Saturday, January 09, 2010

Stupak attracts large crowd at town hall meeting in Houghton

By Michele Bourdieu

After his Jan. 7 town hall meeting in the Michigan Tech Memorial Union Ballroom, U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak stays an extra hour to answer more questions, one-on-one, with constituents. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Health care reform was the issue that dominated U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak's Jan. 7 town hall meeting in Houghton. The event attracted First District constituents from Menominee to Baraga to Copper Harbor, with standing room only in the Memorial Union Ballroom at Michigan Tech.

Both Michigan Tech University President Glenn Mroz and Sgt. Allan Hoffman of Michigan Tech Public Safety estimated the crowd at approximately 250, if not more.

"It's democracy in action," Mroz commented after Stupak's Power Point presentation on the health care crisis and question-answer session with the public. "I think Bart gave really good answers to some really tough questions. You really have to appreciate his forthrightness in answering the questions."

Standing room only remains as the town hall meeting with Bart Stupak begins with his Power Point presentation on health care reform. Standing in the back, fourth from left, is Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz.

Stupak reprimanded some audience members only once for talking while he was trying to answer someone's question. Otherwise the audience was quite civil as opposing points of view were expressed. Several Michigan Tech Public Safety personnel were on duty in the Ballroom.

First, Stupak pointed out he had held several telephone town meetings during the past year in an effort to keep in touch with constituents in the 31 counties of his First District, which is half the size of the State of Michigan.* (link to map below)

"We're always looking for different ways to reach out and inform people, keep individuals involved," Stupak said. "Interest is great on what's going on in this country."

He noted his office answered about 50,000 letters or emails in 2008, an election year, and estimated close to 90,000 in 2009 -- nearly a 50 percent increase. Stupak added his town hall meeting in Ontonagon Jan. 6 attracted at least 250 people and the meeting Jan. 5 in Ironwood about 150.

Stupak noted the Democratic Congress has been tackling several issues since President Obama came into office -- including a bill, now signed into law, to assure equal pay for equal work for women; expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program; the economic stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act); loans to GM and Chrysler.

"A lot of what we've done has gone to the Senate, and we're still waiting for the Senate to act," he added. "One of the biggest bills we've ever done is health care."

In his Power Point presentation, Stupak gave an overview of the health care reform bills introduced in the House of Representatives in 2009 and compared and contrasted the latest House bill with the Senate bill that reached a vote late in December.

Preceding the question-answer session at the town hall meeting in Houghton, Stupak presents an overview of health care reform in a Power Point presentation.

"No matter what part of the economy you look at, health care is a big part of it," Stupak said. "It's probably the one bill I've ever worked on that affects every one of us."

The goal of health care reform is "quality, affordable, accessible health care for all Americans," he explained.

Stupak reminded the audience that he is Chairman of Oversight and Investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is beginning his fourth year of investigating the insurance industry. He pointed out several examples of how health insurance companies deny coverage, such as rescission, dropping persons from a plan with no chance for appeal, often causing people to die for lack of insurance or to go bankrupt.

Stupak explained he voted against the House Bill in July (HR 3200) since it was incomplete. He believed the bill did not do enough to control rising health care costs, was built on a system that rewards quantity rather than quality, did not do enough to encourage competition and did not answer his concerns about public funding for abortion. By November, he did vote for HR 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

HR 3962 does the following: creates a health insurance exchange allowing individuals and businesses to purchase a plan they prefer; requires each plan to have an essential benefits package; eliminates lifetime cap on benefits; prohibits all plans from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions; prohibits insurance companies from rescinding policies except in the case of fraud (including a third-party appeal system); eliminates a lifetime cap on benefits; limits out-of-pocket expenses; offers a voluntary public option; offers tax credits to small businesses. The bill also helps seniors avoid the Medicare donut hole (limit on drug coverage) and helps families avoid bankruptcy due to unaffordable medical costs; health care providers are compensated for previously uncompensated care; more coverage is provided for preventive services under Medicare (which would extend solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund for at least five years, Stupak said).

Stupak dispelled myths about death panels,(not allowed); insurance for illegal immigrants (not allowed). An income deduction of 2.5 percent would be applied to those refusing to purchase health insurance, but no one would go to jail for refusing to purchase health insurance. He noted inequities in spending on Medicare (e.g., $16,000 paid to an individual in Miami as opposed to $6100 paid for a patient in Marquette) would be changed with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. Veterans' programs would not be affected by the bill, though veterans could choose a different plan if they wished.

