Wednesday, November 30

Firefox 1.5 is out!

Firefox 1.5 is out! Improved UI, dragable tabs (finally!), better security and still free.

Compiled for Linux, OSX and Windows. Go get it here.

Tuesday, November 29

Busy Lately

I know, I know. No fresh posts for about a week.

Unfortunately, it will be just a bit longer. I just finished planning for a board meeting I chaired, and have to plan for another upcoming meeting. I am also trying to put the finishing touches on the December issue of our shul bulletin and studying to chant from our sefer torah next week.

Oh, and I also have a job. So unfortunately, the blog goes to the bottom of the list for a few more days.

Wednesday, November 23

Gobble, Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite secular holiday. It has always seemed so very Jewish; the whole mishpucha gets together, cooks a big meal, kvetches, and eats.

We are cooking the feast this year and staying in Great Falls. After the turkey day, we are going to get out of dodge, and hopefully find an open ski hill where we can do a few turns on our rock skis.

Blogging will be light, if not nonexistent until Monday. May your triptophan place you into a blissful stupor!

I am still laughing ...

For heaven's sake, click on this link. So funny ...

Tuesday, November 22

Popups from Trib website; for shame!

The Tribune website has begun to send my machine all sorts of popups. I use Firefox, and don't allow popups, so I haven't been too bothered.

However, popup ads are an example, imho, of exactly what not to subject on your customers/viewers by a content provider. Even if they weren't so annoying, they represent an attitude that the site owner should have complete control of a viewers experience when viewing content.

Now, the Trib wouldn't be that overbearing, would they?

Monday, November 21

Oh, to be semi-retired ...


Why is the Trib running Out of Date Stories?

Today, the Trib ran a story about Sony's rootkit mess. Couldn't find it online.

However, it seems that the Trib isn't really running news; it is running olds. The article they ran reported on facts more than a week old. The story stated that there were only 20 CDs that contained the XCP rootkit technology (there were 52, as Sony admitted last Thursday).

The story also said that Sony would accept CDs back from customers, but wasn't pulling the CDs from store shelves. That was Sony's position at the beginning of last week, but certainly not their position now.

Updated info on this mess can be found on sites like boingboing. The Trib certainly could have run an up-to-date piece on a fast moving story. However, it seems that instead, they ran an AP piece from the beginning of last week. Is that journalism?

C'mon guys. You are a daily paper, not a weekly from the hi-line. I expect my news to be just that.

Sharon Resigns from Likud?????

In a move that roughly analogues Lincoln leaving the Republican Party, or Jefferson resigning from the Democrats, Ariel Sharon resigned from Likud yesterday.

I will be honest; I don't know that much about internal Israeli politics. As a US citizen and Jew, I am an interested observer. However, I am neither deeply informed nor am I particularly current with what information I do have.

However, I have watched Sharon with interest for the past several years. While he has been compared to Nixon going to China, he seems to represent a large portion of Israeli society that feels that the current situation can not continue, but also understands that the Palestinians are not honest brokers for peace.

So, they move unilaterally. This move seems to be predicated on Sharon's belief that he can force the Palestinians to accept peace by giving them a chunk of land and putting up a big fence to keep them on their side of the line.

In any case, yesterday marked a tectonic shift in Israeli politics.

NY Times Profiles Schweitzer Coal to Fuel Plan

Today's NY Times ran a profile of Governor Schweitzer's coal to fuel plan (free registration required, or just use

The article is interesting reading. Schweitzer is right; our country is too dependant on the "sheiks, dictators, rats and crooks" who control nation's energy supply.

I don't know if a $7 Billion plan to turn Montana into the supplier of $35/barrel (or is it $42?) will pan out. However, it is exactly the type of forward, long-term thinking that could turn our State around.

Huzzah, Mr. Governor!

Saturday, November 19

Welsh Rarebit for the Dairy Averse?

I used to love welsh rarebit. At its best, it is spicy, tangy, sour and wonderful. Soaked up with a hearty toast and served with crisp, sweet apples and a hearty ale it is, in my opinion, one of the best comfort foods found in the British Isles.

It has been several years since I have been able to enjoy Welsh Rarebit. I am what you call dairy-averse. While I may like cheese, it doesn't like me back and I have been very glad to hold an uneasy truce and keep my distance.

