Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wyoming Year in Review: 2007

While it’s tough to predict the coming year, it’s easy to crack wise about events of the previous 365-or-so days. Esquire Magazine once cornered the market with its "Dubious Achievements of (insert year here)." It stopped offering dubious achievements in 2001 but resumed in 2003 due to popular demand. It usually features a photo of the late Dick Nixon with the caption, "Why is this man laughing?" In 2007, his laughter was caused by a poll showing that Dubya (and not Tricky Dick) was "the worst president ever." Thus Nixon is off the hook, posterity-wise.

Esquire taught me how to write headlines. Some of the worst transgressions against America featured in DA carried this headline: "The Thanks of a Grateful Nation." So, you could feature any of Dubya’s incomprehensible quotes under this headline. How about this one from April 2003: "You’re free. And freedom is beautiful. And you know, it will take time to restore chaos and order – order out of chaos. But we will." For this, Bush receives the thanks of a grateful nation. And how about this from April 2005: "I’m going to spend a lot of time on Social Security. I enjoy it. I enjoy taking on the issue. I guess, it’s the mother in me."

Before you accuse me of poking fun at a man who rose from humble beginnings to be the leader of the free world, remember that Dubya was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and experienced many of life’s advantages, including an Ivy league education. So why can’t he speak in complete sentences? Is it an affectation, designed to appeal to the Bubbas in the Republican Party? Is he just dumb, as many suspect? Or is it his dyslexia at work, which was talked about in the early days of his presidency but dropped post-9-11?

But let’s get back to the year in review. The major problem with 2007 is that Bush is still president. That will change with the 2008 elections, which truly will earn the thanks of a grateful nation. The Iraq War continues to rage, with 2007 becoming the worst year for American combat deaths. Democrats, with a majority in the House and senate, attempted to end the war several times but kept running into lunkhead Republicans standing shoulder-to-shoulder in defense of Bush’s lunkhead policies. The Dems – except for the crusty Christopher Dodd – forget how to play politics and filibuster and hold their breath until they turned blue to get their way. The Democratic Majority was a big disappointment in 2007.

What about Wyoming? The Associated Press’s top stories for the state were also political ones. They include the death of U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas and his replacement by John Barrasso, a celebrity-physician from Casper who might yet become a free-thinking Republican from Wyoming if he could quit his addiction to voting with the Know-Nothing bloc of his party on issues such as stem-cell research and health insurance for poor children.

Another big political story: Barbara Cubin decided to retire from her U.S. House seat. This would seem like good news for Democrats except that Cubin was a big target, losing many voters in her own party to Gary Trauner in the 2006 election. Trauner is running again, but no big-name Repubs have entered the fray. State Sen. Colin Simpson, son of former U.S. Sen "Big Al" Simpson, says he will not run. We’ll have to wait and see what 2008 brings.

The state’s Repubs also made news with their decision to move up their presidential delegate selection to Jan. 5, making the Wyo. event among the first in the nation. The Republican Party has severely disciplined their high-plains brethren and sistren, withholding any signed photos of Dick Cheney until they change their ways.

Wildlife issues entered the fray. Ranchers and other big guys with big guns want to shoot wolves and grizzly bears. The feds have entered the fray and I can’t figure out all the ins and outs of their decisions. Suffice to say that with Bush and Cheney’s hand-selected wildlife conservators in control, the wildlife will lose. I have a practical question. While the loss of stock is a blow to ranchers, how many cows and sheep are killed annually by wolves? What does it add up to in dollars? Now, balance that against the tourist dollars spent annually to see (or attempt to see) the wolves and bears in Yellowstone National Park. Tourism is our largest economic generator along with energy development (oil, gas and coal). Agriculture and ranching are a distant third or fourth, depending on whose statistics you accept. You’d think those staunch bottom-line members of the state Republican Party would be allies in protecting wolves. But many legislators continue to be ranchers or those beholden to the ranching lobby. They are living in the last century or maybe the one before that.

One of the best things about Wyoming in 2007? The Governor’s first annual Arts Summit in Casper. Wyomingites convened from across the state in October to listen to some common-sense advice about how the arts can help Wyoming prepare for the future. Gov. Freudenthal has convened his own summit conference for Jan. 10-11, 2008, focusing on "Building the Wyoming We Want."

The University of Wyoming’s energy institute has added a school to study wind power. There is a gradual awakening in the state that global warming will also affect us. Strange but true. We produce tons of low-sulphur coal each day and ship it around the country, only to have it come back to haunt us in drought and acid rain and higher temps and the ravages of the pine bark beatle. On the plus side: a millennium from now, we’ll have some bitchin’ surf in Cheyenne.

Wyoming’s economy continues to hum along. Population is increasing, but at a measured pace. Baby Boomers are discovering Wyoming as a retirement haven (see preceding post), which could be good news or bad, depending on your P.O.V.

We face 2008 with angst and hope. I’ll offer some predictions in upcoming posts. They will be wildly unpredictable.

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