Posted: March 30, 2015 at 8:41 pm by Cowgirl

Five Mind-Bogglingly Stupid Things the House Did to Decimate MT’s Outdoor Economy

The state Senate began deliberations on the state’s budget today, after the House massacred it earlier this session.

As Sen. Minority Leader Jon Sesso wrote in an op-ed in the Great Falls Tribune:

Republicans slashed $160 million in essential services in spite of Montana’s economic prosperity. Republicans refused 73 amendments and passed a budget in complete disarray, one that is unacceptable to our caucus and offensive to hard-working Montanans. These cuts will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable of our citizens while other measures and proposed tax cuts would deplete the $300 million rainy day fund.

There was no apparent rhyme or reason to the of the cuts, indeed many were blatantly stupid.

Take , for example, the GOP legislature did to the budget of the Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks.   Ignorant of, or simply ignoring the fact that out-of-state visitors alone pump $4 billion a year into Montana’s economy, the Montana House of Representatives has taken a blowtorch to everything that makes managing Montana’s parks and outdoor recreation efficient, well-run, and easily accessible.

Here are five of the most glaring examples:

 

1. HB 403 – the Republican answer to the portions of FWP that were contained in Governor Bullock’s Build Montana economic development bill (which while not dead has certainly been slashed to a bloody pulp).

The sponsor of HB 403  is Rep. Dave Hagstrom. Cowgirl readers are familiar with this guy and his comments about ballpoint pens and his letters to low income people about how they should expect to die soon.  Hagstrom amended his bill to bar the department from spending it’s money on a whole list of responsible management programs. The House gutted public access and habitat funding from the bill. Rep.  Hagstrom (TEA-Billings said he thought this was a good idea because he intends to eliminate these habitat and access programs for good in the 2017 Legislature.   These programs were established by previous legislatures and are heavily supported by hunters and anglers.   HB 403 passed the house today.  The programs that were eliminated, and the programs that the legislature barred FWP from spending any money on, are listed here:

  • Habitat Montana
  • Upland Bird Habitat Enhancement Program
  • Migratory Bird Program (reduced spending authority by 25%)
  • Bighorn Sheep Habitat Program
  • Fishing Access Site Acquisition Program

2. HB 234 – In case you haven’t been following this debacle, this one is one of the most idiotic of the bunch. Rep. Nancy Ballance is carrying this shooting range bill on behalf of gun nut Gary Marbut.  This bill was debated on the house floor today.  It actually requires FWP to dedicate $350,000/year to shooting ranges.

There is a big problem with doing this. The U.S. government has indicated this bill will create a diversion of FWP funds which will make Montana  ineligible for $27 million in funds we get from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service–every year.  This money pays for about 1/3 of all fish and wildlife management programs in our state.  Not smart, right?

Ballance says she wants her shooting range program to become the FWP’s highest priority program–above anything else.  No joke.  She and Marbut said that if this money is not spent on  shooting ranges, the overseeing officials are subject to fines and/or jail time.  But here’s the kicker:  Montana already has a shooting range program–we’ve had it for 25 years.  And the shooting range program gets all the funding it needs through grants, so there is no need to force Montana to lose $27 million by trying to divert other money toward it.

3. HB 146 - This bill by Rep. Flynn should be called the “Hey tourists who spend $4 billion in Montana’s economy every year, we don’t want you here, so get the heck out of our state” bill.    It forces a massive increase to non-resident hunting and fishing licenses and translates to a $1.4 million dollars loss to FWP’s work.

4.   HB 2 – the primary bill funding all Fish Wildlife and Parks (and all agency) operations.

  • The Legislature has failed to fund the full pay plan implemented by Gov. Bullock over the current biennium – in FWP that means another $750,000 reduction annually in funding for staff.
  • The Legislature ruled that the the popular Block Management Program must be automatically removed from the budget after the next two years.  The program has been successful for over 25 years, but is now uncertain into the future.  There doesn’t appear to be any logic behind this.
  • The Legislature refused to fund the work the Fish Wildlife and Parks must do to enforce the laws they themselves passed.  Again, pure stupidity here. Is there anything more nonsensical than a group of folks who says, we demand that you do something, but we refuse to allow you to use the resources you need to do it?

5. HB 5 – the primary bill for all infrastructure needs

  • The House of Representatives voted to bar the FWP from spending money on habitat and fishing access site programs.   Note that I didn’t say cut the funding, the funding is STILL THERE.  The agency is simply not allowed to spend it.  Again, the legislature itself passed laws requiring these programs, and requiring that certain money can ONLY be spent on these programs.  So the world class minds in the house have declared that $12.5 million dollars will simply be left to accumulate in an account.  This means that many worthy projects may be lost–even though Montana has the money to spend on them and they are set up by the legislature itself.