My aversion does not, however, extend to dairy products from goats. I was thrilled, and a little inspired, to find goat milk butter and an aged goat milk cheddar at 2Js grocery store in Great Falls this week. So here is my Crohns-friendly Welsh Rarebit:


  • Goat Milk Butter
  • Aged Goat Milk Cheddar, shredded or finely chopped
  • Goat milk or unsweetened soy milk
  • Dark Ale (preferably homebrew; but just do what you can). Room temperature is fine.
  • AP Flour
  • Black Pepper (don't worry, there is plenty of NACL in the cheddar)
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Sliced French Bread
  • Crisp eating (not baking) apple, sliced


Toast the bread.

While the bread is toasting, melt the butter in a saucepan. Once it is melted, whisk the flour until you have a smooth roux.

Stir your roux. You don't need an excessive amount of thickener here, so cook it until it is the color of creamed coffee, or a little darker; at least 15 to 20 minutes. You will be rewarded by the flavor it will impart to the dish.

Once you have the roux the way you want it, add the cheddar and milk. Once the cheese is melted, add some homebrew. Stir until smooth and add the cayenne and grate on some fresh black pepper to taste.

Place the toast on a plate and pour the cheese mixture on the toast. Add the apples to the plate and enjoy with the remainder of the homebrew.

You will think you are in a proper Pub. Brilliant!

For those of you that can enjoy Dairy products from cows, feel free to use regular butter, cheese and milk. As always, I am not specifying amounts. Just add as much as you need (and looks right) for the number of servings you are making. Yes, I am being difficult.

UPDATE: I know, I know. I didn't add any emulsifiers. To be honest, I didn't (and still don't) think they are necessary here. My sauce was smooth enough without them. However, if you have problems, add some Dijon Mustard. It will add a welcome taste and help smooth the sauce.

Friday, November 18

Vatican Refutes Intelligent Design

The Vatican's Chief Astronomer, the Reverend George Coyne, said today that placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong."

"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," said Coyne. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

See the article from Yahoo news here.

I love it when intelligent people, from all faiths and belief systems, take a leap of reason and rationality.

Thursday, November 17

Is the Morrisey Trial Causing Prosecutors to Ignore Current Offenses?

A number of us long-time Great Falls residents are pretty enthralled with the Morrisey trial for the murder of nine-year old Dolana Clark in 1988. The disappearance of the girl remained a constant question in our community for years.

However, I have just heard a rumor about the consequences of this trial that makes me more than a little upset. I am told that the city attorney's office is backpedaling its prosecution of current criminal cases because all of its attention is being focused on the Morrisey case.

I have heard of at least one small business embezzlement that prosecutors are settling for less than 10% of the actual amount stolen because his office can't spare the manpower to get a conviction.

This may only be a rumor. I hope it is not true.

However, it is important that our city aggressively prosecutes current crimes. If not, we are only giving a free pass to those now abusing the system. Morrisey is not going anywhere.

Tuesday, November 15

Why Wouldn't a Coal Plant Collect the Mercury for Resale?

I know that I am starting a firestorm with this one, but here goes.

Most of the criticism I have heard about the coal-fired energy plant that is being discussed near Great Falls has revolved around waste mercury that would be an aerosol by-product of burning coal.

First, I only know enough about this to blather, probably incomprehensibly. I am not in the industry, I am not a chemist and I have not extensively studied the issue. As I do in many of these posts, I am actually using this space to ask questions without a preconceived answer.

However, it seems to me that mercury is a valuable industrial metal. If we are building a new plant with new technology, why would that mercury not be collected for resale? A couple quick internet searches showed that this summer, mercury's spot price was more than $1,000 per flask, or about $15 per pound. That is much more expensive than copper, which would be collected and guarded like gold by any scrap outfit.

What do the WZO Elections mean for rural (and specifically Montana) Jewry?

Mike's post yesterday has inspired me to talk a bit about the elections now taking place for the next World Zionist Congress. In the past months, I have received literature from a few organizations, and sat through at least one sermon, dedicated to telling me why I should support one organization or another in this election.

This post will not tell you which slate to support. I am proud to be a Zionist, and I gladly support the State of Israel. However, I do not know enough about the various slates running to be able to even give readers a roadmap about the issues and ideologies behind the various slates. In upcoming weeks, I hope to learn more, and I hope to post more information about what result might come from a vote for a particular slate.

As in many of my less religiously oriented posts, I am very concerned with shalom bayit, or peace in our homes. While a scramble for control of dollars naturally inflames divisions, Jews have more that unite us than divide us.

