More Notes from Dark Acres

In another instance of crap imitating satire, a Los Angeles clothing designer called Raquel Allegra scavenges filthy, sweaty tee-shirts discarded by inmates at the Los Angeles County jail. Then she “distresses” them, and sells them as haut couture for prices ranging from $200 to $1400 per garment. Allegra's creations ape the clothing line called “Derelict” (pronounced dare-ah-leek) in the Ben Stiller film Zoolander, a “look” that tries to capture the essence of homelessness.

Grizzly Player Booked.
Another University of Montana Grizzly football player has been arrested. Levi Charles Horn, 22, was booked into the Missoula County detention facility at 3:40 pm on Jan. 24 and accused of criminal contempt relating to a previous charge of possessing alcohol while under the age of 21. The contempt charge stems from an apparent failure to appear in court on the original accusation his alleged failure to complete the hours of community service he was ordered to perform. Horn was released a few hours later after $4500 in bail was posted by Earl Rowe, The Bondsman. He appeared in Missoula's municipal court on Jan. 26, and was again ordered to finish his mandatory community service.

Horn, a junior from Spokane, Washington, who started his football career at the University of Oregon and reportedly transferred to Montana in order to get more playing time, is 6' 7" and weighs 305 pounds. He played offensive tackle for the Big Sky champion Montana Grizzlies last fall, and started at left tackle in the Division 1A championship game against Richmond, which Montana lost, 24-7.

Numerous Grizzly football players have been convicted in the last couple years on charges ranging from drunk driving to assault.

Gravel From Heaven.
To no one's surprise, Smurfit-Stone announced on Jan. 26 that both its U.S. and Canadian units have filed for Chapter 11 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and the Canadian units will also file to reorganize under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act in Canada.

Demand for the paper and containerboard the corporation manufactures has dipped because the demand for consumer products such as pizza and computers has fallen off sharply in the planet-wide recession. Plus, the company is up to its eyeballs in debt. Shares of the company's stock fell to less than 4 cents on Jan. 30, a figure that represents a 90 percent percent drop in the value of the corporation since the beginning of its fiscal year. On the other hand, the stock of Smurfit-Stone's biggest competitor, Internatioal Paper, was trading at $9.34 on Jan 30.

As a comment on corporate arrogance, on Jan. 21 the company announced that the Compensation Committee of the Board of Directors decided to give bonus awards to its top executives. Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Moore and President and Chief Operating Officer Steven J. Klinger got bonuses of 50 percent of their salary. In all, bonuses for the five top executives totaled $1,416,250.

One suggestion for the corporation's big Kraft paper mill in Missoula County, Montana: Mine gravel and sell it to construction companies for the fabrication of asphalt and cement. The big, surreal-loooking plant west of Missoula, which is already an environmental sacrifice district, is sitting on a treasure trove of glacial and riverine sand and gravel. Plus, the plant is serviced by a rail spur that could move the gravel around the area without disrupting traffic on Missoula's overburdened roads. And unlike a lot of road construction companies, such as Riverside Contracting, Smurfit-Stone spends lots of money in the community to demonstrate that it cares about its relationship with local people. And it's one of the leading manufacturers of recyled containerboard in the country, shipping this environmentally progressive product all over the hemisphere.

On the other hand, Riverside, as evidenced by its attempt in 2006 to ruin the neighborhood in which Dark Acres is located in order to get at the gravel under the Trout Meadows Ranch, could give a shit about Missoula's neighborhoods.

Great Falls has no reason to live.
Like everyone who spent any teen time in Great Falls, Montana, the things I did on a Saturday night were drink beer and cruise the drag. When I was a senior at Charles M. Russell High in 1966 this circuit inluded mandatory stops at two legendary drive-ins: Sandy's on Central Avenue, and the Burgermaster on Tenth Avenue South. The reason we stopped there was to eat, of course, but these were also places where you could meet girls or hook up with girls you already knew.

The Burgermaster was basically a parking lot encircled by a ramp along which you stopped to phone in your order, to be picked up at the window. As the line of cars moved up the ramp the people who had already gotten their order and parked could watch the slow-moving parade to see who was about to join them. Because of its unintentional construction as an ampitheater the place was also a perfect arena for boys who enjoyed fist-fighting in front of a crowd.

