Sunday, April 30, 2017

"Tutu" is least of Enzi's LGBTQ problem

People like Mike Enzi are why Wyoming has such a hard time shedding its image as a place where the lives of gays and lesbians are at risk.

Recently Senator Enzi spoke to high school students in Greybull. Asked whether he supported LGBTQ rights, he responded by saying that “if a man walks into a bar wearing a tutu,” he deserves what he gets. That sounded like a United States Senator encouraging rednecks to beat the hell out of those they see as different.

After being called out on his statements, Enzi apologized. That might have mattered but for the fact that the “tutu” remark is the least of Enzi’s problems on LGBTQ issues.

It gets much worse.

Enzi said protections mandated by Washington aren’t “the best solution.” Odd coming from one who secretly encouraged Donald Trump to sign an Executive Order mandating protection for those who discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and other human beings.

Mike forgot to mention it to his constituents. Talking to constituents isn’t a priority for him. We learned what the Senator was up to through a news release from the Family Research Council, infamous for its bigotry and extreme anti-LGBT crusades.

That’s who told Wyoming voters that our Senator sought an Executive Order legalizing discrimination against the LGBT community and others based on religious beliefs. So much for state’s rights. Seems the “feds” can be either a boogeyman or a Senator’s best friend, depending on the objective.

In February, a bill designed to accomplish what Enzi implored Trump to do was introduced by Wyoming legislators. It drew such angry reaction that sponsors pulled the bill back. Enzi saw that. Did he employ one of those tired, old conservative slogans about the sacredness of limiting government overreach? Nope. Mike wants a government big enough to protect bigotry.

So, Mike turned to the feds. Rather than noticing many of his constituents weren’t in lock-step with rightwingers on this and choosing to take the high moral ground, he tried an end run. Voila, an Executive Order avoids the ugly political wrangling. To paraphrase what his older brothers said of little Mikey in the old cereal commercial, “Ask Donald to sign it. He’ll sign anything.”

For several weeks, a draft Executive Order has been batted around the White House. It’s a license to discriminate masked as “religious freedom.” It makes religious-based discrimination lawful “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State, or local governments.”

Is this Mike Enzi’s kind of America?

In that America, a man can rent a home but be turned away when he, his husband, and young children arrive to move in. In Mike Enzi’s America, two married women, otherwise imminently capable of providing a home for an abandoned child can be denied an adoption. A woman wearing a hijab may be denied medical care by providers who receive government grants to hire medical staff and purchase medical equipment. Critical social services, funded by taxpayers, could be denied to those who don’t share the provider’s belief that God is so small as to not include certain kinds of the people God created.

In that America, discrimination is legal when the bigot claims it’s based on conveniently-hateful religious beliefs.

Such an Executive Order wouldn’t survive Constitutional scrutiny any more than Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Neither does religion-based hate find expression in the Christian scripture Mike proclaims. No one, with the exception of the Family Research Council, justifies using religious beliefs to render others “less than” the image of God.

Instead of giving tacit approval to barroom beatings of gays, Mike Enzi could have resorted to his Christian beliefs. He could have been courageous when those students asked him about protecting the civil rights of some of their peers.

He could have said no to the extremists. Instead, the Senator has become one of them.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Downtown Cheyenne and LCCC

How long has Cheyenne struggled to revitalize its downtown? Restaurants come and go. Downtown traffic can’t sustain them. Two more recently closed. The hole and long-abandoned, decaying buildings have become embarrassing landmarks. In spite of the commitment of so many, revitalization of downtown Cheyenne has become a monument to Sisyphus.

You may recall how the gods condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of hopeless and futile labor. He was required to forever push an enormous rock to the top of the mountain. Every day Sisyphus put his shoulder to the stone, wedge his feet and push with all his might, inching the rock forward. But, whenever he made any progress, the stone rolled backward under its own weight. The next day, he would start anew. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort that the stone never reached the mountaintop.

Nor is it for lack of effort that revitalization of downtown Cheyenne seems as far away today as ever. There is clearly no quick fix, but there is one possible long-range vision. This idea may be half a century late but if bold action isn’t taken, nothing will change.

Imagine how different Cheyenne could be if the campus of Laramie County Community College were downtown instead of where it is.

At the time, it seemed the best choice. The land was free. The voters had taken a lot of persuasion to even create the college and were not enamored with spending a lot of money on it. And in the late 60s, there was no mall and no heavily commercialized Dell Range. All of that came later and as it did, downtown Cheyenne suffered.

Decades from now there will still be a downtown Cheyenne. The question is whether or not it will be characterized by vitality or not.

Now’s the time. As LCCC Trustees consider major new building projects, there is an opportunity to develop a long-range plan to move parts of the college into the heart of Cheyenne. Certainly, some of the college’s facilities, such as agricultural, equine, auto body, and perhaps other vocational programs should remain at the current location. Still, there would be significant economic benefits from moving the center of campus activity to downtown.

