Saturday, February 28, 2015

And they're giving themselves a raise?

I hadn’t wanted to write again about this year’s legislature, but I feel like Michael Corleone in Godfather III. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

A Facebook friend said, “This session has reminded me of something my cousin used to say. ‘Christianity hasn't failed; it's just never been tried.’ It has been so disheartening to watch our local ‘Christians’ fighting for the right to despise and discriminate against the weak, the poor, the minorities, the powerless.”

If you’ve been to the legislative chambers, you may have noticed. There are neither windows nor mirrors. Legislators who lamely refuse to provide healthcare to low-income working or disabled people should have windows. They could look out and see those about whom they’re so cavalier.

Legislators arguing its time to raise their own pay after repeatedly rejecting minimum wage increases could use a mirror. They say current remuneration doesn’t cover hotel rooms during the tourist season. Well, wages earned by tens-of-thousands don’t cover housing for their families or food for their children. A quick look in a mirror could prove sobering.

Then there’s the disrespect shown Martin Luther King. Reluctantly the legislature created a holiday but King’s birthday is a working day for the legislature. When they work, so do Legislative Service Office staff and hundreds of state employees who have to sit by the phones in case a legislator calls.

Contrast that with what they did for President’s Day. Many of the Republicans in the legislature want to get home for Lincoln Day dinners. So they took a four-day weekend.

Now there’s feigned outrage to comments made by the director of the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). The Governor vetoed a bill regarding asset forfeiture. The DCI director called on law enforcement officers to back the governor against an effort to override. ”The truth is,” he said, “that many legislators are either on the boards of certain groups or are provided significant political contributions by groups which influence their vote.”

Not politically correct, but the truth. Some legislators are distraught. They say something like Lewis Carroll wrote. “Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.” It’s the Wyoming Liberty Group lobbying to override. We know about them, their money, and influence. So does the DCI director.

Then there’s Harlan Edmunds, president of the Conservative Republicans of Wyoming. CROW believes Wyoming’s Republican Party has veered dangerously to the left. After he was elected to the legislature last November, this column discussed Mr. Edmunds. “We’ll know by the end of the coming session whether Harlan Edmunds is a serious legislator or just another fictional character.”

Now we know.

Rep. Edmunds called Medicaid “socialism.” If that were so, and it’s not, his state-provided health insurance would likewise be “socialism.”  Harlan Edmunds is a state employee who urged his House colleagues to kill a cost-of-living raise for state employees. He explained, “Most state employees don’t work hard enough for what they are getting paid now.” Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when he goes back to work with the state employees who he trashed.

Representative Elaine Harvey deserves kudos. Elaine chairs the House Committee on Labor, Health and Social Services. She demonstrated more wisdom than a majority of the voters in House District 12. They elected Edmunds despite his outrageousness. As a legislator, he proved so outrageous she booted him from her committee room. I’ve been around the legislature for half a century. I’ve never seen that. Edmunds made a fool of himself and those who voted for him. When they get the chance in 2016, HD12 voters need to finish what Rep. Harvey started and boot him clear out of the legislature.

I can’t get Al Green’s song, “The Snake” out of my head. "You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.” Either the voters like being bitten or just vote the party line. Either way, in a democracy, we get what we deserve.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Free speech is not free

"It's the symbol of freedom of speech, of freedom of religion, of democracy, and secularism," Charlie Hebdo’s editor said. Makes one wonder, “What is free speech?”

It protects spoken or written words or acts like the burning of an American flag. But it doesn’t include burning your draft card. It includes a students right not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. But doesn’t permit the student to write a story for the school newspaper when the administration disagrees.  It does not justify the distribution of obscene materials but does permit politicians to tell obscene lies about one another.

It’s easy to judge the terrorists who raided the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It’s not so simple to judge Charlie Hebdo.

For most commentators Charlie exercises “freedom of speech.” Pope Francis cautioned, "If my good friend says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."
In contrast, Salman Rushdie, the controversial writer whose life was threatened by radical Muslims because of his book "The Satanic Verses" said the right to free speech is absolute or else it isn't free.I’m inclined to agree most with the Pope. Rushdie is clearly incorrect. The right to free speech is not absolute.
Oliver Wendell Holmes articulated the most recognized limitation in a 1919 Supreme Court decision. A man was convicted for inciting violence by publicly opposing the draft during World War I. The Court said he should go to jail despite his “free speech” defense. This is the case that gave rise to the adage that “one cannot shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”
The iconic phrase emanates from Holmes’ opinion. “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.”