There is one small bright spot, however.   HB 140 is a good bill. -Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon) is carrying it and it is estimated to generate an additional $5.7 million per year that will allow FWP to sustain its current programs out to 2021.  Without this legislation, FWP will need to reduce its current programs by the $5.7 million during the next biennium to stay within its current revenue stream.  HB 140 passed out of the House on a solid vote of 70- 30, but has yet to be heard in the Senate.  The bill needs to stay as is and pass the Senate with no amendments if at all possible.

If amendments are added in the Senate, it must return to the House or be banished to a conference committee if the house rejects the amendments. And everyone knows that this session, most bills that must be sent to a conference committee appointed by leadership are being sent to their deaths.

 

Posted: March 30, 2015 at 6:59 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Reducto ad absurdum

by Sen. Mary Sheehy Moe, D-Great Falls

One of the nicest things about being a legislator is hearing other Montanans’ stories. Sometimes, though, it’s one of the hardest.

Case in point: On March 20, a woman named Leona told those of us on the Senate Judiciary Committee her story. One day a few years ago, her sons, Dustin and Daniel, left the house to go to summer school. It had been stormy recently, but that day seemed calm, so Leona wasn’t concerned about the safety of the drive.

Within an hour her phone rang. It was Daniel. Dustin had crashed the car, he told her. She was relieved to hear Daniel was OK, but what about Dustin? “There’s a stick in his eye,” Daniel said. “He’s unconscious.”

Leona got in her car and sped to the scene, noticing all the sticks and twigs on the road from the recent storm. She didn’t see Dustin right away. He was being worked on in the ambulance and was soon taken to the hospital. At the hospital, she finally saw him.

“The first thing I saw was all the blood,” she told us. “But then I saw ‘the stick.’”  It wasn’t the twig she’d imagined. It was a snapped-off fencepost rammed into her son’s head.  Over the next few hours, hope dribbled away. Dustin’s condition was inoperable. His body fought the life support system. She gave the nod to discontinue efforts to sustain him and, with her husband and oldest son, stood the final watch. The men held Dustin’s hands. She kept her hand on his heart until it beat no more.

That night Daniel activated Dustin’s cell phone, wanting to know Dustin’s state of mind before he died. He found the last message, a text unsent because Dustin crashed while crafting it.  “He was happy, Mom!” the younger boy said, handing her the phone. Dustin’s last text was “LOL.”

Leona told us Dustin’s story – her family’s story – as testimony in support of HB 297, prohibiting texting while driving in Montana.  Joining her in support of the bill were physicians, law enforcement, contractors, hospitals, and AT&T. The bill had been amended in the House to address the concerns of ham radio/snowplow/tow truck operators.  In the Senate, there were no opponents.

HB 297 narrowly passed out of Judiciary and was heard on the Senate floor last week.  Twice. The first debate was a travesty of deliberation. Reducto ad absurdum ran amok, with each hypothetical situation more far-fetched and each personal anecdote more off-point than the last. We were schooled on how crucial cell phones are for directing combines during harvest, how a person could be stopped for picking up potato chips from the car floor, and how eating a hamburger while driving was just as dangerous.

Before long opponents were having a good old time, flexing their debating muscles by cross-examining the beleaguered sponsor on how to distinguish texting from playing Tetris and how to address “verbal texting.” Others noted how many other things distract drivers – children squabbling in the back, putting on make-up – yet we didn’t outlaw those things.

As the discussion careened crazily from the pertinent to the trivial, I kept thinking of Leona’s appearance before us a week earlier. She was the essence of dignity, neither steeling nor strumming her grief, keeping her composure throughout the telling of her family’s tragic tale. Her husband, sitting nearby, had difficulty keeping his. About half-way through her testimony, his big shoulders began to heave with sobs, and he kept his gaze fixed until she returned to his side.  I prayed they were not streaming this floor debate.

Then came the comment, “You can’t fix stupid,” launching a new volley of inanity. I had testimony in my hand that showed otherwise, but the debate had gone on too long, and my own composure was now too compromised to trust.  The bill failed on a tied vote, and two days later, on reconsideration, it failed 27-23.  The opposition that day began with the boast: “The only time I text is between emails.”  It ended ended with an impassioned speech from a veteran lawmaker on the scandalous behavior of young college kids on spring break in Florida, with a break-out rant on “what’s the matter with parents these days” and a crescendo into the ever-popular strains of “personal responsibility.”

I guess it doesn’t matter now, but you should know this:

  • Recent research shows that 58% of teen car crashes are caused by distracted driving; 12% of those distraction-related crashes involve cell phones.
  • Texting multiplies the chances of a crash by 6.
  • Montana is the only state in the nation without any statewide regulation of texting-while-driving.  All our neighboring states ban it.
  • Half of Montana teens report that they text while driving. Nearly half report that they ride in cars where the driver texts and drive.

