Sen. Max Baucus made a splash in the political news cycle today after voicing concerns with how the Obama administration is handling public outreach on the impacts of the Affordable Care Act. During a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee this morning, Baucus, the chairman of the committee, reaffirmed his stance that "this is a good law" but told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that it can't work "if people don't understand it."
“I hear from people on the ground in Montana that they are confused about the health care law," Baucus said, according to a press release from the meeting. "For the insurance marketplaces to work, people need to know their options and how to enroll. I want families’ lives to be easier, and I want small businesses to focus on job creation, not confusion. The administration must use every day between now and October 1 to have insurance marketplaces up and running.”
News quickly began to orbit around a different quote from Baucus this morning, in which he stated there's a "huge train wreck" ahead for the administration if it doesn't work to improve the public's knowledge of the healthcare reform measure. The intense focus trained on that colorful comment—particularly the reiteration of it in headlines—appeared to insinuate a flip-flop in Baucus' support for the Affordable Care Act itself, a point reflected in numerous comments from readers criticizing the Senator for backing the measure to begin with. In fact, he was simply stressing that a majority of America doesn't fully grasp what the law will actually do. Baucus, a chief author of the Affordable Care Act, backed that assertion by citing a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that shows 57 percent of Americans feel they don't fully understand the impacts of the law because they lack adequate information. That figure leaps to 68 percent among households with an income less than $40,000. Politico reports that Sebelius attempted to defend the administration's efforts:
Sebelius also said that people will be in the states this summer to inform people about the law. She said HHS officials and the Small Business Administration are holding webinars and seminars and will be holding more through the summer.
But when Baucus asked for the number of people and which states, Sebelius declined to reveal specifics.
"We need data," Baucus said. "You never give me any data. You give me concepts, frankly."
When Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, arrived in Helena in January, her 10-year-old laptop was on the verge of crashing. She used a technology stipend available to all legislators to purchase a new Toshiba laptop, but felt guilty about getting it “on the taxpayer’s dime.”
“When I opened it up and saw that it had Windows 7 and this really easy movie maker,” she says, “I realized I could use this stipend to do something of substance for my constituents, and ease my conscience.”
Curtis opens that laptop every evening after leaving the Capitol and dishes about the business of the day in video updates she then posts on YouTube. Sometimes she offers a straight review of committee hearings and floor votes. Other times her emotions spill over. On day 66 of the session she openly wept while chastising House Republicans for voting against Medicaid expansion. On day 73, she admitted she had to fight the urge to “punch” Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, for his “hateful testimony” opposing a bill to decriminalize homosexuality in Montana. See both videos below.
“I’m not saying anything in those videos that I wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face,” Curtis says. “I would definitely tell someone, ‘I was so mad I felt like punching you’ … It’s not a threat. But I don’t know how else to express how overwhelmingly offended I was.”
Curtis’ daily updates typically get a few dozen hits. Her day 73 post, which the Huffington Post called a “stinging rebuke,” got nearly 9,000 views.
But the videos aren’t intended as mere political rants. Curtis, a teacher at Butte High School, has attended numerous training workshops on creating video lessons. Her approach to the legislative updates is similar: Talk straight to constituents and “promote public knowledge of what’s actually happening.”
The response has been “overwhelming,” Curtis says. She gets high-fives in bars and grocery stores back home. She gets thank-you cards from people outside her district. Educators from sixth grade to high school are showing her videos in class. Even her peers on both sides of the aisle—as well, she says, as the Butte Tea Party—are following her updates. And while she’s felt tempted to tone down her posts at times, particularly in the wake of the Kerns-punching comment, Curtis feels no guilt about telling it like it is.
“I don’t sit down and plan how in-your-face I’m going to be in those videos,” Curtis says. “It’s just my daily report. It’s just who I am and how I feel.”
American Rivers ranks Colorado River as most endangered in U.S.
Demand for Colorado River water that has already outstripped supplies ranked that river as first on American River's annual list of the most endangered rivers in the United States.
Denver Post; April 17
B.C., Idaho, Montana river watershed on American Rivers' endangered list
Five open-pit coal mines in the Elk River watershed, a major tributary of the Kootenai River, an international watershed that covers 18,000 square miles in British Columbia, Montana and Idaho, were cited by American Rivers for ranking the Kootenai River among the most endangered in the United States, and the group is urging its 100,000 members to write Secretary of State John Kerry to use the International Joint Commission to protect the river.
Toronto Globe and Mail; April 17
U.S. House committee approves Keystone XL pipeline bill
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 17-6 on Tuesday to advance legislation that would allow Congress to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Great Falls Tribune; April 17
Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.
ARIES (March 21-April 19): The writer Oliver Burkeman has some advice that would be helpful for you Aries folks to hear right now: "When you assume your current preferences won't alter, you'll make bad decisions: embarking on a career or marriage, say, not with a view to its durability, but solely based on how it makes you feel now." I am most definitely not predicting that you are about to make the kind of bad decision Burkeman refers to. I'm sure my warning here in this horoscope will derail any temptation you might have to make short-sighted moves.
On the morning of Friday, April 12, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom addressed a lecture hall packed with College of Arts and Sciences faculty and explained why the university is facing budget cuts. Engstrom showed graphs and pie charts, some of which depicted UM’s shrinking enrollment. He pointed out that after the Department of Justice opened its investigation of UM last year, about 200 non-resident students withdrew. Other charts delineated Montana State University’s budget surplus and UM’s projected $17 million shortfall.
CAS faculty listened quietly as Engstrom explained the university’s situation, before he moved to a graphic that divided UM’s spending into general categories, including “Research,” “Institutional support” and “Student services.” The largest slice of the pie represented nearly 50 percent of the spending and was titled “Instruction.”
