Saturday, May 23, 2015

If liberalism is mental illness...

A recent letter-to-the-editor claimed there is psychological evidence that columnist Jack Pugh and I are mentally ill. The diagnosis is based on Dr. Lyle Rossiter’s book, “The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness.” This darling of the rightwing says that Barack Obama’s liberalism is a psychological disorder.

Dr. Rossiters’ theory is frightening. The pathology he unearthed necessarily applies not only to Mr. Obama, but to countless political leaders throughout history. The U.S. was apparently founded and nurtured by several madmen and a few mad women.

Washington was assuredly a crazed liberal when as the first president, he agreed to a constitution granting enormous new powers to the federal government. John Adams taxed citizens to socialize government healthcare for U.S. sailors. Jefferson believed in separation of church and state. Ben Franklin trusted science.

How bat-crazy must Rossiter consider Lincoln for paving the way for the 14th Amendment and its equal protection clause, the basis of marriage equality in federal courts. Don’t even mention FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, or JFK. And Richard Nixon gave us the Environmental Protection Agency and the earned income tax credit.

During one of his many bizarre parole hearings, Charles Manson once cried out, “Yes, I’m crazy, but I was crazy long ago, when being crazy actually meant something.”

If believing in equal opportunity, universal healthcare, environmental protection and reducing economic inequality brand you with as mentally ill, Dr. Rossiter should have a field day analyzing today’s conservatives. 

Michael Savage, a conservative radio host wrote “Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder.” Savage claimed Obama intentionally sent the U.S. military to fight Ebola so they’d return and infect Americans. He alleged Obama initiated the Baltimore riots as a pretext for arming gangs.

Joseph Farah, conservative WorldNetDaily editor, accused Obama of sending secret signals to Muslims to “finish off” the Holocaust. Before joining the far-right Family Research Council, retired General Jerry Boykin called Obama the leader of a “Marxist insurgency.” Obama, he said, inserted secret clauses in the Affordable Care Act establishing a personal army akin to Hitler’s Brownshirts.

Doc Rossiter would enjoy studying “Faith 2 Action” founder Janet Porter. She revealed a chain email proving that the Russians planted baby-Obama in the U.S. as part of a long-term plan to take over America.

Rossiter could spend a lifetime analyzing Texans. Many, including 56% of Ted Cruz’s supporters and 76% of Rick Perry’s backers, are convinced Obama is plotting to take over the Lone Star State, impose martial lawconfiscate people’s firearmsand force them into cattle cars, locking them up in Wal-Marts converted into FEMA camps.

Those are just the folks on the fringe. It’s not much better in the GOP mainstream. A third of GOP voters think Texas is on the brink of an Obama takeover. More than 50 percent of Republicans think Sarah Palin is better qualified than Barack Obama to be president and 24 percent believe Obama wants the terrorists to win; 67 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist. Forty-five percent of Republicans believe Obama wasn’t born in the United States, 38 percent say he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did,” and 54 percent think that “deep down” Obama devotes himself to Islam.

Ask Senator and possible Republican presidential nominee Marco Rubio how old is the earth. “I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians. Whether the Earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that.” Don’t bother asking him whether the earth is flat or revolves around the sun.

Maybe we’re all crazy, liberals and conservatives alike. If so, I’d choose a hospital ward with Jack Pugh and others who believe in equal opportunity, racial and social justice rather than share a room with those Manson would recognize as “being crazy long ago, when being crazy actually meant something.”

NOTE TO READERS: All facts derived from surfing the Internet, but then, the righties shouldn’t object to that.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Wyoming. A one-horse town?

In a democracy, everyone’s rights are better protected when multiple competing voices are raised in the making of public policy. But, with the closing of the Wyoming’s American Civil Liberties Union office, the state is another step closer to speaking with a single voice.

Wyoming started down that road as the strength of organized labor slowly diminished. When unions were stronger, they had enough influence to be that voice for the marginalized.

Then came single-member legislative districts. Legislators represented their counties at one time. County lines no longer matter. Instead, the majority party draws lines on a map assuring there is a Republican majority in nearly every district. It’s called gerrymandering and it has institutionalized Republican control.

Additionally Wyoming speaks with only one voice because most moderate Republicans are mute and the Democratic Party is nearly irrelevant. The last time a Democrat was elected to congress in Wyoming was 1976. Then 80% of eligible voters were registered. There was a mere 10,000-vote difference between the two parties, making Republicans more moderate and giving Democrats a chance to win. Today fewer than 55% bother to register and the gap between the two parties has grown to more than 110,000.

