Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Real letter from Wyoming Sen., Mike Enzi; fake content

I had some comments to Sen. Enzi's reply to my letter admonishing him for supporting Republican efforts to  end health care coverage for millions of Americans. I had to use a crayon because that's what it deserves. Republicans have been working overtime to sabotage the Affordable Health Care Act since its inception., That is why it is in trouble. To say otherwise is a lie. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I agree -- No Nazis at the University of Florida! W/Update

Neo-Nazis support President Trump.

President Trump supports the neo-Nazis.

We know that now. Whatever you choose to call them -- neo-Nazis, alt-right, white supremacists -- they are intolerant bastards who attacked and killed and injured people in a university town, Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. They do not deserve a soapbox at any of our universities. Yes, that also is intolerant. But they are taking a page from the Brown Shirts Playbook and want to raise havoc wherever they can. They look at campuses as fertile ground for their racist bilge. Campuses are liberal bastions, politically correct bastions where people bend over backyard to accommodate The Other. But what happens when speakers arrive on campus with messages of hate against The Other. And those speakers operate with the imprimatur of the president of the U.S.? We have never faced this before. That's why we must stop the alt-right and their leader who is a stand-in for Trump. Let's start with stopping Richard Spencer.

Here's some info on a proposed Sept. 12 Spencer appearance at my alma mater (class of '76), the University of Florida. It comes from The Chronicle off Higher Education, which has been featuring some great articles about how campuses are trying to deal with this issue. Texas A&M recently cancelled a speech by Spencer. Now it's UF's turn. This was in today's Chronicle:
In a statement on Saturday announcing that Mr. Spencer's group was seeking to rent space at the University of Florida, W. Kent Fuchs, the university’s president, suggested that his institution might have no choice but to grant the request, so long as the group covered the associated expenses and security costs. He called Mr. Spencer’s potential appearance there "deeply disturbing" and contrary to the university’s values, but said "we must follow the law, upholding the First Amendment not to discriminate based on content." 
Mr. Fuchs urged the campus community not to engage with Mr. Spencer’s organization and "give more media attention for their message of intolerance and hate." Soon after he issued his statement revealing that the group had sought to rent space there, however, a Facebook page titled "No Nazis at UF" sprang up to summon people to the campus for counter-protests. 
Check out the No Nazis at UF page. Comment. Write Pres. Fuchs. Tell him that "Make America Hate Again" is not part of the Gator Spirit. 

UPDATE 8/17/17: UF Pres. Fuchs has cancelled the event. See press release here.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

This train is bound for glory -- maybe

Chris and I helped our city celebrate its 150th birthday this week.

One hundred and fifty years ago this summer, Col. Gen. Grenville Dodge staked out the city of Cheyenne on the windswept southeast Wyoming prairie. It featured Crow Creek and its consistent water supply lined with a few hardy trees. More importantly, it was right along the path that Union Pacific had chosen for its transcontinental railroad. The plains tribes already used the gangplank of the Laramie Range to cross the mountains. They followed the herds and the weather.  The railroad was just trying to link up with the Central Pacific on its way east from the West Coast.

Just as it did for native peoples, the Rocky Mountains presented one of the biggest challenges to the railroad. Terrain and weather presented problems. Cheyenne was founded in July and winter comes early. Cheyenne became a base to build the highest elevation section of the railroad, and base camp to build bridges to cross canyons. It spent more time as a Hell on Wheels site that any other railroad town.

Cheyenne still is a railroad town. It is the state capital. The intersection of two interstate highways. One of these -- I-80 -- follows the rails except when it comes to Elk Mountain, the most-closed section of interstate in the U.S. every winter. All of us who have done time driving I-80 curse the Elk Mountain stretch. Beautiful and scenic in July. Cringeworthy in January.

Cheyenne has lots of celebrate. It shouldn't be here, as the weather isn't the most temperate. Its tomato growers are a persistent bunch, always coming up with creative ways to plant and ripen our fruit in an 90-day growing season, even 100 or 110 during good years. We have to watch out for late frosts, early frosts, freezing winds in June that kill the flowers, July hail that rips the plants to shreds. Still, Cheyenne is home to a huge Master Gardeners program and, soon, the most impressive botanic gardens conservatory for a city of its size in the U.S.

Thus summer marks a milestone for Cheyenne. What will it look like in 150 years? I won't be around, but someone will be growing tomatoes in my neighborhood. It may be an android tending an indoor hydroponic set-up. But maybe not. Humans like to grow things. That's how we survived all of these years.

