Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wolf woes

Posted on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 4:00 AM

We believe a biased judge disrupted a reasonable and legal process to close the wolf hunt after too many Yellowstone National Park wolves were taken. We are asking for a return to the wolf management plan as in 2011 when a very low quota protected many YNP wolves.

Gilbert’s ruling contains many irrelevancies and biases, like her argument that we need to take out wolves because they depredate on livestock. Not in the YNP area they don’t.

If the folks at the top of the ladder would take the scientists’ findings, they would learn the good things that have happened in the national parks after the reintroduction of the wolves, such as vegetation growing and the otters, the moose, the song birds and the beaver coming back.

We would like every one involved in voting to vote “no” on HB 73.

Linda L. and Larry L. Rabe

Toppenish, Wash.

Not much hope

Posted on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Hats off to Jessica Mayrer for “Arrested Development” (see cover story, Jan. 24). Thanks for a clear article about a complex situation. I could follow it all the way to the final quote from Seale: “We’re still hoping we’ll persevere.” What does that even mean? A person either perseveres or he doesn’t, right? “Hoping” to persevere isn’t much of a hope, is it? Thanks again.

Marylor Wilson


Confidence is key

Posted on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 4:00 AM

“The Best Defense” (see Opinion, Jan. 24) is one woman’s perspective. But the “gun issue” is no more clearly monolithic for women of the West then it is for any segment of society.

Let me begin by stating that I am also a liberal woman. I consider myself a pacifist, I oppose the death penalty, I prefer positive reinforcement dog training methods and my personal spiritual practice emphasizes avoiding doing harm to other beings. It is clear, therefore, that I approach this issue from a particular bias. However, I do not believe that being a pacifist and being a warrior are mutually exclusive. I have practiced various martial arts throughout my life. I also run regularly, and though I am on the petite side, I consider myself a physically strong woman. I am not certain that I would always be able to overpower or outmaneuver an attacker under all circumstances. As a recent sexual assault tragedy between jiu-jitsu teammates in New York reminds us, those who practice martial arts are not “immune from being victims of crime because of their ‘special powers.’”

On one point, Ms. Nealson and I are in agreement. The greatest power my training has given me is confidence and knowledge to avoid acting like a victim. As Ms. Nealson points out, the vast majority of the time, this is all the defense that a woman (or anyone) needs to protect them from assaults in public spaces. So, what about the other times?

How we approach those unlikely, extreme circumstances is a question of ethics, not of gender or region. Ms. Nealson prefers a gun because it allows her to keep her distance from her attacker. But, usually, you can’t know the intentions of your assailant until they’re already close enough to grab you (or your purse). I do not want to live in a world where children in hoodies are shot down because they look like a threat. Whether I live in the Wild West, or anywhere else, I don’t want to live in a society where we shoot first and ask questions later. I want to live in a community where deadly force is considered a last resort. I want to wait until I feel I have no other choice before I inflict undue harm on another person. Perhaps this means I will risk being closer to them and not as effective in my response when the time comes. That is part of the risk we take every day we wake up alive—that we will not see the sun setting at the end of it.

This spring I will travel to Pablo once a week for work. Statistically, I am far more likely to die or be injured on Highway 93 than by being attacked in the street. Instead of letting fear keep me from living, I let it motivate me to live every minute, so I will be ready when the time comes. It is good to be cautious, but we should be just as cautious of letting fear overcome our compassion.

Alexa Sample


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alternative plan

Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 4:00 AM

It seems everyone wants to bury a pipeline from Canada to Texas.

Has anyone thought of processing oil through a refinery in North Dakota and then delivering the finished product? This seems to me it could really reduce cost of gas and other products throughout the United States from a more centralized area than out of Texas.

Lloyd DeBruycker


Wrong message

Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 4:00 AM

I am appalled by the story in the January 17 edition of the Independent about the lack of a sufficient number of calculators in a math class at Willard School (see “Held back”). Funding for necessary equipment might be undertaken by the Missoula Education Foundation.

However, the more important issue is that with all the talk about “graduation matters,” and having a “star” as superintendent because of the fabulous new programs that are being initiated in our school system, and the money that various grants have brought in which will lead to all kinds of educational opportunities, it is unbelievable that basic educational tools are unavailable, and that money to purchase them is also, apparently, unavailable. What nonsense. How deplorable that haggling over whether Willard School is really a school, or only a program, tells me that bureaucracy is running rampant.

