Thursday, August 30, 2012

What budget?

Posted on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 4:00 AM

I heard a political ad on the radio the other day where U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said he voted for a balanced budget.

Jon, you won the last election on an “untruth” when you campaigned incessantly that Conrad Burns took money from Mr. Abramoff. Conrad Burns was acquitted of the charge, but you kept on relentlessly.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ budget bill has been on Harry Reid’s desk for nearly four years. President Obama has not presented a budget since his presidency. So, you know, I know, we all know, the Senate has not voted on a budget bill.

Come now, Mr. Tester, we are not some of your school children. We are mostly adults with some semblance of intelligence. What budget bill did you vote for?

Remember, we are watching you, and so is God.

Vernon Heinrich

Glendive

Tell the truth about coal

Posted on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 4:00 AM

It has been said that communism failed because it wouldn’t tell the market truth, and that capitalism may fail because it will not tell the ecological truth.

An aphorism is not destiny. Still, we see this in Montana with the discussion of increased coal exploitation and export of the coal to Asia.

All of the proponents of this talk about how stripping and shipping coal will generate money, but they never breathe a word about the environmental truth of such coal exploitation.

That is, they never mention that doing so will devastate agricultural lands and destroy water supplies in eastern Montana. And they never discuss the toxic constituents of coal that will be released in transport and when the coal is burned (pollution from Asia reaches the U.S. in just a few days). Nor do they mention that burning coal accelerates climate change, which is already causing widespread disruption across the globe.

Refusing to tell the truth about the harms of coal will not make them go away. It will only make us less able to deal with them.

Charyn Ayoub

Helena

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rehberg’s bad health bill

Posted on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 4:00 AM

As a Montana woman and mother who always votes, I take every election very seriously. When I vote, I’m giving someone the right to be my voice. That’s a tremendous responsibility, and I don’t want to take any chances on voting for the wrong person. The persons I choose to represent me must share my values. My priorities must be their priorities.

As a mother, there is little I value more than the health, safety, and well-being of my family. In fact, it’s my top priority.

Unfortunately, Congressman Dennis Rehberg is our only voice in the U.S. House of Representatives and when it comes to my family’s health, he and I don’t see eye to eye on my highest priority. Rehberg recently wrote a controversial spending proposal that would wreak havoc on the ability of most families to get quality health care, especially women.

Rehberg’s proposal creates one road block after another when it comes to women’s access to health care. His measure would eliminate Title X, a 40-year-old initiative that provides family planning, lifesaving cancer screenings and other preventative health services available to thousands of women in Montana every year. As the mother of three daughters and the grandmother of three granddaughters, this issue is extremely important to me, and to them. It would debilitate organizations that are dedicated to providing high-quality care to women. Rehberg’s proposal would also give employers the right to reduce the scope of health insurance coverage that they offer their female employees. Someone who shares my values wouldn’t make it so hard for me or my daughters to stay healthy.

Try as I might, I cannot understand how Rehberg thinks that this plan is good for Montana. Why would he think it’s okay to pass a law that makes it even more challenging for me and other women to see a doctor? According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, the congressman’s spending proposal would eliminate federal funding for 26 clinics in Montana that 25,000 women rely on. It would slash $300 million from the community health centers where many Montana mothers take their kids when they are sick.

Rehberg’s proposal will also cut $111 million from the Administration for Children and Families, an agency that helps vulnerable children and families. At a time when we’re struggling to keep health care professionals in Montana, Rehberg’s proposal would make it harder to attract and keep qualified nurses and doctors in our state. That’s not the Montana way. But it seems to be Rehberg’s way. Rehberg’s bill also guts critical funding for life-saving medical research.

That’s why dozens of health advocacy organizations, including the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Medical Association have raised concerns with Rehberg’s bill.

It boils down to one thing: Rehberg has the wrong priorities. He wants to pass an irresponsible budget that would jeopardize the health care that families, and particularly women, across Montana receive. Perhaps these drastic changes would be justifiable if we knew they were going to create jobs or greatly reduce the deficit. But that’s not the case.

Even more importantly, his bill will endanger the health care that all of us, especially women, rely on, and we can’t afford to let that happen. Not to me and my daughters, nor to you and your daughters, sisters and mothers. To allow that to happen is irresponsible, short sighted and absolutely not what I expect from our representatives in Washington.

