By Brett Rowland, The Center Square

UBS AG and several of its U.S.-based affiliates agreed to pay $1.435 billion in penalties to settle a U.S. Department of Justice civil suit over the Swiss bank’s role in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued the Zurich-based company in 2018 alleging that UBS defrauded investors in connection with the sale of 40 residential mortgage-backed securities issued in 2006 and 2007. The complaint alleged the company knowingly made false and misleading statements to buyers of these securities relating to the characteristics of the underlying mortgage loans.

The settlement raises the total amount of civil penalties paid by banks, originators, and ratings agencies to more than $36 billion. It also resolves the final case brought by a Justice Department working group dedicated to investigating conduct of banks and other entities for their roles in creating and issuing residential mortgage-backed securities leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. 

“In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, people all across the country experienced financial ruin and emotional devastation, and many are still recovering nearly 15 years later,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. 

UBS said the settlement resolves “all civil claims by the DOJ in connection with UBS’s legacy [residential mortgage-backed securities] business in the U.S.” The bank also said the settlement had “been fully provisioned in prior periods.”

The Department of Justice suit alleged that contrary to UBS’ representations in publicly filed offering documents, the company knew that significant numbers of the loans backing the residential mortgage-backed securities did not comply with loan underwriting guidelines that were designed to assess borrowers’ ability to repay. The complaint also alleged that UBS knew that the property values associated with a significant number of the securitized loans were unsupported, and that significant numbers of the loans had not been originated in accordance with consumer protection laws. 

FEMA announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available to the state of Montana to supplement recovery efforts in the areas affected by flooding April 10-26, 2023.

Public assistance federal funding is available to the state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by flooding in Blaine, Daniels, Hill, Park, Roosevelt, Sheridan and Valley counties and the Fort Peck Tribes.          

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Jon K. Huss has been named Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected areas. Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further assessments

Billings Clinic announced that it has been verified by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) as Montana’s first Level I Trauma Center, making it the only one in a 550-mile radius that includes all of Montana and Wyoming.

“Being a Level I Trauma means we provide the highest level of trauma care available while elevating lifesaving care, creating better patient outcomes and advancing trauma care throughout the communities we serve,” explained Clint Seger, MD, Billings Clinic CEO.

Trauma injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans up to the age of 44, and the fourth leading cause overall for all ages. With a highly rural population sometimes living hundreds of miles from the nearest trauma center, trauma survival rates in Montana are lower than much of the rest of the country. This adds up to make the availability of high-level trauma services throughout the region are both critical and urgent.

Seriously injured patients have a 25 percent greater survival rate if treated at a Level I Trauma Center. At the same time, Billings Clinic sees a 10 percent annual increase in trauma patients each year, and with this verification Billings Clinic continues to lead the way for local, independent trauma services of the highest level for anyone who needs them in Montana and Wyoming.

“Billings Clinic’s core mission is to provide the highest quality, complex care close to home for the entire region, and becoming the region’s first Level I Trauma Center is a reflection of both that commitment and the compassionate dedication of so many people across every facet of our organization,” said Seger.

 “We work tirelessly day in and out to improve care in Montana and Wyoming, and being a Level I Trauma Center is another major step to support everyone in the region who is a victim of trauma. This is the top level of trauma center verification any hospital can receive,” said Michael Englehart, MD, FACS, general and trauma surgeon and Billings Clinic Trauma Medical Director. “We already offer the most comprehensive trauma services in the region and have the busiest Emergency and Trauma Center in Montana. We also know that people do better when they get their care close to home, and that’s why we’ve passionately pursued this – to give everyone the same level of lifesaving care when they need it, no matter where they live.”

The verification comes after an expert ACS review team reviewed every aspect of Billings Clinic’s trauma program in May of 2023. This decision from the ACS recognizes that, as a Level I Trauma Center, Billings Clinic provides system leadership and comprehensive trauma care for all injuries and that it has the right people and resources to do so effectively and consistently.

In addition to providing acute trauma care, being a Level I Trauma Center means Billings Clinic plays an important role in local trauma system development, regional disaster planning, increasing capacity, and advancing trauma care through research.

There currently are no other ACS verified Level I Trauma Centers in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho or South Dakota. Billings Clinic has taken the lead on treating trauma patients across a multi-state region, experiencing a 55 percent increase since 2010.

Billings Clinic has been continually verified as Montana’s first Level II Trauma Center since 1992 and already had many of the required pieces in place to become a Level I center. As part of its journey to becoming a Level I Trauma Center, Billings Clinic is hosting surgical residents and in 2022 announced Montana’s first rural surgical residency track in collaboration with the University of Arizona. There are currently two surgical residents practicing at Billings Clinic on one-year rotations. Trauma research is also an essential component of a Level I Trauma Center, and internal research scientists continue to work with the Billings Clinic trauma team to complete and publish trauma research.

In support of achieving this monumental investment in trauma care for the region, Billings Clinic Foundation launched a $30 million capital campaign.. The Foundation is more than halfway to this goal.

