The Billings Outpost

Libertarians innocent of Republican losses


Brad Molnar

Sunday morning’s talking heads label Montana a “red” state to be taken for granted by Republican presidential candidates. They were spot on: Mitt Romney received 267,924 Montana votes vs. Barack Obama’s 201,813, a 67,000 vote spread.

Montana voters then morphed into independent Montanans and lockstep Republicans ended up confused and therefore angry. Obama got fewer votes than any partisan candidate for Montana’s top offices. Even the clerk of Supreme Court, Ed Smith, a Democrat, won re-election with 42,000 more votes than Obama.

Top vote getter was Romney with 268,000, then Congressman-elect Steve Daines (R) with 255,000 votes and Attorney General-elect Tim Fox (R) with 253,000 votes. State Auditor Monica Lindeen (D) won re-election with 248,000 votes and Linda McCullough (D) remains our secretary of state because 245,000 Montana voters said so.

Sen. Jon Tester, challenger Denny Rehberg and gubernatorial candidates Steven Bullock and Rick Hill were ignored by tens of thousands of voters. Tester earned only 236,000 votes in a multimillion dollar bilge-throwing contest with Denny Rehberg (R), and Kim Gillan (D) got a measly 205,000 against Steve Daines, whose flagship ad had him telling spooky political stories around a family campfire. 

At the Yellowstone Valley Pachyderm Club, (every Friday noon at the Elks Lodge on Lewis Ave; the public is invited) gathered pontificators were outraged at the outcome of the presidential, U.S. Senate and Montana governor’s races. Solutions ranged from discouraging primaries so capital can be conserved for final victory to the widely held, “Those damn Libertarians gave it to the Dems. How could they not be smart enough to vote for the lesser of two evils? Didn’t they know that Republicans stand for family values, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, and adherence to the Constitution?”

At the Republican $50 per plate legislative kickoff dinner held in Helena, Will Deschamps, chairman of the Republican Party, said that “stagnant” people had voted for Libertarians and defeated themselves in their quest for political purity.

Asked why they identify as Republican or Democrat, many respond, “Because I was raised that way” then offer a few platitudes. Ask a Libertarian and you better have a comfortable chair. The numbers show Libertarians did not “throw away” their votes but voted Libertarian as a default position when they could not abide the party picks.

The Obama-Romney race attracted only 14,000 Libertarian votes. Daines/Gillan matched up 19,000 Libertarian votes; Hill/Bullock 18,000 and McCulloch/Johnson 16,000. But in Tester/Rehberg, 32,000 Libertarians rejected both. So where did those other 18,000 Libertarian votes go? Never mind the 185,000 Libertarian votes for clerk of Supreme Court.

If Rehberg had gotten the Libertarian and Republican votes Linda McCulloch received, he would have won by 10,000 votes. Rehberg hitched his wagon to the “I’m not Obama” star located in the “NoBamacare Galaxy.” Obama lost big in Montana. The initiative to not implement Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act won big.

The same people who caused those vote counts rejected Rehberg’s poll-driven message though it was identical. My polling conducted over several Bud Lights clearly indicates Rehberg was held accountable for his compulsive spending when Republicans were in power. Rehberg supported for the Real ID under the Patriot Act and “stimulus spending” under the Bush administration, yet opposed the same under Obama.

He was weighed, he was measured, and he was labeled a hypocrite. So Libertarians turned to their own party. Oh, and McCulloch advertised what she did right rather than attack third parties.

Rick Hill also tied his opponent to the plainly unpopular Obamacare.  Without offering an alternative, his message was an incomplete sentence. And he was going to create jobs … “as if government grows jobs,” Bubba sneered.

Hill lost by half as much as Rehberg lost with half as much Libertarian “defection.” My Bud Light-fueled polling indicates the issues were closer to home. 

Bullock lied that he had written the “Stream Access” decision. He wrote the decision on how to attach a gate to a bridge. But he clearly said that he supports Montana’s hunters and anglers.

Rick Hill’s mass emailed “Sportsman’s Issues” threatened he would circumvent the recent initiative which restricted outfitter sponsored licenses, to reduce hunting leases, which made it more difficult for Montana residents to take their kids hunting. With more than 200,000 Montanans carrying deer, elk, antelope and bird licenses while looking for a place to hunt, it is amazing Rick lost by only 9,000 votes. Rick! Proctologists from Chicago hoping to book a hunt in Montana do not vote here; Bubba does.

