Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why Tester and Bullock will lose

Posted on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 4:00 AM

It’s the medical marijuana issue, stupid.

A year ago, there were more than 30,000 marijuana patients, 5,000 growers (most helping fewer than three patients) and who knows how many close relatives and friends of these patients. Today, all have been betrayed by the state and federal governments. Most are now unwilling even to be named on a state list of registered patients.

But all will vote, and few will ever again vote for any candidate who doesn’t speak and act to end our nation’s horribly failed war on marijuana users.

Six years ago, Jon Tester won by only about 3,000 votes. More than 2,000 of these likely came from the new voters in Missoula County who had registered to support a county initiative to recommend making adult marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority.

Federal raids of state-licensed medical marijuana producers, coupled with the extremism of the state legislature last year, decimated hundreds of farming jobs and brought renewed misery to the lives of thousands of sincere Montana patients. The petitioning process for a referendum on the legislature’s repeal of medical marijuana led 5,000 more new voters to register last summer. All of them are furious over this issue, and more are registering now to support an amendment to the state constitution on marijuana.

No one expected Tester to end the federal war on marijuana patients and their providers. No one expected him to single-handedly force the federal government to adopt an intellectually honest policy based on science. But when federal agencies zoomed into Montana and on a single day raided the Montana equivalent of more than 900 raids in California, we did expect him to at least say something supportive. When he says nothing, even in the face of dozens of federal prosecutions, in which no amount of honorable adherence to the state law can even be mentioned in court, then Montana patients and their friends and relatives cannot forgive or forget.

Shame on Sens. Tester and Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg. Shame on all of them for doing and saying absolutely nothing to defend honest Montanans against exactly the kind of overzealous police-state federal government that Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers warned against.

Then there’s Attorney General Steve Bullock, who sold the state’s patients and their loved ones down the river in numerous ways. He refused to effectively enforce the law voters had adopted. He refused to help develop stricter rules that patient leaders and the health department sought, and again said and did nothing when the federal raids came. Many of us believe he had a hand in making the raids happen, to take a controversy off the table to clear the way for his next political ambition. And now he expects Montanans to trust that he will fight to defend all of us, as governor?

Gov. Brian Schweitzer is no better. He vetoed the first repeal bill, but he could have done so much over the years to help make the voter-passed medical marijuana law work smoothly, and he refused as well. Marijuana may not have been too hot for him to handle when he smoked it in college, but as governor, he cowered from the political heat of it, watched and allowed it to die. That’s not leadership. It’s cowardice. It’s not Montana values, either.

Many, many thousands of us will never again vote for any candidate who doesn’t speak and act to defend basic patient rights and to reform old-fashioned, cruel and failed drug policies. This may bring short-term electoral chaos since there are almost no Republicans we can support either, but we will stick with it for years to come. This November will see the beginning of a sustained and growing single-issue voter movement for marijuana reform, and we won’t stop until the insanity ends. We owe this much to our fallen comrades, now in federal prison, and our fallen patients, some now dead and others suffering unnecessarily. In the words of the Occupy movement: We will not forgive. We will not forget. Expect us.

Shane “Moose” Combs

Helena

The other circus

Posted on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 4:00 AM

The circus is coming to Missoula.

The Western Montana Shrine Club contracts with the Jordan World Circus, which has lost its U.S. Dept. of Agriculture exhibitor’s license due to failures to meet minimal federal standards for care as determined by the Animal Welfare Act. Previous citations include several for inadequate veterinary care, safety issues and substandard nutrition, water and housing. Jordan now leases its animals from other exhibitors.

Circus animals lead sad lives of deprivation, constant confinement and abusive training. Charitable work for one species shouldn’t depend upon the exploitation of another; attending the circus sends all the wrong messages to kids about our obligation toward other species. Instead, consider contacting the Western Montana Shrine Club to see if they can earmark a donation to “provide transportation and lodging for children and their families at the Shrine Hospital for Children in Spokane,” which is what they indicate a portion of circus proceeds are used for.