By Greg Cappis, MSU News Service

Alicia Crane wasn’t sure how she was going to be able to afford her doctor of nursing practice degree.

As an undergraduate at Montana State University, she had always hoped to earn an advanced degree so she could better serve her rural community, but she knew that raising three children while working as a registered nurse would make paying for another three or four years of school difficult.

Then she applied for MSU’s Advanced Nursing Education Workforce program scholarship. As one of 20 ANEW scholars selected annually, Crane receives a stipend each semester to help cover the costs of tuition, books and travel as she prepares for a career as a nurse practitioner working in a rural community.

“It’s been a huge blessing and help,” Crane said. “I can’t say in words how thankful I am for the scholarship.”

The ANEW program is funded by a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. MSU received its first ANEW grant in 2019, and it was recently renewed for $2.6 million over four years, which administrators in the Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing refer to as ANEW 2.0.

“The ANEW grant allows us to provide the financial support to cover tuition and fees, books and supplies, and even travel,” said Sarah Shannon, dean of MSU’s nursing college. “ANEW also allows us to offer special learning opportunities to ensure that we produce not just nurse practitioners but rural-ready nurse practitioners who are already embedded in and committed to their local communities.”

The ANEW program is designed to increase access to health care for rural Montanans, a core focus of the nursing college. All but two of Montana’s 56 counties are classified as health care professional shortage areas, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

MSU offers two options in its doctor of nursing practice, or DNP, degree program. Family practice nurse practitioners serve as primary care providers with the ability, in Montana, to diagnose, prescribe and refer patients to specialists. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners assess, diagnose and treat acute and chronic mental health needs of their patients.

ANEW scholarship recipients commit to working in rural health care. Scholars are required to perform some of their clinical work at rural hospitals or health centers. They also must join the Area Health Education Center scholars program, a two-year, nationally recognized certificate program designed to develop and improve skills to help them better serve patients in rural communities. The AHEC scholars program includes 80 extra hours of learning and access to specialty training seminars, like classes on suturing or managing diabetes in a rural setting.

Construction workers remain a crucial component of the American workforce, and contribute significantly to the country’s economic development. To determine the locations with the most construction industry jobs, Construction Coverage calculated the percentage of total employment in the construction sector in Q4 2022, then ranked metros accordingly. The analysis found that 6.77% of jobs in the Billings metro area are in the construction industry, 1.5 percentage points higher than the national concentration. Over all, since the 2008 recession, the share of construction employment has since remained flat.

Rimrock Mall announced the opening of a 12,000 sq. foot  seasonal store that will feature Halloween décor, costumes for both adults and children and more! Spirit Halloween is the largest Halloween retailer in North America, with over 1,450 pop-up locations in strip centers and malls across North America. Spirit Halloween created its philanthropic arm, Spirit of Children, in 2006, starting with 11 partner hospitals across the country. They have raised over $93 million in cash for over 150 partner hospitals.

Economic indicators seem to indicate that the US economy is treading water with some indicators up and others down .

American consumers continue to spend what they don’t have.

Credit card indebtedness reached a record $1.03 trillion in the second quarter of 2023, according to the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Total household debt exceeds $17 trillion, with 72.4% of that coming from mortgages and home equity lines of credit.

The Index of Consumer Sentiment ticked down from 71.6 in July  to 71.2 in August. The July reading was the best reading since October 2021. But Americans remain anxious about the economy overall.

The Small Business Optimism Index increased from 91.0 in June to 91.9 in July, the highest reading since November. Despite the uptick in sentiment, small business owners remain concerned about the economy, with the uncertainty index rising to a 25-month high. The top “single most important problem” was the difficulty in finding enough qualified labor (23%), followed closely by inflation (21%). Despite this, fewer NFIB business members plan to increase prices over the next three months… falling to the lowest rate since December 2020.

Consumer prices rose 0.2% in July for the second straight month, with 3.2% growth over the past 12 months. Excluding food and energy, core consumer inflation has increased 4.7% since July 2022, the weakest reading since October 2021.

Yet, core inflation remained stubbornly high.

Producer prices for final demand goods and services rose 0.3% in July, the strongest gain since January but driven largely by higher costs for services.

Overall, inflation continued to moderate, but even so the Federal Reserve is predicted to keep interest relatively high. They are not being predicted to make any changes in interest rates at their next meeting in September.

By Brett Rowland,The Center Square

The U.S. Postal Service reported a $1.7 billion loss in the third quarter adding to ongoing losses for the once self-sufficient agency. 

The U.S. Postal Service, an independent federal establishment that is mandated to be self-financing, said the third quarter losses were “almost exclusively to the non-cash impact of the Postal Service Reform Act in April 2022.” The act removed the Postal Service’s obligation to pre-fund retiree health benefits and eliminated all previously imposed pre-funding requirements that remained unpaid, among other changes. The law was intended to improve the Postal Service’s financial sustainability. 

