. As someone who consumes a fair amount of online news and can’t seem to help but read the comments on stories I know I shouldn’t, I think I have gravitated to the position that anonymity is an overall negative  for online discourse. At my own site, for every time an anonymous commenter posts a fair critique of one of my posts like Pogo’s critique of my focus on Republicans in this post, there are six personal attacks, off-topic rants, and unsupported insinuations. Anonymous (or pseudonymous) comments are generally far worse, but certainly don’t have an exclusive hold on the kind of comments that derail thoughtful discussion of issues. The New Yorker cites research that anonymous commenting tends to generate this kind of hostility, citing the work of John Suler, who researched what he called the “online disinhibition effect.” It makes sense—it’s simply a lot easier to attack people from behind the cover of anonymity or a pseudonym, because there is nothing risked. Continue Reading →

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An Open Records Request for Dee Brown

Charles Johnson reported yesterday that Representative Dee Brown, who has not even listened to the September 12 meeting of the Public Employees’ Retirement Board, is considering asking its members to turn over their text and e-mails because she is worried about “shenanigans going on at this meeting that aren’t open to the public purview.” Depending on what she learns, Brown said she may formally request the emails and texts and would do so on her own, not on behalf of the committee. “I may make a request,” Brown said. “I’m hoping that they would just voluntarily give it to me. I’m not going to go at great personal expense to do it.” I, too, share Ms. Brown’s concern about shenanigans occurring at public meetings and policymaking groups, and I agree that it would be best for those involved to “voluntarily” turn over their personal texts and e-mails from those meetings. To that end, and because as a taxpayer, I pay for Ms. Brown’s laptop during the session, I would like to request all e-mails and text messaged she received during the 2013 Legislative session. Continue Reading →

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Expanded Castle Doctrine Strikes Again and Again

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For a party that claims to represent law and order, the Montana Republican Party has certainly done some real damage to the ability of law enforcement officers to arrest and prosecutors to convict those who kill other people using firearms. As a result of 2009 Legislature’s passage of HB 228, it’s very difficult for prosecutors to convict anyone who asserts “self-defense” as a justification for killing someone else. In the 2009 session, TEA Party legislators like Krayton Kerns carried a bill for Gary Marbut and the NRA which made it much easier to kill without fear of conviction. Back then, Marbut sent out a celebratory e-mail criticizing “the few law enforcement administrators and prosecutors who are so afraid of armed citizens that they lied and claimed end-of-life-on-Earth in opposing HB 228.”

The resulting cases of unprosecuted gun assaults was more than predictable, it was predicted by those who testified against the bill back in 2009. As jhwygirl noted back then, the list of opponents included law enforcement officials and those who protect the rights of those threatened by violence. Those in opposition included:

Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
Montana Association of Chiefs of Police
Montana Police Protective Association
Montana County Attorney’s Association
Montana Sheriff’s and Peace Officers Association
Montana Human Rights Network
The Associated Students of Montana State University
The Associated Students of the University of Montana

Even the typically very conservative Daily Interlake opined that the revised Montana castle doctrine law would make it easier to get away with murder:
As worded now, there is just too much opportunity for manipulation of the law by those who wish to do evil. Continue Reading →

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Montana Political Quick Takes: Zinke Announcement, Rosendale Tin Foil, Empowered Legislature, Road Kill, and More

In a speech so cliché-laden that Peggy Noonan is considering suing, to a crowd almost numbering dozens, Ryan Zinke announced his candidacy for the US House today in Billings. While I couldn’t make it through the riveting video of the event, I’m told that Zinke neither water boarded anyone nor revealed American military secrets at today’s event. I suspect he also failed to mention signing this truly insane pledge back in 2012. I will give Zinke credit for chutzpah, though. It takes a hell of a lot for someone who volunteered as Neil Livingstone’s running mate to talk about restoring trust to government. Continue Reading →

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Champ Edmunds Exhibits Bold Leadership, Takes Shot at Steve Daines

While there may be no more hapless campaign for federal office in 2014 than that of Champ Edmunds, it’s certainly worth discussing his press release today which simultaneously demonstrated the futility of his campaign and a real problem Steve Daines will face from the right wing of his party if he pursues a Senate race. In a PR decision that defies logic, the Edmunds campaign released a press release today entitled “Rep. Champ Edmunds Considers Staying in the U.S. Senate Race.” In it, Edmunds writes:
“Montanans deserve a conservative candidate. I am a true and proven conservative with a legislative record that clearly reflects where I stand now and where I will  stand in the future.”

“When I announced my candidacy to represent Montana in the United States Senate, I said that should Congressman Daines at some point seek this same seat, then I would step aside and become a candidate for Montana’s lone congressional seat.”

“As I listen to folks from around the state react to what has transpired in Washington D.C., I am forced to rethink my previous offer.”
While this bold profile in courage certainly won’t make a difference for Edmunds, the sentiment expressed in the press release does represent a real challenge for Daines. By voting to end the government shutdown after railing against “Obamacare,” Daines put himself in the unenviable position of being wrong twice—once among rational voters who saw through his effort to hold the country hostage and once among the irrational right of his party, who actually believe that pursuing a quixotic struggle against the Affordable Care Act justified threatening or even crashing the global economy. PSC Commissioner (and certified kook) Roger Koopman has already joined in the criticism of Daines, writing:
Alas, these “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” have no true conviction at all — only preferences that wax and wane with the latest political calculation. Continue Reading →

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Over. For Now….

Phew. The partial government shutdown is over and the US is no longer on the brink of default. Once again we have not fallen over a fiscal cliff. This story is becoming a bit redundant… Every September and October, millions of Americans collectively “facepalm” as Congress creates a mockery of an institution. An institution that (in recent years) just can’t manage to accomplish anything. Continue Reading →

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