Sunday, August 30, 2015

Notes from a Wyoming union meeting

Wyoming Retirement System Director Ruth Ryerson speaks at Friday's town hall meeting sponsored by the Coalition for a Healthy Retirement at the WPEA delegate assembly in Cheyenne. On the job for two years after stints in Colorado and Texas, she's upbeat about the healthy state of WRS, adding that "the majority of your legislators gets it; the Governor gets it."
Wyoming is a right-to-work state.

Stop laughing all you Wyomingites currently enjoying the right to work two or three or more jobs.

Here's a Wyoming joke:

Q: "What do you call someone in Wyoming working three jobs?"

A: "Under-employed."

Statistics show that Wyoming state employees make 13 percent less than our colleagues in private industry. Our benefits, however, are worth 21 percent more than those in private industry. Those benefits include a public pension, an old-fashioned defined benefit plan where retirees work 25 or 30 years and retiree with a defined monthly benefit for the rest of their lives. Wyoming also offers a defined contribution plan, known by the feds as a 457 plan. You put some in every month, as does your employer. This nest egg grows and grows and by the time you retire, you have a kabillion dollars in the account, enough to buy a solid gold humidor for your mansion in Dick Cheney's Jackson Hole gated community. Many have these plans as 401(K)s. My wife, for instance. All of those folks are supposed to save enough in those plans to retire to a life of leisure.

National statistics show that the average amount in a retiree's 401(K) is $18,000,

That, coupled with Social Security, may be enough to see you through to your date with the Grim Reaper. It also may allow you the right to work at McDonald's.

I spent the past three days at the delegate assembly of the Wyoming Public Employees Association. It's my union, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union or SEIU. My first time at the assembly, even though I've been a union member for most of my 24 years with the state. Members are snowplow drivers, nursing assistants at the state hospital, clerks, mechanics, supervisors, veterans outreach specialists and even a stray arts administrator -- me. Some of my colleagues in larger, more union-friendly states, call themselves "arts workers." I like the sound of that. I feel that my work at the Wyoming Arts Council has paved the way for the Wyoming arts boom of the past five years. With more good things to come. My fellow union members feel the same way. They make Wyoming a better place to live. When my car spun out last February between Rawlins and Muddy Gap, the first person to stop to help was a WYDOT snowplow driver. Nurses and CNAs at the State Hospital in Evanston took care of my daughter when she was a patient there last year. All these people get paid 13 percent below their Nebraska colleagues. Yet they do their jobs with dignity and aplomb.

Still, we heard that our supervisors are taking much longer to hire replacements for those who retiree or leave for jobs in Colorado. Increasingly, those people are not replaced at all and we do the work of two people instead of one. That increases the danger to patients and staff at places such as the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander. How many Republican legislators want fewer snowplow drivers clearing the summit between Cheyenne and Laramie as they drive over to a UW football game? Do they think about that when they're calling state employees "bums?" Or when one of our Republican legislators, Rep. Harlan Edmonds, said this during the last session (as remembered by Rep. Mary Throne, who spoke at the assembly): "Our problem is not keeping the good state employees but getting rid of the bad state employees." Edmonds is a state employee. It's possible that Edmonds may be a good state employee, but he's in the "very bad" category as a legislator.

I often wonder if these Tea Party types know there is such thing as Facebook and blogs, places where their hateful words live forever?

I'll write more about these topics in the coming weeks. The upcoming legislative session looks to be combative as the state faces revenue shortfalls with the dip in oil, natural gas and coal revenues. Stay tuned....

Note: See more photos from the assembly on my Facebook page

Friday, August 21, 2015

Democrats huddle Sept. 13 for tailgate brunch

I belong to the Laramie County Democrats Grasssroots Coalition or LCDGC for short. It once was the coalition of local Democratic Party women back before inclusiveness and equality caught hold. Republicans snidely call this "political correctness." As far as I know, there are no more Dem women's auxiliaries in The Equality State. The same can't be said for Republican women. There's a Republican women's organization in Natrona County, which figures. 

Anyway, our LCDGC committee is charged with fund-raising for Democratic Party candidates in Laramie County. Thus far, we've raised 80 kabillion dollars, which is just a few bucks short of what Trump spends before lunch every day. We've elected Democrats in Laramie County, which is a lot more than they can say in Casper. We plan to continue, which is why we're having a party on Sept. 13. Here are the details:

Come and help kick off the NFL football season with a Tailgate Brunch sponsored by the Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Coalition, Sunday, September 13, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. at 3626 Dover Road in Cheyenne. There will be brunch goodies, mimosas, other beverages, and games.  Wear your favorite football team colors.  Guess the total score for all NFL teams that play on the 13th and you could win the 50/50 football pool.  So come out, start the season off with us, then sprint to the next football party.  $15 admission. 

