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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Robocalls really about big-money politics

A lawsuit filed recently in Wyoming argues that the state's law against election calls is unconstitutional. But Cowboy State judges should stand up for the people, not for corporate agents who spend their money to mislead voters.


By Rodger McDaniel

Free speech isn’t free. In fact, what passes for “free speech” today may cost us our freedom.

Those who turned democracy into a money-driven, hate-fueled venture are determined to drive the last nail in America’s coffin. The First Amendment is their hammer.
Wyoming is now the battleground to remake our republic in the image of those with money in their pockets and hate in their hearts.

Recently, a Michigan robocall company filed a Wyoming lawsuit, arguing they have a First Amendment right to misinform you with annoying and misleading automated calls.

Republics are defined by democratic characteristics. Power is located in the people’s right to elect representatives. Inherent is the requirement that voters be sufficiently informed that the process is connected to their interests and those of the nation.

Courts are being asked to make certain those with money control the mechanics of educating the voters.

There’s a fight in our Divided States of America to determine whether voters are informed or misinformed. Like combat units softening up the enemy with mortars before the infantry charges, vilifying the media was the opening salvo. The second stage of this battle is what Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s last genuine republicans, warned us about.

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country,” he said. 

That future Lincoln saw was one in which “corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the republic is destroyed.”

That’s the coffin in which some strive to lay our republic. To the lasting shame of conservatives, the most sacred of our constitutional protections is being used to accomplish their goals.

Seven years ago, conservatives persuaded the Supreme Court to lay the groundwork for an oligarchy, a form of government in which the supreme power no longer resides in the voters, but in a small group of economically powerful people. It’s money and the power it buys, not votes, that matter.

In a 2010 decision, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” the court sided with big money over the voters. By a 5-4 vote, the justices said free-speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment allow corporations and political action committees to spend unrestricted amounts of money to “inform” the voters. They also protected “misinformation” under the First Amendment.

These aren’t actual humans volunteering to help candidates by calling potential voters. These are thousands of unsolicited, unwanted and frequently deceptive computer-generated calls.

Calls made by unaccountable organizations with misleading names deprive voters of any knowledge of their motives. They make misleading assertions intended not to inform, but to misinform. A particular subset of the electorate is targeted after polls show the specific message that might sway them.

The message is seldom fact-based. Evidence in a South Carolina suit showed robocallers falsely tying Democrats running for the state legislature to Nancy Pelosi. Because the caller and the sponsoring committee are basically anonymous, claims are made without regard for accuracy. The process requires lots of money, and “Citizens United” made sure some had it.

That’s what passes for “free speech” in today’s America.

Conservatives care little that you don’t want your phone ringing incessantly and causing unwanted intrusions at all hours of the day, spewing negative campaigning. It’s their bread and butter.

They believe their right to what they call free speech is greater than your right to be free of their speech.

Some are so committed to winning they are willing to use the Constitution against the republic. These tactics turn off voters, driving them away from the process at precisely the time they need to fight back. That may be the robocallers' goal.

Wyoming judges must decide whether free speech includes perverting the Constitution. Wyoming judges can protect the republic or become accomplices to burying it.

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why does Trump hate poor people?

It appears the president believes only rich people are qualified to serve in his Cabinet. Apparently, he doesn't know the secret: You don't have to be smart to be a multi-millionaire. You just have to have a rich daddy.




By Roger McDaniel

A self-described poor woman from rural Tennessee told National Public Radio how much pain she was in because of the loss of all of her teeth. She was waiting at a free health clinic, hoping to get some relief. She volunteered, “I voted for Trump.”

The next day, I listened to President Trump tell supporters in Cedar Rapids, “I love
all people – rich or poor – but in those particular (Cabinet) positions, I just don’t want a poor person.” The president asked rhetorically, “Does that make sense?”

Actually, it doesn’t.

Why does a president of the United States believe poor people are disqualified from serving?

