Showing posts with label Environmentalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Environmentalism. Show all posts

Friday, February 22, 2013

My piece in The American Spectator about bison, national monuments, and Montana

This morning, The American Spectator published a web article with my musings on last fall's sale of the Etchart Ranch to an environmentalist group, a subject I wrote about here at Montana Headlines at the time it first happened.

The good editors were interested in the subject matter, but we were in the middle of a heated election season at the time that was using up all available oxygen.

Now that the voting is over and President Obama is firmly entrenched for another 4 years, there is more room for other subjects. When asked recently about the piece, I offered my opinion that this particular topic is a timeless one, and the editors apparently agreed. My opinions are, as the piece makes clear, colored by my own experiences -- I don't pretend to be an unbiased observer by any means.

Anyway, the reader can be the judge -- here's the link. Enjoy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

My recent piece in The American Conservative

I have mentioned before that The American Conservative is worth reading because it contains elements of an old-fashioned conservatism that one doesn't find anymore in the "mainstream" conservative media outlets. Love it or hate it, it can never be accused of taking any kind of a party line.

I hadn't been on its website for awhile over the holidays, and I had lost track of a review that I had submitted to that magazine last fall. It was only when the check arrived in the mail from The American Conservative that I realized it had been published.

It is a review of Roger Scruton's latest book, How to Think Seriously About the Planet.

Here's the link -- enjoy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

$500,000 in sketchy money greasing a Montana election (no, it's actually Democratic money, and it's in the Senate Race)

I commented several months ago about the silliness that is involved in every Montana campaign season regarding campaign finance regulations and other picky campaign rules. Are other states as filled with the same kind of tedious sniping about who gave what and whose lettering on which signs are the proper size? For the sake of the Republic, I hope not.

This season, there was a major blow for sanity when a judge struck down Montana's laws limiting the contributions that campaigns could receive in this state. I understand that there are a lot of people who think that the problem with campaigns today is that there is too much money and that the answer to this "problem" is to restrict the size of donations and make picky regulations that require full-time professionals to keep up with them. To which I respond: over a four year period Montana's GDP is roughly $150 billion -- is it really unreasonable to spend three or four million dollars over that same period on a campaign that decides who the governor will be? I don't think so. Montanans probably spend more than that in a single month paying their cable TV bills. Is a month's worth of reality TV really just as important as who heads up our state's executive branch? To ask the question is to answer it.

In another post back in July, I had this to say:

Outside organizations have always been able to pour money into races, and this election cycle is no exception...

Furthermore, since outside groups can’t coordinate with the candidate, the candidate has no ability to control the message -- increasingly, the truly greasy things are done by outside groups so the candidate can shrug his shoulders and say “I had nothing to do with it -- in fact, I’m not even allowed to talk to them.” There is always mud slung in campaigns, but when big money is forced into outside groups, the candidates don’t have to take responsibility for any of it.

And indeed, there has been a great illustration of this recently. Rick Hill's gubernatorial campaign accepted a $500,000 donation from the Montana Republican Party during the period of time when a judge had ruled that it was legal to do so. Another judge has subsequently (and inexplicably) prohibited Hill from spending that legal money.

Consider, however:

First, that donation leveled the playing field between Hill and Bullock when it came to money. Hill and Bullock have matched each other practically dollar for dollar when it comes to raising money here in Montana in the ridiculously low amounts required by state law. Bullock has, however, outstripped Hill when it comes to raising out-of-state money. Don't think that this is because Democrats all over the country just happen to know about Bullock and are itching to write him $630 checks right and left. Such things are organized and bundled by professional fundraisers, and the money tends to come from wealthy donors who write similar checks to Democratic candidates all over the country. Big money, in other words.

The $500,000 that Hill received came from similar sources on the Republican side, just in a different way.

Second, note that the money came from Republican Party organizations -- the Montanan Republican Party and ultimately the Republican Governor's Association. Contributions to political party organizations, I would point out, are reportable and the information is available to the public, if you care about such things. I really don't, but Democrats make a big noisy deal about how important it is, so I mention it.

I happen to be old-fashioned on the subject of political parties. As a Burkean, I think political parties play a moderating and mediating role because they have an interest in promoting consensus candidates and issues that can win elections at every level in a state -- and not just in one election cycle, but in the next, and the next... When parties can control the purse strings to a certain extent, more extreme candidates are unlikely to get as much support. As the financial power of political parties has been increasingly hamstrung by election laws, our elections have only gotten uglier and more negative.

Third (and here I reach the main point of this post), note that an identical amount -- $500,000 -- is being spent by a Jon Tester-friendly group on a sleazy campaign tactic: running ads urging voters to choose the guy they style as the "real conservative" in the U.S. Senate race in Montana -- the Libertarian Party candidate. Since every "real conservative" who is persuaded to vote Libertarian is a voter who has been peeled away from Denny Rehberg, the motivation is clear, and the tactic is cynical, to say the least.

Leaving aside the question of whether fringe libertarian candidates in Montana are actually more conservative than mainstream Republicans in Montana (in my experience they are not) "the ad is funded by the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund, a political-action committee financed earlier this year by the League of Conservation Voters, a leading conservation and environmental group backing Tester."

Keep in mind that the Libertarian Party advocates the private ownership of wildlife, the privatization of all public lands, National Parks, etc. Add to that the fact that no-one (especially the Montana press) seems to have really done much "fact-checking" on who this Libertarian guy really is. Is he the kind of person that the folks running these ads would choose to manage Montana's wildlife and public land? Does the "Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund" seriously want public land to be privatized and wildlife to be privately owned? Please. This tactic is completely legal (although we wonder where all of that money is ultimately coming from, given Democratic preaching about "transparency" -- have they released a full list of donors and amounts?)

It is legal, but it is also completely cynical in its approach to our electoral system -- and I would predict that not a few Montanans will view it with disgust.

For the richest irony of all, Sen. Tester doesn't have to take responsibility for this slimy tactic. Not one bit. After all, he's not spending the money, and isn't allowed to coordinate with the group. (Wink, nudge.)

By contrast, the $500,000 that Rick Hill's campaign received from the Montana GOP is money that would be spent on ads ending with the words "I'm Rick Hill, and I approved this message." Would the Tester campaign take out a message urging people to vote for the Libertarian candidate and have Sen. Tester finish it off with "I'm Jon Tester, and I approved this message?" I don't think so.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm sick and tired of ads from groups of unknown origin that tell us to "Call So-and-So and tell him that he's a blithering idiot" -- since the structure of such organizations are built around issue advocacy that make attack ads the way to go. Most candidates would much rather have donations given directly to them to spend as they see fit rather than having "helpful" groups flooding the airwaves, and most big donors would probably rather give their money to a candidate they support rather than to a Super-PAC.

Again, it's all legal, and it should be. People should be able to spend their money however they want, exercising their rights of free speech. But why can't that money go directly to candidates if the donors want it to? Let them spend it, let them take responsibility for the content. That money is going to be spent one way or another in these races -- let's maximize the chances that it will be spent in a way in which candidates will be answering directly for distortions and lies in their own ads.

Rick Hill and the Republican Party are wanting to spend money and take responsibility for the content -- and a hostile judge shut them down. Meanwhile, Jon Tester and the Democrats -- or, excuse me, "independent groups" -- are spending an identical sum on a tactic that subverts a clear and straight-up choice facing Montanans in our U.S. Senate race. I suspect justice will ultimately be served, but it will be thanks to Montana voters siding with Denny Rehberg, and no thanks to certain Montana judges or our state's campaign regulation bureaucracy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Land confiscation by Feds continues in northeastern Montana

I was saddened to read on Aaron Flint’s blog the details behind the sale of 150,000 acres of land of the former Etchart Ranch to the American Prairie Preserve.

The Etchart Ranch has been a Montana institution going back nearly to statehood and was long one of the largest livestock concerns in the state.

The story behind this sale is pretty simple -- the federal government has continued to ratchet down the ability of private ranchers to use the historic public land leases associated with their property. The price of land purchased has always reflected the value of those leases, meaning that deeded land with attached lease land has inflated prices.

