Open Thread

Back from a week out on the east coast and catching up on the news:

– Has there been a more entertainingly bizarre story than what’s been happening in Hardin, Montana? The town builds a jail in 2007 believing that building the jail is the road towards economic prosperity and more jobs. The jail stays empty for the next year and a half as the bonds issued to pay for the jail go into default. As desperation sets in, the economic development arm who initially built the jail volunteer to house Guantanamo detainees, but aren’t successful. As desperation increases, they then sign an agreement with a con-man from California named Michael Hilton (who has a long criminal record mostly involving fraud) and his private security force – named the American Police Force – to run the jail. Hilton also intended to set up a military training facility and perform law enforcement duties in the town. Without any formal announcement, black Mercedes SUV’s start rolling through the town with official-looking City of Hardin Police insignias (based on a Serbian coat-of-arms) that no one seemed to be expecting. Then, the Billings Gazette reporter who’d been covering the jail saga is hired away by the American Police Force to be their spokesperson. As the story explodes and the Montana Attorney General ponders an investigation, Hilton (a native of Montenegro who refers to himself as “Captain”) claims that an executive with a security firm named Michael Cohen has accepted the job of running the operation. Cohen says there’s no such deal and calls Hilton a liar. Finally, the economic development arm is finally forced to scrap the whole deal after it fully dawns on them that they just signed an agreement with a career criminal with a bogus company to run their jail and patrol their town. Holy fucking shit.

– This Wednesday morning, the Massachusetts Legislature will debate a bill to fully regulate and tax marijuana. The fight to create more sensible laws for marijuana may still take some time, but when the Today Show can have level-headed segments like this on the topic, we’re getting there.

– Two men are trying to open up a medical marijuana dispensary in Mountlake Terrace. In Spokane, the Gonzaga chapter of the ACLU is planning a demonstration in support of the medical marijuana law after the recent arrests there have again made it difficult for authorized patients to obtain medicine.

Update [Darryl]: And here is some political multimedia fun for the weekend.


  1. 1


    Hi Lee-

    Here’s the wikipedia writeup of Hardin’s empty jail. Sounds like the citizens of Hardin were first conned by CEC/CiviGenics, a Texas prison consortium, and our nation’s largest private operator of prisons.

    Is anyone else disturbed that a new jail was someone’s idea of economic development and jobs creation?

    And why the hell are we outsourcing our prisons?

  2. 2

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Shoot First, Then Call 9-1-1

    Here’s an instructive — and sad — story from the gun culture:

    “WINTER SPRINGS, Fla. (Oct. 10) – A man who thought there was an intruder in his house shot and killed his fiancee the day before they were to be married, police said Friday.

    “‘Right now everything points to a tragic accident,’ Police Chief Kevin Brunelle told The Associated Press, adding investigators were awaiting forensic results.

    “John Tabutt … told investigators he got his gun when he thought he heard an intruder, then fired at a figure in the hallway, according to Brunelle. It was Tabutt’s live-in fiancee … he was going to marry Saturday. Tabutt told authorities he thought she was next to him in bed the whole time.”

    Presumably the forensic investigators will count how many holes are in her:

  3. 5


    say that @ 3

    The War on Drugs has to end, pronto.

    I used to make a distinction between various drugs. Sure, legalize marijuana, but certainly not methamphetamine.

    Then I learned that they’re now making meth in the backseat using two liter bottles. Game over. We lost.

    There’s also the revelation that the addiction has remained a constant 3-5% since Nixon started the War on Drugs. So no improvement there.

    License it, regulate it, tax it, use the taxes to fund treatment programs for addicts. Anyone providing any drug to any child still goes to jail. Any parent using drugs around their kids loses their kids, permanently if they don’t sober up and comply with a treatment plan.

    Pretty much the Dutch “least harm” model, which is the only one proven effective.

  4. 6


    Is anyone else disturbed that a new jail was someone’s idea of economic development and jobs creation?

    Absolutely. This is a such a perverse mindset, that we grow our economy by trying to expand the number of people we lock up behind bars. It should be obvious that we’re doing things wrong.

  5. 7

    northern spews:

    Let’s have a poll. David railed on the Seattle Times for its headline that ST had lost revenue of several billion dollars:

    Turns out the Times’ editors and Mike Lindblom only were reporting what ST was saying, verbatim. Sound Transit’s staff is circulating a new powerpoint file that says ST will have “Revenue Lost” of $3.109 billion by 2023:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.c.....033964.pdf (see page 7).

    Should David post a correction, and note that ST staff was idiotic to report that ST had lost revenue when all that’s going on is some projections are being reduced?

    I say he should. ST staff needs to be reminded it can’t just shovel shit to the boardmembers and public – it needs to be careful.

  6. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    I wonder why Puget Sound Energy has cut natural gas rates only 17.7% this year when market prices of natural gas have plunged by two-thirds?

  7. 9

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    According to an article in Business Week, thanks to new technology that unlocks natural gas in shale formations, the U.S. now has gas reserves equivalent to 254 billion barrels of oil, which exceeds Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves. (The U.S. consumes about 7 billion barrels of oil a year.) Of course, natural gas and oil aren’t entirely interchangeable; but the U.S. is awash in natural gas, and it should be remembered that gas markets are regional in nature, unlike oil which has a global market. Thus, will the massive U.S. reserves won’t have much effect on natural gas prices in Europe, they’ll sure as hell bring down natural gas prices in the U.S. market.

    So why isn’t Puget Sound Energy passing along the huge drop in market gas prices to its customers?

  8. 10

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Is the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission making customers capitalize the buyout of PSE by MacQuarrie by making us pay above-market prices for natural gas?

    It sure looked that way to me when Mark Sidran was running WUTC and cast the deciding vote to approve selling PSE to a foreign hedge firm and boosting PSE’s return on investment to 10.9% at a time when the rest of us are getting less than 1% on our savings.

  9. 11

    Pancho spews:

    The Hardin story got way better than what you’ve posted.

    “Michael Hilton” and his crew, including his aged father or an actor playing the old man, stayed at a B&B in Hardin, invited many guests to breakfast, and paid for it all with a $1,000 rubber check.

    Becky Shay, the Billings Gazette reporter of 20 years who had spent years on the Hardin beat (the prison was proposed in 2004, built in 2006-07) had the Mercedes Benz SUV which “Michael Hilton” had left her repossessed, as were the other two which “Hilton” had taken back to California.

    She hasn’t been paid since being hired, so is looking for a new job. She’s applied to be the economic development director for the Hardin jail, a position opened after the resignation of the previous director who was forced to resign over the “Hilton” “American Police Force” scam.

    Hardin’s industrial development authority, the Two Rivers Port Authority, started looking for other businesses to occupy the windowless facility after they couldn’t get sex offenders and Guantanamo detainees. One they turned down? A medical marijuana grow operation.