But now both dives are gone. Last summer the Burgermaster closed shop after 54 years in business. The joint will be replaced by a Sonic Burger franchise featuring carhops on roller skates. Then, on Jan. 13, the owner of Sandy's, which changed its name to Zandy's after the franchise to which it had belonged was gobbled up by Hardees, announced that this business was closing, as well.

Great Falls has always been a cultural backwater whose civic climate has been dominated by a smelter, a refinery, an Air Force Base, and a provincial little college run by nuns and priests. Ages ago the City Fathers ruined its one spectacular natural feature—the Great Falls of the Missouri—by building a dam across it.

Over the last twenty years Great Falls, which can boast only one bookstore, a generic Barnes & Noble, has deteriorated even further. But at least its denizens could brag about its classic teen dives. Now that those are gone the Electric City has no reason to live.

In the Direction of Zero.
Lee Enterprises announced Jan. 20 that profits in the first quarter of its new fiscal year fell a whopping 69.3 percent. According to RTTNews, the spread sheets also show a 13 percent decline in revenue over the same period. Iowa-based Lee, which plunged into debt with its purchase in 2005 of the Pulitzer chain of newspapers, including the prestigious St. Louis Post-Dispatch, owns five small dailies in Montana, including the Missoulian, which announced on Jan 27 that it has laid off off four employees, and will lay off another two workers on Feb. 13.

The company's stock has been heading in the direction of zero for the past 12 months. The morning of Feb. 2 it traded at 32 cents, down from a high of $45 in 2007, and a 52-week high of $13.31. In early January the New York Stock Exchange notified Lee that during a six-month “cure” period it must get healthy and raise its stock price or it will be delisted. Although Lee reported a profit during the first quarter of 21 cents per share, this revenue will be exhausted by the service to its debt.

Like most newspapers Lee's fortunes have declined significantly ever since the Web began stealing classified ads, especially those for real estate and automobiles. However, Lee's papers in Montana enjoyed a monopoly on daily journalism for decades, an era of privilege that's apprently ending.   

Payments due on a portion of the $1.5 billion Lee agreed to pay for the Pulitzer chain have been waived until Jan. 30. The far-flung newspaper empire was due on Jan. 16 to pony up on $306 million in notes, which mature in April.

The appropriately named Chief Executive of the corporation, Mary Junck, has announced measures intended to put Lee back on its feet. These include cutting costs by reducing its work force by 10 percent, outsourcing printing and distribution, reducing the physical size of its newspapers, and jettisoning specialty publications.

She may also ask shareholders to approve a reverse split in its common stock so its value rises back to the $1 per share foundation the New York Stock Exchange requires.

Missing. James Rainey, writing in the Los Angeles Times, reports that there are only four journalists covering the massive and sprawling enterprise that has become the government of Los Angeles County. There are two reporters for The Times, one for eight dailies controlled by newspaper baron William Dean Singleton, and one for City News Service.

“Back in my day, Rainey writes, “as many as a dozen full-time reporters walked this beat, filling the row of cramped, glass-walled cubicles on the dimly lit fourth floor just above the supervisors meeting room. The Times had at least half a dozen other reporters at its downtown mother ship, digging deep into city and county government.

L.A. County policy is dictated by a five-person Board of Supervisors which, like the Missoula County Board of Commissioners in Montana, has wide powers and can do pretty much what it pleases.

Million Person Club.
Although the latest Census Bureau estimate pegs Montana's population at 967,440 as of July 1, 2008, based on growth patterns over the last decade it will still be awhile before the Treasure State joins the Million Person Club. Over the previous 12 months the state gained 10,816 souls. Almost 6,300 more people moved into the state during this period than moved out, contributing to the increase.

Between 2007 and 2008 Montana’s growth rate of 1.1 percent ranked the state as the 14th fastest growing in the U.S. The Treasure State added 65,250 residents between April 1, 2000 and July 1, 2008, a 7.2 percent increase, ranking the state 20th in growth between these years.

The birth rate among Indians is much higher than it is among whites—a fact due partly to our nephew, the thirty-something father of two fine boys, whose mothers are (1) Cree-Chippewa and (2) Blackfeet. The population of Indians in Montana is expected to double between 2005 and 2030.

