Friday, November 16, 2018

Reflections on the human face

The human face has 42 muscles. Some of these let you perform the basic functions of life, like chewing and breathing. But far more of what they do has nothing to do with life-sustaining functions. Facial muscles are so arranged that human beings can also create an incredible variety of expressions.

We can furrow our eyebrows, purse our lips, grin like a Cheshire cat or frown like the Grinch. We talk with our faces. In fact, human facial muscles are as important to human communication as are words. If you have ever tried to have an important conversation by email, text, or social media you know the inadequacy of non-facial communication.

No matter how many words we type and text, print and publish, our most important communications will always take place face to face. That’s why proposals of marriage are not done by email. That’s why we go to church and don’t only read the Bible. That’s why people gather in family rooms and travel to business meetings. Nations even spend millions of dollars to send ambassadors, secretaries and heads of state all over the world to speak face to face.

Our bodies declare that we were meant to communicate face to face. It’s literally in our DNA. We have muscles, skin and skeletal features that serve no other purpose.

Some would say that this is a remarkable product of evolution. I think that’s hogwash. Such theories assume that everything can be boiled down to pragmatism. Evolutionists will theorize that somehow people who had the special muscles which enabled them to smile were more fit to survive than those who didn’t.

Evolutionary theory cannot find purpose in anything. It can only see random developments either surviving or dying in the meat-grinder of nature. What a purposeless world! No wonder that decades of teaching it to our school children has created so many pessimistic people.

For my part, I am quite certain that we could survive just as well without faces. We would just have a lot less joy. Faces are for fun, not survival. Evolutionary theory is the most joyless and bleak worldview that anyone can have.

That’s why I have never met an evolutionist that believes their own theory 100 percent. Purposelessness is its soft underbelly. Committed evolutionists like Neil Degrasse Tyson try to cheer you up by telling you that you are made of stardust. But so is a cockroach. Big deal. Without purpose life has no meaning.

The more thoughtful evolutionists generally seek purpose by talking about “saving the human race.” But this doesn’t stand up to evolutionary standards. If human beings evolved from a meaningless single-cell organism and are evolving into something better still, saving the human race has about as much meaning as saving a strain of pneumonia cells.

But where evolutionary theory has no place for play, joyful exuberance is at the center of God’s creation. Creation tells about a God who did something that He didn’t have to do—something that wasn’t necessary for his survival. He made things and people for the sheer joy of making them.

You don’t get more optimistic than that. Who would literally move heaven and earth just to express his eternal love? God would. Not only does this account of the world make loads more scientific sense than any of the current evolutionary theories, it is also way more joyful.

It also helps to explain how we got faces.

What if I told you that God put 42 muscles into your face because he delights in your delight? When we talk to one another face to face, we use muscles and make expressions which have nothing to do with our survival. They have everything to do with our joy.

Those muscles have meaning. They didn’t just evolve and survive the meat grinder. They have been there all along. They are characteristic of being human. They make us uniquely suited for community. They make us not just a community of minds, but a community of bodies.

All of this also means that faces are forever. If having faces means anything, it means that we are not going to evolve away from having faces. Your face is an integral part of who you are. When you fully communicate yourself to others, you are not just projecting bodiless thoughts. But your very skin and muscles are an inseparable part of communicating yourself. That’s not going to change with time.

Knowing all this, we know ourselves better. Human beings are not just minds haphazardly encased in randomized bodies. Your face is an integral part of who you are; without it, you cannot fully communicate yourself to others. What is more, it’s not just your face that is integral to who you are, so is your entire body.

This observation is a corrective to one of the strangest phenomena of our day. Among those encumbered by an evolutionary worldview there are many who are estranged from their own body. They drive a wedge between the mind and the body, as though these are not only separable from one another, but at war with one another.

That’s tragic and it leads to much suffering and death. This suffering and death is both self-inflicted and inflicted on others. Whenever human beings have come to think that certain bodies don’t matter, they have done the most terrible things to those bodies—and therefore, to those people.

Such a tragic worldview cannot arise in a mind that reflects on its own face. If your face is an integral part of who you are, so is the rest of your body. And who you are is not a tragedy, but an exuberant and joyful work of God.

One of the great ironies of our day is the phenomenon called “Facebook.” There in cyberspace 2.6 billion people are trying to communicate without using their faces. Through a flurry of fingers on the keyboard, people try to communicate more and more content to more and more “friends.”

Has this project improved the human race? I think not. It has not helped to unify us, but only to polarize. It has not helped us to love one another, but it sure adds to the hate. It has not enhanced the discussion of the most important things but made such discussion nearly impossible. In short, it has created far more enemies than friends.

You are not just a mind with a bundle of thoughts. You are a person—body and soul. The very concept of “person” came from the Greek word for “face”. The most important things that you will ever do in your life involve your body.

