Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wyoming works to bring science education standards up to the level of East Jesus, Alabama

WyPols had a nice summation of this week's hearings regarding the teaching of science standards in our schools. It once again brings up the question: Don't these people know that we live in an age where Know-Nothing statements make their way around the globe at lightning speed, causing people to wonder what the heck is going on in Wyoming? Read examples here and here.

The WyPols article had some quotes from WY State Board of Education Chair Ron Micheli. You may remember Mr. Micheli from his unsuccessful 2010 run for governor in which Dems changed registration en masse at the primaries to vote for Anyone but Micheli (i.e. Matt Mead). I was working at the polls that day and was very lonely as I watched my Dem friends making a beeline to the "Change Your Registration Here" table. Later, I recall sitting at my union HQ in Cheyenne listening to and blogging about the returns from the primaries. Micheli was ahead for awhile. Think about it:
“I just want people to understand that this isn’t some backwards state that doesn’t believe in discussion, or rational communication with each other. … But it has to be based on the economy of this state,” the chairman said. “The very people in education who are so adamant in favor of global warming” – here his voice started to rise – “are the very people who are being paid. And their money is 80 percent coming from the mineral resources of this state. And that’s a hard fact.”

Wyoming’s entire educational system is based on fossil fuels, Micheli added, “and any attempt to derail that or change that is not in the best interests of the state. Now if that’s being backwoods, if that’s being redneck, if that’s putting our head in the sand, then so be it. But [fossil fuels are]what our state is based on.”

Micheli said he was sorry for standing on his soapbox, but he needed to clarify things.“I am not anti-planet. I’m not an ignorant moron,” he volunteered. “I’m trying to be rational in this debate.”
Methinks he doth protest too much.

I'm, glad my kids are out of the local school system. I can imagine my very outspoken and liberal-minded kids reacting to climate-change deniers in the classroom. I don't blame the teachers, as they are at the mercy of powers greater than themselves, such as Mr. Micheli, crazies in the legislature, raging fundies, Obama haters and our governor. Parents must do their best to make sure their kids and grandkids get accurate info.

Their futures depend on it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why are all of the dad-blamed Gov candidates from Cheyenne?

Article in yesterday's Casper Star-Trib lamented the fact that all three of the announced  Republican candidates for governor are from Laramie County: Incumbent Matt Mead, ticked-off sort-of Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, and Tea Party fave Taylor Haynes.

I don't speak for my fellow Democrats when I say "We will keep Mead if you promise to take Hill and Haynes off of our hands." Most of them aren't too crazy about our current governor. He scuttled Medicaid Expansion and joined in on the failed multi-state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. But he is arts- and tech- and business-friendly, and seems to have a little more realistic view of the modern world than his fellow Repubs, especially those from the rural areas of the Cowboy State. At least two county Republican conventions (Platte and Hot Springs) recently censured the Gov over the Hill mess (SF 104) and the suspicion that he might be a RINO -- Republican in Name Only. Two other county Republican gatherings resorted to Tea Party mumbo-jumbo (Freedom! Constitution! Something!) but came up short of an outright censure. Interesting to note that our Dem county convention in March fielded a platform plank that would have called out Gov. Mead on the Hill fiasco. It was roundly defeated after a lively discussion. Most commenters thought that it was unwise to wade into this big Republican mess. Even though I seconded the motion, I ended up voting against it.

In today's CST article, Mead's office pointed out the Gov's rural roots in both Teton (richy-rich hangout) and Albany (liberal UW profs and enviros) counties. Haynes admitted that he was busy getting ready to a new ranch in Albany County. Hill couldn't be reached for comment, no doubt framing another spiteful missive to the Gov and his legal eagles who won't let her move back into her Superintendent offices in the Hathaway Building (the Constitution, ya'll!).

But interviewees in the article wondered why we can't have any gubernatorial candidates from some of our more rural counties. It's a good question. There's 98,000 square miles wherein candidates could dwell. Subtract Laramie County and you have left about 97,000. You could beat the sagebrush and find a few likely governors there. Or not. Still they wonder why their leaders come from The Big City and not from The Heartland.