As labor, moderate Republicans, and Democrats have lost their ability to speak, people concerned about the rights of working people, minorities and women and issues like criminal justice reform turned to the ACLU. Wyoming’s ACLU provided effective advocacy for those whose rights were abused by government and business, which is why some were delighted to hear the news.

“I’m glad they’re gone,” said Frank Jorge, a libertarian podcaster from Basin. “I think it’s a plus for the state of Wyoming to not have them here.” Jorge, like many conservatives, disagreed with the ACLU’s work on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.”

The ACLU drew ire from the right by protecting the rights of undocumented workers, prisoners, and the LGBTQ community. Those conservatives support the Constitution unless someone attempts to apply its protections to the marginalized. The ACLU interfered with that approach.

Wyoming’s ACLU advisory board chair Ron Akin said, “There are very few places to turn to in Wyoming for help if you feel like your rights are violated. Without the ACLU in Wyoming, it’s basically open season on civil liberties and civil rights.”

The blame for the loss of the Wyoming ACLU does not fall on the far right. Blame falls on the shoulders of the national ACLU office. The office was closed, they said, because the national organization has an annual deficit of $15 million. Closing the Wyoming office contributes little to solving that problem while creating enormous problems for those the ACLU represents. Shuttering the Wyoming office reduces the ACLU’s budget gap by a whopping $360,000, less than 2.5%.  The ACLU has an annual budget of more than $100 million and can’t somehow find a way to fund the Wyoming office. For a pittance in savings, they’ve left Wyoming the only state in the Union without a chapter. Shame on them.

But the decision has been made. The ACLU’s doors are closed. Now what? Linda Burt, a Cheyenne lawyer who served ably as Wyoming’s ACLU director for many years, asked, ‘Who is going to do this work?” She answered her own question. “My answer in some cases is nobody, because we are one of the only organizations that do this.”

Steve Klein of the conservative Liberty Group acknowledged the depth of the loss of an organization with whom he is often at odds. Klein wrote, “A big loss to Wyoming. Whether ally or opponent, Wyoming ACLU staffers approach each issue with integrity and zeal. I believe even the best restructuring will take years to catch up to the current chapter.”

Despite other gleeful conservatives, a healthy democracy demands the rights of all people be protected. That simply won’t happen in a state whose leaders speak with a single-voiced ideology.

Burt’s question hangs in the wind. “Who is going to do this work?”

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Middle Class Cause of Death? Suicide

Fans lost a lot of money betting on Manny Pacquiao. Millions betting on any horse other than Pharoah to win the Kentucky Derby lost lots of money. But no politician ever lost a dime betting on the eagerness of American voters to be manipulated.

The latest example is the U.S. House of Representatives vote to repeal the “death tax,” once called the “estate tax.” Most won’t recognize the term “estate tax.” When Newt Gingrich took out his “Contract on America” in the 90s, pollsters advised him that the average “Joe” understood “estate” taxes applied only to the very rich. They didn’t mind the tax being applied to those who had accumulated exorbitant wealth.

Without changing their objective of helping the rich get richer, they changed the terminology. The estate tax became the “death tax.” Poll responders reversed themselves. The manipulated became convinced by the change that the tax applied to them. After all not everyone leaves a taxable estate but everyone dies.

You’ve heard of the accumulation of wealth among the 1%? According to Wall Street Journal columnist Jonathan Clements, the so-called “death tax” effects less than two-tenths of the one percent, meaning 99.8% of taxpayers cannot be taxed under existing law. Those in the middle class who are cheering the repeal need to know what a belly-laugh the .002% is getting in their mansions.

The most appropriate term for this tax is “the billionaire’s tax.” It would reasonable to guess that not one of this newspaper’s readers would be taxed under the law your congressmen voted to repeal. The Tax Policy Center documented only 20 small businesses and farms nationwide owing estate taxes in 2013. Those 20 estates owed just 4.9%.

Since then, the exemption has been increased. No estate with less than 5.4 million dollars is taxed. If you have smart tax advisers, as the grossly wealthy tend to have, that number is closer to 11 million.

That eleven-million dollar threshold comes only after wealthy taxpayers take deductions, including gifts to children and charity and purchasing life insurance, which passes the benefits along with no estate tax.

After exemptions and loopholes, when the top two-tenths of one percent eventually have to pay an inheritance tax, their heirs still keep the eleven million plus 65% of the remainder. Not a bad haul for the children of the super rich.

