Saturday, November 28, 2015

"The only thing we have to fear..."

You may not be able to see Heart Mountain from here, but we are never very far away from it.

When, as young students, we first heard of the prison camps like Heart Mountain, into which the government herded thousands of Americans because they had Japanese ancestors, we asked how could that have happened?

“Fear,” we were told. Americans were so afraid after Pearl Harbor that they willingly relinquished their vaunted values in order to find an illusory sense of security in an insecure world. It didn’t actually make them safer. In the end, Heart Mountain was a national embarrassment; one we said we’d never repeat. But here we go again.

Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” FDR said the only thing we have to fear is fear. Thomas Jefferson said, “Those who sacrifice freedom for safety deserve neither.”

The French accept refugees. Not Americans? As kids, we were taught that welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was an American value.

Somewhere Americans chose fear over courage. Governor Matt Mead is, as he often is, disappointing. But then a contemporary revision of John Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Profiles in Courage” would be a slim pamphlet. Since 9/11, the loudest voices are those of fear. Despite right-wing claims that our freedoms are being taken away, we have been giving them away freely.

We’ve given up our freedom of privacy and accepted a government that spies on us. We’ve accepted the use of torture as official U.S. policy. We’ve watched our government imprison people indefinitely without evidence or due process. We’ve given up our right to travel freely and allowed Dick Cheney to bait us into a disastrous invasion of Iraq, a nation that was no threat to our security.

Thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children were killed by U.S. military attacks, their souls dismissed as “collateral damage.” But the innocent people killed in Paris become a rallying cry for killing more Muslims, the guilty along with the innocent.

We imitated bobbing-head dolls when Donald Trump promised to shut down mosques in violation of the First Amendment and Ben Carson said we should establish an unconstitutional religious test for seeking office. Then Ted Cruz offered that persecuted-Christians Syrians should be allowed into the U.S. but persecuted-Muslim Syrians should be excluded, not based on evidence that they actually pose a threat but because of their faith.

We live in times when people who talk like Trump and Carson get votes. Those who talk like Jesus reap scorn and they all call themselves “Christian.”

Want to radicalize a young Muslim? Let them grow up in refugee camps. The ghost of Osama Bin Laden is smiling. We hunted him down and killed him, but along the way we exchanged his corpse for the values that once branded us Americans.

Personal security is top priority for our national treasury as well. Americans may not realize it or have even noticed, but the National Priority Project documents we’ve spent $6.74 million per hour for Homeland Security since September 11, 2001. Conservatives who want government out of their lives now want a government large enough to protect them from any perceived threat.

How much more do we have to spend on personal security? How many more freedoms and values do you want to give up? Long before this ends, the most significant casualty will be basic American values. The “war on terror” will change who we are as a people because we are waging war on ourselves.

The terrorists took the lives of 130 people as they took the courage of millions. Which do you think ISIS considers the greatest victory?

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that we celebrate those who put their lives at risk to protect our freedoms and values while most of us are quite ready to give up those same values and freedoms to achieve a dubious level of protection for ourselves?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Remembering Teno

When Cynthia Lummis announced her retirement, my memory bank opened to days I worked for a Wyoming Congressman who, like Lummis, could have remained in the job forever, but chose to leave on his own terms.

I’ve been fortunate. Over my life, I’ve had many jobs, never one I didn’t love, each a little better than the last.

One of the most interesting was serving eight years on Congressman Teno Roncalio’s staff. During the week I would met with constituents who needed Teno’s help. But, the joy-of-the-job was those weekends when Teno came back to the state to stay in touch with the voters.

I was 22-years-old and my “heady” chore was to drive him around the state. Teno was one of the most fascinating and intriguing personalities in Wyoming. He grew up poor in Rock Springs, shining shoes to make a few bucks, which became a part of the legend. “Bootblack to banker.” He won a Silver Star in World War II and finished law school before establishing himself as a successful lawyer and banker. Teno ran successfully for the U.S. House in 1964, and unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1966, before returning to the House from 1970-1978. Teno was at the center of John Kennedy’s 1960 Presidential campaign and Bobby Kennedy’s in 1968. Nobody knew Wyoming better. Nobody knew more about politics.