I guess being a rural Wyoming Republican is a bit like being a Wyoming Democrat anywhere. Dems wonder why nobody ever listens to our progressive views. Here we are, sitting in our urban conclave, sipping lattes and plotting the downfall of Christendom, when a bunch of white guys stream into the Capitol Building from Meeteetse and Frannie and Ten Sleep and start ranting about herding gays into concentration camps and banning birth control and stopping the spread of Commie-inspired urban planning and banning the teaching of certain annoying scientific facts (global warming, evolution, earth orbiting the sun) and so on.

Why don't these people go back to their heavenly rural Nirvanas and leave us city people alone.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sunday morning round-up: Barrasso fail, CIGNA shout-out, Colorado history flashback

Sunday morning round-up:

Apparently we're supposed to listen to Dr. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) when he speaks about the Affordable Care Act. He is a doctor, after all, and one whose pearls of wisdom on matters medical keep appearing on Casper TV stations. Last week, he accused President Obama of "cooking the books on Obamacare." He and his Repub fellow travelers don't believe that Obamacare exceeded its enrollment goals by the March 31 deadline. Not surprising, as Barrasso has bigger ambitions and his face is always looming in the background whenever Repub minority leader Mitch McConnell blathers on about something. The good news is that Wyoming Democratic Party Director Robin Van Ausdall issued a rebuttal to Barrasso's claims:
“Senator Barrasso should focus on the needs of his constituents instead of making up wild claims for which he has no evidence.”
Read the rest here.

My insurance company is CIGNA. On these pages I've occasionally made snide remarks about health insurers. So easy to be snarky and snide when sitting at a computer keyboard in the wilds of Wyoming. But insurers have changed since the bad old days when clerks sitting at keyboards in the wilds of Dallas and Cleveland were making life-and-death decisions based on arcane rules and the bottom line. Obamacare was responsible for some of the changes, as was the mental health parity act and other legislation. Our family has faced an avalanche of health care emergencies in the past two years. CIGNA has been incredibly accommodating all along the way. It has streamlined the approval process and provides frequent updates on billing issues. When I have questions, I usually can get a real person on the phone or online. Thanks, CIGNA. And thanks for sponsoring programs such as "Weekend Edition" on National Public Radio.

While shuffling through boxes in the basement, I came across a 1959 Denver Post publication This is Colorado: Gold Rush Centennial Edition. In 1859, a few prospectors found gold at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Word went out across the land, and the next thing you know, Denver City is swarming with hipsters looking for great deals on LoDo lofts and crowding into brewpubs. I guess that came a little later. That's the thing -- as I read 1959 publication, there wasn't a real sense of Denver's future. Photos and stories and display ads celebrated the state's history and landscape. Lots of mentions of the "Rocky Mountain Empire," not surprising when you consider that the Post's motto was "The Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire." Much was written about big manufacturing companies: tire-maker Gates, luggage-maker Samsonite and missile-maker Martin-Marietta. The rise of the automobile got a lot of print, as did trains and street-car travel. But barely a mention of the Denver airport that's become monolithic DIA. I saw only display ad that mentioned computers, and those were for big business and industry. Some neat photos were included of a fake frontier town that was built near the State Capitol to celebrate the centennial. Also on display was an Atlas rocket. Past and future. That ersatz past has fallen out of favor and Atlas rockets that used to lie primed and ready under fields near Greeley no longer exist. Wyoming has the missiles now -- so don't mess with us, Greenies!

The Post's editors were cheerleaders for Colorado. But they didn't have a clue about what Denver would become. And who could blame them? Personal computers were more than a decade away. The sixties and seventies hadn't happened yet, decades that saw an influx of young people looking for that "Rocky Mountain High" and "Rocky Mountain Way." Young whippersnappers keep pouring into Denver for those same reasons. Colorado's Front Range is not so much a manufacturing center as an entrepreneurial center, more focused on high-tech and apps and small biz start-ups than factories. Who knew?