Where does the estate tax idea come from? Not from liberals but from the Founding Fathers and other conservative Americans. Teddy Roosevelt supported a tax on inheritances saying, “No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned.” In “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith wrote, “When…great estates derive their security from the laws of their country, nothing can be more completely absurd. They are founded upon the most absurd of all suppositions, the supposition that every successive generation of men have not an equal right to the earth.” Seems like orthodox conservative philosophy.

Wyoming has a unique place in the history of the billionaire’s tax. When Mike Sullivan was Governor in the 90s, our state was in fiscal trouble. Going through a “bust” cycle, Wyoming was experiencing draconian budget cuts and appeared unable to balance its budget. Then a wealthy Jackson resident suddenly passed away leaving such a large estate that Wyoming was entitled to share the estate tax payment with the IRS. Governor Sullivan later said, “We balanced the budget because a lady who died in Jackson left a $20 million estate tax, and that saved us for that budget period.”

Since then, Republicans in the state house and congress made sure that won’t happen again. They repealed the laws making that possible.

The clamor to rid America of the billionaire’s tax started more recently as the greedy decided they just couldn’t get enough. This is about helping the Koch Brothers and their buddies. Their children will reap the reward. Yours will get to make up the 269 billion dollar loss to the treasury that the repeal will cost.

Still cheering?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Gun lobby big on rights. Not responsibilities.

The gun owners’ lobby is big on their rights. Not so much on their responsibilities.

It’s only a matter of time until tragedies like those we’ve witnessed in other parts of the country happen here. In various parts of the U.S. there have been, for example, numerous children killing children when a gun-owning adult carelessly leaves a loaded weapon lying around the house. To date, we have “dodged a bullet,” but the good luck can’t last forever.

In December of 2011, a Cheyenne man and other customers barely missed being killed when a 17-year-old girl dropped her purse at Starbucks. According to newspaper reports at the time, after the gun fired, the girl said, “I think my purse went off!” Inside the purse was a loaded double-barreled .38 special Derringer pistol. The safety wasn’t on and the gun went off. The bullet missed a customer by about a foot, hit the west wall of the store, bounced back to the east, and rolled under the coffee counter. Whew!

The girl’s father allegedly said he had given the teenage girl the pistol to carry while traveling. It was for her protection. Apparently he wasn’t worried about protecting anyone else. According to reports, the girl said she had never taken a hunter safety class, nor did she complete any kind of formal firearms training.

In January 2014, it happened again. This time an innocent bystander was seriously injured. A customer at Lowes brought a small caliber gun, with its safety apparently off, on a shopping trip. The gun fell and discharged. The bullet hit a young woman. Thankfully, her injuries were not life threatening.

Now we have reports of a stray bullet hitting a vehicle and narrowly missing its occupants in the Medicine Bow National Forest west of Cheyenne. Irresponsible gun owners were target practicing. One of their stray shots missed its intended target. The Albany County sheriff acknowledged this is not an isolated incident.

These are just three examples of tragedies barely avoided.

What have we heard from the NRA? Nothing. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms but is silent about the responsibility to do so safely.

The NRA and other gun rights activists are always eager to create false fears about government plans to take away their guns. They are not so creative when it comes to advocating for responsible gun use. I know they conduct gun safety classes but they should be asking the legislature to make certain that gun owners take them.

Gun advocates should also demand that cases like these be fully investigated and prosecuted. The former Laramie County District attorney, for whatever reason, declined to prosecute the Lowes case as egregious as it was. You would not have to be much of a cynic to take note of the fact that the decision was made just a few months before a tough primary election. Who wants to take on the NRA and other gun rights proponents before an election.

That is why it’s imperative for these organizations to support prosecution of those whose irresponsible use of weapons threats innocent citizens. The NRA and Gun Owners of America have struck fear into the hearts of many a politician. They have demonstrated a political ability to end the careers of those politicians who seek even minimal restraints on gun ownership. They command legions of members who vote as they are told and millions of dollars to use in negative campaigning against perceived enemies.

Alright already. You’ve won the war. In spite of claims that President Obama is coming after your guns, even he has shown no inclination to engage that battle. You showed state legislators there will be consequences when several Colorado legislators were recalled after voting “yes” when told to vote “no.” Your message has been received.

Now we’d like to ask your help. If the NRA and other gun lobbies would only make gun owners’ responsibilities as high a priority as their rights, the tragedies could be significantly reduced.