Charlie Hebdo makes its point by shouting “fire” in a “public theater.” The theater is crowded with more than their own cartoonists. It includes policemen, bystanders, and innocent Muslims who are then targeted by those who seek to avenge Charlie.

Conflicts between radical Islamists and Westerners have converted the earth into a powder keg. The violence didn’t end in Paris. Last week, 45 Christian churches in Niger were burned in that Muslim nation protesting the French cartoonists lampooning of Islam.
Radicals on each side believe if they kill more of the other side, they’ll win. Win what? Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Blindness is the least of today’s problems.

Free speech isn’t a meaningful in isolation. Its exercise demands accompanying exercise of self-restraint, accountability, and personal responsibility.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, (French version of the 1st Amendment of our Constitution reads, “The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man.”
Precious rights should be cherished, not used as fuses for indiscriminate firebombs. Speech is a tool for reaching understanding. Truth telling can cause divisions, even anger but if that is the sole purpose of using it, the “speaker” degrades the very notion.
The purpose of the attack on Charlie Hebdo was to inhibit the magazine’s use of satire, i.e. to limit Charlie’s use of speech. But the purpose of the doctrine of free speech is not to permit its unrestrained use. If speech was an unlimited right, as Rushdie advocates, one could cry “fire” in a crowded theater even though it may cause the deaths of dozens or hundreds.
Charlie Hebdo isn’t making the world better but rather more dangerous as it insists on getting its way using a self-indulgent tool to create anger. It’s the resulting anger and the predictable destruction accompanying it that is unrestrained, not free speech.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What is hate?

What is hate?

The word is used too loosely. It’s used to describe feelings about food. “I hate liver and onions.” In these parts, Bronco fans “hate” the Raiders. My Denver daughter “hates” the traffic.

Dictionaries teach hate is a deep, emotional, extreme dislike. That doesn’t fit speaking about liver, rival sports teams or traffic jams. Sigmund Freud took it more seriously. Freud studied the use of words in human intercourse. He defined “hate” as a deep desire to destroy the cause of one’s unhappiness.

Hate is a "deep, enduring, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger, and hostility towards a person, group, or object,” according to one Dictionary of Psychology. It sees “hate” as more of a disposition than a temporary emotional state.

Like many “dispositions” it’s easier to see it in others than in ourselves. Take the current debate over the question of whether the law should permit employers to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bi-sexual or transgender people.

SF 115 seeks to protect LGBT workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill has wide support from groups including the Wyoming Business Alliance and the Wyoming Association of Municipalities; but not from the Catholic Church.
Dr. Donna M. Adler is the communication director in the Office of the Legislative Liaison for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne. On the eve of the state senate’s vote on the bill, Adler sent an email to all lawmakers.
She used the term “hate” to substantiate a claim that, while the Church opposes prohibiting job-discrimination, “the Roman Catholic Church does not hate people who identify as having attractions not in line with their biology.” Adler called the people she says the Church doesn’t hate “disordered.” She said the human beings the law seeks to protect are “engaging in seriously sinful behavior.”
The basis for the official Catholic view arises from a literal interpretation of scripture, which it seeks to impose on all of us. The 18th chapter of Leviticus quotes God admonishing Jewish men not to have sex with other men. That which God imposed on Jews, some Catholics would impose on everyone. Then God said, “Everyone who does any of these detestable things, such persons must be cut off from their people.” Adler and her immediate supervisors, which apparently don’t include Pope Francis, see their responsibility is to make certain that’s exactly what happens to LGBT folks.
Aside from a questionable interpretation of scripture, the position of the Diocese of Cheyenne calls into question the meaning of “hate.” They support the idea that some people should be denied their livelihoods because they are LGBT. The Diocese defines those folks as “disordered.” They judge them as “seriously sinful.” But Adler says the Catholic Church does not hate them. It just wants to cut them off from their jobs.
Is the definition of “hate” really that complicated? Is the definition of “hate” so obtuse that it can be used, as Adler does, to support discrimination that results in the loss of a person’s livelihood?
We’ve become accustomed to using the “H” word so loosely we don’t recognize its real impact when people with power have the disposition to hate. When some exhibit a “deep, enduring, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger, and hostility towards a person or group,” do we let them off the hook when they claim that otherwise hateful acts are not “hate”? 

