Mayor Engen Is Losing The Narrative On Urban Renewal Districts And The Role Of MRA

by William Skink

Is Mayor Engen losing control of the narrative over Urban Renewal Districts and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency? I think the most recent example of political damage control, facilitated by the Missoula Current, titled Engen says MRA will become “more strategic” with broader focus on housing, means the answer is yes.

If I’m interpreting the pol-speak correctly here, Engen and his MRA board are feeling the heat of legitimate criticism, and part of their response is to deploy a rhetorical re-prioritazation of how MRA uses our public money to head-off calls for the outright dissolution of MRA altogether. From the link:

“I think we need a broader discussion about what’s the long-term plan here,” said MRA board member Karl Englund. “What do we want these (urban renewal) districts to do? We’re going to need to understand that both in terms of how we operate day in and day out, and how the city considers things like this.”

Engen also suggested a shifting philosophy in the role MRA will play moving forward. In the past, he said, the agency often reacted to projects that came to the city.

In the future, he said, MRA’s investments would become more strategic.

“The work of the agency over the past 15 years is much different than it was before. The projects are different, the need is different and the resources are different,” Engen said. “We have traditionally tended to react to proposals rather than make those proposals. We’re doing more of that, and I suspect there will be even more of that in the future as we move forward, based on community needs.”

Yes, 15 years of TIF money priming the pump of development has helped make the Missoula of today much different than the Missoula of 15 years ago. I’m glad our enlightened Mayor understands that. Some of those differences include the cost of housing sky-rocketing, the valley growing by thousands and thousands of people, a state government Democrats are incapable of making gains in (so the state of Montana does things to shift costs to County/City government), and more crime fueled by things like meth and cutting social services.

What the Mayor is trying to do is create some rhetorical window-dressing to save his slush fund, but he’s losing the narrative and he knows it. That’s why he says things like this, at the end of the piece:

“There’s a fundamental misunderstanding that we’re giving money to the private sector,” he said. “But we’re actually creating public infrastructure that supports private investment, that creates taxable value, that expands our base and allows us to levy fewer mills, tax individuals less, and get more done. This is a success story at the end of the day.”

Ok, if Missoula is such a TIF-enabled success story, then vote for Engen when he’s up for reelection. Or, if you understand that reality often conflicts with the rosy declarations coming from the Mayor’s office, you can prepare to support ABE (anyone but Engen) when the time comes.

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Will A Red-Flag Trump Tweet Blow A Hole In Gun Control Hopes For Democrats? (Probably Nope)

by William Skink

Trump accomplished in one tweet what a million blog posts could never accomplish, and that is to highlight a serious concern over the imposition of red-flag laws:

How do you like your Trump red-flag law idea now, gun-control Democrats?

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The Abstract Vs The Real

by William Skink

One of the most maddening things about watching the workings of local government is how two distinct worlds exist. There’s the abstract world of studies and master plans and “revenue projections”, where elected officials can chase visions of zero waste and mopeds that run on positive vibes, and the other world, the one we commonly refer to as the “real” world.

In the abstract world, where complicated financial mechanisms like mill levy’s esoterically rise and fall, everything is just fine and dandy. There’s even going to be money in the bank for a rainy day fund! That’s just swell!

Calling it a good year, the Missoula City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to its fiscal year 2020 budget, one that will levy fewer mills while investing in new services, including police officers, roads and general maintenance.

Increases in property values across Missoula, a result of state appraisals and what city leaders deem a strong local economy, has strengthened the city’s fiscal standing while giving it room to pad its rainy day fund.

“The fact that we’re lowering mills is a good thing,” said Mayor John Engen. “This budget reflects the interests of most of the folks on this council and the majority of the citizens we serve.”

Isn’t this great news! Good times in Missoula, shared by all, right? But no, that pesky real world still does exist, and here is the real world part of the article:

Despite what most described as good news, the state’s lopsided tax system still left members of the council frustrated. While city mills will decrease, most property owners will still see an increase in property taxes.

Well, gash darn it! I guess we’re all just the helpless victims of this “lopsided” tax system that no one can ever do anything about.

