Saturday, June 25, 2016

Memo from an aging Liberal

“I guess I’m not much of a Liberal anymore.”

Reading Facebook posts of Bernie supporters and listening to them lecture the Democratic Party about what it should be and isn’t reminds me of 1972. It was the first time I was old enough to vote. I turned 20 in 1968 and the voting age was then 21. From the sidelines I watched Richard Nixon become President by less than 1% of the popular vote.

By 1972, I was completing my first term in the Wyoming legislature and running for a second. The war in Vietnam was still on. Nixon’s secret plan to end it proved a fake and 20,000 more Americans would die there after his 1968 election.

As a result, the Democratic Party thoroughly reformed itself before the 1972 race started. The nomination would thereafter be won in open primaries and caucuses, not in smoke-filled rooms. Delegates would reflect the gender and racial makeup of the nation. The ‘unit rule,’ a practice requiring that the winner of a majority of s state’s votes received all its delegates, was abolished. Rules were written requiring affirmative action in each state party to name female and minority members to their delegation.

Many believed, and many still believe that the reforms were designed to make sure an insurgent candidate would prevail over the establishment’s choice.

In 1972, the Democrats were determined that Nixon should be a one-termer. Among others, 16 in all, the Democrat’s field included moderates Sen. Edmund Muskie, Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson, and the man who lost to Nixon four years earlier, Hubert Humphrey.

South Dakota Senator George McGovern was the choice of we young liberals. McGovern was the anti-establishment candidate. After the 1968 campaign during which there were few primaries and the nomination was the product of decisions made by large-city bosses in the back rooms. In the aftermath of Nixon’s tragic 1968 victory, George McGovern was named to head a Party commission to revise the way in which Democrats chose their nominee.

He was clear in his opposition to the war and in his feelings about the Party’s failure to be liberal enough on domestic issues. He rebuked big money politics and raised millions selling a special campaign button for $25 each. I still have mine sitting on the top shelf of my bookcase.

The Party regulars formed an “Anybody But McGovern” coalition. They said he was the candidate of “Acid, Amnesty and Abortion.”

Nonetheless, young people flocked to his campaign. In 1972 George McGovern was to us what Bernie Sanders is to young liberal voters today.

It was a case of “good news-bad news.” The good news? We liberals got what we wanted in a nominee. The bad news? McGovern suffered a devastating loss in November and Richard Nixon won another term, one he would not finish as his corrupt administration was exposed.

The 1972 McGovern landslide loss wasn’t the worst of it. Between then and 1992, Democrats were able only to elect one President and he, Jimmy carter, served but a single term.

Was that because of the reforms that allowed McGovern to win the Party’s nomination?  Nothing this big ever has a single cause. But the process of reforming our Party gave many a sense that Democrats were pandering populists, willing to make their point even if it meant leaving behind traditional New Deal Democrats.

Which brings me to the quote with which this blog opened.

One night after McGovern was nominated, the late Walter Urbigkit and I sat drinking beer in the long-gone Club Araby on Carey Avenue. The later it got, the more intense the argument about whether McGovern was good for the Party. Walter was a Party stalwart, an old time Hubert Humphrey liberal. I was a young McGovern liberal.

Back and forth we went like I go back and forth today with Bernie folks. As the cocktail waitress came for “last call,” Walter stood to leave saying, “I guess I’m not much of a liberal anymore.”

And so it goes, old bulls, young bulls!

A Chance Meeting @ the Pearly Gates

It was a chance meeting between the two Muslims. Their deaths occurred only days apart, a coincidence for those who believe in coincidence.

Muhammad Ali arrived first. The line of autograph seekers surrounding the Champ at the Pearly Gates shortened considerably by the time Omar Mateen arrived. Mateen recognized his fellow Muslim and smiled, betraying a misplaced confidence that he’d arrived at a place where only Muslims go after their life on earth.