Guaranteed to be lots of fun!  

For more information call Kathleen at 307-421-4496 or Ken at 433-4394.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday morning round-up: The harvest is in!

Sunday morning round-up....

A biplane circles the airport, which also brings it over my head as I sit here on the back porch. Don't see many biplanes in these parts, not even cropdusters. Maybe they've found a new commuter airline to service Cheyenne? Here's your goggles -- and watch out for birds!

The crops are coming in. Cherry tomatoes, crookneck squash, peppers and lots of herbs. I threw in some of the squash with rice for dinner last night and tomatoes in the salad. We ate grilled chicken from Colorado marinated with a selection of my herbs. And, no, I didn't get the chicken's name and family of origin when I bought it. Peaches-and-cream corn from Eaton, Colorado. Good eatin' corn. Palisade peaches for dessert. I love this time of year. I'm just a modest backyard gardener who depends on the bounty of farmer's markets.

Speaking of harvests.... Jackson's Vertical Harvest is getting lots of attention these days. Three three-story hydroponic greenhouse is being built on the south end of the city's parking garage on one-tenth of an acre. Once completed, it will supply fresh produce to Jackson Hole, even during the frigid months of winter when anything fresh arrives via Ice Road Truckers. When fully functional, the facility will produce the equivalent of a five-acre farm. The Daily Secret just listed Vettical Harvest as one of "The Eight Wonders of the Design World," along with the new Mexico City International Airport and the Uber HQ planned for San Francisco. So many innovative things going on in Jackson. Yes, there is money in Jackson and that helps. But it's also home to some innovative thinkers which is undoubtedly why there is a TedX JH.

Vertical Dance troupe at the Cheyenne Arts Festival.
Speaking of vertical.... Chris, Annie and I enjoyed the Vertical Dance performance Friday night at the Asher Building downtown. Vertical Dance is a troupe of dancers at the University of Wyoming who perform on vertical spaces, such as the cliffs of Vedauwoo, the side of buildings or in high-ceilinged interior spaces. Their dances are accompanied by live music, this time by a quarter from Laramie, Lights Along the Shore. If this seems like a particularly Wyoming kind of art form, it is. We're all about vertical spaces and the arts!

The dancers were then opening act of Arts Cheyenne's Cheyenne Arts Festival. Friday's turnout was healthy, even though the clouds spit some rain for awhile. You can easily shrug off summer rain showers because you can almost dodge the sparse rain drops. If you do get wet, the sun will soon reappear to dry you, which happened Friday. We visited the artist spaces indoors. Great to see Ron McIntosh and his distinctive artwork. Ron was over from Laramie where last year he became the first individual artist picked up and promoted by the Wyoming Technology Business Center. Ron has a studio at the WTBC and will be featured in a show in Laramie in the fall. The WTBC is now working with musicians and possibly a writer or two to help them bring innovative business practices to their careers. Lord knows, most of us writers could use a plan. And speaking of harvests (again), the WTBC is home to Bright Agrotech, which has brought innovative indoor vertical gardening tools and techniques to the world. Check them out at https://www.brightagrotech.com/

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Republican debate -- better than watching reality TV

I watched the entire Repub debate tonight with some Dem friends. My brain has turned to mush. As far as wordplay goes, kudos go to Mike Huckabee. The topic was foreign policy. He recalled Ronald Reagan's words: "Trust but Verify." Obama, said Huckabee, says "Trust but Vilify," referring to Pres. Obama's comments today equating Republicans with the Iranian mullahs. Clever, especially for a guy who always puts The Word ahead of words.

What else stood out? 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio owed $100,000 in student loans four years ago. I guess he was trying to say that he's just a regular guy whose parents came over from Cuba and he had to take out beaucoup student loans to get the law degree that helped him win a Senate seat that pays a couple hundred thousand Gs annually plus all of the Koch Brothers money he can rake in with both hands. Rubio and I share an alma mater in the University of Florida. On the one hand, I'm happy to hear that at least one Republican candidate speaks openly of his college credentials -- he also has a law degree from University of Miami. On the other hand -- if Rubio gets elected, UF is bound to name something after him. Hope it's not the English Dept. 

Speaking of Florida, did Jeb! really leave Florida better off than he found it? He said that his nickname was "Veto Corleone." Is that true? I'm asking you, Florida Dems. And I'm wondering if Jeb! is really Southern shorthand for J.E.B. Stuart, the hero of the Confederacy. Memories run deep in the South.

Continued on Aug. 9...