While the budget process is grinding your tax meat, this is the time of year, last year, when I started speculating on what the emergency shelter plan would be for the upcoming winter. In that vein I went looking for meeting minutes for the Mayor’s Downtown Advisory Commission. The meeting notes for April (which you can find here) are now available and they are quite illuminating, considering the notes amount to a debrief from the hard winter service providers experienced administering services. Here are some highlights:

The Salvation Army stepped up to provide services for those who could not stay at the Poverello Center. They opened the day after Christmas 2018 and closed at the end of March 2019. The Salvation Army served up to 70 people per night. They were not as strict as the Poverello Center and allowed pets and husbands and wives to stay together. Operationally it was very hard on the Salvation Army staff since they managed a more difficult clientele. There was property damage, people with mental health issues, needles in the bathrooms and items stored outside under bushes. The Good Food Store did have problems but they worked with the Salvation Army.

Plans are already in the works to discuss warming efforts for winter 2019. The Salvation Army decided not to participate this winter since they had issues managing the daytime hours. The transfer center was used as a temporary warming facility winter 2018. Eran explained that they are now looking locally for a place to house people 24 hours per day and that plan will be taken to the council and the commissioners in the future.

We, as a community, are nearly 8 years into the 10 year plan to end homelessness. Instead of acknowledging a more official, better funded, better staffed and trained option is needed, the head of City Council is wondering if Salvation Army’s no is a “hard no”.

Ethan Smith said that the police were called to the Salvation Army every night and staff was overwhelmed. Ethan recommended that whomever housed people this next winter should have training.

Bryan asked if the Salvation Army gave a hard no or if they might be willing to house a few people. Eran thought that was a good question and it was possible that they would be open to that. They were doubling or tripling their staff this winter when they typically only had four people working.

Bryan saw the value of a central facility but wondered if several organizations could work together. Churches could be an option. Transportation was an issue though; each facility would have to find a way to transport people to their facilities.

Even though this commission is supposed to be focused on downtown issues, homelessness is often the focus. So the issue of the Reserve Street camps came up:

Randy Krastel said that the warmer weather was bringing people out. He and the community resource officers are making an effort to get the parks cleaned up of trash so they are clean and ready to go when transients visit them, setting a good example. Several people have been very alarmed about the issues out on N. Reserve under the bridge. People living under the bridge have been building structures out of wood. Several people have also asked him about the YouTube video called “Seattle is Dying,” it’s about addiction and homelessness.

Eran Pehan explained that Theresa Williams, the Reaching Home Coordinator, has been using the Coordinated Entry System trying to reach out to people who have housing vouchers. The problem has been locating or contacting them. Most of those living outside have vouchers waiting for them. The Outreach Teams have also been trying to locate people with vouchers.

And there’s more:

Randy added that several people he knows of have been housed and he has not received calls on these individuals since January. Currently 30 – 40 people were living under the Reserve Street Bridge. Many people are building structures that are visible from the roadway.

– Ethan Smith added that several agencies come together twice per year to clean out the Reserve Street camp. Cleanup efforts by volunteers have also been organized. Food Not Bombs has been helping the people living under the bridge. People who have proclaimed themselves as liberals have been complaining to him that Missoula is turning into a homeless mecca.

– Jake Rosling said that the campers on Expressway are becoming a problem since the area has now been annexed into the city.

– Sue Wilkins added that several area prisons are releasing terrible people with nowhere to go into the community.

– Jake added that Reserve Street is housing several people with county warrants and camps are also being burned.

Very interesting stuff. I’m glad to see aspects of the real world are still being discussed. Whether or not anything substantive can be done is another question.

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Should Missoula Consider The California Option For The Missoula Redevelopment Agency?

by William Skink

The Missoula Current is asking City Council candidates a series of questions as the municipal election draws near. I would like to think this blog’s critical focus on Tax Increment Financing, combined with the fiscal thorn of Jesse Ramos, has had some influence on the conversations that are happening. As evidence we are having an impact, this is the first question MC is asking candidates: Do you support the use of tax increment financing as a tool for economic development, job growth and expanding the city’s tax base?

I have detected a smidgen of defensiveness in some of the responses to this question. For example, Ward 4 candidate Amber Sherrill had this to say:

I support Tax Increment Financing as a tool because I believe it does spur economic development and expand the city’s tax base. I believe this is similar to any type of investment in future returns. It is also an effective tool in addressing urban blight. While I believe this program is commonly misunderstood and/or misrepresented it has proven to be effective in many cities across the country. That being said, I think it should be used strategically and that we should regularly reassess the effectiveness in specific areas and the needs of our community to make sure they align with how TIF funds are being allocated.