It had nothing to do with “stagnant” Libertarians. It had to do with “What the heck were you guys thinking?”

Brad Molnar, a Republican, serves on the Public Service Commission.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 December 2012 10:59

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Global climate science isn’t hard; politics is


It is time to leave politics behind, to advance beyond the silly Red State/Blue State maps, to forget about finding solutions from people vying for office who, to remain electable, ignored the real threats facing our nation and the world. It is time to educate and empower ourselves and push the politicians rather than let them push us.

Consider their response to just one major threat: climate change. Instead of planning for disaster, they wished away or, at best, minimized the contradiction between our inordinate burning of fossil fuels and the fact that such burning threatens our long-term survival.

Surely, we have better institutions than politics for seeing us through such crises. Religion and science come to mind, and I suggest that the two are not as naturally at odds as one might think.

Like many conservatives today, Mr. Romney ridiculed the very idea of “healing the planet.” But this is clearly not the approach that Brigham Young, the great nineteenth century leader of Mr. Romney’s own church, would have taken. Young, in fact, sought to live in harmony with all creatures: “But if we have provisions enough to last us another year, we can say to the grasshoppers—these creatures of God—you are welcome. I have never yet had a feeling to drive them from one plant in my garden; but I look upon them as the armies of the Lord.” Similarly, staunch evangelical scholar Francis Schaeffer maintained that, “Christians, of all people, should not be the destroyers. We should treat nature with an overwhelming respect.”

It isn’t necessary to be an adherent of either faith to understand that for both of these leaders, religion could be enlisted to effect a change of outlook and provide a spiritual basis for sustainable living.

Like Brigham Young and Francis Schaeffer, many scientists are offering a broad view of life on earth, but their voices are rarely heard above the clamor of talk radio, Fox News, and MSNBC.

In 1976, long before global warming became politicized, I heard about it for the first time. I was a member of the Forest Service’s Youth Conservation Corps. Between making trails and bridges, and laying barbed wire fences for ranchers, my fellow YCCers and I were treated to an evening debate between two physicists who journeyed up Big Cottonwood Canyon above Salt Lake City to talk to us. Why, I have no idea. We were just a bunch of teenagers, after all.

They didn’t call it anything particular then. According to the physicists, it was simply a matter of fossil carbon dioxide being released back into the atmosphere through human industrial processes. Though they argued about carbon sequestration, they recommended something be done in the next 10 years.

Yet here it is 2012 and still we debate: Is the phenomenon real? What should it be called? Is it “natural”?

Actually, the basic science is easy. Earth is a pleasant place, all things considered, because of the greenhouse effect. Such atmospheric gases as carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor, and methane trap enough of the sun’s heat to keep us at a global temperature of about 60 degrees (the 20th century average). Without these gases, our planet would be too cold to sustain life. Conversely, when their volume increases, the average global temperature rises (as it already has). CO2 can be absorbed by oceans and forests, but, when these “sponges” become saturated or weakened, the gas builds up in the atmosphere. More CO2 in the atmosphere means more heat on Earth. Given current trends, it will soon take a mindboggling 100,000 years to return to the climate we have known.

To be sure, Earth doesn’t care. Many living things, perhaps Brigham Young’s grasshoppers among them, will withstand warmer temperatures nicely. Indeed, some regions will experience extreme conditions while others probably will not. Average global temperature interacts with local and seasonal phenomena, so far producing the greatest changes in the arctic. Florida may experience few measurable divergences (perhaps stronger hurricanes) while the interior West may be in for long droughts and heat waves. It’s one thing to measure atmospheric change, another to know how the parts of a complex system will react.

The fossil record, ice cores, and tree rings help scientists measure fluctuations in past climates and give an idea of what a warmer future Earth might look. However, most predictions have been too optimistic. As my long ago YCC physicists explained, the prediction part of the science is difficult.

By all measures, humans are particularly vulnerable. There are a lot of us, and most live on the edge of disaster as it is. Flooding, desertification, and mass extinctions will make it hard for us to flourish. As fisheries crash and land falls from agricultural production, human suffering will intensify. This is, of course, a moral crisis that one would expect religious leaders to be going full-bore to address.

