Sunday, January 29, 2017

Protecting trans-people from politicians

When I was Director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, we developed a mantra. “Nothing about them without them.” It meant that when policymakers develop plans or programs targeting certain individuals, those people have a right to be at the table.

“Nothing about them without them” is a rule legislators should adopt before proposing laws detrimental to other people’s lives. Take State Representative Roy Edwards (R-Gillette) for example.

Edwards wants a law dictating which bathroom you may use. He’s a big government sort of guy. Edwards is concerned that without a government big enough to tell you where to relieve yourself, “a man could enter the women’s bathroom and spy on people.” It’s an unnecessary cultural war. He hasn’t heard of it being a problem in Wyoming but worries it might become one for somebody, someday.

The lawmaker told the Gillette Chamber of Commerce he needed to stop people from “getting their thrills off of being allowed to go into the opposite sexes’ bathroom.” Campbell County bathroom-goers may be different, but around these parts, people hardly make eye contact in public bathrooms.

What else is wrong with that picture? It’s not just what it says about Rep. Edwards but also what it says about his audience. Why was he confident he could safely express bigotry in front of the business community?

Mr. Edwards is trying to fix problems he doesn’t know exist about the behavior of people he doesn’t believe exist, i.e. transgender people. He figures transgender people are just like him, except they made a choice to be transgender in order to spy on one another in bathrooms.

As this bill moves through the legislative process, perhaps Rep. Edwards will disclose the sources of his expertise on transgender people. It’s clear he doesn’t know one or that he doesn’t know he knows one. Instead, he relies on prejudicial, though politically popular, assumptions to reach the conclusion that we need to be protected from them.

The truth is transgender people need to be protected from politicians like Roy Edwards.

To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “Brothers and sisters, politicians need not be uninformed.” How different Brother Edwards might think if he took time to know a transgender person. He should make an effort to meet these children of God and their families. He’d learn something about their struggles and how what he considers a “choice” was actually made, not by them but for them, by the one who created us all.

Then he’d learn what the American Psychiatric Association learned. The medical diagnosis is called “gender dysphoria.” It’s not a mental illness. It’s a conflict between the gender on one’s birth certificate and the gender with which they identify.

Unfortunately, Mr. Edward’s prejudices amplify the personal pain, deep depression, anxiety, and rejection experienced by transgender people. These wounds are worsened by familial and societal responses, including hurtful laws supported by people like Edwards. Many consider, some commit, suicide.

If legislators made an effort to know those they target before tossing bills into the hopper, they might find themselves more compassionate. Compassion means having concern for the suffering of others, not compounding the suffering. Having concern for their suffering inevitably leads one to believe they have not “made a choice.”

Humans aren’t wired to make choices causing them to be rejected by family and friends and to be cast adrift in a world where few people they encounter understand what they are experiencing. You don’t choose to be someone whose life is the subject of political debates and to be ridiculed by those who think you’re trying to “get your thrills” when you’re simply trying to go to the bathroom. Voters may have chosen you to be their representative but God didn’t choose you to be their judge. Responsible law makers don’t target people they don’t know, never met, and don’t understand.

Here’s a memo to Representative Edwards and other legislators: “Nothing about them without them” will make you a better legislator and a better human being.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

WIT: No reality but virtual

Are you aware of the mind-blowing work of the Wyoming Institute of Technology (WIT), a Cheyenne think tank? In the course of a book study at Highlands Presbyterian, we happened upon this little-known jewel in Cheyenne’s bedazzled crown.

We were reading “Caring for Creation-The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change.” Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas, conservative Christians and life-long Republicans, are the authors. They are optimists when it comes to believing the U.S. can meet the challenges of climate change, which they document as a genuine threat to our children’s lives and liberties.

Among their reasons for optimism are renewable energy sources such as solar. They call it a “no-brainer,” which brings me to WIT. While preparing for one book-study session, I came across an Internet article on solar energy in the “National Report,” branding itself “the place where the lame-stream media leaves off, we pick up.”

Among headlines like “Trump to limit all intelligence briefings to 140 characters,” and “Anti-vaxxer parents refuse to check kids’ trick or treat candy before they eat it,” was discovered the widely-circulated story about how solar panels are draining the sun’s energy. It’s a climate-change-denier dream piece of research conducted in Cheyenne by the Wyoming Institute of Technology.

We hadn’t heard of the facility. They aren’t in the phone book. However, we found their webpage, WIT exists not in any reality but virtual.

Originally called the “Wyoming Institute of Education and Nuclear Energy Research,” the acronym proved undignified. The name was changed.

WIT shocked the science world when it discovered the dangers of relying on solar energy. Institute scientists found that in a process they referred to as “forced photovoltaic drainage” solar panels are draining the sun’s energy. The use of solar will eventually extinguish the sun. That’s only the tip of the WIT iceberg.

WIT scientist Dr. Joan Collins made another discovery that may bode well for Donald Trump’s other part time job as producer of “The Apprentice.” Dr. Joan scanned the brains of 100 meth addicts and 100 others who regularly watch reality TV. She found that watching reality TV produces the same impact on the human brain as extensive meth use.