Truthfully, we must call it what it is. It’s hate. The Church disguises its disdain for the LGBT community behind an incongruously professed “compassion” for those they believe to be disordered and sinful. That’s fine inside the Cathedral walls. From the pulpit, the Church should teach what it believes. But when they walk out those doors and head to the state capitol, the disguise should be seen for what it is.

While your theology may permit you to claim you love those against whom you seek to “cut off from their people” the state legislature is a place where such a specious religious arguments must be rejected.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cool Hand Luke?

“What we got heah…is failyah to communicate.”

If you’re old enough to have seen Paul Newman play “Cool Hand Luke,” you’ll remember. The captain of the Southern prison road crew said this just before Luke was killed.

The hopes of nearly 18 thousand low-income, mostly working Wyoming people were killed by the legislature last week, just as dead as Luke. It wasn’t because of a failure to communicate.

It was a failure of honest leadership starting with Governor Matt Mead. He’s so afraid of his own shadow he doesn’t emerge from his hole as often as Punxsutawney Phil. After this year’s defeat, Mead emerged long enough to say, "We must recognize what health care means to individuals and to our economy. While I respect different views, the fact is today we are left with working poor without coverage.” He was right…finally.

This “leader” spent three years telling legislators Medicaid expansion was a bad idea. He wrote the talking points Republican legislators used to poison the well.

The blatant dishonesty reached peaks seldom realized in the legislature. We’ve come to expect nothing less from Senator Charlie Scott. Scott has served since Jimmy Carter was president. He’s made a career of harming low-income workers. He successfully fought workplace safety and adequate wages. He gerrymandered legislative districts to assure one-party control.
During the debate, Scott warned legislators not to trust the feds. While depositing thousands of dollars from agricultural subsidies into his own bank account, Scott said, "You know that because when you look at their finances, they’re in bad trouble across the United States."
Sen. Leland Christensen said, “Wyoming needs to find its own way to take care of the uninsured.” He said the Affordable Care Act is not the answer. The disingenuousness of this proclamation is evidenced by the fact that during the years-long debate on Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, neither Christensen nor any of his colleagues have offered a single idea for doing so. Not one.

Then there’s Sen. Larry Hicks who says, “The federal government has crippling debt. This puts us one step closer to economic collapse.” Wyoming, the argument goes, must help reduce the federal debt by refusing this program, but, only this one.

This assertion flunks the “pants-on-fire” test. These same legislators are willing to rely on the federal government to balance the state budget. The state constitution requires they balance that budget. They can do so only because nearly 20% of it comes from Washington.

They can’t balance the state’s budget without violating the arguments they make against Medicaid expansion. Yet neither Hicks nor Scott nor any of their anti-Medicaid colleagues have ever suggested Wyoming reject any of that money. They reserve that specious argument for dollars that could otherwise provide healthcare for low-income working people. 

Then there’s Tony Ross. He was the only Laramie County state senator voting against Medicaid. Ross’s argument? He didn’t really have one of his own. He just mimicked Charlie Scott despite the fact that Medicaid experts proved Charlie’s “facts” untrustworthy. Ross has the position and the wherewithal to lead. But he decided to follow and to follow the wrong man.

When the legislature killed Medicaid expansion this year, they did so knowing their votes will cost Wyoming taxpayers at least 100 million dollars each biennium. They knew their votes rejected tens of millions more that could have been used to improve the state’s health infrastructure and local economies while providing more than 800 new jobs. They knew some hospitals in the state wouldn’t survive because of the financial hemorrhaging caused by the cost of uncompensated care for the uninsured.  They knew 18,000 people would be needlessly left without health insurance meaning many will get far sicker than need be and some will die prematurely.

They also knew the arguments they made against the bill were entirely bogus.

Unlike Cool Hand Luke, Medicaid expansion wasn’t killed because of any “failyah to communicate.” They knew the truth. The bill died because of a willful “failyah of political honestly.”