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IS MONTANA a well-run state? According to a new study, it's a lot higher than average.
A group called 24/7 Wall St., which surveys the financial, social and economic outcomes of every state annually, says that Montana ranks 11th among the 50 states in terms of how its residents are faring.
With an average annual household income of $47,000, Montanans score below the national average of $52,250. But on the plus side, they enjoy low crime rates, rising home values, and an economy that's growing faster-than-average.
The study noted that a number of the states that did best in the study enjoy an abundance of natural resources. North Dakota got the top ranking, while Illinois finished last.
ONE OF the world's best-known actresses, Scarlett Johansson, wanted a lot of privacy for her wedding, so what better spot to do it than Montana?
Indeed, word is only now leaking out that she tied the knot with French journalist Romain Dauriac two months ago in Mineral County. The nuptials took place at the ultra-ritzy Ranch at Rock Creek, where rooms run a thousand dollars and more.
The couple welcomed a new baby girl just a few weeks before their marriage. Johansson and her beau got their marriage license at the Granite County Courthouse in Philipsburg, where the clerks found her pleasant and personable. They've been fielding calls about the incident from around the world since word leaked out about the news.
Johansson is familiar with Montana, being one of the stars of the 1998 film "The Horse Whisperer," which was largely filmed in Big Sky country. Wranglers working on the film reported that, in the beginning, young Johansson was "pretty scared" of the horses, but by the end was riding like an expert.
SEN. JON Tester’s appointment to head up the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is a feather in his cap, and should help Montana by boosting his influence in the Senate.
But the assignment, a two-year gig, also poses some dangers. One of his key tasks will be raising – and doling out – big bucks, which primarily come from wealthy donors.
Tester’s been outspoken about the influence of money, particularly “dark money,” the type that comes from undisclosed donors. He’s sponsoring a constitutional amendment to get the big money out of politics, as well as legislation to require more transparency by “dark-money” groups.
Because of Tester’s work with the campaign committee, his critics may accuse him of hypocrisy – a possibility that seems to make even some backers nervous. It could also draw attention to his 2012 campaign, in which dark money played a key role in helping him get elected, as explained by this in-depth Pro Publica report.
BUZZ was watching Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill being interviewed on "Face the Nation" Sunday when she was asked if her party's recent appointment of "fiery populist" Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the Senate leadership wouldn't signal a turn to the left when voters wanted more centrism.
McCaskill, one of the few senators to oppose Harry Reid's election as Democratic leader, responded that the party wasn't turning its back on more moderate leaders. She noted that Reid named Montana Sen. Jon Tester to head up the party's Senate campaign efforts the same day he named Warren to a leadership post.
She described Tester as a "flat-top farmer from Montana who is about as salt of the earth as you can get, and who is a moderate through and through and so his voice is going to be in that room along with Elizabeth Warren's."
Indeed, Tester's views on issues such as gun control and the Keystone pipeline may cause hard-core liberals some angst. But they also recognize that he knows how to win elections on turf that's traditionally tough ground for liberals.
Meanwhile, Huffington Post reported that Tester got the job because the other finalist, Sen. Chris Coons of Connecticut, bowed out due to family considerations.
FEDERAL prosecutors have opened a money-laundering investigation into the US financial activities of a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle. The probe is looking at billionaire Gennady Timchenko's dealings with the Swiss-based Gunvor trading house, in which Putin also is believed to have investments.
You wouldn't think that could have anything to do with Montana, but you'd be wrong. Why? Because of reports that Gunvor became an investor in Montana's Signal Peak Mine in 2011.
Critics argue the mine is buying federal coal at below-market prices and selling it at a hefty profit overseas. And now, they say, it appears some of that profit may be going to into Vladimir Putin's pockets.
Federal regulators recently declared that there wouldn't any significant environmental impact from the expansion of the mine onto nearby federal lands, thus eliminating the need for a time-consuming environmental impact statement.