I agree that TIF is commonly misunderstood and/or misrepresented, and Sherrill’s response is actually a good example of why this is the case.

When Sherrill says “spur economic development” what this actually means is unelected board members from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency disperse our public tax money to private developers in order to incentivize development in an Urban Renewal District. When Sherrill explains this development “expands the tax base” she is misrepresenting what is actually happening by omitting the fact that this expanse occurs ONLY within the Urban Renewal District, and the subsequent increase in tax revenue goes NOT to the general fund, but back to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. That is why critics like myself and Jesse Ramos correctly point out that this URD/TIF scheme starves the general fund, and the result has been the city’s perpetual need to increase taxes in order to keep up with providing essential services, like police and fire.

Let’s take a look at another attempt to defend TIF. Ward 3 incumbent Gwen Jones gives a vigorous defense, going all the way back to the late 70’s when Southgate mall opened and threatened to kill economic activity downtown. We are led to believe that without the miracle of Tax Increment Financing, downtown would have remained “a ghost town”. My favorite part about Jones’ defense comes near the end of her TIF cheerleading, where she acknowledges a counter-narrative exists:

There is a narrative in Missoula that TIF is a waste of taxpayer dollars, gives millions to corporations, and is driving up property taxes. While I am sensitive to such concerns, the key is to evaluate each proposed project for TIF funding to assess its ultimate value to the community as a whole. As our Missoula economy changes, we should engage in discussions as to what the priorities are for future TIF spending. If we are in an economic situation where, after numerous years of expansion, we can reprioritize how we spend TIF in Urban Renewal Districts, I look forward to those conversations. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency and TIF have proven successful and we need to recognize what a valuable tool TIF funding can be to improve our city and quality of life.

Where to start? First, speaking just for myself, I don’t think every single project TIF has helped fund has been a waste of taxpayer dollars. Jones herself helps make this point by cherry-picking projects like Silver Park and affordable housing projects that have received TIF money.

But not every project that gets TIF money is a park or affordable housing project. A little company by the name of Starbucks got TIF money in 2014, and Marriott got “reimbursed” 1.8 million for the SoBro hotel that replaced the Merc. So yes, corporations have benefited from TIF money, and property taxes do continue to go up despite all the development that’s occurred. I’ve explained repearedly how URD/TIF contributes to this. As more people begin to understand the skim & give scheme, expect council members who support the Mayor’s slush fund to get more and more defensive.

Being sensitive to this, Jones claims the “key” is to “evaluate each proposed project for TIF funding to assess its ultimate value to the community as a whole”. That sounds great and all, but there is a big piece being left out here, and that is WHO is doing the evaluating? And WHO determines the “ultimate value to the community as a whole?”

If you go to the city website you can see who is making the decisions, a board of five members appointed by the mayor and “subject to City Council confirmation”. These members serve 4 year terms and the 3 qualifications bullet-pointed are being a city resident, experience in finance, planning and legal issues and experience with property ownership affairs–so bankers, lawyers and property owners hand-picked by Mayor Engen.

Going back to the “key” of evaluating each proposed project, let’s take at Missoula’s bridge to nowhere. According to an article from the Missoulian at the end of last year, the bridge is part of a strategy to increase recreational use of the West Broadway Island in order to, so the thinking goes, run out the homeless addicts trashing up the place. From the link:

“When we talked to [police Chief Mike Brady], he said the police department is absolutely supporting this project,” Behan said. “For many years, the island has been an area where transients have camped. However, over the past three years there has been a dramatic increase of intravenous drug use and other criminal activity associated with campers on the island.”

“There’s a real fear from people that are using this area.”

Behan said Brady told him the department is spending a large chunk of its budget patrolling the area. Both the MRA staff and the police department believe that by rehabbing an existing bridge to make it ADA-accessible and building a new pedestrian bridge, the island will become more inviting to the general public.

“The more people down there, it cleans stuff up to a great extent,” Behan explained.

For a bunch of smart banker/lawyer/property owner types there seems to be some extreme wishful thinking here to rationalize a half million dollar expenditure of public money.

According to the article, the police are overwhelmed with criminal drug use and there is a “real fear” from people in the area. How exactly is a bridge going to help address this issue? Will the bridge help fix the dysfunction of our criminal justice system? Will it provide supportive services, like treatment for addictions? Will it create affordable housing? The answer to all these questions is, of course, no.