Rather than watching defeated, coerced animals performing unnatural acts, consider doing something life-affirming. Western Montana offers many opportunities to teach kids a lesson in compassion, from visits and volunteer work at traditional humane shelters to donations to New Dawn Montana farmed animal sanctuary. If you know a Shriner, encourage him to start advocating for animal-free circuses.

Even when circus tickets are free, the cost to animals is too steep.

Kathleen Stachowski

Lolo

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sack the Super PAC

Posted on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 4:00 AM

At the Flathead Democrat’s Spring dinner, we were reminded by Attorney General Bullock that Montana is still standing firm in defense of our state’s 100-year-old statute that prohibits corporate spending in non-federal elections.

Unfortunately, there is a serious possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will not issue a final decision on the Montana appeal or overturn the Citizen’s United case prior to the 2012 general election, and a timely constitutional amendment to change the current ruling seems unlikely as well. This means that the voters of Montana will be subjected to a barrage of unrelenting negative campaign ads designed to influence the outcome of our elections that will be paid for by Super PACS and large, out-of-state corporations that are not required to identify the sources of their funds.

In 1912, Montanans recognized the fact that large corporations were having an undue influence on state government, and we passed the Corrupt Practices Act, banning direct corporate contributions in political elections. Over the years this act has served Montana well. 2012 is not the year to allow rich, out-of-state entities to exert unfair influence on who is elected to serve the citizens of Montana.

As this election cycle plays out, I sincerely hope and trust that Montana voters will reject the sordid influence of the out-of-state money and revel in the tried and true electoral process that involves interacting with candidates as they campaign by going door to door, meeting their constituents face to face. Let’s try our best to learn about the most positive aspects of our candidates, and carefully choose the ones who we think will work together to make responsible decisions for our state. We must not let people from out of state tell us how to vote.

Edd Blackler

Bigfork

I miss panty raids

Posted on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 4:00 AM

Thank you for your excellent coverage on the local football team [“Illegal procedure,” April 12]. It’s nice to know the University of Montana football program’s high jinx have hit the big time. Forget panty raids, bonfires and keggers like the good old days. Bring on the pistol-whipping, home invasion, jaw-fracturing and sex, sex, sex. The latter, of course, only under the conditions of forced, non-consensual and drugged.

Which makes one realize that UM is looking in the wrong direction. They don’t need a new athletic director or football coach, they need a producer to promote the latest reality TV hit, “Jizz Nation”! Follow the sexploits of the errant few Jizzlies as they go from one sex crime to another. Watch school officials bob and weave, as if running the gauntlet of an NFL combine, to avoid blame and responsibility for the actions of players. Faster than you can say “felony sexual assault,” watch the new show displace “The Kar-trashians” as the best in reality TV. Go Jizz!

In all seriousness, the $2 million collected by the Grizzly Scholarship Association should be divided equally and paid to the men and women who’ve been on the receiving end of the assaults, sexual and otherwise, by the street thugs UM keeps trying to pass off to the paying public as upstanding college football players—thugs who are an embarrassment and disgrace to the students and players of UM whose pursuit in attaining victory in life and on the field is done so by playing by the rules on and off the field.

The UM president and provosts should put UM’s status as an institution of higher learning to good use in the form of a half-time program featuring the names and mug shots of all the Grizzly players convicted of crimes up on the big screen. What better way to educate the public, particularly the young Grizzly fans, about the real world of big-time college football programs? Moms and dads in the stands watching with their children can point to the mug on the big screen and remind their kids that that is the type of person they never want to be in life.

John Marshall

Hot Springs

Trapped in lies

Posted on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 4:00 AM

Thank you farmers, ranchers and sportsmen of Idaho who elected a governor with some balls: Butch Otter. Butch backed predator management controls to protect diminishing deer and elk herds. Idaho’s wolf control includes hunting, trapping and snaring by licensed, professionally trained trappers. Idaho’s wildlife management can be a model for the state of Montana. Thank you, Otter!

And thanks to animal rights activists for getting their way on the wolf recovery fiasco. Not only has wolf recovery cemented the solidarity of farm and ranch communities, but also the sportsmen’s groups that were once fragmented. We are now becoming one voice for managing healthy deer and elk herds.