Those leases would seem to have been traditionally secure under the Taylor Grazing Act in the 1930’s -- a piece of legislation that is very clear that traditional grazing rights cannot be taken away, nor could non-grazing interests bid against grazers in an attempt to take land out of grazing circulation. Those grazing allotments were required to follow traditional leasing patterns, which generally meant leasing public land that was “attached to” deeded adjacent private land.

This latter was always a source of frustration to environmentalist groups, who wanted to go in and outbid grazers in order to get livestock off public lands. This would have amounted to a confiscation of private property, since the value of the grazing allotments was built into the value of the deeded land. Apparently one of the things that happened to change things on the CMR Wildlife Refuge is that the 9th Circuit Court (i.e. the "9th Circus" based out of San Francisco) removed the CMR from being under the strictures of the Taylor Grazing Act, and placed it under a later act dealing with wildlife refuges.

Public lands ranchers have increasingly been caught between a rock and a hard place, but a “life-line” was thrown to them by the Clinton administration to help ease the pain of the obvious end that was in sight. Permission was given for private conservation groups to pay full market-rate prices for allotments and leases, allowing ranchers to recoup the full value of their investment, and it is this loophole (or a similar one) that the current owners of this particular 150,000 acre spread have taken advantage of. The final piece is that these more recent regulations allow new owners to "retire" grazing allotments and leases.

In the past, this was not allowable, and perhaps in some situations still is not. Traditionally, if an environmentalist was to buy private land with an attached lease or grazing allotments, they couldn't just not use the lease, since their right to the lease or allotment depended on their putting the land to the intended "meaningful use." In other words, a landowner could put his deeded land to whatever use he wanted -- but with regard to attached leases and allotments, it was "use it or lose it." In the hypothetical case of the environmentalist who bought deeded land but didn't use his grazing rights on attached public lands, another neighbor would have the right to bid for that lease since he would be putting it to the intended "meaningful use."

No matter. The handwriting on the wall is clear. The Federal government means to drive ranching off public lands. Ranchers can either take advantage of these opportunities to have conservation groups pay true fair market value -- or they can hold out indefinitely until they lose everything. My own small ranch has no public land leases, but there is quite a bit of Forest Service land in my part of South Dakota on which grazing takes place. These are my neighbors and friends. The rage that must be going through the public-lands ranching community right now is something that I can’t imagine. I know I would find it hard to bear if it were my family heritage on the chopping block.

Be prepared for more of the same. The agenda is ultimately to move working people off their land to make room for buffalo. Out-of-staters can thus have another theme park to visit for one week a year.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Montana Wolf Trap

Update: The Montana FWP Commission approved the new regulations as proposed in a unanimous vote (one member abstained for reasons that weren’t given). They are to be commended for not bowing to pressure from a vocal minority.

One important item that deserves attention is found at the end of the article, where a member of the Montana Trapping Association warned about the importance of proper training and education. As the thoughts below indicate, exempting wolves from trapping on the basis of it being “barbaric” would be harmful to trapping in general in Montana.

At the same time, this is not a place for inexperienced amateurs to decide to give wolf-trapping a whirl. Trapping is a skill and an art that one must be taught. Poor trapping practices on the part of wolf trappers could also harm trapping in Montana, and we don’t need that.

___________________

Where would Montana politics be without a little lupine-driven controversy? According to an article in this week’s Billings Gazette, the proposed guidelines for this year’s wolf season have generated 6500 comments, compared to last year’s 1500. Driving the added interest this year is that trapping has been added to the wolf control arsenal.

In spite of the fact that Montana hunters were unable to reach last year’s quota of 220 wolf kills, and in spite of the fact that Montana’s wolf population has more than doubled in the last 7 years, there are still those who are protesting the hunts as “too extreme.” According to an article some time back in the Billings Gazette, some of those at a public meeting on wolf hunting and trapping believe that all trapping is “inhumane and uncivilized,” while the more recent Gazette article notes that opponents called trapping “cruel and morally wrong." Commenters at the public meeting also protested that Montana wolf trappers would only have to check their traps every 48 hours, whereas government trappers reportedly check theirs at least once a day.

Perhaps they would do well to review state furbearer regulations, in which 48 hours monitoring is the standard for all trapping in Montana -- why would the regulations for trapping wolves be any different from that used for trapping mink or bobcats? Furthermore, government trappers can carry on their business without regard to cost, since they are on salary. Almost certainly, if the protesters would like to pay private Montana trappers to check their traps twice as often as currently required, they would likely be more than happy to oblige. Perhaps those at the meeting would like to start a foundation and contribute their own money?

It goes without saying that trapping seems uncivilized to many in today’s urbanized world, but given that it has probably been practiced in every civilization since the time that word became a concept, we would point out that what is “civilized” is a relative concept, something any good multiculturalist would understand. Some of the same people who consider trapping barbaric probably also consider aborting humans to be a normal part of civilized life, just as it once was during a pre-Christian Roman civilization. One can be quite certain that not too far in the future, there will be civilized folks who look at the tics and spasms of 21st century first world behavior and wonder what on earth we were thinking and doing about this or that.

My father, like others who grew up during the Great Depression, was dirt poor. He loved music and wanted badly to buy a guitar, and there weren't many ways for a kid to earn money. So he trapped skunks, which were in plentiful supply and for which there was a market. It was worth dealing with the smell to trap and skin them, earning two bits a piece for each pelt, as I recall. He finally got enough money together that he could buy a cheap mail-order guitar -- the same one on which I learned to play my first chords, and which still hangs on the wall at the ranch.

While it is now about 35 years ago, I also remember trapping (for me, it was red fox) while a kid to make some spare cash myself, using the money to buy my first shotgun. Trapping was a part of rural life, just as it is for many trappers in Montana today. If there was such a thing as a license, I never heard of anyone ever getting one. Anything we trapped on the high plains was by law a predator or a varmint, so I doubt anyone would have cared.

I met a girl a few years ago who earned spending money by trapping along the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana. At some point, I realized that I was probably one of the few “city-folk” she had met who understood the pride she took in having learned to trap from her father, just as I had learned from mine. I understood the pride she took in her work and in the degree of self-sufficiency she earned from selling the fur. It was only when I spoke of my own youthful trapping days that she started to open up and talk about it, and I saw her face light up as she talked animatedly about her love of tramping through the woods along the river, checking her trap line.

I also realized how long it had been since I myself had talked to someone to whom I could confess my secret past life as a (short-lived and not particularly skilled) amateur trapper, let alone someone who would understand that particular call of the wild (think Swiftwater.) I have no interest in trapping today and frankly I am now citified enough that unlike a 10 or 12 year-old me, I would now probably get a little queasy at the sight of an animal in a trap I had set, but I wouldn’t want to deny the experience or the income to anyone. Certainly I utterly reject the idea that trapping livestock predators is barbaric and unacceptable.

We are unlikely to see wolf supporters offer to pay the expenses of civilian trappers for checking traps daily, and even if they did, such offers would likely end up the same as promises by environmentalist groups to reimburse stockmen for livestock losses due to wolf predation. Those quickly vanished into the thin air of empty promises, as we knew they would once the wolf proponents got what they wanted. Back in the old days, such things were given a much simpler name: lies.

A little honesty would be appreciated on these matters, but we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for it. The agenda is not that the opponents are fine with traps checked every 24 hours but scandalized with those checked every 48. It isn’t that it is fine with them to have 100 wolves harvested but not 200. The point is rather to throw up every possible roadblock to the control of wolf populations. If Montana is able to come up with a hunting and trapping plan that will actually keep wolf numbers down to a reasonable, self-sustaining population level with wolves that are largely restricted to wilderness areas, that would be a terrible blow to what wolf proponents seem actually to want, which is an ever-expanding population of wolves with an ever-expanding range.

Many of us who opposed wolf reintroduction did so not because we had any desire to see wolves go extinct (which given the Alaskan and Canadian populations wasn’t going to happen anyway) but because we knew that regardless of promises, wolf proponents would fight tooth and nail against controlling wolf numbers and against the right of ranchers to protect their livestock and to be made whole for their losses. We have not been wrong.