Jean Bowman

Missoula

Get creative, transients

Posted on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 4:00 AM

I found the story “Gimme shelter” (Aug. 16) epitomized the negative judgments that are associated with transient people. People half-jokingly say things like, “I wish I had an iPhone like the girl in front of me with the food stamps.” The idea of combating our capitalist society with state-funded programs is hypocritical at best. The best part is that I can say this without bias. I have been a transient during several years of my life. It was one of the greatest joys I have ever experienced.

However, I find it distasteful and unsatisfying that the youngest and latest crop of transients have such a lack of creativity when it comes to supporting themselves and their lifestyle. They hold up signs on cardboard or beg for spare change while utilizing the “capitalistic” rewards that others have sacrificed their happiness for.

As a transient, I would suggest a little preparation for these young travelers. A decent van can be had relatively cheaply and makes a great year-round mobile apartment. My van often stayed parked due to a lack of gas money. Instead of begging, I often played my guitar for tips. Truthfully, I didn’t even know how to play, but I made stuff up and ended up learning to play it. I lived on the beach in Hawaii and collected shells. With my ass in the sand, I used them to make jewelry that I sold to tourists. I fed myself by fishing and gathering fruit and nuts that fell from trees.

Missoula has many great gardens in which you can volunteer a few hours in return for a box of veggies. I traveled all over the western United States, creating and crafting to meet my monetary needs. I gave people massages, wire-wrapped stones and used cheap feathers to make hair barrettes. This afforded me the freedom to live how, when and where I wanted. My crafts weren’t elaborate or expensive, they were a means to “give back.” I am sure that many people purchased things from me just because they liked me and wanted to help support my adventure in some small way.

When I felt tired of “survival mode,” I would get a seasonal job at Yellowstone for four or five months. That was my vacation! They gave me a simple job, a dorm room, a paycheck and three meals a day from the best employee cafeteria in the West. And I lived in this beautiful park that most people had to save up for just so they could visit it for a week. The job allowed me to re-cushion my savings before heading back to the transient life.

If anything, I hope this will inspire or spark some imagination in those who want to travel or live transient. It’s a wonderful life. It doesn’t have to be poor, or involve spilled ketchup bottles in a house that sounds sanitarily unsound. It should also go without saying that Montana has some of the best places to hike and camp. In the summer, who needs a room?

Cheree Burton

Missoula

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Crowing with delight

Posted on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 6:33 PM

Thank God for Molly Laich! Her articles are just quirky enough to be engrossing, but still informing. Especially edifying is the article on crows ("Lost caws," Aug 2). It introduced me to an "unkindness" of ravens while warning me that "there's no escape from the clinging, unknowable dissatisfaction that lives in the hearts of men." What delight! And she knows nothing of guns. My joy is boundless!

Patricia A. Hogan

Missoula

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

RX for shootings

Mentally ill need drugs, not guns

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 2:34 PM

Moments after I entered the room where the patients locked in the secure area tend to hang out, a young man asked me for enough meds to "put him to sleep" until the day of his commitment hearing.

"If I'm asleep, I won't say anything that they can use against me," he said calmly, indicating that he wasn't completely out of his mind and that the methamphetamines had worn off.

Someone in the community had found him incoherent and uncooperative and notified the authorities that he needed help. Then his car was found on the interstate with loaded guns inside. On a previous occasion, when he was brought to the emergency room, jacked up on meth, he wore a pistol strapped to his ankle.

Still convinced that people were after him, he told me there that he had a "right to carry a sidearm into any public place except a school." Many things about his delusions and violent statements were downright scary, but even more terrifying was this: Here was someone who thought he had a constitutional right to come to a hospital armed.

I work as a psychiatric nurse on a unit where we routinely treat patients who have guns at home, including assault weapons. Many of those patients have been previously committed, which means they have a documented record of mental illness. Yet it is not uncommon to hear these patients brag about the ease with which they can purchase guns without "hassle" (background checks). How is it possible for mentally ill people, especially those with a history of violence, to obtain guns?