I wish it were all a hoax. I wish we could laugh, as Governor Romney did, about “healing the planet” or, like President Obama often does, ignore the whole issue. But, most often, wishes only allow us to evade responsibility. Politicians often lag behind the cultural curve anyway. It is time for us to borrow a page from the Mormon pioneers of old and get down to work; to blend spirituality and scientific stewardship; and, as Brigham Young urged, to “love the works which God has made.”

Cara Chamberlain teaches at Rocky Mountain College.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 10:28

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Renewable theology vs. economic reality, Part 2


Brad  Molnar

The economic consequence of making a product that costs more to produce than its market value is universally accepted, except for “green energy” products. The success or failure of renewable energy companies is determined by their success at lobbying government and campaign donations. It is a working business model, but it is best to have an exit plan.

Like all European Union members, Spain is mandated to produce 20 percent of its energy from “green” sources (Montana has a 15 percent mandate, thanks to Sen. Jon Tester). The good news is that Spain generated 23 percent of its electricity from wind and solar in 2010.

Spain can actually generate half of its peak energy needs with wind and solar. The bad news is that this capacity bankrupted Spain. Spain needs only 44 gigawatts of power but theoretically can produce 99 gigawatts.

Why not export the excess and make a profit? The “capacity” to produce 99 gigawatts does not mean it will be produced when needed. Wind produces 40 percent of the time, often at night when there is no market. Solar is non-existent at night and disrupted by passing clouds.

It is tough to sell a product when you cannot promise delivery. Spain subsidizes solar at 444 Euros per megawatt while coal- or gas-fired generation sells for 39 Euros per megawatt. Without a gun to their head, who would buy the surplus electricity?

Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Italy joined Spain in the “Green Race” and face national bankruptcy because of it. The nations own the utilities and cannot recoup the costs from their citizens. Industries lost export markets because they were made noncompetitive and main street businesses closed when discretionary income was sucked up by skyrocketing home utility bills.

The Socialist Republic of Spain is fighting back. Within one month of taking office, Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced that renewable projects not in the pipeline would not receive subsidies and people would no longer be forced to buy their products. The next day the cost of Spanish-produced solar systems dropped 30 percent.

Greece garners more headlines for its economic implosion, but it is remarkably similar to Spain. Greece also has 24 percent unemployment and also cannot export products with a high cost energy component.

Portugal was a socialist mess before it drank the “green Kool-Aid” expecting economic development from subsidizing randomly produced, very expensive electricity, but it is a bigger mess now.

Christian Krajer, chief executive officer of the European Wind Energy Association, warned PM Mariano that if new contracts were not let and the subsidies maintained, many “green collar” jobs would be lost. Mariano responded that every green collar job cost many other jobs and Spain’s 24 percent unemployment was in no small degree attributable to above-market energy costs. Krajer warned that its factories would move to more “reliable” nations. Mariano wished them well.

Spain’s renewable manufacturers are finding new homes with governments willing to pay to attract “investment.” T-Solar is moving to Peru. Gamesa is opening a factory in India. Iberdola is ingrained in the United States. It gets virtually everything it asks of the Bonneville Power Administration.

Recently Iberdola won a mandate that customers in the transmission organization serving various northern tier states will build $26 billion in transmission lines tying wind farms to the larger grid. No such transmission lines are planned in Montana, but the cost will show up in Montana utility bills.

Professor Gabriel Calzada of the University of Madrid said, “The feed-in tariff would make companies go bankrupt eventually. So government guarantees to give the money back eventually … when they are not in office anymore. The whole pyramid collapsed. BP is laying off 40,000 people in their renewable factories. “What do we do with all this industry we created with subsidies that is now collapsing? We cannot pump enough money.”

The president of the Renewable Industry wrote that the “only way” is finding other countries that will give taxpayer money away to our industry, to take it, and continue maintaining these jobs.

During the last Montana Senate debate, after reaffirming support for “green energy” subsidies, Sen. Tester said that Greece and Spain were “canaries in the coal mine.” U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg concurred on both points.

Andrew Walden, writing for American Thinker, says the “other country” is the United States. Even though the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade Bill seems dead and Europe’s southern periphery is bankrupt, the wind subsidy proposals being floated in Congress suggest our political leaders have yet to understand that “green power” means generating electricity by burning dollars.