Wolves have proven themselves to be very resilient and aggressive, which comes as no surprise to the descendants of those who originally spent decades working to eliminate them as threats to their livestock and the civilization that livestock represented. What is becoming clear is that even with hunting seasons set as they were last year, wolf numbers are going to continue to grow rapidly. The numbers of wolves allowed to be harvested is already below what is needed to keep populations static -- hampering hunting and trapping to a degree that quotas can’t be filled will only make the situation worse.

While there are probably ranchers who want wolves completely eradicated from Montana, I haven’t met any. It is, truth to be told, kind of nice to have wolves in our wild places again. What is desirable, however, is for wolf numbers to be kept to a minimum and in wilderness areas. Achieving such goals requires flexibility in hunting and trapping, and this week’s Gazette article notes that Idaho has done a much better job at this than has Montana, although the FWP seems to be making a good faith effort to come up with guidelines that will result in a larger wolf harvest. Aggressive hunting combined with freeing up ranchers to shoot wolves on sight would make it more likely that packs will stay in wilderness areas and that they will associate populated areas with danger. Speaking of aggressive hunting, legalize wolf-hunting with Borzoi or Irish Wolfhounds, anyone?

Those who want ranchers to have the ability to protect their livestock effectively from predation and those who want elk hunting to remain a Montana tradition need to be prepared for this struggle to continue. If wolf populations and the range they cover continue to grow in spite of new hunting and trapping regulations, as we suspect they will, Montana’s wolf quota will need to increase significantly, and regulations will again need to be adjusted to make sure those quotas are met. The FWP is having another meeting Thursday, July 12, so now is the time to make one’s voice heard.

Montanans need to understand that opposition to trapping wolves is at this point just a surrogate for opposing the control of wolf numbers. If the FWP is pressured into dropping the trapping provisions, furthermore, there is no logical reason why all trapping in Montana won’t be on the chopping block next. It’s sort of a wolf trap... trap.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wolves in Russia (Updated)

While the wolf-loving responses in the comments are predictable, it is worth reading a little about the experiences with wolves in Russia. Hint -- there's not the same sentimental love affair with wolves there that environmentalists have here. Wolves eat lots of livestock, have been known to attack humans in rural Russia (something that is said never to have happened in America,) and spread diseases. Who'da thunk it?

While most of us have come to terms with wolf re-introduction, it is more than high time for active control to begin, including a hunting season. It is too bad that those in favor of wolf re-introduction haven't kept their end of the bargain, and have instead chosen to use the courts to stop the active process of de-listing. One wonders how successful they would have been in pushing through re-introduction if they had told us that they wouldn't hold to the recovery benchmarks that they themselves set?

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Update:

Ed Kemmick asks the question about documentation of wolf attacks in Russia. A simple internet search reveals a few links -- consider the source on each. For instance, while this is a very interesting article, the inclusion of attacks by domesticated or confined wolves seems like unhelpful piling on. What does seem clear is that wolves have historically been much more aggressive toward humans in the Old World than here in the New, at least during the time of documented history.

The thesis that the peasantry was unarmed throughout history in the Old World whereas Americans have been armed is a reasonable one, and is a good argument for a hunting season plus expanded ability of ranchers to eliminate predators on sight. The more wolves fear humans, the more they will stay away from us and our food.

There is no quick way to summarize the historical evidence other than to say that when humans are not seen as an active threat to them, wolves can become aggressive, especially if they are hungry. The Wikipedia article and list of documented attacks is pretty extensive and worth reading in its entirety.

I seem to remember reading a modern wolf advocate stating that all of the "big, bad, wolf" stories of Europe were based solely in the fact that man is a competing predator, and therefore wants to demonize and eliminate his competition. The more I read, the more it is clear that the big, bad, wolf of Europe was feared -- at least in part -- because of very real human experience of being its prey.

As our wolf population expands in numbers and range, to scoff at the European and Asian experience with the intermingling of wolves and humans appears to amount to willful ignorance based in ideology.

_________________

Oh, and the Russians have a great, environmentally friendly, all-natural solution to excess wolves...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More on Roy Brown's editorial on Montana water

Montana Misanthrope did a great follow-up today on the editorial posted by gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown on Montana Headlines.

Read it, and follow both the "sinister" comments following the post and the dextrous replies to those comments. The good news is that Congressman Rehberg has weighed in, responding to the governor's support for this expansion of federal power at Montana's expense with words the governor can probably understand: "no, nope, no way, hell no..."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Free market environmentalism

First, a brief excursus on "Uncommon Knowledge," the webcast program with the episode being linked to in this post:

When, at the end of 1999, William F. Buckley used the turn of the millennium as a convenient point at which to retire from the business of doing his weekly television program, "Firing Line," he included Peter Robinson in the group of guests for the final farewell episodes.

He implicitly handed off the conservative television baton to Robinson, who had a couple of years earlier started his own public television interview/debate program, "Uncommon Knowledge." Robinson, who is otherwise best known for having penned Ronald Reagan's famous "tear down this wall" Berlin speech, besides having the problem of not being WFB, had the problem of dealing with a radically different television scene.

Ironically, it was another PBS program led by a conservative moderator, "The McLaughlin Group," that led the way in making life difficult for the Buckley/Robinson style of television. McLaughlin (himself an obviously well-educated guy) was the first television host with a news and opinion program where viewers were treated to the spectacle of pundits talking -- and later shouting -- over each other. It was grand fun at first, but now that everyone is doing it from CNN to FOX, it has gotten rather tiresome -- but there seems to be little room in the crowded television market for a more leisurely program. For that matter, the handwriting had been on the wall for some time, when Buckley's own program was moved from an hour to a half-hour slot for its last decade on the air.

Robinson, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, revived his Hoover-based program a few years ago in a webcast format, and it is now thriving through the additional distribution medium of National Review Online. All of the archives of the program are worth browsing, but a recent interview with T. J. Rodgers called "The Free-Market Case for Green" is particularly good. Rodgers is a Silicone Valley entrepreneur who is a self-described libertarian, and who purchased a solar power company for $50 million that is now worth $5 billion.

What is refreshing about the discussion is that Rodgers adheres to the Milton Friedman school of thought -- that the business of a corporation is making wealth for its shareholders. Period. Like Friedman, he doesn't believe in corporate philanthropy or other do-good things other than as ways to increase the value of the company through public relations.

He got into the solar power business when he was building a new headquarters for his corporation, and had the option of adding solar power to the buildings. He saw that it had a decent return on investment, but that there was much room for development of the technology that would make it even more profitable. There is demand for power that doesn't pollute, and there is money to be made in meeting that demand -- without resorting to government mandates or subsidies (although he does note that the types of cap-and-trade policies promoted by both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain can work within the free-market schema.

In the course of the discussion, Rodgers and Robinson talk about everything from the science of global warming to the politics of carbon emissions to the current state and future of various alternative fuels -- including nuclear power. It is a refreshingly cold-eyed view at the subject in a friendly video format. Have a look.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Always nice to be reminded that bi-coastals see Montana as their wolf park

Five Congressmen from east and left coasts are trying to block removing wolves from the endangered species list.

Naturally, they are all from states where wolves really are endangered, while none of them are from states like ours where they are not.

We are all for wolf re-introduction into the Congressional districts of these 5 good Congressmen: Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.; Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.; Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.; and Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J.

Montana ranchers and hunters would probably even be willing to pay shipping costs -- all we need are destination addresses.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

Image Courtesy of www.old-picture.com

The Teamsters are very cost-efficient: Apparently only 1.7% of Teamsters' Union dues go to things other than collective bargaining -- i.e. political contributions and other political activities.

When a logging truck driver from Kalispell exercised his rights as a non-union member to pay reduced dues, his monthly dues were cut by a whopping 69 cents, from $39 to $38.31. In addition, he was forced to pay a $150 "objector fee."

We're no math whizzes around here, but by our calculations, that means that the poor guy would have to pay monthly union dues for 19 years before he broke even. Yes, that's right -- unless the guy drives truck for an outfit represented by the Teamsters for 20 years, he actually had his dues raised.

He was also told that if he didn't comply, the union would demand that he be fired. One hopes that the brakes on his logging truck don't have unexpected problems.

The ability to unionize is essential to the operation of a free economy, for reasons we have discussed on Montana Headlines before. Furthermore, it is only fair that non-union members be expected to pay their share for collective bargaining from which they benefit.

