Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lack of personal responsibility=Regulation

Senator Ted Cruz, the winner of the 2015 “Joe McCarthy Look-a-Like” sweepstakes, was in town this week. He was the first of the GOP multitude to make his way to Wyoming to campaign for President.

His first promise was to do something about all the government regulations he says are killing small business. Well, as my once-teenaged daughter used to say, “Gag me with a spoon.”

I’m sorry but I get tired of these politicians promising to rid the country of government regulation. Cruz is just one more in a long line of pandering pols playing to the crowd. In a lighter moment exemplifying how phony the “end regulation” ploy is, 2012 Presidential candidate Rick Perry remembered he wanted to eliminate regulatory agencies. He just couldn’t remember which ones.

“Let me tell you, it’s three agencies that are gone when I get there,” the Texas Governor told the audience at a GOP candidates’ debate. “Commerce, Education, and the um, what’s the third one there?” Embarrassed for his opponent, Mitt Romney offered to help. Romney shouted, “EPA?” Nope, that wasn’t it, Perry said. Another candidate said the EPA would do.

“I can’t remember the third one,” said Perry. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

There is an antidote far more effective than relying on pandering politicians to reduce government regulation. Memo to business people: Take responsibility for your own conduct.

Government regulation doesn’t just appear out of thin air. It is the failure of some businesses to act responsibly and clean up the messes they make, which ends up spawning additional regulation. You need look no further than the corner of Carey and 18th. The Z’s Building is a metaphor for an absence of personal responsibility in some of the business community.

The DDA website describes a tour of the building taken by its executive director Amy Surdam. She reported back to members, "We were only able to go into the “good” parts of the building due to pigeons darting at our heads, large amount of black mold and sporing, and water damage. Yes, those are mushrooms growing out of the carpet. Yes, that is black mold. Yes, that is me almost throwing up from the smell and vast amount of dead pigeons.”

DDA board chair Hans Seitz says the condition of the building has been permitted to deteriorate so much that the building may fall in on itself if something isn't done. There is no question that a building so large, so centrally located in downtown Cheyenne, in such dangerous condition must be salvaged. 

What to do? But is the only alternative to holding the owner responsible is to hold up the taxpayers? The DDA announced they’ll apply to the Wyoming Business Council for a grant to buy the building, which once housed Z's Furniture. Such a grant won’t begin to pay the bill. It would cost as much as $332,633 to make even minor improvements there, a DDA report says. Intermediate-level upgrades would cost $1.5 million.

It could cost as much as $5.7 million to pay for improvements like new floors, walls and exteriors. Surdam admits even that may not be near enough.

What’s more is that there is much more. The Z’s Building is not the only abandoned, deteriorating, and privately owned building in the city. And there are others, not yet in that bad of condition, that may lengthen the list in coming years.

Politicians and business people who have such disdain for government regulation can pontificate all they want, but that doesn’t fix the problem. They need to grapple with this. What alternative is there to new laws and regulations to prevent the exorbitant cost of salvaging these buildings from migrating from the property owner to the taxpayer?

DDA chairman Seitz says he wants the DDA to show "it will no longer tolerate the blight and the laissez-faire attitude of the absentee owners in downtown." Neither the DDA nor the Wyoming Business Council convince anyone of that by letting property owners off the hook.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What makes conservatives tick?

Did you join the 24 million watching the FOX News Republican presidential debate? I did and found myself focused on the live-audience reactions as much as what candidates had to say.

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, the audience, to the extent it represented the conservative base, made me think liberals are from entirely different galaxies, as far apart from conservatives as A to Z, with liberals perhaps from Andromeda and conservatives from Zwicky’s Triplet Galaxy.

At times I was reminded of a familiar African proverb. “When elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers.” A Cambodian saying may apply to the GOP front-runner.  The elephant that is stuck in the mud will tear down the tree with it.

