Ryan Zinke’s PAC on Stapleton, Rosendale

Special Operations for America, the totally independent Super PAC that was created by Ryan Zinke, led by Ryan Zinke, and still located next to Ryan Zinke, today released these subtle images about the three candidates running for the U.S. House in Montana. I’m no political strategist, but it must be nice to have a (totally independent, uncoordinated) Super PAC right next door that can run negative pieces about political rivals. Mysteriously, Tom Cotton (the other candidate SOFA is pretending to support) didn’t warrant mention on their Facebook page, today—or any other day. Continue Reading →

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Billings: More than Meets the Eye

“I can’t believe you live there.” “Have fun in the Tragic City.” “Billings is just the worst..” These are just a few of the things I have heard from my Western Montana friends since moving to the Magic City in 2010. And I can’t be that mad for them saying such disparaging things, since before Billings became “home” I said similar (and probably more profane) things about this seemingly redneck town (being a Butte Girl and all). Continue Reading →

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Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in Education and the importance of students’ worldview

I recently read and discussed with students two very interesting articles from the Atlantic that I think are strongly related to educational outcomes. The first details a fairly well-known phenomenon – the fact that kids who believe they are bad at math, or more generally that intelligence is inherent and not a product of hard work, tend to fall between peers with similar skills who believe that through hard work they can improve their math and their intelligence generally. The second is also a fairly believable phenomenon – the fact that among underprivileged children, having two parents correlates educational achievement and economic mobility. But the most interesting things about these articles are not in the headlines. The first for me is that it seems that the belief that hard work can really increase academic performance correlates with hard work actually having that effect. Continue Reading →

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A Primer on Ryan Zinke’s Ethical Lapses: Did He Lie to the FEC?


U.S. Republican candidate for the House of Representatives claims to be running for Congress to “restore trust” in government, but how can we trust him? 1. Zinke outed Navy SEAL Team Six after the bin Laden raid
This stands out as the most egregious ethical lapse in Mr. Zinke’s short career in the Montana political spotlight. Desperate to draw attention to himself in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Zinke told multiple members of the Montana media that his former unit, Navy SEAL Team Six, was responsible for the raid. He even told Mike Dennison operational details about the mission, claiming special contacts in the SEAL community. Continue Reading →

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Is Ryan Zinke Still Working for Neil Livingstone?

While it’s unlikely anyone in the media will ask Ryan Zinke why he ran as Neil Livingstone’s running mate in 2012, given Livingstone’s penchant for making claims about waterboarding and prostitution, reporters might want to ask themselves why Zinke and Livingstone are still so closely connected to each other. Last week, after Mr. Zinke’s terribly convincing departure from his personal Super PAC Special Operations for America, the organization named a new chairman, Gary Stubblefield. Interestingly enough, it seems Mr. Stubblefield is doing two jobs, as he is listed as the “Executive Vice President, Risk Management” for Neil Livingstone’s Executive Action, LLC. You might recall that, according to reporting from Tim Murphy at Mother Jones, Executive Action is an incredibly shady company involved in doing work for both the families of dictators and a terrorist organization:
Although he refrains from speaking publicly about his clients, a 2007 lawsuit initiated by GlobalOptions revealed that his new firm represented the daughter of Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov, as well as the family of Viacom mogul Sumner Redstone. Through Executive Action, Livingstone sponsored a panel to boost the MEK, an Iranian dissident group—and alleged cult—that the US considers a terrorist organization. Continue Reading →

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


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


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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