Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bush outsmarts us all

Count me among those who thought we did terrorists a favor when we invaded Iraq. We deposed a dictator whose long-term interests were fundamentally at odds with those of the terrorists, and we created a hotbed of unrest where terrorists could breed while diminishing America's capacity to respond to troubles elsewhere.

Now from Fareed Zakaria comes word that terrorists are falling in international favor -- support for Osama Bin Laden fell 66 percentage points in Pakistan in less than six months (h/t Marvin Granger). The main reason appears to be that the more visible terrorists become, the less popular they are. "Death to America" rhetoric may sell in the abstract, but the more people realize how much actual death is involved, and how few of those who die are Americans, the more terrorists are feared and despised.

So creating a hotbed for terrorism actually turns out to have been a great idea. You want terrorists? Here are your terrorists: Now try living with them.

And people say Bush is dumb.

Defending Wal-Mart

The Hammond Report posts a Wal-Mart defense. I probably have written more about Wal-Mart than anyone cares to read, but Hammond's defense reinforces a couple of points that continue to stand out in this debate.

1. I can remember a time when "buying local" was a conservative imperative. Every chamber of commerce, every Rotary Club, every small businessman preached the virtues of helping local merchants by buying their goods. The shift of "buying local" from unquestioned conservative principle to wild-eyed liberal extremism is the most remarkable change in American attitudes about the economy that I have ever seen.

2. Conservatives also used to believe that we shouldn't provide aid and comfort to our enemies by buying their goods and propping up their economies. The glee with which alleged conservatives now flock to Wal-Mart to buy products made by dictatorial regimes around the globe is quite amazing to see.

3. One issue I never see Wal-Mart defenders address is the fact that lawsuits have been filed in some 40 states alleging that the company has forced employees to work unpaid overtime. I don't see how anybody, liberal or conservative, can argue that that sort of behavior should be rewarded.

Bureau down

As news sources proliferate, actual news continues to decline with the closing of Lee Enterprises' Washington bureau/. If memory serves, the bureau was a holdover from the Casper Star-Tribune, which Lee acquired when it bought the Casper paper from its owners. I recall writing at the time (though I am too lazy to go look for a link) that how Lee handled that bureau would be a good indication of how serious a newspaper company it planned to be. Right now, the answer appears to be: a desperate one.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Maybe a little warming

Remember all of that hysteria about the global warming fraud?

Oops. Maybe there's something to it after all.

Primary school

The closer the primary gets, the crazier the e-mails become. In today's haul:

"Senator Obama took money from Corporate criminals that poisoned Former President Bill Clinton."

"Mr Hussein Obama is not an appeaser. He wants talks with hamas, hezbollah because he holds muslim genes and feel like one of them."

Muslim genes. Is that like having Catholic genes?

Downed Mallard

Mallard Fillmore equates an appreciation for good beer with elitism. Sorry, but if it takes Bud Light to be one of the common folk, I plan to vote for the elite.

Thursday talk show update

Scott McClellan's new book dominated Bill O'Reilly's radio show and barely registered on Sean Hannity, who apparently has changed his mind and decided he can ride Jeremiah Wright (and possibly Michael Pfleger) all the way to November.

An interesting sidelight is McClellan's criticism of media coverage of the run-up to the war in Iraq. O'Reilly defended his own performance, of course, pointing out that reporters couldn't very well go to Iraq to check out administration claims about WMDs for themselves. On the web, this seems to be a typical response.

That's OK by me, but anybody who's going to criticize media coverage of the beating of the war drums ought to at least give credit to Knight Ridder, which was well ahead of the game. It should also be noted that Knight Ridder, which for many years was among the distinguished names in the news business, is no longer around.

Getting it right and making it pay aren't necessarily the same thing.

UPDATE: The Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) team gives its own response to McClellan's book.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Thursday talk show update -- now later than ever!

Last week's talk show highlight was definitely the discussion Dave Rye had with a member of Trout Unlimited on global warming. This is Dave at his best: serving, as he put it, as referee rather than as a combatant. I assume his conservative bona fides make him a global warming skeptic, but his sense of fairness overrode that, and it was one of the rare talk show encounters that actually shed more light than heat.

The Trout Unlimited guy, whose name I have regrettably forgotten, was no expert, but he took a commonsense approach that deflected most of the obvious errors made by skeptics. Is it true that volcanoes throw off lots of emissions? Sure, but so what? What about global warming on Mars? Dunno. Better worry about global warming on Earth. Isn't global warming an environmentalist hoax? The notion doesn't make sense.

Some conservatives find the prospect of global warming so unnerving that they lose all grasp on reason. Even George Will, whom I resent because he is so smart that he forces me to agree with him even when I don't want to, wandered out of the land of reason in a column on threatened polar bears that appeared in the Gazette last week.

