Saturday, July 26, 2014

Visitors…be on your way now!

Been nice seeing you all. Glad you could come but it’s about time for you to head on home. You see, there’s a reason Cheyenne Frontier Days lasts 10 days and not eleven. Over time we’ve learnt that if folks visit any longer than about 10 days, they start telling us how they did things back home. Some of them begin making plans to stay.

We’d be grateful if you all’d plan to be outa here by sundown tomorrow evening. That’ll give us plenty of time to roll up the streets and get back to what it is we do best when nobody is here to tell us a “better” way.

Please know it’s not because we don’t like you, we do. But we’ve kinda figured out how we like things done. The longer you stay the more likely you are to start meddling. Not too long ago some Unitarian Universalist preacher comes to town. You know the kind. Not long after she set up house, she decided she should grace us with her opinion on guns. Well, we haven’t run her out of town yet but don’t think the boys ain’t working on it.

In the last half a century we’ve honed a way of moving backward at a pace we’re comfortable with. Like, it’s 2014, and one of the major candidates for governor says he’ll arrest federal employees “for impersonating law enforcement officers.” Heck, the governor himself doesn’t believe we humans cause climate change. One of our “Equality State” legislators, an Africa-American, begged gays to "please stop carpet-bagging on our civil rights movement."

They’re taken seriously here for a couple of reasons. One, we’ve been pretty successful driving out anyone who thinks differently and, two, the only thing resembling a two-party system in Wyoming is the Republican Party. Among Wyoming politicians there are two types of folks, the far-right and those who don’t believe the far-right is far-enough-right.

We haven’t had a Democrat in our congressional delegation since 1979. Don’t have much to show for it. That’s not the point. We don’t expect them to get much done. They can’t work with Democrats and the Republicans back there take ‘em for granted.

You gotta say, the sound they make raising Cain about the EPA, the BLM, Obamacare, anything Obama and everything that federal gov’mint does, is like the sound of a lullaby in a calf’s ears.

We know what it’d be like if a bunch of you stayed. We’ve a colony of liberals in “The People’s Republic of Jackson Hole.” We used to count on Jackson folks. Then a bunch of lefties moved in. Now they might as not elect a liberal to office, someone who might vote to expand Medicaid to insure folks who can just go to the emergency room if they’re really sick.

Not only are there no Democrats in the congressional delegation, there aren’t any in none of the statewide offices. There’re only 10 Democrats left in the entire state legislature. You can bet we’ve issued huntin’ license for them.

They’re not really “liberals.”  But they ain’t Republicans either. Don’t need their votes. Even with ‘em voting no, we banned the implementation of those doggone national science standards that mention goofy ideas like evolution and climate change. But they stand between us and us becoming the Reddest state in the country. What would we get for that? Not sure.

Still we can’t risk being so hospitable that you’ll spend more than a few days here. We appreciate your money; your ideas not so much. In the meantime I’ve got one question of you. We know Wyoming is the greatest place on earth…and so we wonder if you’re so darned smart, why you’d want to live here?

Be on your way now. That sun’s a’starting to set.

(Note to visitors: I write this morning with tongue in cheek. We’re all real glad you came, hope you had a great experience, and know you’re invited to come back…some even hope you’ll stay!)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Searching for Edward Snowden

A recent Wyoming Tribune-Eagle headline was intriguing. “Embarrassing government records can stay hidden,” described a Wyoming Supreme Court holding that the public records law doesn’t really mean what it says.

What is this thing that public officials have about keeping their work secret from the voters?

The Court’s decision permits public officials to hide public documents upon which they rely in reaching public policy decisions. Having served in both the legislative and executive branches of Wyoming’s state government, I can assure you that these sorts of documents are among the most critical if the public wants to really know why certain decisions were made and just who participated in making them.

That raises a question “Where is an Edward Snowden when we need him or her ?

Edward Snowden became, for many, a pariah, a traitor to his country, and a hunted man in exile. The most powerful forces in the most powerful government in the world issued hunting licenses for Snowden. If anything, he’s become a metaphor for the consequences of severe truth-telling.