But workers should also have the right not to pay union dues that will go to political activities they object to.

And it should be pointed out that for the Teamsters' Union, this historically could just as easily have worked in the favor of Democrats, since that union endorsed Nixon, Reagan, and the first President Bush. (Their judgement has gotten poorer in recent years.)

The Montana Stockgrowers Association comes through: The deck had been getting stacked at the Board of Livestock with recent appointments, but once the Montana Stockgrowers and its members had a chance to weigh in, the Board backed off on its original proposal to divide Montana cattle producers through the so-called "split zone" strategy for dealing with brucellosis.

Montana's stockgrowers correctly stuck together, forcing the state to deal with the brucellosis problem head-on, rather than using a divide-and-conquer strategy that left cattle producers in areas around Yellowstone National Park to bear the brunt alone.

The Montana executive branch needs to be working to come up with solutions for how to deal with the reservoir of infection in the Park, which means taking on the feds and advocating for the Montana beef industry.

It is regrettable that the comments from the executive branch about this decision were so lacking in respect for Montana ranchers.

The governor blamed the lobbyist for the Stockgrowers, saying that he had misled the state's ranchers.

Are we to understand that the governor is implying that those country-bumpkin ranchers are just too stupid to be able to think for themselves and aren't bright enough to figure out whether a slick lobbyist is feeding them a line of, well, you know what?

Sounds like some folks in the executive branch need to get out more, and meet some real-life Montana ranchers.

We suspect that Gov. Roy Brown, in his recent journeys through rural Montana, is getting an earful about this subject. We also suspect that he would never have concocted a "split-zone" scheme to begin with, since he would likely have gotten the Stockgrowers Association input before deciding what to do.

Vote by mail: Vote by mail for all Montana elections is coming.

We've been learning of late that the only reason Republicans ask questions regarding potential for voter-fraud in any proposed voting measure is to suppress the vote and disenfranchise voters -- so it is best for Republicans not to discuss voter fraud aspects of vote-by-mail at all. We need just to trust that it will all be OK, and, truth to be told, it probably will be. So why rock the boat by asking questions?

There are other interesting conversations that have happened surrounding this issue, though. For instance, in a recent conversation with a Republican, we overheard it jokingly said that the price of a stamp was a poll tax. Given the price of gas these days, it was definitely a joke. The parties can hand out rolls of stamps with far less expense than driving voters to the polls the old-fashioned way.

The response was that we shouldn't say that too loudly, otherwise we would find proposals that the government pay for the postage, thus raising the cost of the election. No-one need have whispered, since exactly those proposals have been made in various Democratic corners since the most recent election day.

Interestingly, at least one Democrat -- a staffer for Sec. State candidate Linda McCulloch -- is now raising questions about the wisdom of mail-in ballots now that there are indications that that voter turn-out may actually be lower in Native American communities and other traditionally Democratic areas.

Another question that is more interesting is whether vote-by-mail is a ballot that is just as secret as is voting in person. One of the cornerstones of freedom in this country is the secrecy of one's ballot. It is pretty impossible for an individual ballot cast at a polling place (at least in the way it is done in Montana) to be linked to an individual person.

To link a ballot to an individual in mail-in voting would require a criminal act on the part of someone such as a postal worker or an election official, and/or a breakdown in strict procedures. But would it not be far more possible than with voting at polling places? We almost fear to ask the question in public, since behind the question there is probably a desire to disenfranchise someone lurking somewhere in our dark Republican heart. But there the question is, nonetheless.

Is wanting to have ballots secret just as bad as wanting to have them be valid and free of fraud? We'll find out soon enough.

All of the concerns about vote-by-mail need to be addressed. Thus the advice of Oregon's election administrator to take things slow (Oregon took 2 decades to work up gradually to all mail-in elections) is probably good advice.

Going on Safari: We are gratified to learn that the Safari Club International has weighed in on the question of removing the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species List.

Perhaps recent attacks on hunters by grizzly bears helped the Club make its case that the grizzly isn't terribly endangered right now. In any event, the courts have allowed them to participate in the case.

This group of lovers of the great outdoors is a good counter-balance to the lawsuits filed by conservation groups -- which so far have had the field to themselves when it comes to filing lawsuits relating to grizzlies.

The Safari Club is also a conservation group, of course -- you can't hunt game that doesn't exist, after all.

Let's hope that other hunting and sportsman organizations follow suit and help work to delist the decidedly unendangered species of grizzly and wolf.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Serious discussion on renewable energy -- Kennedy-style

Hey, it's Saturday. Let's do this one, for the sake of the.... Well, you'll see in the final scene of this report.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Democratic Congress needs to make up its mind

First, the Democratic Congress passes legislation to try to hold down gas prices -- something that would only encourage motorists to consume more fuel.

Now, they are wanting to mandate high fuel-efficiency cars -- something that will take far more money out of consumers' pockets in order to pay for the technology than they would ever save through a combination of legislated gas prices and legislated fuel efficiency.

Presumably this is to force motorists to consume less fuel.

So, rather than let market forces encourage (but not mandate) lower fuel consumption, they want to use government to force higher fuel efficiency (which doesn't necessarily mean lower absolute fuel consumption rates.)

The question is whether Sens' Baucus and Tester are going to stick with the environmentalists and take our pickups and SUV's away from us -- or let Montanans decide what they want to drive, and not have to cough up an exhorbitant amount of cash for a new vehicle.

Not surprisingly, Sen. Tester is "visiting with experts on both sides of this issue."

And because Sen. Baucus is closer to an election, he is "hearing from constituents on both sides," rather than experts.

No wonder the Democratic Congress has approval ratings even lower than those of the President.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wolfing down

Over in Idaho, meetings are being held to discuss how their state will handle things after wolves are delisted as an endangered species.

Idaho has 673 wolves in 72 packs -- more than half of the region's total. The federal plan had a target of 15 packs. So hunting is going to commence in Idaho (unless some anti-democratic activists take it to court and win.) But how many is enough?

For sheep grower Harry Soulen, one of the advisory group members, that's too many.

"Zero is really good with me," said Soulen, a third-generation rancher from Weiser, while conceding that's unrealistic.

This is of course unrealistic given the current climate, and Montana Headlines is not in favor of endangering any species -- whether that species be wolves or ranchers. The same cannot be said for all interested observers, on either side of the debate.

Before Soulen and other ranchers who want wolves eliminated again are condemned as heartless and ignorant rubes, critics should consider their position from another perspective. Suppose a business owner is in a neighborhood where his building is being broken into on a regular basis, stealing a percentage of his inventory every year. If the police were to ask him how many break-ins he felt were acceptable per year, what would his answer be? If it isn't "zero," then he isn't much of a business owner.

And keep in mind that in this analogy, the business owner can build stronger windows, install burglar alarms, put up a fence around the property, etc. There are, to say the least, difficulties in accomplishing the same in open-range ranching.

But an interesting bit came from the other side, Defenders of Wildlife, who want hunting of wolves to be delayed for a jaw-dropping 5 years after delisting.

The article says that this group "has paid $700,000 since 1987 to ranchers hit by wolf predation."

What isn't mentioned here is that Defenders of Wildlife will stop their program after wolves are delisted, so they really shouldn't be citing those numbers as justification for telling states not to have any wolf hunting at all.

Defenders of Wildlife pays only for kills that can be absolutely confirmed by government officials, and only pays 50% for "probable" wolf kills. What doesn't get counted at all are the animals that simply disappear, and whose carcasses aren't found (given much of the country in question, that isn't going to be unsubstantial.) Also uncounted are the losses that ranchers haven't even bothered to report due to the complex and lengthy process of getting Defenders of Wildlife to pay up.

None of this is to minimize the good intentions of that organization -- but what became clear over time was that their eyes were bigger than their stomachs. Or rather, those intentions were bigger than their pocketbooks. And you can't blame them. Once they had what they wanted (self-sustaining wolf populations) and knew they wouldn't lose it due to the national political climate, their incentive to act like they care about ranchers was gone.

It should also be noted that hunters and outfitters who depend on elk populations are hit even harder than ranchers by wolf reintroduction.