Candidate Trump promised to drain the swamp. We should have asked him to define what he meant by “the swamp.”

If you’ve been to a swamp, you know the calm waters on the surface are deceptive. They hide the alligators and poisonous snakes lurking below. A swamp may appear calming, but you’d never want to dive into its waters.

So, when you heard candidate Trump say he’d drain the swamp, didn’t you figure that once he was president, the water would be gone and, once exposed, the alligators and snakes would crawl and slither off? Did anyone who applauded that campaign slogan really think that once the water was gone that the alligators and snakes would reign?

Yet there they are. The same predators who have always roamed Foggy Bottom. Trump wanted voters to believe he was promising to rid our government of the influence of the wealthy and self-serving well-connected. I figured he’d heard the concerns of the ordinary folks who are frustrated by the power wielded by the elites. When Trump used the “draining the swamp” metaphor, I pictured a coming together of a government to which folks on Main Street could relate and a government that could relate to folks on Main Street.

Instead, as the swamp was drained, the alligators and snakes flourished. They proudly took over the swamp. Why? Because they are a part of the social and business circle in which the president is comfortable. The president is at home with these swamp dwellers.

What he told that Cedar Rapids crowd is that he isn’t comfortable with poor people. He wants to be surrounded by aristocrats and oligarchs now, as he has been all of his life. Jesus may have said “the poor will always be with you,” but Donald Trump said, “Not with me, they won’t.”

When it comes to putting people in charge of “Making America Great Again,” he is clear. “I just don’t want a poor person.” Why not? What’s wrong with poor people, Mr. President?

Does Trump figure that if poor, they aren’t smart? What’s the difference between Trump and many poor people? It’s not IQ. It’s not a willingness to work hard. It’s not found in what each knows or doesn’t know what it means to struggle for their family and community’s well-being.

The significant difference between many poor people and Trump is that he had a daddy who could bankroll his life.

When I was the director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, I made a concerted effort to get to know those we served – poor and low-income families across Wyoming. I learned that false stereotypes animate conservative policymakers. Seeing people as poor because they are lazy, incapable or make bad choices leads to bad public policy.

Professor Jay Zagorsky conducted a study at Ohio State University. His conclusion? “Your IQ has no relationship to your wealth. Intelligence is not a factor in explaining wealth. Those with low intelligence should not believe they are handicapped, and those with high intelligence should not believe they have an advantage.”

Having a close adviser who has experienced poverty might make Trump a better man and a better president.

If Trump really wants to drain the swamp, he needs to understand this. People may become a part of the swamp just because they are rich, but people don’t become rich just because they are smart.

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie.

Orr needs to change course on "religious exemption"

Cheyenne's mayor should stand by her campaign pledge to fully back a nondiscrimination ordinance. Her stated support for this exemption is a poison pill that would nullify protections for the LGBT-plus community.


By D. Reed Eckhardt

Cheyenne's LGBT-plus community -- as well as its supporters -- have every right to be upset with Mayor Marian Orr.

After pledging to champion a nondiscrimination ordinance during her
Mayor Marian Orr talks to the media during last fall's campaign.
campaign for mayor last year, Orr slipped a poison pill into her "support" this week: She said she favors a religious exemption as part of any proposal that might come before her. (For the full account, go to: KGAB story) That is a non-starter for the LGBT-plus community, and rightfully so, since it nullifies the goals of the ordinance, which is to bar discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.

Perhaps Orr doesn't know this -- though she probably does -- but demands by the religious community to exercise a "right to discriminate" based on their (usually fundamentalist Christian) beliefs has become the new mantra now that same-sex marriage has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Those who are offended by gay and lesbian couples, and in particular by the idea of them legally marrying, are fighting back by trying to disallow them access to their businesses and rental properties and by denying them jobs in their workplaces.

