Saturday, July 30, 2016

If Jesus voted in Wyoming this year...

If Jesus voted in Wyoming this year, whom would he support?  

Let’s dispel the myth that Jesus and politics don’t mix. Remember when Jesus was asked whether it was lawful to pay taxes. The story is often misinterpreted as telling us to stay clear of politics.

The Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?” Jesus responded, “Show me the coin used to pay taxes.” Looking at the coin he asked, “Whose image is on this?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” That makes it easy. “Render unto the emperor that which belongs to the emperor and unto God the things that are God’s.”

If you think Christians should stay out of politics, you missed his point. Everything belongs to God. Once you’ve rendered unto God that which belongs to God, there’s nothing left for Caesar.

Jesus followers must engage in politics in a way that respects his teachings. It’s in the political arena where decisions are made about whether the hungry are fed, the thirsty have clean water, strangers are welcomed, the naked clothed, the sick given care, and a roof is put over the heads of the homeless.

The “Judgment Parable” of Matthew 25 is fulfilled, or not, by those we elect. People of faith are called to help. But the real money necessary to care for “the least of these” comes from those who distribute the tax dollars collected from us.

Jesus would start by voting in the GOP primary. He’d want to make sure incumbent legislators waging war on the poor didn’t get reelected. Pointing out that all were Republicans isn’t a partisan statement. It’s simply the truth.

Jesus wouldn’t vote for anyone opposed to Medicaid expansion. If Christians could perform healing miracles like Jesus did we wouldn’t need to worry about this.

But the miracle they can perform is the defeat of those who impose roadblocks to healthcare for 20,000 low-income working people. Jesus didn’t have to contend with “Caesar-care” the way our politicians are confronted with the politics of Obamacare, but I’m certain Jesus wouldn’t allow partisan politics to distract him from caring for the sick. Neither should Christians use their precious votes to support those who did.

Second, Jesus would oppose candidates who support ill-named “religious freedom” laws. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus hung out that “we-refuse the-right-to-refuse-service-to-anyone” signs only once.

When the gentile woman from Syrophoenicia sought help, he responded, "Let the children be fed first. It’s not good to take bread out of children's mouths and throw it to the dogs!” Jesus never again withheld himself from those who were different after being humbled by her retort, "Sir, even the dogs under the table get to eat scraps dropped by children!"

Third, you can’t read the Gospel without concluding that Jesus expects us to care for the widows and orphans, the disabled, and the poor. Following Jesus’s teachings means voting to oust legislators who supported deep cuts or elimination of funds critical to our low-income, elderly and disabled neighbors.

Nearly all of those Republican incumbents knocking on your door voted to repeal sales tax refunds to the lowest income families. Low-income families have received this refund annually since 1976. Not in the darkest days of earlier budget crises did anyone attack this meager benefit. Most of these folks live off little more than a Social Security check.

Republican legislators, acting without a single Democratic vote, slashed programs assisting low-income taxpayers. They targeted the Low Income Energy Assistance Program that helps low-income families pay high utility bills and the costs of weatherizing their homes.

These legislators heartlessly terminated Medicaid funding for dental care for the low-income elderly and eliminated family literacy centers.

Each of us must be like the Good Samaritan. But it’s not enough to simply care for the wounded left along the road by careless lawmakers. After binding up their wounds, we need to head for the polling booth and vote for those candidates who will help alleviate the causes of the wounds.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The dogs can hear Trump's dog whistle

A dog whistle has a high frequency not discernible by humans. But the dogs can hear it clearly.

Robert E. Goodin, an Australian political theorist believes there’s a serious problem when politicians use dog whistles as an alternative to speaking honestly. It undermines democracy, because the dog whistle is intended to let some voters hear one message while others hear an entirely different message. But that is precisely what politicians like Trump want.