LCCC recently voted to fund planning for three major projects that could form the vanguard of a gradual relocation. They are a new 28 million-dollar residence hall, the renovation of the Fine Arts Building, and construction of a 14 million-dollar auditorium to seat 450-500 people. 

Beforehand, the Trustees and the community should consider the economic surge that would follow the process of relocating elements of the college from their current site to the downtown Cheyenne area.

Such a move couldn’t be expected to happen overnight. It would take years. But consider what it would do for the local economy. Witness communities that have college campuses in or near their downtown commercial areas. In cities like Boise, Ft. Collins, and even Laramie where a robust campus life radiates from the campus out across the downtown area. The interactions and commercial intercourse between students, faculty, and businesses generates economic diversification and growth. Students have employment opportunities near their classrooms. Businesses experience ongoing and sustained customer traffic.

Though it would be many years before such a relocation could be completed, a decision to move in that direction could result in immediate benefits. The location of student housing and a Fine Arts Building in the downtown area would signal to developers that Cheyenne’s downtown is the place to be. With students living in the downtown area, current businesses would experience a greater customer base and new ones would have a reason to make an investment in downtown Cheyenne. Downtown would suddenly become a more attractive place to open new clothing stores, bars and restaurants among other businesses catering to students and faculty.

The transition would be gradual but each step would bring new life to the city. Perhaps we could start by filling in that hole with the new 28 million-dollar residence hall.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The dream was really a nightmare

We watched as Donald Trump signed an Executive Order reversing his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). Trump was right. Those “job-killing” regulations were unnecessary. Climate change was, in fact, a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Liz Cheney told us, “Barack Obama is more interested in killing Wyoming coal that in killing ISIS.” Maybe Liz wasn’t just talking like a run-of-the-mill ideologue.

Barack Obama’s war on coal was over.

The joy was unbridled. Wyoming’s Governor convened a special session of the legislature. Giddy lawmakers repaired the damage recently done to the state’s economy in the face of Obama-caused revenue losses in the coal industry.

They reinstated millions of dollars they’d recently stripped from Wyoming’s schools. Class sizes wouldn’t have to double after all. Teachers forced into early retirement were rehired. Funds deprived to cities and towns were returned, potholes were filled, parks built. Legislators restored the tax rebate for the poor and elderly. Literacy centers, closed during the downturn, were reopened. Cuts in healthcare were reversed now that the state could afford those costs.

In Gillette, they were dancing in the street as hundreds of laid-off miners were rehired. Foreclosure notices on vacant homes were rescinded. Businesses that had been shuttered were filled with happy customers. New mines opened as orders for Wyoming coal poured in from China. Power plants that had converted from coal to natural gas converted back to coal. Alternative energy sources such as wind and solar were exposed for the trendy fraud they were.

Alas, my alarm clock went off. The dream ended. None of that happened except the part about Trump signing the Executive Order.

The dream could become a nightmare. Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Church Office of Public Witness, understands. Trump’s Executive Order was “a tragic turn for the future of this nation and for the entire planet.” This isn’t simply a political issue to be decided by pandering politicians. “Our concern as Presbyterians lies not only in our mandate to protect God’s creation, but in the knowledge that the ruins wrought by climate change will fall disproportionately on the backs of the poor, indigenous, and citizens of the Global South.”

Don’t take a theologian’s word for it. Ask a scientist. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s parroting of Trump’s views on climate-change causes triggered a review by the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Office. The science matters.

Nathan Hultman of the Brookings Institute reasons the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Clean Air Act required the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide was science based. Seems cleaner air is healthier. Who’d have known? EPA scientists knew. They found President Obama’s CPP would save billions in healthcare costs. “The EPA,” Hultman writes, “previously estimated substantial benefits from the CCP, including $14-34 billion in benefits accruing just to health.” Cleaner air prevents “3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000asthma attacks, and 300,000 lost work and school days” annually.

If Trump is going to get his way, he’ll have to convince the Court that these benefits are alternative facts. He also has to face changing energy economics. It’s not fake news that Department of Energy statistics demonstrate that while the coal industry employed 66,000 miners in 2015, nail salons employed 69,000, clean energy 3 million.

Rendering it unlikely Trump’s Executive Order will revive Wyoming coal is this fact: California uses 40% of the West’s electricity and expects that by 2030, half will be generated through green energy. Unlike Trump, California takes climate change seriously and can be expected to exceed that goal.
According to High Country News, “California’s climate change programs force the adoption of cleaner electricity across the West, because the state imports 20 percent of its electricity from states like Nevada and Wyoming and requires that power to meet its clean energy standards. This encourages the growth of large-scale renewable energy and the closure of dirty coal-fired power plants.”

Wyoming’s politicians choose to ignore the science and the economics. As Rocky Mountain Power invests billions in wind energy, the market continues to leave them behind.