Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is it robbery to help the poor or to make war?

This morning's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle published a letter from Mr. Wally Rayl explaining how a concern for social  justice leads to socialism. At the end of his letter, the editor offered a disclaimer inviting others to "weigh in" on the issue but saying they had heard enough from Wally and me. That makes sense. Wally and I have had two bites at the apple and have unquestionably failed to persuade each other.

I have left only my meager blog with which to respond. So here it is...the column I had planned to submit to the WTE this week but...

An open letter to my fellow Christians (and others) who believe taking from the rich to give to the poor is “robbery.”

Ponder this. Is it "robbery" to tax the very wealthiest to help the poor? Or is it "robbery" to tax us all to fund a war that should have never been fought?

That’s one of the issues behind the debate stirred by a recent column of mine claiming Jesus has a preference for the poor. Many anonymous comments responded on the WTE website, others signed letters to the editor. I welcome the criticism. More importantly, I welcome the dialogue. What the faith community lacks, in my view, is an open, honest, theological reflection.

Churches don’t often provide much of a forum for the testing of ideas. Those with questions are often discouraged from asking the toughest. A diet of pabulum may feed the spiritually hungry but it doesn’t fill them. Pabulum is not only bland food for infants, it’s also “unsatisfying intellectual material: material whose intellectual content is thin, trite, bland, or generally unsatisfying.”

The answer to the “robbery question," like all answers for which Christians seek an answer is found in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. That includes the question, "Does Jesus have a preference for the poor?" The Bible says yes. The Jesus I learned about in Sunday school most certainly does. He’s the one who healed the sick, fed the hungry, defended those who were rejected and challenged their oppressors. Some who questioned my argument replied that Jesus loved and hung out with everyone, preferred no one. Truly he loved everyone. And he did hang out with the rich folks occasionally…like when he urged them to sell what they own and give the money to the poor and warned that for them, getting into Heaven would be akin to a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

His first sermon brought his purpose into focus. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." That sermon nearly got him killed three years ahead of schedule.

How do we know Jesus had a preference for the poor? By reading the scripture. Biblical scholars count more than 300 verses directly addressing the needs of the poor. The Jesus who said we would know the Father if we knew him was not just talking about “poor in Spirit.” He spent his time with those on the margins. He tells the parable of a rich man and a poor one, and how the poor man goes to heaven and the rich man doesn’t. He tells of others who’ll be surprised they didn’t get into paradise because they didn’t take care of him when he was naked, hungry or in prison. Indeed, that was the judgment parable.

God said, “If there is a poor man among you…you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him.

True, Jesus said nothing about tax policy, but was clear about the hearts of those who have. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48. It’s odd for some who otherwise take parts of scripture literally to suggest Jesus would be happy with politicians who deprive the poor while providing for the rich.

It’s even more odd that some believe it to be “robbery” to tax those who have to help those who don’t? Why do they not ascribe “robbery” to the taking of money from rich and poor alike  to make war? Dwight Eisenhower did. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

The real “robbery” is not the money spent helping the poor. It’s the money spent to make war. Jesus would have no difficulty in seeing that. Sadly, some of his followers do.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

No agenda for children and families?

If you listen to Governor Mead talk about natural resource issues you cannot help but be impressed. He has a working knowledge of water law, oil and gas development, public lands and the complexities of environmental law.

The Governor has appointed leaders who are more than competent on those issues. Some served under Governor Freudenthal. Others have been around even longer. They have a deep understanding not only of the issues but also of the players in the federal government and the private energy sector. They comprehend how the complex puzzles fit together. While I don’t always agree with the Governor on these matters, I am comfortable that decisions are well considered by thoughtful people. I believe they have an agenda and a vision for where they want to go during Mr. Mead’s term in office.

So what happened with children and families?

If this administration has an agenda for children and families, it’s a well-kept secret. The problems confronting Wyoming’s children and families, however, are not such a secret. This week another report demonstrated the state’s failure to meet the challenge. The National Partnership for Women and Families graded all states on how well it supports new and expecting families. Wyoming received an “F.”

Data on the Wyoming Children’s Alliance website provides evidence of why this administration should be more aggressive in finding solutions to the problems of children and families Sixteen percent of children through four years of age live in poverty as do more than half of all Wyoming children living in a home where there is no father.