No doubt, these Christian people have sincerely held beliefs, and they honestly may not want to serve members of the LGBT-plus community, seeing that as a violation their faith. They argue that because it is THEIR business, and because they have a First Amendment right to religion, they can bar gays, lesbians, and others. But the courts already have made it clear that religion is not a legal basis for discrimination. That was decided in the South in the 1960s when residents there said it violated their beliefs to serve blacks or mixed-race couples. Indeed, the right to access public accommodations now is written into U.S. Code:

"All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin." (Title 42, Chapter 21, Subchapter II)

And the Wyoming Supreme Court addressed this issue earlier in the year when it ruled Pinedale Judge Ruth Neely did not have a right to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples simply because such marriages violate her religious beliefs. 

In the midst of censuring Neely for failing to do her job, Justice Kate Fox wrote the following: "In addition to protecting religious freedom, our (Wyoming) Constitution recognizes the importance of equal rights for all. ... we could not read the provisions regarding religious liberty to render those provisions recognizing equal rights and due process to be inoperative or superfluous."

Elsewhere in the ruling, the state's High Court says, "(W)hile the freedom to believe is absolute, the freedom to act cannot be." It adds, "(T)he Wyoming Constitution is construed to protect people against legal discrimination more robustly than does the federal constitution."

So rather than being cowed by the fundamentalist Christian community, Orr would be wiser to show some leadership here. She should explain to them that they do, indeed, have a right to their beliefs, but their rights to do not trump the rights of LGBT-plus residents to be free from discrimination. The LGBT-plus community deserves that from Orr, given that they voted for her, believing she would properly handle this issue, which is so important to them.

As for waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in a case involving a bakery in Colorado that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, why? The Wyoming Supreme Court already has said religious belief does provide cover to discriminate. Let's get on with affirming the rights of ALL of this city's residents, not just those who sit in fundamentalist pews on Sunday.

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.






Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Murray tells Trump to take a hike

Wyoming's secretary of state rightly rejects a request from the federal commission appointed by the president to study so-called fraudulent voting. Ed Murray chose to protect the people's privacy over the demands of his party.


By Rodger McDaniel
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to say no to one’s own party, not many have the courage. On the day before the United States celebrated its independence for the 241st time, Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray took a courageously independent stand for freedom.

Recently President Trump created a federal panel to 
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray tours the Array School in Cheyenne.
bolster his false, self-serving claim that he’d have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal votes cast for Hillary Clinton. The secretary of state in Kansas, Kris Kobach, made a name for himself hunting down voters committing fraud. He found about a dozen out of well over a million votes cast.

Still, Kobach’s quixotic crusade caught the attention of the president. Trump appointed Kobach vice chair of his Orwellian-titled Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.

Creation of the commission itself was a slap in the face of every secretary of state in the nation. Their primary job is to make sure elections are fair. The largest majority are Republicans who care as much as their Democratic colleagues that the electoral system is conducted with integrity. They have done this job diligently.

Nonetheless, the president alleges millions voted illegally in 2016. Those closest to the process are the secretaries of state, people like Murray. It is their credibility at stake when the president makes such demonstrably false claims.

Their credibility was unfairly challenged when, without statutory authority, Kobach casually sent a letter to state elections officials, demanding they produce reams of personal and private information on every voter.

Murray said no. “It’s not sitting well with me,” he declared, giving voice to state’s rights and the privacy of his constituents. Wyoming’s secretary of state worried aloud whether this request “could lead to some federal overreach.” Indeed, that is where this commission is headed.

Murray was first elected to this job in 2014. Wyoming assigns its secretary of state a variety of responsibilities. The job description includes registering and monitoring corporations and others doing business in the state. The secretary of state serves alongside the other four state elected officials on numerous boards and commissions. He also serves as acting governor when the governor is out of state. Of these duties, none is more important than making certain elections are free and clean. There’s never been a legitimate claim that they are not. The same is true in every other state, which renders the need for this federal commission suspect.