What the bridge does accomplish is the transferring of public money to the pockets of the engineers and developers tasked with building this non-solution to societal ills. And it only took 5 years to push this bridge to nowhere through the meat grinder:

The island lies within the Urban Renewal District II, and the money for the improvements comes from property tax revenue generated within the district. Behan said the MRA has been working on the project for five years, and they finally have enough funding to move forward. The island is managed by the city’s Conservation Lands department, and Morgan Valliant, the city’s conservation lands manager, has had crews out for the past few years clearing non-native species in an effort to increase visibility for island visitors.

It’s taken a lot of time and public money to get this bridge built and it’s still not open to the public yet. Why? Did someone screw something up? If someone did screw something up, how does the public hold that person and/or institution accountable?

While I’m loathe to recommend repeating anything California is doing, policy wise, I will point out that the state of California put redevelopment agencies out of business nearly a decade ago:

The California Supreme Court threw hundreds of redevelopment agencies out of business in a ruling that will benefit state budget coffers but hobble local economic development and housing programs.

The court ruled unanimously in favor of a state law passed last summer that abolished redevelopment agencies and voted 6 to 1 to strike down a companion measure that would have allowed the agencies to continue if they shared their revenues.

More than 400 redevelopment agencies will cease to exist after Feb. 1. Authorized by law since 1945, the agencies have been responsible for such success stories as Old Pasadena and San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter but also plagued by projects that some argued had little public benefit.

Sound familiar?

If you don’t like the idea of 5 unelected individuals re-directing millions of tax dollars then pay attention to what is being done with your money. When more details on what’s going on with the bridge to nowhere emerge I hope more people in Missoula will come to the realization that something needs to change with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

And if nothing changes, I hope the Montana legislature considers the California option.

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Who Is Adding To Escalating Domestic Tensions? Both Sides, That’s Who

by William Skink

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It’s good to see Pete Talbot at the Montana Post taking a time out from the polarizing partisanship to recommend we all take a deep breath over the man who assaulted a teen in Mineral County because of his perception the boy was disrespecting the national anthem.

Talbot is in an interesting position of relating the perspective of a Progressive Democrat friend from the Superior community who is watching an unhinged and borderline vigilante response from the “tolerant” political party he belongs to. There seems to be some degree of surprise that liberals are capable of this kind of response:

…people across the country are painting this incident in various manners that only serve to escalate the situation – i.e., suggestions of it being racially motivated, that Curt is a nationalist and white supremacist, that we are all Nazis here in Mineral County – especially the judge – that our criminal justice system is broken, on and on. Oh, and “what do you expect, it’s Montana.” I think what bothers me the most is that people are so quick to jump to conclusions and judge a situation without having all the facts. And these are supposedly liberals.

The situation is garnering national attention, and that attention will grow thanks to the lawyer, Lance Jasper, who is already beginning to try the case in the court of public opinion with a TRUMP MADE ME DO IT defense strategy.

People in this country seem to be growing more hateful toward their political opponents by the day. Consumed by these extreme emotional reactions, they are unable to step back and see how they are being manipulated by a power structure that exists beyond the red/blue political duopoly, a power structure that exploits divisions in a divide & conquer strategy deployed against us to keep us controlled.

While this incident may have cut through one partisan’s filter to expose the rage coming from liberals toward their perceived political enemies, there are other incidents escalating tensions that liberal partisans stuck in their respective media echo chambers probably aren’t aware of. For example in Patchogue, New York, a theater group that uses “interactive horror experiences to address social issues” put up posters stating DEATH CAMPS FOR TRUMP SUPPORTERS NOW.

And another example, former CNN host, Reza Aslan, rage-tweeted about eradicating Kellyanne Conway and Trump supporters. This is the same stand-up guy who also tweeted that Covington Catholic High School Student Nick Sandmann has a “punchable face”. And what did Twitter do to his Twitter account after Aslan suggested eradicating his political opponents and punching children in the face? Nothing.

The tweet is still up, and The Daily Wire reports that a Twitter official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record told them that “this tweet does not break our rules at this time.”

Twitter’s tolerance seems to be the latest case of political double-standards at the social media giant, which holds the mere act of “misgendering” someone — i.e., referring to a user by his sex rather than his preferred “gender identity” — to be “hateful conduct.”

