Friday, October 27

Benefis ER is Top Notch

In this space, I have reserved a great deal of criticism for the administration and management of medical care here in the Electric City. However, I would like to take this opportunity to note what wonderful care we do have here, despite the bickering and fighting between the CEO offices of the various institutions providing that care.

I spent a great deal of last night in the Benefis emergency room, tending to an elderly aunt who had fallen earlier in the evening. The ER staff was professional, kind, considerate and attentive to her needs. She had broken her femur, and the staff their deserves all the kudos and kind words I can muster.

I fear, however, that the professionalism and devotion to patient care that was so evident to me last night does not extend to management offices of the Hospital or the Clinic. Despite this, their staff does a great job.

If any of you read this space, thank you for the care and attention you gave my Aunt.

Thursday, October 26

The Sound You Hear is Hell Freezing Over

In the past few days, the Tribune has issued opinions on three ballot initiatives, Initiative 153, Constitutional Initiative 43 and Constitutional Initiative 151. In all three cases, I have no choice but to conclude that someone in the Editor's office is spot-on.

Initiative 153 would ban State employees from going right into lobbying after they leave State employment. This is a good idea, and I think it should pass. Apparently, so does the Trib.

CI-43 would change the name of the State Auditor to the State Insurance Commissioner, and I think such trivia is silly and foolish. Again, the Trib and I are on the same page.

CI-151 would raise the minimum wage by $1, and then tie annual increases to the national Consumer Price Index. While a $1 increase may be a good idea (and also irrelevant), annually tying the minimum wage to the CPI would be harmful to small businesses and their employers. I think that this initiative goes too far, and again, the Trib and I agree.

I doubt that this streak will last long, but for the moment, I urge a vote as the Trib has recommended. At least for these three issues, anyway.

Wednesday, October 25

Walt Schweitzer Brouhaha

I read with interest a Missoula Independent story about the role that Walt Schweitzer, the Governor's brother, plays in our State Government. This story did give a valuable perspective on how our Governor thinks and acts. However, the relevations in that story did not make me think less of our Governor.

Powerful people need people they can trust. The Governor obviously trusts his brother. I do not see a problem with the Governor relying upon his brother.

I wonder how many people that object to Schweitzer's arrangement with his brother would have objected to RFK's appointment as Attorney General. Now, I know that this is a debatable point, but I submit that having RFK in a powerful position of trust make JFK a better President.

Now, I agree that it would be nice if there were some way to make Walter Schweitzer more accountable for his actions in his position of authority, as RFK was answerable to the Senate. However, if this is the worst charge that can be leveled against Schweitzer then he is doing very well, indeed.

Monday, October 23

9th Street -- Not a Raceway

To my mind, very little epitomizes poor civic planning more than 9th Street. In the past 20 years, what was designed and intended to be a sleepy residential by-way has become one of the main North-South arteries in Great Falls.

There are several reasons why this has happened, including the location of the Mall, the building of the 9th Street Bridge and the location of Wal-Mart.

However, none of these reasons address the problems that 9th Street creates for Lower North and South side residents.

Pedestrians are constantly forced to play a game of chicken when crossing this street. And they have to cross it all the time: at 9th Street at 3rd and 4th Avenue North to get to and from Whittier Elementary; at 6th Avenue South to get to Longfellow Elementary; at multiple locations to get to work and shopping downtown; etc.

We need to better control traffic on 9th Street. We need more pedestrian crosswalks on the South side of the Street and (dare I say it) traffic light at 4th Avenue North and 6th Avenue South.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Of course, there is a light at 6th Avenue South. However, there is still a need for better traffic control between 2nd Avenue South and 10th Avenue South on 9th Street.

Wednesday, October 18

Moroney Natatorium to Close November 18

The Natatorium is now scheduled to close on November 18 for at least a month. During that month, the Nat is scheduled to get a new pool liner and a new gutter system.

Tuesday, October 17

Learned a Few Interesting Coal Plant Facts Today ...

This afternoon, I attended a speech given by Tim Gregori of SME, providing status on the Highwood Generating Station. He brought up a few interesting points. As I have repeatedly stated, I am not an expert on these kinds of issues. However, I would like to hear what kind of response others have to these points;

1) Whatever debate we have as a community should not be IGCC vs. CFB. IGCC is a new, promising technology. However, only two IGCC power plants are operational in this country today, neither sequesters CO2 emissions, and both only operate at 80% efficiency. New technology needs to be matured, and five regional Montana municipalities are probably not the best agents to mature this technology.