I can envision a dystopian version of our future. Since we are high and dry, many coastal Americans will flock here, possibly sparking a refugee crisis that alarms the U.N. Trump may start a nuclear war. That will wipe Cheyenne off the map as we are host to the largest assemblage of nuclear missiles in creation. Cheyenne may end up being a slave labor pool for oligarchs. Diseases may wipe out all humans, clearing the way for a generation of giant bugs such as those seen in "Starship Troopers," filmed back in Wyoming's heyday at Hell's Half Acre. Wyoming has a long relationship with the devil and his minions. Devils Tower, of course, and the original white man's name for Yellowstone, Colter's Hell.

Dystopian versions for the world are big right now. Perhaps that will continue. I tend to think that the future is a mix of Utopia/Dystopia. Just like the present. You can have a great party for your hometown even while a lunatic sits in the driver's seat. We don't know where this train is headed, or if we'll arrive safely. But darn it, we can party hearty along the way.

Happy birthday, Cheyenne!

UPDATE 8/13: When reading the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle's "Cheyenne at 150," I discovered that I had demoted Gen. Grenville Dodge to colonel. I corrected that mistake. Along the way, I researched Dodge and found him a fascinating character. I also wondered why there is no Dodge Street in Cheyenne. Many other people important to the city's founding have namesake streets. Why no Dodge?

Saturday, August 05, 2017

We hear once again from Mitch McConnell's BFF

Nothing happened in Washington D.C. this week. Absolutely nothing.

I did receive a nice note from Sen./Dr. John  Barrasso, Mitch McConnell's BFF. More of the same gobbledygook. I reprint it here as a public service:
Dear Michael, 
Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on health care. 
There is no question that there are significant challenges related to health care in our nation. During my time practicing medicine in Wyoming, I saw these problems firsthand through my own patients and their families. One of my top priorities in the Senate is improving the quality and lowering the cost of care for all patients. 
Right now, the country is engaged in a serious and important debate regarding the future of Obamacare. As I travel around Wyoming, family after family keep telling me they are paying much more and have fewer choices for health insurance since Obamacare passed. For some of these families, the cost of Obamacare is more than their mortgage and the high deductibles make it burden to actually see the doctor. For these folks, the law is clearly not working. I told these families I would vote to repeal this law -- I kept my promise. 
With that being said, Congress must do more than repeal this failed law. We need real reforms that will actually deliver on the promises made during the Obamacare debate. First, we must focus on lowering the cost of insurance and the cost of care. Since 2013, premiums in Wyoming are up 107%. This is simply not sustainable or affordable. Second, we need to give states back the authority to regulate health insurance. Simply put, Washington bureaucrats do not understand how care is delivered in Wyoming. Finally, we need to give patients more control over their health care dollars. Instead of sending more and more money to insurance companies, patients need to be empowered to choose the right care that works for their situation.
Thank you again for sharing your views with me. I value your input. 
John Barrasso, M.D.
United States Senator
BTW, Sen./Dr. Barrasso. You kept your promise. That's the problem. You kept your promise to try and dismantle Obamacare yet you offered no viable replacement. We will remember your promises -- and your actions -- at election time.

And just when have you been traveling around Wyoming. Where? You have not held a single town hall on this issue.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Latest post on Studio Wyoming Review talks about dystopia and book arts and boxed wine

From "Liberty Walking" by Sue Sommers
Studio Wyoming Review is in the Extras section of Wyofile, Wyoming's online publication. It's kind of like a newspaper in that it features fresh content every day. But it's also like a magazine in that it does long-form features which newspapers, especially small ones, don't do, unless they come from wire services. And just like this blog, it is only online.

Here's some background info on Studio Wyoming Review.

I've been writing for the site for a couple months. I have written two reviews during that time. You can read my first one here. The second one appeared today and is available here.

I am not an artist. I am an arts appreciator. I worked as an arts administrator for 25 years, mainly in the literary arts and publications. What I know about the visual arts I picked up from wonderful artists in Wyoming, Colorado, and others across the U.S. I have to view an exhibit two or three times to get down what I want to write about it. That's not too unusual for magazine writers. It is odd for newspaper reporters, especially beat reporters who often have to interview people on the fly or by phone and submit an intelligible story before deadline. That's what I had to do as a sports reporter.

Me: Hey coach how does it feel to whip the tar out of the Bulldogs?
Coach: Great. The boys gave it 110 percent tonight. They left it all out on the field.
Me: What exactly did they leave out on the field?
Coach: The usual. Guts. Heart. Attitude. Spleen. Brain matter.

Artists leave it all out on the canvas, or in the 3-D piece. Guts. Heart. Attitude. Spleen. Brain matter. Artists, though, care less about the score and more about what shows up in the finished work. It's up to us to see what that is. Sometimes I can be off base. Sometimes I'm dead-on. It's subjective, as are all things human.

