Wednesday, December 6, 2017

“If you don’t have the money, you don’t matter honey.”

That smell? It’s the rotting corpse of the American political system. It’s been displayed in an open casket since the Supreme Court decided “Citizens United,” allowing corporations and shell political action committees to spend untold amounts of money buying politicians.

It can be resurrected for the public good or for the good of the special interests. It’s up to the voters.

The University of Wyoming recently produced “Fascism! The Musical.” Sean Stone wrote the music and lyrics. One of his lyrics says, “If you don’t have the money, you don’t matter honey.”

That poignantly describes the results of the autopsy which exposed a body politic whose arteries were clogged with dark money.

Representative Chris Collins paraphrased Stone’s lyrics speaking of the GOP’s plan to raise the deficit in order to give extraordinary tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Collins quoted Republican donors telling the politicians they bought that if they can’t get what they want out of tax reform “don’t call me again.”

Senator Lindsey Graham agreed. What matters is not the future of the middle class, nor the ballooning deficit, or those who will lose healthcare under the GOP tax bill. What matters, Graham admitted, is that “the financial contributions will stop if tax reform fails.”

It’s not just Republicans. Big money is the root of all evil in both parties.

The musical’s playbill included an essay about the work’s import. Stone said, “Americans today find themselves living under a government that has no interest in governing for the benefit of its citizenry.”

Can Stone get an “amen” from the left and the right?

Wyoming’s congressional delegation is a part of the problem. Their conviction that only those with money matter is apparent in the refusal to hold a town hall meetings to listen to constituents. It was evident in the surreptitious way Enzi and Barrasso participated in closed door meetings to draft a secret plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The sum total of all special interests does not equal the public interest. Political contributions from banks, pharmaceuticals, energy companies, and other corporate powers is the only explanation for the way in which Congress casts aside the public’s interest. It’s why politicians ignore climate change and their constituents’ needs while deregulating the big banks, prohibit the government from negotiating drug costs, and neuter consumer and worker protection laws.

A lack of interest in serving the public interest is evident in the Wyoming legislature where big money elects legislators who refuse to increase tobacco taxes or impose other taxes rather than slashing education and other social services. 

You can bet big money interests are endeavoring to resurrect the corpse of American democracy. They’d like a plutocracy, a government controlled by a small, very wealthy minority.

A story from Hebrew Scripture provides hope for those who don’t matter to politicians. The “David and Goliath” myth teaches that the little guy has a chance. There is hope when the citizens who have been ignored decide that enough is enough. First, they have to recognize what has happened to them and why.

A movie titled “Charlie and Goliath” premiers in Cheyenne December 7 at the Lincoln Theater. It’s about Charlie Hardy’s 2014 senate campaign against Mike Enzi. Charlie plays David. Goliath is played by big money. Charlie raised $62,469, Enzi 3.3 million. Spoiler alert: Charlie doesn’t win. He lost just as every other severely underfunded candidate loses in a nation where Goliath stalks the political system.

Alas, the movie doesn’t have a “David and Goliath,” happy ending. “Charlie and Goliath” does have an equally important message. “Wake up, Wyoming.”

Democracy’s corpse can be resurrected for the good of the people. Wyoming Promise is soliciting signatures to put the question of whether elections can be bought on the state ballot. Citizens united can overcome “Citizens United.”

It’s true today that, “If you don’t have the money, you don’t matter honey.” But, we still have the right to vote and our votes can change those lyrics.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Congressmen discriminate-Taxpayers pay to settle

Why do we have to rely on journalists to tell us these things. Don’t we have three members of Congress with that responsibility?

It was not from Senators Mike Enzi or John Barrasso, nor Representative Liz Cheney that we learned taxpayers are paying to settle discrimination lawsuits against congressmen. Why the secrecy? It’s how members of Congress, including ours, like it.

John Conyers is being hung out to dry and rightly so. But why should he be the only one when secret congressional dossiers protect other members?

Here’s how it works. A member of Congress engages in unlawful discrimination. Sometimes it’s sexual harassment or gender discrimination. Sometimes they illegally discriminate based on religion, disability, or race. Sometimes they just want to cover up their corrupt, partisan zealotry.

As an example of how corrupt this is, according to the Washington Post, the chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) used $150,000 in these taxpayer dollars to settle with a former aide and cover up allegations that he was fired in part because he was not willing to focus his investigative work on Hillary Clinton.

We don’t know which category or which congressmen because Congress keeps these things between themselves.

We don’t even know whether a member of Congress from Wyoming has been involved. 

What we do know, thanks to the same media some politicians want you to distrust, is that over the last 20 years, 15-17 million dollars have been paid out to quietly settle 268 cases and make them go away.

We also know Congress surreptitiously arranged for a special fund to have the taxpayers cover the costs. The average settlement is just under 65 thousand dollars.

