Friday, October 28

Nothing New Under the Sun

I was very interested to hear of a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) publication describing the Executive branch's response to the Mississippi River flood of 1927, exacerbated when the river's levees failed in Arkansas and Mississippi after extreme rainfall. I learned about the report in Secrecy News' recent update here. The report may be downloaded here.

Immediately after the disaster, the President Coolidge bore the brunt of criticism that the federal government was not working fast enough to provide relief. (Sound familiar?)

As a response, President Coolidge empowered then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover to act as the director of federal flood response, coordinating action among government agencies, the Red Cross and private organizations. (Also sound familiar?) Members of Congress and many editorials have been asking for a recovery "czar," with powers and responsibilities much like those given to Hoover.

So, how did the government do? Were there any problems? I will let the report summary speak for itself:

This report describes the flood of 1927, and assesses the federal government’s response thereto. In short, the federal response was an executive branch response. President Calvin Coolidge created a quasi-governmental commission that included members of his Cabinet and the American National Red Cross. This commission encouraged the public to donate funds to the relief effort. It also gave Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover near-absolute authority to organize and oversee its response. Hoover used this authority to weave together federal resources, American National Red Cross volunteers, and the private sector to carry out the relief and recovery program.

The concentration of power and the blending of the governmental and private sectors in Hoover’s hands enabled the relief effort to be carried out expeditiously and creatively. President Coolidge’s empowerment of Hoover alone as director of the flood response clarified to federal, state, and local officials and the public who was in charge.

However, this administrative structure was not without costs. There was little direct federal oversight of actual relief provision. So, for example, when local and state relief workers behaved illegally, they were not held accountable. Furthermore, the concentration of power in a single set of hands enabled Secretary Hoover to undertake inadvisable actions with nearly no constraints.

I do not bring up this instance from the past loosely. We are on the verge of appointing a new recovery "czar" to direct the reconstruction efforts from Katrina, Rita and Wilma. I encourage our government to remember both the successes and failures of the past, and structure any new efforts to recreate those successes and avoid those failures. To quote yet another cliché, those that do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Tribune City Commission Forum is November 2

The Tribune is hosting a city commission/mayoral forum on Wednesday, November 2 at the City Commission Chambers in the Civic Center.

The four commission candidates will debate at 6:30 p.m. The two mayoral candidates will debate at 7:30 p.m.

This is the first time in recent memory that there are real issues and real races in our municipal government. I encourage any Great Falls resident to attend and decide for yourself who deserves your vote.

Thursday, October 27

Get a Paddlin' -- Masters Swim Meet in Great Falls this Summer

I just heard that there will be a master's swim meet in Great Falls at the Mitchell Pool this summer.

The Mitchell Pool is a 50 meter (yes, kick-your-ass-and-make-your-lungs-cry meter which is almost 10% longer than a yard) pool.

Time to start training.

Sunday, October 23

Southern Alberta Economy should be North-central Montana Model

Today's Tribune ran a series of articles comparing the economy in Chester, MT with that of Taber, Alberta. I think the comparison is a valid exercise, as the ecomomic success story in Southern Alberta should serve as a model for the North-central Montana ecomomy.

My mother is a Canadian, from Calgary. For my entire life, I have regularly traveled to Calgary to visit family. I have always been in awe of the ability of small towns like Taber and Nanton to grow and prosper, as their geography is so similar to Montana's Hi-Line.

More than Taber and Nanton, the city of Lethbridge is a model for Great Falls. This city prospers while we are not. Lethbridge and Great Falls are very similar; twenty years ago we were still the same size and our ecomomies were based on the same things.

Southern Alberta is not based oil, as are ecomomic powerhouses like Calgary and Edmonton. Southern Alberta's success can be attributed entirely to Agriculture and the Ag processing plants that have sprouted up in the surrounding small towns.

Why do Taber, Nanton and Lethbridge prosper while Chester, Havre and Great Falls wither? The Tribune and the Chester activists have put their finger on the exact issue--irrigation districts.