Take a look and see what you think and feel. You have to hurry for the "Utopia/Dystopia" exhibit, as it is only up through Aug. 7.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Is it possible to talk politics with our neighbors?

Do you know your neighbors' politics?

Probably not. They may know mine, as I haven't been shy about posting campaign signs for Democrats. We stuck an Obama sign in our front yard in 2008. All sorts of candidates for local and state offices. Democrats except for an occasional candidate for a non-partisan seat such as mayor or city council.

A few neighbors have asked about my signs. But most pretend they don't exist. They may actually see me and think, "there's our neighbor, Mike, out working in his yard." They may think that I don't pay enough attention to my yard, that I might do a better job of tending my lawn or cleaning snow from my sidewalks. They don't say so. As I convalesced at home from a heart attack during the winter of 2013, neighbors shoveled my walk, brought me soup, asked about my recovery. People can be so kind.

It was an odd feeling to take some time out this weekend, knock on doors, and ask people about their politics. It wasn't every neighbor, just a sampling printed out from the Vote Builder app. It included registered Democrats, those who had voted "D" in recent elections, people who had signed in at a Dem event. The Dems have decided it is crucial to talk to real live people if we have a ghost of a chance of displacing the Trump junta in 2018 and 2020. See, there's my partisan self shining through. I have concluded that you can't actually conduct a conversation with a diehard Trump supporter. Many Trump supporters have decided the exact same thing with diehard Democrats. We are balkanized like never before. Ask the people of the Balkans how it turned out when everyone started shooting their neighbors instead of talking with them. It was a messy 20th century.

Chris and I received a list from Taylor, our summer intern from Maine, and walked our precinct. Our intern is a dynamo and she is trying to get as much done as possible as her time in the West grows short. The future of our country is in her hands, and the hands of our children. I am retired and Chris is on the cusp of retirement. We have a slower pace. We've walked many neighborhoods during many campaigns. We take our time. And that's what people seem to want, time and attention. They are befuddled and distressed at the recent turn of events. They want to talk about it.

One woman who was about my age escaped from her barking dogs and sat with us on the porch. Yes, she voted for Democrats and would be interested in volunteering for the local party. She filled out one of our response cards, which updated her contact info. Our cards feature a blue Dem bison. The bison looks friendly. Some conservatives see Dems as dangerous radicals intent on taking away their guns and replacing their coal rollers with bicycles. I shouldn't be saying this, but it's all true, everything you've heard on Fox News. We want you to stare into the image of the blue bison and tell you that you are getting sleepy, sleepy, sleepy. And then bam, we have you in our clutches. Where did you hide those guns? Give us the keys to your truck.

The woman on the front porch knew the former chair of our Democratic Party Grassroots organization. "I don't see how she gets it all done," the woman said. Periodically, she rubbed her hands together, said they were sore from working in her garden. She had a beautiful yard. The dogs stopped barking. She handed me her card. We said our farewells and marched on down the street. We met a libertarian man who had registered as a Dem to vote for Bernie Sanders. He didn't think he wanted to remain involved with the Democrats due to their tax policies. He owned one of Toyota's first hybrid cars and recently drove 700 miles into Iowa on one tank of gas. He looked like a handy guy -- we interrupted him working around the house. A paddleboard was attached to the top of his truck. The man looked at it and I could see that he'd rather be on the water than talking to us.

We moved on. One woman voted for Dems but spent most of her winters in Arizona. "No politics in Arizona," I said. We all laughed. She filled out a card, said she might be interested in attending some Laramie County summer events.

We moved on. A couple walking down the street waved at us. We waved back. I wondered if they wondered what we were doing in their neighborhood. One man asked if we lived around here. We answered in the affirmative. For 22 years. Three different places. Our kids attended Hobbs Elementary, McCormick Junior High and Central High. Voted in this precinct and worked at the polls. At the next house, the couple warmed up to Chris as soon as she said she worked at the Y. They were a mixed race couple whose son had been spending his summers at the Y for four years. His parents called him out and introduced him. Chris and the twelve-year-old recognized each other.  The woman said she voted for Democrats but was too busy working three jobs to volunteer. She and her husband both filled out cards because they were angry at current events. They didn't mention Trump but didn't have to. He was black, she was white. We chatted about kids and the Y and school but only made a few references to politics. They urged us to contact them, as if they felt a pressing need to do something, anything. We said we would. Secretly, we hoped that the Dems would follow through as the party hasn't always been the most efficient political machine in Wyoming. I know that Chris and I would see to that.

We said we had to go across the street to talk to their neighbor. They told us he was hard of hearing so we had to talk loud. They didn't know that he was a Democrat. We walked over and rang the man's doorbell but no answer. The couple yelled from across the street, said that their neighbor was probably going for his walk as he usually did every day at this time. We said we'd come back.

