Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When Barrasso photobombs Mitch McConnell...

The “repeal and replace” Obamacare fiasco is over for the moment. Now we need to talk about our Junior Senator. John Barrasso reminds me of Stephen Vincent Benet’s story “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”

“There was a man named Jabez Stone, lived at Cross Corners, New Hampshire. He wasn’t a bad man to start with, but he was an unlucky man. If he planted corn, he got borers; if he planted potatoes, he got blight. He had good enough land, but it didn’t prosper him.

“He’d been plowing that morning and he’d just broken the plowshare on a rock that he could have sworn wasn’t there yesterday.” His horse began coughing. At home his children and wife were ailing. It was the last straw.

“I vow it’s enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the Devil. And I would, too, for two cents.” The next day, the Devil arrived to cut the deal.

You’ve seen that ubiquitous photo of Senator Barrasso photo-bombing Mitch McConnell? It costs Wyoming more than you realize. Inclusion in that photo is not free. In order to be at the right hand of the Senate Leader, you must sell your soul to the Party leadership. Inclusion comes with more “Terms and Conditions” than benefits.

Wyoming pays a price. Being part of that photo means never questioning the Party regardless of what it costs your state. Don’t believe it? Ask yourself why independent Republicans like Maine Senator Susan Collins or Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski are never in the photo. They prefer representing constituents to photo-bombing Senator McConnell.

They are busy negotiating better deals with the Majority Leader rather than standing at his side. Not Wyoming’s junior Senator. Barrasso is so reliably in McConnell’s pocket that the GOP leadership never bothers to ask what Wyoming needs. Taken for granted, Barrasso goes along to get along. Wyoming pays a price.

Truthfully, Barrasso hasn’t received the credit he deserves for the failure of the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bills. He led the GOP chorus demanding the ACA’s repeal but produced nothing but bad ideas that would have damaged the lives of those he was elected to care about. Need proof that Wyoming voters don’t matter to Barrasso? Exhibit A was the bill he helped draft secretly, which would have taken healthcare from approximately 50,000 Wyoming citizens. He thought we wouldn’t notice his attempt to slash Medicaid. He’d have been gleeful to have destroyed people’s lives on a 51-50 vote.

Three courageous Republicans saved us from Barrasso’s folly. Independent GOP Senators, worried more about constituents than themselves, saved millions of Americans from losing health insurance while the Devil collected his due from John Barrasso.

In Benet’s story, Farmer Stone lived at “Cross Corners.” It’s the place Members of Congress make choices. It’s where lawmakers with empathy choose to help their hurting constituents and those with political ambition don’t. Stone, like Barrasso, made the wrong choice. He sold his soul for seven years. Barrasso sells his six years at a time.

Unlike Wyoming folks, Stone had an empathetic advocate. Daniel Webster represented his constituent with passion. Webster argued that Stone was the victim. He’s no Barrasso. He’s Barrasso’s constituents. Webster told the jury of “the early days of America and the men who had made those days.”

Jabez Stone was, according to his advocate, “an ordinary man who’d had hard luck and wanted to change it.” Webster argued his client represented those who “got tricked and trapped and bamboozled.” The jury agreed. Stone won. The Devil lost.

Applying Benet’s story to Barrasso’s sold soul, doesn’t allow John to be “an ordinary man who’d had hard luck and wanted to change it.” John is a politician, who could have offered his soul to his constituents. They are Jabez Stone. They’ve been “tricked and trapped and bamboozled” into voting for people like Barrasso.

Jesus warned we cannot serve two masters. John agrees. He chose to serve the powerful over the powerless. Great photo John, but Wyoming deserves better.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Our Congressional delegation ignores Trump-Kremlin collusion

You might have thought the only connection between Wyoming and Putin is our Congressional delegation’s willingness to ignore the Trump-Kremlin collusion. There is another and it is the connection that allows you to understand that when either Trump or Trump, Jr., says they were only discussing “adoptions” with the Russian president, something more sinister was afoot.

When Trump says they were only talking about adoptions, he is covering up the real purpose of their collusion.

The connection between Wyoming and the Trump-Russia scandal demonstrates what has been called “the butterfly effect.” The term comes from chaos theory, a mathematical interpretation of the underlying causes of patterns that appear random. The butterfly effect describes the impact minor disturbances can have on future events.

Chaos theory can be used to understand the current occupants of the White House. The butterfly effect helps us understand the impact of international politics on unsuspecting Wyoming families.

Its basics are explained metaphorically by Karen Marie Moning, author of “Darkfever.”

“A butterfly flaps its wings somewhere and the wind changes, and a warm front hits a cold front, off the coast of Africa and before you know it, you’ve got a hurricane closing in.”

In the context of current events, it goes like this. It all begins when someone steals hundreds of millions of dollars from the Russian treasury. An American-born British hedge-fund manager named William Browder lives in Moscow exposes the theft and the thieves.

The Russian government, whom you might expect to be pleased to learn of the corruption, is not. The Russians retaliate by confiscating much of Mr. Browder’s vast holdings and by deporting him. A butterfly has flapped its wings.