Ain't history grand?

The book has a few pages devoted to Wyoming and one full-page ad for Cheyenne Frontier Days (63rd year!). The Wyoming article by Cheyenne native Norman Udevitz focused on a western character from his youth named Big Tom and how he represented traits of self-reliance and neighborliness. Udevitz later went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at the Denver Post.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

What does "Magic City of the Plains" really mean?

Can you be an urban guy in a rural state?

Sure. Urban centers exist even in the West's open spaces. Denver is the town that Colorado's eastern prairie loves to hate because, well, it's Denver where all of those liberals live -- and where the dreaded legislature convenes to pass laws to take away our guns, legalize gay marriage, force us to smoke pot, join the EPA's war on coal/gas/oil, and so on. The Western Slope hates Denver because it steals its water -- and they're right about that. Denver has been stealing water from the mountains even before Colorado became a state. That's true of the entire Front Range.

Cheyenne is the most urban of Wyoming's towns. In fact, it's only one of two metropolitan statistical areas (along with Casper) in the state. It's also where the legislature meets and engages in Cheyennigans (also the name of WyoFile's blog about the legislature). Cheyenne, the "Magic City of the Plains," was supposed to be Denver. Thing is, Denver became the home of hustlers and live wires and shysters and visionaries while Cheyenne became home to no-growthers. That wasn't always the case. Cheyenne was a flourishing rail and commercial center while Denver was still figuring out how to put on its boots.

From the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains:
Because of its rapid birth and ability to recover from periodic economic slumps, Cheyenne was called the "Magic City of the Plains." As the city matured during the territorial period (1869–90), it also developed a reputation as a social and cultural center. The city was notable for its opera house, the Atlas Theater, the Cheyenne Club, the Inter-Ocean Hotel, numerous retail businesses, and more than forty lavish mansions. The success and wealth of the city attracted western legends such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Tom Horn, and Wyatt Earp, who rode shotgun on the Cheyenne–Black Hills stage.
Times marches on.

These days, according to Wikipedia: 
Cheyenne is the northern terminus of the extensive and fast-growing Front Range Urban Corridor that stretches from Cheyenne to Pueblo, Colorado, and has a population of 5,467,633 according to the 2010 United States Census.
Some of our rural Wyoming neighbors refer to Cheyenne disparagingly as "North Denver." They may be more accurate than they realize. All cities along the Front Range are actually Denver outliers. Denver International Airport could accurately be called Front Range International Airport except there's another airport with the "Front Range" moniker. All of the commuter flights from the Cheyenne airport feed into DIA. The same goes for Western Kansas and Nebraska, and all of Colorado. Most of us in Cheyenne prefer the two-hour interstate trip to DIA over the shorter "Vomit Comet" air trip to DIA. On good days, I can get to DIA in 90 minutes.

Many of us in Cheyenne get our arts and culture fixes in Denver. I'm one of a group of culture-hungry Dems who regularly get DCPA tickets to touring productions of "The Book of Mormon" and other Broadway shows. We usually have dinner downtown, go to the show, buyWyoming Tribune-Eagle apres-show drinks and spend the night at one of Denver's many hotels. We know that rooms at the big hotels often go begging on weekends when convention and business travelers are at home.

Democrats aren't the only ones leaving the Cowboy State for a big-city night out. All of us -- Dems, Repubs, Indies and Libertarians -- taken together are a boon to Denver's economy. Denver pro sports teams have tons of followers in Cheyenne. I saw a number of FB status updates from Cheyennites yesterday from opening day at Coors Field. The Rockies even won, 12-2.