I used to dislike wolves, but thanks to animal rights activists we will always be able to trap them. We also owe a big thanks to our little local anti-trapping group. Beware of their uncompromising stand on trapping and their unethical misinformation. They are trapped in their own lies, completely undermining their own credibility. This group ignores the fact that wolf recovery (as well as lynx, otter, fisher and swift fox) was accomplished with live-catch foothold traps “with no foot damage.”

A quote from L. David Mech, author of The Wolf: “If we carefully regulate wolf populations instead of overprotecting them, we can prevent a second wave of wolf hysteria, a backlash that could lead once again to persecution.” It’s a lesson for animal rights activists.

Bert Wustner

Lolo

False job promises

Posted on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 4:00 AM

When Gov. Brian Schweitzer allowed the heavy-handed and patently unjust eminent domain bill pushed by Canada’s Tonbridge Ltd. to become law last year, he called it “a deal with the devil.” He got that right!

House Bill 198 passed the legislature and became law on the promise of good jobs for Montana workers. It was even touted as the “Montana jobs bill of the session.” To “put Montanans to work,” HB 198 (unconscionably, in my opinion) changed Montana eminent domain law so that Tonbridge could run roughshod over the private property rights of Montana farmers and ranchers and expedite the construction of the Montana Alberta Tie Line. Regardless of any other arguments made for this bill, it simply would not have become law if not for the promise of jobs, jobs and more jobs for Montana workers.

Here’s the devil’s deal: Tonbridge (now Enbridge) got eminent domain powers to use against Montana farmers and ranchers, then contracted with out-of-state companies using out-of-state workers to build their power line. There were maybe a couple of Montana plates at construction sites. Bottom line: Out-of-state workers now have the jobs Montana workers should have.

This is a sad commentary on how our state too often falls for false job promises, even to the point of sacrificing something as valued, sacrosanct and time honored as private property rights. It’s time we look out first for Montana values, Montana workers, Montana families and Montana businesses. And jobs? Absolutely. Jobs for Montana workers—Montanans building Montana.

John Vincent

Montana Public Service Commission

Gallatin Gateway

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

That so-called "green energy"

Posted on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 3:47 PM

The Montana economy has followed the direction of the nation, with maybe the exception of a couple of our neighboring states. This recession has been the result of many failed governmental policies that attempted to choose winners and losers, beginning with the government policy that everyone should own a home, which brought on the real estate collapse, followed immediately by the banking disaster. In most every case that I know of, every time the government makes a policy decision to benefit a particular industry, the end result is that the American taxpayer ends up being on the hook for the "unintended consequences" of the failed experiment.

This is the situation that we have now with the "green energy" movement and the new wind and solar power policies. On the national front we have the Solyndra fiasco, in which the Department of Energy guaranteed the loan over the better judgment of the agency that oversees the commitment of federal funds. In Montana, we have taxpayer money committed to provide tax credits for energy conservation, alternative fuel, alternative energy and geothermal energy. The total taxpayer money used for these programs adds up to more than $12 million. To add insult to injury, the energy produced by these installations are being forced into the power grid at a cost that is much higher than the power produced by the current facilities that use hydro and fossil fuels. The argument is that wind power is lower cost. But without the federal and state subsidies and lower tax rates, the cost remains significantly higher, and if we calculate the added cost of required back-up generation, the cost skyrockets.

Don't assume that I'm against utilizing the wind or the sun as an energy source. On the contrary, any and all viable sources must be considered. Whatever the source, it must be supplied at a competitive price without extraordinary subsidies or tax considerations.

The cost of energy is a major factor for the recovery and future growth of our state. Consider Montana's economy since deregulation and the resulting run-up on prices. Because of high energy rates, Montana has lost industries and the jobs that they create. Look at the closing of Simpson Lumber, Smurfit-Stone and Columbia Falls Aluminum. Among those hit hardest are our schools. Families uproot and districts lose tax revenue. I am positive that Montanans will welcome alternative forms of energy, but only if the source does not result in higher cost of either electricity or taxes. Alternative energy must compete without special considerations.