So, don’t sell it short. Let’s spend more time using our faces again. It’s one of your most God-like features. It enables you to spread joy and love that is not necessary for your survival. It is totally exuberant and unnecessary. It is what makes life worth living, and what makes you most human.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Management Council can improve the atmosphere at the capital

Wyoming State Capital Building
Congratulations, Wyoming! You just elected 90 honorable men and women to represent you at the capital. There they will join in a grand scrum of ideas for the next several years. That’s the republican form of government.

Having a representative republic means that instead of every law or policy being voted on directly by the entire populace, the people elect representatives to do the actual voting, arguing, compromising and persuading.

We do this because it would be impractical to have all 563,000 of Wyoming’s citizens participate in every vote, but not only so. It is also because populism doesn’t allow for thoughtful and respectful discussion.

That means our elected representatives are more than just votes, they are voices. We want them to listen to us, but we also want them to speak for us. With no way of knowing what laws and spending proposals will come up in the next few years, we want them to be able to process information, think things through, ferret out the truth and persuade one another of the best course of action.

With such a mandate, it is extremely important that they be able to speak freely—especially that they be able to articulate the truth on the most important topics of our day. Any encumbrances on their free speech, inhibits them from doing the job that you have asked them to do.

That’s why Management Council Policy 02-02 needs to be fixed. It was originally adopted 16 years ago to address sexual harassment in the Legislative Services Office (LSO). It is not even a state law, but an in-house employment policy. That’s why you have probably never heard of it. But it has metastasized beyond its original intent.

Now, it gives a subgroup of legislators the power to control what your elected representative can say. It asserts the authority to receive allegations, to investigate them and to punish them merely for speaking the wrong thing—however that might be defined. That clearly infringes not only on your legislator’s right to free speech, but also on your constitutional right to have a duly elected representative in the capital.

Mind you, Wyoming’s legislature already has a Permanent Joint Rule (22-1) that holds all elected officials accountable to the law and to the agreed-upon rules of ethics. Besides this rule, all legislators are already subject to the same state laws—including sexual harassment and discrimination—that govern all Wyoming citizens.

Management Council Policy 02-02 sets up a different set of rules, and a different way to investigate and punish them. While Joint Rule 22-1 has procedures that honor the electoral process and treat members of the Legislature differently from their hired help, Policy 02-02 lists your elected representatives right along-side LSO staff, interns and pages.

Not only this, but if an allegation is made against your elected representative, Policy 02-02(V.A.1-2) allows the accuser to choose whether he or she wants to follow the Permanent Joint Rule, or the Management Council Policy. The accused member of the legislature gets no say in the matter.

So why does the policy treat elected representatives as employees of the Management Council? Joel Funk, a reporter for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, published an article last December answering that question. He explained that LSO Director, Matt Obrecht, doesn’t think Joint Rule 22-1 is adequate to address every form of sexual harassment.

According to the Joint Rule “sexual harassment means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” This would cover “sexual assault or a pattern of behavior.”

But Obrecht thinks the joint rule is not able to deal with an “inappropriate comment.” He told Funk, “I don’t think that one comment should trigger a 22-1 investigation.” Instead, Obrecht apparently thinks that one comment should trigger an investigation under Management Council Policy 02-02.

What kind of comments are we talking about, here? What could merit “written reprimand, mandatory increased anti-discrimination or sexual harassment training, reassignment of duties, loss of legislative responsibilities or assignments, censure, expulsion or other corrective action”?

Are we talking about blasphemies against God or disgusting, profanity-laced outbursts? No, the comments proscribed by Policy 02-02 could include comments like the following:
  • “Children have a right to be raised by their natural mother and father.”
  • “We should not change Wyoming law to allow rental of women’s wombs for surrogacy, or the buying and selling of human eggs.”
  • “Every child born should have the right to have his or her natural mother and father listed on the birth certificate.”
  • “Sex is a fact that is objectively discoverable by biological science.”
  • “We should not allow biological males to compete in women’s sports.”
  • “I’m sorry, we cannot permit you, a male, go into the women’s restroom.”
These are all reasonable and scientifically defensible statements which are both respectful and true. But since Policy 02-02 was revised last February, anybody who says such things in a legislative setting may, at the caprice of an offended party, be charged with harassment or discrimination just for speaking them.

You see, not only does the Management Council Policy assert authority over elected representatives, it also recently inserted the language of “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI) as “protected characteristics.” Language like this gets inserted by special interests that want to restrict free speech. It is often rubber-stamped by people of good heart who have no desire to discriminate against anybody, but who have no idea that this language calls normal, everyday speech “discrimination.”
Baronelle Stutzman

Ruth Neely of Pinedale was one of those good-hearted people. She served on the committee that added SOGI language to Wyoming rules for judicial ethics. Three years later she learned the dire consequences of such language. Suddenly common-sense words that she had spoken openly all her life were labeled “discrimination” and she was removed from her circuit magistracy.