The 2016 Donald Trump campaign is using a dog whistle. Instead of a high frequency, he uses a high pitch. He speaks of rising crime rates, terrorists crossing our borders, the threat to law enforcement officers, and tells Americans to be very afraid of a White House he doesn’t occupy.

His high-pitched voice fills the political atmosphere with coded messages. And like a dog whistle, only the “dogs” can hear them. One of those dogs is David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He can hear the secret messages.

Animated like your pet dog when she hears that whistle, Duke was elated at Donald Trump’s acceptance speech in Cleveland. “I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years,” said the KKK leader as he announced that he wanted to be a part of the Trump revolution. Duke is running for the United States Senate.

David Duke knows exactly what the code words “America First” convey. “I was the first major candidate in modern times to promote the term and policy of ‘America First,” said the openly racist Duke.

U.S. Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) hears the whistle. No more does he hold back his racist views. “Go back,” he said to a nationwide television audience, “Go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

The most damaging code words to be hidden in the high pitch of the right’s dog whistle are “family values” and “Christian nation.” Those words cover much of the sinful nature of the right wing. They are intentionally and inherently deceptive words.

Designed to trick those who actually care about families and those who live out Christian values, the dogs hear the hidden message. The person huffing on the dog whistle wants them and their co-conspirators to hear something else, namely an anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-poor, and anti-tolerance message.

When Donald Trump says it’s time to end political correctness, he’s telling folks like David Duke that racism is back in vogue. Trump doubles down by mixing the dog-whistle messages with downright lies. Remember when he made the claim that no one else could verify that he actually saw New York City Muslims celebrating the day the Twin Towers fell? He told the outrageous lie that, “I have seen, you know, moments of silence called for, for this horrible human being who shot the policeman (sic),” referring to the Dallas police shooter.

Donald Trump says he’ll be the “law and order” president. He knows, like Richard Nixon before him knew, those reassuring words are designed to say one thing to whites and another to people of color.

Trump’s Cleveland speech signals a turn. He’s worn out the dog whistle, finding a constituency so pleased to hear the coded messages that he no longer has to speak in code.

A Rolling Stone article by Lincoln Blades titled “Trump Won by Turning Bigoted Dog Whistles Into Megaphones” says it best. “Trump has no real policy platform. His stances are either vague and evasive, or long-winded and inaccurate, on everything from domestic drug use to foreign policy.”

So Trump's supporters clearly aren't behind him because the nuances of his policy positions outweighed those of the other candidates. They're behind him because he forcefully says the prejudicial shit they believe. He eradicated the dog whistle and replaced it with a large, bigoted megaphone.” 

Why are WY voters not voting?

Why have so many Wyomingites quit voting?

In 2008, there were 243,171 registered voters in the state. By 2016, the number dropped to 237,857. Today only 207,040 eligible voters are registered, fifteen percent fewer than 2008. Less than a majority of Wyoming’s 445,830 voting age adults (46%) are registered to vote.

That’s not an accident. That many people don’t just forget to enter polling booths. Something else is going on and our elected officials have shown little interest in figuring out what it is.

Contributing to the problem is the Democratic Party’s failure to address voter registration. Their neglect of practical politics means their own numbers have fallen like a roadrunner off a cartoon cliff. In 2008, there were 65,264 registered Wyoming Democrats. Today there are 41,877.

That helps explain why a Wyoming Democrat hasn’t been elected to Congress since 1976 when there were 77,460 registered voters counted in their party. It’s noteworthy that in 1976, the gap between Democrats and Republicans was slightly more than ten thousand votes. A Democrat stood a chance back then and often as not one was elected. Remember Gale McGee, Teno Roncalio and Ed Herschler? Today that gap has grown to nearly 100,000 registered voters.

But this is not an issue for Democrats alone. Though they enjoy a considerable advantage, there has also been a significant decline in the numbers of Republicans taking time to cast a ballot.

In 2008, 149,736 Republicans were registered to vote in the general election. As of today, that number has declined to 141,793. The difference has not gone to unaffiliated or independent voters either. Their totals fell from 27,271 to 21,951 in the same period of time.