Montana Jews have benefited from Jewish Agency dollars. For the past several years, an organization called Soultrain, in the past at least partially funded by the Jewish Agency, has sent Jewish cultural personalities and events to rural Jewish communties throughout the world. In our State, the organization has sponsored Jewish film festivals, shabbatonim, youth camps and torah studies. In just the past year, many Jewish communties in Montana have benefitted from two children's camps run by Soultrain volunteers, a brilliant Purim shpiel by Israeli mime Ofer Goren, and a moving concert by Israeli folk rock star Yehuda Katz.

Whatever slate you support, we need to make sure that the rural diaspora is not forgotten by the WZO. While most non-Israeli Jews live in huge metropolitan areas, Judaism still thrives in rural communities. As a Montana Jew, ensuring the future of such support is more important to me than prolonging fights that tear down our shalom bayit.

Sunday, November 13

Don't You Love it When Outsiders Tell Us our Business?

Thanks for the heads-up from Norseman and Geeguy for this gem.

A left-leaning website that appears to be part of the DC partisan machine (for both parties, what I am code-naming the "cabal") called the "Swing State Project" is looking to our recent mayoral election results as "proof" of anti-Bush sentiment in Montana.

While there may be anti-Bush sentiment growing in Montana, I hardly think that this author (DavidNYC) knows what he is talking about. Our NONPARTISAN municipal election did not feature any big-ticket partisan issues. It was strictly a friendly race between two individuals who care about good government in our community. Wouldn't it be nice if the two parties that run our country appeared to be concerned about good government, instead of who is in charge, for once?

As David noted, Stebbins' received campaign donations and public support by Cascade County Commissioner Joe Briggs, one of the most prominent Republicans in Cascade County. She also received support from many noted Democrats.

The same can be said of Gray. Gray was publically supported by both noted Democrats and Republicans. As GeeGuy noted, he was the preferred choice of the plaintiff's bar here in Great Falls.

For want of a better term, ours was a purple election. It was strictly about local issues. Of ours was a partisan election, I am quite sure that Wulfgar, Sirota, Singer, the GOP E-Watch, etc. would have trumpeted about our races like they did about the Missoula race. They didn't because they knew that our election was not about that crap.

Quite frankly, it offends me that some outsider wants to use us as justification for some talking point paper about Democrat momentum. I would be just as offended if our race was used by some Republican outsider.

Note to DavidNYC; do a bit of research before you go shooting off your mouth.

Wednesday, November 9

Did you See What Helena did yesterday?

Yesterday, Helena voters passed a city initiative overruling a decision by their city commission.

The city of Helena was going to allow motor traffic on the Last Chance Gulch walking mall. In response, a group of citizens forced the issue on the ballot. Helena voted 77% to keep their walking mall, and requiring the city commission to hold an election on that issue if they ever wanted the decision changed.

The mind just boggles.

Election is Over, What Does it Mean for the Electric City?

It's all over, the fat lady has sung.

Dona Stebbins is our new mayor, and Beecher and Rosenbaum won re-election.

Great Falls was in the mood for change, but not too much change. Less than 10 thousand people voted, and Gray bore the brunt of a backlash of concern about recent spending by the city. Surprisingly, that backlash did not extend to the other incumbent members of the city commission; they were granted additional four year terms.

I am very disappointed that Ryan Burke did not win a seat on the commission. Although he did not get his message out well (his campaign ads just featured pictures of his family with generic statements), he was really running on a platform of greater emphasis on public safety and community policing.

Especially during the summer, out town has a real problem with crime. I am not just talking about petty crime, though that is a constant problem. Meth and other drugs are really destroying many families in our community. I hope that our new commission understands that stemming those problems is one of their most significant priorities. Unfortunately, no one but Burke spent much time on the campaign trail talking about what they would do to enhance public safety.

As the only voice for change on the commission, Stebbins has her work cut out for her. I found it telling that when Rosenbaum found out that Stebbins had won, he responded that Stebbins' criticism of Lawton during the campaign "somewhat concerns me." But, he added, "she's just one vote among the rest of us." (quotes taken from Tribune story, here.)

So, will we see change? Will the city commission be chided by the voters and redouble its efforts to be conservative stewards of our dollars? We will see.