Donald Trump said that the big problem we have in the U.S. is being politically correct. For the Repubs, political correctness mean a whole host of things they detest: Powerful women, LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage, higher education, etc. For example, when Donald Trump wants to slam women and such as Fox's Megyn Kelly and says something about her menstrual cycles and people *(even Repubs) get upset, he accuses them of being "politically correct." It follows that being politically incorrect is the norm, which allows anyone to criticize uppity women. The same rules go for people of color, a term which, in itself, is politically correct, as it avoids those terms that many would love to use, including the "N" word, and various racist epithets for African-Americans, Latinos/Latinas, Arab-Americans and others. Republicans are most adept at criticizing campus liberals (eggheads, elitists) who continue to advocate for a liberal arts education for everyone. Republican Gov. Scott of Florida has famously (or infamously, depending on your POV) calling liberal arts majors a waste of time. Union-buster Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin brags about not having a college degree, a trait obvious to all of us with half-a-brain such as this liberal arts major.

I must return to Mike Huckabee for just a moment, As is the case with most preachers, Huckabee has a way with words. In regards to abortion, Huckabee said that "The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being" and advocates for protection of fetuses by invoking the 5th and 14 amendments, the Tea Party's favorite amendments besides the 2nd. 

Dr. Ben Carson also had some good lines. I was surprised to learn that Carson once directed pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. Seems as if he could do less harm by being president. Carson wants to get rid of the IRS and institute a new taxation system based on tithing, which he called "God's fair system." He called Hillary Clinton "the epitome of the secular progressive movement." He also likes to throw around "politically correct." 

Gov. Kasich of Ohio proved to be the evening's beacon of sanity. He said that he and his fellow Republicans should do everything they can to counter the Democrats' continual harping on these supposed Republican traits: The party of and for the rich; the party that suppresses women and minorities; the party of the past. 

Good luck with that.

We'll let Sen. Marco Rubio have the last quote. Referring to himself and the other fine specimens on stage, he said: "God has blessed the Republican Party with all of these candidates. The Democrats can't even find one."

Say Amen.

Sing hallelujah.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

RedState diarist decries "Know Nothing" Trump

The RedState Gathering in Atlanta is getting big news today. RedState guru Erick Erickson "disinvited" Donald Trump to this confab of conservative bloggers after Trump made some rude and crude comments about Fox News host Megyn Kelly, one of the moderators of Thursday's debate. Here's Trump talking to CNN's Don Lemon:
"You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever."
Must give credit to Erickson. Not easy to disinvite the GOP front-runner to the largest gathering of ConBloggers. But bloggers of all stripes do actually pay attention to the minutiae of presidential campaigns. As a Liberal Blogger, I shared a hotel with the conservatives when Netroots Nation and RedState gathered in Minneapolis in 2011. I had a few intriguing conversations at the hotel bar. No common ground, but big doses of passion along with some good info I could use in my own blog.

I went over to RedState to read Erickson's statement. I also stumbled across a diary by Steve Berman that's worth sharing. I've written about the 19th-century Know Nothing movement a few times, even stooping to calling my opponents "Know Nothings" for their belligerent attitudes and knuckleheaded policies. A few of my conservative readers took me to task, feeling that I was calling them stupid. I was not. I was trying to equate their views with those of the Know Nothing Party, which arose in response to Irish Catholic immigration. The Know Nothings' no-nothingness eventually was their undoing.

Berman compares the Know Nothings with the Whig Party, which also disappeared. He contends that Trump's continual Know Nothing behavior could mean the end of the Republican Party. Here's a quote:
The final Whig president of the United States was Millard Filmore in 1853.  He marked the death of the Whigs, and the rise of the Know-Nothings.  Today the GOP faces its own death, and the continued success of Donald Trump in the polls reflects the fact that the Republican Party is staring into its own grave.
And this:
Trump is a direct result of the GOP’s inability to define itself as a party with a purpose.  If the GOP is defined as “everything that isn’t Democrat” then it’s nothing more than the Whigs of 1854.  Dead.
 Strong stuff. Well written. Check it out here

The question remains: Why is Trump still the GOP front-runner? 

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sunday barbecue with the Democrats

The Laramie County Democrats held a fund-raiser and barbecue this afternoon at AB Camping on College Drive, also home to a nifty diner. The food was delicious as always. I keep telling Chris that we have to get out to the diner some evening and try the ribs. She agrees, but for some reason we haven't done it.

Lee Filer arranged the shindig. He's friends with the owners and they aren't necessarily Democrats but friendship goes a long way in these parts. They give us the space for free and only charge us costs for the food. Pretty cool. Thanks AB Camping!

