The Billings Outpost

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Add ‘dollar’ to Pledge

I am 76 years young, retired, and try to keep up on the politics and events of the day by watching the cable news on TV along with ABC, CBS and NBC networks. I read Newsweek magazine and The Billings Gazette Opinion page, the Outpost and other pertinent articles.

As I read and watch these different news networks, I am reminded of my grade school classroom days when we were learning government and civics. If I remember correctly, our government is the only democracy in the world that was conceived on the idea that if we were to be successful, we needed a true capitalistic financial system. The capitalistic system was based on competition.

What happened to this concept? Where is the competition in the oil and gas industry? As soon as one station changes their price, it automatically changes to same price at every other station. With the latest Supreme Court decision, the rich have finally arrived at the “Golden Rule”: Those with the gold will rule. As I watch the debate on TV, does anyone really believe that a $35, $50, or even $100 will receive the same amount of consideration as the donor who gave $1 million or more?

I heard one congressman make a statement the other day that the reason he didn’t support extending unemployment insurance is because there should be some means testing. I hear no means testing being discussed in Social Security or Medicare.

I am sure there are some billionaires that do not need Social Security or Medicare. Also, I didn’t hear any talk about means testing when they passed the Farm Bill. I read an article several years ago that 70 percent of the grazing leases on public lands, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, are held by 20 percent of the largest corporations in the United States.

I have a suggestion to solve the majority of our financial woes in the U.S. Congress. They need to pass two bills. The first one would eliminate the Citizens United ruling handed down from the Supreme Court. The second bill – it could be done on the same day – would be a bill that would state that any person or lobbyist could meet with any congress person at any time, but they have to leave their checkbook in the car.

This idea is supported by the recent decision in Arizona regarding the state bill that would allow businesses to not serve gays and lesbians. There was a big uproar concerning religion, but it appeared the decision the governor made to veto the bill was only after the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and finally the news that the Super Bowl may not come to Arizona next year if the bill was signed into law. All this is based on dollars.

One other thing Congress should do is amend the Pledge of Allegiance to “one nation, under God, and the Dollar, with Justice and Liberty for all.” As soon as we take the money out of politics, this country will be on the right track. Too many decisions made by Congress are based on campaign donations.

Also, what about a “trickle up economy”? When the unemployment rate gets to around 4 percent to 5 percent, with corporations and other businesses providing a somewhat living wage with benefits, THEN they get a tax break. It just seems the corporations and businesses should feel obligated to support the employees that worked for them and allowed them to make the profits they now enjoy.

One other comment, for those that are in agreement that federal lands should be in private or state ownership. If those lands ever come up for sale, the way Congress works, by the time the adjacent landowner learns they are on the market, they will probably already be committed to a campaign donor. You will not even have the opportunity to bid.

And also, do you think the new owner will let you graze those lands at the current rate of $1.34 per AUM? This is even if you get to graze them at all. Think about it.

Bernard W. Lea


Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:29

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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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