The request for private information, including portions of your Social Security number and voter history, is not only invasive and in violation of many state laws, but the president’s commission has neither the authority to make the request nor any legitimate need for the information.

Connecticut’s election head made a poignant counter-request of the federal commission, asking it to share “any memos, meeting minutes or additional information, as state officials have not been told precisely what the commission is looking for. This lack of openness is all the more concerning, considering that the vice chair of the commission, Kris Kobach, has a lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas.”

Murray’s decision is courageous, deserving of the support and gratitude of Wyoming residents who understand the importance of the sovereignty of state governments in the context of the American republic.

Pause to consider the abundance of conspiracy theories and the explosion of outrage that would have followed such a letter from the Obama administration. Though a Republican, Trump apparently never read the memo explaining how his party jealously guards states’ rights and personal privacy.

Attempting to bully states into providing this information, Trump tweeted, “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?” Hiding our private information from the government is not a vice. It’s an American value with which this president may not be familiar. Thanks to Ed Murray, he has been given a lesson on how much it matters.

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wyo. senators ignore the will of the people

The numbers show that residents of the Cowboy State are opposed to the Senate measure to "replace" Obamacare. Yet John Barrasso and Mike Enzi continue to peddle it as a good thing. It's not.


"People ought to make that decision for themselves – not Democrats in Washington who voted for the Obamacare law." -- U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare

By D. Reed Eckhardt

So John Barrasso thinks Wyomingites should be able to decide for themselves about the federal health insurance program known as Obamacare. Then why are he and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi,
Wyo.'s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (L) hears Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
also R-Wyo., among those in the U.S. Senate who are trying to shove a proposed replacement for the program down the throats of their fellow Cowboy State residents?

There is not a single poll showing that the people of this state are in support of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, that Senate substitute. Indeed, according to a July 4 story in the New York Times, not a single state is backing the measure. That includes Wyoming, where the Times projects (based on a combination of national polling data) that only 34 percent of state residents are in favor of the plan. That compares with 46 percent opposed. (For the entire story, go to (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/upshot/gop-senators-might-not-realize-it-but-not-one-state-supports-the-ahca.html)

Both Wyoming senators, no doubt, would try to discredit those numbers, but other polling data support them. Such as:

-- Only 12 percent of Americans support the Senate plan, according to a poll in USA Today. Some 53 percent say Congress should either make Obamacare better or leave it alone.

-- An NPR/PBS/Marist poll shows that 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the Senate alternative, compared to just 17 percent in support. Even self-identified conservatives and tea party supporters -- those groups who rule the roost in Wyoming -- are opposed at 34 percent (31 percent in favor) and 40 percent (32 percent in support), respectively. And residents of the West come in at 58 percent against.

The reasons for this opposition are evident. The Senate proposal is about as mean-spirited as it gets, and that is not the Wyoming way.

For example, the Senate bill would toss 22 million people off of health care, including thousands of Cowboy State residents. More than 25,000 Wyomingites signed up for insurance through the Obamacare exchange this year, up 4 percent from the previous year. True, some are on it only because they are required be there, but others need the insurance. A friend of ours lost his job and had to turn to the marketplace to get insurance for his child, who has a serious illness. Because she is young, the cost is reasonable and the coverage is good, and he was able to get it despite her pre-existing condition.

The Senate plan also shreds the Medicaid program, which provides care for the nation's neediest people (including the 65 percent of its enrollees who hold jobs). Estimates show the Senate proposal would cut Medicaid funding by $772 billion over 10 years and knock 15 million people nationally off the rolls.

Those in danger include the 61,600 Wyoming residents who are on Medicaid, including 8,500 children. Those numbers also encompass 6,000 Wyomingites ages 65 or older and 1,200 military veterans. These are state residents' families, friends, and neighbors. Any effort to throw these people to the wolves -- as would the bill being peddled by Enzi and Barrasso -- is going to meet resistance.