Tuesday, November 8

Re-posting info from the Trib election page

In case they pull the info (which was probably posted early), here is what the Trib's election page is showing as of now;

Election results

Last Updated: November 08, 2005, 9:59 PM how is this possible when I am posting at 9:07 p.m.?
Race leaders are indicated in bold

Tribune election coverage

Read more:
Coverage of this year’s city elections

Great Falls Mayor

Dona Stebbins 401 (52.83%)
Randy Gray (i) 358 (47.17%)

Great Falls City Commission

Bill Beecher (i) 448 (30.92%)
John Rosenbaum (i) 427 (29.47%)
Ryan Buck Burke 307 (21.19%)
John T. Stevens 267 (18.43%)

Belt mayor

John Masonovich 0
Terry Burgess 0

Belt alderman -- Five seats open

Ward 2 -- Reed Throckmorton (4-year term) 0
Ward 2 -- Shantell McGraw (2-year term) 0
Ward 1 -- Glen Enderson (4-year term) 0
Ward 3 -- Nadine Hardinger (4-year term) 0
Ward 1 -- Zudie Bryant (2-year term) 0

Neihart government changes

Yes 0
No 0

Cascade alderman

Ward 2 -- Victoria Marquis 0
Ward 1 -- Delmar Voss 0

Cascade mayor

William R. Peterson (write-in, so votes aren't counted) 0

Vaughn water/sewer district -- two open seats -- 4-year terms

Roy Curtis Jr. 0
Kermit Stanfield (i) 0
Gene Suek (i) 0

Sun Prairie water/sewer district -- two open seats

Arnold Fulbright (i) 0
Colleen Doran 0
Terry Jacobsen 0

First Results Dribbling In ...

Only 759 Great Falls votes counted and posted so far, and Dona is showing a very small margin of about 40 votes. Beecher and Rosenbaum look also to be in the lead.

This is probably absentee votes which were already counted before polling started. However, it looks good for Stebbins.

One question ... how could that page be last updated at 9:59 p.m., when it is barely 2100?

Me, I am going to sleep. A night owl I am not, and the kids have an early day tomorrow.

A Modest Proposal

Yesterday’s Tribune called for an investigation of the reason for the delays in the delivery of flu shots to Great Falls. After all, it is November, and the flu shot clinics that “normally” happen in November have mainly been postponed, cancelled or delayed.

In fact, yesterday’s WSJ revealed that the CDC was, in fact, investigating delays from all across the country. (Non-free, registration required). Let me venture an outrageous proposal; if the government would stay out of the pricing of flu shots, they would be more available, and innovative new technologies would be developed to speed their delivery to consumers.

I had my flu shot last week. I had it at Albertson’s grocery store, and I gladly paid $25 out of pocket for the shot. That $25 is two and a half times more than the flu shot clinics held by the City County Health Department, but it appears that they have not been able to get supplied.

By mandating that the shots have to be sold for $10, the government is setting a price that does not meet a company’s costs, including a reasonable profit. Profit is not evil, and we can not expect a private company to do business if that business can not expect to earn a profit for going to market. If it costs me 25¢ to make a small plumbing fitting, then you can bet that I will not sell it for less than 50¢. If you insist on paying less, then I probably will not sell to you. If the government goes ahead and mandates that I sell that fitting for, say, 30¢, I will just close up shop rather than do business under such terms. Otherwise, I would have no way of paying overhead and earning a profit.

That is exactly what has happened to the vaccine industry. Why is there a shortage? It is because there are only three companies—worldwide—that will make the flu vaccine. They still use 50 year old technology because it does not pay them to invest in research and development.

A modest proposal; let companies charge what the market will bear. If their cost is too high, then don’t buy their product. That will cause the price to come down. However, no one has a right to force anyone to manufacture an item and sell it below cost.

UPDATE: The always relevent WSJ ran a front page story this morning discussing just this topic. The online Journal is free this week, so read the story.

Municipal Election is TODAY!

I know you are busy today. The snow makes the street slippery, and you are moving slower than usual. The kids need to be bundled up, and work starts early.

None of that is any excuse for bagging out on your civic responsibility. The future leadership of our town depends on you to go to your polling place, go into the booth, and;


You will be glad you did.

Monday, November 7

First REAL snow!

As I write this, lovely white flakes are coming down in downtown Great Falls! The snow is actually sticking. Hopefully, I will get to shovel tomorrow.

Sorry, David. The snow has to stick before I consider it "real."

Who Deserves My Vote for Mayor?

My slant on this race should be fairly obvious to anyone who follows this blog. I have never claimed nor have I attempted to hide my bias against the current incumbents in this race.

