Monday, April 30, 2012

Does Cheyenne need a rec center?

Does Cheyenne really need the recreation center the city has planned...or unplanned, as the case may be? It seems to me there are more than enough recreational opportunities for those who can afford to pay. What about those who cannot? Will the recreation center the city wants the voters to approve simply compete with private enterprise centers for the same members? Or should it meet an unmet need? I would like your thoughts as I struggle with how to vote on this matter.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is your legislator a "Smart-ALEC" ?

I was a Wyoming state legislator for 10 years and a professional lobbyist for twice that long. In one capacity or another including serving a few times as the chaplain, I was involved in every session of the state legislature from 1967 until 2011. Some may question how much I learned in those 44 years but I will tell you this. I know lobbying when I see it.

Those who appear not to be lobbying do the most effective lobbying. Lobbyists are about as popular with the public as are politicians. We used to joke among ourselves, “Please don’t tell my mother I’m a lobbyists. She thinks I play piano in a cat-house.”

The game is that lobbyists pretend not to be peddling influence and legislators pretend not to be swayed by those who peddle influence. When damage is done to the public interest, they each stand there like Pontius Pilate, washing their hands.

The best lobbyists are amateurs compared to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Legislators, who’ve been wined and dined by ALEC, if honest, would be as stunned as I to read this disingenuous disclaimer on ALEC’s webpage. “ALEC does not lobby in any state.” Even more stunning is to learn they are a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation.

Their board of directors is not exactly a list of the American Public Interest Hall of Fame. It includes executives from Wal-Mart, AT&T, Exxon-Mobile, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Glaxo-Smith-Kline, Koch Brothers Companies and, interestingly, the American Bail Association.  If that sounds like a group of folks out to protect your family, you need a refresher course on political science. Which of these organizations has a reputation for simply seeking good government in spite of their own special interests?

In a highly technical sense, ALEC doesn’t lobby “in any state” as it claims. They leave that to legislators who fall under their spell. They host legislators at expensive resorts. Their May meeting is in Charlotte. During these conferences corporate folks spend quality time with your legislators, time you would never be afforded, costing what you could never afford. When they aren’t attending receptions or playing golf together, they participate in drafting “model legislation” for their legislative minions to carry home.

By the time the meeting ends, your legislator is fully equipped, returning home with a draft bill and all the talking points. It doesn’t take a political scientist to see what’s going on here. ALEC uses tax-deductible corporate donations to entertain state legislators who then carry home the bills these corporations want enacted. ALEC doesn’t need to lobby because its members have legislators doing not only the legislating but the lobbying as well. It’s genius! It also seriously undermines the independence of those we elect.

More than a third of Wyoming legislators belong to ALEC. They downplay the ALEC’s influence.  ALEC downplays its influence. It doesn’t serve either to acknowledge ALEC’s clout. But you can see it in the bills introduced and enacted. Wyoming legislators have returned from ALEC meetings to introduce bills supporting the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporate funding of election campaigns, directing the attorney general to join lawsuits against federal Obamacare, regulating immigration, denying citizens access to courts when injured through corporate negligence, and preventing the state from regulating greenhouse gases.
Last weekend a guest editorial about why Wyoming should not implement a health insurance exchange appeared. It supported Wyoming legislators who have decided not to move ahead with an initiative to help uninsured Wyoming people find health coverage. An ALEC staff person wrote the editorial.
Perhaps the definition of lobbying has changed since I lobbied and was lobbied but I think I know it when I see it. ALEC member-legislators are not citizen-legislators as they claim. They are lobbyist-legislators, serving national corporate interests rather than the public interest.

Before you vote this November, remember the sum total of the special interest protected by ALEC and their members-legislators does not equal the public interest.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What do Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan and Cynthia Lummis have in common?

The federal budget sets a vision for the kind of country we want, the kind of people we are. That’s why the Paul Ryan version of that vision, his budget is so disconcerting.

Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis voted for it, claiming Ryan’s plan “would dramatically cut government spending, balance the national budget and returns Medicare power and decisions back to our nation’s seniors and out of the hands of unelected bureaucrats.” Really? It won't balance the budget until 2040, includes $4.6 trillion in tax cuts over the next 10 years boosting millionaires' incomes by a whopping 12.5 per cent and 62 per cent of the cuts in the plan target low-income Americans.
Ryan is an Apostle of a mid-20th Century atheist whose worldview most Americans would find radically wrong. As Ayn Rand prepared to write Atlas Shrugged, the book Ryan and others hold sacred, she expressed her opinion of Jesus and Christianity. 

Rand and Ryan believe Jesus was off track when he said, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’” Rand said that teaching is contrary to human success. “There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus,” Rand writes.
The idea that in order to save one’s soul, one must love or help others leads to Christianity’s “failure.”

Ryan resolves the contradiction by removing the part about helping others. Once you understand that Ryan is motivated by Rand’s views, it’s easier to understand the draconian budget he’s proposed. What’s not so easy to understand is why Lummis, supports it, even over Al Simpson and Erskine Bowles’ well thought out alternative.

The Simpson-Bowles Plan recognizes the urgency of reducing the nation’s debt. Their idea is that we all share the sacrifice. The Rand-Ryan-Lummis idea is different, at odds not only with Simpson-Bowles but also with the social justice views of people of faith.

One section of their plan with an Orwellian title, “Repairing the Social Safety Net” calls for sacrificing education, housing, Pell Grants, medical care, food stamps and other programs the middle class relies on. No one questions the middle class will have to sacrifice but the Rand-Ryan-Lummis budget doesn’t ask the wealthy to sacrifice a thing. They’re not asked to put even a pigeon on the altar, much less a fatted calf.

The most troubling part of Lummis’ support for this radical proposal is what it does to Medicaid, the program elderly people rely on for medical care. The changes don’t affect those near the qualifying age. The next generation had better buckle up.  If Lummis’ idea becomes law, today’s Medicaid will be replaced by vouchers. The government will exchange the promise to provide the elderly with healthcare with vouchers. Old folks can go out on the dysfunctional insurance market and search for an insurance company willing to take their voucher. Lummis argues this is necessary to reduce the costs of Medicaid.

How will it reduce the costs of Medicaid? The vouchers will never pay the full costs of private insurance. The “savings” will become a tax on the elderly who have to take the difference out of their pockets or the pocket of their children. Under the Rand-Ryan-Lummis plan, they’ll have to ante up from their retirement savings to pay their parents’ medical bills when the vouchers fall short.

As Alas Shrugged unmerciful ends, John Galt, who organized a strike to assure the wealthy do not contribute anything to the well-being of the country, looks over the ruin of the nation. Drawing a large $ sign in the dirt, he says, “Now we can return.”

The Ryan-Lummis budget allows the wealthy elite to return to the days before capitalism was given a conscience by Franklin Roosevelt. Their view of our nation is at odds with Judeo-Christian ethics. The other religions don’t think much of taking from the poor and giving to the rich either. Lummis must be asked whether she will represent the mainstream views of Wyoming people, the radicalism of Paul Ryan or the atheism of Ayn Rand. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An Orwellian Wonderland!

The settlement of the WyWatch lawsuit against the State of Wyoming is what you get when you cross Alice in Wonderland with George Orwell. It’s an Orwellian Wonderland!

WyWatch exists only to deprive people of their constitutional rights, but has wrangled an admission from the State that it violated their constitutional rights.

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice. “Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
 “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

It gets curiouser and curiouser. WyWatch spends time at the state capitol lobbying for legislation intended to deny constitutionally protected rights and then uses the courts to protect their own. I suppose that on an academic level, I get it but as the Duchess
told Alice, “The moral of that is -- The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours.”

The WyWatch website describes the reason the organization exists. “WyWatch PAC is a political action committee registered in the state of Wyoming that seeks to protect innocent life, parental rights, the sanctity of marriage, educational choice for families, and uphold God given liberties based on the word of God along with the United States and Wyoming Constitutions.”

And “The Red Queen shook her head, “You may call it “nonsense” if you like,” she said, “but I’ve heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!”

