Friday, February 14, 2014

Sen. John Walsh’s military records

A few weeks ago then-Lt. Gov. John Walsh’s campaign released 378 pages of Walsh’s military record from his time in the Montana National Guard.

The files were not available electronically but were given to reporters in hard copy. In the interest of providing this information in its entirety to the public, I scanned all 378 pages and posted them here.

You can click on the document viewer below to go to the Document Cloud website where you can view the files more easily. From there you can also download the original PDF if you wish. Any text that is clear enough to for OCR (optical character recognition) has been converted so much of the file should be searchable. Some of the pages are upside down or sideway. Sorry about that. You’ll just have to rotate those pages or crane your neck.

Contact me by email or Twitter if you find something interesting.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Analysis: Walsh “incumbency” not much of an advantage

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State media outfits aren’t very enthusiastic about Gov. Steve Bullock’s approach to naming Sen. Max Baucus’ replacement in the U.S. Senate.

Three of Lee Newspapers largest dailies published highly critical editorials over the past week slamming Bullock for his “lack of transparency” in picking his former running mate and presumptive Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Walsh, to be  Baucus’ replacement in the Senate.

The Missoulian, in an editorial that was reprinted in Walsh’s hometown Butte paper, The Montana Standard, said Bullock “should not have appointed his lieutenant governor,” and criticized Bullock for doing so “without even an attempt at transparency” or the “barest explanation of his reasoning.”

The Billings Gazette blasted the Democrats for playing “closed-door power politics.” The Gazette, like most pundits, believes Walsh’s appointment is an attempt by Senate Democrats to boost the party’s chances of maintaining a slim majority – or even a tie –  come November. If the Democrats lose the Senate, then President Barack Obama will become one of the lamest ducks in modern presidential history in the remaining two years of his term in office.

As the Gazette correctly points out:

“…whoever Bullock appoints could help tip the congressional balance of power to the Republicans or keep it in Democrats’ hands. Either way, the stakes are high and the ramifications huge.”

Walsh, who is now the incumbent U.S. Senator from Montana, almost certainly will enjoy a fundraising advantage he wouldn’t have had without the appointment.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart called Obama’s choice of  Baucus as the next U.S. envoy to China, and Bullock’s appointment of Walsh to take his place, a kind of “non-financial corruption”:

“To be fair to Baucus, he did not raise money for the president, he actually stepped down from the Senate so the Democratic governor of Montana could appoint his replacement, making it more likely that Democrats will retain the Senate.”

On the one hand, all the hand-wringing over Walsh’s appointment seems  predictable and a little over the top. (And for anyone to suggest that Republicans wouldn’t have pulled a similar stunt if the shoe were on the other foot is either na├»ve or disingenuous.)

It strikes me, too, that the transparency argument might be a bit of a straw man. It was Bullock’s choice to make. Bullock is a Democrat. Baucus is a Democrat. Democrats have held that seat for 100 years. Of course Bullock was going to choose a Democrat.  And since Bullock endorsed Walsh for the seat back in November, it should come as no surprise that he would pick Walsh. 

And where is it written that if a senator steps down from his or her seat upon appointment by the president to a diplomatic post, then the senator’s party must give up the incumbency advantage ?

Like it or not, Baucus, and the Democrats, earned that incumbency advantage by beating Republicans in six consecutive Senate races. That advantage is part of the game, though I really don’t think Walsh will benefit much from it in this case.

Had Baucus stayed in the race he most certainly would have faced a tougher reelection challenge than he’s had in the past 12 years, but he still would have been the favorite to win.  Walsh is now the incumbent, which gives him a fundraising edge he would otherwise not have had. But how great of an advantage is it, really?

Walsh doesn’t have 35 years of Senate experience, seniority or committee chairmanships under his belt like his predecessor had. There’s only so much time for him to introduce bills, cast votes and make floor speeches between now and November. In an election year most incumbents spend more time on the campaign trail than in the office, and votes of consequence are few in election years.

Walsh is going to be splitting time between learning a new job in Washington, D.C. and introducing himself to voters in Montana, most of whom don’t really know anything about him or the issues he stands for.

The presumptive GOP nominee, first-term Republican Congressman Steve Daines, has already won a statewide federal race and is way ahead in fundraising. One could make the argument that Walsh’s appointment – if he wins the nomination in June — simply levels the financial playing field in what would amount to an “incumbent vs. incumbent” race.