In any event, left to their own plans, all three involved states would reduce wolf numbers substantially, especially in areas where there is active ranching, but won't by any means endanger the species. No-one will be completely happy with the political solutions that are found, but that is probably the definition of a good solution. Or at least as good a solution as one can find.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

Image Courtesy of www.old-picture.com

A COOL idea: Would country of origin labelling (COOL) prevent the kinds of tainted food issues that America has recently experienced? Strictly speaking, no, since any producer can process food poorly or use unsafe additives. The difference is that when one consumes locally produced food, there are recourses -- the more local the source, the more personal and effective the sanctions that can be applied by consumers to food producers and processors.

There are those who blame the tainted food supply from China on an insufficiently gargantuan U.S. army of food inspectors. A much simpler solution is to consume goods produced as locally as possible -- there is no law preventing that, and there is no law preventing local producers from proudly labeling their goods accordingly. If consumers vote with their dollars and preferentially use foods from local sources, a healthier food supply and a healthier local economy results.

There are problems with a top-down COOL program, including cost and hassle factors, so such issues need to be taken into account, but the ups outweigh the downs for everyone -- eventually even the grocers and food processors who are now opposing COOL, since there will be more satisfied consumers.

The death penalty reduces murders: In one of the more interesting developments in the death penalty argument, recent academic research has apparently shown that the death penalty does reduce murders (18 fewer murders as a result of each execution, according to one Emory University study, fewer according to other studies -- but fewer in every study.)

A disturbing outbreak of intellectual honesty has taken place in some corners of the academic world:

"Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it," said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. "The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect."

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. "The results are robust, they don't really go away," he said. "I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) - what am I going to do, hide them?"

Predictable reactions of outrage at this particular inconvenient truth have ensued, some of it personally directed at the academics doing the research. Unlike scientists who proclaim another supposedly inconvenient truth (global warming,) the researchers involved welcome academic debate on the data and its interpretation:

Several authors of the pro-deterrent reports said they welcome criticism in the interests of science, but said their work is being attacked by opponents of capital punishment for their findings, not their flaws.

"Instead of people sitting down and saying 'let's see what the data shows,' it's people sitting down and saying 'let's show this is wrong,'" said Paul Rubin, an economist and co-author of an Emory University study. "Some scientists are out seeking the truth, and some of them have a position they would like to defend."

Montana Headlines has written on a number of occasions that we believe the death penalty is a legitimate and Constitutional means of criminal punishment and deterrent. We also have written regarding our support for legislation doing away with the death penalty in Montana, where it does not seem to be necessary at this time.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed state by state, precisely because crime patterns and local circumstances differ.

One thing is certain, an executed murderer is not going to escape to kill again (as so often happens) -- in that regard, it only makes sense that the death penalty would reduce murder rates, at least to some degree.

Taking the initiative: The process of public initiatives and referendums is an important one that allows citizens of Montana to address issues that our legislature is too timid or ineffective to address. Sec. State Brad Johnson's piece in the Missoulian outlines the changes made this past legislative session, most of which make the process one that will tend to work just fine for issues where there is a true uprising of Montana's citizens -- and make it harder for a single individual with a lot of money to abuse the process.

A referendum should be a rare last-ditch effort that reflects a failure on the part of Montana's legislature to get a job done. And yes, that does happen. Legislatures should, on the other hand, not be afraid to overturn or amend the results of such voter initiatives it the laws are poorly written. Is it politically risky? Yes, but it's also their job.

Legislators study and discuss bills at length, they hear hours of testimony and receive many letters from affected individuals, they make amendments when mistakes and problems are found with a bill, fine-tuning it. There is no such opportunity with initiatives, making them sources of what can be crudely-written laws with unpleasant unintended consequences. Measures get on the ballot as a result of signatures that are gathered with literally a few seconds of personal contact with voters, and most voters can't be fully informed about all of the implications of all of the measures on a ballot.

All in all, Sec. State Johnson, AG McGrath and the legislature are to be commended for the changes they have made -- and they shouldn't be afraid to tighten procedures even more. Those who are worried that these changes interfere with the democratic process or with free speech shouldn't be -- if a given measure doesn't make it on the ballot but is a good idea -- well, that's what we elect legislators for. If an overwhelming majority of Montanans want a change in the law, it is going to happen, one way or another -- sometimes through a ballot initiative.

Predatory ways: A lengthy article in the Missoula Independent talks about the work of a valuable agency, Wildlife Services. The main job of this agency is to eliminate predators that adversely affect domestic livestock production. The article isn't a positive one overall, but it does give a good picture of why the agency is an important one:

In 2006, according to statewide statistics, the sheep industry suffered a $1 million loss due to predators; the cattle industry lost an estimated $1.6 million to predators in 2005, the latest statistics available. While livestock producers typically employ a variety of nonlethal predator deterrents like guard dogs, fencing and hired herders, Wildlife Services specializes in lethality.

And while advances are being made continually in non-lethal means of protecting livestock, there is no substitution for eliminating problem animals and reducing the population of problem species like coyotes. All of this is part and parcel of finding a healthy balance between allowing ranchers to do what it takes to protect their livestock and allowing these predators to continue to exist in areas with active livestock production:

"With most farming or cropping operations, if they’ve got a pest in their field like an aphid or a weevil, they just go and spray the whole field. We don’t have that option…that’s why we use the government trapper as opposed to handling it on our own,” (a rancher) says. “We’d love to handle it on our own—give us 1080 [a heavily restricted poison] back and the authorization to use some chemicals and some toxins and we’ll just poison the whole damn ranch and we won’t have these problems, but that’s not acceptable in the eyes of the public. That’s why Wildlife Services is there to help us."

Costs are shared, with about half of the budget coming directly from livestock producers on a per-head basis. This is appropriate, since producers benefit and the public benefits -- both through a healthy livestock economy and through allowing healthy numbers of predators to exist, as opposed to the old-fashioned approach of just eliminating or nearly eliminating a given species.

Montana may be changing, but the importance of the livestock industry -- economically and culturally -- to the state isn't. Those who object to the methods used by Wildlife Services need to educate themselves on the importance of this program to ranchers. They are also welcome to come up with non-lethal alternatives that are just as effective in protecting ranchers. There are probably those who simply want ranchers to become an endangered species -- those who feel that way should state both their preferences and their political affiliations plainly.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bear polling numbers

Environmentalist groups are filing suit to prevent the scheduled removal of the grizzly bear from the list of endangered species.

In doing so, they are having to change the rules in mid-stream. The impending delisting of grizzly bears and wolves has hardly been a secret. Those who oppose delisting them have had ample time to pursue democratic means to achieve the definitions they want.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

Image Courtesy of www.old-picture.com


How the surplus was/will be spent: The Gazette asks -- "...Two years from now, will Montana have another huge surplus pile of cash? Or might the spending approved this year eat up any potential surplus, creating a deficit?" We'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count.

It was clear this session that when it came to tax cuts or rebates, Democrats put on their fiscal responsibility hat and fretted over whether such cuts would break the bank.

But when it came to spending proposals, there never seemed to be any worry about those potentially breaking the bank. At such moments, they put on their "essential services to the people of Montana" hats -- and for some reason there were always more (and more expensive) essential state services when the Democrats were sitting down to figure out how to spend the DOR's take.

"Glee": That one word from the article about how the head of the Dept. of Health and Human Services feels about the increased spending in this year's state budget says it all. It probably reflects how all the department heads must feel (except maybe for the agriculture and livestock folks -- did their budgets ever get put back up to what the Republican House proposed?)

With 400 new full-time employees added to the state payroll, those who want our state's taxation and government bureaucracy to resemble California more closely have a lot to be gleeful about.

But we heartless Republicans should rest easy (except when sending our checks to the DOR) -- if it turns out that we're still rolling in money two years from now, we'll get big tax cuts rather than even more state employees and higher spending, right?

How to get $400 in just 27 easy steps: Leave it to our friends on the left side of the aisle to turn a tax rebate into a Kafkaesque nightmare.

The whole thing could have been accomplished by a simple check-box on a Montana income tax form: "Did you own, pay taxes on, and live for at least 6 months in a primary residence in the State of Montana in 2007?" If yes, add $400 to your income and subtract $400 from your total tax. If you get audited and are found to have misrepresented this, you get a hefty fine. Done.