Will's fundamental concern -- that considering polar bears threatened because of climate change that has not yet occurred could set unwelcome precedents -- is legitimate enough. But them he wanders into fantasy land.

Ed Kemmick pointed out one logical error, but there were others:

1. Global warming can't be happening because global cooling predicted 35 years ago never happened. Those who embrace that argument should answer this question: If you were diagnosed with cancer, would you rather be treated with the best medical science of 1975 or of 2008?

2. Polar bears can't be threatened because they are plentiful. Yet anyone of us could concoct within seconds a scenario in which a thriving population can be threatened because of an imminent change in conditions. Say, for instance, the Bikini atoll five minutes before the atomic bomb fell.

3. Concern over global warming is inseparable from left-wing politics. The policy implications of global warming are, of course, fair grist for the political mill. The science isn't.

Elsewhere in the talk world, another reasonably coherent discussion was held on Bill O'Reilly's radio show, probably because Michael Smerconish was guest host. Smerconish has a manner that I find annoying, for reasons that aren't fully clear even to me, but he is among the more reasonable talk show voices, and he had a fair-minded discussion on big oil, focusing on the appearance of oil execs before Congress.

The consensus seemed to be that our elected representatives were unnecessarily rude and mean -- a position that I appreciate but don't necessarily share. I don't think it's unfair, for instance, to ask execs how much money they make. Their pay is a public record because they head publicly traded companies, so they have no particular reason to be embarrassed by the question. I agree that it's ludicrous to think that oil prices are being driven by high salaries for CEOs, but it doesn't hurt to let the execs know we're paying attention.

Glenn Beck addressed the same topic, but he was unlistenable. Painfully so. He tried to put himself in the position of the execs, answering the questions he as he would have answered them by showing his contempt for the process. Upshot: Glenn Beck would make a lousy CEO.

Finally, Sean Hannity appeared to be slowly coming around to the idea that he can't ride Jeremiah Wright and Williams Ayers all the way to November. He even hinted at the possibility that other issues of concern to the republic might surface between now and the election. Even maybe, just maybe, Republicans themselves might be to blame for their recent election misfortunes. Heck, I bet he didn't talk about Wright and Ayers for more than two hours in the three-hour show. That's real progress.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Clinton is coming

In case you hadn't heard the details, Hillary Clinton will be in Billings at 8 p.m. Tuesday at MetraPark.

Utah Phillips has died

From Marvin Granger comes word that Bruce "Utah" Phillips, a noted Wobbly and folksinger, died in his sleep last night. Says Marvin, "I learned the meaning of 'oral tradition' largely from his stories of American labor history; that 'truth' is not a accurate account of facts so much as personal human experiences that are felt as much as known."

Among other things, Phillips hosted the public radio program "Loafers' Glory." Phillips also served as an inspiration for Butte troubadour Mark Ross, who occasionally has played in Billings. Utah Phillips also played here a couple of years ago. I missed the concert, but I am reliably informed (OK, Ed Kemmick told me) that Phillips went to the Mustangs game afterward and won the 50-50 raffle. A blessed man.

UPDATE: NPR had a nice tribute to Phillips on Thursday, including a couple of renditions of "Hallelujah, I'm a bum" and a short collection of favorite Phillips aphorisms. My favorite went approximately this way: Children, when adults say that you are our most important natural resource, watch out. Look at what they did with all the other natural resources.

Quest for 10,000 B.C.

My wife and I celebrated the long weekend by heading down to the Funhouse Theatres to see "10,000 B.C.," a bargain at $13 for the both of us, including large drinks and a bucket of popcorn.

Critics savaged the movie, with justice. But I got my two hours worth. The stampeding mammoths were enough payback for me.

Caveman epics have always held an odd fascination for me, and it was hard during this one not to keep thinking of the far superior "Quest for Fire." True, the mammoths in the earlier film looked pathetically like elephants with hair glued on them, but despite their grunting and bad teeth, "Quest" at least gives us early humans who act like something recognizably human, full of foibles and missteps but fundamentally well intentioned. "10,000 B.C." gives us characters that would have to await the invention of cardboard to become more well rounded.

Case in point: When the hero in "10,000 B.C." encounters a sabre-toothed tiger, he saves its life, and they become friends. When the heroes in "Quest" encounter a sabre-toothed tiger, they retreat to a tree, where they roost for days until the tiger gets bored and wanders off. Which of those scenarios sounds more like something human beings would do?

With a proto language developed by Anthony Burgess and gestures designed by anthropologist Desmond Morris, "Quest for Fire" made a serious attempt to put us inside the heads of people sort of like us who lived 80,000 years ago. "10,000 B.C." puts modern folk with dirty faces in dreadlocks and skins.