Finally, the Senate plan would endanger those with pre-existing conditions (by allowing states to opt out) and crank up health insurance premiums for the elderly -- Wyoming's biggest population group. For example, a 64-year-old with an annual income of $26,500 is paying $1,700 under the current law; that would rise to $6,500. And a 64-year-old with an income of $56,800 who now pays $6,800 would see a $20,500 premium. Deductibles also would be raised.

No wonder Wyomingites are opposed to this measure. And if it were being proposed by a Democratic administration, you can bet Barrasso and Enzi would be assaulting the barricades to protect state residents from it. Yet they are not only supporting this measure, but they are boosting it. But they won't meet with the people of Wyoming to explain why. Party politics? Campaign donations from Big Pharma? A lack of connection to the very people who put them in office? Perhaps any or all of those.

Regardless, it appears the people of Wyoming HAVE made "that decision for themselves," Senator Barrasso. They oppose your bill. Why aren't you and Senator Enzi responding?

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wyo. senators put party over your health care

Trumpcare would harm thousands of Wyoming residents. Yet our senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi,  are leading the charge to see it become law.


By Rodger McDaniel

This is what passes for health-care policy in Wyoming. Convenience stores place jars on the counter, into which customers drop spare change to pay someone’s medical bills. Facebook posts GoFundMe requests, asking folks to chip in for someone’s medical bills. 
U.S. Sens. John Barrasso (left) asnd Mike Enzi, both R-Wyo.
Families with steep unpaid medical bills file bankruptcy. People don’t receive necessary care because they’re uninsured.

What does Wyoming’s congressional delegation propose?

Rep. Liz Cheney cast the deciding vote for TrumpCare, which means we can call it CheneyCare. The Congressional Budget Office said the House bill will mean thousands of her constituents will lose their health insurance, while premiums for others will skyrocket.

For their part, Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso joined the partisan conspiracy aimed at getting a bill enacted before anyone knows what hit them. No Democrats were allowed to participate. No women. None of their constituents. No hearings. No public input. Just 13 old, white men, including Sens. Enzi and Barrasso, sitting around the table, shuffling the cards and dealing a bad hand to the rest of us.

The Senate had been expected to vote before the Fourth of July recess; it now may come afterward. Wyoming’s senators promised there would be plenty of time to review the bill. But neither the final bill nor the CBO score was available until a few days before the scheduled vote. GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said debate would be limited to 20 hours, an unreasonably short period of time for senators and their constituents to study, react and debate the bill. That leaves Enzi’s and Barrasso’s promise that the bill would be made public before a vote disingenuous.

TrumpCare will harm red states like Wyoming. The CBO estimated 22 million Americans will lose their insurance, most because of pre-existing conditions. Cheney claimed the bill took care of those folks. It doesn’t. That’s one reason Trump called the bill “mean.”

Why are Wyoming’s senators partial to secret, partisan deliberations? Wouldn’t it be better for Americans and the success of the legislation if Enzi, Barrasso and their GOP colleagues were more transparent and more inclusive?

Doesn’t it seem like Republicans could sit with Democrats and agree on these basics? One, health care is a right. Two, we are all personally responsible to purchase insurance. Three, insurance should cover essential medical needs.

If lawmakers believe health care is a privilege to be rationed based on ability to pay, millions will continue to get sick earlier and die sooner. Being well and without need for health care is a temporary condition, regardless of your income level. Eventually, we’ll all require it. Criminal defendants have a right to a lawyer. Shouldn’t we all have a right to medical care?

Second, let’s agree buying insurance is a matter of personal responsibility. If younger, healthier people are not required to buy insurance, when they inevitably get sick or have an accident, their bills get passed along to us in skyrocketing premiums and taxes.

The law should mandate we take responsibility for our own health care. We’re required to buy Medicare insurance from the time we started working. We’re mandated to buy automobile liability insurance so that others don’t have to pay for damages we may cause in an accident. Why not health insurance?