Cheyenne's membership in the Front Range bugs the Agenda 21 crowd. They don't want Cheyenne to look like other Front Range communities. You know, the prosperous ones such as Fort Collins and Loveland and Longmont and (God forbid) Boulder and Castle Rock. The list goes on and on. Cranky Tea Party types have flooded public commission meetings for PlanCheyenne to voice their displeasure that our county would consider such commie-inspired planning devices as bike paths, public art, parks, incentives for business and industry, efforts to grow the local entertainment scene, etc. Wyoming Tribune-Eagle Executive Editor Reed Eckhardt had an excellent staff editorial in this morning's paper decrying the bullying tactics of the "anti-planners" and the "anti-culture" crowd.
Problem is, Cheyenne was leading the Front Range before there was a Front Range. Just what do the [county] commissioners think the phrase "Magic City on the Plains" means? That people strutted around here in cowboy boots and hats and saluted each other with "howdy" for 10 days of the year?
In case you didn't know, that last reference is to Cheyenne Frontier Days, the big summer western bash in which all of us, even urban dudes such as myself, are asked to wear western gear and be friendly to tourists.

There's a reason that one out of every six Wyomingites live in Cheyenne. They have jobs. Jobs come from growth. New companies are formed and others move in for lots of reasons: tax structure, infrastructure, broadband access, climate, lifestyle. They don't move in because they heard that a lot of Know-Nothings crowded into planning meetings to shout about a United Nations plot to take away our gas-powered vehicles and make us all live in Hobbit homes. While that may be a quaint concept for 1914, it's not very attractive in 2014.

Growth comes, planned or unplanned. Which will it be, Wyoming?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Dolores Huerta is keynote speaker at Dem convention

I am a delegate to the Wyoming Democratic Party state convention in Rock Springs.

I had to fight hard for the convention spot. Really, all I had to do was show up for the county convention and sign my name to a statement that said something like "I swear to (insert here the name of spiritual entity or higher power or, if atheist, "none of the above") _____________ that I will show up in Rock Springs May 16-17 for the Democratic Party convention, will participate in the proceedings and will not nap in my seat. Amen."

That was it.

A much different experience than that very exciting presidential election year in 2008. Dems in Laramie County duked it out for a spot at the state convention. We even had to make convincing speeches from the floor and get voted on. I was elected as an Obama delegate, my wife Chris as a Clinton alternate. This turned her even more surly than she'd been all through the early primary season as it became clear that the unknown male senator from Chicago was getting the upper hand on Hilary, the party favorite. It was a long election season in the Shay household. Wyoming did send some Clinton delegates to the national convention in Denver, although Chris wasn't one of them. I attended as an embedded blogger, stirring up trouble wherever I could.

Wyoming Dems may not have many elected officials to show for our efforts. But we do have cameraderie. We will be among friends in Rock Springs and a fine time will be had by all. And the keynote speaker is fantastic. From the Wyoming Dems Facebook page:
There are four elementary schools in California, one in Fort Worth, Texas, and a high school in Pueblo, Colorado named after Dolores Huerta.

She was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in March of 2013. She has received numerous awards: among them The Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award from President Clinton in l998, Ms. Magazine’s One of the Three Most Important Women of l997, Ladies Home Journal’s 100 Most Important Woman of the 20th Century, The Puffin Foundation’s Award for Creative Citizenship: Labor Leader Award 1984, The Kern County Woman of The Year Award from the California State Legislature, The Ohtli Award from the Mexican Government, The Smithsonian Institution – James Smithson Award, and nine honorary doctorates from universities throughout the U.S.

In 2012 President Obama bestowed Dolores with her most prestigious award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S. Upon receiving this award, Dolores said, “The freedom of association means that people can come together in organization to fight for solutions to the problems they confront in their communities. The great social justice changes in our country have happened when people came together, organized, and took direct action. It is this right that sustains and nurtures our democracy today. The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement, and the equality movement for our LGBT brothers and sisters are all manifestations of these rights. I thank President Obama for raising the importance of organizing to the highest level of merit and honor.”



