Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Felonious Whoopin'

Did you know that Wyoming is one of only 19 states permitting physical abuse of children if it is what the law calls “reasonable”? Until recently, the National Football League permitted it even when unreasonable.

If you’re a “baby-boomer” there is a strong likelihood that as a youngster you were subjected to corporal punishment. It was commonplace in the 50s to discipline children harshly. My father used a belt. My grandmother used a bicycle tire inner-tube. Some of my teachers and principals used wooden paddles leaving welts and bruises.

Once my brother Bob and I were caught playing with matches. My father taught us not to play with fire in the manner in which his father had taught him the same lesson. He lit a match and burned our fingers.

Back then, that sort of discipline was the community norm. But by the time we became parents the community norm had changed. Somehow Adrian Peterson never got the memo.

Peterson’s lawyer says his client is a “loving father.” Peterson was simply using the same parenting techniques that he once “experienced as a child growing up in east Texas.”

In his own defense, the star NFL running back says, “I never imagined being in a position where the world is judging my parenting skills or calling me a child abuser because of the discipline I administered to my son.”

Parenting skills? Peterson allegedly beat his four-year-old child with part of a tree branch as punishment for misbehaving in May. The child was left with cuts and bruises on his back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum.

Ironic isn’t it that Peterson was hitting his son because his son had “pushed” a sibling in a child-dispute over a video game. He was teaching his child not to push by beating him.

Peterson then allegedly texted the boy’s mother, saying that one wound in particular would make her “mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.” He called the four-year-old, "… toughest of the bunch," Peterson wrote. "He got about five more pops than normal. He didn't drop one tear!” Shameful.

At least Peterson wasn’t influenced by the Old Testament where it says, “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.

Nonetheless, Peterson’s “parenting skills” actually go far back in history. Discipline was quite severe in ancient Greece when children were often beaten. In 16th century England, boys were hit on their bare buttocks and legs with the birch twigs. Beating children was normal into the 20th century, although in the 19th century the cane generally replaced the birch.

But several decades ago, the cultural norm changed. Mature adults spared the rod, finding other ways of not spoiling the child. We found that physical abuse might be a form of punishment but had little disciplinary value. How did someone who went to college at the University of Oklahoma miss that memo?

Adrian Peterson has been living under a rock. He crawled out to find that while he slept, the community decided that beating children to the point of breaking skin and leaving bruises isn’t merely a “whoopin” as Peterson called his assault. It’s child abuse. People who do it lose respect and sometimes their jobs and freedom.

Maybe Peterson, fellow athletes, and authorities like the NFL have at long last gotten the message. Real men may play football but they don’t beat their children, wives, and lovers. It is unacceptable in a civilized society no matter how many touchdowns you score on Sunday.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Who is the Wyoming Liberty Group

I kept waiting for the governor or an agency head to defend state employees against last month’s Wyoming Liberty Group (WLG) attack. They’re apparently unwilling to do so in this political environment.

Just who is the Wyoming Liberty Group and why are they targeting Wyoming state employees?

Susan Gore, a wealthy heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune, founded WLG. According to IRS filings, WLG had about four million dollars in revenue from 2009-2011, big money in small state politics. A Republican friend credits WLG with the new meanness in Wyoming politics. “Without the financial clout of a Texas millionaire that decided to show us Wyoming hayseeds the light,” he says, “those other fringe groups wouldn’t have gotten the traction they have.”

The WLG attacked state employee retirement benefits in an op-ed entitled “A gold-plated pension plan.” WLG employee Maureen Bader, who comes from Canada bearing a Master’s Degree in marketing and policy, wrote the column. The policy she’s marketing is the destruction of state employee pension plans.

WLG’s divisive approach was evident in their attack. WLG employs Bernie Madoff’s name, claiming Bernie would be proud of “the gold-plated promise of retirement security” afforded state employees. The great irony is that someone working for Susan Gore would use Madoff as a metaphor.

Bader repeatedly referred to state employees as “bureaucrats.” The term is designed to elicit a description of someone more concerned with procedure than with people's needs. It’s a derisive term showing disrespect and a lack of any real-world knowledge of the people Wyoming employs to do the people’s work.