This administration has no healthcare plan other than to send lawyers to court to stop healthcare reform. Yet twenty-eight percent of mothers do not receive adequate prenatal services. One in five Wyoming adults with responsibility for raising children don’t have health insurance and more than a third of those adults, even those with some insurance, cannot afford to see a doctor when they should.

Efforts to reform the juvenile court system that had great momentum under the last governor have ground to a halt under this one. Likewise, there’s been no apparent progress on early childhood development in the first two years of this administration.

During the administrations of the last two governors, Jim Geringer, a Republican, and Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, very public efforts were undertaken to reduce underage drinking. It worked. Lifetime use of alcohol dropped by nearly 15%.  Young people drinking within the last 30 days declined by more than a quarter. Binge-drinking among those who were not old enough to drink fell by more than 28%. All of those numbers have been heading in the right direction. But the successes were not accidental. They resulted from leaders who put the issue high on their agenda. The downward trend will not continue unless this Governor does the same.

And yet there is no indication the current Governor has a children and families agenda much less one that gives priority to these important causes. The absence of such an agenda is especially troubling as the state descends into another round of budget cuts. Anyone can cut a budget.  But without a plan and a strategy, the cuts will fall most onerously on the heads of those who have always been left behind. If the Governor doesn’t make children and families a priority, can his appointees be expected to do so? .

Children and families may have lobbyists who care about their issues but they don’t have the same access as those who want the Governor’s time and attention on energy development, land use, water and other natural resource issues. The Governor must be the one who balances his time and attention. A four year term goes by faster than anyone on the inside would like. Matt Mead’s term is nearly half gone now. The children and families of Wyoming can’t afford a four-year attention lapse in the Governor’s office.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why is Governor Mead dodging this state's rights fight??

It is curious how the Governor picks and chooses his battles. He ordered Wyoming to join nine other states in an effort to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a ban on same-sex marriage. Previously Governor Matt Mead ordered the Attorney general to join in the battle to have the Affordable Healthcare Act declared unconstitutional. While he approves efforts to deny the right to marry and the right to adequate healthcare, Wyoming’s Governor was more shy about protecting the rights of states to regulate corporate contributions in political campaigns.

Recently a special interest group appealed a state court decision giving validity to the rights of states to regulate the influence of money on elections. The case involves Montana law directly. But indirectly it involves most states with laws designed to limit campaign contributions. 

Twenty-two other states, the District of Columbia and senator Jong McCain joined the Montana cause in the Supreme Court. Wyoming was not one of them even though several western states were. Utah, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico and Montana signed up to protect state’s rights. But not Wyoming.

Apparently only some state’s rights are worth protecting. Or to put it another way, some rights are worth denying.

There is a growing bipartisan consensus against the decision of the Supreme Court giving corporations the status of citizens when it comes to using their money to buy elections. We have only begun to see the corruptive, corrosive influence the Citizens United decision is having on our democracy. A very small number of very wealthy protagonists are dumping millions of dollars into making sure this will be the ugliest election in American history. All of that was made possible on a 5 men in black robes with lifetime appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The pointless presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich was kept alive by regular transfusions of dollars by one family. The Adelsons of Las Vegas gave him 20 million dollars, which he used like Monopoly money to buy negative ads in a hopeless cause. A PAC created by Karl Rove has raised 56 million dollars. Nearly 60% of that came from three wealthy Texans.  The Democrats hands are not clean either. It’s the way that five of the nine members of the Supreme Court want politics to be played.

Many states feel differently. Montana and others want the state legislature to be able to have a say in just how much a few rich folks can spend in their effort to buy the political system. There is not a more important state’s right issue in America today because our very democracy is at stake.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Has the Wyoming GOP become too liberal for you?

Been worried that the Wyoming Republican Party has gotten too liberal?  Alas, somebody is doing something about it. The CROWs (Conservative Republicans of Wyoming) are coming to the rescue. CROW has a website ( and has begun issuing hunting licenses for RINO’s. Not the African jungle kind. These RINOs are “Republicans in name only.” CROW has sited them wandering the halls of the legislature, dressed in GOP garb, but voting like liberal, godless Democrats.