“Continued rising costs in several areas of our business pose a challenge,” Chief Financial Officer Joseph Corbett said in a statement. “We continue to manage the costs within our control, such as by reducing work hours by 6 million hours compared to the same quarter last year and by focusing on transportation and other operating costs.”

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said the Postal Service continues to face inflation and other pressures.

“Our team is working hard to reduce our cost of performance which is helping to offset still sizeable inflationary and economic pressures,” he said in a statement. “We are setting the stage for long-term financial sustainability as we continue to modernize our processing, transportation, retail and delivery networks.”

Congress designed the U.S. Postal Service to be self-sustaining, but in fiscal year 2007, expenses overtook revenue. This has led to losses of $87 billion through 2020. The agency is further saddled with $188 billion in unfunded liabilities and debt, according to a 2021 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The U.S. Postal Service is the largest postal service in the world, delivering an estimated 49% of all mail sent globally. 

By Evelyn Pyburn

Save us from those who want to protect us.

The 12-year-old girl from Red Lodge who is passing a petition to allow people to become lawyers in Montana without going to law school or without sanctions of the Supreme Court, is so spot-on in so many ways. Why shouldn’t the legal profession be as accountable to the consuming public as a retail store or a hot dog stand???

The only problem with this young person’s petition is that it involves only lawyers. Why shouldn’t every profession be accountable to the people they serve more so than all-knowing overlords – who, as we have come to see, are not as all-knowing?

In fact, if never before, surely the past few years has demonstrated for all of us, how the overlords are not necessarily the benevolent caretakers and unbiased evaluators, as they would like to pretend. Almost every regulatory body has demonstrated that they can most easily be corrupted to gain political power and unearned wealth – whether they be attorneys, doctors, researchers, real estate agents, educators, engineers, or financiers.

In the end, we as consumers must always use our own good judgement about who we depend upon for expertise. Just because there is a piece of paper that gives someone sanction from some august body is no guarantee as to their expertise, honesty and true professionalism. Education can be a factor to consider but it should be the citizen’s right to do the considering. The transaction between a citizen and an attorney should be no different than in deciding what lawn mower to buy or what grocery store to patronize. In the end it should be a combination of attributes that commends the professional – not least of which is reputation, just as it would in any other FREE MARKET TRANSACTION.

Why shouldn’t a prospective client make the judgement call as to who they want to represent them legally? After all a citizen retains the right to represent themselves if they so choose; why shouldn’t they be FREE to choose who they want to advise them? The truth is this is as much as a protection racket as any other scheme.

And the fact of the matter is, in establishing a regulatory body to make such decisions, even should they start out as a fair and ethical group, just the existence of such a position becomes a shrieking invitation to corruption, which means it is just a matter of time before they are the corrupted, unjust and destructive bodies, as most have become.

We have surely come to recognize that even in the medical profession and with the overlords sanctioning medical treatments and medicines, our lives can be at risk if we are to make decisions based exclusively on official approvals coming from government. Big Brother is not necessarily our friend, and every citizen is responsible for their own decisions, every bit as much as if there were no licensing and permitting regimes. So why establish the pretense that there is some all-knowing, all-caring, honest and knowledgeable decision-makers who can relieve us of the responsibility of having to make such decisions ourselves? All that the existence of such “expertise” does is dupe a lot of trusting citizens, who have otherwise been brainwashed into trusting to “officials.” Not having such governmental advisors would make more clear to all citizens that they are still the final decision makers.

And more than that — over and over again in the history of our country we have seen that brilliance can emerge from anywhere – it does not always come from the hallowed halls of academia – and in fact sometimes it emerges because it was not blunted by the staid philosophies of “experts”. In those cases, quite frequently a brilliant new idea has been forestalled by regulating boards, either because their members weren’t as brilliant, or they were protecting their friends and political alliances. In all cases – lives hung in the balance. It is in allowing people to protect their lives that they must have the freedom to choose in the market place – most especially when it comes to choosing what “professionals” they want to rely upon.

For the first time in years, drought figures have decreased across the board. This wet season has significantly lowered the chances of wildfires this year.

QuoteWizard, in analyzing drought data in at-risk wildfire states in advising wildfire insurance companies, determined that severe drought has decreased by 88% in Montana since 2022.

They have reported that, even with the decrease, 8 percent of Montana is experiencing a severe drought in 2023 and 29 percent of the state faces an extreme wildfire risk. The state is actually at the top of most-at-risk states for fires – followed by Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, California, Wyoming, Utah and Washington.

Nationally, drought area decreased for all of the states most at risk of a wildfire.

Their report stated, “More than 11.2 million properties were at risk of wildfires in 2022, and most wildfire-prone states are facing severe droughts. So far this year, nearly half of states that were previously experiencing severe drought dropped by 100%, including California. Montana is most at risk of wildfires, with 29% of the state facing extreme risk, even though its drought risk decreased by 88% since last year.”