For those who live in Montana and pay property taxes on their home but for some reason don't file a state income tax form, the Kafka routine could still be available.

Crying wolf: Surprise, surprise -- wolves will bypass elk and deer and go for easier prey like domestic livestock. By the way, have we somehow missed the investigative reports in the Montana media that detail:

1. The numbers of livestock killed by wolves
2. The numbers that ranchers have actually been compensated for by Defenders of Wildlife or other environmentalist groups
3. How long it takes to get reimbursed by said groups
4. Whether the reimbursement takes into consideration other factors such as lost income on investment between the time the kill happened and when the reimbursement was received
5. How complicated the procedures are for getting reimbursed

Credit to the Gazette when credit is due: In its "Ups and Downs" segment, the Billings Gazette editors treated Gov. Schweitzer's "ride a kangaroo" comment as though it had been made by a Republican. The comment was directed to the Australian firm BBI, after its bid to buy Northwestern Energy was rejected by the state Public Service Commission.

They wrote: "Schweitzer's comment was flippant and inappropriate to the complex and serious matter of selling Montana's largest utility distribution business to the Australian firm."

The regrouping of the Montana GOP: Gwen Florio's article in the Great Falls Tribune talks about the divisions in the Montana GOP -- but other than talking about the ouster of Mike Lange as Majority leader at the end of the legislative session and of a primary race ousting a Republican legislator who broke ranks in 2005, there wasn't a lot of evidence in her article for a division about core principles within the GOP.

There was a lot of evidence for there being a division between Republicans and Democrats.

Montana Headlines has little inside information to back this up, but a more realistic assessment is that there is very little disagreement on core issues and tendencies between "moderates" and "conservatives." We're all pretty conservative in these parts.

The key issue is really more one of style. There are also these questions, which Montana Headlines in its own way has been addressing in one way or another since the beginning of this site: is it possible to be a firm, principled traditional conservative without being shrill and bellicose? And is it possible to arrive at real-world compromises while remaining uncompromising about our core beliefs?

The sweep of historical conservatism in the Anglo-American governmental, cultural, and legal tradition answers that question with a resounding "yes." Some of the reputation for shrillness on the part of Montana conservatives is deserved, and that needs to change. But a lot of it is the product of unfair caricatures by the opponents of the GOP.

We know we will be caricatured, so Republicans have to adjust tone and strategies accordingly -- replacing bellicosity where it exists with calm, thoughtful, and quiet determination. Initial impressions are that Erik Iverson, as the probably state GOP chairman, will more reflect the latter, but it is the duty of all Republicans to make sure it is so -- not just the leadership.

Not only does it make practical sense to approach things in that manner, it also keeps us fully in the traditions of conservatism -- moderation in all things, caution when it comes to change, Christian behavior, respectable comportment, generosity and magnanimity in one's personal life, acting with respect toward established offices and institutions... and so forth.

We need, in other words, to be in public what we are at home and work. And if we aren't that way at home and work -- well, then we may be many things, but we aren't particularly conservative.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Brucellosis -- who pays?

So far, so good, on keeping Montana's brucellosis-free status, with the final testing on Rep. Bruce Malcolm's Emigrant ranch coming up negative. It's not over, even in the short term, and especially not in the long term, about which more later.

But first, a Montana Headlines reader not familiar with ranching commented that the Billings Gazette headline a couple of days back of "Brucellosis ID'd in lawmaker's herd" (along with the accompanying article identifying Malcolm in the first sentence as a Republican lawmaker) gave the impression (at least to that reader) that the Gazette was saying that Malcolm had somehow been negligent, and had gotten busted.

That wasn't the MH impression of the article, but that was because we were leaping on to the potentially devastating implications of the findings for the state's livestock industry, knowing good and well that whoever the rancher was, no-one would say it was his fault.

Then we went back and started reading the on-line comments under the story -- perhaps a mistake -- and there it was, some of the most vile anti-Republican rancher stuff encountered in some time, including one reader making the allegation that Malcolm had taken out an insurance policy on his herd and intentionally infected it or allowed it to be infected.

Compounding the first mistake and reading even further, we encountered grossly ignorant statements such as the idea that ranchers graze public lands for free, and even the unbelievably grossly ignorant statement that public lands have been set aside for wildlife only. That would be news to the lawmakers who passed the Taylor Grazing Act back in 1934, codifying pre-existing grazing use going back long before the establishment of any National Parks.

So, apparently the MH reader's impressions were spot-on, since the message in the Gazette headline resonated with at least some people in exactly that kind of anti-Republican political way. Anyway, back to brucellosis...

While it may be true that, as the governor says, there is little chance that this was a direct transmission from Yellowstone Park bison, the emphasis is on "direct," since the postulated intermediary is elk -- which got it from the bison. As Sarpy Sam points out, "the problem is the reservoir of infection that is allowed to exist in the Greater Yellowstone Area." Anyone interested in getting the most knowledgeable opinions on this subject in the blogosphere should stay tuned to his site (and for anyone who hasn't visited his site, once you do, you'll become a regular.)

Cattle producers have spent a lot of money gaining and maintaining Montana's brucellosis-free status. It hardly seems like an accident that the cows that tested positive were from Emigrant -- and not Ekalaka. So yes, the Park is the source.

Since wildlife in the Park is the federal government's responsibility, it seems reasonable that the federal government bear the cost of addressing this reservoir of infection and that it bear the costs incurred by the State of Montana and by individual Montana ranchers.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

Image Courtesy of www.old-picture.com

Guided tour of that lodge outside of Helena: Chuck Johnson tells us more details about the dealmaking session between a few Republican House members and executive branch staff, and what led up to it. According to Johnson:

(The governor) thought he negotiated a handshake deal with then-House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings, in the waning days of the regular session. Lange abandoned the deal after other Republican leaders trashed it. Then Lange attacked Schweitzer in a profanity-laden tirade to fellow House Republicans.

It will be interesting to hear Republican comments on that. Lange is understandably licking his wounds after the session and keeping a low profile, but it would be good to hear his side of that particular story -- Johnson doesn't tell us whether he tried to get Lange's version of whether it was reasonable for the governor to believe that he had a "handshake deal."

As a side note, Republicans had better not eat their own when it comes to Mike Lange. If he is willing to run again for the House, count Montana Headlines in for a vote of support. A review of Montana Headlines archives will show a consistent theme of the utter necessity for rhetorical restraint and discipline on the part of the Republican leadership -- and hence an unequivocal vote of no confidence after the YouTube incident. Such a review will also, however, show a consistent appreciation for Lange's hard work and approval of the discipline and restraint shown by Lange early in the session.

Lange had an impossible task, and he isn't the only guy who might have blown his top under conditions of fatigue and high pressure late in a session like this. If he can win his district, it would make no sense whatsoever not to have his experience as a legislator -- although probably not in leadership -- two years from now.

The title of Johnson's piece talks about the Republican party being "torn," which is probably an overstatement. One hopes that predictions of primary election challenges to the "moderates" doesn't turn out to be the case. We need every Republican we can get, especially ones that have proven that they can win a general election.

Someone else is hoping that Republicans follow a script of waging a civil war, though: "Schweitzer looks for 'a hotly debated battle for the heart and soul of the Montana Republican Party' over the next year."

Speaker Scott Sales is right to identify this and similar statements from Democrats as "trying to incite people."

Anyway, back to that lodge outside of Helena. "They divided into 'pods,' with each group of working on one topic: budget, taxes, school funding and energy."

In the end, Schweitzer was mostly pleased with what the special session did.

Really?

"Llew Jones and John Ward are tough negotiators," he said. "They got more done in a couple of days than the rest of the caucus got done in 85. When you shake hands with Llew Jones and John Ward, there's no question what you've got."

Because of the deal, $30 million in general fund spending requests was chopped from the budget passed by the Senate, including $10 million from the Corrections Department and $4 million from the Revenue Department. The way schools were funded was changed more to the Republicans' liking.