"Quest for Fire" ends when the tribes people learn about the missionary position and how to rub two sticks together. "10,000 B.C." ends when the tribes people manage to destroy a far more advanced civilization. "Quest" makes us feel a little more human, "10,000 B.C." a little less.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Attacking Obama

I'm not blaming the Clinton campaign for any of this, but I sure am getting a lot of letters and e-mails from people claiming to be Clinton supporters who are making all sorts of odd accusations about Barack Obama. Typical, although nicer than some, is this:

Please research and report this paragraph. (It's dangerous for individuals.) Was Obama's white American mother an atheist? Is it true that Obama and Louis Farrakhan, the militant Muslim leader, bought adjoining property behind a shared fence on the same day? Was Obama's birth father really a Muslim from Kenya, Africa and his stepfather a militant Muslim from Indonesia where Obama spent six years in a Muslim school in Jakarta?

I deleted an e-mail this morning that was considerably worse. Desperate times.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Molnar vs. Tussing

I have said before that a November showdown between Ron Tussing and Brad Molnar for the Public Service Commission would be the one Montana political race I would pay money to see. Looks like we won't have to wait that long.

Here's Molnar in this week's Outpost, responding to this.

Molnar may be wrong: Petro Theatre might not be big enough for this debate.

Obama in Billings

My take on Barack Obama's appearance in Billings is at the Outpost website.

Side comment: A few days ago, 4&20 Blackbirds noted that the Clinton campaign was better attuned to Montana concerns than Obama's. That certainly seemed to be true on Monday. While Bill Clinton's talk here was full of Montana and Billings references, Obama scarcely mentioned either place. What's worse, he recognized stalwart State Sen. Kim Gillan as "Kim Gillis." That's gotta hurt.

Side comment II: I found Obama slightly less impressive a speaker in person than in his numerous TV sound bites. His delivery slips into something close to mumbling at times, and he struggled a bit with his new material about McCain's ties to lobbyists. Still, it was something to see. It was the youngest crowd I have ever seen at a Montana political event, I believe, and it is difficult to overstate the importance of his appeal to the young. Some old hands object that the young don't really understand the issues, but that misses the point. What they do understand is that the system isn't working, and Obama is connecting as the guy who has the best chance to fix it. If he is elected, no matter by how small a margin, he will have a mandate that neither other candidate could muster.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Teacher pay

The boo birds are out on the BEA's teacher contract proposal. Can't say I blame them. It's hard to imagine anything the BEA could have done that would be better designed to make the union unpopular.

Now everybody who voted against the mill levy can sit back and say, "See? I told you the kids would never see the money. If we had voted for the levy, teachers would be asking for 10 percent instead of 6."

My wife's a teacher, so I have a personal stake in this. But that doesn't stop me from feeling a bit disgusted by the whole spectacle. You would think the strike would have taught all sides that they have to play a little nicer and a little smarter. Apparently the lesson didn't take.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Silly fight

Republicans are attacking Jim Hunt for using pictures of himself in uniform in his campaign. Setting aside the merits of the GOP's claim, this doesn't sound like a fight Republicans want to have.

First, the rationale for the Department of Defense directive the GOP cites is pretty lame. Seriously, does anybody believe that putting on a uniform implies endorsement by the Defense Department? Soldiers are free citizens, not federal mouthpieces.

Second, the dust-up gave Hunt a perfect opportunity to strike back by citing Denny Rehberg's less than stellar record on veterans' issues. Rehberg may have good reasons for his vote, but they aren't likely to surface in this sort of exchange.

Third, the flap also calls attention to the fact that Hunt has a long record of military service while Rehberg has none. I would never vote for anyone because of a military record -- heck, I've got one of those -- but the issue can only help negate Republicans' built-in edge on support-the-troops issues.

Dumb, dumb and dumb.

UPDATE: Here, according to Hunt, is the photo to which Rehberg objects.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More on Cyphers

If you are a fan of Donald Cyphers and the Montana News Association (and who isn't?), you will enjoy this.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Coulter on Tester

Wandering through The Western Word, I found this link to an Ann Coulter column. Sifting out the crap in an Ann Coulter column is like cleaning the Augean stables (the best example here: "It is beyond outrageous for liberals to complain about the practice of linking Democrats to the national party when their calculated strategy in race after race in the red states has been to run Democratic candidates who appear to be Americans. They're not Americans. They're liberals! I don't care how much hay is sticking out of their straw hats.")

It's impossible to respond adequately to that level of mendacity. If she were smart enough to understand why that is bad punditry, she would be smart enough not to write such garbage. But underlying the nonsense is a common mindset about rural America that I find infinitely more offensive than Barack Obama's throwaway line about clinging to guns and religion.