Ali realized who this man was. “You know me,” he said. “I've been a Muslim for years. I've been called “The Greatest.” People recognize me for being a boxer and a man of truth. I wouldn't be here representing Islam if I were terrorist. I think all people should know the truth. Islam is peace.” (Actual Ali quote).

“But you,” Ali said to Mateen, “you’re the one who caused Allah to weep since the early hours of this morning.” Mateen was confused. “Why would Allah weep over what I’ve done? I have slain infidels and those who are sexually impure. I’ll be received with the honors promised a martyr. Who are you to say I have caused Allah to weep?”

Ali looked past Mateen, casting his eyes on the 49 who followed their killer to those gates. Mateen seemed annoyed. “Why are they here,” he demanded to know. “They’re not Muslims.”

Ali explained that people are often surprised to find who is there. “Anyone who does the will of Allah may enter through these gates.” Ali explained the word “Islam” means “submission.” He told his Muslim brother that according to the Quran, Adam was first to do Islam and others, including Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Jesus followed.

Ali taught him that though they were not Muslims, they were doing “Islam,” that is following the will of Allah. “Anyone can enter Paradise if they follow the will of God and not that of humans.”

Walking away, Ali added, “You have not done Allah’s will.” He looked back at Mateen and said, “Have you not read the words of the Holy Quran?”

“No,” said Mateen, his voice now evidencing growing desperation. “I have not read them but I’ve been told that Allah will reward me, as He does all martyrs, with seventy-two virgins.” Mateen recited verses from the 78th chapter of the Quran. "Verily for the righteous there will be a fulfillment of the Heart's desires; gardens enclosed, and grape-vines; companions of Equal Age.”

Ali responded. “Nothing in what you have committed to memory speaks of virgins much less a reward for your great evil.” Mateen assured him that an Imam with whom he had spoken interpreted those verses to guarantee him the reward of virgins in exchange for the killing of non-believers.

Ali’s countenance fell. “You my brother, you have made the mistake that many fundamentalist radicals of all faiths make. You have put your life on the line for a bad translation of a single verse taken casually from the entirety of the Word of Allah.

“Allah never takes delight in the killing of His creation. The Quran is clear and certain. Allah ‘loveth not mischief.” (2:205). Ali pointed to the fifth chapter, 16th verse of the Holy Quran. “Wherewith Allah guideth all who seek his good pleasure to ways of peace and safety and leadeth them out of darkness, by His will, unto the light, guiding them to a path that is straight.”

“Islam is a religion of peace,” Ali continued. “What you’ve done is evil in the eyes of Allah. “According to the Word of Allah given to his Messenger in the Quran (5:32), ‘We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.”

They departed one another’s company, each to face Judgment for their own understanding of Islam.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

“Hearing God Through the Gunfire”

“Hearing God Through the Gunfire”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
June 19, 2016

Luke 19:41-42
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

John 2:14-16
In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers seated at their tables. So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those selling doves He said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a den of thieves?”

Last Sunday we were awakened to the sounds of Jesus weeping. On this Sunday we must talk about how Christians are called to respond to the horror in Orlando.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

Jesus knew what King Solomon knew…there is a time to weep. Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Jesus knew there was also a time to act. That day when he entered into the temple courts and found the money changers seated at their tables, he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the Temple. He overturned their tables and said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a den of thieves?”

Jesus taught us that at times of the highest injustice weeping alone is not enough. We must also act. Orlando is that time.

The Gospel message is that we who claim to follow Jesus have an obligation to alleviate the suffering of others and to refrain from doing that which causes or contributes to their suffering.

There have been so many occasions for the kind of grief we feel this week. This is a prayer written for Sandy Hook. 27 died there, including 20 very young children. Sandy Hook should be remembered for two things, the children…and for the failure of lawmakers to do anything but offer prayers. That’s why I like this Sandy Hook prayer, which I have altered as a prayer for Orlando.

