City Lights: Maybe we should train security cameras on Planet Helena

2011-02-20T00:00:00Z 2011-03-11T11:30:02Z City Lights: Maybe we should train security cameras on Planet HelenaBy ED KEMMICK Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
February 20, 2011 12:00 am  • 

It's been a heck of a week in Helena.

We heard the leader of a group pressing for repeal of the Montana medical marijuana law declare that schoolchildren are prostituting themselves to obtain medicinal reefer. All indications are that she said this with a straight face.

She claims to have been given this information privately by school officials. Could somebody please subpoena this woman and demand that she cough up some names? If there are school officials who have failed to report known instances of child prostitution, heads should roll. We won't hold our breath.

Then we had Rep. Bob Wagner, R-Harrison, going on CNN to defend his “birther” legislation on Anderson Cooper's show. It was not a happy day for Montana, unless you think the Unabomber and the Jordan Freemen were good for tourism.

It's hard to sum up Wagner's absurdities, but basically he told Cooper that Montana needs stricter proof of citizenship from political candidates than would be required by the State Department for issuing a passport, and that the definition of “natural born citizen” formulated by an obscure Swiss philosopher who died in 1767 should supersede the 14th Amendment.

Cooper also kept a straight face, just barely.

Science, fiction

In the middle of the week, Rep. Joe Read, R-Ronan, introduced a bill that would establish “Montana's position” on global warming. That position would state not only that global warming is a natural occurrence unrelated to human activity but also that it is in fact “beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana.”

Wonderful. How about a bill stating that the water slowly filling the Berkeley Pit is clean and tasty and ought to be served in school lunchrooms across the state. Come to think of it, maybe Read has been drinking pit water.

I just wish the voters who sent Wagner and Read to Helena with the purported aim of cutting budgets and shrinking government would let them know that making asses of themselves is not helping their cause.

And I wish those same voters were watching matters closer to home. Last week, when the Billings City Council voted to pay a Canadian company $200,225 in federal stimulus funds to install security cameras on the city's fleet of 26 buses and 15 paratransit vans, only one person, a young architect, objected to the plan. I know for a fact that he is not a Tea Partier.

The council brushed aside his concerns about inviting Big Brother into the lives of Billings residents, but as far as I know, no one objected to giving the stimulus money to Seon Design, which is located in Coquitlan, British Columbia.

A good bad case

Transit Manager Ron Wenger made a good case for the cameras, saying they would be used to protect the city from liability claims, not to spy on anyone.

He also said the feds would probably mandate such cameras in all transit vehicles someday soon, so it was better to get the job done with federal money now than to wait for the mandate to come down and have to rely on local funds.

The council obviously agreed with him, but aren't those the kind of arguments that got us into this mess? It's always easy to take federal money because it belongs to someone else, doesn't it? Likewise with the idea of providing a little harmless security on public buses.

Yes, and soon we'll be like England, with perfectly harmless cameras poking their noses into every public space, all in the name of security and fighting terrorism. Even if you buy into the security argument and don't mind spending federal money like a drunken sailor, why send it to Canada? Advocates of small government should have been lobbying the City Council, not cheering on the half-wits in Helena.

On a related note, it was reported in the Feb. 10 issue of the Stillwater County News, under the heading of “Law Enforcement Blotter,” that on Feb. 6, “A Park City resident called to say one of her children found a sex toy in the parents' dresser that does not belong to either of them. The resident is concerned that someone has been in the house.”

Clearly, in this day and age we cannot be too vigilant.

Perhaps the government ought to think about installing security cameras outside of private homes. Is there some stimulus funding for that?

Contact Ed Kemmick at ekemmick@billingsgazette.com or 657-1293.

Contact Ed Kemmick at ekemmick@billingsgazette.com or 657-1293.

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City Lights

Ed Kemmick's City Lights column ran every Sunday in The Billings Gazette from January 2000 to September 2012. This is an archive of Ed's column.

Ed Kemmick

I cover the city of Billings.

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