How can we possibly expect students to be prepared for jobs in the real world, when basic educational tools are unavailable? No calculators in the math class. Inadequate collection of books in the library. No transportation for students who were privileged to participate in a real world experience to enhance their educational experience. Unbelieveable.

While I don’t think walking did serious harm to the students, having to do so, along with dealing with other deficiencies in their school, doubtless sent a message. And that message wasn’t a positive one. Graduation does matter, but do we want the message to these kids to be: Graduation matters because then I won’t have to put up with getting the short shift? They will have enough of that to put up with when they do graduate. Let’s make their educational experience as positive as possible.

Jean Bowman


Changing times

Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 4:00 AM

I read Dan Brooks’ column, “Happy trails: A toast to Denny Rehberg’s 12 years of service” in last week’s issue. I enjoyed it very much, but I thought there were some nuances that could strengthen Brooks’ overall point that Montanans no longer want the archetypical “drunken farm boy” representing them.

As a non-native of Montana, I have been surprised by how strongly Montanans of all ages and of all political leanings view themselves. It seems that many still buy into the idea that Montana is a state and lifestyle wholly separate and unique from anywhere else in the country. This is common to hear from people who live on the East Coast in our nation’s urban centers who have never seen Montana and still believe that it is the Wild West myth—and for a population that knows little else than a traffic choked stop-and-go commute along an interstate every morning, this is understandable. But it’s time that Montanans stop buying into their own legend because it shares less and less with reality as the years march forward.

I think Rehberg’s loss had at least as much do with Montana’s population shift as it does with longtime residents simply changing their minds. The state’s demographics have changed over the past 30 to 40 years, and as much as some Montanans may hate this outside “invasion,” it is undeniable. Now certainly, many elements of the state have remained the same as some newcomers have embraced fully the idea of Montana. But, as more people bring diverse folkways and as Montana becomes less isolated through the media, internet, etc., it shares more and more in common with its fellow states and departs further and further from its Wild West persona. This is the unfortunate truth of the 21st century, and it is up to Montanans of all breeds to accept this and grow past their utopian provincial image. And perhaps, not re-electing Rehberg was one example of this.

Michael Dax



Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Unlike Dan Brooks, I neither love nor identify with Rehberg or his ilk and I am thrilled that he is no longer my representative. In fact, I was essentially unrepresented while he held his office for the long 12 years in Congress. Thank you, Montanans, for finally waking up and voting him out of Washington!

My hope is that he just slinks off and lays low on his ranch, staying out of politics. I doubt that will happen due to his over-inflated ego, but maybe his loss will bring on some introspection and change. Yeah, when pigs fly! The guy was a jerk, is a jerk, and no doubt will stay a jerk, albeit a mega-rich one thanks to taxpayers’ money.

Mari von Hoffmann


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Better building

Posted on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 4:00 AM

From Culbertson to Miles City, cities are being hit hard by the costs of oil development.

Sidney is expected to need $47 million in improvements to accommodate Bakken newcomers. Bainville, population 200, is expected to accommodate a 350-person man-camp because of a new frack-sand facility. In Culbertson, the sewer lagoons are at capacity.

Who pays for these infrastructure costs? Not the companies making the profits from the oil wells. The oil and gas companies escape almost all taxes on Montana’s Bakken wells for the first 18 months. They only pay a rate of 0.5 percent as compared to the regular tax rate of 9 percent. In 2011, this tax difference—or tax holiday—cost the state of Montana almost $50 million!

Montana’s tax holiday was enacted when oil prices were $11-$16 per barrel. Today, prices are $85-$105 per barrel. Does the oil industry really need a taxpayer subsidy these days?

By contrast, North Dakota attached a price trigger to their tax holiday to ensure their taxpayers weren’t subsidizing the oil industry when prices are high. As a result, North Dakota is in a far better position than Montana to pay for the costs that accompany large-scale development.

It’s time our legislature repealed this tax holiday in order to provide money to the impacted communities, where it is urgently needed. Montana cannot afford to give the oil and gas industry a free ride anymore.

Cindy Webber

Big Timber

Healing the budget

Posted on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Gov. Steve Bullock has decided to ignore the Schweitzer administration’s budget submitted last November and instead opt into Obamacare’s Medicaid eligibility expansion. This looks to be a patently bad idea; and even if it’s not there’s no reason to rush forcing Montana’s taxpayers into yet more unsustainable entitlement spending and to herd more of our citizens into a system that provides inferior care at great expense.