It seems to me what critics of this process really want is for Bullock or Walsh to admit what everyone already knows: the Democrats are going to do everything they can to keep control of the Senate.

The question is whether the plan will backfire.

Democrats get their chance to vet Bullock’s decision in June when the party faithful go to the polls and cast their votes in the primary election.

If Walsh is indeed his party’s nominee, then come November the rest of Montana will get a chance to weigh-in.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Schweitzer revs 2016 presidential bid buzz with trip to Iowa

Brian Schweitzer speaks at the Harkin Steak Fry in 2008.

Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer doesn’t like to be out of the national headlines for very long.

For a guy who claims he’s simply content to run Stillwater Mining Co. and enjoy the view from his Georgetown Lake home, Schweitzer sure seems intent on fueling speculation that his sights are set on the White House.

In an interview published this week in the Weekly Standard, Schweitzer reiterated his fondness for the people of Iowa,  home to the nation’s first presidential primary contest, and he said he plans to visit all 99 counties there.

*Wink, wink.

The former governor also took shots at former First Lady, former Secretary of State, and 2008 Democratic presidential nominee runner-up Hillary Clinton, the presumptive front-runner for the party’s nomination in 2016.

Schweitzer speculated if Clinton were the Democratic Party’s nominee she  might “shift hard right on Day 1.”

“We can’t afford any more hard right,” Schweitzer said. “We had eight years of George Bush. Now we’ve had five years of Obama, [who], I would argue, in many cases has been a corporatist.”

Whew!

Calling Obama a “corporatist” and implying that Clinton would be a right-winger is one way to grab headlines in Iowa, where a recent Des Moines Register poll found that Schweitzer and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley “are little more than footnotes” to Iowa voters.

“At this time, they are simply fictitious names to most Iowa Democrats,” Republican strategist John Brabender told the Register. “You could make up names, and they would have roughly the same favorable/unfavorable scores as Schweitzer and O’Malley.”

If you’re former governor from a small conservative state in the Northern Rockies with ideas about pursuing the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, then generating headlines and the attention of Clinton and Obama supporters  might be the way to go.

The game is to create some buzz early, to generate grassroots momentum in places where it matters, and to show the party’s base that you’re the outsider who appeals to their core Democratic Party principles.

Schweitzer's actual record as governor probably means little to Democratic activists in Iowa. What he says about the establishment and how he appeals to their world view right now is what matters today.

Schweitzer may be a farmer and a soil scientist, but he ain’t no rube. This politics thing is a game Schweitzer knows well.

Schweitzer’s been honing his headline-grabbing prowess since he took on Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in the 2002 U.S. Senate race. Back then the political newbie dumped suitcases full of cash on the floor of the state Capitol to illustrate Burns’ ties to out-of-state corporate donors.

The tactic captured the imagination of voters across the state who liked his folksy, straight-talking brashness. Schweitzer, a previously unknown mint-farmer from the Flathead Valley, came within three points of unseating the incumbent Burns. He then parlayed that strong  campaign into a 2004 gubernatorial bid which earned him two terms as Montana’s chief executive.

Schweitzer, who twice spoke at the Democratic National Convention, decided against running for retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Max Baucus’ seat. But he has never said he doesn’t want to pursue higher office. 

Many of us who have watched Schweitzer closely over the years had difficulty imagining Schweitzer playing nice in the U.S. Senate as one member out of a hundred.

But the Presidency… that’s a different story.

It’s the ultimate challenge for a politician who loves to mix things up and who revels in the national spotlight. Even if he just toys around with the idea for a while, Schweitzer no-doubt loves the attention.

For me the bottom line is Schweitzer knows that if an insurgent campaign against a pillar of the Democratic establishment is even a remote possibility in his future, then Iowa’s the place to start and now’s probably the time to get started.

This week Schweitzer lobbed a few stones in Iowa’s political pond to see what kind of waves they would make. His comments are rippling through news feeds and Twittersphere of the the national political pundit class, which is probably exactly what he was hoping for.

Tonight the former Montana governor is scheduled to address the liberal grassroots group Progress Iowa. Follow @JennerJJacobs on Twitter for updates from that speech.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When do violent gun threats become acts of terrorism? Perhaps never in Montana…

In Sept. 2009 comedian Joe Lipari returned to his New York apartment after spending several hours at a nearby Apple Store. Lipari went to the store to get his malfunctioning iPhone fixed, but when the concierges ignored him for hours, the frustrated Lipari returned home and flipped on the tube.