Brad Molnar is the senior member of the Montana Public Service Commission. He serves on the International Energy Committee on the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Last Updated on Saturday, 24 November 2012 13:21

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Renewable theology trumps economic reality



Four years ago candidate Barack Obama promised cheering crowds that coloring America’s energy delivery system shades of green would be painful.

The promise was half kept. It has been painful.

No one discussed a green energy transformation on the campaign trail in other than a passing manner. In their race for the U.S. Senate, Denny Rehberg and Jon Tester both promised support for extension of the Production Tax Credit (each time a wind blade rotates, the national debt is increased) but other than that not much on the subject.

Sure, a few ads ran about Tester voting for Obama’s “job killing energy tax,” but no one knows it was the Cap and Trade Bill they are talking about so “job killing” is the operative part. In true Republican tradition, the effect on a family’s cost of living is ignored and anonymity on Renewable Theology is maintained.

The rest of the world has moved on. This spring in Quebec, during the World Forum of Energy Regulators, Christopher Frei, secretary general of the World Energy Council, boldly opened with, “The honeymoon with renewables is over.”

Three years before, when the same forum was held in Greece, such a pronouncement would have been cause to “get a rope.” The Athens gathering was a runner-up to the climate talks in Copenhagen to renew and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol. The Denmark talks failed to find support for a Kyoto II.

Secretary Frei pointed out that in Spain 31 percent of a utility bill was from the inclusion of solar into the system though solar contributes only 3 percent of the power. Frei and multiple other speakers noted that the promise of lower solar cost through development of cost effective storage had not materialized and perhaps the European Union should have relied on realities instead of techie promises.

His preference was to put the money into the reduction of electricity consumption as opposed to renewable energy development. Frei argued that measuring success by how many megawatts of solar or wind have been installed, as opposed to how many useable megawatts were needed and supplied, was a deviation from economic realities. And a deviation from the social realities of a world in which 1.3 billion people have zero electricity, and developing nations want to keep developing, which means more energy consumption.

Secretary Frei calculated that if all economic and physical resources were brought to bear developing renewables between now and 2050, the ambient temperature of the earth would not change by a measurable amount. Frei admitted that his conclusions were not held universally.

For instance, the EU as a body politic still holds to the correctness of their buy-in to the Kyoto concept. This despite their insistence on the implementation of the carbon taxes that helped cause the economic ruin of Greece and Spain when the resultant sky-high energy rates killed their exporting industries.

Portugal, and to a lesser extent Ireland and Italy, also earned honorable mention. Listed deniers of the new reality were the United States, California as a standalone entity bent on self destruction, Canada (because Canadians want to export hydro power to the United States) and small nations wanting subsidized “renewable” projects.

During Q&A none challenged his conclusions. But an obviously agitated regulator from Arizona charged that his missive sounded more like a divorce than an end to the honeymoon. Secretary Frei responded that the global future of renewables was a maturing relationship in which the world used renewable not “because it is our policy” but rather where renewables make sense, i.e., island nations, desert countries, countries without carbon resources and areas with zero electricity, so even intermittent generation is a giant step forward.

Frei held steadfast that the needs of peace and commerce mandate energy needs be met by affordable, reliable energy production. A Jamaican regulator offered that instead of lead-in tariffs (hiding the true cost of energy production in the tax bill instead of showing it on the utility bill) should be replaced by a “no spin admission” of costs and benefits.

Perhaps instead of Rehberg and Tester running ads stating that both supported/opposed the corporate bailouts, both supported/opposed the “death tax” and both are independent of party influence, they should have had a televised debate titled “Proper Energy Policy for the United States in a Global Economy.” Then we could have cast a knowledgeable vote on a real issue (as opposed to whatever the purpose of those ads is).

I happen to know an underemployed, pragmatic Jamaican regulator who would make a great moderator.

Brad Molnar is the senior member of the Montana Public Service Commission and serves on the International Energy Committee on the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 17:06

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Is America, like Rome, in decline?



For The Outpost

Tenth-graders 40 years ago stumbled their way through a long section of Edward Gibbon’s "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (Volume 1 was published in 1776). Teachers assured their students that this would guarantee that the United States never suffered a similar fate.