One chronically mentally ill patient in his 50s, who lives with his mother, told me he walked into Wal-Mart and bought a rifle because it was "cheap." His frequent stays in the state hospital were no obstacle to the purchase. During a casual conversation shortly before he was discharged, he told me he bought the gun for just over a hundred dollars, a purchase he made with his disability check. When medicated, this man is easygoing and docile. He doesn't believe he has a mental illness or that he needs medication. When he stops taking the pills, however, the demons inside him resurface. His mother, his sole source of support, reported that she knows he's in trouble when he aims the gun at her.

news_range-1.jpg

After release from whatever institution will hold them long enough for them to be stabilized, patients frequently refuse to comply with further prescribed treatment. Who wants to wash down pills that make you feel hungry all the time or sluggish or make it impossible to maintain an erection or even make you drool? Their judgment goes down the toilet, along with their prescriptions.

Without the drugs that silence the voices or suppress the rage, they again begin to lose touch with reality. It's only a matter of time before crisis workers or the police pick them up and bring them to an emergency room. It is the ones who come in armed that give me pause.

When I read about the mass murder in Aurora, Colo., it amplified my conviction that something must be done to enact gun control—STAT. Whatever diagnosis this young man gets, he should never have been able to buy assault weapons powerful enough to blast through concrete walls, nor should he have been able to buy an unregulated arsenal of bullets.

One of my co-workers defended the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. Another reminded me that guns are not about to disappear from a country where people distrust the government; people feel the need to be armed in case of internal attack, she said.

I don't win these kinds of arguments at work, and my opinion falls on deaf ears in Washington, D.C. The system is clearly broken. The National Rifle Association calls the shots, and too many elected officials have become afraid to stand up to them. Gun advocates have direct access to media and online outlets to induce fear, generate paranoia and encourage citizens to arm themselves in order to fight for their "constitutional right to bear arms."

The result? A single, powerful organization promotes violence through distortion, hate-mongering and paranoia. It leaves many of us in fear for our lives, robbing us of the freedom to do something as simple as go to the movies without fear of attack from a fellow American. If this isn't terrorism, I don't know what is.

Eliza Murphy is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She writes in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Reject LR-123 Save a farm, vote for I-166

Posted on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 2:33 PM

For a good number of years, I was a banker here in Montana. If you were to go to any bank and ask for a $100 withdrawal, the first thing a teller would do is make sure you had funds in your account.

Verifying that there is money in an account before handing over cash or checks just makes common sense. It is a standard accounting practice whether you are a teller, a businessman or the governor of Montana.

My understanding of how to run a good business is just one reason I oppose Legislative Referendum 123, which could be on the Montana ballot this November. LR-123 is an irresponsible referendum that would undermine Montana's ability to wisely manage our state budget and would subject state government to even more unnecessary political gimmicks and tricks.

Under LR-123, if a single state employee, the legislative fiscal analyst, underestimates state revenues, it would trigger an automatic tax kickback, with most of the money going to the wealthiest Montanans. If that sounds crazy to you, you are not alone. LR-123 is so convoluted and complex, even budget experts do not agree on exactly how it would work.

You do not need to be a banker to recognize that automatically cutting kickback checks based on projections is irresponsible. Last year, for example, the state legislative fiscal division was hundreds of millions of dollars off in estimating how much money Montana really had. If LR-123 were law of the land back then, the state would have ended up giving away revenues without even being able to consider necessary investments in schools, roads, infrastructure, wild land fire protection, children's health care and other essential state services.

Montana has weathered the recent recession better than most states because we saved money in the state budget for a rainy day. As many of our farmers and ranchers would say, we left some "grain in the bin." LR-123 would end that practice in order to line the pockets of a special few. That is not only bad business. It is also not fair.

Just look at what happened to Oregon, the only state with a measure like LR-123. In December 2007, just as the country was heading into a recession, Oregon returned $1.1 billion to taxpayers, effectively emptying their grain bin. In 2009, after their state economy crashed and unemployment soared, the Oregon Legislature voted to raise taxes by $727 million and they are still in debt today. This kind of policy in Montana would be equally devastating.

LR-123 even prohibits any kind of override or legislative review—the kickback is automatic. If projections show the state has surplus money, checks go out the door with no questions asked and over 60 percent of rebates would go to the top 20 percent of taxpayers.

Projecting revenues is a complicated process. To get the best results, information must be continuously updated from numerous sources. You must have the flexibility to adjust to sudden and often dramatic changes in economic activity, not to mention natural disasters like fighting forest fires and spring floods. The last thing our emergency services need is to become handcuffed because the state is forced to send automatic kickbacks to millionaires.