However, I have also tried to ask honest questions of both candidates. I don't think that anyone could justifiably accuse me of lobbing watermelons.

Regardless, I think that the city needs a change of leadership. That is why I am going to vote for Dona Stebbins. Is she perfect? No. However, I feel that she is an honest voice that will fight for our city.

In his endorsement of Dona yesterday, Geeguy stated that when it came to economic development, the Mayor was just along for the ride. I disagree. It is true that the successes we have seen in economic development are mainly the result of good work over at the Great Falls Development Authority. However, the mayor is an important piece to this puzzle, and not just as an ambassador.

When a business decides to locate here, they need to know that they will be treated fairly by city officials. After all, it is city employees that provide the permits necessary to build, the city fire department that inspects facilities and it is city police officers that will respond to any potential problems, etc. A positive meeting with a city's mayor goes a long way toward allaying any potential concerns.

I think that Stebbins could provide an articulate and informed voice at such meetings. To be fair, Gray has done a very good job in backing up the Great Falls Development Authority. However, I don't think that his role there is irreplaceable. If anything, Stebbins experience in sales makes her a more attractive choice in this role than Gray.

A few recent comments by Stebbins do give me pause. During the candidates forum, she was asked what could be done to attract more young adults to Great Falls. Her answer ranged all over the place, but basically revolved around the creation of more entertainment venues.

As I posted earlier, I think that this is allowing the tail to wag the dog. It is absolutely incredible when artists like BB King, Yo Yo Ma, and Yitzhak Perlman perform in Great Falls. Entertainment venues do provide a necessary outlet for young people. However, the only thing that will attract young people to Great Falls is a place to work where you can earn a decent salary. Everything else, with the exception of a quality education system, is just gravy.

If our community provides high-paying jobs (and ensures that professionals will be comfortable leaving their children in the hands of our education system) that do not just trade money with other city residents (like medical service jobs), then more people will come to live here. Once they are here, the entertainment venues will follow. In his answer to that question, Gray had the answer right, and Stebbins had it wrong.

However, Gray has also allowed the tail to wag the dog. It was under his leadership that the city built the multi-million dollar white elephant flow rider at Mitchell Pool. We will be paying for this turkey for years (if not decades) to come, and I don't think that any reasonable person has ever suggeted that its operation is expected to break even. My opposition the re-election of our current municipal leadership is based mostly on decisions that allowed white elephants like the flow rider and the skate park to be built. I don't like to be handed an expensive piece of cake after being told that we couldn't afford anything but rice for dinner.

So, you know how I am going to vote in all of the races tomorrow. Whether you agree with me or not, please remember to vote tomorrow. Your vote counts.

A Big Part of the Problem with our City Government

In the past several months, I have spent a great deal of time decrying bad decisions by the mayor and city commission. Many people in town have also been up in arms about alleged conflicts of interest made by certain of the incumbents, and potential conflicts of interest by some of the candidates.

I will not go into those details. However, I think that we are inviting conflicts of interest by expecting our municipal leaders to donate their time. A professional city commission and mayor should be paid for their time. Expecting these leaders to work long hours for our benefit and not pay them just encourages amateur-hour in our city commission.

Cascade County commissioners make $52,000 per year. If anything, that amount is low for the work we expect our municipal leaders to do. However, extending even that amount to each of our commissioners (including the mayor) would go a long ways toward ensuring that our leaders are professional, informed and qualified.

City Council Endorsements

Well, the Tribune did as expected and endorsed the incumbent city commissioners. I think that Beecher, and to a lesser extent, Rosenbaum have done adequate jobs in their terms of office.

However, this is part of a crew that has been responsible for too many bad decisions, such as the Wave Rider, that have cost our town too much money. However, that is not the only reason that I am recommending the election of the two challengers in this race, Burke and Stevens.

Ryan Burke seems to be the only candidate, for commission or mayor, who is focused on the meth and crime problems we are having in Great Falls. He doesn't have any "new" ideas to solve the problems, just time tested (and expensive) answers that have proven to work.

He is suggesting a 25% increase in the staff level for the Great Falls Police Department. I think that this is a great idea. However, I would be much happier if he was proposing ways to pay for it.

Nonetheless, I think that we need the commission to do more to combat the meth problem in this city. Ryan Burke seems to me to be the man for the job, and he has my vote.