Thirty to forty years ago, the Alberta government invested in its infrastructure to create a series of irrigation districts. The resulting availability of water transformed dryland wheat fields into lush vegetable gardens. Most of the resulting produce is exported out of the province, much out of the country (to the US). The investment by the government of Alberta paid itself off many times over.

It can't remember the last time that I agreed with the Tribune. However, today I do. Modeling ourselves after the successes in Southern Alberta is a goal for which we should all strive.

UPDATE: The two articles from the Trib can be found here and here.

Saturday, October 22

Lewis and Clark Party P&L analysis

To the credit of our city's municipal leaders, a full and final accounting of last June's Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Signature Event (the big party) was released on Friday. That accounting was published in today's Tribune. The first thing I will say is that expenses for this event were not irregular. While they represent more than a half million dollars lost, they do not highlight any graft, greed or corruption. No one got rich over this event.

I was struck by the percentage of income that came from grants, contributions and sponsorships. Of the $1.067 Million of income received, almost $780 Thousand came from this "free" income. Over 75% of total income, that amount paid for about half of the total expenses. We were given half of what we spent.

Unfortunately, we only "earned" $290 Thousand, or less than 20% of total expenses. That $290 Thousand came from about 40,000 visitors. I suggest now that 40,000 visitors should have represented a reasonable success for this event. 40 Thousand people coming through our small, rural community represents a positive achievement that took years of work by many in this community, most particularly by outstanding city employees like Peggy Bourne.

However, this achievement did not represent a success. It represented a half million dollar loss, a debt which we all will have to dig in our pockets to retire. Forty Thousand just did not cut the mustard for an event with a $1.5 Million budget. This begs the question, how many visitors would we have needed to break even?

Well, our "nut", or the amount we had to "earn" was total expenses minus total grants, or $808 thousand in order to break even. With 40 thousand visitors, we achieved only 36% of that amount.

At the rate of income per visitor represented by the information above, our city would have had to attact 111,426 visitors to break even.

The question I ask our city leaders to answer is whether or not they believe that was a reasonable expectation for a rural community like Great Falls.

Many of the variables were known before the event started. The total amount of hotel rooms in the city is a knowable number. June is usually a rainy and chilly month; no one should have been surprised that a coat and umbrella were needed.

This accounting raises serious questions about the scope of the planned event. Our municipal leaders had a fiduciary duty to manage that scope to keep it reasonable. I suggest that the finanical shortfall we experienced shows that such management was nonexistent.

I like and respect our mayor, our city manager, and the members of our city commission. However, they have a duty to be conservative in their estimations. Was a budget that required 112 Thousand tourists to come through Great Falls, MT in our chilliest and rainiest summer month a conservative estimate?

I think not.


Percent of total expenses











("free income") subtotal

$777,209 49.01%



Entry Fees




Earned Income subtotal

$290,258 18.30%

Total Income





$ 383,870

Tribal Events


Arts and Culture


Museums and Tours


Misc Vendors








Location Rental


Bus Rentals


Breaks Monument videos




Upper Portage Camp


Float Trips


Ticket Seller Fee




Total Expenses



Profit (loss)



Evil Squirrels are Overrunning Great Falls

Dale, or it is Chip, ignoring a plastic owl to get at my strawberry potA couple of articles in the Tribune today caught my attention. The big one, of course, is the P&L for the big Lewis and Clark party, which the city finally released. More on that later, after I have finished munging the data with my spreadsheet.

Another blurb that caught my attention was a city effort to control the feral cat population in Great Falls. There are a lot of cats in Great Falls. However, with my tongue not-firmly in cheek, I would like to suggest that having a small feral predator population is not the worst thing in the world, considering that our city is infested with these bloody squirrels.

OK, I admit it. I am biased here. I live near Gibson Park. These "cute" and "fuzzy" rats with bushy tails have made a mockery of my attempts at growing a vegetable garden this year.

I planted about a dozen tomato plants. They ate all the tomatoes as they began to ripen. I planted squash and pumpkins. Every time those plants bore fruit, Chip and Dale grabbed the morsel, took three or four bites, and dropped it in my lawn.