We routinely limit our freedoms when data and common sense show us that a particular liberty endangers lives. Nobody snickers and sneers when a new stop sign is installed at a high-collision intersection.  Nobody bellows about personal freedoms when you have to go 35 mph in a construction zone. But when data and common sense and too many stories like Leona’s tell us that Montana drivers are dying and killing others because they are texting, what does the Montana legislature do? Nothing but bloviate.

You CAN fix stupid.  A recently study of the correlation between laws against texting and highway fatalities is telling. When states adopt secondary texting laws (and we won’t even do that!), there is no significant difference in highway fatalities. But when states adopt primary texting laws, 3% fewer adults die and11% fewer young people die.

Maybe 17-year-old Dustin was stupid that day he texted “LOL” and lost his life. But his parents didn’t need or deserve the indignity of that reminder during the debate of an issue they idealistically hoped might spare someone else the lesson that now haunts their lives. They are painfully aware of the one thing you really can’t fix. You can’t fix dead.

Sen. Moe can be reached at moe.mt.senate@gmail.com.  She has written several guest pieces this session, helping to broaden the debate and give important issues more of the consideration they deserve.

Posted: March 30, 2015 at 6:49 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Banning and Criminalizing Telehealth Abortions, HB 587, Rep. Keith Regier, Kalispell

by Carol Mackin, Helena

Carole Mackin is the Website Administrator for the People’s Power League in Helena. Learn more at http://www.peoplespowerleague.info

HB 587, sponsored by Rep. Regier, says medical practitioners may not perform an abortion, including a chemically induced abortion, unless they’re in the physical presence of the woman.  Prescribing, administering, or dispensing a drug intended to cause a chemical abortion via telehealth services turns medical practitioners into felons and punishes them with a jail term for a maximum of five years.

Telehealth services are undefined in this bill or anywhere else in Montana law or regulations.  So who defines telehealth?   Since no rule making authority is granted in this bill, the definition depends on the courts–either a court prosecuting a medical practitioner or the Supreme Court deciding constitutionality.

Sometimes a bill’s language triggers a Legal Review Note from Legislative Services.   A note evaluates conformity between the language of the bill, constitution and court rulings.  HB 587 deserved such scrutiny because Montana’s Constitution states “individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest.” (Art II, Sec. 10)

HB 587 also may infringe a woman’s right to privacy as determined by the Montana Supreme Court (Armstrong v. Mt 1999) which ruled a woman may seek and obtain a pre-viability abortion from a health care provider other than a “physician only.”  Legislation designed to make it difficult, inconvenient and costly to obtain a specific medical procedure could be seen as interfering with the constitutional right of privacy.

HB 587 remains unamended after clearing the House.  It awaits executive action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Will they address constitutional issues?

 

 

Posted: March 27, 2015 at 7:26 am by Cowgirl

Confederacy of Imbeciles Cannot Stop Dark Money Bill

Lots to catch up on today in the Legislature.

First, a confederacy of imbecile Tea Partiers in the House tried to block Gov. Steve Bullock’s campaign finance reform bill, SB 289, which is being carried by a Republican legislator Sen. Duane Ankney.  It has the support of moderate Republicans and all Dems, and will therefore pass the House. It’s already sailed through the Senate. Tea Partiers can’t do a thing about it.  Although they tried to. They offered dozens of amendments, trying anything they could to bottle up the measure with unpalatable language.  Rep. Greg Hertz (R-Polson) offered 17 of the 22 amendments designed to defeat the measure.

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He then ludicrously tried to claim that the reason he doesn’t support the measure is because it didn’t go far enough–and that he plans to tell voters that he tried to address the issue of dark money.  Sen, Ankney, as you can see in the picture above, was not impressed.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 7.09.39 AM

But the coalition held strong, and it passed out clean.  Now it will head to the Governor’s desk.

And when I say imbeciles, I mean imbeciles.  The best part of the debate came when a few Tea Partiers began complaining that the new law would seek to have candidates file their financial reports online, which most do already.  Rep. Kerry White (R-Bozeman) said that this was a bad idea because 50% of people in his district don’t know how to use a computer.  If White thinks that 50% of people in Bozeman can’t use a computer, then he is 100% an idiot.

Clayton Fiscus, (R-Billings) topped that, though.  He proudly informed the chamber that the year he graduated college, the word “computer” wasn’t in the dictionary. Therefore, he said, has no interest in being forced into doing anything on any computer.

And Rep. Art Wittich (R-Bozeman) decried the bill as unworthy of passage because, he said, it was all about “more regulation.”  Yes, it is.  Um, that’s the point.