Individuals who are elected to represent the consumer must have neither an agenda nor a passion for anything other than the lowest possible costs of energy for the consumer that is supplied by a public utility. Any attempt by the legislature, the Public Service Commission or a government agency to choose winners and losers will only result in inequities and an artificial economy that will constantly require additional support to survive. If allowed, the Montana economy will return to the strong and stable growth that we have enjoyed in the pasta strong economy that provides jobs for our families, a future for our young people and the revenue needed to support those programs that are needed by the citizens of Montana.

Sen. Bob Lake

Public Service Commission candidate

Hamilton

Fracking's good for Montana

Posted on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 3:46 PM

So what's all the fuss about fracking? Its most vocal opponents charge that fracking will burn your water, pollute your air and cause the very ground to shift beneath you. The oil and gas industry obviously disagree. So who's right?

Well, not being a scientist I have to base my opinions on information I get from trusted sources, as do most of fracking's detractors. And based on that information, my conclusion is that, just as the Keystone XL pipeline opposition isn't about pipelines, coal dust alarmism isn't about coal dust and mega-load obstructionism isn't about mega-loads, most of the fuss about fracking has little to do with the actual process and more to do with getting rid of fossil fuels.

Let's start with a simple, verifiable fact: In its 60-plus-year history, there has been no generally accepted peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating negative impacts of fracking on water supplies. That's zero, zip, nada. EPA administrator Lisa Jacksonhardly a fossil fuel advocatetold Congress just last year that there have been "no proven cases where the fracking process itself has affected water."

Sure, there are plenty of studies "proving" that fracking is either essential to mankind or, alternatively, to its inevitable downfall. Most of these tend to be a tad self-serving. As the old proverb says, a lie will go 'round the world while the truth pulls its boots on.

But what have those who are actually responsible for public safety said about fracking? Dimock, Penn., and Pavilion, Wyo., have been under the fracking microscope for years and are good indicators.

Residents in Dimock reported dirty water that was famously ignitable at times. But both state regulators and the EPA said claims relating those problems to fracking were unfounded and that the water posed "no immediate health concerns."

My humble abode is also over an aquifer that gets cloudy as melted snow enters the sandstone structure. It looks awful but is perfectly drinkable. We deal with it. And I can remember stories as a kid in northeast Montana of burning stock ponds as naturally occurring methane bubbled to the surface. It should come as no shock that methane gets into water wells in areas where there are also gas wells. That's where the gas is. Relating the two is a common but dangerous trick that tries to confuse coincidence and causation. It's just like my being cranky on days that end in "y" doesn't necessarily mean the letter "y" makes me cranky.

In the Wyoming case, the EPA came out with a 121-page draft report claiming that fracking contaminated ground water. But the report has not yet been peer reviewed and appears to leave some significant questions. It tested wells where hydrocarbons were already present and that were far deeper than drinking-water wells. Potential contamination could have come from "legacy pits" or even the testing process itself. And it ignored the fact that organic chemicals were present in local water supplies long before fracking was employed. In short, the jury is still out on this one.

A final report on fracking's impact on drinking water is due later this year. But it's likely to be anticlimactic. Fracking solutions are typically over 99 percent water and sand. If you're worried about the remaining one percent, you can look up individual well ingredients yourself at www.fracfocus.org.

So why all the fuss if the data is not all in and if what data there is proves no harm? It's a fuss because for the zealots, this argument is about fossil fuels and not fracking. Just like the Keystone pipeline, coal dust, mega-loads and so many other battles, this is about shutting down the fossil fuel industry, and facts are the first casualty in what is essentially a highly coordinated, well-financed public relations campaign.

It's also counterproductive. Cleaner, cheaper natural gas is rapidly replacing coal in the nation's energy grid, already accounting for about 25 percent of power production. That would not be possible without fracking. If you care about global warming and affordable electricity, you should be a fracking fan.

