Montana struck by earthquake; two-headed calf born; I get Best Writer as end draws nigh

Pretty cute but will not stop saying “he is coming”

That tremor Montanans felt last night was Norman Maclean rolling over in his grave. The well-intentioned maniacs who voted in this year’s Best of Misssoula poll have selected me as best writer over perennial winner James Lee Burke, strengthening the case that Indy readers are making fun of me. Burke has published more novels than I have visited states. He has received numerous professional awards, justly, and I suspect his being unjustly denied this one will escape his notice. I, on the other hand, am embarrassed. Thank you to everyone who voted in the poll, and thank you to the awesome power of selection bias.

I also got best journalist, which is the same bullshit that happened last year. You know who the best journalist in Missoula is? Derek Brouwer. It’s either him or Erika Fredrickson. Both of those people go out there and gather real information they fashion into news, while I stay home and pretend to be wrong about it. It’s an unjust system. But we must obey the Best of Missoula electoral college, which awarded me the win this year even though I lost the popular vote. You can read all about it in this week’s column, in which I make common cause with the president in our search for evidence to back our claims of fact. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to celebrate. Mark McGwire, Milli Vanilli, and the guy who accepted the Best Picture Oscar for Crash are all waiting for me at Dave & Buster’s.

Daines says flag is a symbol but burning it is not expression

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) at the roast of Green Goblin

Ours is a lively time for federal government. Just this morning, Republicans in the Senate released a health care bill they’ve been crafting for weeks. We’ve withdrawn from the Paris climate accords. According to the president, who is admittedly not a reliable source, the president is under investigation by special prosecutor. Now seems like a particularly thrilling moment to be a US senator. With a seat in that chamber, a person could shape history. In unrelated news, Sen. Steve Daines, Republican of Montana, has proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning.

On Flag Day, his office issued a press release touting his plan to “give Congress the authority to prohibit burning of the American flag.” It included approving reactions form the Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion on behalf of the Citizens Flag Alliance and, on the left, prominent American civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz the American Legion of Montana. Although the amendment looks like a slam dunk among Eisenhower-era social organizations, its reception in the press was more mixed. Here’s Jesse Chaney of the Helena Independent Record, on the campaign’s opinion about whether this isn’t the first restriction on free expression in American history:

Daines’ staff said the senator does not consider flag desecration to be a form of peaceful expression. They said his amendment would not limit anyone’s right to expression, but [would] distinguish flag desecration as conduct not protected by the Constitution. The senator’s staff noted that Congress already bans many other forms of conduct through criminal law.

I checked with a lawyer, and that last part is right: criminal law does ban many forms of conduct. But all expression is a form of conduct. It’s a subcategory. Daines’s argument is like saying, “That’s not a square; it’s a rhombus.” What distinguishes expression as a particular type of conduct is its symbolic meaning. Speaking aloud is conduct, but it is the symbolic content of the noise that we endeavor to keep free. And Sen. Daines himself calls the flag a symbol twice in the second paragraph of his press release. Quote:

The American flag has been a symbol of hope and freedom for centuries and ought to be respected. Our nation’s flag must be set apart as a protected symbol worthy of honor.

It’s almost like his argument has no underlying logical framework at all. Maybe it sounds better in the original Goblish. You can read many such cheap cracks and appeals to internal coherence in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

We will not be back tomorrow with Friday links. We will be driving to a wedding in Washington state, and the following week we’ll be in New York City with our girlfriend. There will be no Combat! blog from Monday, June 26th through Wednesday, July 5th, so that I can work on the goddamn novel and still have time to see the sights. Is this the longest vacation Combat! blog has taken in its nine-year tradition of existence? Yes it is. Will we all be okay? Probably. What am I, a futurologist?

Gianforte avoids jail time for assaulting reporter, now supports free press

Greg Gianforte cuts a promo for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

On Monday, Gallatin County Justice Court sentenced Greg Gianforte to 40 hours of community service for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Judge Rick West also ordered the representative-elect to complete 20 hours of anger management classes. Gianforte has pled guilty, apologized to Jacobs, and pledged to donate $50,000 to Committee to Protect Journalists. In court, he described the assault as follows: “I grabbed his wrist. A scuffle ensued, and he was injured, as I understand it.”

That’s accurate, I guess, but it is phrased in a way that minimizes his responsibility. A “scuffle ensued” when Gianforte attacked Jacobs. “He was injured” by Gianforte. It is good that the representative-elect understands that, since he is the one who did it. This statement suggests that Gianforte has learned his lesson, and the lesson is that he can assault a reporter and suffer no meaningful consequences for his actions.