As Lipari tells the story the movie “Fight Club” was on. There’s a scene in the film where Edward Norton’s character leaves a copy of the Fight Club rules (you know: The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club) on the copy machine.  

In the scene Norton warns his boss to be careful who he talks to about the document he found on the machine or….

“…the button-down, Oxford-cloth psycho might just snap, and then stalk from office to office with an Armalite AR-10 carbine gas-powered semi-automatic weapon, pumping round after round into colleagues and co-workers…”

Lipari, stoned and amused with himself, paraphrased the quote on Facebook but inserted something about the Apple Store concierges in the post.

Soon thereafter he answered a knock at his door and was greeted by fully armed members of the New York City S.W.A.T. team with their MP5 machine guns drawn.

Lipari was charged with making terrorist threats and spent the better part of the next two years in court trying to clear his name.

So what does this anecdote have to do with Montana? 

I bring it up because it makes me wonder what’s going to happen to Steve Connly, the Montana man who not only sent “hate mail” (his words) to the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies in which he specifically threatened gun violence, but who also has a habit of threatening the President of the United States on his Facebook page:

(WARNING - EXPLICIT RACIST LANGUAGE)

Connly fb threat 1image

“Should be anti obama armory.. Barack Obama Thats right pretty nigger, millions more where these came from, just you wait.. your day will come.. and an fyi, I do not call you nigger simply because you are black.. It is because you fit the TRUE definition of a NIGGER.. Which SLAVES used to call the MASTERS before they were freed. Thats right you are a true NIGGER.”

And then there’s this gem:

Connly fb threat 2

“An fyi, I am probably going to be kicked off facebook again very soon. Been trolling obama's page and saying many things which should get him ticked off. Serves him right. I say execute that bastard AT the WWII memorial that he has thrown such a big fit about keeping us away from. FEDERAL LAND IS OUR LAND NOT YOURS YOU GREEDY BASTARD and you cannot keep us out of it. WE pay your overly extravagant paycheck, now WE need to hold you accountable for your actions AGAINST the constitution and AGAINST the american people. DO NOT BE FOOLED SHEEPLE, if he is not impeached this year we will have civil war. His actions prove this point. When he doesn't get his way, he throws a fit and takes it out on american people. WE WILL PUSH BACK mark my words little man, your day will come.”

How do I know the Steve Connly who made these Facebook threats against the President is the same guy who wrote to the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and said he would “love the chance” to use guns on them?

Because he admitted it on the Montana Logging Facebook page:

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After the Tribune published the story of Connly’s threat, a few like-minded souls took to the Trib’s comment section to pile on the treats:

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Mike Prester, of Belgrade, thinks a “shooting would be to [sic] good!!!!”

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So all of this has got me wondering…. if a New York City comedian can be charged with making terrorist threats and spend the better part of two years in court for posting a paraphrased movie quote on his Facebook page, what happens to Montanans who not only make specific threats of violence against individuals, but also generalized violent threats against the President of the United States?

It’s not hard to imagine that those on the receiving end of threats of deadly force –- or their families -- are terrified. Or at least that is the intention of the threat, isn’t it?

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FBI spokeswoman Patricia Speelman declined via email to comment on the status of the case other than to say:

“The FBI takes threats very seriously and investigates them thoroughly with the assistance of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners.”

For those who might be tempted to dismiss these threatening comments as “just talk,” consider the following:

According to environmental investigative group Global Witness, more than 700 environmental activists, journalists and community members were murdered worldwide between 2002-2011.

In Montana environmentalists and conservation advocates know too-well the threat of violence.

As former Missoula Independent reporter Carlotta Grandstaff reported in 2001, they’ve had their homes shot-at, burned down and vandalized:

“In the Bitterroot, at least one environmentalist has received death threats for his opposition to timber sales. Someone fired shots at another activist’s house, leaving bullet holes in a fence. The home of yet another activist was burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Still another activist was thrown off his job when his employer learned of his involvement with environmental politics. At a public meeting on a grizzly reintroduction plan in Salmon, Idaho, one pro-grizzly speaker was booed and jeered while someone from the audience yelled, ‘get a rope.’ Then, of course, there’s the suspicious death earlier this year of Flathead Valley activist Tary Mocabee.”