The things are incorrigible, and not afraid of anything. I have a large dog. The dog is lazy, and couldn't care less. They practically walk over the dogs nose.

I tried plastic owls. As you can see from the picture above, that worked out well. Dale over there is practically perched on the plastic owls head to get at my strawberry pot. I tried plastic snakes in the garden. No such luck.

More cats might be just what this city needs. That is an issue I would like to see the city commission candidates discuss; what are their stances on our squirrel infestation?

OK, enough whimsy (although I really do hate these garden thieves; they are not a native population, and they are generally a nuisance). More on what may be a more weighty issue later. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 18

Oxtail Stew for Chilly October Evenings

Sorry for the dearth of postings lately; not enough time in the day, and the blogging is the first thing to fall off the list.

Many Montana bloggers have been posting recipies lately. I thought I would give you the fixings for an oxtail stew that turned out nicely last weekend.

As always, I am not providing amounts. You can make four cups, four quarts or four gallons with this recipe. The only thing I can say is to use a sparing amount, adding more as necessary, until it "looks right."


  • Oxtail. If you want a lot of stew, use more than one.

  • Miripoix, diced. The total weight of these veggies should be roughly equivalent to the weight of the oxtail(s) used.

  • AP Flour

  • Vegetable Oil

  • Garlic, chopped fine.

  • Barley

  • Beef or Chicken Broth

  • Red Wine OR Dark Ale and that morning's leftover coffee.

  • Water

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Star Anise (whole)

  • Bay Leaf

  • Curry Powder (preferably Madras)

  • Chilpote Pepper


Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add a small amount of oil to the bottom of the pot. Add the oxtail(s) and salt and pepper generously. Render the oxtail(s), bringing out as much fat as possible and browning them on all sides. Remove the oxtails from the pot.

Add a small amount of additional oil and then add flour, wisking vigourously until you have a smooth roux. The roux should cover the bottom of the pan. Wisk until it is the color of creamed coffee.

Add the garlic to the roux. After it releases its aroma, add the miripoix. Let that cook for about 5-10 minutes.

Add the oxtail(s) back to the pot. Add the broth and the wine or beer/coffee mixture and some water. Add the spices and more salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 3 hours. Add barley and simmer for an additional hour.

Serve on top of egg noodles.


Friday, October 7

Marzen makes Patently Ridiculous argument on US Aid to Israel

Berg interviewee Marzen, a Palestinian, just argued that the US had given Israel $250 Billion in aid.

Such an argument doesn't hold water. The US gives Israel $2 Billion in aid a year. The US has only been doing so since the Nixon administration. Marzen's math just does not work out.

Berg Interviewee Supports Saddam Hussein

Marzen, a Palestinian interviewee on the Berg in the morning show right now, is arguing that Saddam Hussein was a benelovent dictator. He just argued that Saddam supported pluralism, education and women's rights.

Live-blogging the Wheels of Justice Hate Interview on Berg

I am live blogging the Wheels of Justice hate interview on Berg in the morning. The interview just started. The first speaker is a Palestinian named "Marzen."

He is arguing that CNN is too pro-Israel.

More later.

Berg in the Morning to Interview Anti-Semitic far left group TODAY

Forgive the late post, but I just heard that the Berg in the morning show will be interviewing the Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic group "Wheels of Justice" today at 9:06 a.m.

The group, which bills itself as an anti-War group, has been touring around Montana for the last week and a half. Participants who have attended their two hour rallys say that they spend 10 minutes discussing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then spend the remainder of their time attacking Israel.

Isral just made a huge (and I believe unjustified) step in its withdrawl from Gaza. The litmus test of a rational speaker would be whether Israel is given credit for such an unprecedented step. These people do not meet that litmus test for rationality. From what I have been told, they have a virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic message. One of their group even says that he can't be anti-Semitic, since the Palestinians are also semites.

The group will be interviewed on the berg in the morning show in about 15 minutes. I encourage anyone to call into the show and call these haters out for what they really are.

Montana does not need our own Yom Kippur invasion.