Why can’t rely on Misters Enzi or Barrasso or Ms. Cheney to tell us these things? Because they are a part of the conspiracy to make sure we don’t know. We are just voters and taxpayers. We aren’t allowed to know how much this illegal behavior is costing. We aren’t allowed to know the nature of the unlawful discrimination. We just foot the bill.

The most highly guarded secrets are the names of the congressmen and women who are guilty. Anyone victimized by one of these politicians cannot even think about filing a complaint unless he or she is willing to sign a lengthy non-disclosure agreement. If you’ve been discriminated against, you can’t even tell your spouse about the matter without violating this contract.

Our congressmen and women have created a legalistic process which is designed to do three things. First, the process is intended to discourage a victim from filing a complaint. Second, it is designed to protect the offending politician from being found out. Third, the process makes certain that if anyone has to pay, it will be the taxpayers, not the guilty member of Congress.

The process protects the violators while further victimizing the victims. The victims are forced to take action to protect themselves. Women on Capitol Hill keep book on which members of Congress to avoid. Some members are known for taking advantage of young women who work on their staffs or serve as interns.

You can bet, our three members of Congress could name names. Don’t bet on them doing so. They are in on the secrets and on the plans to keep them secret.

When these shenanigans were discovered and made public, the reaction of Congress was to consider a rule that requires members to undergo mandatory non-discrimination training. Imagine that. The people we elect to Congress apparently don’t have enough self-control. They have to be trained to keep their hands off of those with whom they work?

C’mon. They don’t need to be trained. They need to be named. Once again, the public can’t rely on Congressmen to do it. That’s okay. The media will.

Wyoming’s Senators and Representative need to come clean about this mess. What did they know and when did they know about this slush fund and why have they covered it up?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Time for UW to apologize to the Black 14

You may or may not agree with Colin Kaepernik’s beliefs but the truth is he risked his career to say what he believed. When did any of his harshest critics ever take such a risk? Instead they sit safely in the cheap seats, screaming along with Pontius Trump, “Crucify him!”

Sports figures have often been more willing to take personal risk than politicians. Before Kaepernik was Muhammad Ali. History proves Ali right for refusing to serve in Vietnam. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos were ostracized when they raised clinched fists protesting racism while receiving their medals at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

Then came Wyoming’s Black 14.

In the midst of the current debate over whether black athletes have a right to express themselves in the land of the free, the University of Wyoming has some unfinished business. Another football season is nearing an end without an apology to the 14 football players whose UW careers were sacrificed to “Equality State” bigotry.

It was 1969. Skin color divided the nation. Wyoming wouldn’t be permitted to remain on the sidelines. The controversy visited Wyoming’s most sacred shrine, UW football.

The Cowboy football team was one of America’s best, ranked 12th nationally. The Pokes were 4-0 to begin a season after they nearly upset Louisiana State University in the Sugar Bowl, then one of the four major bowl games played on New Year’s Day. The Pokes were preparing to play their biggest rival, Brigham Young University.

Though the policy has since changed, the Church of Latter Day Saints barred African Americans from its priesthood. Many of the African American ball players said that a year earlier, when the Cowboys defeated BYU at Provo, they had been subjected to racial taunts from BYU players and fans. In October 1969, BYU, an LDS school was headed to Laramie to play the Pokes. Fourteen African Americans UW football players asked to protest what they felt was racism by wearing black armbands.

Coach Lloyd Eaton’s didn’t take time to hear them out. He had no interest in their concerns.

Eaton had previously demonstrated a racist penchant when one of his black players planned to marry a white woman and asked him to approve a request for married student housing. “That’s not gonna happen,” Eaton barked. “I can’t let you marry this girl on Wyoming’s money.” Eaton was apparently referring to the scholarship he believed purchased the young man’s Constitutional rights.

When the black players appeared in his office, the quick-tempered Eaton dismissed all 14 from the team, depriving them of their scholarships. Everyone from the University’s board to the Governor, legislators, white teammates, Cowboy fans, and much of the public promptly sided with Eaton.

Much of the opposition to the 14 had unmistakable racial overtones. Many fans followed the example of the politicians taunting the 14 student-athletes. At least one proudly waved a Confederate flag during the following week’s game.

Martha J. Karnopp, a Denver lawyer, was a Laramie school teacher in 1969. Martha recalled the ubiquitous bumper stickers reading “I Support Lloyd Eaton.” She said, “I didn't have bumper stickers, my views were known and it was NOT fine! I later lost my teaching job, partially due to this incident. The only group in the state who saw the injustice and did NOT support the coach was the law school faculty. So, I chose to go to law school.”

It took years before the university could recruit exceptional African-American ballplayers and many more seasons before they won another conference title. The Black 14 incident remains a stain on Wyoming’s reputation.

Nothing ever damaged UW’s image so much as the Black 14 incident. If those men were invited to stand at the fifty-yard line of the stadium where they once played football to receive a formal apology from the Governor and UW’s President, affirmed by a standing ovation from today’s fans, much of the stain would be removed. 

It’s been 48 years. But, it’s never too late to do the right thing.