I disagreed with much that the candidates had to say, but it was the reaction of the clearly partisan live audience that left me wondering if they represented mainstream Republican thinking. For example, moderator Megyn Kelly reminded viewers of Donald Trump’s statements about women. “You have called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs’, ‘slobs’, and ‘disgusting animals.” Trump’s dishonest reply was, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” The audience broke into sustained laughter, giving us a revealing glimpse at what they mean when they object to what they disdainfully call “political correctness.”  

They cheered loudly when Dr. Ben Carson said he supported torture. Marco Rubio got a favorable audience response, saying it didn’t matter if pregnancies were the result of a rape or incest or threatened the life of the mother, abortion should be banned in all cases.

Seemingly inconsistent with the stereotype, Kelly’s question to Ohio Governor John Kasich rejected fundamental Christian values in favor of a humanist, conservative position on healthcare reform. She posed this question to Kasich, “You defended your Medicaid expansion by invoking God, saying to skeptics that when they arrive in heaven, Saint Peter isn't going to ask them how small they've kept government, but what they have done for the poor.”

She drew a distinction between what Christians espouse and what the Republicans in this audience seemed to believe. “Why should Republican voters, who generally want to shrink government, believe that you won't use your Saint Peter rationale to expand every government program?”

Really? “Your Saint Peter rationale”? The FOX News translation of the Gospel received a shockingly warm response from the audience. In the Fox version, apparently it’s Judgment Day and Ayn Rand rather than Jesus divides the people, placing those Rand called “the makers” on the right and “the takers” on the left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I needed clothes, I was sick, I was in prison and you, thankfully, reduced the size of government.”

You might have thought conservative Christians, who chide liberals about “traditional Biblical values,” might choose to side with the King James Version of the story rather than the FOX News translation. You’d be wrong. This audience didn’t hesitate a moment to cheer Kelly’s confrontation with a Governor who, in contrast to anyone else on that elongated stage, thought it more important to heal the sick.

Back to the original question. Why do liberals and the conservatives in the Cleveland audience see the world so differently? There are a number of less-than-charitable explanations on each side. However,, a nonprofit public charity, attempts to be objective, providing resources for critical thinking without a bias. They surveyed 16 peer-reviewed studies showing liberals and conservatives are physiologically different. It’s not simply opinion and experience but a part of who we are inherently.

Is it simply a contest between concrete thinking and sentimentality? Those studies show people politically right-of-center spend more time looking at unpleasant images, and people left-of-center spend more time looking at pleasant images.

The study may explain the cheers from this audience for Trump.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Once I Was Very Rich

I was once filthy rich, among the one-percent. I lost it all, not to the stock market or the Nigerians emailing me weekly. My fortune vanished when my mother got tired of picking up my baseball cards, strewn all over the house and threw them away.

Indeed, given the fact that earlier this month a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $401,000, my net worth as an eight-year-old would have been in the Trumpisphere. There’s no doubt in my childhood memory. I probably had twenty Mantle rookie cards spread from my bedroom through the living room, under couches, tacked to my bulletin board, or clothes-pinned to the spokes of my bicycle.

It was the mid-1950s. Baseball was our “national pastime.” Dad had played semi-pro baseball in Texas and passed along his love of the game. We had no idea who owned that vacant lot next door, but it was our Ebbets Field. We played ball there every night until it was so dark you couldn’t see the ball. We played Little League and collected baseball cards as well.

My brother and I had about a qazillion-quzillion baseball cards. We added to the collection each Saturday morning when our parents gave us our weekly allowance. In those days a quarter bought something.

We lived four blocks from the Cole Shopping Center. With that quarter held tightly in our sweaty little fists, we marched off to Ben Franklin’s, laid it on the counter and got a couple of more packages of Topps Baseball Cards.