While these incidents are concerning, a few posters and a few offensive tweets aren’t as influential as, say, Hollywood. Which brings me to my final example of the liberal side of the rhetorical war that’s developing: a movie about literally hunting Trump supporters for sport. Here is some of the actual dialogue from this delightful sounding cinematic experience:

“Did anyone see what our ratfucker-in-chief just did?” asks one character early in the screenplay for The Hunt – set to open Sept. 27. “At least The Hunt’s coming up. Nothing better than going out to the Manor and slaughtering a dozen deplorables,” is the reply.

The film from producer Jason Blum – a former executive with Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax – was also behind The Purge, a movie similarly about hunting human beings.

Yes, Hollywood, some political gore-porn from a film producer connected to serial rapist Harvey Weinstein is exactly what America needs.

What’s next, a Jeffrey Epstein mockumentary?

UPDATE: The Hunt’s release was cancelled Saturday

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Onion Bomb, For Jeffrey Epstein

by William Skink

Charlie lit an onion bomb
that blew the noosphere into
300 million pieces of jagged atmosfear

who did Charlie haight so much
in San Francisco?
Shadow Sid and JJ Angel?

onion bombs touch the part of us
outside time

stories splatter like brain matter
and the Nephilim scoop it up greedily
for their blackhole soup bowls

black magic onion bombs
spreading fear-death
in deep lust for the time-spot
and the prize of forever—

that is what they are after
with their Palantir spy eyes
pimping glamour death
to soften fresh souls
for their banquets

surface sparks and clown noses with orange hair
have angry poles sharpening their teeth
for a strategic cannibalizing
of our power—

the power to love beyond self
is a power denied them as they gobble the essence
of life
while missing the whole point

because their feeling is an emptiness of feeling
consuming all

now, in the epoch of lead rain,
the endless hunger of self-styled wolves
uses each ritualized death spectacle
to further an order their chaos will make us demand

while awareness grows
a million dead-ends are conjured
to stupefy the seekers

what once was a rigor of intuition
has been blunted by trauma and trolls under
each hopeful bridge

trolls who bludgeon honest exchanges
into rust-red stains

to state it plainly: we are being driven insane

understand onion bombs
have layers of meaning
and reverberations beyond what our senses
can detect

I once thought true detectives
could discover the origin without core loss
of compass tied to heart

but the dark magnetism of charred remains
is still occulted to a left brain moving forward
with heart roots

the dead body of old Jeff
found in his cell
killed on the day it happened 50 years ago—

they’ll say by his own hand
but those familiar with twilight language know
the true meaning of suicide watch
and can feel the detonation of an onion bomb

when it blows another hole
in our holy web,

the end

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Did You Know Missoula Has A Bridge To Nowhere?

by William Skink

Stupid, costly things just keep happening in Missoula.

The latest stupid thing occurred because Missoula County election officials couldn’t make a deadline to make upcoming municipal elections mail-in only. So how much is that going to cost?

Missoula’s Sept. 10 City Council primary election will be conducted at polling places, rather than via mail as originally planned.

That’s because a mistake by the Missoula County Elections Office delayed submission of paperwork to the state, forcing the polling place election, elections administrator Dayna Causby announced.

Causby said it will cost between $8,000 and $10,000 to hold the polling place election for the primary, and the added expense has been factored into her office’s fiscal year 2020 budget.

The additional cost brings these unnecessary primary elections to over $50,000. And remember, this is a cost demanded by Mayor Engen to protect the political status quo from another Jesse Ramos.

Some stupid, costly things in Missoula aren’t even known to the broader public yet. For example, did you know Missoula has a bridge to nowhere? You can see it on West Broadway, near the Imagination Brewery.

This project, allegedly funded to the tune of a half million dollars, was supposedly delayed due to increment weather back in February:

The West Broadway Island bridge improvement project has been delayed due to inclement weather.

The work was scheduled to start Monday and upon its completion, will allow easier access to the island which is city-owned conservation land.

The project includes a new pedestrian bridge to the island, improvements to the utility bridge at the south end of Burton Street, an extension of a pedestrian trail between the two bridges and access improvements at the river’s edge, including a small paved parking area and better access to the bridges and new trail.

The island conservation area and a small informal parking area off Burton Street will be closed to the public starting Monday. Construction is weather-dependent and could last through the end of May.