I was not expecting to endorse John Stevens. Before the commission candidate forum, I thought his resume looked too light, and that his age would keep him from being an active commissioner.

However, watching him in action changed my opinion. He is easily the most engaging and sharp candidate in the entire race, for commission or mayor. He is focused on economic development and wants to help Great Falls regain the momentum we lost 30 years ago when Anaconda went belly up. He has my vote.

However, if you are concerned about his age, and the (admittedly likely) chance that he would not be able to serve out his full term, I would recommend that you look toward Bill Beecher. Bill has been a fixture in the business community in our town for many years, and he understands that attracting well paying jobs is the only way to bring our town out of our economic doldrums. He did not earn my vote, but he came a very close third.

Neighborhood Council 7 endorsements

I have not had a chance to speak with the candidates. Beyond a Google search of them, all I know about them are the endorsements made by Dona Stebbins on this blog last week.

I will let you do your own Google searches, if you like. There is some pretty interesting (and in some cases, scary) information that has been posted by at least one candidate. Dona's opinion here carries a great deal of weight with me. My opinion here hews pretty close to hers.

Therefore, I recommend the following five people;

  • Kim Thiel-Schaaf (i)
  • Clary Cory (i)
  • Robert Gaskell (i)
  • Mike Taylor
  • Karie Howell
For specific information about each individual, I recommend both Dona's endorsement and Google.

City Election is Tomorrow

Our municipal election is tomorrow. Municipal elections are the ones that attract the smallest number of voters, but I find elections like these to be the ones that are the most relevant. As I will probably pontificate at much-to-great a length in future posts, I feel that national, and to a smaller extent, State races are just games played by powerbrokers jockeying for position.

City and county issues, however, directy impact the governmental services we use most often. The water I use when I turn on the tap and the sewer I use after I am done using that water is a city resource and responsibilility. The trash that I throw away is taken to a city dump by city employees after I put it in a city receptacle.

When I feel that I am in danger, I call for a city-employed policeman. If there is a fire, I call for a city-employed fireman. A problem on the street, or a loose animal bothering the community? Also jobs for the city.

We should care about these issues, as they directly affect us. That is the main reason that I have spent so much time on this blog in recent months talking about the candidates.

After much consideration, I have also changed my mind on whether or not to endorse candidates from this blog. Originally, I had thought to write about the issues as I saw them, and leave the reader to make their own choice. However, the more I think about it, that viewpoint is a cop-out. After all, by laying out the issues as I seem them, I am in effect making an endorsement, anyway. The choice is still yours to make; I am simply telling you who I will vote for. And besides, its my blog. Nyah! ;-)

So today, I will post my opinion as to who is the best candidates in the various races before lower North and South side Great Falls residents.

Whether you agree with me or not, tomorrow please remember to vote.

Saturday, November 5

Geeguy takes me to task ...

Yesterday, in a post about an unfair and suspiciously timed headline in the Tribune, I asked about the true societal costs of gaming. In response, Geeguy started a discussion about the high taxes already paid by gaming interests. I don't think of myself as an anti-gambling zealot. However, as I posted on his blog, I believe that the true costs of gaming to small businesses and families in our community is higher than the tax revenue we currently receive.

Hopefully, this can turn into a productive and interesting discussion. Go to Geeguy's blog, or this one, and post your thoughts.

Friday, November 4

An Emphasis on Customer Service at the Montana Department of Revenue

My wife just got back from tax school in Missoula. Real exciting stuff--two days being in a room full of accountants talking about new tax laws. Makes my non-accountant head hurt just thinking about it.

She showed me the current working draft of the Montana tax forms and instructions for 2005. The highlight for me was the forms--what used to be four pages of forms is now 12. The instructions are now 36 pages.

The instruction cover sheet advertises itself as "Now Easier to Use!" because they now have, and I am not making this up, "more space between paragraphs."

Busy Few Days in the Race for Mayor

This morning, our very unbiased paper of record, the Tribune, ran a front-page, above the fold, big wood campaign ad for our mayor, Randy Gray.

The article in question, "Gray says casinos want him out", strongly intimates that Dona Stebbins' is the favored candidate of the casino owners in Great Falls.

To my knowledge, this issue first came out in a comment on David's Greaterfalls blog on October 26. The commenter, Loran Keller, at that time intimated that Stebbins' was in the pocket of the city's gambling interests. Stebbins' response to Keller can be found immediately below Keller's comment.