Each package contained an orangey-red square of stale bubble gum packed with 6-8 cards.  The gum stained the cards. We didn’t know it then, nor did we care, that the stain would considerably reduce the card’s value among collectors who one day figured out these 2 and 5/8th by 3 and three quarter inch pieces of cardboard could be worth a lot of money.

The 1951 Topps set was a deck of cards, 52 in a set. Each featured a player’s picture and a game event. One card might say “fly-out,” another “single,” or “triple,” or so on. That was our “fantasy baseball.” No team played in the Cheyenne time-zone. We couldn’t even get last night’s scores for a day or two because of the time differences. There was only one televised game per week, which is, I guess, why they called it “The Game of the Week.”

Cards gave us a way to “play ball.” Friends took turns turning cards over pretending to play a baseball game.

The 1952 cards were different. There were more of them, 407 cards. Each included a player’s photo with a facsimile autograph. On the other side were his stats. We learned as much math studying those cards as we did in school. Calculating a hitter’s batting average or a pitcher’s earned run average meant solving complex math problems. We used that information in long debates with friends about who was the greatest player.

The cards had squared corners. Not many stayed square, which is why one alone was worth $401,000. To us ‘50s kids, that meant nothing. We put rubber bands tightly around stacks of cards. Turns out the square corners will round off if you don’t put the cards immediately into a protective sleeve.  Rubber bands leave small nicks on the cards at the outer edge of the stack. The cards didn’t survive at all when secured to the spokes of our bicycles. They made the bike sound like a car engine running without oil. It was worth it then. But it was a little like clothes pinning an original Apple stock certificate to those spokes.

Who knew? We weren’t investors. We were kids. We used baseball cards to dream. It’s how we got to know our heroes who played the game. We looked at those cards and imagined Mickey Mantle hitting another home run. What made the hobby richer back then is that we couldn’t imagine that little card selling for nearly half-a-million dollars.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Creation of Trumpenstein

“It was on a dreary night in August with the Republican candidates debating on FOX News that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With anxiety I collected the instruments of life, around me that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless things that stood on that stage. Suddenly I saw the dull yellow eye of one of the creatures open; it breathed and a convulsive motion agitated its straw-like hair.”

Thus, a paraphrase of Mary Shelly’s classic prose describes an event so awful that even she could not have foretold. The creation of Trumpenstein.

Dr. Repub Goper spent decades assembling the parts, feverishly fashioning this creature. Looking upon the result, his expression betrays his horror. “Hateful day when I received life,” Trumpenstein exclaimed in joyous antipathy. “Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turn from me in disgust?”

Dr. Goper had worked methodically, knowing exactly what he was doing as he removed the specimen’s left hand and crudely attached a redundant right hand. He replaced its brain with a computer chip channeling FOX News all day every day. This allowed the creature to ignore the truth and to become completely oblivious to its own best interests.

Although the insertion of the FOX News chip likely rendered the procedure unnecessary, he also tore out the specimen’s heart.

The doctor then replaced the creature’s voice with that of another. Teaching the creature how to speak was assisted by talking points that Dr. Goper had developed. The words had to be simple for the creature was a simpleton.

This proved easier than he’d predicted. The creature quickly uttered its first words.  “That’s socialism,” he cried with a snarl. The doctor smiled deviously as he heard his creature say those words. He knew everything else would now flow smoothly. “Repeal and replace” followed by “Guv’mint bad. “Bad guv’mint.” Now all he had to do was teach the creature to fill in the blanks.

“Bad guv’mint…take our guns” and “guv’mint bad…taking our freedoms.” The creature asked which freedoms “bad guv’mint” was taking. Dr. Goper told him he didn’t need to know. He just needed to repeat the phrase over and over again until he truly believed that something was being taken from him.

Dr. Goper looked upon his creation and, at first, pronounced it good. But one climactic day, the creature announced, “I will run for president. I know the talking points. I know how to stir fear among the base. Beware; for I am rich, and therefore powerful.”