Worse, for the duration of the debate, the “designated legal counsel” on the floor was the uber-angry Mathew Monforton.  At one point, he opined that the bill was unconstitutional simply because it requires candidates to file their reports online.  Even if the bill did require this, it would not be unconstitutional.  But the moderate Republian Geraldine Custer (R-Forsyth), who has been on the right side of all election bills, scolded Monforton and told him to read the bill, and he would see that it says a candidate “may” file online.  At which point he mumbled something and then sat down, and was heard from no more.

Also opposing the bill in recent days is Jeff Laszloffy of the Family Foundation, who has tried to claim that this bill would require churches to report small donations in the donation box.  This absurd claim was proven without merit.  Laszloffy, by the way, is only a host for a virus: his money, virtually all of it, comes from Greg Gianforte, the religious nut who is the presumed challenger to Steve Bullock next year.  And the two of them directed huge funds into attack campaigns during the 2014 legislative primaries, attacking moderate Republicans, many of whom ended up winning anyway.  And it was they that Laszloffy tried to lobby on this campaign finance bill.  You can understand why was shown the door by these Republican legislators, as Troy Carter points out in this must-read Bozeman Chronicle piece.

Its all another way of saying that the Tea Party has created for itself a giant mess.  As a result, we will see campaign finance reform and probably reform to close the health coverage gap as well, meaning that Montana will end up accepting the $5 billion in our own federal funds for healthcare and jobs.  We will also see an infrastructure bill, more closely aligned with the format that Bullock wants and Montana needs.

Speaking of Gianforte, incidentally, he was sited two weeks ago in the Capitol, rubbing elbows with legislators and taking their temperature on their feelings about a gubernatorial run by him.

Posted: March 26, 2015 at 7:57 pm by Cowgirl

GUEST POST *Trigger Warning* Legalizing Discrimination?

submitted by Nathan Kosted, Montana Human Rights Network Community Organizer

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Former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson, testifying against HB 615

Imagine a world where a man could claim that domestic violence or child abuse laws don’t apply to him because his religion teaches him that a husband has the right to discipline his wife and children as he sees fit. Imagine a world where a woman must search through hospitals because her chosen hospital disagrees with the morality of a life-saving procedure for her. Imagine a world where a committed, loving LGBT couple could be denied a marriage license due to the religious beliefs of a government bureaucrat.

This is the world that extremists in Montana’s House of Representatives want to become a reality and it will if they have their way. House Bill 615 introduced by Carl Glimm (R-Kila), is a legislative referendum that Republicans are attempting to place on the ballot for the November 2016 election. This bill is inspired by the notorious Hobby Lobby decision made by the United States Supreme Court last year.

House Bill 615 would make discrimination legal in the name of religious freedom. The title of the bill is the so-called, “Montana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” A better name for the bill would be the, “Montana Right to Discriminate Act.” The bill is supposedly meant to protect people from laws that substantially burden their religious beliefs. However, this bill allows bosses to impose their religious beliefs on their employees resulting in a hornets’ nest of unintended consequences. Several glaring possibilities are pharmacies could turn away women seeking to fill birth control prescriptions, people seeking to fill prescriptions for HIV prevention treatment, or transgender people seeking hormone treatment. Another possible consequence could be a hospital that doesn’t believe in abortion refusing to perform the procedure even if the life of the mother was at stake.

Please call or email the Senate Judiciary Committee today and tell them to vote against HB 615 http://leg.mt.gov/css/Sessions/64th/legwebmessage.asp

The law was originally passed at the federal level to protect Native Americans’ right to use peyote in religious ceremonies. How, you may ask, has it been perverted to circumvent well established laws on equality then? The answer is that after the recent case of Hobby Lobby at the United States Supreme Court the extreme right felt emboldened and responded with a backlash against equal marriage rights for all. This law is an attempt to circumvent hard fought gains made in the courts and could allow any employee of a clerk’s office to deny gay and lesbian couples their right to marriage licenses on religious grounds.

This bill would attack the great strides that we have made here in Montana to protect members of the LGBT community from employment, housing or public accommodation discrimination with the implementation of local non-discrimination ordinance’s(NDOs). In Montana the cities of Missoula, Helena and Bozeman have passed NDO’s as well as Butte Silver-Bow County. NDO’s could be nullified by the religious beliefs of only a few of the cities’ residents.

This bill would clog the courts with expensive litigation from those who claim they have a religious right to violate secular laws.

Religious freedom is one of our country’s fundamental values. We have the absolute right to believe whatever we want about God, faith, and religion, and we have the right to express our religious beliefs. These rights are guaranteed to us by the United States Constitution. Religion should never be a free pass to ignore the law or violate the basic civil rights of others. This law allows religion to be wielded as a sword and rather than a shield by encouraging people to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to violate the rights of others and emboldens people who want to use religion as justification for violating both criminal laws and civil laws.

Businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms. Nobody should be turned away from a business or refused service by government officials just because of who they are. Existing non-discrimination laws at the state and local level obligate business owners to serve people of all faiths aPicturend races even when doing so challenges the religious views of the business owner. Businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms.

Montana doesn’t need this copied and pasted law, it is a bad legislation that authorizes discrimination. Montana representatives should listen to their better angels and choose not to codify discrimination. Intolerance has no place in the law.

 

 

Posted: March 26, 2015 at 7:01 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Did Montana Just Elect A War Criminal To Congress?

by Wade Sikorski

Sikorski is a farmer and rancher in Baker, Montana. , he holds a Ph.D in political science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a degree in Contemporary Political Theory. Before moving to Montana to write books and ranch, he worked as an assistant professor at New Mexico State University. He is active in the conservation movement and has written several books. 

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Ryan Zinke, a former Navy Seal didn’t want to talk, but there he was, talking.  His Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training might have taught him how to get out of tight spots, how to not talk, even if waterboarded, but now he was caught, captured by the much maligned mainstream media, and forced to talk.   There was no escape.  He had to debate his opponents.  There were two of them, basically, the one he was running against and the Montana media, the one that was trying to figure out what he was running for, and both of them were talking democracy, accountability, and answering questions about where he would lead the nation.

Last fall, when Ryan Zinke was running as a Republican against John Lewis, the Democrat, to be Montana’s sole representative in Congress, he consistently led Lewis by significant margins in the polls.  He perhaps felt there was no reason to risk his advantage by giving his opponent a chance to attack him in a debate.  So, he took what many Montanans felt was the dishonorable way to victory: He refused to debate.

The Montana Democratic Party, the Lewis campaign, and various bloggers had a field day ridiculing the Navy Seal who was ducking out of a debate.  A whole series of guest editorials in state newspapers attacked him for not debating.  A Democrat party commercial also ridiculed him for not talking about his role in a political action committee that he had founded, for not talking about a series of election complaints filed against him, and for failing to release his military records.

And then, the Billings Gazette published an editorial saying Zinke had flunked the political courage test for refusing to debate, arguing that if he was going to represent the people of Montana, they had a right to know what he thought, how he would vote.  Imagine that—being a Navy Seal, someone whose courage was supposed to be beyond question, and having the state’s largest newspaper telling everyone you flunked a political courage test.  If war is politics by other means, courage, it would seem, is still the test of character in both.

Afraid of failing more tests of political courage, Zinke finally agreed to debate.  Then things took an even more unfortunate turn.

The editor of the Billings Gazette, Darryl Ehrlich, had been joking with the Lewis camp for weeks about how to fill the hour-long debate if Zinke did not turn up, as he was threatening to do. Someone said that maybe Lewis could play a guitar. Several times after that, Ehrlich teased the Lewis campaign about making sure John was practicing on his guitar.

When the night of the debate came, Ehrlich asked Lewis as they were waiting with Zinke to go onstage if he had his guitar tuned. They laughed.  Several minutes later, according to Ehrlich, Zinke said, “John plays the guitar. I waterboard.”

Such simple words, so admirably clear, so unambiguously precise, and yet so open to interpretation.

Unfortunately Ehrlich didn’t follow up on Zinke’s statement that he had waterboarded people. He later dismissed it as an off-hand comment, maybe a self-deprecating crack, a joke perhaps, though maybe also a veiled threat.  And the Billings Gazette has not published a story since clarifying the issue, despite being sharply criticized for not following up.

So, months later, the question remains: What was it?  A joke or a threat?  Mere bluster or the terrible truth?

There are two separate issues here: One, a possible threat against an editor, and the other, the possibility Zinke tortured people.  First the threat.

Zinke didn’t want to be at the debate, it should be remembered.  Really did not want to be there. He was there because he was shamed into it, in no small part because Ehrlich had published an editorial calling his political courage into question.  It is likely that Zinke resented the editor, and the point of his comment was to remind the editor of what kind of man he was, a Navy Seal who had done things, very possibly including waterboarding, that were not very funny at all.

So, actually, the joke was an anti-joke kind of joke, one that might make Ehrlich more carefully consider his options as an editor.

If you put it this way, a politician threatening an editor with violence because he didn’t want to answer questions about how he would lead the country, freedom of the press does become an issue.  Editors are actually where freedom of the press happens.  Writers, reporters, journalists, cartoonists, and various other kinds of artists might be the heroes of free speech, providing the content we argue over, but editors decide what gets published.  The whole point of freedom of the press is for editors to be free to decide what gets published without anybody involved in government intimidating them.  Freedom of the press is how government is held accountable, and so, even the slightest, most veiled, threat by a politician against an editor is unacceptable.