Anti-abortion amendment sparks controversy

Stupak explained that, although he originally hoped to keep abortion out of the bill, he proposed the anti-abortion amendment for the present House health care reform bill in opposition to an amendment proposed by Congresswoman Lois Capps of California. The Capps amendment required that at least one plan in the new health insurance exchange provide abortion coverage; it required a minimum monthly charge from every enrollee in the public option to be allocated for reproductive services, including abortion; and it allowed individuals receiving federal subsidies to purchase health insurance plans that cover abortion.

The Capps amendment, according to Stupak, would change the present law (the Hyde amendment of 1976, 1977, that prohibits using federal funds for abortion, with exceptions for rape,incest and the life of the mother). When the Capps amendment passed last summer, Stupak proposed his amendment, which he insisted upholds the present law. It finally passed in November (240-194).

"The only reason why we passed health care in the House is because pro-Life Democrats voted for it," Stupak said. "It doesn't take away your right to choose. All it says is the federal government is not going to pay for abortions."

Stupak then outlined differences between the House bill (HR3962) and the Senate bill voted in December.

House bill covers 36 million uninsured while the Senate bill covers 31 million. The House bill would go into effect in January 2013, the Senate bill not until January 2014. Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill does not close the donut hole for seniors or include a public option. Instead, the Senate bill creates two insurance plans contracted by the Office of Personnel Management. Only the House bill takes away the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies.

"The insurance industry and major league baseball are the only industries left in this country not subject to anti-trust laws," Stupak noted. "If they want to raise their rates as they have on individual policies this past year in Michigan 20-40 percent, there's nothing we can do about it."

While the House bill would help pay for health care by imposing a surtax on people with incomes above $500,000, the Senate bill would impose a surtax on individual high-premium insurance plans.

The Senate "has basically the Capps amendment" on abortion, while the House has the Stupak amendment, he said.** (See below for links to recent New York Times articles.)

Still, the Senate and House hope to agree on a final health care bill by the end of January or early February 2010.

Stupak fields hard questions

Some questions from the audience challenged Stupak's position on government funding of abortion, while others challenged the whole idea of government reform of health care with any cost at all to individuals. Others thanked him for coming and seemed supportive of his positions.

Stupak answers constituents' questions on health care reform during the Jan. 7 town hall meeting at Michigan Tech.

To the question "How can we use our influence to get the Senate to include a public option?" Stupak admitted he wasn't sure and changed the subject to other problems with the Senate bill, such as sweetheart deals for certain states like Nebraska.**

On abortion, one person questioned his rationale for wanting to change the current system but keep the current law that prevents federal funding for abortion? Why single out that one practice as one not to be changed? Why should one thing be changed and not another?

"Only 18 percent of all abortions are covered under health insurance," Stupak replied. "We're put in the position where we have to choose what benefits we're going to fund and not fund under health care."

He noted in polls conducted after the Stupak amendment 61 percent of Americans said they didn't want public funding for abortion. He added 24 of the 64 Democrats who voted with him were pro-choice Democrats who didn't want federal funds to pay for abortions.

A person who admitted being opposed to government health care reform asked Stupak, "If there's funding for abortion (in the final bill) will you pledge to vote no?"

Noting his record is clear on right-to-life issues, Stupak said, "I probably will not vote for it ... I don't sign pledges."

Bob Darling of Chassell said he was grateful to the federal government for veterans' health services that saved his brother's life and wondered why Stupak, because of his anti-abortion stance, would sacrifice health care reform that could save the lives of 45,000 people who die each year because of inadequate coverage.

"Doesn't that demonstrate a bit of hypocrisy when right to life seems to end at birth?" Darling asked.

Stupak noted a Labor HHS appropriation bill (signed Dec. 16) and Children's Health Insurance bill last February were both signed with language on abortion similar to the Stupak amendment.

Stupak seemed confident the House and Senate would eventually agree on a health reform bill.

"I think at the end of the day we can work this out," he said.

A young woman concerned about keeping her present health plan protested being taxed for Medicare and Social Security since she doesn't feel it will be there when she needs it. Some people in the audience applauded her comments.

Stupak said the future of Medicare and Social Security could be secured if all income were taxed rather than the present system that caps the tax on income above $94,000 or so.

Following the question-answer session, Stupak stayed an extra hour to speak with individuals who had more questions and comments.

Constituents of all ages stayed after the town hall meeting to speak personally with Congressman Stupak.

Audience reactions

Chris Bryan of Baraga County commented on the attitudes of people opposed to health care reform.

"I think people who are against it are afraid they're not going to get their share of the pie," Bryan said. "I think they're afraid they're going to lose something they figure they're entitled to. I don't think they want to share their piece of the pie."

