Political Trough: Marijuana Drivers Test, More

Once again, there have been so many articles and blog posts of interest this week, that I am going to throw it all into this week’s “Political Trough.”  In this “Political Trough,” and on this blog in general- I try to find something that may not have made the mainstream sources back here in Montana, or if it did- I’ll share something that stood out to me. 

So, in no particular order, here’s the links and the excerpts.

First off- this week on our statewide radio talk show we covered a lot of ground.  In addition to open phone lines, we also heard from some lawmakers.  State Sen. Ed Walker of Billings called in- he wants to end what he calls “the golden parachute” for legislators, and do away with pension benefits for Montana legislators (SB 227).  Click here to listen to his call. 

On Friday, State Sen. Elsie Arntzen of Billings and State Sen. Ed Buttrey called in from the Capitol to discuss veterans benefits proposals before the Montana Legislature. Click here to listen to their appearance on the show. 

The Western Word: Average VA Disability Claim: 262 Days

The Department of Veterans Affairs in Montana (Fort Harrison) was chosen (with much fanfare) to take part in this new “paperless” way of reviewing disability claims. So far it looks like a failure. The Inspector General of the VA reported that the “VA will continue to face challenges in meeting its goal of eliminating the backlog of disability claims processing by 2015.”

In my opinion, the VA should never take more than 90 days to do an initial review of a veteran’s disability claim.

National Journal: Meet the Gun-Loving, Straight-Talking, 2016 Democratic Presidential Dark Horse

But while Schweitzer sounds uninterested in a Senate campaign against Democrat Max Baucus — he declined to answer questions about the six-term senator in an interview — he’s not closing the door on a future presidential run.

“That’s a long time from now,” he told National Journal about his 2016 prospects. “Gosh, I got businesses to run right now. I’m concentrating on that right now, and what the future holds, the future holds.”

CNSNews.Com had an article headlined, “Ammo Prices Doubled At America’s Largest Gun Store.”  That was getting some national attention.  Meanwhile, Shadow of the Rockies host Erl Barsness spoke with a local firearms expert from Scheel’s to get his take on local impacts from ammo price increases. Click below for the brief clip packed full of information:

Bloomberg notes Japan’s request for shale gas from the US.  Is this an opportunity for Montana?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will ask U.S. President Barack Obama to allow shale gas exports as the world’s third-largest economy grapples with soaring energy costs after 2011’s nuclear disaster closed reactors.

The Great Falls Tribune also had a great read concerning renewed efforts to put the old St. Marie Air Force Base north of Glasgow to use.  Given the need for housing near the Bakken, the area may be on the cusp of a renewal.  I understand several folks have already been moving in. 

A Washington state-based company has paid more than $200,000 in back taxes in an attempt to gain ownership of nearly 500 units of abandoned housing north of Glasgow.


Daily Inter Lake: Daines cites ‘fluid situation’ in D.C.

Daines said he would prefer priority budgeting and targeted cuts just as he did while working in the private sector for 28 years.

But he adds that the upside of across-the-board cuts is that it takes the decision-making out of the hands of lawmakers who would otherwise use seniority or any other leverage they have to protect their preferred spending programs and constituencies.

Daines takes to task the “sky is falling” rhetoric coming from politicians about sequester cuts, particularly recent remarks from President Barack Obama about impacts to the capabilities of first responders.

(NOTE added on 2/26/13:  A reference to an alleged Facebook post by a Yellowstone County Republican has been removed from my original post, as the person in question maintains that she did not make the post.  Jennifer Olsen also says that she has had folks impersonating her on Facebook on at least 2 separate occasions.)

 The Western Word  has some follow up questions for Gov. Schweitzer:    

Schweitzer was quoted saying, “I am not goofy enough to be in the House, and I’m not senile enough to be in the Senate.”

A good follow-up question would have been, “Then why did you run for the U.S. Senate in 2000”  

Tim Macy with the Gun Owners of America had this to say after Sen. Jon Tester announced his support for universal background checks:

Tester is another example of a so-called “pro-gun” Democrat Senator who dances to a different tune after he’s re-elected. He would never have said he would support any type of Background check on gun owners before the General Election in 2012. But now that he’s off the hook for six years, he’s good to go with newly proposed gun control measures. Any student of history can look time and again at background checks of gun owners as the lead into total gun confiscation, and then total government control of the citizens of that country. Certainly Russia and Germany come to mind as their citizens were slaughtered by their own governments after guns were registered and then outlawed. Montana voters better realize Max Baucus will follow the same path as Tester going into and after the 2014 Senate race. Gun Owners of America will go out of our way to make sure the voters stay informed.