What's more, the gas created by the IGCC technology has a higher value if sold as gas than it does by burning it in a turbine. This is why the Governor's IGCC plant will not be generating power.

Finally, IGCC utilizes a CFB in order to capture its pollutants. The only advantage of IGCC would seem to be that it turns the coal into gas. CFB skips that step.

2) The Highwood CFB plant is proposing to sequester CO2 emissions. For the past several months, we have heard that the biggest problem with the coal plant will be its CO2 emissions. We have also heard that one of the biggest advantages of an IGCC plant is that it can sequester carbon, and that CFB was a dirty technology because it did not sequester.

This also appears to be bunk. Today I heard that the proposed CFB Highwood plant is planning on sequestering emissions.

So, today I ask another question. If it turns out that the CFB plant will be just as clean as an IGCC plant for 30% less money, why should we not support it?

Monday, October 16

Hockey Season Has Started!

My Terriers had their season opener this weekend; a 4-4 draw against RPI.

The dogs lost 5 seniors last Spring. However, of the five new freshmen that Coach Parker recruited to fill their places, three have already had draft interest from the NHL.

Go Dogs!

McGrath leaves Benefis' COPA in place

In one of the most shocking and welcome pieces of news I have seen in quite a while, our Attorney General has ruled that Benefis should still be required to operate under the Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) put in place when the organization was created out of the merger between the Columbus and Deaconess hospitals.

Color me shocked; I figured that since the Supreme Court had allowed the Clinic to continue operating its Montana Surgical Hospital, the COPA was toast. Myself, I take it that McGrath figured that if Benefis could spend $75.2 Million on a new surgical tower, they didn't need regulatory relief.

Let's see how this plays out in the next few days ...

Thursday, October 12

Read Hartelius' Resignation Request to Harris Here

I have just received a copy of the letter. I find this to be a scathing attack, and one that should result in Harris' removal from the bench even if he were not facing election.

I know that there is personal bad blood between Hartelius and Harris. However, if that were to disqualify someone from criticizing Harris, at least 3/4 of the town should be disqualified.

My New Favorite Blog

Lately, I have been fascinated by OrthoMom, a blog written by an Orthodox Jewish mother living in the New York area.

Click here to read her update on a developing scandal in Staten Island, about a kosher grocery store selling non-kosher chickens as kosher birds, at a kosher price premium.

The tale reminds me of one told by my Great-grandmother, about why she stopped keeping kosher.

During Butte's heyday, there were three synagogues and a kosher butcher. My great-grandmother kept kosher, and regularly purchased the family meat from that schochet. One day, it became known that the butcher bought one cow from a local rancher. The next day, the shop had three fresh beef tongues for sale.

The next day, my great-grandmother stopped keeping kosher.

Need a Job? We are Now Hiring for a Tax Assistant

Local CPA firm seeks qualified applicants for position as a Tax Assistant. Position is full-time from January-April, and 30 hours per week May-December.

Salary begins at $8.50/hour. Beginning wage is flexible, depending upon experience.

Position requires prior tax and bookkeeping experience. Applicants are expected to be detail oriented, self-starting independent workers with computer literacy. Primary computer applications used will be Quickbooks, Excel and tax preparation software.

Any potential hire will be subject to a background check. Interested? Call 406-454-8988 to submit an application.

Wednesday, October 11

Noted Great Falls Attorney Asks JP Harris to Resign

I just learned that noted Great Falls attorney Channing Hartelius wrote Justice of the Peace Sam Harris a letter today, asking him to resign for gross violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. Let's see if the Tribune chooses to print the letter tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 10

Jury is Still out with Mandriva 2007

Well, I downloaded the 4.3GB install DVD for Mandriva 2007, and so far I have only installed it on my old workhorse 1 Ghz AMD. Install went smooth, and the eye candy in KDE is very nice.

From some very light usage so far, it seems more stable than the 2006 install. However, I think that some of the squirrely behavior might be due to a failing graphics card, which isn't really the fault of any OS.

From what I have seen so far, Mandriva with KDE is a very smooth and polished OS, if a bit slow on that older machine. However, IceWM is still a very viable option and let me get my work done very quickly.

I will post more after I have had the opportunity to use it more.

Helmets, Bicycles and the Skate Park

In its infinite wisdom, a few years ago the city decided to build a very elaborate concussion machine across the railroad tracks from Gibson Park. A great amount of public money was spent, and like the White Water Elephant, we own it and are obligated to manage it correctly.