The mindset blares through what Coulter says about Jon Tester:

One of the Democrats' paragons of regular guy-ness that year was Jon Tester of Montana, who wore cowboy boots and had a buzz cut. The crew cut absolutely transfixed liberals in places like Manhattan. Search "Jon Tester and crew cut" on Google, and you'll get more than 200,000 hits. Even this tonsorial affectation was a liberal fake-out, inasmuch as Tester has no military service.

After campaigning throughout Montana in a pickup truck, Tester got to Washington and compiled a voting record more liberal than Chuck Schumer's, according to the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (Tester: 95 percent; Schumer: 90 percent). Tester also has a 100 percent rating from the pro-abortion group NARAL. There's your truck driving, gun-totin' Democrat.

Look at the range of unexamined assumptions:
1. Liberals can't be "regular guys."
2. Tester was popular only in East Coast liberal havens (I'm guessing she didn't mean Manhattan, Montana).
3. Only soldiers wear crew cuts.
4. "Truck driving, gun-toting" Westerners are all conservatives.
5. Either that, or they are faking it (as if nobody here knew Tester favored abortion rights).

One reason I like living in small towns and in places like Billings (and, for similar reasons, conservative strongholds like Bryan and Palestine, Texas) is that life there forces you to confront people on their own terms. City folk are all but obligated to lump people together in handy categories or they risk being overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of it all.

But people in conservative-leaning towns lack the luxury of willful ignorance. That's why it no longer surprises me to play pool against a Texan in cowboy boots and checkered shirt and learn that he is an artist and a college professor. Or to find a cowboy poet rancher who worries about global warming. Or to find scholars who get together to play fiddle, guitar and harmonica on weekends. Or to find a truck-driving, gun-toting air conditioner repairman who harbors socialist leanings and a weakness for Dostoevsky. Or a buttoned-down, libertarian copy editor who once dressed as a nun and played in an anarchist band that wrote songs celebrating the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Wake up, Ann. It's a much more interesting world out there than you have ever suspected.

Thursday talk radio update

This is a bit late because I took off for Butte on Friday with Gary Svee to see Tom McGuane talk at the Butte Press Club. A good time was had by all, so far as I could tell, although I may have had a beer or two more than was strictly necessary. A highlight was that I won the annual raffle of a chance to sign a bottle of Auld Malcolm, whiskey so bad, apparently, that even old-time Butte newsmen wouldn't drink it when it was donated for a press party. So every year a signature is added to the bottle, including, now, my own. Now no one can say that I haven't made a difference in Montana journalism.

On Thursday, Sean Hannity had pretty much nailed the presidential election down to four issues: Jeremiah Wright, Michelle Obama, William Ayers and "clinging" to guns and religion. That's pretty much it. No war in Iraq, no economy, no global warming, no rising gasoline prices. Just the Big Four issues.

Hannity also has said repeatedly now that race isn't a big factor in presidential elections. Ninety percent of Americans aren't racists, he says. I don't know where he got that number -- I'm pretty sure he made it up -- and I suspect it overstates how well Americans have gotten over racism. But even if it doesn't, that means that Obama starts out 10 points down with white voters. So when is the last time 10 percentage points wouldn't have swung the results of a presidential election? In 1984, when Reagan swamped Mondale.

Yet Hannity can't figure out why guys like Jeremiah Wright still obsess over racism. In 1960, black Americans weren't even allowed at the starting line. Now they are allowed to compete, so long as they start 10 yards behind. That's progress, of a sort, but it ain't equal.

Unrelated note: I mentioned earlier how impressive all the Democratic candidates for attorney general sounded at the Truman Dinner. Dave Rye had Tim Fox, a Republican attorney general candidate, on the radio Thursday morning, and he sounded awfully impressive, too. Voters may just have to close their eyes when they vote for attorney general this year. At least that's better than holding their noses.

The death of Alma Snell

I neglected to mention this the other, so I hope it's not too late to mention the death of Alma Snell.

I didn't really know her, but I read her book "Grandmother's Grandchild" about her life and especially her upbringing by Pretty Shield.

"Pretty Shield" was Frank Linderman's worthy successor to his classic biography of Plenty Coups. My review of "Grandmother's Grandchild" apparently isn't on line, and I couldn't find it at home. But I remember it as a very worthy successor to both of Linderman's books. Anyone who reads all three has about as readable a history of the Crow Tribe as it is possible to obtain.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Truman update

My story on last week's Democratic doings will be in Thursday's Outpost, but as always a few observations didn't make the paper. Among them:

1. The Democrats have an impressive-looking batch of attorney general candidates. Steve Bullock, John Parker and Mike Wheat all used their two-minute slots to make fairly convincing cases for themselves. I particularly liked it when Parker said that he had won his first election in Billings: as president of his fourth-grade class at Sandstone Elementary School. I don't know the Republican candidates, so I'm not saying that these guys are better, but I have to think that Democrats will feel good about their chances no matter how the primary turns out.