The cost of the project is $500,000, funded by Tax Increment Funding through the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. In addition, Hellgate Valley Irrigation Company is also contributing $10,000 to the project.

The project aims to protect and enhance the recreational value of the island. Its natural setting includes views, river sounds, birds and small wildlife, according to a news release.

I use the word “allegedly” because I’ve heard the project actually cost significantly more. And I say “supposedly” because I have also heard the delay in opening the bridge is most definitely not because of weather, which should be pretty obvious, considering it’s August and there’s no snow on the ground.

It’s this kind of stupid, costly stuff that people in Missoula need to know about and should demand accountability for. And boy howdy would it be nice if some local reporting could be done about Missoula’s bridge to nowhere, maybe BEFORE the upcoming municipal elections.

Out of control spending is not just some conservative talking point, it’s the constant, persistent reality of those who arrogantly disperse OUR money through the unaccountable Missoula Redevelopment Agency. Projects like the art park and the library can balloon hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget and in rides the slush-fund calvary to save the day.

If you can’t afford to pay your property taxes, will this calvary ride to your rescue? Hell no they won’t. These unelected minions of the Mayor are too busy operating the TIF skim & give scheme, directly contributing to the ever increasing tax burden.

There WILL be an opportunity for the people of Missoula to send a message in the upcoming Municipal elections. My concern is that a diversity of thought will get squelched by Engen’s expensive ploy to limit the playing field, then he will interpret that electoral outcome as a mandate to continue the TIF shell-game with our tax dollars.

And though the Mayor himself is not up for reelection for a few more years, I don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about voting ABE (Anyone But Engen).

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The Danger Of Trump And Gun Control Advocates Finding Common Ground With Red-Flag Laws

by William Skink

I was at a wedding recently where the topic of Medicaid in Montana came up. I offered an on-the-ground perspective from my days at the shelter watching first responders respond over and over again to the same chronically homeless individuals slowly drinking themselves to death. The cost that can accumulate from street to ER to jail then back to the street is astronomical.

The person I was talking to ended up being the family member of a current Congressional candidate. Weddings are funny like that.

It’s always nice to get positive feedback that my on-the-ground perspective is seen as having value. It’s that perspective, combined with trends I’m watching evolve, which informs my concern over a renewed push to implement red flag laws after this past weekend’s gun violence. I wonder how gun control advocates feel to suddenly have Trump signaling he could be supportive? From the link:

Trump called for laws to ensure that those “judged a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms” and declared “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

I wrote about red flag laws last year, when I was concerned efforts in Missoula would materialize at the State Legislature. Part of my concern comes from seeing how broken the criminal justice system already is. With Missoula’s upcoming budget process coming into focus it’s clear we already need more clerks, more cops, more city attorneys and more judges. Adjudicating the removal of firearms through a court process is no simple task. It will take more criminal justice infrastructure, and that takes more money, and we know where the money will come from.

Another very important question to ask is will red-flag laws actually work? The Parkland shooter in Florida sent out glaring signals he was leading up to massacring people, and those signals were reported to the authorities, but ignored, even by the FBI. Maybe they were too busy looking for Russians. Regardless, there is now a lawsuit:

The parents of a victim of the 2018 Parkland school shooting sued the federal government Friday, accusing the FBI of ignoring a warning about the accused gunman.

April Schentrup and Philip Schentrup said that had the FBI followed up on a tip about Nikolas Cruz, the agency could have prevented the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead, including their daughter, Carmen Schentrup.

The lawsuit says a woman warned the FBI that Cruz planned “to slip into a school and start shooting up the place.”

“He wanted to kill people, and he had the means to do so — he had spent the last several months collecting rifles and ammunition,” the lawsuit says. “Forty days later, Mr. Cruz did just what [the] tipster warned the FBI he would do.

“If the FBI had complied with its mandatory obligations to investigate and intervene in Cruz’s plans to carry out a mass shooting at Stone Douglas High school, Cruz would not have succeeded in carrying out his attack and Carmen Schentrup would not have been killed.”

When I think of degraded institutional responsiveness in Montana I think of Adult Protective Services because of the many, many experiences I have had. If a person represents a danger to themselves or others, you would think a state agency like APS would be able to intervene, but many situations have to get incredibly bad before the County Attorney’s office, law enforcement and APS can all coordinate an intervention (this isn’t the fault of APS, but of political priorities and funding decisions).