We spent countless hours traveling from Cheyenne to Jackson or Evanston to Gillette, Rawlins to Sheridan and everywhere in between. Those delightful hours were spent listening to Teno telling stories of the land and its people.

How he loved Wyoming. One afternoon as we drove the endless miles from Cheyenne to Rock Springs, I mentioned how “ugly” some of the scenery was along I-80. I received a serious lecture about how important every acre was to the state and why it was beautiful in its way.

I got to hear Teno speak to many audiences. As Wyoming’s only Congressman, he was invited to speak not only to those who supported him but those who worked for his defeat every two years.  Most times it went well. Some times it didn’t.

In several communities, the local chamber of commerce usually gave him a hard time because of his backing of organized labor. During a luncheon with the Laramie Chamber of Commerce, he opened the floor to questions after giving a speech about the hope for peace following the 1978 Camp David accords.

The first questioner wanted to know why Teno voted to allow striking workers to receive food stamps. Teno slammed his notepad on the table and said, “I came to talk about the best hope for peace in the world for a generation and all you care about is why your congressman won’t vote to take the food out of the mouths of children because you can’t sit down with their daddies and negotiate a fair wage. With that, he was out the door.

He was a pilot with his own plane, which we took many times on trips across Wyoming. One cloudless summer afternoon, Teno said he needed a nap. He told me where to keep the needle on the indicator that gauged altitude and how to monitor the compass. That’s all the training I needed. He got a bit of shut-eye while I nervously flew the plane.

Roncalio represented Wyoming for ten years. He worked with Senators Cliff Hansen and Gale McGee, a bipartisan team, on many Wyoming projects. The most important was the hundreds of millions of dollars brought home with increased federal mineral royalties. Voters then thought it important to have a bipartisan delegation so that both sides of the aisle could be worked to Wyoming’s advantage. They were right.

One day, it was over. No press conference, no fanfare; just an off-the-cuff comment to a reporter at a UW football game in the fall of 1977. He would not run for reelection in 1978. His staff read about it in the next morning’s newspaper. That was Teno.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Remembering the Black 14

If you don’t think politics and sport mix, consider what happened at the University of Missouri. Mizzou first admitted black student in 1950. Sixty-five years later, blacks are only seven percent of the 35,000-member student body. They’ve tired of the racial slurs they often hear hurled from passing whites, usually in a stereotypic beat-up old pick-up truck.

They tried traditional political routes. Attempts to speak to the white University president failed. Tim Wolfe gave the obligatory statement. Racism exists. It’s unacceptable. As for giving the concerns of the black students the dignity of his personal time, no. White boosters have backed Wolfe.

Football players backed their fellow students. Their coach backed his players. They vowed not to play another game until Wolfe resigns. He did. They will play. Their next game is today against Brigham Young University.

That ought to stir some Cowboy memories of a time when UW played its cards differently.

In 1969, Wyoming was 12th ranked nationally. Fourteen players walked into Coach Lloyd Eaton’s office. They planned to wear black armbands during their next game, Their opponent was BYU

The school was largely Mormon. The LDS Church had then a policy prohibiting black men from entering the Mormon priesthood. Wearing black armbands during the game was intended to be a subtle objection to that policy.

 Coach Lloyd Eaton had a policy against players exercising their first amendment rights. He kicked everyone of the 14 arm-banded black players off the team. The Governor and UW board of trustees sided with Eaton. Many fans flashed “We Support Eaton” bumper stickers. Politicians and Cowboy booster clubs across the state piled on the 14.

Later, the Cheyenne Quarterback Club, according to, held Cowboy Night “and a large crowd was on hand to honor Lloyd Eaton, his staff and his seniors.” U.S. District Judge Ewing T. Kerr, who was then presiding over a civil rights lawsuit brought by the 14 players, was one of the evening’s “special guests.”

