Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wyoming Liberty Group threatens state retirement plans

A big thanks to Patrick Crank for his fiery op-ed in Saturday's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, "Liberty Group threatens state retirement plans."

Crank, a local attorney and former attorney general of Wyoming, attended the Wyoming Liberty Group's "Pension Reform Summit" Oct. 6 in Cheyenne. In case you don't know, the Liberty Group is a right-wing fringe organization funded by ultra-conservative Texas gazillionaire Susan Gore. Its sole purpose, it seems, is to destroy the state's excellent retirement system to further marginalize the state's workers.

About 25 firefighters covered by the state retirement plan showed up at this so-called summit. They were denied entrance. Crank and one other retired firefighter finally were allowed to observe the meeting. Keynote speaker was State Rep. Donald Burkhart (R-Rawlins). Rep. Burkhart has a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and was selected by the speaker of the house to serve as liaison to the Wyoming Retirement Board.

He was joined at the summit by a batch of Republican lawmakers. Two of them are legislative liaisons to the Retirement Board: Sen. Curt Meier (R-LaGrange) and Rep. Mike Madden (R-Buffalo), The others were Republican representatives Sue Wilson of Cheyenne and Marti Halverson of Etna and Republican senator Cale Case of Lander. Not sure where the Democrats were, especially those from Laramie County, home to a majority of state workers. Perhaps their invitations were lost in the mail.

Who else was at the meeting?
Other than these legislators, virtually everyone else at the meeting appeared to be either Liberty Group staff and members and paid out-of-state lobbyists.
This is a key element of the Liberty Group -- its funded by out-of-state money, run by out-of-staters and it employs out-of-state lobbyists in an attempt to destroy Wyoming's excellent retirement system. One has to wonder why all of these people from Texas and Colorado and elsewhere don't have something else to do, such as foreclosing on widows and gaming the stock market. They're doing that too. I'm just surprised that they have time for little ol' Wyoming retirees.

Patrick Crank wonders about that too:
Why are ultra-rich right-wing groups, financed by multi-billionaires, attacking our ability to have a reasonable income during our golden years? 
Why are they attacking our children's ability to obtain a reasonable retirement plan for their years of work yet to come?
We also have to wonder why so many of our Republican legislators are eager to sign on to the Liberty Group/Susan Gore agenda? Yes, they hate gubment and think state employees such as myself are bums. These right-wingers are angry as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. Just why they are angry when they seem to have it all is another question entirely.

Republican-dominated and sparsely-populated Wyoming must seem like a juicy test case for these out-of-state interests. They may look at us as some sort of backwater that can be turned into a colony for oligarchs served by an army of compliant serfs who get paid peanuts and go into their golden years without a farthing. We are, after all, the state with the highest number of billionaires per capita. Hey, it's only six, but all of their pals are looking to the future to see how subservient they can make the population, how compliant they can make our Republican-dominated legislature.

Crank wrapped up his op-ed succinctly:
It is wrong that ultra-right-wing millionaires, with the assistance of elected representatives like Mr. Burkhart, have chose to attack this benefit of work life that has served the United States well for the last century.
It is wrong.

Time to talk to your legislator about this issue. BTW, Rep. Burkhart's e-mail is You can find more e-mails and phone numbers of legislators at Wyoming LegisWeb.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Campaigning for Mike in Cheyenne

Walked neighborhoods for Mike Ceballos this afternoon. Mike is the Democratic Party candidate for superintendent of public instruction. A fine candidate, as I told anyone who was home and not off at the UW homecoming game in Laramie. People tend to be friendly in Cheyenne, even when you're coming to their door and possibly disrupting the arc of an Indian Summer Saturday afternoon. I kept thinking: Why am I not in my backyard, sitting in an easy chair under the shade of my big elm, reading a good book, golden leaves falling around my shoulders? But here I was, knocking on doors, talking to people, and strolling down quiet streets.

The Ceballos campaign will be busy from now until election day. Some TV ads, and some GOTV events are planned. His Republican opponent has been running attack ads on TV and radio. She must be getting desperate.

Check out Mike's web site for more info.

And remember to vote on Nov. 4. You can vote early, too.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday round-up: Heating up -- Political races & Cheyenne's downtown

Newspapers and online sources seem to agree that the Wyoming political races are heating up. This week, Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Pete Gosar went on the offensive against Matt Mead at the debate. And Democrat Mike Ceballos and Republican Jillian Barlow went at it regarding some critical social media comments. At this point, three weeks and two days away from election day, races should be heating up. Facebook may be the best way to follow Pete and Mike's campaigns. As for the debates, Wyoming PBS will simulcast those this week and stream them online. Get more info here.

The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle punctuated its week-long series about Cheyenne's downtown with its lead editorial this morning, "DDA must focus on the essentials." I knew it was important due to the very large headline. Downtown way be the most important issue Cheyenne faces. As downtown goes, so goes the city. I agree that all of the entities involved need to do this: "Time, energy and money must be targeted, not shotgunned out in hope that something good will happen."