And finally, fracking's good for Montana. It brings in jobs, prosperity and tax revenues. The economic benefits are measurable and immediate. And the smiling faces of mothers and fathers in eastern Montana watching their kids put on their boots and go to high-paying jobs close to home are a welcome change.

Carl Graham

Montana Policy Institute

Helena

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Best thing in 12 years

Posted on Thu, Apr 5, 2012 at 4:00 AM

The article “Did prison make Colton Wilson sicker?” (March 22) about persons with mental illness in the Montana prison system was right on. I’ve not read anything better since Pat Bellinghausen’s series on mental illness in the Billings Gazette and Eric Newhouse’s award-winning series on alcoholism in the Great Falls Tribune, both in 2000. I do not know Jessica Mayrer, but I would bet we are going to be seeing a lot more of her work.

Charlie McCarthy

Disability Rights Montana

Helena

Wind: Get ’er done!

Posted on Thu, Apr 5, 2012 at 4:00 AM

The opinions expressed in the March 22 Independent regarding the extension of the wind energy Production Tax Credit and the status of wind power development within Montana were apparently based on limited knowledge (see “Etc.”).

It’s clear the impasse in Congress is systemic and not limited to the wind energy Production Tax Credit. Almost nothing seems to be able to “muster enough votes to pass” this Congress. “Why the impasse?” confounds nearly every American; it’s beyond me too. Fortunately, Montana’s senators are working hard to get an extension of this important incentive approved.

The dysfunction in Congress does matter. Suggesting congressional failure to extend the tax credit “may not make much of a difference” in Montana is naive and factually wrong. Montana’s wind energy industry has not “reached a plateau.” Wind companies are spending millions each year to develop projects within Montana. About 3,000 megawatts—a potential investment of $6 billion—is being actively pursued by various developers in the state. Gaelectric alone has 1,900 megawatts in its Montana project pipeline.

Wind-power development is not currently limited by transmission capacity on its existing lines. We do “have the transmission lines to get the power to markets that need it.” Gaelectric recently reserved enough space on existing transmission lines to move 510 megawatts from new wind power projects in Montana to market—a “firm” transmission pathway that would double wind generation in Montana without new wires.

Power demand nationally dropped during the recent recession, but it will rebound as the economy improves. Making policy decisions on questionable market projections has a dubious history here. Montana deregulated its electricity industry when experts suggested market prices would stay low indefinitely and customers would save compared to buying rate-based supplies. Experts told the 2009 Legislature that natural gas prices would stay high for the “foreseeable” future. Natural gas prices were about $10 a dekatherm at the time. Two months later, natural gas was trading at record low prices. Today, natural gas sells for about $3 a dekatherm and those same experts are predicting natural gas prices will stay low in the future. Go figure!

The “energy oversupply issues in the Pacific Northwest” that “forced Bonneville Power Administration to curtail 350 megawatts of wind energy generation last spring” were the result of record runoffs and wind projects being concentrated along the Columbia River, where they were all subject to the same wind and weather patterns. Wind production along the Columbia River and hydropower production from spring runoff peak at the same time—they do not complement one another. By comparison, Montana wind production peaks in the winter months; fortuitously, it complements the hydropower production in the Pacific Northwest.

Montana wind is much more attractive to utilities than more wind production along the Columbia River. Montana wind has a “geographic” advantage and adds value to the generation mix. Montana wind projects are significantly more energetic than other wind projects in the West. According to studies done for the state of Wyoming, Montana can produce wind power at a lower price than any other western state, including Wyoming. Public Service Commissioner Gail Gutsche recently wrote that electricity from Spion Kop, a wind farm south of Great Falls, “will cost less than Northwestern Energy’s share of electricity from the coal-burning facility at Colstrip. In addition, electricity produced at Spion Kop is lower than the average cost of electricity available on the market since 2000.” Power from the Judith Gap Wind Farm is even cheaper.

Wind power is just beginning to make an impact on Montana’s economy. Getting Congress to overcome the gridlock and extend the Production Tax Credit now is vital to Montana’s economy and our nation’s energy security. Let’s “get ’er done”!

Van Jamison

Gaelectric

Helena

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