In the editorial where he reported Zinke’s off-hand comment, Ehrlich angrily denounced the Lewis camp for leaking the comment to the Los Angeles Times.  He argued it was taking an off-hand comment too seriously, playing political gotcha.

But perhaps the Lewis camp was simply, if clumsily, trying to raise a legitimate issue that should have been raised long before.  If Zinke has been involved in torturing people, and is an indictable war criminal, we need to know.  Torture is a war crime, prohibited by the Geneva Convention, the Torture Convention, various domestic laws the military operates under, and by an American tradition that goes all the way back to General Washington, who famously issued an order against it.

But the editor might still have a point, at least if it is about Zinke saying crap that just can’t be taken seriously.

During the campaign, for instance, Zinke said that Hillary Clinton was the anti-Christ.  (That’s one small insult by a man, one giant leap for womankind—final proof of Hillary’s awesomeness, if ever it were needed.  For her to be nominated to the high office of anti-Christ, which had exclusively been reserved for men, shattered a glass ceiling in place for thousands of years.)

In an email to potential supporters, Zinke said that he took part in killing Bin Laden, even though he had retired from the Navy three years earlier.  And, believe it or not, he claimed this after repeatedly attacking President Obama for using the raid for personal political gain.

In a TV interview on Newsmax, Zinke said that the first thing we need to do to deal with the ISIS invasion into Iraq is to secure our border with Mexico. Yes, that’s right, that’s the considered advice of a Navy Seal: ISIS invades Iraq, we need to stop it at the Mexican border.  No need to worry about the long and almost unguarded border Montana has with Canada, or that terrorists might simply do what the 9/11 hijackers did, and get a visa and enter the country legally; we need to stop ISIS at the Mexican border.

In an email to his supporters he warned that a “leftist infiltration is going to take over the country because of the apathy of patriots.”  And then he said that President Obama should be impeached for Benghazi.  “He’s had six years of doing his will to this country, and I believe that’s intentional dismantling of American power both domestically and abroad,” Zinke told The Huffington Post. “So, is impeachment in the cards? Let’s hope we have the votes.”

This was not an isolated attack on Obama; it got worse.  He told the Daily Inter Lake, “It’s time to stop President Obama from negotiating away our freedoms and our ability to win on the battlefield.  For those who have taken an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, it is a call of duty to take back America from a commander-in-chief that is incapable of understanding the sacrifices that have been made for the values that have made America great.”

Think about that last one for a little bit—the “call to duty” from a former Navy Seal, addressed perhaps to his Seal peers, to “take back America” from their commander-in-chief?   Doesn’t that sound just a little bit like a call for mutiny to you?  Or actually, a lot?

Yes, Zinke was retired, and thus a civilian, when he said this, but he was a Seal once too, and so we must wonder: Are his words so impotent that other Seals would not take them seriously?  He was one of them, and he also had some rank among them, which, one might imagine, meant at least once they took what he said seriously, and obeyed his orders. So, now that Zinke has issued his “call to duty” to take back America from our commander-in-chief, will the Seals still take orders from a man one of their own has said is betraying America and should be impeached?

Whether or not anyone is taking him seriously, Zinke is very seriously organizing his former colleagues in special operations to support his political ambitions, dangerously politicizing military organizations that are prohibited by law from becoming political.  In 2012, Zinke organized a super PAC called Special Operations for America, to attack Obama on behalf of special operations personnel for “taking credit” for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.  After the election he continued to take in a large amount of money, and then, just before he filed to run for Congress, he quit his PAC, turned over the leadership to another former Seal, and then became the primary beneficiary of the PAC he had created to attack Obama.

Yes, he actually did that. According to Mother Jones, this was an innovation in campaign financing first pioneered by Stephen Colbert that no one else took advantage of until Zinke came along.  Isn’t that funny?  Campaign financing has become so much a farce, politicians are now taking their leads from comedians.

Until Zinke got involved in politics, Seals were not known for talking much about what they do, and it might be agreed both left and right, though for different reasons, that Zinke has talked way too much, but now that he has started talking about torture, and about a “call to duty” to take back America from a president that he claims has betrayed us all, Zinke needs to talk a whole lot more.  He needs to explain just what he meant when he said what he said–this time without all the crap.

Zinke is a Congressman now, setting national policy, not a Navy Seal, carrying it out.  His words actually matter, even if he says them frivolously, for political effect.  We might be tempted to dismiss what Zinke says as impotent and useless bluster, as the editor of the Billings Gazette seems inclined, but there is a limit to how much we can ignore the man’s crap.  At some point, Zinke must be held accountable for what he says, what he has done, and what he proposes to do.  It’s called democracy, holding leaders accountable.