We need a budget that is controlled by the people of Montana through their elected representatives, not by one unelected legislative analyst. LR-123 proposes to shift oversight from the legislature to the state legislative analyst, empowering this person with full authority to disburse our state's tax surplus. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock recently cited this fact in ruling that LR-123 is blatantly unconstitutional. The matter is now before our supreme court. If the Montana Supreme Court upholds Judge Sherlock's ruling before ballots are certified, LR-123 will be taken off the ballot. If not, it will be on the ballot and you the voter will get to decide.

If this dangerous and irresponsible measure does appear on the November ballot, I ask all Montanans to do the right thing, and vote NO on LR-123.

Learn more about LR-123 and get involved at NoLR123.org today.

Ed Jasmin

Montanans for Fiscal Accountability

Helena

Obviously, someone's out there raising a bit of rabble regarding Initiative 166, the measure to nullify the Supreme Court's novel notion that corporations are people and money is speech. I-166 will likely qualify for the November ballot and Montana citizens will likely vote its passage, apparently causing Jake Cummins of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation considerable concern.

His commentary on this citizens' initiative (see Letters, June 11) is stunningly simplistic, confused and confusing. And wrong on several points. I'd be interested to know if his conclusions were the result of his own thinking, or if he's simply rolling out talking points blathered by those who, for various self-serving reasons, oppose the movement to squelch the corporate takeover of our electoral system and, by extension, of the family farms that his group, one would think, seeks to support.

First, let's dispatch the nonsensical idea that money and speech are the same. Money is not speech and has no material relationship to freedom of speech. Unfortunately, our Supreme Court does not agree with that proposition, but they have not always been right. And they have done all sorts of handstands, back flips and other gymnastics and contortions to try to prove their point—including, in the Citizens United case, directing the parties to completely deconstruct and reconstruct their cases so the justices could get to the ruling they were predisposed to make. Money is a flexible medium of exchange that can buy things: clothes, food, houses, tons of TV time and, eventually, elections and the politicians they help prevail. But it is not speech. Speech is the expression of thoughts and ideas. The former sometimes enables the latter, but that does not make it the latter. I-166 simply strives to make that distinction clear within the state and federal constructs that explain who is who and what is what.

Second, there's a difference between the inalienable rights conferred by a constitution and pertinent to actual human beings, and legal rights conferred by laws and regulations promulgated by governments, to the benefit of specified groups of people and organizations. Mr. Cummins' ability to incorporate, as a small farmer or small businessperson, is a legal right provided him by Montana law. He's not "forced to incorporate," as he states. It is in his best interest to do so because it provides him protection as an individual citizen in the event of legal action against his farm or business and it guarantees him access to the courts and equal protection under the law. It also may give him some tax breaks. It is to the benefit of all the people because it provides enterprising people an incentive to start businesses with less exposure to risk, whether it be farming or operating a hot dog stand. None of this will change if I-166 passes. What may change, though, is that Mr. Cummins and his fellow Farm Bureau Federation members may have better access to legislators and greater involvement in farm policy matters because the influence of the global giants of agriculture won't overwhelm him, either at the polls or in the lobbies of the legislature.

Family farms will not benefit by the defeat of I-166. And they will not lose any legal protections if it passes. In fact, the exact opposite will be true: Mega-corporations that seek to dominate the production, processing, distribution and marketing of agricultural products will be able to pay to influence elections for their own purposes. And the aims of Monsanto and ADM are almost always counter to the interests of family farmers. Once these global behemoths have successfully purchased the lawmakers in both state legislatures and federally, laws and regulatory measures that benefit them, to the exclusion of smaller farming operations, will be the order of the day. Montana, as a farming state, has a great deal to lose if large corporations continue to be allowed to spend huge amounts of cash in political campaigns. Not only will farm policy at the federal level become the plaything of the wealthy corporations who have taken over so much of America's farmland, but these corporations will also soon take over the legislatures of the states for their own benefit. The continued takeover of family farms by giant agriculture, enabled by unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, will eventually leave Cummins and friends in the Farm Bureau Federation in the dust. Only it won't be their dust anymore.

Given the stake most of Montana's farmers have in the passage of I-166, is Mr. Cummins really speaking as the voice of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation? And more importantly, is he really advocating in the best interests of Montana's farmers?

Bruce Midgett

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