It’s especially objectionable when used by an organization more interested in the wealth of the 1% than the welfare of the 99%. WLG is part of what Hillary Clinton called “a vast rightwing conspiracy.”

According to, WLG is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). The center for Media and Democracy reports, “The Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.”

SPN developed an agenda directing members to conduct assaults on public education, environmental regulation, Medicaid, and public pension plans.

WLG’s attack on Wyoming’s public pension plan is nothing more than a cookie cutter provided to them by ALEC and SPN. However, the attack is irrelevant in Wyoming where the actuarial status of the plan is excellent. The funded benefits ratio has increased significantly in the last year alone and thirty-year projections show the plan is on a trajectory leading to assets totaling 114.7% of benefit costs.

F. Scott Fitzgerald observed that the rich are different. Fitzgerald was describing people like WLG’s founder. According to (July 8, 2014) Susan Gore once adopted her ex-husband as her “child” as a strategy to get an “extra helping” of her parents’ estate. They died leaving equal shares of company stock in a lucrative trust for grandchildren. Susan had three children. Her siblings had four. So she adopted her ex-husband to give her four “children.” A court said, “Nice try, but no bananas.”

Yet this is the person attacking Wyoming state employees as greedy. The rich are, indeed, different.

Wyoming’s employees didn’t adopt former spouses to secure their retirement. They did it the old fashioned way. They worked for it. There were many years when the legislature refused any salaries increases. Many of those years they were instead assured the state would pay a greater share of retirement contributions. 

It was a trade-off of which out-of-staters like Gore and Bader wouldn’t have been aware.

(In the interests of disclosure, I receive state retirement benefits.)

If WLG wants an honest dialogue about pension reform, they should do so with more knowledge of the program’s historic development and be less hypocritical and far less insulting.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cheney should speak to lawyers

It’s a little weird that an organization representing the legal community invited a war criminal to keynote their convention earlier this week. Add to his war record the fact that as vice-president, Dick Cheney consistently demonized lawyers, the invitation seems “curiouser and curiouser.”

In an effort to snag big names to headline their confabs, organizations don’t spend enough time thinking it through. The Wyoming Bar Association should have asked what a speech by Cheney could contribute to the success of their convention. The answer is not much other than unneeded controversy.

When accepting the 2004 Republican Party vice-presidential nomination, Cheney pontificated about what he called “junk lawsuits.” During the 2000 vice-presidential debate, Cheney proposed capping noneconomic damages, and limiting fees that trial attorneys receive.

Bob Kraft, a Dallas attorney satirized Cheney’s campaign against lawyers in his February 15, 2006 blog: “Impatient with stalled efforts to close the courts to litigants, the Bush Administration literally fired the first shot in its groundbreaking "No Lawyer Left Standing" initiative. Vice-President Cheney, hunting on a private ranch near Kingsville, Texas, bagged an impressive buck (Harry Whittington). Under the new program, hunters may take one white shoe in-house lawyer or three outside lawyers daily. There is no limit for trial lawyers. ‘We’ve just got to thin the herd,’ said the Vice-President. ‘We’ve tried tort reform and caps on damages, but people are still suing.’ Cheney added.”

Funny? Yes! But Cheney’s efforts to shield his beloved Halliburton from asbestos related lawsuits weren’t so funny. In April of 2003, the Texas Observer cited “the so-called ‘Dick Cheney’ amendment, which would make it easier for companies to elude asbestos lawsuits. If the Cheney amendment is enacted, Halliburton wouldn’t have to pay the $4 billion settlement, or any other asbestos damages, and victims would be flat out of luck.”

Just the mention of the name “Halliburton” conjures up images of Cheney’s role in the tragic war in Iraq. Make no mistake about it. ISIS is the spawn of the Cheney decision to invade that country. What is happening today is the obvious and predictable result of the biggest foreign policy blunder in American history.

While George W. Bush busies himself writing books and painting pictures, Dick Cheney uses his retirement years to revise history. The Wyoming State Bar convention is just another stop on his road show. His purpose in attending their convention was obvious in the material he provided the Bar to publicize his speech.

His official biography includes an attack on President Obama, a claim that he and Bush left the world in good shape, and that Obama’s policies have “led to a reversal of the made on the war on terror in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.” Call him delusional.