Tom Gemignani of Hancock said he thought Stupak did a good job of answering questions.

"It's a tough thing to tackle, but I think he's right. We need it," Gemignani said. "Everybody's going to have to contribute."

A young man who works for Michigan Community Action and sees people in need every day agreed.

"I think that health care reform should be for everybody," he said. "Everybody's going to be covered. Everybody has to make certain sacrifices."

Jim Borowski of Menominee, CEO for Goodwill Industries for Upper Michigan and Northern Wisconsin, said he often sees homeless people with severe medical and mental problems that get worse as they go untreated.

"If they're not treated, they end up hospitalized (eventually under Medicare), a cost to the government," he said.

Melanie Jasper of Carney, Mich., who also works for Goodwill, emphasized the need for mental health coverage, especially since these problems often require expensive drugs.

"It's treatable," Jasper said. "You can't really separate the mind from the body."

Michigan Tech student John Pastore also agreed on the need for health care reform.

"I want to thank (Stupak)," Pastore said. "I've got friends who are sick and are liable to be destroyed financially before dying if something like this doesn't come along. It's really awkward when one of your friends tells you, 'I can't afford the diagnostics to find out what's wrong with me.'"

Naomi Leukuma of Chassell had a different viewpoint and spoke to Stupak after the meeting.

"I expressed my concern of reaching into somebody's pocket and taking out money and giving it to somebody else. I call it stealing. Politicians call it redistribution of wealth," Leukuma said. "How's it going to get paid for?"

Leukuma said she didn't think Stupak answered people's questions.

Cindy Barth of Dollar Bay, who recently returned from New Zealand, said her experience there is the reason she is not for health care reform here. She described long waiting lines to see a specialist and family members and friends who had problems getting care for serious illness.

"I lived under socialized medicine for the last 19 years in New Zealand," Barth said. "It rations care. I'd get close to the six-month waiting list and I'd get bumped again. It's not great. I don't want America to go the socialized medicine way of New Zealand."***

Donna Des-Jardin of Lake Linden was positive about Stupak's presentation.

"I implicitly trust the individual who gave the presentation on health care," she said. "He made me feel confident that he reads all bills, amendments, etc., completely and really passionately applies all that he is to the vote."

Janet Hayden, Michigan Tech director of Risk Management, said she thought the turnout at the town hall meeting was very good. She commented positively on Stupak's Power Point presentation.

"I thought there was a lot to absorb, but I also thought there was a lot of information," Hayden said, "and, since it's a compicated issue, that it was helpful."

Editor's Notes:
*Click here for a map of Michigan's First District.

**See a Jan. 6, 2010, article on Bart Stupak and his anti-abortion views in The New York Times. A Jan. 8, 2010, New York Times article on the Senate bill may also be of interest.

***Cindy Barth said she would be willing to correspond with readers who may have questions about health care in New Zealand. Email the editor at andersm@pasty.com if you wish her email address.

This is the fifth in our series of articles on the health care reform issue. See also our Sept. 10, 2009, article on the Labor Day "Tea Party" rally in Houghton. We welcome your comments!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Create watercolor miniatures with Nancy McCabe Jan. 8

CALUMET -- Copper Country Associated Artists (CCAA) will host a "First" Friday activity -- creating watercolor miniatures with Nancy McCabe -- from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 8, at the CCAA Studios and Member Gallery in Historic Downtown Calumet.

Nancy McCabe and other CCAA members will demonstrate and help you learn to think big on a small piece of paper. You will leave with a miniature painting that displays on table top and/or a crowded wall. All this and the joyous feeling of accomplishment that comes with a task well learned and the ability to help others to do the same.

The CCAA Gallery is located at 112 Fifth Street in Calumet. Winter Member Gallery hours are Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about the CCAA call 906-337-1252 or visit their web site at ccaartists.org.

New landscape exhibit by three artists opens Jan. 8 at Vertin Gallery

CALUMET -- An opening reception for The ABCs of Art, a new exhibition by three artists -- Arnold Oja, Bob Dawson and Clyde Mikkola -- will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 8, at the Vertin Gallery, 220 Sixth St., Calumet.

This exhibition is quiet and mystical; all three artists paint landscapes that reflect the north woods and lake, sky and rocks, trees of this area. They all live here and put their deep feelings about nature into their work. These are not ordinary landscape paintings; they take you in and give you something wonderful back for your spirits.

The exhibit continues through Feb. 3, 2010.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Ontonagon Area art students exhibit Community Collaborations murals at Arts Center in Hancock

HANCOCK -- Community Collaborations, an exhibit of murals inspired by folk art, is on display in the Youth Gallery at the Copper Country Community Arts Center in Hancock during the month of January.