Shining. A D.C. watchdog group reports that some Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) are more equal than others. That is, some of them are just junk. (Last fall at Dark Acres we replaced all our old bulbs with CFLs, believing the hype about how long they burn, and are miffed because two of them have already failed.) The Environmental Working Group says that “You can't tell the best of the best by their labels—or the U.S. government Energy Star logo. Some bulbs labelled with the Energy Star can not be legally sold in Europe due to excessive mercury content. So the organization set out to find the best and safest CFLs.

Here they are: Earthmate Mini-Size Bulbs, which are estimated will burn for 10,000 hours; Litetronics Neolite, 10,000 hours; Sylvania Micro-Mini, 12,000 hours; Sylvania DURA-ONE, 15,000 hours; Feit Ecobulb, 10,000 hours, MaxLite, 10,000 hours, and Philips with Alto, 8,000–10,000 hours.

The group likes these CFLS because they also contain low levels of mercury, and reminds consumers that we shouldn't toss one of these spent or broken bulbs in the trash. They should be properly recycled because mercury is a serious toxin.

Déjà-vu all over again. The evening of Jan. 18 a twenty-something guy wielding a handgun entered Lucky Lil's Casino in Missouola, Montana, robbed the place of an undisclosed amount of cash, and fled on foot. The cops are still looking for him. The armed robbery of Lucky Lil's has become what's known in the newspaper business as an “evergreen.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune filed for bankruptcy Jan. 15, a flame-out caused by declining advertising sales and heavy debt it can no longer service. The daily newspaper, which boasts the 15th largest circulation in the U.S., was sold only two months ago by the McClatchy Company to a private equity firm called Avista Capital Partners.

When I was 15 years old and living in teen heavena federal trailer court outside Grand Forks, North Dakota full of other teens, including girlsI paid for my nicotine and bowling habits by delivering the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to about 100 trailers every morning before the sun came up. Although the Sunday paper was so fat I had to return to our shitbox several times to refill my bag, the paper route was a relatively easy job because the trailers were parked so close together. But after I broke my leg in a skateboard crash the work became more demanding. And just as I got off crutches and fitted with a walking cast, an arctic winter slammed into North Dakota with a sub-zero temperatures every day for weeks and mounds of snow. But I never missed a delivery. I finally sold the route for a profit, perhaps the only good business deal I'll ever make. —Bill Vaughn

The largest newspaper publisher in the country, The Gannett Company, announced Jan. 14 that that it would require most of its 31,000 U.S. employees to begin taking a week off without pay. The scheme is intended to avoid layoffs. Gannett owns one newspaper in Montana, the venerable Great Falls Tribune, which has not yet responded to our question about when the Trib's workers are scheduled to take their time-outs.

At Dark Acres we wonder how reducing editorial staff is supposed to improve the product. It's sort of like reducing the number of eggs in an omelette, or the amount of chocolate in a chocolate chip cookie.

Sliding Away.
One of our fave countries, Holland, got its hopes up two weeks ago that for the first time in more than a decade the weather of northern Europe would get cold enough, long enough to freeze the canals to a desirable depth. That's because when there's safe ice there's the Elfstedentocht, the world-famous skating race through 11 towns in Friesland, the nation's most northern province. But, alas, the New Year's cold snap didn't last, and now daytime highs are above freezing.

At Dark Acres we've been lobbying for years to convince the state of New York to hold a multi-city skating race on a refurbished and refilled Erie Canal, a pipeline that knows winter weather. Why? Because it would be fun, and because it's possible. Temperatures over the coming week in Rochester will stay below freezing.

On Jan. 12 reporters Mike Moore and Rob Chaney of the Missoula, Montana Missoulian demonstrated the proper use of the newspaper's online edition to cover breaking news almost as soon as it occurs.

According to their reports, at mid-morning a twenty-four-year old man entered the Missoula Federal Credit Union on Brooks wearing a ski mask and carrying a rifle. After he reportedly fired a shot into the ceiling tellers gave him money and he fled from the bank to his truck.