Mr. Browder hires a Moscow attorney named Sergei Magnitsky. Together they expose the extent of the government’s corruption. The winds have changed.

Mr. Magnitsky is arrested, thrown into prison, and is subsequently beaten to death by his captors. Browder makes the case a cause célèbre. A warm front then collides with a cold front somewhere over Russia.

The U.S. Congress passes the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act,” the Magnitsky Act for short. The 2012 law identifies specific Russians as human rights abusers and punishes those responsible for Magnitsky’s death by banning them from the USA and its banking system while imposing additional sanctions on Russia.

Vladimir Putin is furious. A hurricane closes in.

There isn’t much he can do to punish American lawmakers for passing the Magnitsky Act so he looks for far more vulnerable targets. Now, the flapping of the butterfly wings that caused the winds to change, and a warm front to hit a cold front off the coast of Africa, causes a hurricane. It hits Wyoming and, more specifically, the Wyoming Children’s Society, which operated a highly successful program helping families adopt Russian orphans. Putin retaliates against the lawmakers who passed the Magnitsky Act by banning the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans.

The Russian adoption program abruptly ends while Wyoming citizens along with some 200 other American families are awaiting Russian children to join their homes. One Wyoming family was actually in Moscow expecting to bring two children home with them as Putin crushes dreams and hopes at Christmastime 2012.

When you hear Trump and his son met with Russians to talk about “adoptions,” they are admitting to something far less benign. Their discussions with Putin and others were about a much more complicated series of events that started much earlier with the flapping of butterfly wings and extended to Putin’s cruel decision to end American adoptions of institutionalized Russian children Putin’s government neglects.

The discussion of adoptions isn’t about these children but whether Putin will get what he wants, an end to U.S. sanctions and a repeal of the Magnitsky Act.

In the obscure and often unsavory world of international politics, butterflies are always flapping their wings. The hurricanes that generates generally have unintended consequences that harm those for whom the instigators have little regard. Such was the case when the Russian dictator’s decision brought hurt to Wyoming families who were only trying to create a better life for Russian orphans.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Are robocalls "free speech"?

Free speech isn’t free. In fact, what passes for “free speech” today may cost us our freedom.

Those who turned democracy into a money-driven, hate-fueled venture are determined to drive the last nail in America’s coffin. The First Amendment is their hammer. Wyoming is now the battleground to remake our Republic in the image of those with money in their pockets and hate in their hearts.

Recently a Michigan robo-call company filed a Wyoming lawsuit arguing they have a First Amendment right to misinform you with annoying and misleading automated calls. 

Republics are defined by democratic characteristics. Power is located in the people’s right to elect representatives. Inherent is the requirement that voters be sufficiently informed that the process is connected to their interests and those of the nation.

Courts are being asked to make certain those with money control the mechanics of informing the voters.

There’s a fight in our Divided States of America to determine whether voters are informed or misinformed. Like combat units softening up the enemy with mortars before the infantry charges, vilifying the media was the opening salvo. The second stage of this battle is what Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s last genuine republicans, warned us about.

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country,” he said. That future Lincoln saw was one in which “corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

That’s the coffin in which some strive to lay our Republic. To the lasting shame of conservatives, the most sacred of our Constitutional protections is being used to accomplish their goals.

Seven years ago, conservatives persuaded the Supreme Court to lay the groundwork for an oligarchy, a form of government in which the supreme power no longer resides in the voters but in a small group of economically powerful people. It’s money and the power it buys, not votes, that matter.

In a 2010 decision, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” the Court sided with big money over the voters. By a 5-4 vote, the justices said free-speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment allow corporations and political action committees to spend unrestricted amounts of money to “inform” the voters. They also protected “misinformation” under the First Amendment.

These aren’t actual humans volunteering to help candidates by calling potential voters. These are thousands of unsolicited, unwanted, and frequently deceptive computer-generated calls.

Calls made by unaccountable organizations with misleading names, deprive voters of any knowledge of their motives. They make misleading assertions intended, not to inform, but to misinform. A particular subset of voters is targeted after polls show the specific message that might sway them.

The message is seldom fact based.  Evidence in a South Carolina suit showed robocallers falsely tying Democrats running for the state legislature to Nancy Pelosi. Because the caller and the sponsoring committee are basically anonymous, claims are made without regard for accuracy. The process requires lots of money and “Citizen’s United” made sure some had it.

That’s what passes for “free speech” in today’s America.

Conservatives care little that you don’t want your phone ringing incessantly and causing unwanted intrusions at all hours of the day, spewing negative campaigning. It’s their bread and butter.

They believe their right to what they call free speech is greater than your right to be free of their speech.

Some are so committed to winning they are willing to use the constitution against the Republic. These tactics turn off voters, driving them away from the process at precisely the time they need to fight back. That may be the robocaller’s goal.

Wyoming judges must decide whether free speech includes perverting the constitution. Wyoming judges can protect the Republic or become accomplices to burying it.