These are the kinds of existing state institutions that will probably have some role in responding to red-flag claims. In Montana I do not think our infrastructure can, in my opinion, handle the increase in calls from every worried family member, nosy neighbor, or jilted partner.

Another parallel trend evolving alongside red-flag laws is the censoring/criminalizing of conspiracy theories and those who believe in them. The same FBI that’s obsessed with things like Russians, spying on domestic political campaigns, and entrapping mentally deficient dupes transformed into terrorists have just expanded their definition of who could be a domestic terrorist. Thanks FBI, you guys are swell. From the link:

The FBI has for the first time identified fringe conspiracy theories as a domestic terrorist threat, Yahoo News reported on Thursday.

An intelligence bulletin from the bureau’s Phoenix field office, dated May 30, 2019, has labeled “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists,” as a growing threat — it’s the first FBI report to ever do so. According to the unclassified report, conspiracy theory-extremism has spread with the rise of the internet and social media, and is expected to worsen in 2020 presidential election.

“I’m at least glad that the FBI has come to realize that these conspiracy theories can have the power that they do,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The SPLC has been engaged in a decade-and-a-half battle for the federal government to understand that domestic terrorism and violence doesn’t just happen because you’re an Islamic extremist. This is certainly something the FBI should be paying attention to, and should not ignore.”

The demands for more gun control are being made while a fascist police state continues to grow under Neo-McCarthyite noses of Democrats, a police state detached from constitutional protections under the post-9/11 Bush regime, then refined under Obama. Democrats don’t seem to care anymore about the threat of America’s police state or the diminished constitutional protections we citizens expect. They don’t care about free speech, instead wanting to criminalize language and to use the power of the state to go after that guy in his parents basement because he tweets about Pizzagate and Q-Anon all day.

So go ahead and clamor for more gun control. Allow statistically rare mass-shootings to be fully exploited while ignoring a literal domestic war zone called Chicago. Ignore anything that doesn’t support the emotional appeal of your agenda, like the ability of existing laws to keep us safe and reports showing violent crime in America going down:

The two most commonly cited sources of crime statistics in the U.S. both show a substantial decline in the violent crime rate since it peaked in the early 1990s. One is an annual report by the FBI of serious crimes reported to police in approximately 18,000 jurisdictions around the country. The other is an annual survey of more than 90,000 households conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which asks Americans ages 12 and older whether they were victims of crime, regardless of whether they reported those crimes to the police.

Using the FBI numbers, the violent crime rate fell 49% between 1993 and 2017. Using the BJS data, the rate fell 74% during that span. (For both studies, 2017 is the most recent full year of data.) The long-term decline in violent crime hasn’t been uninterrupted, though. The FBI, for instance, reported increases in the violent crime rate between 2004 and 2006 and again between 2014 and 2016.

Ignore it all because an American phenomenon of unhinged people shooting as many other humans as possible keeps happening and you can’t understand why.

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Montana Post Rushes To Exploit A Weekend Of Tragedy

by William Skink

Political partisans on both sides will quickly exploit any tragedy if it means furthering their agenda. For team blue, the El Paso shooting appears tailor-made to attack Trump and the alt-right he leads. The young man drove 60 miles to kill Mexicans at Walmart. The footage is terrifying and heartbreaking.

As I do on most Monday mornings, I make the rounds online to see what my regular clicks are saying. At The Montana Post there are already three posts up. The first one is from Don Pogreba, titled Empty Prayers from Empty Suits Won’t Wash the Blood from Their Hands. This was posted on August 3rd at 7:25pm, so before the second mass-shooting in Dayton, Ohio occurred (we’ll get to that shooting in a bit). The second post, written the next day at 9 in the morning by the same partisan author, is about the reprehensible Montana Shooting Sports Association. The third post, written a few hours later, again penned by Pogreba, is titled The Silence of Republican Candidates for Governor After El Paso and Dayton is Indefensible.