Another WIT project studied 2955 Americans. WIT concluded Radio Frequency Identification Chips, long thought to have been secretly planted in the wrists of unsuspecting citizens, have been in fact implanted in their tooth fillings. WIT’s website acknowledges, “More investigation is required to understand the significance of this finding.

Five years ago, according to WIT, the Vatican came calling, seeking help cataloging some of their precious relics. Among them was the spear allegedly used by the centurion to pierce Jesus’s side. Using DNA from the relic, WIT scientists undertook efforts to clone Jesus. Despite consequent death threats, WIT says it “remains committed to morally guided, ethical based research no matter what the cost.”

Want to tour WIT’s Cheyenne lab? Most facilities are closed “due to security and safety concerns.” Their webpage says tours can sometimes be arranged. Visitors need to know they’ll be “stripped and searched inside and out for weapons, camera devices, cell phones, notepads, etc.” Muslim visitors must be approved by the Department of Homeland Security. Everyone must be willing to take an iodine tablet if touring “the Hall of Plutonium.”

At WIT, sarcasm trumps science.

Among all the uses to which WIT “scientists” put sarcasm, perhaps none is more sarcastic than their assertion that the faux think tank is located in Wyoming’s capital city.

Why would a sarcastic-science website be cyber-located in Cheyenne? Simple. Because that’s where legislators generate embarrassing national publicity with bathroom-control bills and proposals penalizing utilities for providing consumers with wind or solar energy, criminalizing data collection on public lands, and repealing science education standards because most legislators didn’t want Wyoming’s children to learn the truth about climate change.

WIT’s studies of Wyoming legislators discovered the truth in what humorist Christopher Moore said, “It’s wildly irritating to have invented something as revolutionary as sarcasm only to have it abused by amateurs.”


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Blame the “Committee on Postponed Parts.”

America cannot indulge a system where one candidate receives 2.9 million votes more than an opponent and still loses the election.

Blame the “Committee on Postponed Parts.” They came up with the Electoral College during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It’s their fault that five candidates won the popular vote and lost the presidency.

Wyoming can play a role in reforming this undemocratic process.

The 2016 plebiscite witnessed the fifth presidential election in which the winner was the loser. Andrew Jackson was first in 1824. Samuel Tilden won the 1876 popular vote but lost the Electoral College. Next came Grover Cleveland’s 1888 contest against Benjamin Harrison. Then Al Gore lost to George W. Bush. Now it’s Hillary Clinton.

For all of the lofty attributes with which we imbue the Founding Fathers, they never trusted us. The idea that the people should elect anyone frightened them. In the beginning, they permitted only members of the House of Representatives to be elected by the riffraff. Senators and the President would be elected by those they trusted; Senators by state legislators, presidents by an Electoral College. The people were mere “interested but not involved spectators.”

Delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention assumed the process should protect the country from the people. George Mason argued that allowing the people to choose a president made as much sense as referring “a trial of colours to a blind man.” Mason questioned the ability of common people to judge the “respective pretensions of the candidates.”

Given the role of big money, poll-driven campaigns, and the post-factual media, Mason may have been right. Nonetheless, the Electoral College is an antiquated insult to the people.

In a nation paralyzed with partisanship, the fact that each of the five candidates losing the presidency after winning the popular vote were Democrats may sour reformers’ hopes. But that shoe comes only in “one-size-fits-all” and will one day be worn by a Republican. If just 59,393 Ohioan votes had gone to John Kerry in 2004, he’d have defeated George Bush in the Electoral College though Bush won by the same popular-vote margin by which Hillary defeated Trump.
The Electoral College was the best compromise proposed in 1787 by the Committee on Postponed Parts. Its continuation makes sense today only if 21st century politicians feel the same disdain for us. They may have believed electors would be independent actors with America’s best interests at heart. Today they are mere partisans chosen for their loyalty, not to America, but to their party.

In addition to diluting the impact of our votes, the Electoral College requires candidates spend time and resources in a handful of states, ignoring all others. Stopovers matter. Having a candidate visit your state is about more than niceties. It means candidates actually have to take time to think about its people and their needs.

Worse yet, once elected they give more attention to those “battleground” states. One study concluded, “Battleground states receive 7% more federal grants than spectator states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement designations, and more No Child Left Behind exemptions.”

But help is on the way. A reform measure is close to becoming reality. It’s one the states can accomplish without waiting for Congress. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is near being approved in enough states that it could become the way presidents are elected by 2020. It requires members of the Electoral College to vote for the candidate receiving the most popular votes nationally.

Eleven states with 165 electoral votes have approved it. The compact takes effect when enacted by states with 270 of the electoral votes.

Wyoming can play a key role in this reform. If you believe the people should be able to choose a president, urge state legislators to support a resolution approving the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in the current session of the legislature. Learn more at

A state with so few voters seldom has a chance to so greatly influence the election of presidents.