We listened to a few speeches, ate barbecue and cake, drank iced tea. Rep. Mary Throne commented that her Republican colleagues in the legislature are so negative. She urged us to stay positive as we get out and spread the Democratic Party brand. I had to think. How often am I positive and how often am I negative? About equal measure, I'd say. I write often about positive trends in my community and in Wyoming. The rise of farmer's markets and locally grown food and handmade arts and crafts. The state's music renaissance. The push for equality for all. I post about great people doing great things.

I tear down the opposition with regularity. They deserve the snark.

Or do they?

A hot day -- we don't get to 90 degrees very often. But the good conversation and great food make me forget about the heat. I keep thinking about how my reactions to hot weather has changed. I used to play softball all day and drink beer all night during central Florida summers. Went to the beach, too. Spent many hours in bodies of water, salt and fresh. I feel at home in the water and on dry land.

I'm a Democrat on dry land Wyoming. Outnumbered and -- obviously -- outgunned. I've been in that boat in other states, too. Florida. Colorado, although it helped that I was a Denverite. There's a cachet to being a minority liberal in a majority conservative state. Election days are always tough, but hope abides. We work hard for our issues and candidates but the "R" Know Nothing factor is tough to beat at the polls.

I read a NYT article this morning that Pres. Obama will announce a new energy plan tomorrow at the White House. It places restrictions on coal-burning power plants and stresses renewable energy sources. The Republicans will scream bloody murder, as they always do. King Coal will be around for awhile yet, but its days are numbered. All the Republicans can do is whine and obstruct. They have no new ideas. The presidential candidates keep trying to out-crazy one another. That's what seems to get votes on the Republican side. Thursday night's first so-called debate should be a hoot.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Farmer's markets are for fresh produce -- and for dithering

The drive from Palisade, Colorado, to the Cheyenne Farmer's Market is eight hours.

I'm glad that Red Fox Run Orchards made the trip for the first time. Juicy peaches. Tree-ripened. The vendor tells me that most growers pick their peaches green because it's easier. He lets them ripen on the tree so they taste better. My daughter Annie and I ask for a sample. He plucks two peaches out of a "Palisades Peaches" box. He rinses them off and hands them over with a couple paper towels. "You'll need these -- they're juicy." I look at the whole peach. Most vendors cut off a slice and hand it over. Not this guy. I bite. Juice dribbles down my chin. The paper towel comes in handy.

I buy a large bag. "Keep them in a refrigerator for a week -- they'll keep fresh," says the vendor. I always thought that putting peaches in the fridge was a no-no. But it makes sense if they're already ripe.

I thank him. Grab my peaches and my "This Side of Paradise" canvas bag Annie and I walk on to the next table. At the farmer's market, I gather produce and stories. Food has stories, as do I. I don't take it as far as the characters on "Portlandia," who want to know the name and background of the free range chicken they're about the eat. But I ask every vendor where they're from, as it usually carries a story. The young man selling roasted chilis is from Wellington and drives up to Cheyenne every weekday to wire new houses as an electrician. He's roasting and selling chilis on weekends. Building Cheyenne during the week. He rattled off the names of housing developments going up around the county. One on Four Mile Road. A big apartment complex on Fox Farm Road. He's working at The Pointe just north of us, wiring two to three houses a week.

The family-run Canning Crows from Cheyenne does what you'd expect from the name. Well, their goods are in jars but when people talk about preserving harvests they usually says they are "canning" cukes and tomatoes. Not "jarring," which is what it really is. It is jarring to me when they say canning. I buy a jar of Soldier Jam. "You can tell we're a military family," says the vendor with a smile. She points to a loaf of bread. "Survival Bread," she says. "My son was deployed." She tells me that a quarter of every sale of Soldier Jam goes to send jam to GIs overseas. "Or they can come by and pick it up here," she adds. I buy a jar of Soldier Jam and a loaf of Survival Bread. I also buy a big jar of dill pickles because I am a pickle fanatic. Dill pickle brine has loads of salt so after my heart attack, I cut back. Does pickling demand salt? A question for the Internet. I look forward to my lunch of bread and jam and pickles.

My dithering drives Annie crazy. She's 22 and prone to action. I tell her that farmer's markets are for lingering and conversation and learning about foods. The vendors have at least some interest in their products, or they wouldn't be here. They also are making a living. I can tell when my dithering makes them impatient. So I pay and move on. The coffee lady from Fort Collins sells me some nitro dark roast for my iced coffee. The last time I had nitro it was Odell's Cutthroat Porter from behind the bar at Peppermill's. The porter had a nice head on it. The coffee did not, which kind of surprised me. But it was tasty with some Half & Half and sugar.

We end of morning by buying some Colorado corn, although it seems early for corn. We get some local salsa and then head home to snack.