Another man looking for work had just emerged from a temp agency, saw the robber pull the ski mask from his head and fling it aside, and decided to follow the guy as he made his getaway. But after he decided a 40-mile-per-hour chase through the streets of the South Hills was too dangerous he headed back to the area of the bank and told the cops foregathering there what he'd seen. Missoula police, sheriff's officers and Highway Patrolmen chased the miscreant. After they cornered him he fired at them, hitting no one, but took some cop lead and is now fighting for his life in a Seattle hospital.

To us, this kind of instant and professional news reporting demonstrates that a small-city newspaper like the Missoulian can survive the newspaper crash of 2009 if it covers local news exclusively, dumps its print edition, sells its riverside real estate, and develops a business plan that includes paid subscriptions to the Web and a website that doesn't look like a fever dream.

But what about those readers who can't or won't use a computer? Two words: Tyrannosaurus rex.

Speed Trap. Like small-town cops lurking behind a billboard, waiting to pounce on drivers who are driving faster than the ridiculous posted limit, Montana’s banks and credit unions are increasingly dependent on the fees they get away charging for overdrawn checking accounts and “non-sufficient funds.”

This is according to research by Bretton Woods, Inc., a bank strategy consulting firm based in Georgia. Bank strategist G. Michael Flores said on Jan. 12 that in 2008 the average Treasure State household with a checking account  paid $241.46 in these sorts of fees. This figure represents .2 percent of the $15.5 million in the year's state-wide deposits.

Flores said that It's becoming very clear that banks are increasingly reliant on fees resulting from overdrawn checking accounts for income. Nationally, the average household now has more than 12 overdraft transactions per year and pays $368 per year in fees. We see no reason for this trend to change. Bounced check fees and overdraft protection will have a larger and larger financial impact on households.

Biting the Dust.
After 146 years of publishing, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may be history. Hearst, the company that owns the P-I, has announced that the paper is for sale and will become a web-only publication if a buyer doesn't step forward within 60 days. Hearst officials said the paper lost $8 million in 2008.

On Jan. 10 managing Editor David McCumber, who served as the editor for a while of a Montana magazine called The Big Sky Journal (or, as one wag dubbed it, the Big Guy Journal), said: We've been on the knife edge all this time. We finally slipped.

Coyote Warrior.
The heroic story of University of Montana law school professor Raymond Cross may be coming to a theatre near you. A Mandan-Hidatsa born on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, Cross was taken when he was a boy by his mother to live in the Bay Area, where the encouragement of his teachers compelled him to finish college and earn a law  degree from Yale. He worked for California’s Legal Services before going home to the rez in 1982. Conditions there were horrific. At the core of the crushing poverty, alcoholism and despair was Lake Sakakawea, the vast Missouri River impoundment created in the 1950s by the construction of Garrison Dam. Federal planners knew the dam would flood the earth-house villages the Mandan had lived in for centuries and ruin their way of life. But they didn’t care.

Cross went to war.

In 1986 his arguments persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to award the tribes almost $150 million in reparations for the theft of their land by the government, and an annual payment from the dam’s hydropower receipts of $40 to $60 million.

This triumph of justice is chronicled in Coyote Warrior, published in 2004 by Oregon author Paul VanDevelder, formerly of Missoula, Montana, whose book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. VanDevelder reports that a production company has renewed its 18-month option on the project, and is busy writing and rewriting a screenplay.

The Mandan was the tribe that helped Lewis and Clark through the winter of 1804-05. They could have saved themselves a lot of heartache by simply killing Jefferson's weird henchmen instead.

Meanwhile, the screenplay for a movie VanDevelder wrote, The Eighth Circle, is scheduled to begin production in Germany in May. VanDevelder said the film, which is sort of The Constant Gardener meets Munich, currently has Adrian Brody and Ed Harris attached to star. It's a political/suspense/thriller with a love triangle at the middle of it, he said. If that makes any sense. 

And VanDevelder’s next book, Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of American’s Road to Empire Through Indian Country, is scheduled for publication by Yale University Press in March.

Good things come in fours. The Associated Press reports that four European gazillionaires have killed themselves since the mortgage and financial crisis in the United States began infecting other market economies around the world.