Suddenly, the doctor looked upon the monstrosity he created. The sight horrified him. He had taught the creature what to think and what to say, but he did not give him a nice toupee. The doctor soon realized that was the least of his problems. He cried out in terror, “How can we stop this creature from ruining us?”

“Listen Dr. Goper,” said Trumpenstein, “you accuse me of being out of control; yet you taught me everything I know. You taught me what to think and say, and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of the post Citizens-United world!”

Trumpenstein continued to rave, "Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember, I have power and I have my own money, lots of it; you believe yourself miserable now, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master. Obey or I will run as a third party candidate."

Dr. Goper was aghast. “What have I done?” In my haste to win at all costs, I have created this monster. “Leave, Trumpenstein. I say leave now!”

"It is well,” said the monster as he combed the few remaining strands of hair over his growing bald spot. “I may go; but remember, I shall be with you on your election-night."

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Love it or leave it!" I get that a lot

Of the myriad of responses I receive to opinions expressed in my weekly column, which now number about 250 over more than four years, the most frequent coming from those who disagree is the tired, old refrain, “love it or leave it.”

Actually, that’s not completely true. Those are the most frequent criticisms from people who have the courage to include their name. Many responses, especially the most negative, are sent anonymously. One such critic recently emailed me to tell me how lame my opinions are. I thought the definition of lameness might well include criticisms offered anonymously.

But the old “love it or leave it” refrain comes my way often.

One reader told me that if I want to criticize Wyoming, I should just pack up and head to “liberal-loving California.” A recent letter was more inviting. It said I could “move to any of the other 49 states without even having to apply for a green card.”

“Wyoming. Love it or leave it.” In other words, get with the program. This is Wyoming. This is our “home on the range, where never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.”

Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah. I remember. It was during the Vietnam War. Thousands of our best young men were dying needlessly and without purpose in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Hundreds of thousands of Americans protested. They were told, “This is America. Love it or leave it.”

In a Huffington Post story of a pastor introducing GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum and inviting those who don’t love a Christians-only nation to leave, writer Michael Sigman said, “ The origin of ‘America Love It or Leave It’ is murky. It was popularized by gossip guru and Joseph McCarthy sympathizer Walter Winchell, who, among other abuses of power, helped keep entertainer, activist, and national treasure Josephine Baker out of the country we're all free to love.”

Ernest Tubb, the Texas Troubadour, sang a country song advising those who opposed to war where they could take their anti-war sentiments.

“It's kinda hard to understand when you read about a man
That's talkin' 'bout love and knockin' the place he was born;         
If things don't go their way, they could always move away;
That's what democracy means anyway.
It's America, love it or leave it.”

That slogan became the rallying cry of the pro-war crowd, which became smaller every week as the Pentagon announced the latest body-bag count. The slogan incited violence against Americans using their First Amendment rights protesting the war. Within a week of the killing of four student protesters at Kent State, hundreds of New York construction workers waded into a crowd of protesters brandishing clubs and shouting, “American, love it or leave it.”

It seemed odd to me even then that those who supported the war in Vietnam, claiming soldiers were dying for our rights, were killing and maiming those who were exercising perhaps the most precious of those rights.

The other pronounced criticism I receive when calling out those in Wyoming who support discrimination is that I have ignored the progress we’ve made. Interestingly, those who feel progress is a substitute for moving immediately to non-discrimination are generally older, Christian, heterosexual males with thin, pink skin. They are the ones who make certain the “progress” is glacial. And they like it that way.

So, if you think differently and are willing to express your views and sign your name to the opinion, you can’t be “one of us.” The implication is that there is nothing that needs changing in Wyoming, all is well. Opened eyes and minds know better.

Maybe I missed something in ninth grade civics, but it seems to me a democracy provides a place to both love it and criticize it. Lands where criticism is not allowed are not democracies.  “Wyoming. Love it or leave it?” It’s easier for me to imagine slogans like, “North Korea, love it or leave it.”