Wyoming beat BYU with their now all-white football team. They won the following weekend too. But victories grew tougher and fewer. The Cowboys lost the last four games of the year by huge margins and then they lost all but one of their games in 1970, the first UW losing season in a generation. They were defeated in 26 of 38 games following the Black 14 incident and had one lonely winning season through the 70s.

Few seemed to care when the 14 lost their places on the team. Fewer cared that they had lost their educations. But when the football team lost all those games, fans couldn’t take it. Eaton was fired, his career ended.

Meanwhile at BYU, things changed. recounts a 2009 Salt Lake Tribune article saying the Black 14 incident had provoked changes at BYU. Tom Hudspeth, BYU head coach in 1969, was quoted as saying how he was “made aware that LDS Church leadership wanted him to add African-Americans to his team, and fast. The following year, BYU's team included Ronnie Knight, a black defensive back from Sand Springs, Okla."

While Wyoming’s football team continued to suffer post-Black 14 era defeats, LDS policy also changed. On June 9, 1978, LDS leaders  “announced that a divine revelation had been received to open the Mormon priesthood to African-Americans, ending the longstanding tenet.”

In the early 1990s, University of Colorado Coach Bill McCartney learned that his black players faced ugly racial taunts like those at Mizzou. He sided with the players. An enlightened white man, McCartney went to the booster clubs and other civic organizations, educating them on what the players faced and the role of white privilege.

McCartney was a winner. So was his team. Sports can change politics, but it does take enlightened leadership.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

"Who is God?"

“Who is God?” This month’s question presupposes both liberal and conservative Christians believe God exists. Troll the Internet. You’ll find conservatives espousing the extreme argument that liberalism is inconsistent with believing in God. Some on the extreme left argue that conservative Christians believe in the Bible, but not in God.

Let’s start by acknowledging that liberal and conservative Christians share the belief that God exists. It isn’t the belief that God exists that separates liberals and conservatives. It’s our concepts of God.

Face it. Engaging in this debate is to be as “the six men of Indostan” of Indian legend. “It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined, who went to see the Elephant though all of them were blind.” Each touches a different part of the elephant, reaching a different conclusion about what it is.

“And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long, each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong’ Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

The moral of the story? The poet said, “So oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween, rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean, and prate about an Elephant not one of them has seen!”

When it comes to telling others who God is, Christians should exhibit the humility that comes with knowing we are guessing. God created the ambiguity for a reason. Perhaps God wants us to search, dialogue, and guess.

Some liberal Christians take two paths to knowing God; understanding Creation, and following Jesus.

Liberals speak of the God of Creation, a significant clue in our endeavor to define God. What God created tells us a great deal about whom God is. God created the earth as a part of an imponderable universe. God created the skies, lands, and seas and placed on them the winged, finned, and four and six-leggeds. God then created humans with attributes necessary to fulfill God’s wish that creation be cared for, not exploited.

The God of Creation intentionally designed a radically diverse world. Parts of the earth were made to differ considerably from others assuring that not all peoples were the same. Skin color, languages, cultures, and religions differed. The way in which people lived and provided for their families grew out of the diversity, as did the differences in the way in which they came to understand God.

God didn’t expect the first humans would know all there is to know. God said, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Creation included mechanisms for evolution. Clues to God’s identity are in the complex human anatomy, starting with the mysteries of the brain and including the miracles of DNA and genes. Some of those genes make us short or tall, blue or green-eyed. Some determine our predisposition to addiction or mental illness. Others determine gender and sexual orientation. Differences. The Lord God made them all. That’s who we are because that’s who God is.