Third, insurance should cover essential medical care. Consider this: You can buy a car without wheels, windshield or engine. But a car with four wheels, a windshield and an engine will cost more. If insurance companies are selling policies that don’t cover much, they won’t cost as much. If they’re required to insure the health problems most people actually experience in the normal course of life, the premium will rise. When you get sick, which do you want?

If Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the basics, having Enzi and Barrasso work behind closed doors to write a bill along with other old, white men, and then attempt to shove it down our throats makes sense.

In their drive to repeal a law that a majority of Americans no longer want repealed, politicians like Enzi and Barrasso have marginalized their constituents and clarified their own values, which are, unfortunately, partisan, rather than democratic, values.

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Privatize the Cheyenne Civic Center


The city of Casper is enjoying huge successes after turning over the running of the Casper Events Center last fall over to Spectra Venue Management. Why shouldn't Cheyenne's mayor and City Council do the same?


By D. Reed Eckhardt

Cheyenne's new mayor, Marian Orr, has made a big deal out of trying to identify new sources of revenue for the city. She needs it, given the state of Wyoming's economy. The days of the Legislature rushing in to fill empty holes in municipalities' budgets around the
Sinclair Oil now sponsors the box office at the Casper Events Center.
state are over -- perhaps for good. Coal is not coming back, and efforts to diversify the economy, while wise, will take years before they bear any real fruit.

One answer to Orr's quest lies about 180 miles to the north. There, the Casper City Council has entered into a five-year contract with Spectra Venue Management from Philadephia to run the Events Center there. A recent article in the Casper Star-Tribune (the attached photo is also from the CST) outlines the successes so far -- in just eight months. Among them are:

-- Increased corporate sponsorships. Companies have paid to have their names on the box office, concession stands, and first aid station. A banner flies from the Events Center rafter, advertising JIM Group Hotels, which also owns the local Denny's restaurant.

-- Advertising revenue is at $285,000, 75 percent of which is new money.

-- Ticket sales are up 10 percent; Spectra hopes to double that increase.

-- The venue is seeing greater use, and there is more diversity in programming. Spectra's ties, for example, will bring in the Foo Fighters this winter since that band will also be going to the management group's venue in Idaho. Other top names brought in since last fall include Elton John, Snoop Dog, and Eric Church. Rapper Lil Wayne was booked, though he had to cancel.

The main goal of all of this -- besides improving the quality of life in Casper, -- is to ease Casper's budget problems. It currently is subsidizing the Events Center at the rate of nearly $1 million a year. The city's contract with Spectra encourages it to succeed: The management group gets 20 percent of all savings. Of course, it also is paid for its work -- $130,000 a year.

Cheyenne's Civic Center faces similar challenges. It is subsidized to the tune of $200,000 a year; it is underutilized; and its offerings couldn't be more stale. Yes, there is an occasional surprise event, but for the most part, the schedule is dominated by its symphony concerts and its boring annual series. If there is a less innovative manager than Dru Rhola -- you'd be hard pressed to find him or her.

One way that Cheyenne can be made more attractive to the young professionals it says it seeks would be to hold more events that appeal to this group. That obviously is what is happening in Casper, but it won't here under current Civic Center leadership. Bringing in guitarist Joe Bonamassa -- again -- and singer Bonnie Ryatt, two events currently scheduled for this fall, will not get the job done.

If the happenings in Casper are any indicator, the hiring of a management group to run the Cheyenne Events Center would be a winner for all -- for the quality of life here and the city's budget. (One idea: How about selling naming rights to the Civic Center?) And maybe that management group could handle the Ice and Events Center as well -- it gets a $120,000 subsidy from the city's budget as well.

Mayor Orr claims to want fresh ideas for Cheyenne's city government. It is time for her to put the privatization of the Civic Center on her agenda.

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.