2. This was my first time to see Jim Hunt, the Democratic candidate for Denny Rehberg's U.S. House seat. Nobody thinks Hunt can win, including me, but he made a stronger case for himself than I would have expected. Both the rhetoric ("I'm the guy who's going to beat Denny Rehberg") and the jokes ("Anybody who thinks I'm going to be intimidated in this race better think again because I have two teenage daughters") were pretty predictable. But he had a more forceful manner than I would have expected, and he seemed ready to take Rehberg on in the areas where I think the incumbent is most vulnerable: his failure to take a stand against President Bush on issues of civil liberties, executive authority and war-making power.

3. The only candidate who got cut off in mid-speech was Robert Candee, the other Democrat running for Rehberg's House seat. I didn't have a timer, so I'm not sure whether he really took a lot more time than other speakers, but Democrats definitely didn't appear to have much interest in hearing him out. He used part of his time to talk about a 1987 lawsuit he filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I didn't quite see the point. Apparently, neither did the Democrats.

4. One of the first times Brian Schweitzer made an impression on me was at a Truman Dinner here before he was elected governor. He donned an apron and walked from table to table, refilling coffee cups. He still seems to enjoy himself in public about as much as anybody I have ever seen. When he saw me taking notes, he hollered, "Write something nice about me."

"No," I hollered back.

"Then write something unusual about me," he said.

I'm afraid I failed him on both counts.

5. It was fun listening to Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar polish their pitches before a small crowd at Barack Obama headquarters before Saturday night's main event. Freudenthal seemed profoundly comfortable in front of the small group: funny, self-effacing, articulate. After listening to him for a couple of minutes, I realized that I would never again have to wonder how a Democrat gets elected to high office in a conservative stronghold like Wyoming: You just have to be Dave Freudenthal.

I thought he outshone Klobuchar in front of the small group, but she came into her own at the evening event: full of anecdotes, passionate, sharply on target. Dems loved her, and no wonder. I also enjoyed seeing how she honed her material: I heard her tell one anecdote three times, once to me and the governor, once to the Obama staffers and volunteers and once at the Truman Dinner. It was new material, apparently, that she had come up with on the airplane flight, and she was working to nail it down.

6. People wonder what's wrong with Hillary Clinton, but it isn't hard to figure. The two most gifted politicians I have seen in my adult life have been Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She married one and has to run against the other. To hold up as well as she has is quite an achievement.

Word on the campaign trail has been that Bill Clinton is slipping and may be hurting his wife's candidacy. None of that was on display Saturday night. The guy is a master. He started by talking about his last visit to Billings, including the name of the horse he rode when he was here ("Phirepower") and his visit to the Kit-Kat Cafe. He even knew that the Kit-Kat was no longer around -- a tribute to great staff work, or a great memory, or both.

Then he said that speaking last at the four-hour Truman dinner reminded him of the first political speech he ever gave, when he was the last speaker on a long list.

"They introduced everybody in that hall but three people," he said, "and they went home mad."

Then he launched into a 25-minute talk that covered Democratic policies from one of the spectrum to the other, piled high with detail and examples, but never too dry or arcane. Love him or hate him, the guy is a master at what he does.

7. I've been to a couple of Truman Dinners in the past, but none like this. The crowd, the arrangement, the speakers all topped anything I have seen. Most importantly, a sense of confidence seemed to fill the room. Democrats are famous for making the worst of a good situation, and they may manage to do it again. But the mood on Saturday night suggested that they have all the cards in their hands.

Calling Bill Gates

One thing I hate about Microsoft: Its computer programs keep updating themselves in the middle of the night. I don't particularly like my computer updating itself without me knowing about it -- who's in charge here? -- but that's not what gets me.

What gets me is when I'm cranking out the weekly Outpost at four in the morning and the computer sends me a message telling me it will restart in five minutes unless I tell it to go away. Then when I tell it to go away, it's right back in five minutes warning me again that it will restart.

When I am four hours from deadline and have eight pages to go, which is often the case, there are few things I want less than a computer update. But it always gets me. This morning, I had been fighting off reboot warnings for a couple of hours, and I was a third of the way through my story on the Democrats when the 19 hours I had been on the job finally started to get to me. I slumped back in my chair and closed my eyes for a few minutes. When I awoke, the computer had shut down all my programs and restarted.

No major damage, but the incident raised a couple of questions:

1. Is there any way to turn these reminders off?

2. If I were to call up Bill Gates, would he come over and show me how to do it?

3. If I spent all the money to buy this machine, why does Bill Gates seem to own it?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Schweitzer for veep?

At least one political reporter puts Brian Schweitzer in the top tier of possible choices for Barack Obama's vice presidential pick.

One for Obama

Here's another reason to like Obama. Imagine what it would be like to have a president who believes that Americans and their state governments have the right to make the laws that govern them.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I pledge obesiance

This is a free country, by God, and those who don't agree will be punished.

