The Billings Outpost

Wrong about Charlie

In writing about the terrorist attack on a Paris magazine, Billings Gazette Editor Darrell Ehrlick says he cannot “genuflect before the altars of free speech, freedom of ideas and freedom of expression” (Jan. 11 editorial titled “I am not Charlie”). For this reader, it’s disconcerting to know that the editor of The Billings Gazette has such tepid feelings about free speech.

He is reluctant to support it because he can’t really defend what the outrageously satirical magazine had often printed. I can’t defend its content, either, but that’s not the point at all.

Does Ehrlick think the millions of French people demonstrating their support of free speech were defending the magazine’s content?

The point is that people were murdered over words and pictures. Ehrlick doesn’t need to defend whatever offensive cartoon the magazine may have published, but he does need to defend the right to publish words and pictures – even offensive ones – without being subjected to violence or the threat of violence.

Ehrlick says “freedom of speech needs no defense,” but then he thanks those in the military who have fought and died for those ideals. The truth is that all of us – yes, the military, but all other Americans as well (even The Billings Gazette) – must defend freedom of speech, freedom of ideas, and freedom of expression.

Ehrlick says that if freedom of speech is to be a priceless value, then the words printed must have “real value.”

Oh? And who gets to decide what has “real value”?

Mary E. Fitzpatrick


Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2015 12:50

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Constitutional convention needed

The Constitution of these United States has long stood the test of time, serving for over 200 years as the foundation of the rule of law of our county. Since this document was ratified in 1789, the Constitution has only been amended 27 times, proving that the framework installed by our Founding Fathers can endure the test of time like no other republic in history.

Yet, for all of the strengths of our founding document, there comes a time when changes must be made to allow us as a society to address the challenges of our age. With the federal government near bankruptcy, growing in size and scope that is in violation of our 10th Amendment rights and preventing our great state from growing economically by responsibly developing our natural resources, Montana now finds itself in a position where we must call for a constitutional convention to amend our founding document in such a way that restores a constitutional order and system that promotes liberty and our economic well-being.

Failure to alter our constitution to more properly rein in the power of the federal government in the 21st century will lead to a American government, society and economy that is unfit for the new challenges of the 21st century.

The Founders understood that future changes to the Constitution might be necessary if the laws of our nation are to reflect the contemporary needs of society. They provided several means of amending the Constitution, including a provision in Article V of the Constitution that allows constitutional amendment through a Convention of The States. This tool was only to be used in time of dire need, when no other path forward can be found. We now face such a dilemma, and with so much at stake, we have no other choice but the change our founding document. 

In preparing for this convention it is imperative to understand what is at stake in needing to amend the Constitution.

First, the irresponsible and unfounded growth rate of spending by the federal government has endangered the financial systems and credit basis of these United States to the point of future unsustainability. If it is the will of the federal government to transform the economy and budget of our nation into the decrepit status of Greece or a banana republic, the federal government is well on the path to that reality. Therefore it is essential, in order to preserve a system of financial integrity for future generations, which the various states act to find new ways to restrain reckless and irresponsible spending for our children.

Second, the jurisdictional power of the federal government has grown far beyond the legal restraints outlined in the Constitution itself. The federal government’s desire for omnipotence over every aspect of the states and individual citizens is both unwarranted and unconstitutional.

States no longer have the ability to guide their own economic development as they see fit. In Montana, this means under production of our timber, ore, coal, petroleum and oil resources, leading many areas of the state to wallow in poverty.

Additionally, the growth of the federal government has led to the heinous violation of our rights to privacy, right to due process, overuse of eminent domain and fair and speedy public trials.

If the United States continues to wallow in the regressive behavior of over centralization, impotent regulations, tyrannical intrusions and maintaining a nefariously high level of spending, we will then find ourselves living in the 21st century as a regressed, second-rate power, that kowtows to other nations bolder than us.

On Tuesday, Jan. 27, at noon at the Capitol, constitutional scholar and former University of Montana School of Law Professor Rob Natelson will present the argument in favor of the amending the Constitution through a convention of the states. I will be attending and I encourage every concerned citizen and patriot to come out and publicly support amending our Constitution to create an America of freedom and prosperity.

Sen. Roger Webb


Last Updated on Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:16

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Net metering needed

Why is NorthWestern Energy so opposed to net metering? Net metering allows utility customers to connect their on-site renewable energy systems to the grid to add power when they are generating an excess and to pull power off the grid when they are using more than they are producing. A few bipartisan bills in the state Legislature would make net metering accessible to all Montanans, but NWE has been dead set against them.

NWE is not telling the truth when it says it is acting on behalf of ratepayers. Ratepayers want the choice to be able to generate their own electricity on-site so they are self-sufficient, can lock in power costs for the next 30 years, and can create clean power. 

The truth is that NWE is opposed to competition. The cost of electricity from solar panels has dropped so much that it threatens the utility’s monopoly control over customer power choices. 

So rather than innovating its business model to capitalize on these transformational technologies, NWE has decided to fight them. It’s a dinosaur, stuck in the past, like a phone monopoly trying to use laws to prevent people from adopting cell phones. Just as people like the convenience and freedom that cell phones provide them, they also like net-metered renewable energy systems. And if NWE continues to obstruct change, they are going to start losing customers like me, who will free ourselves from its control and decide for ourselves how we want to power our homes and businesses.

Ed Gulick


Last Updated on Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:14

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Good deal for Montanans

Providing health insurance to the estimated 70,000 hardworking Montanans earning less than $16,000 a year will promote prosperity and save lives. In the majority of states, Republicans and Democrats put aside partisan politics and expanded Medicaid to their low-income neighbors. It’s time Montana lawmakers do the same.