Speaking of downtown... My work colleague, artist Camellia El-Antably, and artist and educator Mark Vinich, staged a "soft" opening of their new gallery space on Thursday during Art Design & Dine. Called Clay Paper Scissors Gallery & Studio, these artrepreneurs have created a striking, well-lighted space geared to featuring regional artists. Go by and see the new space at 1513 Carey Avenue. See for yourself how downtown can become a more vital and artful place.

A reminder that Democrats are holding a FUNdraiser today from 2-4 p.m. at Joe's house, 3626 Dover Rd. If you truly want to see the campaigns heat up, come on by, meet the candidates, contribute to the cause and eat some scrumptious desserts, such as Mike and Jeran's homemade pumpkin cheeesecake.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Some final words about Mental Health Awareness Week

I could not let Mental Health Awareness Week go by without commenting.

The week, promoted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), was a week filled with a flurry of social media posts, including a series of images (see one above). Thursday, Oct. 9, was National Depression Screening Day. I’ve already had mine – several in fact -- and depression was located in various regions of my body – my heart, my celebral cortex, my Islets of Langerhans. I take meds for it, see my psychiatrist every six months and my therapist every week. I work out at the YMCA every other day and eat right.

Last weekend I made chili for the Broncos game. This is not a recommended treatment for depression. Following the Broncos may even cause depression – the jury’s still out. I make my own chili because I love chili and the store-bought variety comes with tons of salt. Too much salt causes my heart to work harder to get rid of fluid build-up. An overworked heart negates the medication I take to keep it calm and reliable. An overworked heart may go into a fatal arrhythmia and would cause my ICD to kick in which, in turn, would cause me to flop around on the floor like a fish. Depression would follow, as would stares of passers-by.

Homemade chili, you see, can ease both heart disease and depression. Mine features lots of pepper slices and tomatoes, our planet’s super-food. No-salt-added tomato sauce. It’s meaty with the lowest-fat hamburger I can find. Flavoring is a problem that no amount of Mrs. Dash, cumin, and chili power can remedy. Our taste buds are primed for salt and lots of it. We need some salt as our body’s origins are in the briny deep. I’m still working on that part of the chili challenge.

It’s not that easy to get the same attention for mental illness as is given to heart disease. I’m pleased that heart disease gets lots of attention and much funding. I might not be alive if that were not the case. I am pleased that my local hospital has a spiffy new cancer center and that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everyone wears pink, even NFL players and cowboys (at least they do every summer at the CFD Rodeo's "Tough enough to wear pink" day). As for the NFL -- those were some bitchin’ pink cleats that the Houston and Indy players were wearing on Thursday Night Football. Good game, too.

I didn’t spy many green ribbons or green shoes this week. As I said, social media lit up with references to depression and schizophrenia and bipolar. USA Today did a series on mental illness and suicide. Nice job – I read it all. Shocking stats revealed that 40,000 Americans killed themselves last year. It’s shocking enough that an average of 22 military veterans take their lives daily. But to really be shocked, you have to read their stories. Many don’t get any help at all, or the right kind of help. But many do and still kill themselves. Many civilians with mental illnesses don’t get any help at all, or can’t afford it, or don’t get the proper treatments. They jump off bridges or shoot themselves or OD on pills with alarming regularity. Does that mean it’s hopeless? No, but people who feel hopeless may not get help because of the stigma attached to mental illness or the “cowboy up” mentality that we have in Wyoming and other western states. “Cowboy up” is not a helpful response to someone who needs help. “Tough it out” or “lighten up” – also not helpful responses. But you can’t really blame people. If they haven’t experienced a mental health challenge themselves or with a friend or family members, they may be clueless.

I walk around with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator in my chest. My wife Chris walks around with a Diabetes Meter on her hip. We often get into lively discussions with people with heart disease and diabetes. We compare experiences and devices. Growing old, it seems, is filled with these types of conversations. Having a heart attack gives you carte blanche to bore everyone silly with your story.

Want to stop a lively conversation in its tracks? Bring up mental illness. Chris was at a community gathering this week and was having a good old time talking to old friends about her meter and my ICD. Lots of people have encounters with heart abnormalities and blood sugar levels. But when they asked about our daughter Annie and Chris told them she was in a mental health treatment center, the conversation stopped. Crickets chirped. Tumbleweeds rolled through the room. The friends excused themselves and Chris was left standing there, an intriguing story hanging from her lips.

Too bad they didn’t stick around to hear the story. Annie has received a variety of diagnoses. Bipolar. Borderline personal disorder, with and without bipolar. Severe depression. She’s a cutter too, you see, which usually freaks out the uninitiated. It freaked me out when I first found out about it. She’s used knives, box cutters, razors and even broken glass to carve a topo map of scars on her arms and legs and stomach. It’s a constant reminder of her traumas. It will always be a reminder to her as the challenges she faced as a teen and young woman. She may arrive at a place where she can live with her mental illness, maybe even outgrow the worst symptoms. But she’ll always have the scars. When she’s 63 as I am now, her grandchildren may ask, “Grandma, where did you get those scars?” She can tell any story she wants, as grandparents do. But I have a feeling she will share the truth. That may help them somewhere down the line. This mental illness runs in our family, you see, and DNA has a funny way of replicating itself. Science may come up with answers. Better, more targeted drugs with fewer side-effects. Better and more widely available therapy. Less stigma. Empathy breaking out all over.