Is it OK to lie?

Like me, Kevin Drum doesn't like retail loyalty cards. Without rehashing that argument, I was struck in the comments by how many people say that those who dislike giving up private information should just lie to get the cards.

That's always seemed wrong to me because it's so much like, you know, lying. Are my ethical standards just hopelessly out of date in the internet age? Is it morally correct to lie to large, impersonal, heartless corporations?

Biddie tickets

Because of a late cancellation, we unexpectedly have two free tickets available for the Lascivious Biddies concert at the Alberta Bair Theater at 7:30 p.m. today (Sunday). If you are interested, give me a holler right away by responding here or calling the Outpost at 248-1616. My wife and I have been listening to the Biddies' CD for the last couple of weeks and are really looking forward to the show.

A humble superman

Bolts of lightning may strike me, but I have to disagree with something that Ed Kemmick, my esteemed former colleague (or is it former esteemed colleague?) wrote in his City Lights column today. He writes that Democratic super delegates "have become so important they no longer speak like mere mortals."

I can't speak for most of them, but super delegate and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who spoke here on Saturday, still sounded pretty mortal. Until this year, he said, he had always considered super delegate status just a way to get really good credentials to the Democratic national convention. In fact, he made the mistake of telling a newspaper reporter this year that he might not even go to the convention.

When his wife read that in the paper, he said, she informed him that he would, in fact, be going to the convention, which is only 90 miles away in Denver. He said he held a press conference that day to announce that he had had "a vision" and would be going.

Freudenthal also noted that after he complained that neither major presidential candidate had visited Wyoming or Montana, both showed up. But he declined to take credit. "I have delusions of grandeur," he said, "but not that grand."

I'll save most of what happened for next week's Outpost, but Freudenthal did also have the best defense I've heard yet of Obama's infamous remark that rural voters "cling" to guns and religion because of other things that have gone wrong in their lives. Freudenthal, who is from Thermopolis, which is about as rural as it gets, said his church held an inaugural service after he was elected and allowed him to pick the songs for the service. One he chose was a song we used to sing in church, "The Old Rugged Cross," whose refrain goes in part: "I will cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it someday for a crown."

He said it took him a few days to figure out that he was supposed to be offended by what Obama said.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Thursday talk show update

Even among conservative radio talk show hosts, it's possible to believe there are multiple American universes, with no overlap. On O'Reilly yesterday, the Democratic primary was all over, and O'Reilly had no interest in hearing from anyone who thought otherwise. He just wanted to talk about what questions he should ask John McCain in last night's TV interview. Sounds tedious, but it actually is interesting to hear O'Reilly parse questions and give his philosophy of political interviewing.

In Sean Hannity's world, where creating Democratic chaos is the overriding goal, the primary was anything but over. He devoted at least two full hours to thrashing out the possibilities: a brokered convention, seating the Florida and Michigan delegations, a shared ticket, more attacks on Obama. About the only possibility he didn't cover was Hillary kidnapping Obama and locking him in a hotel room until the convention is over. Perhaps that will come today.

Michael Savage was trying to make hay with Clinton's remark that she does better among "hard-working Americans, white Americans." Interesting language, since it seems to exclude the possibility that black people might be hardworking Americans. I'm not really sure who these hardworking Americans are, but I always suspect that I am not included either, even though I hold down four jobs and work upwards of a hundred hours a week (if you call this working). I also always wonder why there is no candidate out there running for the votes of lazy Americans. No candidate would have a broader (in all senses of the word) constituency.

I'm not sure how O'Reilly's interview with McCain went, since I saw only a couple of minutes of it. But I did see McCain on Jon Stewart's show last night. Stewart, for all his clowning, is a remarkably adept interviewer, and he nailed McCain pretty hard on what McCain has said about Hamas endorsing Obama. Stewart set up the question to make it work on several levels: as a rebuttal to McCain's promise to run a respectful campaign, as a commentary on what a Hamas endorsement really means and as a gloss on the failings of Bush's anti-terrorist policies. McCain stumbled a bit before coming up with the observation that he sees himself as Al Quaida's worst nightmare.

Obama, meanwhile, was answering Brian Williams' question about his bowling prowess. It was a dumb question, but Obama gave a deft answer. He said he tried not to "over think" such matters: He was at a bowling alley looking for votes, somebody offered him a ball, and he gave it a few rolls. A more calculating candidate, he pointed out, would have gone in private to a bowling alley in advance to brush up. But he thinks Americans are too smart to need that kind of pandering.

It's not the first time he's said that Americans are too smart to fall for the dumbest aspects of American political campaigns. I sure hope he's right.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Why did it fail?