In 2001 Flathead Valley activist and Tary Mocabee mysteriously drowned in a shallow creek near her home. Mocabee’s friends told producers for the PBS documentary “The Fire Next Time” that some in the environmental community suspected foul play based on Mocabee’s environmental and social activism.

And lets not forget the not-too-distant past when a group of anti-government extremists from Connly’s neck of the woods plotted to murder a long list of public officials from cops to judges to dog catchers. The Project 7 day of reckoning was supposed to commence on Earth Day.

The alleged “mastermind” of Project 7 plot, David Burgert, is still missing after disappearing into the woods near the Montana-Idaho border after a shootout with police.

There’s plenty room for civil debate and disagreement about forest and wildlife management, health care, foreign and domestic policy, etc. But when the debate degrades to threats of physical violence, we have lost our way.

In America, and in Montana, civilized citizens settle their differences within the confines of the rules we agreed to through our representative democracy.

When someone steps outside those rules, when they resort to threats of violence in order to intimidate and violate the rights of those they disagree with, they should be met with those agreed upon rules and in short order.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lummi Totem Pole multimedia

(Editor’s note: this post contains the recently published story on the Northern Cheyenne and Lummi Indians’ fight against coal, including video and a 360° interactive panoramic photograph of the Otter Creek Valley.)

OTTER CREEK -- Sitting just a few hundred feet from the banks of Otter Creek, on the fertile plains the Northern Cheyenne Indians have called home for thousands of years, Sundance Priest Kenneth Medicine Bull carefully packs tobacco into the bowl of a ceremonial pipe.

About a hundred onlookers, many wearing red T-shirts with the words “Save Otter Creek” stamped on them, watch silently as Medicine Bull rhythmically recites a prayer in his native tongue. Medicine Bull puffs the pipe several times, and then with his free hand washes the smoke over face and head. He then gently touches the pipe to the ground, turns it, and then hands it to his son, J.D. Little White Man, who repeats the ritual.

Among the onlookers are five members of the Lummi Nation, an Indian tribe from Washington’s Puget Sound, who traveled some 1,200 miles to this remote prairie not far from where Gen. George Armstrong Custer famously made his last stand nearly 140 years ago.

The Lummi brought with them a 22-foot totem pole hand-carved from a 300-year-old Western redcedar tree so that Medicine Bull could offer it a blessing. The Lummi people have created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope and healing.

The Lummi, like the Northern Cheyenne, are fighting for the future of their homelands against coal mining and exportation. The totem pole, known as a healing totem, began its spiritual journey at Otter Creek on Wednesday. It’s the first stop on Pacific Northwest trek to North Vancouver, British Columbia, where it will eventually stand as a cross-border symbol of spiritual solidarity in the fight against industrial resource extraction of coal and oil sands.

“We need to protect our way of life,” Medicine Bull said in an interview after he blessed the Lummi totem pole on the first stop of its spiritual journey. “I addressed the grandfathers, those who have gone before us, and I told them the reason we were here and I asked them to hear our prayer and stand beside us.”

Standing beside the Northern Cheyenne and the Lummi at the totem blessing ceremony were area ranchers. Many ranchers in the region are fighting against coal development, citing the loss of prime agriculture land. They’re also angered by possibility that land that has been in many of their families for more than a century could be condemned to develop the proposed Tongue River Railroad.

Roger Sprague and his wife, Bonnie, ranch near Greenleaf Creek, not far from Colstrip.

Sprague said his family trailed into the Rosebud Valley in 1881 and have traded with the Northern Cheyenne ever since.

“We’re neighbors with these people and we’re proud to work with these people,” Sprague said at the Otter Creek blessing ceremony. “We don’t want this mine in here. We don’t want the railroad in here. It’s our life. We’ve fought hard to put it together and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Brad Sauer manages a ranch north of Lame Deer, just outside the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation boundary. The ranch is home to ancient teepee rings, hunting points, rock engravings and other signs that native people occupied this area long before European settlers arrived.

Sauer said it’s no wonder the Northern Cheyenne settled this part of the country with its verdant stream bottoms, abundant game, and rich grassland. It’s the same reason ranchers have survived here for nearly 150 years.

