The Billings Outpost

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Not so fast on trade pact

This year is the 20th anniversary of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Americans have good reason to be skeptical about its legacy. It takes more than just lipstick for this pig; they need the full kit of beauty aids.

The promise was that by opening our borders to so called “free trade” with Mexico and Canada, the United States would gain jobs and wealth. Instead the United States has lost nearly a million manufacturing jobs; American livestock producers are undermined by a flood of Canadian and Mexican beef; foreign corporations interfere with our democratic process; and industry after industry has adjusted compensation downward, shrinking America’s middle class.

Despite 20 years of failed NAFTA, trade promoters are looking to impose another even larger agreement that will encompass most of the countries on the Pacific Rim. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty will expand everything that’s wrong with NAFTA. This is why the trade lobby cannot afford an open discussion over the TPP, and are pushing for Congress to agree to “fast-track” the ratification process. In other words – no debate in Congress about the trade deal or public input allowed. We don’t know – have not been allowed to know – what is in the TPP and our only opportunity for input is through the Congressional process. If Congress agrees to “fast-track,” this avenue will be closed.

Everything about the way the trade treaties have been negotiated is asymmetrical. The benefits flow to the “Too Big to Fail” banks and trans-national corporations; the costs are piled on ordinary people. The U.S. trade deficit runs at about $50 billion every month. After 20 years that adds up to a pile of dough that has transferred from the pockets of working people to the offshore bank accounts of trans-national corporations.

We need trade and we have always had trade. The point is that the treaties that govern trade should be fair to all and symmetrical as to who benefits. We elect our government to represent our interests – not just investment bankers and trans-national corporations. Maybe it is inconvenient to negotiate complicated trade issues in the open, but that is what democracy means. So I urge you to contact your senators and representative and ask them to oppose fast track authority and fix the fatal flaws of NAFTA before ratifying the TPP.

Gilles Stockton

Grass Range

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 May 2014 11:38

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Mac Whopper House

What a hilarious dichotomy: Mr. and Mrs. (?) It-Is-a-BIG-SECRET are building a house larger than some public spaces in our city [Outpost, May 1]. They want to remain anonymous, but the house, when completed, will be so large, it will be seen from space! A padlock will give them the peace and privacy they most humbly desire.

Hmmm. Does the rule about really ridiculously large pickups apply to houses?

What a sad commentary on Big Secret’s awareness of the world all around them. How many unfortunate folks right here in Yellowstone County could be helped by a mere percentage of the Mac Whopper’s final costs? What kind of a dent in the mosquito-borne diseases that creep ever closer to Montana’s borders could be made? How many tons of good, wholesome meat could be delivered to the Food Bank every week with just the decorating budget?

We all need to pray for these misguided folks, who don’t really want to remain anonymous; who don’t really know what it is like to camp out in one corner of a monumentally large “home,” and then fear everyone who might come within sight of the place! Pity – and prayer: The only rational response to such an untimely, bloated exhibit of ego run amok. May they settle back down to earth and stop this insanity.

Karen Simons


Last Updated on Thursday, 08 May 2014 11:38

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Railroad contradicts itself

I applaud The Billings Gazette for its investigation into the increasing rail traffic through Billings, but I’m confused by BNSF’s contradictory statements. A March 19 front-page article says that the delay of wheat shipments is due to increasing oil traffic, construction to accommodate the increase of Bakken oil shipped through Montana and weather.

In contradiction, BNSF spokesperson Steve Forsberg is quoted as saying that oil and coal shipments are not affecting grain shipments.

Really? In a public event on March 6, BNSF regional director of Public Affairs, Matt Jones, explained that BNSF has seen a major increase in Bakken oil rail traffic. Bakken oil production is up almost 300 percent over the last three years. The amount being transported by rail is nearly 70 percent in 2013, up from 6 percent in 2010.

Let’s add this up. A massive increase in oil production and associated transportation by rail, $5 billion in rail construction to accommodate the increased traffic — and grain shipments, not oil or coal are sitting on side rails for weeks at a time.