Since 2012, even the Libertarians have lost numbers dropping slightly from1,097 to 1,064.

Whether you’re talking about Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or independents, it is clear. Fewer Wyoming folks are interested in entering a voting booth. Out of 445,830 who are eligible to vote in this state, only 207,040 show any interest in doing so.

That’s the kind of a problem that should stir some of our elected officials to investigate. Why are fewer than half of those who could vote taking part in the process? Why are the numbers on a downward spiral?

It seems like these are questions deserving of an exploration in a representative republic. After all, how legitimate can our representatives be if more than half of eligible voters refuse to participate?

Now a cynic might opine that those who get elected and reelected year after year don’t have cause to care. The system works well for them. Why would they want to put their futures in doubt by encouraging more people to vote when the pols aren’t sure how they’d vote?

Seemingly this is a problem of the chicken and egg sort. Which came first, politicians ignoring the voters or voters ignoring the politicians?

If this were a democracy the votes of the people would actually decide policy. Then Wyoming would have, as an example, Medicaid expansion. But it is not a democracy. Instead we vote for representatives. They are expected to act in our interests. Sometimes they don’t. When that happens, there are two possible responses among the voters.

They can go to the polls and defeat politicians who ignore them or they can boycott the entire political process. Given the rate at which Wyoming incumbents are reelected, most voters have apparently chosen the latter strategy.

As Mercutio said in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “I am hurt. A plague on both your houses.” Maybe unregistered voters are sending a message that Wyoming politicians are irrelevant to their lives. Neither political party expends much energy persuading them otherwise. Yet every two years some candidates who share their concerns lose while others who don’t win solely because so many couldn’t be bothered to vote. The vote is a powerful thing whether used or not.

In any event, there are 238,790 unregistered voters out there. Republicans don’t need them and Democrats can’t win without them.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Wyoming always has enough $$$ to sue the feds

In the civil liberties context, ballyhoo about “state’s rights” has always been code for bigotry. It was that way during the 1960s civil rights movement. It’s that way now in the struggle for the civil rights of transgender people.

The official charged with protecting children is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Republicans pass the job among themselves and the current office holder is Julian Balow.

Ms. Balow says it’s  “critical” that “the uniqueness” of all students be protected. However, she says, the federal government shouldn’t interfere with the rights of school districts to make that choice.

The Governor of budget-busted Wyoming hustled enough money, not only to give his staff huge pay raises, but also to sue the federal government over rules requiring schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms conforming to their gender identity. But then local and state governments never won many “Profiles in Courage” medals for protecting civil rights.

A contemporary example is the Cleveland, Mississippi school board. The U.S. Supreme Court determined racial segregation in schools was illegal in 1954. Cleveland’s school board took the position that civil rights were matters for the local school board to decided. They weren’t about to let little white children sit next to little black children in their schools.

So it went for six decades. Last month the federal court issued its order. Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision integrating schools would finally be enforced as the law of the land even in Cleveland, Mississippi.

President Harry Truman appointed a Civil Rights Commission in 1947.  Weeping and wailing was heard across the land. Those with prejudice in their hearts spoke nobly of the rights of state and local governments to decide who could vote, where people of color could eat, sleep or live, and ironically whether bathrooms could be divided between “whites” and “coloreds.”

Truman’s commission listened. They studied the way state and local governments had historically responded. The evidence proved local and state government officials had themselves been the worst perpetrators of the most egregious wrongs.

The commission used language decidedly poignant in the current dispute. “The nation, they announced, “cannot afford to delay action until the most backward community has learned to prize civil liberty.”

It took a while, but the Truman commission’s position eventually became bedrock American law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Basic civil rights protections arise first and foremost from federal law, specifically the U.S. Constitution. Someone’s politically convenient view of federalism doesn’t change that. It didn’t then and it doesn’t now.