His party has learned a lesson, too. According to McClatchy, Republicans across the country are planning to make 2018 a “referendum on the media” by “embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them.” That’s exciting. I think it’s a stretch to say a biased press corps is out to destroy Republican voters, though. The problem with this strategy is that it assumes voters also view press coverage as an obstacle to their agenda, when the press is how voters learn what politicians are up to.

Here’s a timely example of how the press and voters are actually on the same side. In the hours after Gianforte assaulted Jacobs, his campaign released a statement claiming that the “liberal journalist” grabbed Gianforte and caused them both to fall. That wasn’t true. Gianforte threw Jacobs to the ground and punched him. The accurate version of events only came out because a Fox News crew was in the room at the time. Through his spokesman, Shane Scanlon, Gianforte lied to voters. He then refused to speak to reporters for the next 24 hours, throughout election day, evidently hoping his campaign’s false statement would hold up long enough for Montanans to vote.

Never forget that Rep. Gianforte’s endgame was to get elected based on false information. He lied to voters and stonewalled the press. There is no reason to believe he thinks we are all in this together against the fake news. He is the fake news. You can read all about in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Marijuana sales tax could swamp revenue dept. with cash

The Montana Department of Revenue (artist’s conception)

This spring, after Montana re-legalized medical marijuana, the legislature imposed a 4% sales tax. It is likely that much of the revenue from this tax will come in as cash. Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, banks that operate across state lines are reluctant to do business with dispensaries. Many providers can’t accept credit cards, much less set up business accounts to wire money to Helena. The question of how they will transport quarterly cash payments to the Department of Revenue has exciting security ramifications. Perhaps more exciting is the question of what Revenue will do with that cash once it comes in.

Speaking to the Billings Gazette, Deputy Director Gene Walborn predicted business as usual. He said his agency would “maybe [get] some cash counters and that kind of thing.” Revenue anticipates bringing in about $750,000. That figure is based on an estimate of 11,877 medical marijuana cardholders across the state—the average number in 2016, under the old law, when providers were limited to three customers apiece and forbidden from turning a profit.

Since I-182 lifted those restrictions, the number of cardholders has risen to 15,564. That’s a 31% increase in six months, during a period when dispensaries were just beginning to open up again. After the state’s first attempt at medical marijuana legalization, before the patient and profit limits went into effect, the number of cardholders peaked at 30,000. It seems like the Department of Revenue could get a lot more cash than it expects. Its plan to do nothing might have more to do with what’s easiest than with what conditions suggest.

In this way, Revenue is continuing a tradition. From the legalization that triggered a statewide boom in the last decade to the restrictions that abruptly shut it down in 2011, Helena has consistently done what it would about medical marijuana and considered the consequences later. You can read all about our state government’s steadfast refusal to plan ahead in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

While you’re there, check out this piece about the final legal bill for acquiring Mountain Water. When it first embarked on this project in 2014, the City of Missoula estimated that the legal cost of purchasing the city’s water system through eminent domain would come to $400,000. The city took ownership last Thursday, and its final legal bill was $7.4 million. That’s 19 times the original estimate. But that kind of thing happens when you’re doing business. It’s like when you buy a car for 15 grand but, after taxes and fees, the final price comes to $285,000.

In other news, my mother is in town, so this is the last Combat! blog you’re going to see until Wednesday. That’s a long time, right? I sure hope nothing happens in the news between now and then.

I just want to help people

I got into public service because I want to help people. As you may have heard, I recently made several hundred million dollars selling my column to Lee Enterprises. Now that I am rich, I can do whatever I want, and what I want most is to fight for you, the ordinary, struggling, not-at-all-rich stupid asshole. I love you, and that’s why I am running for governor. I’m also up for US representative, and I wouldn’t say no to the Senate or even a judicial appointment, if it’s federal. I just really, really want to help people. Sometimes I want to help them so much I attack one of them.

I don’t want to do it, of course. I apologize for doing it, in the past and, unavoidably, in the future. It’s just that so many things are fake, especially questions. Don’t you hate it when somebody asks you a fake question? I come into public life full of cold-pressed juices and good intentions, with a message anyone can understand: “I’m here to help. Put me in charge.” But immediately people start in with the fakery, asking “how do you plan to help?” and “what do you think about this other plan to help?” until I’m just like SHUT UP YOU FAKE SON OF A BLLLEEAARGH! And then I help them through a coffee table.

Anyway, I think politics is a natural fit for me. It’s certainly the the most direct way to help people, by making laws for them and stuff. I would also like to create jobs. Ever since I got rich, I’ve been worried that not enough people are working. You can read all about my new life as a helpful and violent multimillionaire in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. As with all my columns, I wrote it six months ago, so I’m lucky that recent events unfolded the way they did. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!