Everyone benefits from reducing the number of uninsured Montanans. Expanding coverage will not only boost our economy by creating a healthier and more productive population, it will reduce the overall cost of health care. Everyone who pays an insurance premium is helping offset the unpaid medical costs of those without health insurance. It’s a hidden tax on businesses and the privately insured, and lawmakers can curtail the expense by ensuring our federal tax dollars are being responsibly spent on progress at home.

Since January 1, 2014, Montana has forfeited more than $516 million taxpayer dollars by not expanding Medicaid. It’s our money, and right now, it’s being used to pay for expansion in other states.

Lawmakers have had four years to find a Montana solution to meaningful expansion. We’re calling for action.

Expanding Medicaid promotes self-management of a healthy lifestyle by ensuring individuals have access to timely and preventive care like cancer screenings, health risk assessments and behavioral counseling. This helps prevent minor health problems from becoming major – and very costly – health problems that could result in medical bankruptcies and extended absences from work. It is a vital component of creating a stronger Montana, where every citizen has access to high quality and affordable health care.

Montana’s health care providers are committed to improving the health of the communities they serve. Using available funds to provide health insurance to our lowest earners will help accomplish that

goal. We hope the 2015 Montana Legislature knows a good deal when it sees it.

Dick Brown

President, MHA

formerly Montana Hospital Association

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 14:00

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A burdensome law

Environmentalists are supposed to want to saddle business with burdensome laws. Right? Well, here’s one that wants to change some laws hamstringing private business, limiting your access to a free market.

Thanks to breakthrough technology, the cost of renewable energy has plummeted in recent years, making it affordable and cost effective, especially for solar panels to generate electricity. Now, you can save the earth and save money.

Unfortunately, laws currently on the books in Montana seriously limit your choices if you want to take advantage of this new technology. If the roof on your house doesn’t face south, your property is shaded by trees, or you rent, you might want to buy a share in a neighborhood solar system, which, wherever it is, would generate credit against your electric bill. But you can’t do that.

You might need a large system, which would generate enough electricity for an industrial operation, big box store, or a hospital, school or university. But you can’t have it. If you have multiple meters, like any farm or ranch has, you might want to build one system and generate credit from it for your other meters. But you can’t do that.

And then, if you generate more electricity at the end of the year than you use, you have to give that electricity away free to the utility.

Unfair? Of course it is. Tell your legislators that you want these laws changed. Tell them you want everyone to be able to get renewable energy.

Wade Sikorski


Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 13:59

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EPA rules expensive

What would an additional $500 in energy expenses do to your household’s annual budget? Cause you to miss a car payment? Is it a month’s rent or mortgage? The amount of a few little “luxuries” like cable TV or a tablet computer for your kids?

For most Montanans it’s not a trivial amount. But $500 is how much the average Montanan will have to come up with to pay for President Obama’s plan to dismantle and reassemble our nation’s energy system.

A tighter budget may be the new normal sooner than you think if the Environmental Protection Agency is successful in implementing an assortment of new regulations, chief among them the controversial plan aimed at carbon dioxide emissions.

A recent independent analysis of the EPA’s proposals found that they would cause the state’s energy prices to spike by 53 percent over the next six years. That equates to Montana households paying $500 more annually for their energy. 

Doesn’t look pretty, does it? And that analysis doesn’t even take into account the macro impacts Montana will suffer to our important energy sector.

The evidence shows that the president’s plan will result in slower economic growth in our state and fewer jobs. Put it all together and the average Montanan is going to face higher energy prices at the same time our incomes will be less.

The president’s plan has a steep price tag for Montanans, but it’s not all that apparent what we get in return for that pain. The net effect of these complicated regulations will be a reduction in carbon emissions by about 1 percent globally.

The environmental groups and government bureaucrats rooting for the EPA’s plan want to make power production in America an “example of responsibility” for the rest of the world. There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment — the problem is those busybodies want to achieve this goal without any regard for the cost the rest of us will pay.

Climate change is certainly a problem that we must tackle, but the solution to this problem must be at a cost we can afford.

At no time in history have consumers benefitted from government intervening in a market — in this case that intervention is putting the EPA between the consumer and their power provider. It always results in price distortions.  And this proposal is the granddaddy of all market interventions — it’s government central planning on a scale to make a Soviet apparatchik blush.

Montana Democrats are going all in behind the president’s radical plan.  They’ve already introduced bills for the upcoming Montana legislative session that will result in Montana consumers getting soaked with astronomically higher bills.

That’s not what Montanans want — not because we don’t want to address climate change, but because we have to do it in a responsible manner. It’s clear the Clean Power Plan creates more problems than it fixes, and is simply not the solution we are looking for.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Last month nearly every member of the Montana Republican caucus in the Legislature signed on to comments to the EPA in strong opposition to their proposal to hijack Montana’s energy.

The path Republicans would prefer to take is to solve climate change in a fiscally responsible manner — without forcing consumers to break their budgets — by focusing on making coal-fired electricity generation even cleaner than it is today. That has the added benefit to Montana of making our vast coal deposits even more valuable — developing that coal means new jobs, a broader tax base, and more prosperity for our state.

Clean coal technology is the only way we can address climate change and provide power at an affordable rate in our country and around the world.  Unfortunately, the Democrats’ Clean Power Plan, as it stands, would stop clean coal tech from being developed. And if they get their way, you’re going to pay the cost.

Sen. Roger Webb


Last Updated on Thursday, 01 January 2015 16:25

Hits: 696

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