Look at the history of civil liberties in the United States. Most women and African Americans would not be guaranteed the right to vote if states’ rights were supreme. Basic rights of those accused of crimes would be denied in most states without federal intervention. Many pandering politicians would like to undo marriage equality and allow state legislatures to be a tool of discrimination.

When it comes to civil rights, our history is clear. The government that is closest to the people does not govern best. It doesn’t have the moral wherewithal to stand against popular prejudices. The closeness renders them unable to do so. When asked to protect minorities, it is much easier to listen to the loudest voices of the majority and to pander to them despite their prejudices and ignorance.

You’d think those like Ms. Balow, charged with the quality of education, could muster the courage to educate others about transgender issues. A few minutes spent Googling the term provides facts necessary to alleviate unfounded fears of rational people. That would be courageous. But courage has never been characteristic of state governments in civil rights. It’s always been easier to rattle about “states’ rights.”

That is why the federal Constitution has supremacy in matters of common civil liberties. It’s why “federal bureaucrats,” as Superintendent Balow derogatorily refers to those carrying out the law, have the right to interfere when state politicians find it impossible to do what’s right.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Religious Right: Trump is their Lord and Savior

Jerry Falwell, Jr., the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree, says Donald Trump has been “born again.” The truth is that the religionists once known as conservative Christians have been “born again.” They have set Jesus aside and adopted Donald Trump as their Lord and Savior.

For mainline and progressive Christians, the departure of the religious righteous feels a little like what we might have expected during what they always described as the Rapture. We won’t have the Christian Right to kick around anymore.

Eight years ago, 72 percent of all voters believed it important that the president have strong religious views. Today that number is at 62 and falling. According to a Pew Research Center poll, one in five voters now claim no interest in religion.

That may explain why the religious right has unmasked itself as far more supportive of extreme rightwing politics than it is of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. They are likely in that group that finally admits it has less interest in the Gospel than they do in right wing politics.

Liberals used to describe the Christian Right as neither, i.e. neither Christian nor right. Regardless the Christian Right was once a powerful political force in America, always delivering a reliable Republican vote.

Over the years, the farther right they moved, the less Christian they became. In 2016, that journey has been completed. They have converted from Christianity to becoming far right Republicans. writer Michelle Goldberg summed it up pretty well in her report on the recent “Road to Majority” conference sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition (the successor to the Christian Coalition) and Concerned Women for America. The conference was convened for the purpose of exciting conservative Christians about the 2016 Presidential race.

Ms. Goldberg observed, “The spectacle of self-proclaimed Christian conservatives cheering a foul-mouthed ex-casino owner for his pledge to turn away refugees tells you pretty much everything you need to know about what the religious right has become—or maybe what it always was.”

It’s the sacred obligation of those who claim to follow Jesus to involve themselves in politics. That is the arena in which many of the choice are made about whether our state and nation will feed the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked.

Anyone who interprets Jesus’s admonition to render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and unto God that which belongs to God as a warning to stay away from politics doesn’t understand Jesus. For him, everything belongs to God. Once you’ve rendered unto God all that belongs to God, there is nothing left for Caesar.

The Faith and Freedom folks have rendered so much unto Donald Trump that they have nothing left to render unto God. In backing Donald Trump, these folks have abdicated even their characteristic strict interpretation of the scripture.

The Apostle Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul warned, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

The religious right has determined that Paul and the Gospel are anachronistic. They’d rather build walls to keep people out and target those who believe differently. They have rejected the Biblical command to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, free the prisoner, and one of the two big ones, that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

The Christian right has exchanged their trademark literal interpretation of the Bible for a strict interpretation of the Republican Party platform. More important, they have tried to defy Jesus’s teaching that one cannot serve two masters. Jesus warned, “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Realizing that what Jesus said was indeed true, they have made their choice between God and right wing politics and both Christianity and American politics will be the better for it.