For this reason, I was both pleased (that the paper was bringing the issue to the forefront) and frustrated (that the city is abdicating its responsibility) by the publication of this article in yesterday's Trib.

Now, before I come across as a big fuddy-duddy, let me say that I think that the Skate Park is a very nice asset for the city. If managed correctly, it provides youth an avenue for both exercise and entertainment and creates an incentive for both tourists and potential residents. It would have been nice, however, if private enterprise had built this asset on its own dime and liability risk.

We do now own it, however. Soon after its completion, the city began mandating the use of helmets and other protective equipment at the park. Violation of this ordinance is sufferable by payment of a $65 ticket.

However, as a short visit to the skate park will readily make obvious, that ordinance is regularly flouted. Kids usually have a police scanner on hand; when the police drive by, they sit down for a few minutes.

I brought up this issue at the Neighborhood Council 7 meeting last night. I was told that the police were told to enforce the helmet mandate after the fact, and that they were not doing so in a kind of not invented here mentality. For those of you that feel that I blindly back the the GF Police Department, take note: the Police shouldn't have the option of choosing which ordinances to enforce.

As a community, we are exposing ourselves to significant liability by not sufficiently enforcing the helmet mandate. Some kid is going to get hurt, and we will all be faced with increased taxes after they win their liability case.

Now, I know that resources are limited. I also balk at paying a city employee to do nothing but sit around the skate park handing out tickets. However, it does not require a fully-trained Police Officer to hand out tickets to kids not wearing helmets. I submit to you that it doesn't even take a city employee.

City parking enforcement is a contracted activity. There is no reason that the city could not let a contract to a firm that could station a guard at the park.

Here is the really controversial part; that guard's salary could be based upon the tickets he or she writes. If the guard's firm gets paid, say, $20 for each $65 ticket, the whole deal could be revenue neutral.

What say you?

Increasing Number of Commissioners Bad Idea Whose Time Has Not Come

Among the items that voters will decide in the upcoming election is a recommendation from our City government analysis board to increase the number of City Commissioners from five to seven.

The stated reason for the change is be to increase the likelihood of geographic diversity among our commissioners. However, this proposal does nothing to guarantee such diversity; it only puts two more at-large seats at the table.

I am not sure where I stand on at-large representation of the commission vs. having commissioners run from areas or wards. However, this proposal only talks around that issue and does not really deal with it.

In addition, this proposal could excacerbate the problem being cited by the proposal's backers. Under such a regime, we could very well have seven commissioners from the same part of town instead of five.

Fundamentally, I oppose this proposal because it is poorly thought out, ineffective and therefore philosophically dishonest. I encourage you to vote against it.

Friday, October 6

Electric City Medical News This Week Deserves Comment

While I know that the GF Blogosphere has been very busy with JP Harris' Foley-esque imbroglio, I have been thinking a great deal about a group of stories that appeared in the Wednesday and Thursday Tribunes.

Now, regular readers of this space (both of them) might remember that I have some considered opinions about how to solve the dispute between the Clinic and Benefis. Mostly, it involves sticking John Goodnow and Greg Hafgors into a small, windowless room, locking it, and not letting them out until they work out their problems with one another. But I digress ...

On Wednesday, the paper announced that Benefis has begun work on a $75.2 Million dollar, 7 story expansion of their East campus facility. This facility will convert every room in the hospital to private, add additional Labor and Delivery, Neonatal intensive care, cardiac services and pharmacy facilities to the hospital. I note that Benefis is able to do this work even under the financial burden they must bear under the provisions of their COPA agreement.

Buried next to the article trumpeting Benefis' expansion is an article about how Benefis is splitting from a 15-month partnership with a for-profit company that was to run cardiac services for the hospital. The amicable split seemed to revolve around the companies inability to bring additional cardiac surgeons to our city.

Hold the phone.

Benefis' argument as to why it can't work with the Clinic always seems to return to the canard that as a non-profit entity, it cannot reconcile its mission with a for-profit partnership like the Clinic. While making that argument, Benefis had entered into a contract that would have made this other for-profit company, MedCath, a 49% owner of Benefis' heart services program.

So why can't Benefis and the Clinic make an effort to enter into such an arrangement together? Half the doctors in our city are part of the Clinic; it seems to me that such an arrangement would be in everyone's best interest.

Of course, Thursday's paper announced that the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Clinic, allowing them to move forward and operate their Central Montana Surgical Hospital. No doubt that Benefis will now say that they cannot survive under the competition and must drastically raise rates. However, I doubt that they will miss a payment on their construction project.