The latest of these quick exits was made by German billionaire Adolf Merckle, who threw himself under a train in the town of Blaubeuren in southwestern Germany on Jan. 6 after his business empire began to collapse. Merckle owned large stakes in automaking, cement and pharmaceuticals.

Last September Kirk Stephenson, the chief operating officer of private equity house Olivant, drove from his home in west London to a Buckinghamshire rail station and trained himself (was the Merckle suicide a copycat?)

Two days before Christmas, in New York, a French investor named Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet was found dead at his desk, both wrists slashed. A bottle of sedatives was found nearby. De la Villehuchet lost $1.4 billion in the international Ponzi scheme masterminded by the appropriately named financier Bernard Madoff.

Just before Christmas Christen Schnor, a British banker, was found hanging by a belt in his suite at London’s Carlton Tower hotel.

Property may be theft, as some anarchists maintain, but for men who judge their worth by the size of their bank accounts it’s also apparently a burden.  

Kudos to the Commissioners.
On Jan. 5 Plum Creek Timber Co. announced that public outcry has forced it to abandon a controversial scheme it was hatching in secret meetings with the Bush Administration to open it its forest lands in Missoula and other western Montana counties to residential subdevelopments.

Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who was a timber industry lobbyist before Bush appointed him to be the timber industry’s Federal lackey, attempted to push through a legal amendment that would declare roads Plum Creek shares with the U.S. Forest Service available for every sort of activity, not just for hauling timber. Rey was in a hurry to get it done before the Obama administration fires him.

But when Missoula County Commissioners found out about Rey’s meetings with Plum Creek they went ballistic, rightly seeing that the county and its taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill for fire suppression and road maintenance in what would undoubtedly become backwoods neighborhoods. Leading the chorus against this outrage was Commissioner Jean Curtiss. She was already our champion after leading the Commission in its decision to prohibit a gravel pit/asphalt plant operation two years ago in our backwater on the Clark Fork River downstream from the city.

Here's a short list of New Year's Resolutions (Media Division) we wish other people would make:

1. Montana solons Baucus, Tester and Rehberg resolve to battle the Obama Administration's plans to regulate the Internet by giving websites ratings similar to those assigned to movies. Internet Service Providers would be compelled to drop sites the government finds offensive. The idea is to keep porn and violence away from children, but its effect will be that the government will seize the power to stifle a medium that was established to be free from government. This issue goes to the heart of the First Amendment, and reminds us that we're also strong advocates of the Second Amendment.

2. Network news readers resolve to quit interrupting the people they're supposed to be interviewing. The worst culprits are the women. And the worst of these is the relentlessly obnoxious Contessa Brewer of MSNBC (is that a stage name?).

3. Blogmasters resolve to refuse posts by people using fake names. Disguises allow these anonyms to say stupid, repetitive and vile things they would never utter if the world knew who they were.

New Year's Stabbing.
Missoula, Montana, police are looking for a man who's believed to be the assailant in a midnight stabbing that put a another man in St. Patrick Hospital with a wound to his abdoman. Police say the altercation, which occurred around 12:30 am, involved two guys trying to drive away from the parking area under the north end of the Higgins Street Bridge after being assaulted by a group that included two ladies and three guys. The alleged knifer is described as 5' 4" to 5' 6" tall with a small goatee and mustache, a clean-shaven face and very short buzz-cut hair. He was wearing a a blue or black puffy jacket, and fled into the night with his companions on foot upstream along the Clark Fork River. Because of medical confidentiality policies the cops will not release the condition of the victim.

Whole Lotta Shakin'.
The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports that a swarm of small earthquakes of magnitude 3.9 and smaller rumbled beneath Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park last weekend five to nine miles south-southeast of Fishing Bridge, Wyoming. The swarm began the afternoon of Dec. 26, and continued and  intensified on Dec. 27. Some of the earthquakes were reportedly felt by people in the Yellowstone Lake area.

More than 400 earthquakes were recorded from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2, far more than usual. Seismologists called this activity energetic. Earthquake swarms are common under the Park, where about about 1500 little shakers were recorded by the U of Utah's monitoring system in 2008 before this recent seizure, which appeared to have ended Jan. 2.