In his comment to the editor of the Billings Gazette, Zinke suggested he waterboarded people.  Of course we can’t take that as a confession, given his belligerent bluster, but we can take it as an invitation to investigate the possibility.

Here’s a beginning: As a Navy Seal, Zinke was under the command of JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command . According to a page on Zinke’s campaign website, which has since mysteriously disappeared, he held various positions of leadership in the Seals, sometimes as the leader of Seal Team Six. In 2004, he eventually became the Deputy and acting Commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task ForceArabian Peninsula, where he led a force of over 3500 Special Operations personnel in Iraq, conducting 360 combat patrols, 48 direct action missions and hundreds of sensitive missions.

Zinke’s positions of leadership in JSOC in Iraq during the war are significant because if you were a president (or a vice president) who wanted to torture people, as both Bush and Cheney surely were, JSOC would be the preferred means.  Unlike with the CIA or the regular military, Congress has not exercised its oversight powers over JSOC, and because so much of what it does is classified, oversight by the courts or the press doesn’t happen either. No one outside the executive branch asks what JSOC does, and JSOC never tells.  It is like a ghost, there, but not really there.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, told Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for The Nation, that Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often bypassed traditional military command structure by relying on JSOC to carry out their orders.

According to the recent Senate investigation, the CIA tortured a couple dozen people.  JSOC, which was barely mentioned in the investigation, very possibly tortured people by the thousands, using much harsher techniques, and potentially killing a much large number than the CIA.

According to Tim Heffernan, a reporter for Esquire magazine, an elite Army interrogator said that he witnessed both physical and mental torture at a U.S. base in Iraq operated by JSOC.  In 2006, this interrogator, which Heffernan called “Jeff,” told Esquire that he had witnessed the physical and mental torture of at Camp Nama, which was, according to a tedious joke told whenever anyone asked about what happened there, short for NastyAss Military Area.

When “Jeff” objected to the treatment of prisoners there, he was reassured that the Red Cross would never know what went on there, and they would never be called to account.  Under the Geneva Convention, to make sure no one is being tortured, the Red Cross is supposed to have access to all prisoners of war so that it can document their treatment.  According to Jeff “Once, somebody brought (Red Cross access) up with the colonel.  ‘Will they ever be allowed in here?’ And he said absolutely not. He had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in—they won’t have access and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating, even Army investigators.”

According to an article in the New York Times written by Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall, JSOC routinely tortured people at Camp Nama in what was called the Black Room, where the rule was, “No Blood, No Foul.”  As long as there was no blood, the presumption of the leaders operating the camp apparently went, there was no evidence, and no one would get prosecuted for anything they did.

But actually, not even that rule applied.   “The reality is, there were no rules there,” another Pentagon official said, according to the New York Times article.  At least several detainees were beaten until they died.  The torture was so bad the CIA, incredible as it may seem given its own use of torture, bared its personnel from the camp so that they would not be implicated in anything JSOC did.  The Human Rights Watch later published a lengthy report that expanded on the Times article.

Because of the secrecy that JSOC operates under, there is no public record of how involved Congressman Ryan Zinke was with the torture that happened while he was a leader in JSOC.  Conceivably, it might be that he knew nothing of it, or that, if he did know, he was a restraining influence.  However, given his elevated position in the chain of command, and the fact that he was promoted to it during a period when the Bush Administration was interested in finding ways to torture people, one might assume he did know, or even worse and more likely, was deliberately chosen because he was willing to carry out the Bush Administration’s illegal orders.

We don’t know what Zinke did while he was a Navy Seal, since the records are almost all classified, but we do know, at least as far as the issue of torture goes, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, serving in the wrong organization, under the wrong president (and, it should be added, the wrong vice president and the wrong secretary of defense), and, since he has retired, he has said all the wrong things, complaining endlessly about Obama’s restrictions on the rules of engagement, which presumably means limits on torture.  Given all that, the worst is easy to imagine.

According to the Convention on Torture, every country that is a signatory–as the United States is–must investigate and prosecute all instances of torture.  If they fail to do that–as the United States also clearly is–every other country that has signed the treaty has universal standing to prosecute.  So, if Zinke goes abroad, he could be arrested and prosecuted as a war criminal.

Think of what that would feel like, to have our representative prosecuted in a foreign country for war crimes.  The possibility is appalling.  So, here’s the question we in Montana must ask: Is the man we just elected to Congress a war criminal?  If it turns out he is, we cannot, we simply cannot, allow him to continue to represent us.

Posted: March 25, 2015 at 6:45 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Legislative Rape

by Anonymous

Fifty-six Montana legislators in the House of Representatives just voted to legalize rape of pregnant women.  Despicable.