This gives the appearance that BNSF is picking winners and losers. Montana’s grain growers have been the backbone of Montana’s economy and culture for generations. They deserve better service and honesty from BNSF.

Larry Bean


Last Updated on Thursday, 08 May 2014 11:36

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The co-op difference

These are transformative times as many healthier food choices come to Billings. There are more selections from familiar grocery stores and even at new out-of-state chains. It’s a positive thing to broaden awareness and sharpen the conversation within this changing landscape of blurred lines and trendy marketing slogans.

Food co-ops have long been the leaders in this field of raising consciousness regarding genuine quality food. Co-ops were the first advocates for organics, local production, and improved growing practices.

I’ve been a co-op member for 35 years and it still amazes me just what a successful model of economics and social innovation they are. A billion people worldwide have joined member-owned, member-governed businesses that operate for the benefit of their members and communities.

Just one distinguishing, significant “co-op difference” is in creating healthier local economies and communities. Food co-ops generate more money for their local economy with 1.5 time more impact than conventional grocers. For 20 years the Good Earth Market has cultivated relationships with 140 local producers, now making up 25 percent our total sales volume.

“Healthy,” “local,” “community” are more than marketing slogans at Good Earth Market. Shop your values, share the fun at GEM, and keep more dollars in Billings.

Greg Jahn


Last Updated on Thursday, 08 May 2014 11:35

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Renewable energy pays

Last month Montana lawmakers continued working on an important study about the future of renewable energy in Montana. The Legislature’s Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee (ETIC) has spent the last year analyzing the impact that our renewable energy standard has had on Montana’s economy, electricity bills, and environment. As long as they play by the rules, they will discover what we already know to be true – renewable energy has been a good deal for Montana ratepayers.

Montana enacted a renewable energy standard in 2005, requiring public utilities to add new renewable energy sources into their electricity portfolio. Today, the utilities are on track to meet those benchmarks while acquiring energy that is actually cheaper than traditional fossil fuel sources. 

The renewable energy standard is good policy because it reduces risk to ratepayers and lowers our electricity costs. In fact, new wind energy sources are one of the best deals for utilities. According to the Public Service Commission, wind energy from Judith Gap was significantly cheaper than sources from coal and even hydroelectric dams from 2009-11.

To the legislators studying the standard – help protect us from increasing electricity prices by developing more of Montana’s renewable resources, such as wind and solar. We all know that renewable energy has proven to be a good deal for Montana by diversifying our energy supply, creating new jobs across the state, cleaning up our air, and boosting our tax base. Let’s do more in the coming years.

Ed Gulick


Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 11:57

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Wittich flees race

Sometimes, to defend poor choices, a man’s bravado has his mouth writing checks his butt can’t cash. This appears to have been the scenario facing Sen. Art Wittich in the final hours of filing for legislative office.

First, a history lesson: Wittich and his associates, while safely nestled in the warm embrace of Dark Money, have made it their mission to inform Republicans that primaries are good for the party. They justified this claim by stating that primaries have a uniquely “purifying” power that forces candidates to “own their vote.”

It seems an opponent was listening. On the final day of election signups, Wittich had the opportunity to put his hollow maxim to the test - to finally live by the words he preached. A primary loomed.

Nervous and caught unaware, Wittich began to ponder …

Maybe his singular dubious accolade, a stellar rating on Roger Koopman’s cherry-picked scorecard (TAB), didn’t have the star power envisioned?

Maybe the verdict on his failed leadership would haunt him? Would anybody actually believe the fable that his failure to lead was somebody else’s fault?

Maybe he feared that the voters would uncover his efforts to dismantle public education? Or his reference to volunteer school trustees as members of a “commie” club?

Or maybe, just maybe, it was the zero he received on the Montana University System scorecard? Bozeman is a university town and his constituents might find it unsettling that Sen. Wittich’s only support for the university was empty lip service.

By closing time, Senate Majority Leader Wittich had decided that an open discussion of his record, his leadership failure, and his looming legal troubles was a sure recipe for defeat. He disowned his principles and fled the primary to an uncontested House race. Can anyone say - hypocrite?

Rep. Jesse O’Hara

Great Falls

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 11:56

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