To be frank, I think that Stebbins has to answer this charge. In particular, I found a few paragraphs of the article troubling:

Stebbins said she does not favor doubling gaming taxes to create treatment programs for problem gamblers, saying people also can be addicted to drinking, smoking and other things. She questioned whether gaming taxes should pay to treat gambling addicts.

"If people have no self-control, is that a problem of the state, or the city?" she asked.

I think that legal businesses have every right to go to market in any way they see fit. I don't think that the city, county or state should take away or water down the value of the liquor licenses that are the most significant assets of most taverns. However, I do not think that gaming interests pay a fair share of the costs that society has to bear as a result of the industry.

The state, city and county have to pay for increased police protection and suffer more unemployment and crime due to the existence of our gaming industry. It is only fair that the tax burden borne by casinos pay for that burden.

However, to get back to the issue at hand, I question the motives of the Tribune here. As I posted above (before the tangent), this issue came out before the mayoral forum on Wednesday. The Tribune hosted that forum, and I am fairly sure that they were aware of the issue. Why wasn't the question asked on Wednesday so that Stebbins could publicly answer the charge?

In fact, during the forum a question was asked of both candidates about how they would react to conflicts of interest that arise during their mayoral tenure. While the question was being asked, I was fairly sure that the Tribune was going to ask about Stebbins' ties, if any, to gaming interests. However, Gray was asked about his land deal for MacKenzie River Pizza's parking lot and Stebbins was asked about her husband's job with the city.

This feels like an eve of the election stunt by the Tribune. While the issue is legitimate, the Tribune's timing seems to be solely aimed at ensuring re-election for their favored candidate.

"Don't ever get in an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel."

Trash showing up on Left in the West ... But Mike has it Covered

The other day, Matt over at Left in the West posted an entry wondering where the pro-Israel rally's were after the recent remarks by the President of Iran. The comments he received were similar to crap I have read on many ... less than reputable sites.

I am glad to see that Mike, as always, has it covered. Read his very well written and informative post here.

Lots to Post ... and no time

Well, this morning's paper was a bit of a surprise, no? I have some thoughts to post on that, as well as Wednesday's mayoral forum.

Unfortunately, there is not much time available today. If I don't get something posted today, check back over the weekend.

Thursday, November 3

My impression of the Commission Forum

First, David did us all a big favor by live blogging the mayoral forum, and posting his almost verbatim notes here. Geeguy has also posted some very relevant thoughts here. The Tribune wrote about the forum here.

However, this post will not be about the mayoral forum. Don't worry; I will have a post about that forum a bit later. Here, I want to discuss the earlier forum among the commission candidates. After all, the mayor is just another commissioner, with no more power or vote than any other member of the city commission.

Despite not-quite getting over the flu, I attended the forum. While I already knew who had won my vote for the mayoral race, I had not yet made up my mind among the commission candidates. I was very impressed by the two challengers, John Stevens and Ryan Burke. Burke was the only candidate that kept on coming back to common sense answers to the meth problem plaguing North-central Montana.

What is Burke's solution? The radical idea of more cops on the street. Not that he poo-poo's billboards and TV ads; but he understands that patrolling the streets actually works. Burke brought up a fact I did not know; in 1965, the Great Falls Police Department recommended to the City Council that the number of police officers in our town should be about 100. Forty years later, with more intractable problems, and we are not there yet.

The one thing that Burke did not address was how to pay for the almost 25% increase that he is advocating for the police department. Let me make my opinion clear; I would be glad to pay more city taxes if we could use those resources to get a handle on this scourge that is destroying the lives of so many families in Great Falls.

I also was dissapointed by Burke's answer to a question about how to attract more "young people" to Great Falls. Burke talked about concerts and other forms of entertainment. I have a clear opinion about this; concentrating on bringing more forms of entertainment to Great Falls is allowing the tail to wag the dog. The only way to attract more "young people" is to ensure that they have the means to make an honest living. Everything else will follow after we have the jobs to employ more "young people."

I did not expect to be impressed with John Stevens. After all, his resume was a former actor, and the man is only a year short of eighty. Poppycock. He is bright, engaging, funny and honest. He ran circles around his three opponents. He is focused on the main problem that affects Great Falls; we have been stagnating since Anaconda Copper pulled out 35 years ago. I suggest to you that we have not found an ecomonic reason for existing since "The Company" pulled out. New voices and ideas, even if they come from an eighty year old, are exactly what we need.