House Bill 479 requires a doctor to determine how old a fetus is before performing any fetal surgery: “a person may not perform fetal surgery on an unborn child whose gestational age is 20 or more weeks without…first determining the gestational age of the unborn child or relying on a determination made by a physician.  In making this determination, the person shall make inquiries of the pregnant woman and perform or cause to be performed any medical examination and test that a reasonably prudent physician, knowledgeable about the case and the medical conditions involved, would consider necessary in order to make an accurate determination of the gestational age.”

When a fetus has been growing in the womb for less than 10 weeks, figuring out the age requires a transvaginal ultrasound.  A transvaginal ultrasound is when an ultrasound paddle is inserted into the same place babies come from: a vagina.

Fifty-six Montana legislators think it is a good idea for our government to require doctors thrust medical instruments into the vagina of pregnant women.  This is government mandated sexual intercourse without patient consent.  This is rape.  And the “patient” has to PAY the their OBGYN for this compulsory service.

My government does not have a license to practice medicine.  The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is a nonprofit organization of women’s health care physicians licensed to practice medicine, and: “Personal decision-making by women and their doctors should not be replaced by political ideology.”

As sad as I may be by the conduct of these 56-legislators, I am heartened our Montana Constitution will prevent enforcement of this barbaric regulation.

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Note:  The author of this post also provided a copy of this letter sent to the Tennessee legislature regarding a nearly identical piece of legislation.  While the Montana bill’s sponsor, Rep. Al Olscewski, cited a handful of  foreign medical associations in his closing, you can read here what the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the American Nurses Association, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and several other American medical associations think.   The Cowgirl Blog welcomes guest posts – please email the tipline at mntnacowgirl (at) gmail.com 

 

Posted: March 25, 2015 at 6:07 am by Cowgirl

Posted: March 24, 2015 at 7:15 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Does the MT Legislature Think MT Doctors are Inferior?

by Carol Mackin

Carole Mackin is the Website Administrator for the People’s Power League in Helena. Learn more at http://www.peoplespowerleague.info

HB587 introduced by Rep. Keith Regier has attracted little interest in the press.  (The bill passed third reading in the House on St. Patrick’s Day.)  I’ve read and reread this one-page bill and its effect seems to be that every medical practitioner around the world, except for licensed Montana doctors, can set up tele-health clinics to administer medication and induce an abortion.

Does the legislature really think there is something inferior about Montana licensing for medical doctors?  Are Montana doctors not capable of handling such a tele-health clinic?  Myself, I think Montana doctors are highly competent and I’d prefer that my doctor spoke English.

HB587 Title:
“AN ACT REQUIRING THAT CERTAIN MEDICAL PRACTITIONERS BE PHYSICALLY PRESENT WHEN PERFORMING OR PROVIDING CERTAIN ABORTION SERVICES TO A PREGNANT WOMAN; AND PROVIDING A PENALTY”

The bill defines a medical practitioner as:  “a person licensed by the state of Montana whose scope of practice includes the performance of an abortion or who is authorized to prescribe, administer, or dispense a drug or device that is intended to cause an abortion.”

Posted: March 23, 2015 at 6:23 pm by Cowgirl

TEA Partiers Caught Commissioning Secret Anti-Water Compact Report, Then Stick the Public With Unauthorized Bill

A group of TEA party elected officials in the Flathead have been caught colluding to commission a secret report they hoped would help them defeat a water rights compact for the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe–and stick the public with the bill.

“We did it the way we did it, because we felt it was imperative for us to keep this under wraps until we could get the report and distribute it,” said Jerry Laskody, chair of the Flathead Joint Board of Control  “We didn’t want anybody to know what we were doing.”

The Valley Journal reported this week that the TEA Partiers planned in advance how to avoid having to comply with public record laws.  Laskody claimed that the board’s attorneys had recommend that plans for the secret report be made by  “a non-quorum of the board working together” to avoid public meeting laws.  Laskody said the secrecy was needed because someone might leak information he considered “privileged.”

The Valley Journal also reported that the TEA Partiers first put up their own money for the secret report – saying they would ask the board permission to use public money to pay for it later.  However, later, the bill for $6,625 for the secret anti-compact study suddenly appeared on the board’s monthly bill list without the board’s approval.

This is not the first time the Flathead Joint Board of control has been caught in a scandal.  These same officials were recorded discussing-–in front of their own organization’s running audio recorder-–if the room was bugged after they had a conversation about how American Indians were “not Americans” and other racist statements.

Boone Cole and Jerry Laskody were recently  elected to Montana’s Flathead Joint Board of Control by TEA Party dark money groups specifically to obstruct a water rights agreement with Montana tribes.

UPDATE: If anyone has a copy of this report, please post the link in the comments or email a link or copy of it to mntnacowgirl@gmail.com and we’ll post it.