RINOs have no principles according to CROW. But the CROWs have their own. Excuse my paraphrase…God is great, Man is not, government is bad, the family, only as defined by CROW, is more important than any individual, government exists only to fight wars, keep “those people” (my words) out and to protect life beginning, as determined by those who disdain science, at conception. CROW will assure laws are passed at the lowest common denominator, “a rigorously originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution” and prohibit government from doing anything for anyone that they should be doing for themselves.
And the one I find most darkly entertaining: “That the genius of Western Civilization, manifested by and through its enduring faith, principles and wisdom, inherited and refined through the long historical experience of successive generations, constitutes an unsurpassed spiritual, philosophical and cultural endowment that is worthy of defense and perpetuation.”
These rights are to be protected through “vigilance by an armed, informed, and involved citizenry.”
“Armed, informed, and involved.” I can’t get the image of Elmer Fudd out of my head. Elmer's hat, gun and signature catchphrase, "Be vewy vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits.” CROW is “hunting winos,” I mean RINOs.  They are, as all hunters should be, very serious about it. From “RINO Hunters: As a part of CROW’s mission to recruit and elect conservative Republican leaders, it may become necessary to identify liberal Republican officials for removal, either for purposes of rehabilitation or permanent retirement from any position of trust within the Republican Party.”
“Liberal Republican officials”? They’re about as plentiful on the Wyoming plains as Jackalopes. But, they will be found and removed. If they cannot be rehabilitated, they will be retired. Sounds like what happened to Khrushchev?
The CROWs website assures all “removals” will be conducted with “due process.” “CROW has amassed extensive documentation of Republican elected officials and Party officers who have deliberately undermined fellow Republicans, conservative legislation, and conservative principles in general.” You know who you are. Turn your self if you know what’s good for you.
If you want to become a CROW it’s not easy. “Membership in CROW is by invitation only, and contingent upon the completion of a signed affirmation of conservative understanding and intent.”

The CROWs seek to assure the purity of their membership. Before you get your decoder ring and learn the secret handshake, you’ll need at least three other CROWs to vouch for your conservative credentials. Even then you don’t receive your hooded robe until you are voted in at a secret meeting of the politburo.
Never fear. You can still participate in the RINO hunt. “CROW members and non-members alike are encouraged to submit their evidence of such things” i.e. RINOs in Elephant costumes. So if any of the fellow travelers have any dope on any of the traitors, submit it.

To paraphrase that great American Joe McCarthy (who was certainly not a RINO), “I have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . a list of names that were made known to CROW as being members of the RINO Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the Wyoming state legislature.”
Like Looney Tunes, the GOP primary should be great fun to watch. The CROWs vs. The RINOs. Elmer vs. Buggs. "Oh, you dubbuh-cwossing winos! You tweachewous miscweants!"
For more information, a hunting license and your own Elmer Fudd hat, contact CROW at Conservative Republicans of Wyoming,
P.O. Box 2684, 
Cheyenne, WY… zip code e-i-e-i-o.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Are we addicted to negative politics?

According to a recent analysis, 70% of presidential campaign commercials run so far have been negative. It will only get worse. The 12-Step Program, which has proved successful helping restore health to people suffering from addiction, may be the last best chance to break our addiction to the dysfunctional behavior that accompanies political campaigns.

The first three of the 12-Steps may get you through the next six months. Step one requires an admission.  We are powerless over our addiction to negative politics. This addiction has made out lives unmanageable. Step two promises that a greater power can restore the sanity. Step three says we should acknowledge steps one and two by turning it over to that greater power. In other words, “I can’t control it, something bigger can. I guess I will let go.”

With one-tenth of one percent of the electoral votes necessary to elect a president, Wyoming voters are powerless to impact presidential elections. Regardless of whom we support, you and I are powerless to avoid the inevitable. Those measly three electoral votes will go to Romney no matter what you think or how much money or time you contribute. While we are powerless over the outcome, we can control our own sanity. But if we remain addicted and follow the campaign, reacting to the daily negativity of the candidates, their TV ads and surrogates, our lives will become unmanageable.

Regardless of how incensed we become listening to the attacks on our candidate, the only impact will be to our own blood pressure and our relationships with others. The same man (and it will be a man) will win regardless of how crazy it all makes us.

Accepting that, move to step two. A power greater than us can restore our sanity. That “power” takes many forms, usually referring to God or the way each view the Divine. There is a power greater than each of us at work in our lives. At the height of our addiction to partisan politics, we get ourselves worked into a frenzy, persuading ourselves the opposition is not just wrong but evil. Some compare the other party’s candidate to Hitler, question his religion, morals, ethics and even his Americanism. All of that is a certain indicator of addiction. But the second step promises us that a power greater than us can restore our sanity. For partisan addicts that power is democracy itself.