The second path liberals find helpful in understanding God is Jesus. Interestingly, people of all faiths somehow came to share a common understanding that we are to do unto others that which we’d like done unto us. For Christians, that teaching came through Jesus. Jesus is the way for Christians to know God. What do we learn about God through Jesus? We learn that God cares for the poor, the oppressed, and the foreigners, heals the sick, accepts the rejected, cares for the widows and the orphans, shares time and meals with sinners, and will one day judge us for how we treated the least of these our brothers and sisters.

God did not create religion. In teaching us about God, Jesus didn’t divide the world into denominations and separate us by dogma. Humans did all that on their own. Thus dogmatic differences teach us about who humans are, but not about whom God is.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

1960-Wyoming Made History

The Presidential campaign is rather meaningless to Wyoming. It doesn’t matter whether the Republican nominee is Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal, or Deez Nuts, Wyoming’s three electoral votes will be in that column come November. Getting worked up about it is fruitless whether you’re a Wyoming Democrat or a Wyoming Republican.

So then, why is our lone Congressman endorsing a candidate who has no chance to win her Party’s nomination? Lummis is quoted on Senator Rand Paul’s website saying it’s because “Rand Paul will do what he says.”

He says he’ll limit the number of terms Lummis and other members of Congress can serve. Wyoming’s voters won’t even do that. Paul says he’ll repeal the tax code and replace it with a 14.5% flat tax, privatization of Medicare, and a 70-year-old retirement age. Great news for Lummis. She lives in the rarified air of the wealthy. Not near so good for most of Lummis’s working family and elderly constituents as Lummis’s tax burden is shifted to them even as the federal budget deficit is increased by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Aside from that, Deez Nuts and Jeb Bush have better shots at the nomination than Senator Paul. Wyoming voters might ask, what’s in it for us to have our sole Congressman endorse him? Lummis says, “He believes in the right of states like Wyoming to manage their resources without Washington obstruction.” Which GOP candidate doesn’t? What would the Republicans talk about if a President stopped trying to “manage” the resources of a state whose lands are more than 50% owned by the feds.   

Maybe that endorsement does as much for Wyoming as Lummis’s membership in the House Freedom Caucus. Has that done anything for you lately?

Most Wyoming politicians shy away from endorsing Presidential candidates. It’s not often helpful to them or Wyoming. Although Bill Clinton came with a 5% margin of defeating George H.W. Bush in Wyoming, some might argue that endorsing Clinton in 1992 cost Governor Mike Sullivan and Secretary of State Kathy Karpan their bids for higher office two years later, Sullivan for the U.S. Senate and Karpan for the Governorship.

The real problem is that we have as close to no leverage as a state can get. There are 2,470 delegates to the GOP national convention. Wyoming has 29, slightly less than 1.2% of the total.

If that paucity of delegates ever means anything, it might be toward the end when only a few candidates remain and a handful of Wyoming delegate votes might make the difference. That happened once. It was 1960. It was the contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. The convention was held in Los Angeles. The candidates were many. Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, George Smathers, Stuart Symington, Adlai Stevenson, Robert Meyner, and Ross Barnett.

The roll was called in alphabetical order. Wyoming was last. In those days, national conventions were not orchestrated around preordained candidates. As the roll was called, no one could predict the winner. Wyoming had a miniscule 15 votes, slightly fewer than 1% of the total. By the time the clerk got around to asking for Wyoming’s vote, John Kennedy was 11 votes short of the nomination. Seven of Wyoming’s delegates were already committed to Kennedy. He needed just four more to become the nominee.
 If Kennedy didn’t win on that first ballot, LBJ was certain he could win on the second. JFK’s youngest brother Teddy stood among the Wyoming delegation urging them on. Until that very moment Wyoming Senator Gale McGee had refrained from endorsing a candidate despite the full-court press each had put on him.
 McGee was a historian with an appreciation of the significance of the moment. He understood the importance of the opportunity for Wyoming. There he was. Standing on a chair, holding four fingers high in the air was Senator McGee.
 John Kennedy got those four votes and with them, the nomination. The President and his family remained grateful to Wyoming for the rest of their lives.