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday morning wrap-up: Spring is lion time

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. That expression shows more wishful thinking than reality. In Wyoming, March comes in like a lion and goes out like another lion, or maybe the very same lion -- it's hard to say. March announced itself with snow and announces its end with more snow. This morning it's snowing like crazy in the western part of Wyoming -- and it's headed this way. The NWS has issued a winter storm warning for the Snowy Range which means that driving across Elk Mountain will be hazardous for my wife and her fellow travelers returning from a conference in Green River. I've written about I-80 before. Anyone who's traveled its tortuous miles between October and May can attest to its wintry bite. Even in the fall. Even in the spring. Lion time!

Still, the clock doesn't lie. Spring brings the launch of gardening season. April is the month for preparing the ground and sprouting seeds. May is planting time, although don't rush into it because we're still not free of frost and snow and biting winds. I ventured out to the annual Laramie County Home & Garden Show yesterday at the events center. The building was filled with more home than garden. The Laramie County Conservation District staffed a booth. I stopped and picked up a packet of wildflower seeds, a guide to pollinators and a recreation guide to the Upper Crow Creek Watershed. I didn't know about squash bees that specifically pollinate squash, pumpkins and melons. I will be on the lookout for them this summer. I also stopped by Gitty-Up & Grow, a business that sells raised bed and patio veggie planting gardens. Julie explained that she grew enough tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs in her in her 3-by-2-by-1-foot screened-in patio grower to keep her in homemade spaghetti sauce all summer and fall. Not bad. Look her up here. Most of the other booths offered services for landscaping, barn-building, home-building, sprinkler systems, etc. A grass-fed beef purveyor was doing a brisk business, as was the Tupperware booth nearby. I wasn't interested in most of it. Not that my home and yard don't need help. But I have gardening on my brain.

Wonder what old-time ranchers and farmers think about the grow-your-own-food craze? Millennials are jumping on the bandwagon. Some spend their summers volunteering at farms. Others start gardens on rooftops or vacant lots or even frontyards, which is going to cause apoplexy among some of their lawn-obsessed Boomer neighbors. Denver allows frontyard veggie gardens and proposes to amend its zoning code to allow yard sales of "uncut fruits and vegetables, whole eggs, and home-prepared food products such as jellies, jams, honey, teas, herbs, spices and some baked goods." Obviously some homeowners' associations will not go along with the trend. Property values! But what if you live in a hip neighborhood where keeping up with the Joneses involves lush tomato plants supplanting bluegrass.

Neighbor No. 1 (snidely): I see that you're mowing your grass again.
Neighbor No. 2 (defensively): What's it to you?
Neighbor No. 1 (grabs a purple heirloom tomato from his vine and bites into it): Want a bite?
Neighbor No. 2 (revving up his lawn tractor, pointing at his crotch): Bite this.

Another chapter in the culture wars. Some of us (even Boomers) will see foodscaping as an inalienable right, much like craft brews and artisanal doughnuts. Others will see it as another Agenda 21 plot. Neighborhoods will be grouped accordingly, thus giving us even fewer opportunities to interact with those we disagree with.

In Jackson, where a new company, Maiden Skis, is making artisanal skis and snowboards, there are plans for a greenhouse attached to the city parking garage. It's called Vertical Harvest:
The greenhouse will grow and sell locally grown vegetables to Jackson Hole restaurants, local grocery stores and directly to customers year-round, providing a stable, consistent source of produce at competitive prices. The site for the greenhouse is a currently unused 30’ x 150’ lot owned by the Town of Jackson on the southern edge of a public parking garage in the center of town.
Organizers plan to recruit people with special needs to work at Vertical Harvest. This combines the usual contemporary blend of an innovative project with "doing good." Plus Kickstarter. Sure, Jackson is the hip part of the state where stuff like this seems to spring out of the rocks. But this could be done anywhere. There's a proliferation of mini-greenhouses and high tunnels throughout the state. Bright Agrotech in Laramie makes nifty indoor growing towers that you can put in any sunny room. Creativity and a bit of chutzpah is all it takes. Not surprisingly, you usually find artists in the mix.