In the rush to launch political attacks at political adversaries after these two tragic mass-shootings over this past weekend, Pogreba must not have sought out any information on what may have motivated the second shooter to open fire in Ohio. Though I haven’t looked into this too closely, since it just happened less than 48 hours ago, one of my regular clicks has some indications the other polarized extreme of the political spectrum may have played a role:

And while the media was eager to quickly expose the El Paso shooter as a right-wing extremist with the implication that he is merely following Trump’s belligerent rhetoric, only few details had emerged about the Dayton, Ohio shooter although we certainly understand why the mainstream media may not have rushed to make these alleged details public – because according to Heavy.com, the Dayton shooter was an Elizabeth Warren (and Bernie Sanders) supporter who advocated for socialism, communism and supported Antifa.

I have no idea if this is true or not, but it highlights why one may want to more fully process tragic events before immediately exploiting them to further a political agenda. It’s disgusting when the right does it, and it’s disgusting when partisans like Pogreba do it.

The Dayton shooter, Connor Betts, has a Missoula connection. This deranged young man’s own sister was apparently a victim, and she had recently been working at the Missoula Smokejumper Center, according to the Missoula Current.

A little suggestion to the partisans who rush to their said little computers to exploit another tragic example of America’s deep-rooted sickness: you are a part of the problem, and I wish there was a 48 hour stfu rule about vomiting your political attacks so families can mourn their dead.

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Why Does Missoula County Need A Law To Deal With Aggressive “Transients”?

by William Skink

I’m confused. The Missoula Current recently reported that County Commissioners needed an ordinance to “deter aggressive transients” at the Missoula Development Park. From the link:

At the request of several property owners, Missoula County commissioners have implemented an ordinance banning overnight camping at the Missoula Development Park, and they’re urging others to notify the sheriff’s office of any violators.

Several local businesses, including the AT&T call center and 836 Technologies, said overnight transients have left behind waste and garbage, and have harassed their employees.

“There are several problems with overnight camping – the transients,” said Brian Freeman of 836 Technologies. “They’re not actual campers, as we all know. Trash, crime and raw sewage is often left behind. These people don’t work in the area, and don’t do anything to bring businesses into the area. It creates problems with our employees.”

I find this confusing for two reasons. The first is an assumption that the effort seven years ago by County Commissioners to end the Occupy encampment would apply here. Don’t remember that effort? Well, here’s a helpful article to remind you:

Occupy Missoula will have to find new digs.

Missoula County commissioners listened to two hours of often fervent testimony Wednesday, most of it opposing a ban on camping, then quickly passed a resolution that makes it criminal trespass to sleep overnight on county property without a permit.

The statute, which also prohibits the placement or erection of structures unless the county says it’s OK, took effect immediately.

So, if this old resolution ”makes it criminal trespass to sleep overnight on county property without a permit”, why is another law needed to address this?

The second reason this story baffles me is this: why can’t already existing laws, like laws against littering and broad misdemeanor statues, like disorderly conduct, be effective tools for law enforcement? Cite these people for littering, or for disorderly conduct, then when they don’t show up to court, or pay their fine, a bench warrant will be issued.

I’m not actually all that confused about this situation. To address this very small percentage of “transients” (a term I hate) who display aggressive, anti-social behavior, the criminal justice system needs to have a strong stick/carrot approach. The carrot of help, whether treatment or even just case management, was not adequate to begin with, and still hasn’t rebounded from the cruel cuts imposed by cruel politicians. That’s a problem.

The other problem is the consequential stick of the criminal justice system has also transformed, and doesn’t really impact this small transient population. For most of us fines are pretty effective for changing behavior. If we don’t pay the fine, we could have credit issues or a bench warrant for our arrest.

But what if you don’t care whether or not you end up in jail? And what if you have nothing left, financially, to take or ruin? Then, instead of the stick hurting you, the anti-social transient with mental health and/or addiction issues, you become the stick hurting and clogging up the criminal justice system.

Because this is the reality on the ground, and because decision makers and purse-string pullers don’t want to deal with this difficult reality, what we are seeing is a classic move called “passing the buck”. In this case it’s the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department passing the buck to the County Commissioners.

The Commissioners can pass all the new laws they want, it won’t change the fundamental reality that carrots to create positive incentive to change are virtually non-existent, and sticks to create negative consequences to deter bad behavior have been greatly diminished by issues like jail overcrowding.

My suggestion to those dealing with aggressive, threatening behavior in this area of Missoula is to carry a big can of pepper spray and be prepared to use it. Because of the dynamics described in this post I believe the trend is for law enforcement to be more and more hands-off because the financial cost of intervening in every situation where an unstable person is acting threatening is not a cost we, as a community, apparently can afford.

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