Her case is one of hundreds across the country. Once SOGI language is inserted into policy it becomes a ticking bomb that can be applied arbitrarily to prosecute new “crimes” at any time. Washington state enacted its own SOGI law in 2006. But the state never prosecuted itself for failing to recognize same-sex unions. Instead, it waited seven years before prosecuting a grandmotherly florist, Baronelle Stutzman, for this new “crime” that nobody knew existed.

Since 2011 the Wyoming Legislature has debated and voted down the insertion of SOGI language into state law. It has done so for good reason. Current laws prevent discrimination based on “race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age or disability.” These are all objectively known facts that can be enforced without delving into the anyone’s inner thoughts.

SOGI language, on the other hand, bases the difference between legality and criminality on factors that can only be known to the mind of one person. What was legal yesterday may be illegal today just because I changed my mind. The law becomes a moving target wherein the very same action or comment may be acceptable today and punishable tomorrow.
Jonah Bldg. Temporary Legislature

Nobody can live and work in such a toxic environment. Our Management Council should be interested in making the Wyoming legislature the place where a robust and honest searching for the truth is encouraged. It should not be a place where timeless truths can be suddenly punishable by reprimand, reindoctrination, and reassignment of duties.

Thankfully, Policy 02-02 is on the agenda for the Management Council’s Cheyenne meeting on December 4-5, 2018. Every duly elected legislator should want to right these wrongs. And all voters have a vested interest in making sure that it no longer stifles the voice of their representatives.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Dominionism, the Ten Commandments, and Christianity

From the start Only Human has been a column that views current events through a Christian worldview intent on exploring the vast common ground between religions. It seeks neither to downplay the differences between Christianity and other religions, nor spend much time drawing out the differences.

Such a project, however, lends itself to a major misunderstanding that troubles both friend and foe alike. The misunderstanding is that Christianity is one vast and vague religion. This rankles believers who clearly see important differences in doctrine among various religions. It also invites nonbelievers to misunderstand the true nature of Christianity.

As an example of the latter, I recently came across an article titled, “Dominionism Rising: A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight.” It was published in the summer 2016 issue of The Public Eye, a magazine devoted to “Challenging the Right, [and] Advancing Social Justice.”

If you have never heard of “Dominionism” that is because the word did not exist until the author of the article coined it, along with a like-minded friend. He coined it to put a label on the idea “that Christians have a mandate to take dominion over every area of life.”

That sounds scary. It’s supposed to. But it expresses nothing more and nothing less than the idea common to every human being that our entire life—and not just a few hours a week—should be lived in accordance with our fundamental understanding of the world. We should both speak the truth and listen to the truth.

Whether you are a Lutheran, Mormon, Catholic or Atheist, I assume that you want to do these things. Progressives want to “take dominion over every area of life” just as much as Buddhists do. That’s usually not a problem because differences in religion mostly have to do with our understanding of the truth about God, salvation, and the afterlife. These differences usually don’t deny the basic rules of life in this world.

Almost everybody agrees that children should obey parents and citizens should obey lawful authorities. We all agree that murder is a bad thing. Spouses across the board feel hurt if they are cheated on. Nobody likes to be robbed or slandered or envied.

You should recognize this laundry list of evils as simply what is commonly called the Second Table of the Law, expressed in Exodus 20:12-17: “Honor your father and your mother, etc. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet, etc.”

You should also recognize that to live according to the truth, to speak it and to hear it, constitute a pretty good summary of the First Table of the Law: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, etc. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:3-8).

Every religious person who counts Exodus as an authoritative book agrees—whether Christian or not. Even those who don’t care about the Bible generally agree on these principles. Free speech and free exercise protections allow each person the space to live out the First Table of the Law. Laws against insurrection, murder, rape, stealing and slander are the natural result of our agreement on the Second Table.

The Ten Commandments are not distinctively Christian. They are not even “religious.” They are only human. Even if they were not found in the Bible, we should all agree on them. That’s why the article about “Dominionism” really got my attention. In defining “Christian Dominionists,” Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson write: “they believe that the Ten Commandments, or ‘biblical law,’ should be the foundation of American law.” For them, that's a very bad thing.

Let that sink in. At first reading, it sounds like a swipe against Christian fundamentalism—as it is intended to be. But on a more fundamental level, it is making two huge assumptions that need to be called out.

First, it assumes that anyone who agrees with the Ten Commandments is a “Christian Dominionist.” Second, it seems to assume that American law would be just as good if insurrection, murder, rape, thievery, slander and envy were the law of the land.