If that's tough negotiating, then Republicans are in real trouble if we ever get into negotiations when we don't have a $1 billion surplus to blow. It is also interesting to note how the numbers keep dropping. The first report was that the budget went down from $7.9 billion to $7.85 billion, or $50 million. Later reports cited a $40 million reduction. Now we are down to a $30 million reduction in general fund spending. That is a decrease of less than 1% in general fund spending, or 0.4% in the context of of a $7.9 billion dollar budget.

It is hard not to worry that it will be down to $20 million by next week.

To use the analogy of dickering over the price of a $30,000 car, 0.4% would be a savings of $120 dollars. Tough negotiating indeed. The very phrase "chopped from the budget" by Johnson is misleading, to be generous. "Lightly scuffed off the surface of the budget" is more like it.

Johnson says that Speaker Scott Sales "believes Schweitzer's staff snookered the Republican moderates at Ward's lodge. Schweitzer got virtually everything he wanted, he said, while Republicans would up with scraps."

At least one of the "moderates" involved in the deal doesn't have a view that is much different:

Asked if he was satisfied, (Rep. John) Ward said, "Satisfied is way too strong. It was time to be done. Some good things, from my perspective, came out of it. Obviously, I believe the governor got a lot more. He had two (the governor's office and the Senate) of the three power centers."

This is more like it. There was certainly a case to be made (whether one agrees with it or not) for just giving the executive what it wanted and being done with the session, since it was clear that real compromise wasn't going to happen. And Ward is to be commended for being straightforward in describing what happened as such.

It is also interesting that Ward describes the state Senate as being a power center that belongs to the governor. It is not, unfortunately, an inaccurate description, and that perhaps is the real story of this session.

Montana's Senators oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants: Holding their metaphorical fingers to the Montana political wind, both Senator Baucus and Senator Tester appear to be poised to vote against the grand "comprehensive immigration reform" bill.

Sen. Tester gave a reasonably clear statement through a spokesman:

"He does not support amnesty. He believes that we need to strengthen our ports and borders, that folks that want to come to this country need to get in line no different than his ancestors did, and we need to crack down on employers who are knowingly hiring illegals."

Sen. Baucus had a similarly clear response -- with the usual, and reasonable, caveat that he hasn't seen the legislation -- he shouldn't feel bad, neither has anyone else:

"But I will not support any legislation that does not include strong border enforcement for both the northern and southern borders," Baucus said in a prepared statement. "I do not support amnesty for illegal aliens, and any immigrant who wants to become a citizen must pay back taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line." (Our emphases)

While progressives/liberals are perceived as surging in Montana, it is gratifying to hear our Democratic Senators, for now, using talking points about this immigration bill that could have been published in American Conservative -- they must know something about the Montana electorate's opinions on this subject.

For Baucus in particular, such a clear statement is telling, since it puts him at odds both with his K-Street corporate donors and with the amnesty-friendly progressive mainstream. We suspect that he's reading Montana voters quite correctly.

Likewise indicating his understanding of the views of most Montanans is Baucus's vote, joining Republicans, against requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to factor in global warming into all project analyses.

It is the last two years of Baucus's term, so he'll be voting with Republicans a lot.

Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting: Ya just gotta love a good water war out here in sagebrush country. For folks new to the intermountain west, the water war between Montana and Wyoming may seem esoteric, but this is serious business --

Wars have been fought for less.

In its lawsuit, Montana Justice Department attorneys describe the conflict as "a dispute between states of such seriousness that it would amount to 'casus belli' if the states were fully sovereign. Casus belli is defined as an act or circumstance that provokes or justifies war."

The compact, which was endorsed by Congress, constitutes a treaty, Montana argues.

"Violation of a treaty is one of the classic occurrences giving rise to war," the lawsuit said.

The battle will be fought in courtrooms, and the weapons will be thousands of pages of legal documents. And it's likely to stretch on longer than the wars in Vietnam or Iraq. Some interstate water disputes remain unsettled for decades.

Settle back with a whiskey (put that water on your vegetable garden) and watch this one -- and find a comfortable chair.

For those who are curious about the historical aspects of western water law, a couple of good books to read while waiting for dispatches from the front in this particular water war are Walter Prescott Webb's The Great Plains and Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert.

Renaming Glacier National Park: The Missoula-based National Environmental Trust is having a contest to rename Glacier National Park. Now we know where Sen. Tester got that line.

As the Daily Interlake editorial points out, Glacier's glaciers have been melting for thousands of years, and that "it is misleading to suggest that... policy changes, no matter how draconian, will 'save' Glacier’s glaciers."

There are good reasons to keep working rationally on decreasing emissions of all kinds into the atmosphere -- a stunt like this isn't, however, one of them.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

From the bookshelf – Wendell Berry’s agrarian conservatism

In the Presence of Fear
By Wendell Berry
Orion, 2001, $8

One of the most profoundly conservative writers currently at work in this country is Wendell Berry, a farmer, poet, and essayist living in Kentucky. He would probably as thoroughly reject any suggestion that he is associated with the right as he would the idea that he is a part of the political left. Montana Headlines doesn’t need to worry about him reading this, though, since he doesn’t own a computer.

In the Presence of Fear is a little book with three of Berry’s essays. They are neither his most representative, best written, or most influential works – one would have to read The Unsettling of America, his collected poetry, or a collection of essays like Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community for a better introduction to his writing.

But, besides having the advantage of being the Wendell Berry book currently lying around the Montana Headlines library, In the Presence of Fear contains essays that address the relationship of the local economy to political liberty, the preservation of the environment, and living the good life.

Words like “conservative” retain little meaning when some of those who embrace that mantle consider the disappearance of small farms and ranches, the pollution of air and water, or the destruction of local industries in favor of international ones to be hallmarks of conservatism.

While there are perhaps family farmers and ranchers who treat their land rapaciously, we at Montana Headlines haven’t seen it. Quite the contrary, most farmers and ranchers are instinctively environmentalist or conservationist – or whatever the term might be at the moment. That they generally haven’t had much use for environmentalist movements, organizations, or legislation tends to be a function of the fact that these organizations are driven by urban perspectives that have little room for them or for people who otherwise make their living from the land.

The lack of a place for human beings (unless they are clad in loin-cloths) is one of Berry's most significant beefs with traditional “environmentalism.” For examples, consider an essay such as “Conserving Farm-raised Children,” or a collection of essays like What are People For?"

Wendell Berry’s writing is shot through with the idea that land is best preserved when it belongs to someone who has an interest in taking care of it – and who is able to avoid economic forces that would tempt him to push the limits of what that land can handle.

Well, all of us who live in the suffering rural landscapes of the United States know that most people are available to those landscapes only recreationally. We see them bicycling or boating or hiking or camping or hunting or fishing or driving along and looking around. They do not, in Mary Austin’s phrase, “summer and winter with the land”; they are unacquainted with the land’s human and natural economies.

Though people have not progressed beyond the need to eat food and drink water and wear clothes and live in houses, most people have progressed beyond the domestic arts – the husbandry and wifery of the world – by which those needful things are produced and conserved. In fact, the comparative few who still practise that necessary husbandry and wifery often are included to apologize for doing so, having been carefully taught in our education system that those arts are degrading and unworthy of people’s talents.

Educated minds, in the modern era, are unlikely to know anything about food and drink, clothing and shelter. In merely taking these things for granted, the modern educated mind reveals itself also to be as superstitious a mind as ever has existed in the world. What could be more superstitious than the idea that money brings forth food?

When we said that farmers and ranchers don’t treat their land rapaciously, we didn’t say that they never to anything to hurt it – the tons of chemicals dumped on land these days in order to squeeze more production out of it, driven by market forces that threaten the existence of independent farmers and ranchers, give an example of less than healthy practices that are commonplace.

What, though, does any of this have to do with the “presence of fear,” to use the phrase of the book’s title and the title of the lead essay? Berry wrote that essay shortly after the events of 9/11 – an essay that is remarkable to read today, given that it was written before the second Gulf War, before the Patriot Act, and during a time when Democrats and Republicans alike were united politically in response to the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Berry immediately put his finger on the reasons that such terrorism or the presence of “rogue nations” were such a threat – namely, that our system of global free trade depends on inexpensive and safe long-distance transportation. He postulates that the primary choice that lies before us is whether or not to try to perpetuate this global trade system in its present form – something that will require what amounts to some sort of increasingly intrusive international police force and loss of political liberties.