“We’re looking at country here that could be impacted by coal mining,” Sauer said during an interview on the ranch earlier in the day. “There are coal mines close to here.”

Sauer said ranchers raise food on these lands, and they can’t do that without ample supplies of clean water. Industrial mining operations could threaten both the quantity and the the quality of the water that nurtures these valleys.

“It’s getting to be harder and harder with the impacts from energy development and everything else,” Sauer said. “We’re not against coal mining, we think it can be done responsibly, but we’d like to see it done in a way that doesn’t affect what we do in a long-term fashion.”

Many people see Otter Creek as ground zero in the battle over the future of coal development in America. If Otter Creek coal is ever to be mined, then its probable its final domestic destination will be a coal export terminals on the West Coast.

One of those terminals is proposed to be built on the Lummi people’s ancestral homeland, a place called Cherry Point. From there the coal would head to Asian markets.

Natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are making coal less desirable as an energy source here in the United States. Arch Coal, the company who bought the leases to mine coal at Otter Creek, admitted that fact in recent filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Gas-fueled generation has the potential to displace coal-fueled generation, particularly from older, less efficient coal-powered generators,” Arch Coal President and CEO John W. Eaves wrote in the company’s March 1, SEC 10-K filing. “We expect that many of the new power plants needed in the United States to meet increasing demand for electricity generation will be fueled by natural gas because gas-fired plants are cheaper to construct and permits to construct these plants are easier to obtain as natural gas is seen as having a lower environmental impact than coal-fueled generators.”

So Arch is now looking to sell its coal elsewhere, which likely means shipping it overseas to Asian markets.

That prospect is of great concern to the Lummi people, who would be directly impacted by the development of a massive coal export terminal.

Jewell Praying Wolf James is a Lummi Nation master carver and tribal leader who designed and crafted the healing totem pole. He and four members of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers brought the totem pole to Montana for the ceremony. James’ healing totem poles have been raised at sites throughout the country, including the sites of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

James said like the Northern Cheyenne, the Lummi people’s way of life and ancestral range grounds, including ancient burial grounds, are threatened by the prospect of coal export to Asia.

“We’re concerned about protecting the environment as well as people’s health all the way from the Powder River to the West Coast,” James said. “We’re traveling across country to help unify people’s voice. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re at, or what race you are — red, black, white or yellow — we’re all in this world together and we have to live in the aftermath of corporate development.”

Lummi Nation member and House of Tears carver Romona Charles said the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point would impact human health, destroy fish habitat, and disrupt sacred Lummi burial grounds.

“The terminal that they want to build ... is right on top of an ancestral burial site,” Charles said. “It was an old village and it’s a known grave site. My people are from there. I truly believe that if you allow these white corporations to stomp on one grave, they’ll dance on all the rest. There has not been one time thought I thought, ‘let’s go put a coal port at Arlington Cemetery.’”

After the prayer, James addressed the 100 or so people who gathered for the ceremony.

“We’re doing everything we can to protect our treaty rights and our way of life,” James said.

James offered a sharp rebuke of corporate greed and industrial-scale resource extraction that threatens the homelands and ways of life of people who have occupied these impacted landscapes for millennia.

“We kill the Earth as if we had a license to do it. We destroy the life on it as if we were superior. And yet deep inside we know we can’t live without it,” James said. “We’re all a part of creation, and we have to find our spot in the circle of life.”

The Lummi totem pole traveled to Missoula on Thursday and on to Spokane on Friday. It was schedule to make its way accross eastern Washington and northern Oregon and arrive in Portland, Ore. today. Later this week it heads back north to Seattle.

On Friday the Lummi will bless the totem pole at Xwe’chi’eXen, the Lummi name for the Cherry Point area. On Sunday the totem makes the final leg of its journey to Tsleil-Waututh blessing ceremony in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Barry Beach’s full clemency application

http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1345188!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/barry-beach.jpg

In response to reader interest I’ve scanned and posted Barry Beach’s entire 413-page clemency application.

As most Lowdown readers know, Beach is once again appealing to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, this time asking them to commute his 100-year, no-parole sentence.

More than 200 people wrote letters to the board on Beach’s behalf, including Sen. Jon Tester, former Sen. Conrad Burns, and Billings Mayor Tom Hanel.

Below is a DocumentCloud including the entire clemency application. To view and download the file (57 mb) in a separate window click here.

The letters begin on page 73.