An art project created by Ontonagon Area Schools 7th grade art students, the murals, or "3-D paintings," depict four of the communities included in the Ontonagon Area School District: Ontonagon, White Pine, Rockland, and Mass City/Greenland. Students created the collaborative works during approximately 30-55-minute art class sessions. The project was a labor of love and included the help of many people.

Ontonagon 7th grade art students work on a "3-D painting" of their community. (Photos courtesy Community Arts Center)

"With this type of team teaching opportunity, we could tackle more ambitious and complex projects," said Jill Miesbauer, a teaching intern from Northern Michigan University assisting art educator Melissa Hronkin.

Next, guest artist Randy Wakeham inspired the students with his paintings and professional advice. Board of Education President Dean Juntinen took photographs of the landmark buildings in each of the communities for the students to use as reference. This really helped the students with their realistic drawings of the buildings.

Ontonagon art students exhibit their mural of the Mass City/Greenland community.

Scott DeHut, an aide for some of the students, provided guidance and leadership for some of the groups. This art project was about collaboration and community building at many levels. Artists in the real world do not work in isolation: there are many types of skills involved in their process. The folk-art-inspired 3-D paintings mimicked this real-world process and provided students and teachers with many opportunities for reflection and higher-level thinking skills to solve the challenges that presented themselves each day.

The Community Arts Center is located at 126 Quincy Street in Hancock and is open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., and Saturday, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Call 482-2333 for more information.

"Embracing Mortality" course to begin Jan. 19

HANCOCK -- "Embracing Mortality," a five-week course that will explore the end-of-life options available here in the Copper Country, starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at First United Methodist Church in Hancock. No particular religious faith will be promoted.

"Facing the enormity of our own term limits need not be frightening or morbid. In fact, we laugh a lot in this course!" says instructor Carolyn Peterson. "In the same way that a childbirth class helps expectant parents overcome the fear of giving birth, knowledge and preparation can lessen the fear of dying. A major goal of the course is to add joy and meaning to whatever time we have left to live."

A collaborative effort of the Community Coalition on Grief and Bereavement, the course is designed to help people approach the end of life without fear. Participants can expect a supportive atmosphere; group discussions; and guest speakers that include a physician, Hospice nurse and funeral directors. Class size is limited to 25 people.

To obtain more information and to pre-register, contact instructor Carolyn Peterson at 482-4696 or ccpeter650@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Volunteers needed for Library Restaurant Keweenaw Nordic Ski Festival Jan. 16-17

HOUGHTON -- Volunteers are needed for the upcoming Library Restaurant Keweenaw Nordic Ski Festival to be held Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 16-17, 2010. The Copper Loppet is on Saturday and the Copper Island Classic is Sunday. The festival will also include the Talvi Tohinat Skijor race on Saturday, Jan. 16.

The Copper Loppet has two distances, 13 km or 26 km, at the Tech Trails, including portions of both the upper trails and the Nara Trails. Start time is high noon on Saturday, Jan. 16. The Copper Island Classic on Sunday, Jan. 17, beginning at 12:50 p.m., includes a 2 km youth race plus the traditional 5 km and 10 km distances at the Chassell Trails. In the 5 km and 10 km, you can either race for time and age group awards, or you can guess your time and the closest to the actual time wins!

Or, enter the Paradise Pursuit and ski the 13 km Copper Loppet and the 10 km Copper Island Classic. Prizes will be awarded for combined times.

There will also be Great Lakes Division Junior Olympic (JO) qualifiers for youth racers both days and a shorter race for 12-13-year-olds on Saturday. The Jo qualifier on Saturday begins at 9:30 a.m. on the Tech Trails; the JO qualifier on Sunday is at 10 a.m. on the Chassell Trails.

Race organizers are in need of volunteers to help at the finish line, timing and start line for both days. The days are divided in half, so people don't need to commit an entire day (although if you'd like to do so, they certainly won't turn you down). Here's the scoop:

Saturday, Jan. 16 -- Tech Trails -- high school/middle school races -- 8:30 a.m. -11 a.m.
Saturday, Jan. 16 -- Tech Trails -- Copper Loppet (13km and 26km) -- 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 17 -- Chassell Trails -- high school/middle school race -- 9 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Sunday, Jan. 17 -- Copper Island Classic -- Noon - 3 p.m.

If you are available to help, please send Dean Woodbeck an email at deanwoodbeck@gmail.com.