So why did the Billings School District 2 mill levy fail? A few possibilities, all of them unsullied by any actual evidence:

1. People are really scared of the economy. They're afraid to spend anything.

2. People fail to see a connection between the money they vote for schools and what actually happens in schools. Ever since the teachers' strike, I think there has been a uneasy sense that everything we vote for goes to pay raises and none of it to kids. People do want to support schools, but they don't want to be played for suckers.

3. Bad PR campaign. We at The Outpost never heard a word from the pro-levy forces. I have a natural inclination to exaggerate the Outpost's influence, but it still always strikes me as a pretty good bellwether for the competence of a PR campaign. Yes, we're small and don't have a lot of resources to devote to school coverage, but our readers also are disproportionately more literate, more involved and more likely to vote than the average citizen. We also draw more readers every week than, for example, ever go to a Billings Outlaws football game. Would school supporters have passed up an opportunity to make a pitch to a full house at MetraPark? Then why overlook a larger audience that is even more likely to be listening?

4. All-day kindergarten. That's not my argument, but Montana Headlines makes a good case for it.

5. Mail-in ballots. Have I mentioned that I hate them? I also predict that if their use becomes permanent and widespread, then mill levies will continue to have a hard time passing. Live elections force people to take a bit of notice of the world around them and pay attention to what is really going on. When you go to vote, you are functioning as a part of a community, and you are more aware of your role in the community.

As Americans become increasingly cocooned, they find it harder to look past their own noses. The only thing they know for sure about a mill levy is that it will cost them money, so they vote it down. Fewer people may vote in live elections, but those who do vote tend to be people who really care and want to make a difference. Those are the opinions that ought to matter most.

UPDATE: The Montana Headlines post linked above also makes useful points about the nature of school mill levies in Montana. It does seem to me a preposterous way to do business. As a voter, I don't really want to make decisions about how much money is needed to carry on everyday operations at the schools. I just want to be able to fire the people who do make those decisions.

The prevalence of absentee balloting and mail-in ballots, plus the growing tendency of having voters cast ballots directly on fairly routine legislative and policy matters, seems to lead toward the worst of all worlds: Voting keeps getting easier while the decisions keep getting harder. Less accountability, more responsibility: That's an odd formula for good government.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

End the subsidies

I agree: Suspending the federal gas tax is a bad idea. So is a windfall profits tax. But ending direct subsidies makes sense.

Will is right

George Will examines the decline of a traditional conservative belief: that only Congress has the power to declare war.

Which candidate is most likely to respect the founders' instructions? My guess is Obama.

Monday, May 05, 2008

One way to discipline

This is priceless: An Ivy League professor threatens to sue her students for "anti-intellectualism."

I could make millions!

A mill levy around our necks

Have I mentioned how much I hate mail-in elections? God, I hate mail-in elections.

UPDATE: Paul Stephens, estimable editor of the Montana Green Bulletin, hates mail-in ballots at least as much as I do. In an article entitled "The end of democracy?" he argues that mail-in ballots are less secret and therefore more vulnerable to manipulation and corruption.

Stephens recently got a mail-in ballot for a Great Falls school election. "For those whose votes are for sale, or subject to inspection at home, there is no longer any 'secret ballot,'" he writes. "I tore mine up and threw it away. I won't vote that way."

Sunday, May 04, 2008


I went to the MSU Billings graduation yesterday -- as part of the faculty, sitting right up front, in cap and gown.

It was the first time I have put on a cap and gown since high school. I skipped graduation ceremonies for both my undergraduate and master's degrees. Back in grad school, I finally picked up my diploma over at the administration building a couple of weeks after the ceremony. It was tucked away on a shelf behind a counter. The guy at the counter said, "We were wondering what to do with this."

I said, "So was I."

It just wasn't a big deal at the time. I was at school on the G.I. Bill, so college always seemed more like a job than a career path. We were raising a 1-year-old while my wife and I were both in grad school, so I rarely saw the campus outside of class meetings. And I guess I still had some of my weird mix of hippie-slash-conservative Christian distaste for rituals and ceremonies of all sort.

So why the change? I'm not sure.

Part of it was that MSU Billings picks up the cost of caps and gowns for faculty members who wish to attend graduation, even for adjuncts like me. That's such a classy thing to do that it would have seemed to lack all class to turn it down.

Part of it was that when I went to my wife's graduation a few years ago, I noticed that faculty members all had fairly elaborate and colorful garb. I was curious to know what mine would look like (master of arts in English, Texas A&M University).

Part of it may just have been the realization that the older I get, the fewer opportunities remain to wear silly hats in public. I'm afraid to pass any up.

The fact that Tim Cahill was the scheduled speaker might have been reason enough to go, but I had to decide before I knew he was the speaker, so that was just a bonus reason. As it turned out, he couldn't appear because of what was described at the ceremony as a "family tragedy." I heard later that it had something to do with a traffic accident. I haven't seen anything about it in the news, so I hope it wasn't too horrible.