Remember the Pentagon Papers? Daniel Ellsberg was the “Edward Snowden” of his day. Ellsberg released them to the New York Times, revealing for the first time that the U.S. had secretly bombed Cambodia and Laos, illegally enlarging the scale of the Vietnam War. The papers also revealed the fact that our government knew the war was unwinnable while they continued sacrificing the lives of young men and women.
For his truth-telling, Ellsberg was charged with several felonies including conspiracy, espionage and theft of government property. Those charges were dropped when it was learned that other secret operations under the Nixon administration included burglarizing Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office.

Wyoming could use an Edward Snowden or a Daniel Ellsberg.

Admittedly the issues are not so consequential nor the sort of international sensations involved in the classified material Snowden released. The release of Wyoming’s secrets would not send the truth-teller to Moscow, Rawlins or Lusk. Yet they matter.

The court says officials who may be embarrassed if we actually know how they reached a decision and with whom they consulted along the way can hide the truth. The ruling creates a game of cat and mouse. The court sided with cats who fear embarrassment if their deliberations were known to the mice. (Note: That fear hasn’t deterred the legislature form doing some pretty embarrassing things.)

Wouldn’t the objectives of an educated electorate benefit if we knew what went into making the otherwise inexplicable decision to allow the fracking of oil and gas wells in Fremont County, which led to the severe pollution of underground water supplies? The public would likely be shocked to know the candidly partisan matters upon which legislators and the governor agreed in conspiring to deny 18,000 Wyomingites health insurance by refusing to expand Medicaid.

When this and other columns issued public records requests for emails discussing the decision of the University of Wyoming to rid the campus art the energy industry didn’t like, we learned that public officials were saying one thing privately and other things publicly. When that happens, we should know.

Now our Supreme Court has given them protection from public disclosure. If the truth-tellers tell only the “truth” they are required to tell by law and court rulings, the public will never learn the real truth. Snowden and Ellsberg are extreme examples. Their truth-telling violated the law but so did the secret activities of those public officials who were embarrassed by the disclosures.

The impacts must be balanced. History has proved that public officials make better, more accountable decisions when they fear their actions may appear on the nightly news or the front page of a newspaper. Secrecy is an impediment to good government especially when the quality of government depends on a well-informed electorate.

Public office-holders who “fear embarrassment” are in the wrong vocation. But they won’t fear embarrassment if the Wyoming Supreme Court’s word is the last word. Where is an “Edward Snowden” when we need one?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hobby Lobby 1- America 0

How did contraceptives become a religious freedom issue? Logic would dictate that those who oppose abortion for religious reasons should support contraceptives as one means of avoiding unplanned pregnancy. But logic left the building about the time that Barack Obama entered it.

Today “religious freedom” includes the “right” of corporations to impose fringy religious beliefs on its employees. The “Hobby Lobby rule” resulted from that company’s objection to an Obamacare provision requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Hobby Lobby (HL) has no objection to insurance coverage for drugs enabling their male employees to have an erection lasting up to four hours before seeking medical treatment. But they have religious objections to women using prescribed medicines to prevent pregnancy resulting from those erections.

HL’s full page 4th of July ad in this and hundreds of other newspapers nationwide reveals their ultimate objective. It’s not that much different from those of the Taliban. The Arabic word "Talib" describes those who seek religious illumination, a rather tame way to describe those who force their religious views on others. The Taliban uses violence. HL uses the five ideologues on the high court.

But the Hobby Lobbyists have the same goal. Their ad dredged up out-of-context founding fathers’ quotes to support the claim that the US is their kind of religious nation. Interestingly they omitted any quote from Thomas Jefferson, the intellectual “father” of our nation. He expressed his concerns in the Virginia Act Establishing Religious Freedom.

[God] chose not to propagate (religious views) by coercions, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.”

Jefferson knew “religious freedom” when he saw it. What Hobby Lobby seeks is not religious freedom but religious coercion. On a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court opened an era of propagating narrow, minority religious beliefs using the coercions against which Jefferson warned.

Anti-contraceptive religion is not mainstream American religious doctrine. Even so, according to the Supreme Court, a closely held corporation may impose its religious beliefs on its serfs regardless of how fringe those beliefs are. What’s next? What about the fringe fundamentalists who believe the apostle Paul was speaking against integration and interracial marriages when he wrote in 2nd Corinthians 6:14, "What fellowship hath light with darkness?"

Do you think the five ideologues on this Court will feel the same when a Muslim-owned corporation requires female employees to wear veils?

Back to contraceptives. How did contraceptives become a cultural and political dividing line?