In his classic, 1984, George Orwell called it “doublethink.” According to Orwell, “Doublethink is the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.... to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies - all this is indispensably necessary-and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

Accusing WyWatch of “doublethink” therefore allows one to acknowledge they actually believe what they say even though it’s not true. While claiming to “uphold God given liberties based on the Word of God along with the United States and Wyoming Constitutions” WyWatch endeavors to deny the constitutional rights of women to choose and those constitutional rights that many courts have recognized for same-sex couples to marry, claiming to uphold both the Constitution and the Word of God. All the while they use a distorted and narrow, self-serving view of both.

The settlement of their lawsuit against the state allows them to remain “one leap ahead of the truth.” Taxpayers cough up $30,000 for their attorneys and they continue their campaign to deny the constitutional rights of others.

Alice said, Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever say in my life!” Perhaps Orwell said it even better, “Don't you see that the whole aim is to narrow the range of thought? Has it ever occurred to you Winston that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?

The word “hypocrisy” is too weak a word to describe this. The word “chutzpah” gets closer but inadequate.  Using the Word of God to create hatred of another may violate the Greatest Commandments. Using your constitutional rights as a tool to deprive others of theirs means 2+2 no longer equals four and that equation is what Orwell thought was the key to freedom.  So, the best words may be un-American and/or un-Christian.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

When they say "It isn't about race" you can bet it is.

A letter to the editor this week asked that we take “race “ out of the debate over the killing of Trayvon Martin. Can we take race out of the debate when we know that if the shooter were black and the dead body white, there would have been an arrest?  A black man with the gun would be required to prove his self-defense claim in a court of law.  Who then would have asked us to take race out of the debate? Would there even have been a debate?

Two months ago in Cheyenne a Hispanic mother killed herself and her daughter because of an unjust, racist immigration policy. A local business employed the mother and others who were targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When the decision was made to enforce the law, as always, if anyone was going to be in trouble with the law-enforcers, it was going to be the workers, not those who employed them.

Those we pay to enforce the unjust law raided her home and threatened to have her deported even though federal law precluded her deportation because she was a victim of domestic violence. She surrendered her own life and that of her child rather than be sent back to a community where they would likely be killed anyway by a violent, psychotic spouse.

The deaths of a mother and daughter become easier to tolerate if we just take race out of the discussion. Take race out of that conversation and she’s nothing more than an illegal immigrant. We can put her and her daughter in the same compartment some would like to put Trayvon. “It is not about race,” we can shout. “It’s about the law and lawbreakers.”

We white people have a uniquely white ability to compartmentalize these things. That ability is itself racist in nature.  When white people say it’s not about “race” you can bet it is. Take race out of these questions and we get to ignore the fact that all the institutions we created for lawmaking, law-enforcing and law-imposing were established to protect white privilege. Sometimes consciously, often subconsciously, we like the benefits of being white and are not about to give them up by allowing an issue like this to implicate race.

If it’s not about race, why do the results fall most heavily on people of color?  The ICE raid targeted employees of a local business, one that employed undocumented workers. Where is the outrage about that? There have been no calls for enforcement of that law. The homes of the employees, not the place of business of the employer, were raided. Their lives and futures were threatened but not the employer who hired them…that’s white privilege.

That’s also racism. Racism is the use of political, legal, economic and social power to limit the rights and opportunities of people who are different.

Racism in overt form as it once existed is rare. Slavery and Jim Crow are history. Gone are the “Whites Only” signs over the water fountains. The right to vote has been secured for people of color. Not near as many people of color are lynched these days. But racism remains, enshrined in immigration law, in federal sentencing guidelines, racial profiling and in laws allowing some to shoot others to death in order to “stand your ground.”

Look honestly at the racial disparity that exists in everything from employment and education to housing, law enforcement, incarceration, foster care, juvenile justice and more. If race is not the reason, why do the negative statistics always fall most heavily on people of color? Accident? Natural consequences of capitalism? No. It’s racism.

We can’t have an honest dialogue about how race if white people insist that race be removed from the debate. Instead we should consider finally facing the facts and ending the racism.