The reason earthquakes are common in Yellowstone is because the place is past due to blow its top and kill us all. As the North American Plate slides across the crust of the planet it’s exposed to a hole in the earth that has historically acted like a welding torch burning through plate steel. At regular intervals the fire down below reaches the surface and the shit hits the fan in a cataclysm called a pyroclastic flood. Waves of molten rock wash across thousands of square miles, transforming the happy land of Yogi Bear and Boo Boo into Hades. The last time this happened was 70 million years ago. When this happened eleven million years ago herds of rhinos in Nebraska were killed by raining piles of glassy volcanic ash a dozen feet thick.

Can we avoid being wiped out? No. But on a lighter note, we’re reminded of a grandmother of our friend, the novelist Dee McNamer, who, when informed that the Soviets could launch a nuclear missile accurate enough to hit First Avenue North in Great Falls, Montana, sighed with relief because she lived on First Avenue South.

Anyway, the topic of the looming Yellowstone caldera will always get you into a lively barroom conversation in the towns around the Park. That and federal restrictions on snowmobiling. So if you're planning a visit to Apocalypse Park it’s best to do a little homework first.

Dripping. On Christmas Day Eve we watched the KECI late news from Missoula, Montana, with a growing sense of alarm. There appeared to be a sheen of sweat on anchor Chelsea Rabideau's cheeks and upper lip as shiny as sunlight on the ocean. It reminded us of the flood of flop sweat pouring from Albert Brooks when he got a chance to anchor one of the networks' news shows in the memorable film Broadcast News. But after a while the apparent high tide on Ms Rabidoux's lovely face had grown no more abundant. We decided it wasn't sweat after all, but botched makeup. Still, because of this cosmetic event we didn't hear a word she said.

More Hyperlocal. The Knight Foundation, recognizing that what many newspapers are not doing very well these days is intensive house-to-house reporting, has awarded $400,000 to four hyperlocal news sites on the web. The one we read is voiceofsandiego because we have friends down there and like the city, especially the food (there's a soul food joint that's really yummy, plus lots of little Mexican groceries offering take-out, and Mexican fast-food joints whose front counters are piled high with deep-fried chitlins.)

Another losing season. The University of Montana Grizzly football team, which finished its regular season 11-1, then won its first, second and third post-season playoff games, landing it the NCAA Division 1 Championshupt game Dec. 19 in Chattanooga, Tennessee (Go Griz!), regularly trounces most of its rivals.

At least on the gridiron.

When it comes to the academic performance of the institution, however, UM sucks. That's according to the latest college rankings published by U.S. News & World Report. In the magazine's list of national “masters” universities in the West (those offering full undergraduate programs, masters programs and a few doctoral programs) Montana ended up on the cellar stairs, far down in what is known as the dreaded Third Tier.

On the other hand, Eastern Washinton was ranked 14, and Weber State, 17. Another small school Montana regularly plays against is Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, which U.S. News considers the best masters university in the West.

The state of Montana claims it’s owed $10.9 million in various sorts of back taxes, according to the Department of Revenue. As of August 8, 2008, Montana businesses and individuals owed $7.9 million of this debt. Below is a list of the individuals and businesses in Missoula County the state says are in arrears to the tune of at least $20,000 each.

1. OLD RELIABLE EXPRESS CO, BOX 2847, Withholding Tax     $59,949.23
2. MISSOULA ATHLETIC CLUB, 113 APPLE HOUSE LN,     Withholding Tax $50,637.23
3. LEROY and JANIE TRIPP, 2101 HUMBLE RD, Individual Income Tax $46,036.41
4. GRIZZLY MECHANICAL INC PO BOX 773, LOLO, Withholding Tax $43,337.00
5. MARGARET M. NOYCE, PO BOX 2847, Individual Income Tax $37,369.84
6. TERRY W. & MARIENNE L. HOKE, 1605 COUNCIL WAY, Individual Income Tax $33,059.04
7. DAVE L. CURTISS, 8265 MOURNING DOVE DR, Individual Income Tax $30,124.69
8. DAVID E. WALKER, 518 MONTANA AVE, Individual Income Tax $29,705.78
9. RONALD W. FRITZ, 6485 US HIGHWAY 10 W TRLR 32, Individual Income Tax $27,294.98
10. TOM STUCKEY, P O BOX 4144, Individual Income Tax $26,584.77
11. ART & RAYS LOCK & SAFE INC & JAMES WATT INDV LIABLE, 218 W MAIN ST      Withholding Tax $24,395.18
12. JEFFREY M. LANGAN, PO BOX 1858, Individual Income Tax $24,352.60
13. DANIEL YOCHIM, 5620 PINEWOOD LN, Individual Income Tax $24,155.79
14. BETTY BENNETT, 110 N 2ND ST, Individual Income Tax $23,418.27
15. GARY R. ROSENBERGER, 4827 COUNTRY CLUB LN, Individual Income Tax $21,056.33
16. BILLY L. STAGGS, 420 SW HIGGINS AVE, Individual Income Tax $20,449.06