But our time on this July afternoon was limited. Chris had to go into work for a couple hours. I had to shop for a Sunday garden party with colleagues who, during last election season, had raised quite a bit of money for legislative candidates who ended up getting walloped on Nov. 8. But we missed working with each other. We missed each other. We were neighbors, after all. People who cared about their neighborhoods and their city and their state and their country.

We walk neighborhoods for our country.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I do not believe Sen./Dr. Barrasso when he says he is "passionate about ensuring that patients are able to get the care they need"

Wyomingites call John Barrasso a U.S. Senator.

Before turning to politics, he was Dr. John Barrasso in Casper. An orthopedic surgeon, like the very capable docs in Cheyenne who replaced both of my knees, operations covered by Medicare and my supplemental insurer, CIGNA. I give a lot of credit to CIGNA for its service. I also pay the company more than half of my retirement income to provide necessary coverage for me, my diabetic wife, and my mentally challenged daughter. My knee docs are not in the Senate. Not yet, anyway. They may have noted how much money Barrasso is raking in as as pal of the Koch Brothers and other right-wing funders. And the senator has great hours and plenty of vacation days. He hardly works at all! 

I'm not sure what to call Barrasso. A physician would not demean his profession the way he does. Lately, he's been up to no good in the U.S. Senate, working to deny health care to thousands of Wyomingites. 

So I write letters and postcards. They are cordial but insistent. I do no name calling or cursing. I don't want to get on the Senate's Shit List, which I hear is getting longer by the day.  

My senators write me back. This afternoon I received an e-mail response from Sen. Barrasso. A laugher, if you're into dark humor. Read it and weep or laugh, the choice is yours. You can get your own response, suitable for framing, by writing to Sen. John Barrasso, 307 Dirksen Office Building, Washington, DC, 20510. Get a full list of his mailing addresses and phone numbers in Wyoming by going to http://www.barrasso.senate.gov
Dear Michael,  
Thank you for taking the time to contact me. It is good to hear from you. 
There are serious challenges facing health care in our nation. As a doctor, who practiced in Wyoming for over twenty years, I am passionate about ensuring that patients are able to get the care they need. Right now, Congress is in the middle of an important debate about the future of Obamacare.  
For the past seven years, patients have experienced the impact of this law. The people I talk to in Wyoming tell me they are facing higher premiums and fewer choices. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, premiums in Wyoming are up 107% since 2013. We also have just one single insurance company willing to sell Obamacare policies.  
This law cannot continue in Wyoming or across the country. This is why I voted to repeal Obamacare and will continue to support this effort. Patients need relief from the law’s mandates and taxes that are making health insurance unaffordable for so many families. Importantly, we can do this while still ensuring that people with serious medical conditions continue to have access to insurance coverage.  
The repeal of Obamacare is just the first step. We need to make changes that ultimately lower costs and improve quality of care received by all patients. In particular, this means letting states decide what works best in their local communities. This is especially important so places like Wyoming can meet the needs of residents in our rural communities.  
Michael, thank you for contacting me. I appreciate hearing your thoughts and comments about this important issue. 
John Barrasso, M.D.
United States Senator

In which Sen. Enzi tries to calm this heart patient's fears about the Senate's health care bill

I am always impressed how quickly Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi replies to my letters, postcards, e-mails and phone calls. I am just one of his many constituents. I am a registered Democrat and never voted for him. Of all the GOPers objecting to Pres. Obama's ACA, Enzi, at least, had some of his own common-sense proposals. 

But like the rest of the GOP, the Trump-era Enzi has gone off its rocker. He and his pal, Sen. Barrasso, helped craft the nastiness that is the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). The goal should be to provide universal health care. Instead, it deprives millions of coverage in order to give tax breaks to the rich. 

So I complained. Enzi's response was predictable. I like to publish them online. You have to read between the lines to see what it actually says: "We destroyed the ACA and now want to replace it with something much worse. And you can't do anything about it."

So here's his response: 
Dear Mike: 
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused skyrocketing health care premiums, imposed mandates and taxes, and is collapsing individual insurance markets. Millions of Americans and thousands of Wyomingites have demanded we take action on these issues. One proposal in the Senate, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), would address these problems and help ensure the most vulnerable among us get health care.

There are people suffering under the current health care system created by the ACA and more will follow suit if we do nothing. The health care status quo is simply unsustainable and changes must be made. The recent vote on the motion to proceed provides us with an opportunity to improve our health care system. I will continue to work to find the best way forward while keeping in mind the health care needs of Wyomingites.

Thanks for contacting me.

Michael B. Enzi
United States Senator