Rome started out as a city republic. However, just wars, fought to victory, gave the Romans a belief in their own infallibility.

"The thirst for military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted character," wrote Gibbon. They became greedy for land and power and, over a period of a few decades, they controlled the known world.

Money gathered in the coffers of the few, and political power became a saleable commodity.

Even Roman citizenship could be purchased. The deification of general Julius Caesar led to the god-emperors. While the wealthy lived in marble palaces, the middle class slowly disappeared.

Bread and circuses kept the poor in check. Morals decayed. Finally, the Vandals sacked Rome in 476 A.D., and the whole top-heavy culture collapsed.

For Americans, the 1950s were a time of peace and prosperity. We had saved the world for democracy. God was on our side and we were invincible. But the just cause of World War II faded into Korea, then Vietnam, then three more wars, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, all costly in both lives and dollars.

A Montana World War II vet, coming home from the Honor Flight, said that he wished the country were still united, as it had been in his war years. Americans today are cynical, angry and looking for a reason for 11 years of war and the worst economy since the Great Depression. Life is marked by a continual low-level anxiety.

In republican Rome, citizens had the hope of possession and enjoyment of property. Ditto those World War II vets. They married, found work and bought modest two-bedroom homes in the suburbs.

Last week, a Billings real estate brochure featured three homes for sale at roughly $2 million apiece. "What do you have to do to afford those houses?" someone said.

The median price of a home in Billings is $212,532 (Howard Sumner, July 29, 2012.) That requires, in today’s mortgage market, an average down payment of $42,000, plus another $9,000 to close.

Two married teachers said that they can’t afford to buy a house. They’re renting. Montanans who have no way to cash in on the Bakken boom are priced out of the market.

Caesar kept the masses happy with bread and circuses. Last year, the cost of groceries in the U.S. rose by 11 percent. Some of the more common items, like tomato soup, went up more than that.

Hamburger, that staple of American cuisine, now costs $3.50 per pound. With no jobs, 45 million citizens are on food stamps. Congress, in the last budget wrangle, cut $20 out of each food stamp recipient’s stipend, saving the feds $9 billion per year. They did this by cutting the utility allowance. To buy food or keep the lights on, that is the question. So maybe, bread’s off the list.

Circuses? Yelling for your favorite major league team dispels some of the rage that should be directed at our elected officials. If football’s not violent enough for you, turn on the television. You’ll find as much mayhem as you can stomach.

PBS offers "World War II in living color." On Aug. 13, you could have tuned in to NBC’s "Stars Earn Stripes," a reality show that promises "live ammo, real explosives, real danger." Sounds like the gladiators to me. And let’s not forget "Dexter," a serial killer who, while the audience watches, gets to torture and kill another human at the end of each episode.

Cultural social norms are collapsing. Fifty years ago, it was "Murder, yes, divorce, no." The divorce rate is now 50 percent. The shotgun wedding is defunct. Many young couples marry after the birth of their first child, or they never bother with a ceremony, civil or religious. The National Association of Broadcasters once banned commercials where bras were displayed on live models. Now we’re all treated to nightly discussions of erectile dysfunction, low testosterone and leaky, aging bladders.

Gibbons wrote of a ruler "promising only to betray, swearing oaths he didn’t keep." No one doubts, any more, that the government’s for sale. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted corporations the rights of a citizen, and they are citizens with incredibly deep pockets. Their millions in donations buy them the U.S. Congress, the Executive branch, and, it would appear, the Supreme Court. The largess flows down to the most humble public official.

Before the rise of the caesars, the Roman republic had no state religion. When Caesar promoted himself to god, inhabitants were required to offer him a pinch of incense. This posed no problem for the average polytheist. It was, after all, to most, nothing more than a pledge of allegiance.

Christians refused and went proudly to their deaths.

But when Christianity became the state religion, the tides were turned. "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion, still." Forced converts to the cross carried deep resentments that added to civil unrest. Now, in this country, the self-righteous right lobbies for a state religion, Christianity, and their particular interpretation, to boot.

The comparison of Rome and the United States shrieks out a warning. The time is short. Or is it already too late? America has so many pressing issues, it’s hard to know where to start. The Huns are at the gates ... whoever they are.

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 September 2012 11:55

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