“That’s our biggest expenditure. That’s what pays your salaries,” he said as faculty members began to whisper and raise their hands. “That’s the biggest piece.”
Since late March, UM’s budget woes have been a topic of public conversation. The shortfall is blamed on two consecutive years of declining undergraduate enrollment, the source of the majority of UM’s tuition dollars. So far, the administration has been careful to frame cuts as possibilities—hypothetical preparations for worst-case scenarios. But on the ground at the university, staff and non-tenured, short-term contract faculty—called adjuncts—are experiencing something very different. They’re already losing work.
Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.
A contingent of American Indians from the Fort Peck, Fort Belknap and Blackfeet reservations gathered in front of the George and Jane Dennison Theatre early on April 12. A series of passionate speeches were preceded by round drumming and flute playing. The message, summarized by Andy Werk Jr. of the Fort Belknap Tribal Council, was clear: “I came up here today to support the bison.”
Inside the theater, Ed Smith, clerk of the Montana Supreme Court, gaveled in the latest hearing in a legal challenge against a 2012 district court injunction forbidding the transport of wild Yellowstone bison from a new herd on Fort Peck to Fort Belknap. Attorneys for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife questioned the use of state statute in halting the relocation effort. Chad Adams, the attorney representing Citizens for Balanced Use, argued that the relocation of bison to Fort Belknap would threaten private property and violate a 2011 state statute barring release of bison on “public or private land”—a definition he claimed included tribal lands.
The district court ruled in its injunction that neither tribe was a necessary party in the action. Neither tribe has attempted to enter the case so far.
Near the end of Adams’ oral argument, Justice Mike Wheat responded to an assertion by Adams that the tribes were adequately represented before the district court. “So it’s your position that the state of Montana and these other independent agencies are in a position to represent the best interests of the tribes?” Wheat asked. The candor of Wheat’s question prompted the only audience outburst of the morning: A single audible laugh. “That’s certainly not true,” Adams replied.
Adams seemed to steer the argument of ranchers with Citizens for Balanced Use away from the ongoing concern over the spread of brucellosis and toward a concern over potential property damage. Several justices hammered the point through questioning that the bison currently on Fort Peck and designated for relocation to Fort Belknap have been certified brucellosis-free by both state and federal agents. Adams agreed, but stressed that the animals are still under a strict disease monitoring period with FWP through 2017.
“Because of the wildness of these animals,” Adams said, “they need a seven-foot bulletproof fence because they’ll be able to jump a lesser fence.”
After the conclusion of the oral arguments, Fort Peck bison manager Robert Magnan stood alongside Fort Belknap wildlife manager Mark Azure. Fort Peck celebrated the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the Yellowstone bison on March 19, Magnan said. “They haven’t broken out once.”
Welcome to Hangriest Hour, the Independent's new column about the Missoula food scene. "Hangry," according to Urban Dictionary, is "When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both." Read on so that doesn't happen to you.
At 10 minutes to noon on a recent Friday, there’s a line out the door of Five On Black. The new “fast-casual” Brazilian-inspired restaurant opened April 3 in the former Runner’s Edge building at 325 North Higgins Ave. Owner Tom Snyder says it’s been busy ever since.
How it works: At Five on Black, customers “build a bowl” by choosing the base, starch, sides and toppings, in the small ($4-$5) or regular size ($7-$8). On our first try, we opted for the feijoada, a stew with bacon, sausage and beef chunks, on white rice. We topped it with roasted sweet potatoes, chopped tomato and onion and a sprinkling of forofa (toasted, powdered manioc root, which is comparable to parmesan in flavor and function). A healthy dose of the tangy, fruity heat of Malagueta Pimienta Talisca hot sauce made for a boldly flavored lunch. The puffy, tender rounds of pao de queijo, or cheese bread (50 cents each), are a nice addition to the bowl.
The back story: Snyder, a 24-year-old University of Montana finance graduate, hatched the idea for Five on Black as part of a School of Business Administration contest, where it won first place and the people’s choice award. He says spending a few months in Brazil after graduation only solidified the idea. “A big goal was to bring in some more variety into Missoula, and create a space that had more of a sit-down restaurant, big-city feel, but still with the Montana flair,” he says, adding that it’s his first time running a restaurant.
Snyder had originally hoped to open Five on Black in the Missoula Mercantile building, but decided to move into the Runner’s Edge space since the Mercantile renovation is still ongoing.
When to go: Lunch seems to be the busiest time, but Five on Black serves dinner, too. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Hangriest Hour serves up fresh details on western Montana eats. To recommend a restaurant, dish or chef for Hangriest Hour, email email@example.com.
Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.
Curses, Foiled Again
After someone threw rocks with threatening messages and misspelled words through the window of Judge Frank T. Carpenter, investigators in Hudson County, N.J., named Dennis Sabol, 47, as their suspect. Carpenter explained that when he dismissed Sabol’s complaint against two men Sabol said assaulted him, “Sabol became incensed to the point he screamed at the top of his lungs, ‘F you!’” The judge and court officials confirmed their suspicion by comparing the handwriting on the rocks and paperwork Sabol had previously filled out. When police had Sabol, who happened to be at the courthouse paying a fine, write some of the words appearing on the rocks, he misspelled the same words the same way. (The Jersey Journal)
An Alberta man who punched a Calgary Transit peace officer in the face while she was writing him a ticket fled on foot but was quickly identified. “He left his ID behind, luckily for us,” said duty inspector Steve Ellefson, describing the suspect only as bald, about 30 years old and with a lengthy rap sheet. (The Calgary Herald)
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