Huey Lewis Sucks. On Nov. 17 the Montana Supreme Court ruled that Mitchell Slough, which runs for 16 miles along the Bitterroot River in Ravalli County, Montana, is not a man-made ditch but a “natural, perennial-flowing stream” that was originally mapped in 1878. The ruling, which overturns previous district court decisions, means that local landowners such as aging rocker and “actor” Huey Lewis cannot prohibit the public from crossing their private property to use the slough for fishing, floating or any other recreational activity. The ruling buttresses Montana’s 1985 Stream Access Law, which declares that the rivers of Montana belong to everyone, not just to the landowners on either bank.

The ruling is Lewis’ second recent setback. Last month Spinner magazine declared that his rendition of an old Smokey Robinson hit, “Cruisin,” which he covered with Gweneth Paltrow in the movie Duets, was the worst vocal collaboration of all time.

Sticker Shock. Jerks like Huey Lewis remind us of the days in the 1970s when the first wealthy glitterati discovered that Montana might be something more than Flyover Country as they swooped in to snatch up cheap, beautiful land where they threw up their trophy homes and their gated communities. The pickups of the locals began sprouting bumper stickers that said “Beautify Montana. Shoot a Land Developer.”

Big Love. Voters who believe religion should play no role in politics were dismayed throughout the 2008 election season as they watched  Mormons pour their time and money into the campaign to pass a law in California attacking the legal rights of homosexuals. Proposition 8, an initiative that overturns a state Supreme Court ruling permitting gays to marry, won by a narrow margin many observers believe was the result of the estimated $20 million that the Church of Latter Day Saints spent on its advertising blitz.

As a consequence of the Church’s meddling in the affairs of state and bedroom, gay rights advocates have been hounding LDS leaders since Nov. 4 with protests outside temples all over the U.S. The backlash shows no signs of letting up. And Mormon candidates will increasingly face criticism for the reactionary, backward-looking views of their religion, with its tradition of racism, sexism, and violence that makes it seem more like a cult than a faith.

This Land is My Land. Over the next three years The Montana Legacy Project plans to buy 312,500 acres of western Montana timberland owned by Plum Creek, a corporation that swept into the Treasure State a couple of decades ago, plundered our forests, then announced that its new business was going to be real estate development.

County governments were horrified by the prospect of trophy homes in remote subdivisions whose owners would expect taxpayers to foot the bill for road maintenance, fire suppression and law enforcement. Hunters and fishermen, berry-pickers and mushroom-gatherers were horrified that generations of access to the private “railroad lands” checker-boarded with public lands would be blocked. Conservationists were horrified at the prospect of even more damage inflicted on the forests of what is called the Crown of the Continent, one of the largest, relatively unscathed ecosystems remaining in the Lower 48.

Two conservation groups, The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land, are the principals in the plan, which would tap into several sources of funding to raise the $510 million needed to take control of these tracts from Plum Creek—the largest private land owner in America—and turn them over to the U.S. Forest Service, the Montana Department of Natural Resources, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and also some private timber investors. About $250 million in Federal funds are available, but private and state contributions are necessary to consummate the deal, as well.