Let us pray. As Rachel wept for her children in Ramah, we weep for the people of Orlando who were gunned down a week ago. As we raise our lamentations to God, we also pray that God will comfort and console the parents, family and friends of those slain, the first responders who faced an unimaginable and unspeakable scene, and help all of us make sense of the senseless. AMEN

We can never let prayers substitute for action. Following Jesus empowers us to act and to address our culture of gun violence, so attuned to the noise of the gun lobby that it cannot hear the weeping and wailing. After Orlando, we stand to follow Jesus into the Temple. We will join him in overturning the tables and changing that which cries for change in our nation.

Those seated at the tables inside the temples of power are the leaders of the National Rifle Association. 

As a child, I learned gun safety from NRA teachers. The NRA promoted good sportsmanship and hunting ethics. That was then. Now, the NRA is not an organization for hunters and sportsmen. It’s about large gun manufacturers. The NRA protects them by making sure laws permits the sales of the maximum numbers of guns whether the buyer is a threat or not.

The NRA does that by controlling those we elect to public office at all levels and in both parties. They don’t enter the political arena for the purpose of establishing justice and fairness. Their purpose is simply greed.

Having watched for more than 30 years the vile manner in which they control our political system and prevent informed debates about solutions to gun violence, I am persuaded that membership in the NRA is inconsistent with being a follower of Jesus. You simply cannot be both, as you watch hundreds of people die each year in a nation that worships guns more than God.

It’s children shooting one another with loaded guns left lying around the house, it’s gun deaths during domestic violence incidents, it’s suicides facilitated by readily available guns and it’s the kind of mass murder we see too often. In condemning a culture of guns after Orlando, Pope Francis said, we see pain, but do not touch it; we hear weeping, but do not comfort it.”

Why? Because the NRA uses its influence to control the democratic process. The NRA demands, for example, that congress and state legislators not enact laws for safe storage and trigger locks. The NRA opposes limiting the ability of people to buy assault weapons even if they are deemed to be potential terrorists and dangerous enough to not be able to board an airplane.

The NRA creates barriers to the development and sale of so-called smart guns, firearms that include safety features allowing it to be fired only by an authorized user. Smart guns can prevent misuse, accidental shootings, gun thefts, use of the weapon against the owner, and self-harm and accidents causing the deaths of children who happen upon a firearm whose owner left carelessly loaded and available.

The NRA demands that politicians beholden to it stop efforts requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows. The NRA used its influence in Florida to pass legislation punishing doctors who asked patients whether they owned a gun, a question that when answered affirmatively would give doctors an opportunity to discuss safe storage and how to keep guns out of the hands of children.

NRA lobbyists persuaded Congress to outlaw research into gun violence. When the CDC proved statistically that a person carrying a gun for personal safety was 4.5 times more likely to be shot with his own gun, NRA owned members of Congress prohibited the CDC from doing any further gun research.

Those who join the NRA and send them money know how those dollars are used. They buy the loyalty of politicians on both sides of the aisle who are so fearful of the political power of the NRA that they’ll do nothing about the epidemic of mass murder in this nation except Tweet their prayers and condolences while pocketing millions of dollars in campaign contributions meant to buy their votes.

The NRA has made an idol of gun ownership and elevated the 2nd Amendment to the level of scripture. Despite the fact that Wyoming ranks as the fourth highest state for gun violence, one candidate for the state senate in this community believes the Second Amendment is God’s law.

The 2nd Amendment is only 27 words: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The NRA would have you believe that that “well regulated militia,” includes the right of Omar Mateen, Adam Lanza, the San Bernardino shooters, James Holmes, and Robert Lewis Dear, the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado Springs among so many…to keep and bear arms regardless of their background, mental stability or level of threat.

Can we hear the still small voice of God over the sound of the gunfire? Will we do more than meekly mourn? King Solomon told us there was a time to mourn and to keep silence but that there was also a time to speak out. That time has come. The time to ignore the NRA is over. To permit them to continue buying off Wyoming politicians while we shed tears, say prayers, attend vigils, and offer condolences is to choose not to follow Jesus.