Now, I know that throughout this post I seem down Benefis and up on the Clinic. This is not the case. The Clinic is just as at fault as is Benefis in the medical mess in this town. I also think it wonderful that Benefis can expand its services here. However, I am tired of seeing good doctors leave our town and I am tired of this never ending bickering. Bury the hatchet and go to work.

Agenda for Neighborhood Council 7 Meeting on 10/9




Monday, October 9, 2006

Civic Center, Gibson Room

7:00 p.m.

Please note: This agenda format allows citizens to speak on each issue prior to Council discussion. We encourage your participation. In the interest that all parties can be heard, please limit your comments.



Approval of September minutes

Change meeting time??


GFPS Trustee

Individual Development Accounts—Kate Riley

Neighborhood Concerns


Police Advisory Board

City Commission


Next Meeting – November 13 – Heisey Center, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 4

Habeas Corpus

At Article I, Section 9, paragraph 2, the Constitution of the United States of America states:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
Now, the Civil War was a "Rebellion," and Lincoln did suspend the writ. I am not a lawyer nor am I a great historian. Given that there is now neither Rebellion nor is there Invasion facing our country, how is what Congress enacted last week legal?

Tuesday, October 3

Mandriva 2007 Released

The newest flavor of my distro of choice was released this morning. I am downloading it now.

This new version includes the latest Gnome 2.16 and KDE 3.5.4. Posts about the release have made much of a new 3D desktop.

Since Mandriva 2005, my linux has not been as stable as I would like. (It is more stable than Windows, but that ain't much of a complement). I am going to try out 2007, and will report my thoughts here. However, if it suffers from as much feature bloat as 2005 and 2006 without comparative stability, I will be searching for a new distro. I hear great things about Ubuntu ...

How Should We Approach Jonah?

Yesterday was, of course, Yom Kippur. During the musaf service during this holy day, Jews read the book of Jonah.

Especially when viewed against the lens of the text we read during Rosh Hashanah, the Akeidah, the book of Jonah is a very difficult text. In Jonah, we read the story of a prophet who appears mean, vindictive and insubordinate to Hashem.

As compared against Abraham, who argued with Hashem over the life of the inhabitants of Sodom, Jonah "sat on the east side of [Nineveh], and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city." I imagine him popping a bowl of popcorn so he may be entertained by the big show.

In Jonah, we have a prophet who refers to what are normally referred to as the positive attributes of G-d (gracious, compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy) as a negative!

In addition to the contempt that Jonah seems to show for life, in Jonah we have a prophet who makes every effort to disobey Hashem. When instructed by Hashem to go to Nineveh (present day Baghdad) to proclaim against it, he hurries to try and hide out in Tarshish (present day Spain). He is only dissuaded by his attempt to run away from G-d when he is swallowed into the belly of a fish.

After being spit up by the fish, he doesn't rush to do as he was instructed; G-d had to instruct Jonah a second time. As I mentioned above, the reluctant prophet then castigates G-d for being merciful.

What are we to learn from Jonah? I look forward to your thoughts.

ECW and Firefly have Brought Legitimate Concerns about Judicial Hypocrisy

In a fascinating and well researched series of posts, Firefly and Geeguy have explored JP Sam Harris' culpability in the death of form JP Mike Smartt.

In addition, they have exposed Harris' hypocrisy; made evident in a series of posts Harris made in an online gaming forum. Their work was the subject of a front-page story in today's Trib. (While Newhouse attributed his source, he could have provided a link.)

Now, with the possible exception of breaking and entering Smartt's office, nothing that Harris did was illegal. However, Harris' posts ("The last time I got gay porn off a guy's computer it cost me 2 years of my life and ended with the guy hanging himself,") show a contempt for human life that is jarring.

In addition, Harris' self serving quotations to the Tribune (he said that Smartt's gay porn images "will remain with me for the rest of my life." He said he "couldn't sleep that night and kept visualizing another of the screen images of 'one man giving another man oral sex.'" Earlier Harris had said that, as a result of viewing the images, "my stomach has been upset and I am having difficulty sleeping.") during his castigation of Smartt have been revealed to be the worst of hypocrisy.

At the end of the day, Harris brought this upon himself. If Harris had not made a point to castigate Smartt over his online sexual exploits, Harris' posts could and should have remained his own business. However, those in glass houses should be wise enought not to throw stones.

Geeguy and Firefly's investigative reporting have resulted in a Steven Fagenstrom sign on my lawn. Thank you for your good work.