One of the many groups supporting the Montana Legacy Project is Hellgate Hunters and Anglers. Its president, Tim Aldrich, issued this statement on Nov. 17:

“As I think about the future patterns of use and ownership of our western Montana landscapes, I am really thinking about what they mean to our way of life and the quality of the environment in which we live. I am thinking about wildlife habitat, clean water, opportunities to hunt, fish, hike and pick berries. I’m thinking about mountain landscapes without red, green and blue roofs being the dominating features. I’m thinking about future timbered lands that will support traditional industry and jobs and also perform carbon sequestration to combat climate change. I’m thinking about the importance of doing things today that will assure that we keep a lot of what is great about Montana as we work to develop our future.”

Making sure this deal happens depends on keeping pressure on right-wing Republican law-makers such as Missoula’s House District 100 Representative Bill Nooney to support the legislation that will appropriate taxpayer dollars to an investment that will pay dividends for many generations.

Federal hand-outs. Farmers in Missoula County, Montana, received $261,000 in crop subsidy payments from the United States Department of Agriculture from 2003 to 2005, according to a watchdog organization called The Environmental Working Group. Below are the Top Ten Missoula recipients of this Federal largesse.

Although these handouts seem generous, compare them to the cash taken by Bruce Tutvedt up in Flathead County. Tutvedt is a farmer/rancher/gravel pit operator who was just elected to the Montana Senate from SD3. Between 1995 and 2006 he took $565,688 in Federal subsidies.

By way of comparison, the average adjusted gross income in Montana was $37,845 in 2004. There were 1,154 farmers in Montana that received more than this from USDA programs in 2003; 1,607 in 2004; and 1,676 in 2005. There were 3,505 children under age 18 in Missoula County, Montana below the poverty level in 2004, according to the Census Bureau.

1. Robert A. Petersen, Missoula 59808 . . . . . . . $40,681
2. William J. Lucier, Jr., Missoula 59808 . . . . . . . 22,343
3. James G. Valeo, Missoula 59808. . . . . . . . . .  14,031
4. Thomas R. Sheffer, Huson 59846 . . . . . . . . .  11,932
5. Joseph W. Boyer, Jr. Frenchtown 59834. . . . .  11,398
6. Floyd Cheff, Missoula 59804 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11,012
7. Bertha Pruyn, Missoula 59803 . . . . . . . . . . .   10,886
8. Earl M. Pruyn, Missoula 59803 . . . . . . . . . . .  10,886
9. Pat Vannoy, Greenough 59823 . . . . . . . . . . . 10,510
10. Michael J. Oberlander, Florence 59833 . . . . . .9,446

Best Bargain in Colleges. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine has released its list of the Top 100 U. S. colleges and universities based on a combination of outstanding academic quality and an affordable price tag. No Treasure State school made the list, despite the fact that University of Montana President George Dennison likes to crow about how much bang for the buck his school provides, even though it ranks consistently near the bottom in most academic rankings.

Leading the list was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The University of Washington was ranked #11, Washington State at #89. Numerous smallish schools made the list, including some that football-crazy Montana has played against, such as Northern Arizona and Delaware.

Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Reporters.
On September 10 the website of the Billings Gazette announced that three of the Montana daily newspapers owned by faltering Lee Enterprises had laid off a total of 21 part-time and full-time “positions.” These layoffs included at least three full-time reporters.

On August 27 the publisher of the Missoulian announced that the paper had let go seven employees, including two full-time reporters.

The publishers of these sad little dailies fell into step behind corporate orders and cited soaring fuel and newsprint costs plus a decline in national advertising as the reasons why they can't “grow” their circulations enough to offset rising costs. The truth is, fewer and fewer people want to read these rags because they don't provide the hyper local news and the spicey community dirt that people search websites, television, and word-of-mouth to get. At any rate, it seems bizarre that Lee believes laying off reporters will help produce a better product that more people want.

Steve Prosinski, the editor of the Gazette, told Dark Acres his paper still has “great journalists” and assured readers that the quality of reporting at Montana's largest daily will remain high despite the fact that the paper has been “thrown some challenges.” He said there are no plans to bypass the high costs of circulation and newsprint by converting the paper to a Web-only daily.

And this from another of the region's newspapers: The editor of the Spokesman Review in Spokane, Steven A. Smith, abruptly quit Oct. 1 in protest of the announcement that another round of editorial layoffs and a reduction in the paper's format would begin. The publisher of the paper said 25 newsroom jobs would be cut.