Talvi Tohinat Skijor race to be Jan. 16

The annual Talvi Tohinat Skijor race will be held Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010, on the Michigan Tech Trails as part of the first annual Library Restaurant Keweeenaw Nordic Festival. Skijor races will again be contested over two distances: 5k and 10k. The 5k race will be twice around the Isle Royale and Superior loops; the 10k race will include one lap of the Isle Royale and Superior loops, interrupted by a trip across Pilgrim Rd. for a lap around the Pilgrim Rd. trails. The 5k race is for one-dog teams only; the 10k race is open to both one- and two-dog teams. The 5k race will get underway at 12:30 p.m.; the 10k race will start after the 5k race has concluded (target time: 1 p.m.).

Details on the race can be found online at talviskijor.com.

Details on the Library Restaurant Keweenaw Nordic Festival are available at www.keweenawtrails.com/KeweenawNordic/.

If you're interested in helping with the Talvi Tohinat Skijor race, please send Chris Schmidt a note at cts@xmatic.com.

A Soldier's Heart, exhibit by Steve Wahlstrom, to open Jan. 7 at Community Arts Center

HANCOCK -- This month the Kerredge Gallery at the Copper Country Community Arts Center features Marquette artist, Steve Wahlstrom. Through his paintings, Wahlstrom tells his personal experience as a Vietnam veteran in his exhibit, A Soldier’s Heart.

Painting by Steve Wahlstrom from the exhibit A Soldier's Heart, opening Thursday, Jan. 7, at the Community Arts Center in Hancock. (Photo courtesy Community Arts Center)

A reception and gallery talk with the artist will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 7, at the Community Arts Center.

The exhibit, which continues through Jan. 30, will include "Heroes," a portrait series honoring his comrades with respect and compassion. Wahlstrom, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, explains that he ran out of words to describe what he was going through and started painting a year and a half ago. He found through creative expression a gratifying path to healing for himself, and by exhibiting his work a way for others to heal as well. The Copper Country Community Arts Center is honored to present this thought-provoking exhibit.

The Copper Country Community Arts Center is located at 126 Quincy Street in Hancock. Hours are Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Saturday 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Call 482-2333 for more information.

Stupak to hold town hall meetings Jan. 5, 6, 7

WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) is holding town hall meetings in Ironwood, Ontonagon and Houghton this week. Congressman Stupak invites constituents to attend the following town hall meetings to discuss current national issues:

Tuesday, Jan. 5, 5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. (CST) at Gogebic Community College, David G. Lindquist Center Cafeteria, E-4946 Jackson Road, Ironwood, MI.

Wednesday, Jan. 6, 5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. (EST) at Ontonagon Area Jr./Sr. High School Cafeteria, 701 Parker Avenue, Ontonagon, MI.

Thursday, Jan. 7, 5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. (EST) at Michigan Technological University Memorial Union Building, Ballroom B, Houghton, MI.

At 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 7, Stupak will have an informal meeting with Houghton Democratic Party members and supporters. Participants will meet the Congressman in the breakfast area of the Super 8 Motel in Houghton and may bring some light refreshments to share if they wish (optional). (Note the change of time to 8 p.m. for this meeting.)

Portage Health ski, snowshoe group begins Jan. 6; Tech Nordic Ski Club offers lessons

HANCOCK -- Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 6, the ski and snowshoe group sponsored by Portage Health will be hitting the local trails as a group at 6 p.m. each Wednesday.

"Each week we will alternate between the Swedetown Trails in Calumet and the Michigan Tech Trails in Houghton," says Arnie Kinnunen, Portage Health Community Outreach Coordinator. "We will break into two groups each week. One group will snowshoe, the other group will ski (classic or skate, doesn't matter)."

Here is the schedule so far:

Jan. 6 -- TECH TRAILS: Meet by the Waxing Center off Sharon Ave.

Jan. 13 -- SWEDETOWN: Meet by the chalet.

For more information contact Arnie Kinnunen at (906)483-1558 or Akinnunen@portagehealth.org.

Cross Country Ski Lessons at Tech Trails

HOUGHTON -- The Michigan Tech Nordic Ski Club will hold two sets of cross-country ski lessons for adults: One starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, Jan. 17, 24 and 31, and one starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday evenings, Jan. 13, 20 and 27.

Each set is a series of three one-hour lessons. Lessons will start at the Waxing Center at Tech Trails. Skiers can choose from skate or classic technique; and the lessons will be taught at the beginner, novice or intermediate level based on the skier's ability.

"This is our sixth year of providing lessons," says Blair Orr, Michigan Tech Nordic Ski Club Faculty Advisor. "Our thanks to the Keweenaw Community Foundation, which helped us get this program started years ago."

The cost for a set of lessons is $25. More information is available at ski.mtu.edu.