First let's get a little background out of the way and then I’ll explain why it’s a bad idea.

Medicaid provides health insurance—not necessarily health care, but more on that later—to families with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Montana’s taxpayers currently pay about 33 percent of the program’s cost, with the federal government picking up the balance.

Last summer’s Supreme Court ruling let states decide whether to increase Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the FPL, which Obamacare tried to mandate. Many people portray this as “free money” since Washington says it will cover almost all the costs until 2017 and then ramp down to 90 percent of the costs after that. But that promise, like so many others that were made during the health care reform debate, simply doesn’t match the facts on the ground.

These facts argue against expanding Medicaid eligibility for two major reasons, one of them financial and the other one moral. The financial reason is that we already know this expansion isn’t “free money” for the state. And the moral reason is that it will result in thousands of Montanans being dumped into a system that results in inferior access to care, with many of them forced out of much better private insurance plans.

Estimates of Montana’s potential share of expansion costs vary pretty wildly but most come in between $100 million and $200 million, or the equivalent of between 200 and 400 new teachers, for example. Our costs increase for a lot of reasons, but I’ll just highlight a few obvious ones.

First, with Obamacare scheduled to cut $8 billion from Medicaid and $500 billion from Medicare, you can be sure that Montana’s health care providers will be coming to taxpayers to be made whole when their costs inevitably outpace their reimbursements under these government programs.

Next, the largest single increase will result from people who are eligible for Medicaid at the 133 percent FPL rate, but not currently enrolled, coming out of the woodwork as word gets out that eligibility has been expanded. Many of these people are technically uninsured today but would be enrolled in Medicaid and receive care if they needed it. Many others, though, have their own insurance and would simply shift from private to public coverage. Since they wouldn’t meet the new 138 percent FPL threshold, about 33 percent of their insurance costs would be shifted from them or their employers to Montana taxpayers.

And finally, for anyone who believes that the federal government will continue to reimburse states at the 100 or even 90 percent level, well, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Washington’s budget woes are going to be transferred to the states, and states like Montana that get from Washington much more than we give are going to feel the pain first and most acutely.

Shifting our most vulnerable population to Medicaid is also immoral. Studies consistently show that Medicaid patients have poorer access to care than privately insured patients. Since Medicaid typically pays physicians 56 percent of the amount private insurers pay, fewer doctors are accepting new patients and they eventually wind up in hospitals with more serious conditions than those who are privately insured. In addition, there’s scant reliable evidence that Medicaid improves health outcomes at all, and zero evidence that it is the best way to improve health outcomes per dollar spent.

Expanding Medicaid will only worsen our health care system’s woes, increasing costs and decreasing access to quality care while adding a new entitlement burden on taxpayers and dumping thousands of low income Montanans into a failing program. There’s no rush to expand. If it works for other states we can always sign on. But this is one case where we shouldn’t lead with our chin.

Carl Graham

CEO, Montana Policy Institute


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A sick body politic

Posted on Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 2:56 PM

The filibuster overhaul supported by Bob Brown and Anders Blewett is a nice idea (see Letters, Dec. 27), but it is nothing more than treating the symptom of an illness rather than going to the cause and changing whatever behavior or action caused the symptom in the first place. The filibuster itself isn't the problem, it's the people who abuse it. Brown is a Republican and former Secretary of State. Mr. Blewitt is a Democrat and currently a Montana legislator. Being members of the two major parties exposes their respective strengths and weaknesses. Their strengths being that they are part of the organizations that have the power to make or rescind the nation's and state's laws. Their weaknesses being that they are part of the organizations that have the power to abuse the nation's and state's laws, and they can rarely look past their own party allegiance and political duopoly.

Filibuster overhaul is not what is needed to cure our ills, it's political overhaul—a political overhaul that recognizes that we, as a nation, have outgrown the two-party system. A two-party system that is doing more to hinder the growth of our government than help it grow and prosper. For that we need new blood, new ideas, new parties and new oxygen flowing in the body politic. 

Yet try to get a former Republican elected official, or a currently serving Democratic elected official, to admit and speak up for what so many of us regularly acknowledge and wish for. No, they'd rather speak about what their parties can do to overhaul symptoms, rather than going to the root of the problem—the ossified two-party male-majority political system.

John Marshall

Hot Springs

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