The nation’s founders were wise enough to create a system of government that includes a basic assurance that whoever gets elected can do no great damage to the nation in the four short years they are given.  Offset by the legislative and judiciary branches, the free press and our rights to assemble and speak, American democracy is in the final analysis, a power greater than our partisan angst and fears.

In a nutshell, it comes down to this. If we are addicted to partisan politics, and have come to understand how powerless we in Wyoming are in a presidential election and feel our partisanship causes us more anxiety and torment than we deserve, and we have faith that democracy is a powerful enough force to save us from our fears, step three teaches us “relax and let it happen.”

One secret of addiction that makes it difficult to break is what the professionals call “co-dependence.” The politicians are co-dependent on our addiction to feed their own. If you and I can break our addiction to partisanship, who knows, maybe that will lead those who benefit from our addiction to break their own.

How to do that? Don’t send them money. Turn off the cable news. Right wing, left wing…its purpose in politics is to stir the hatred, to make us crazy. That drives ratings, not sanity. Spend time and money where it makes a difference. Think local. Work for good candidates for Congress, the legislature, mayor, the city council and the school board. If we take good care of the home front, the national mess may improve.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wyoming should repeal the death penalty

The problem democracy has is that it depends more on emotion than facts. The founders worried politicians would pander so much to the lowest common denominator among the populace they’d be unable to make rational choices about important public policies.

Take the death penalty. Wyoming’s law putting criminals to death for certain crimes makes no sense. The law isn’t used, it’s costly to threaten, has no basis in research, and serves no legitimate purpose.

"Hang 'em high! It's that simple." When you want to know what voters think, go to the anonymous online comments. There they say what’s on their mind unencumbered by personal identification. “Set them on the stand and when they say 'GUILTY' shoot them right between the eyes.”

It doesn’t matter that the science proves the death penalty has no deterrent effect. Deterrence is one of the purposes our criminal justice system imposes penalties. Imposing a sentence in response to crime, we hope others will be deterred from committing the act.

The death penalty doesn’t deter. What purpose does it serve? Punishment? Anyone spending time around the penitentiary system knows a far greater punishment than death is life…life in prison with no hope of release.  Those who study these questions know life in prison is a far worse punishment than the death penalty because prisoners are made to suffer for the rest of their lives, knowing that there is no reprieve.

If the death penalty doesn’t deter and isn’t the severe punishment some think, why keep it on the books? Revenge. One of the anonymous commentators said, “As for the death penalty costing more than life in prison, the answer is simple...take away their rights for appeal. Once proven guilty of such a crime, KILL THEM and be done with them.”

Jesus’ teachings impose no barrier on this thinking even among many Christians. An “eye for an eye” they say. Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you ..." Jesus goes on to set a higher standard having to do with loving your enemies, praying for them and judging them not, lest you be judged. The Apostle Paul added, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

But a lot of Jesus’ 21st Century followers don’t want to wait for a gracious, forgiving God. "I could care less what your fairy tale bible (sic) says,” wrote one.  “I did not get my ideals from any man-written piece of trash.”

Wyoming keeps the death penalty not because it works or even because it’s used. It’s not. Since Wyoming became a state, only 18 men have been killed by the state, all but two before 1965. There hasn’t been an execution since Mark Hopkinson in 1992. Gerry Spence, usually a defense lawyer, prosecuted him. Hopkinson made the mistake of being accused of killing a close friend of Spence. If Spence had been his defense counsel instead, Hopkinson would still be among the living. That says something about how unfairly lethal injections are administered in Wyoming.

Legitimate, rational and documented concerns about the risks of wrongful execution, the lack of fairness in the process, and the inability of capital punishment to accomplish its basic purpose are beginning to take hold. Seventeen states have now repealed this medieval form of retribution. Wyoming should join them.

But, even though it costs taxpayers millions to threaten and the money goes mostly to lawyers who often as not end up persuading an appeals court that the condemned person did not get a fair trial, the irrationally emotional arguments of those who care more about revenge than facts will sustain it in Wyoming and elsewhere for many more decades.

You’ve heard it said “An eye for an eye” but I say to you that makes no sense legally, economically, or theologically. Only politically.