Commencement will never be the most exciting way to pass a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. But it wasn't bad either. The ceremony is such a solemn way to mark what essentially is a celebratory occasion that there always are bits of irreverence to either cheer or grumble about. My favorite was when some guy from the upper deck kept hollering something, presumably the name of his favorite graduate, and some guy on the floor behind me hollered back, "Shut up!"

I passed the time for a while by concentrating on the noses of the graduates. It's amazing how distorted faces can begin to appear after you have done that for a few minutes. It's sort of like the old child's game we used to play: Repeat any word often enough and it eventually begins to sound absurd and funny.

But the time passed with reasonable dispatch, and the university fed us afterward, and I went home afterward and took my first real day off since Easter. Not a bad time. But I still think they should liven things up a bit next year by requiring all graduates to adopt a Silly Walk to use as they cross the stage.

Who's crazy now?

E.J. Dionne has some sensible thoughts in today's Gazette about Jeremiah Wright and the possibility that a double standard exists between right- and left-wing preachers.

I think there is something to that, but why limit it to preachers? Does anybody even know what sort of things the pastors of Hillary Clinton and John McCain may have been spouting from the pulpit over the last 20 years? Does anyone even know if they go to church?

It isn't just preachers who say outrageously dumb things. On the same page as today's Dionne column, Cal Thomas wrote: "if Democrats care about the poor, why haven’t they solved the problem of poverty? And the answer to that is that Democrats need people to remain poor and, thus, dependent on them so they can get their votes."

Just think for a moment about the sheer idiocy of that sentence. For one thing, Jesus himself said we would always have the poor with us. So if he couldn't solve poverty, what makes Thomas think Democrats can?

More seriously, if Thomas is to be believed, then Democrats must actually think that Republican policies are the key to ending poverty, yet Democrats reject those policies and instead adopt policies they know won't work because they think it's good politics to have a lot of poor people. Given a choice between believing what Thomas wrote and what the Rev. Wright said about the government spreading HIV, I'm endorsing the HIV theory.

Yet Thomas will no doubt continue on his merry way, embraced by Republicans, invited on talk shows, still columnizing, all without consequence. Or, of course, you have Rush Limbaugh calling for riots in Denver. Has Wright said anything more anti-American than that? And you have talk show host Bill Cunningham, who has repeatedly called Obama a Bolshevik or worse.

I'm not blaming McCain for Thomas, Limbaugh or Cunningham. He has done his best to distance himself from them, and they have little use for him. But if we are going after people in the public eye for saying crazy things, why focus so much on Wright? There is a lot of crazy stuff out there, and many of those saying it have a much bigger megaphone than Wright does.

UPDATE: But perhaps McCain should have to answer for this (h/t Andrew Sullivan).

UPDATE 2: And this pretty well sums up my thoughts on the entire subject.

Friday, May 02, 2008

All Wright

Thursday's talk radio update: Jeremiah Wright seemed to be slowly fading from the talk radio agenda. O'Reilly was too busy crowing about his interview with Hillary Clinton. Glenn Beck was rambling on about ... well, I'm not sure exactly what he was rambling on about, but it didn't seem to be Jeremiah Wright. Savage was ... OK, I admit I didn't actually have the stomach for Savage yesterday. Sometimes when his theme music comes on, my stomach starts to twist into a knot, and I have to change the station immediately.

Only Sean Hannity appeared to be still consumed by Jeremiah Wright. If Obama were to announce tomorrow that he had discovered a cure for cancer, persuaded Osama bin Laden to turn himself in and developed an energy source that would run cars for a nickel a gallon, the news would have to stand in line behind Jeremiah Wright to make it onto Hannity's show.

Hannity's latest twist was to quote a columnist (sorry, forgot the name) who asked whether Americans would tolerate a political candidate who attended a church that espoused notions of upholding white culture, white values, the white work ethic, etc.

Hannity liked this so much that he quoted it at least three times, twice on his radio show and once on TV. But it is an obviously and profoundly defective analysis, as both a radio caller and, on TV, Juan Williams tried to make clear. This is the sort of question that Williams ought to be able to slam out of the ballpark, and he was winding up to take a big swing, pointing out that the black church forged its unique identity out of rejection by white Christians.

Then, as so often happens when discussion threatens to go beyond name calling, Hannity suddenly had to take a break. Williams' big swing ended in a slow roller down the third base line.

For guys like Hannity, who think that Ronald Reagan created the heavens and the earth in 1980, it was all just too much complexity for one day.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Clinton is coming

Pretty big news: Just got a note saying that Bill Clinton will be at the Yellowstone County Democrats' Truman Dinner on May 8 at Alterowitz Gymnasium. Tickets cost $40 and are available here (although Clinton isn't even mentioned yet on the website).