Expect gun control to be part of House Dems’ efforts to re-take the House.  Politico’s Playbook had this:

–2014 WATCH – Greg Sargent’s “The Plum Line” blog, “[House] Dems to campaign hard on guns and minimum wage in 2014”: “Dems in charge of the party’s strategy for retaking the House next year are planning to campaign aggressively on not just tax fairness and defending entitlements, as in the last two elections … DCCC chair Steve Israel told me the party’s House candidates will be running aggressively on Obama’s proposals to reduce gun violence and raise the minimum wage. Both will be incorporated into a broader indictment of the GOP as so imprisoned by ideological extremism that the party has been rendered incapable of tackling the major challenges facing the country. … Democrats have a very tough road ahead in winning the 17 seats they need to take back the majority.” http://wapo.st/XpppSU

The NRA also does not support “universal” background checks. Obama’s own experts say their “effectiveness depends on … requiring gun registration.” (source: NIJ memo 1/4/13, you can read it at www.nraila.org/obamasexperts) A mandatory national gun database would be an illegal invasion of privacy unprecedented in our nation’s history.

In other news, I really wanted to slap this guy after I read this story.  I hope the family that was assaulted has received an outpouring of support, and that the man who lobbed the slur and the slap is in serious repentance mode. From KRTV:

An Idaho man faces a federal assault charge and allegedly hitting a crying child and using a racial slur on board a recent flight.

She stood there with Jonah for 90 minutes — only returning for the landing. When the two sat down, Jonah began to cry, and Hundley became irate. Bennett said, “He looked at me in a very hateful way and he said … shut that (N-word) kid up!”

Duane Ankney says it like it is in this piece by Chuck Johnson concerning state employee pay raises:

Chairman Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, said he is sifting through spreadsheets looking at pay raises received by state employees the past year.

“I’m kind of sharing some of the spreadsheets where some people in state government got raises of up to 26 percent, and some up to 12 percent or 14 percent last year,” Ankney said.

“Our focus is on those folks who haven’t received a damn thing.”

Read more: http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/state-employees-lobby-legislators-for-pay-raises/article_8aa1922f-d937-58be-b3fc-d328554d4189.html#ixzz2LS5fdYPF

Here’s my “told you so” report of the week.  “Tourism Experiencing a ‘Bakken Bump” in The Billings Gazette.  It counteracts the false notion that natural resource development is bad for tourism in Montana. 

Mary Paoli, public relations manager for Voice of Montana Tourism, a group formed to advocate for tourism in Montana, said the Bakken effect is evident in the number of people flying in and out of Billings. The airport here set a record in 2012, with a 9 percent jump in passengers.

Peter Christ, co-owner of the Bridge Creek Country Kitchen and Wine Store in Red Lodge, said he is seeing the effect of the Bakken in his dining room hundreds of miles from the oil patch.

“We see a noticeable number of people who’ve moved there or are living there,” he said. “All that oil money going into Billings is propping us up a little, too.”

 Bloomberg: Ohio Plans Drones to Hunt Lost Kids as They Bring Jobs

“If I have a barbecue in my backyard, I certainly don’t need somebody droning over me to see what’s going on,” Miller said by telephone from the county of about 173,000. “But if my grandson’s missing, or my granddaughter, I would like to think there’s technology available that can help us search more quickly to locate them.”

The FAA estimates there may be about 10,000 active commercial drones in five years. Annual spending on unmanned aerial vehicles worldwide will almost double to $11.4 billion in the next decade, according to an April 2012 report by Teal Group Corp., a defense industry consultant based in Fairfax, Virginia. Major drone makers today include Northrop Grumman Corp., based in Falls Church, Virginia; General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., in Poway, California; and AeroVironment Inc., in Monrovia, California, according to Teal. 

LA Times: Feds Begin Licensing Drones (Check out the cost difference from a budget standpoint)

In Colorado, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office has used a fixed-wing drone to search for lost hikers in the mountains, and a helicopter drone to help crews battling fires. Flying manned planes or helicopters would cost at least $600 an hour, explained Ben Miller, who heads the program.

“We fly [drones] for less than $25 an hour,” Miller said. “It’s just a new way to put a camera up that’s affordable.”

In theory, drones can offer unblinking eye-in-the-sky coverage. They can carry high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, listening devices and other high-tech gear. Companies have marketed drones disguised as sea gulls and other birds to mask their use.

Driving While Under the Influence of Marijuana has been debated here in Montana, with a bill in the works at the Montana Legislature.  CNN put together an interesting driving test using people who smoked marijuana.  (h’/t @EastOfHelena on Twitter):

And finally, this is an older article that got me thinking- maybe we should just start attaching a Scarlet Letter to everybody working in the oil and gas sector here in Montana…

Missoulian: Potential Glacier concession bidder has ties to Blackfeet Reservation fracking

The whole article basically seemed like it was trying to cast a potential concessionare in a negative light because the parent company is owned by a guy in the oil and gas industry who also donates to Republicans.  I typically ignore the article comments on traditional websites, but this one stood out to me:    

Comment on Missoulian story by a Bruce Hammer: I have often wondered how it is that liberals think it’s perfectly acceptable to tell Native Americans how they should manage their lands, yet always blow a gasket when tribal councils vote for economic development that conflicts with the liberal agenda. For liberals, it’s not about helping the tribe, it’s about sticking it to corporations and wealthy people. The angle here is all too obvious. I hope Xanterra (which does a great job in Yellowstone) gets the contract. I also hope the tribe strikes it rich. Then you’ll see the true heart of the Regressive movement. Throughout history we see the self-serving, judgmental character of the liberal movement. People are used to advance an agenda, then discarded. Don’t allow it to happen!


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