His administration ignored reports of “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” (Presidential Daily Briefing August 6, 2001). Then Cheney converted 9/11 into a pretext to invade Iraq.

Lie by lie, Cheney built a case for war. Later it became clear that contrary to Cheney’s saber-rattling there were no weapons of mass destruction, Al Qaeda was not then operating in Iraq, American soldiers were not welcomed as liberators, and that the only beneficiary of the war was Halliburton. Years later a Republican congressman, Walter Jones, asked Colin Powell’s former chief of staff about the manipulation of intelligence. "How could the professionals see what was happening and nobody speak out?"
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson responded, "The vice president."
Cheney may or may not have been “Commander-in-chief” but he was “Manipulator-in-chief.” Cheney ripped-up the Constitution as he oversaw the creation of “Black Sites,” i.e. offshore prisons where suspects were held indeterminately without charges and subjected to "enhanced interrogations.”
Dick Cheney should have a forum to explain his role in the Iraq disaster but not at a convention. He should be in the witness box being cross-examined by a prosecutor seeking a conviction for his war crimes.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ode to Unions

The celebration of Labor Day this week got me thinking about Wyoming’s working people. The holiday was first created to celebrate "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” In 1894, Congress set aside the first Monday in September to recognize the accomplishments of unions. One-hundred-twenty-years later it’s a three-day weekend without meaning.

When the Taft-Hartley Act was passed in 1947, half the American workforce belonged to unions. Today the number is closer to 15%.  That didn’t happen accidentally. There’s been a well-orchestrated strategy to deny workers the right to organize. Unions were a key part of the New Deal coalition, contributing both money and votes to progressive candidates and causes. Republicans determined to break that coalition.

New coalitions formed around progressive ideas. The national Democratic Party was not a casualty of anti-union efforts. Workers and their families paid the price. The negative impact can be seen in Wyoming as easily as anywhere in the country.

More people are working more hours, taking fewer days for rest than ever before.  The US Department of Labor estimates that on the Labor Day one in five American workers will be required to work. In Wyoming, a high number of adults are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. But most of these jobs have few if any benefits and the ends don’t meet.

While union contracts protect members from being fired for unjust reasons, non-union Wyoming workers have no job protections. They can be fired for no cause regardless of how many years they have faithfully served an employer. Adding insult to injury is a law recently passed allowing Wyoming employers to pocket an employee’s earned but unused vacation pay when employment is terminated.

Many of these low wage jobs have no allowance for sick days. A worker can lose his or her job by taking time off to care for a child or spouse. State law protects employers who discriminate against gay or lesbian workers but does not adequately protect those who are forced to work in unsafe conditions. Wyoming women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts, a problem that finds a solution in most union contracts.

Those are a few of the economic and social costs of losing the labor movement. But there are also significant political costs.

While anti-union strategies have not harmed the fortunes of progressive candidates nationally, they have effectively destroyed the two-party system in our state. As the labor movement in Wyoming declined so did the fortunes of the Democratic Party. Before their precipitous decline in numbers, Wyoming union members were the bulwark of voter registration efforts.

The last time a Democrat won one of the state’s three congressional seats was 1976 when Teno Roncalio ran for his final term in the US House of Representatives. In 1976 there were 77,000 registered Democrats and 87,000 registered Republicans. Seventy percent of all eligible voters were then registered. Voter registration was largely the work of organized labor.

A 10,000 registered-voter gap meant Democrats had a fighting chance. Today the gap is 110,000 and 44% of all eligible voters aren’t even registered. As the numbers of union households declined, the numbers of registered Democrats declined.

Some think a one-party political system is okay but Wyoming’s working people should ask whether there is any relationship between this history and their lives.

Candidates who focused on hot button issues lured working people into voting against their own economic interests. Voters were stirred about same-sex marriage even though the greater threat to their marriages is low wages. They made voters angry about immigration even as they closed union shops in the US and opened sweatshops in Mexico. Disingenuously they convinced voters the government would take away their guns, while they took away their right to organize and with it their ability to feed their children.

Some will say unions were once necessary but are no longer relevant. Those same people must believe the same thing about the middle class.