The alternative is to take steps to develop local and regional economies (as in regional within the U.S. – not international regional economies such as those created by NAFTA or the E.U.) that can provide the basic necessities of life. The more local the production of food, clothing, energy, etc., the less vulnerable it is to terrorism.

An emphasis on a local economy doesn’t mean an opposition to broader trade – far from it. It simply means such trade should deal as much as possible in non-essentials and surpluses.

Those of a conservative bent who oppose making a religion out of free trade tend to base our opposition on exactly these grounds – it is the height of foolishness from a variety of perspectives to create situations where we become unable to provide for our own needs just because the goods or services can be provided more cheaply overseas.Berry also demonstrates another of his distinctives when discussing his distrust of movements: an emphasis on personal responsibility.

I have been pondering about the necessity of getting out of movements -- even movements that have seemed necessary and dear -- when they have lapsed into self-righteousness and self-betrayal, as movements seem almost invariably to do. People in movements so readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “Peace Movement” becomes violent...

Ultimately, I think, they are insincere; they propose that the trouble is caused by other people; they would like to change policy but not behavior.

Personal responsibility, local communities with local economies and local control, conservation of old ways and old ideas, preservation of land by families who own it and work it – all suffused with genuine patriotism and deep Christianity. These are hallmarks of Berry’s work, and make him well worth reading regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum.

In fact, his writings demonstrate that when it comes to the things that are most important, the political spectrum has little meaning or relevance.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

Image Courtesy of www.old-picture.com

Tempers getting short in Helena: A frustrated Sen. Joe Tropila, D-Great Falls, made a symbolic gesture by proposing that the Senate adjourn and come back only after all compromises have been hammered out by legislative leaders and the executive branch. This was prompted by Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, having said that the House wouldn't consider voting on the appropriations bills sent back by the Senate until after the governor had signed the property tax relief bill that the legislature will eventually send his way.

The governor, of course, sticks by his position that he wants everything in front of him first before he'll sign anything. What is at stake is prioritizing, and it is no secret that priorities differ between the Republican controlled House and the executive branch -- and quite frankly there are probably more differences between the Senate, narrowly controlled by the Democrats, and the executive branch priorities than might meet the eye.

The order in which bills are sent to the governor for his up-or-down verdict are an important control that the legislature has over prioritizing spending and tax relief -- and this is doubly true now that the governor has shown a willingness to use very wide latitude in applying amendatory vetoes.

The press is making the House Republicans out to be the villains of the piece, and they have not perhaps mastered the skills of PR management enough to prevent this from happening. But as Charles Johnson points out in his Sunday "Horse Sense" column today:

The governor hasn't helped the situation much in recent days. He has been lobbing verbal bombs at the Republican legislators from California, where he has been raising campaign money, meeting with investors and appearing on a political talk show.

This was like having a batting practice fastball lobbed across the middle of the plate -- the fact that the GOP hasn't managed to hit that one out of the park, or at least deep into left field, is concerning.

One can only imagine what kind of press a Republican governor would get if he were off doing big-money fundraisers and playing rock-star while he and his legislature were in desperate need of working out some final compromises. One suspects that it would amount to more than a brief factual mention here or there.

But those are the ground rules, and Republicans need to figure out how to win some victories in spite of them. Maybe they still will, but a lot of Republicans are concerned about how badly to our disadvantage this deal is going to end up once it is finally closed. Until we find out, all we can do is wait, and keep rooting for the home team.

Multiple use under fire from East Coast Democrats: Montana Democrats like to get lots of mileage out of the fact that there is a history of big out-of-state corporations treating Montana's resources as though we are their colony.

Their point is valid, but all too often Democrats are blind to colonialism of the liberal sort. The proposal to turn much of the public land in the northern Rockies into wilderness areas is just another step down the path of incrementalist policies that ignore the fact that people actually live here.

The fact that the noted scientist Carole King (who apparently gained an in-depth knowledge of the needs and priorities of Montanans in between writing admittedly catchy pop songs) was involved in crafting the legislation makes the proposal difficult to ignore, we realize -- but we still feel that some critical thinking is in order.

In a recent episode of the Discovery Channel series Planet Earth, an ecologist living in Africa made some pretty harsh comments about people living in the developed world who "love the animals" from looking at pictures of lions playing with their cute cubs -- and don't have any idea (or really don't care) that in the particular part of Africa where he works, humans are a source of food for lions. Needless to say, the local whose children have been eaten by the noble lions have a different view about the beasts than does the environmentalist living in New York.

His point was not that lions shouldn't be protected (far from it,) but rather that if Westerners don't have any solutions that involve humans as part of the environment, they should just mind their own business.

We in the West like to make jokes about our ideas for reintroducing wolves to Central Park or the Berkshires, and we're only half-joking. Conservation and environmentalism starts at home, and eastern lawmakers should start telling us what to do with our land out west once they've taken some radical and very expensive actions in their own states (with their own money) to restore pristine wilderness.

As a side-note, it is interesting that this entire article went by without a single mention of one of the most emotion-laden uses of public land in Montana -- grazing. We realize that the Taylor Grazing Act (which isn't going anywhere anytime soon) protects grazing rights, even in wilderness areas, national monuments, and the like. But make no mistake about the fact that ranchers leasing public lands are in the cross-hairs. Rural Montanans need to keep this in mind when casting their ballots in 2008.

Selling out on immigration reform: Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, had some words for Republicans who voted against his measure banning state contracts with those who hire workers who are in the U.S. illegally.

"The Republicans sold out to the Montana Contractors' Association and the Chamber of Commerce," Shockley wrote in a newspaper editorial.

Well, of course they did. Both of those organizations certainly had valid concerns about the legislation, but we have two things to say about that: Shockley should have known that those organizations would have issues with the bill, and worked with them far ahead of time to find acceptable language for meaningful reform. The Contractor's Association and Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, should have enough economic patriotism to want to work with Shockley to come up with good legislation that accomplishes the desired goal of reducing illegal workers without putting honest employers at excessive risk.

By not working with Shockley to come up with acceptable language and getting the bill passed, those organizations are giving the impression that they really don't care. Even if they don't, they should try to pretend as though they do. Because "we don't care" attitudes aren't the sort of thing that is going to make for good relationships with the rank and file of the party that generally supports their legislative concerns.

The most inflammatory comments came from one of the usual suspects, however -- and no, we're not talking about Ed Butcher:

Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, opposed all of Shockley's unlawful-immigration bills and said they "encourage us to distrust people with dark skin." She agrees with Shockley that unlawful immigration could be a widely discuss topic in the next state election, but said it would be one without merit. "It is a created issue rather than a real problem," Kaufmann said.

A majority of Americans are concerned about the rule of law when it comes to illegal immigration. They feel that employers, state and local governments, and would-be immigrants should all obey immigration law, just as we citizens are expected to follow the federal laws that apply to us.

If Sen. Kaufmann wants to call Sen. Shockley and other such Americans racists, she should come right out and say so in so many words. It will win her a lot of friends here in Montana. Which is why she is instead calling Sen. Shockley a racist by using sly code-words.

Everyone knows it's windy: It really is hard to find a downside to full throttle development of wind power generation in Montana, so this Great Falls Tribune article about the possible development of transmission lines that will take power from the windy country north of Great Falls to connect with grids in Great Falls and Alberta is encouraging.

We understand that there are some noise issues, that rights of way for transmission lines have to be worked out, etc. There are things to deal with in every kind of energy development, and wind power is no exception. There was a concerning reader's comment attached to the Tribune story, though:

The next logical step after developing the transmission lines would be creating one or more large man-made lakes in the area for pumped-hydro energy storage. Such a project must be done in such a way as to not trample on but rather assist the needs of farmers and other land owners within the Golden Triangle.

The following link was provided by the reader. Why this provokes uneasiness, we're not sure, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that water is hardly in plentiful supply in this state. Storing energy, which is produced on nature's schedule, for use during peak periods that depend on our consumption schedules, is of course a key issue with wind power. Further manipulation of Montana's water supply to accomplish such storage is, however, something that should be approached with more than a little care.