In 1968, after Pope Paul VI condemned abortion, the pontiff added a condemnation of contraception. “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”
That raises the question of whether Hobby Lobby’s insurance includes “direct sterilization” through vasectomies. And it raises other issues, like why on a planet increasingly characterized by the unsustainability of population growth does any church still feel compelled to order adherents to go forth and multiply?
Two decades after Pope Paul’s directive, the Vatican released the "Vademecum for Confessors" which states, "The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception.”
We had that debate in the 60s. Those who thought contraceptives were intrinsically evil lost.  Those who saw contraceptives as a way of halting unplanned or unwanted pregnancies and controlling population growth made the more persuasive case. Religious beliefs as lived out on this issue are almost unanimous. Those who oppose the use of contraceptives are a tiny minority.  The Guttmacher Institute says, “More than 99% of women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.”
The religionists could not make their case from the pulpit of the church. They turned to the bench of the courtroom. Soon they’ll return to the courts to further propagate their cause by coercion. The Taliban could learn a lot from these folks.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Humans make nests, God makes Hornets

The second president of the United States was a Christian…well sort of. Born to a Puritan family, John Adams converted to Unitarian Universalism. His beliefs were rooted in Jesus’s teachings but his adherence to UU views denying the Trinity and questioning the divinity of Jesus was controversial.

Adams once said, “Ever since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate a free inquiry? Touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes.”

In our times, many of those nests have been disturbed. The hornets of church dogma fly into the faces of those who see things differently. Twenty-first century church wars are front-page stories.

The Mormons excommunicated Kate Kelly, founder of a women’s group, because her organization staged demonstrations to permit women to join the faith’s lay clergy. The harsh punishment is obviously designed to send a message in the hopes of putting a quick end to the nest disturbing.

The Methodists recently defrocked Frank Schaefer for presiding at his son’s same-sex wedding. On appeal, a higher authority reversed the decision, putting Schaefer back in the pulpit. It’s uncertain what disturbed the nest most, the wedding or the appellate decision.
Church wars over marriage equality rage throughout most denominations. The Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly June vote to allow Presbyterian ministers to preside at same-sex weddings will unfortunately mean the exodus of some members. The differences on this issue are irreconcilable for many. Just as the Presbyterians lost congregations when it voted to ordain gays and lesbians others may leave in the wake of this decision.
This isn’t the first issue to initiate church wars. Social issues have walked through the church doors and sat in the pews or stood at the pulpit since the nation’s founding.
The Revolutionary War was a struggle for freedom and independence for most Americans. But for many church members it created a conflict between loyalty to what became the United States and their oath to the King of England. More than half the colonial Anglican priests gave up their ministries rather than violate their promise to serve the King.
Next came slavery. Mainline Protestantism tried, without success, to deal with slavery. Some denominations voted to excommunicate members who bought and sold slaves. Methodists found such rules unenforceable and withdrew them.
Virginia Baptists denounced slavery. Kentucky's Elkhorn Baptist Association tried to draft a resolution against slavery in 1791 but it proved a hot potato and the association dropped it.
Presbyterians in New York and Philadelphia called for members to gradually end slavery in 1787. In 1818, anti-slavery preacher George Bourne insisted on slavery's cessation. Like Rev. Schaefer, Bourne was defrocked.

When the 1844 Georgia Baptist Convention appointed a slave owner as missionary to the Cherokee Indians, his petition for approval was denied. Southern Baptists then withdrew and formed the Southern Baptist Convention.

Methodists founded their first anti-slavery association in 1834. When Georgia's slave-owning bishop was suspended, Southerners withdrew and formed the Southern Methodist Church

In the 20th century, the “Red Scare” visited its divisions on American churches. Charges that some churches were soft on communism dated to the Chinese Revolution of 1949, and critics found it easy to apply that rhetoric to antiwar protesters and civil rights marchers.

Church wars were fought over the civil rights movement and the war in Viet Nam.

These issues have political implications. They are also spiritual as they deeply impact the lives of people. Christianity was founded because of divisions with Judaism. Divisions are a part of our spiritual journey, a winnowing process that allows us to grow.

Why should issues that divide Americans not divide the church? Jesus said, “I didn’t come to bring peace but a sword.” He knew truth always collides with dogma and some nests ought to be disturbed.