Get involved. Join an organization like Mothers Demand Action. Let candidates knocking on your door, be they Democrats, Republicans or Libertarians…let them know that if they follow the NRA, they can’t have your precious vote, that as a Christian you want them to do what they can to end the deaths and the suffering.

Now that there has been an agreement in the US Senate to vote on bill prohibiting potential terrorists on the no-fly list to buy guns and to require background checks, call our congressional delegation and let them know that not all of Wyoming agrees to offer prayers and tears and nothing else. Tell them that there are Christians in this state who understand what it means to follow Jesus.

We remember that just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he weeps over Orlando and speaks to all of us when he says, Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! Let us let Jesus know that we do know what makes for peace and we will act. AMEN

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Taxing the Wind

Wyoming is the only state in the Union to tax the wind. Some legislators want to raise that tax by 300 to 400 percent.

High Country News reports House Revenue Committee Michael Madden of Buffalo doesn’t think wind is paying its fair share compared to oil, gas, and coal.

Rep. Madden says he “can’t see any fundamental reason to treat one different from another.” The Republican added, “This isn’t my first rodeo on this type of thing.” However, his rationale leads some to believe it might just be.

Fundamental differences justify different treatment. Wind is a renewable energy source that will always be with us. Fossil fuels are assets that are gone forever once extracted and hauled away.

Second, one is a fossil fuel whose days are numbered despite the fervent denial of Wyoming pols. Wind gives the state a chance to reboot and diversify its economy unless Madden and his colleagues kill the Goose that wants to lay the Golden Egg.

Third, with additional taxes added to the current one-of-a-kind tax on Wyoming’s wind, developers can easily find just as much wind blowing untaxed in any number of other states.

Madden’s argument leaves those of us who were around the state house when the severance tax was first enacted shaking our heads. The severance tax was imposed on fossil fuels because lawmakers knew they were not renewable assets. The mining companies took them out of the ground and hauled them off to other states where they made a fortune for others for decades without leaving the state much of anything.

In the 60s and 70s, Wyoming decided that if they were going to haul away these valuable assets the companies should leave behind a few bucks. Many of us believe the mining companies never paid their fair share despite the size of permanent and rainy day funds largely attributable to severance taxes and federal royalties.

Taxing a renewable source like the wind is altogether different. That’s why Wyoming is the only state doing it. Floating a proposal to tax wind even more has already dampened plans for further development.

Power Company of Wyoming, a Denver-based wind developer, has put plans to build 1,000 wind turbines in Carbon County in limbo as a result. That means a loss, not only in wind tax revenue but also in new, good paying jobs, sales and use taxes, and the related economic activity the project would generate in one of the state’s poorest counties.

(I know. I don’t like the look of those windmills across the horizon. But I like climate change even less.)

I well remember the days when coal, uranium, oil and gas company lobbyists threatened legislators who thought their companies should pay a fair severance tax. They warned that if we raised their taxes, they’d take their business somewhere else. We didn’t believe them. They didn’t leave. After all, where were they going to go that had as much of what they wanted with lower taxes?

Wind is not the same market.

It’s nonsense to hope that a tax on wind can or should be raised high enough to replace revenues lost to weakening fossil fuels markets especially when the same legislators refuse to tax tobacco and booze fairly and turn down ten-of-millions by defeating Medicaid expansion.

So, why impose more taxes on wind? Revenge. At least one legislator feels erroneously that renewable energy has harmed Wyoming’s coal producers. He’s out to get even.

State Sen. Ogden Driskill, a Republican whose gerrymandered district extends to parts of three northwest Wyoming counties, opposes federal tax subsidies for wind. He advocates for what he calls “a level playing field” between renewables and fossil fuels.” Why? “I really don’t believe in the federal subsidy,” he said. “I feel it has had a detrimental effect on our very competitively priced energy in Wyoming.”

That is the attitude that got us where we are. It’s what will keep us there unless more visionary people win seats in the legislature this fall.