Meanwhile, there are social media images to post and blogs to write. Chili warms on the stove. Life is a series of little treatments, tiny steps, unexpected laughter. Sorrow awaits you around every turn. Be aware.      

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The BBC transforms a great Brian Wilson song into a video promo

Brian Wilson's great "God Only Knows" has been transformed by the BBC into a "for the love of music" video promo with a cast of thousands. I like it. The song comes from Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys' masterpiece, according to many critics, and one of the influences for The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I barely paid any attention when Pet Sounds came out in the summer of 1966 as I was busy sharpening my dancing skills for Motown hits. Take a look...

Sunday, October 05, 2014

What is your vision for the future of Cheyenne's downtown?

Thanks to the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle for this week's series on Cheyenne's downtown. It covered many aspects of downtown's current plight and ended today with an upbeat forecast for the future. I happen to agree that the city's mid-town area has improved remarkably during the past few years and will look quite a bit different in 3-5 years. Cheyenne is lucky in that it has a distinctive downtown and that it is riding the "downtown is cool" wave that is dawning all over the U.S.

And you don't have to go to Colorado to find good examples of this trend. We have some cool downtowns in this state and I suggest that you check them out as you travel. Laramie is a great example, and it's right over the hill. New homegrown businesses, funky cafes and brewpubs, lots of colorful murals, and new western-themed bike racks. You can sip a craft beer and watch the trains chug by. Rawlins just rebuilt its downtown, and Rock Springs is in the process of sprucing up its odd mid-city that is cut in half by train tracks. Think of Sheridan's beautiful downtown, Cody and Lander, too. Thermopolis has thriving downtown businesses and a lively art walk. There are many others.

Best thing that Wyomingites can do is to get involved in the local scene. Shop locally, eat locally, drink locally, and think locally. Because I live in Cheyenne, I often look south for entertainment and sports and food. The border, after all, is permeable.And there's a new CostCo going up just off I-25 in Fort Collins. And you can't get Ethiopian food in Cheyenne. Or see the new Broadway touring plays -- or even old ones. The Rockies don't play in Wyoming -- maybe that's a reason to count our blessings.

But Wyoming has things that Colorado does not. Find out what they are and spend your dough there. One of the topics that was woven into the WTE series was those aspects of Cheyenne that make it special. Our history is as rich as Denver's -- just take a look at all of the murder and intrigue happening in Cheyenne this season on AMC's "Hell on Wheels." Fictionalized but based on fact. We've only begun to explore our railroad and Native American and geologic history. Yes, there's Cheyenne Frontier Days. But that represents only a small slice of local lore. Native Americans made these parts home for a lot longer than cowboys, but their stories are barely told. And what about dinosaurs of land and sea? For millions of years they made this place home.

So, when locals start talking about a western-themed downtown, ask them which West they are referring to. A cowboy sculpture on every corner is not my idea of a lively downtown. All kinds of art all over downtown is a great idea. That takes vision.  And planning. Cooperation among government and business and patrons and artists.

When I retire in a few years, I plan on getting involved in downtown in some way. I will write about it, too, as I am now. My question for now is the same one asked by the WTE series: What's is your vision for the future of Cheyenne's downtown?


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Meet and greet Democratic Party candidates for Gov and Dept. of Ed. at Oct. 12 fund-raiser

On Sunday, October 12, at 2 p.m., local Democrats are hosting a Meet and Greet/Fund-raiser for Pete Gosar and Mike Ceballos. In case you haven't been paying attention, Laramie Democrat Pete Gosar is running against incumbent Republican Matt Mead for governor. Cheyenne Democrat Mike Ceballos is running against Republican Jillian Balow for Superintendent of Public Instruction. The get-together is at Joe's House, 3626 Dover Rd. in Cheyenne. Enjoy a dessert reception, refreshments and hear their ideas and show them your support! Suggested Donation levels of $30/$60/$90.

Yes, this is a fund-raiser. Even in Wyoming, all politicians need money to wage their campaigns. This is especially true in Wyoming, where registered Dems are outnumbered two-to-one.

Democrats do several things well. We know how to put on fund-raisers. We know how to wisely spend money. We like to have a good time. 

So come on out. If you're curious about what makes Wyoming Democrats run, this would be a good time to find out. My wife Chris and I signed up to invite 10 Dems or Indies who have been too shy to get involved or who have just moved here from a blue state and wondered if they are actually any liberals in this whole dang state. There are! Drop us a line in the comment section if you are interested. Or just show up with your checkbook. Any donations are eagerly accepted. And you will be fed sweets and welcomed by an engaging group of engaged citizens.

Questions: E-mail or go to Laramie County Democrats on Facebook.