The two incumbents, Bill Beecher and John Rosenbaum, defended the record of the city government over the past decade. They rightly pointed to the city's new employers and some of the infrastructure that has been replaced. The city has had successes. However, it has also had expensive failures. Much has been made of the $531 thousand lost due to the lack of attendance at the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Event. However, I am more interested in other expensive failures, like the Wave Rider and the money that the city golf courses are siphoning from our treasury.

Beecher and Rosenbaum point to the fact that taxes are not going be raises since we are covering these expenses with city reserves. However, these reserves will have to be rebuilt. The only way to do that is with increased taxes. The fact that we have banked the money does not mean that we don't have to pay for the loss.

Wednesday, November 2

Is the Tribune Scaremongering to Increase Readership?

Today's Tribune ran a front page story on the possible dangers of bird flu infecting the waterfowl at Freezout Lake, a popular hunting area (and, by the way, my favorite place for hunting duck and geese). The story, available here, practically scares people away from hunting fowl this year.

I know that bird flu is all over the news, and that it is an extremely legitimate concern. However, with this big front page article, I think that the Tribune is scaremongering.

The fowl that migrate from the flyways in the Bering straits are constantly monitored. NONE of these birds have exhibited symptoms of the bird flu. The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks has also announced that it does not foresee a problem with hunting fowl this year. In fact, it appears that a FWP release, entitled "Avian Flu No Cause For Alarm For Waterfowl Hunters" is the source of the Trib's story, which they retitled "State wary of Freezout Lake geese". From that source they wrote this story?

The FWP, and the Tribune did recommend some common sense steps that are a good idea whenever you hunt fowl. These steps are good advice:

  • Do not handle dead birds or birds that appear sick
  • Wear disposable gloves when dressing game birds and waterfowl
  • Don’t eat, drink or smoke while handling game
  • Wash hands with soap and water, and clean surfaces that come in contact with game
  • Cook game meat thoroughly
  • Properly dispose of remains of field-dressed birds
We need to be concerned about bird flu. However, we do not need to needlessly scare ourselves. I will be hunting, at Freezeout, this year. Hope to see you there.

Want to Read LEADERless?

Since last week, many people in Great Falls have been talking about a four page publication that has been appearing in businesses lately called the Great Falls LEADERless.

The name, a play on the old Great Falls weekly the Leader, is an election themed publication castigating hizzoner, Mayor Randy Gray. The Tribune ran a story about the publication, mainly questioning the motives of the author and intimating that the publication ran afoul of election law.

I think that it is worth reading. Agree or not, this is an open society and a citizen should be able to write about issues of public interest. The publication raises some very troubling questions about the ethics and judgement of our municipal leaders, and those questions do deserve to be answered.

So here it is
, in a high enough resolution that anyone can read the entire document. You will need a pdf reader to open the publication.

Tuesday, November 1

Who is Running for Neighborhood Council 7?

Next Tuesday is municipal election day. The contested races for mayor, and to a lessor extent the city commission, has generated a fair amount of interest in our small city.

However, the lower North and South sides also have contested races for our own Neighborhood Council 7. That council represents the entirety of the lower North and South sides, from the Missouri River to 10th Avenue South.

I would venture to say that most of the people in Great Falls work in our neighborhood, medical and military folks excepted. It is our original townsite, and our economic core.

It also is home to two struggling elementary schools, brownfields, abandoned buildings and the most intractably poor residents of our city.

I am proud to call the lower North side my home. I have a vital interest in the decisions that will be made by Neighborhood Council 7. However, I don't know much about the candidates for the job.

There are eight people running for the eight seats on the council. Three of those eight are incumbent councilors. Here is a list of the candidates;

  • Clary Cory, (i)
  • Robert E. Gaskell, (i)
  • Kimberliegh L. Thiel-Schaaf, (i)
  • Karie Howell
  • Lionel McKnire
  • Joseph Moll
  • Mike Taylor
  • Paul Andrew Zallek
What do these candidates stand for? How will they work to revitalize our downtown?

Do any of these candidates read this blog (probably not, I often think that I am the only reader)? Do they have anything to add?

Does anyone reading this blog have any comments that they would like to post supporting or opposing any of these candidates?

In the coming days, I hope to speak to all of these candidates and post my thoughts. I can't guarantee that it will happen, but I would like to see more information about these potential councilors.

I would also encourage any lower North and South side residents to read the minutes of the last several council meetings. They are online, here.