It boggles my mind that a magazine advocating for “social justice” would take such a stand. But that is the logical outcome of opposition to the Ten Commandments. I am not exaggerating. It is simply a cold, hard fact that if you oppose some law, you are advocating for its opposite.

If you don’t think children should honor their father and mother, you think instead that children should dishonor them. Do we really think America would be better off if people were encouraged to disobey every law and authority that they didn’t like?

Again, if you oppose the commandment, “You shall not murder,” you are embracing a principle that allows murder. If you oppose restraints on adultery, you are encouraging parents to break up families. If you throw out laws against stealing, you are breaking down the doors of every home on the block.

I sincerely hope that my progressive friends will think this through. I understand that those who oppose Christianity don’t recognize the Bible as an authority and don’t want American law to be based on the Bible as such. I can respect this. I certainly would not want American law to be based on the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita.

But neither would I want to rule out good laws just because they may be found in these books. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. You don’t need biblical authority to tell you what every society in the history of the world has figured out by common sense.

In his excellent book, “What We Can’t Not Know,” J. Budziszewski explores which basic principles can be known by pure human reason, apart from any religious revelation. It’s a tour de force into the arena that many call the “natural law.”

Budziszewski is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas. He argues powerfully that the Ten Commandments are in the minds of all mankind quite apart from the tablets of stone brought down from Mount Sinai.

In the process, he demonstrates another point that we would all do well to grasp. The Ten Commandments do not define Christianity. Just because various religious people can agree on the Ten Commandments, doesn’t mean that they are Christian.

Christ did not come to reveal what can be known and understood by anybody. Christ came because our common knowledge of the natural law cannot save us from our own propensity to break it. That’s the human dilemma. We know how we should act and speak and think, but can’t do it.

The distinctly Christian Truth is that God came to earth as a man to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Jesus not only knew the natural law but lived it. He is the only person who ever has. By living it, He fulfilled it for you and invites you to believe in Him to save you from yourself.

That is Christianity. You will never come to know this by philosophy or natural law. You can only learn this news from Christ in His Bible and His Church.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

UW student health plan exposes widespread lack of transparency

An investigative journalist from The College Fix recently exposed a troubling practice at the University of Wyoming. Over 600 foreign students have been automatically enrolled in health insurance that covers elective abortions.

That article caught my attention. We live in a state where the last Planned Parenthood clinic shuttered its operation in 2017. Also, Wyoming’s department of health “has received fewer than five [abortion] reports over the last five years,” according to Mariah Storey, a vital services unit supervisor, quoted in Rewire News. From this, one might assume that abortion just isn’t an issue in the Cowboy State.

But when you dig just a little bit deeper, you find that there is more going on than meets the eye. The Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s research arm, reported 380 abortions in the years 2011, 2013 and 2014. That’s 75 times the reported number!

Why is there such a huge disparity between the official tally and Planned Parenthood’s own data? That’s a question that deserves an answer. The fact is that Wyoming’s current abortion reporting laws have no provisions to enable enforcement. Abortionists who thumb their noses at Wyoming’s reporting requirements face no penalties whatsoever.

And thumb their noses they do. Dr. Brent Blue, who performs surgical abortions out of Emerg-A-Care in Jackson, Wyoming, told Rewire, “I do not report to the state because it is none of their business.” While Blue refuses to report to the state of Wyoming, he does diligently report to the Guttmacher Institute.

Dr. Giovannina Anthony, who performs medical abortions about a block away from Blue, agrees. The same article from Rewire quotes her as saying, “If you are looking for numbers, that [the Guttmacher Institute] is where you should focus your efforts. Their stats appropriately assess the need for reproductive services. They do not ask intrusive, irrelevant questions.”

Blue and Anthony are the chief abortionists in Wyoming. Their open flaunting of Wyoming law sounds eerily similar to Dr. Gosnell, who is currently spending the rest of his life in a Pennsylvania prison. That monster considered any and every health regulation to be an unnecessary annoyance that he was free to ignore in “service” of his patients. At least that’s how he self-justified his disease-ridden practice and murderous methods.

If Blue and Anthony openly ignore Wyoming’s reporting laws, I wonder what other Wyoming laws they feel free to break? Wyoming law forbids abortion once the child is developed enough to survive outside the womb. Do they care about that one, or do they think it’s “none of our business”? They are required to offer an ultrasound picture to the mother. Do they also think this is an optional law?

Dr. Brent Blue

Writing in Vice News last spring, Blue said about the ultrasound law, “It’s a law that has no teeth, and there’s no way to enforce it. It won’t change one thing for us.” His open contempt for the law is chilling.

Not only does Wyoming have more abortions happening within her borders than are ever reported, there are also many abortions happening across state lines. The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2014 (the most recent data available) 642 Wyoming residents procured abortions in Colorado, Montana and Utah.

This figure gives added relevance to the UW student insurance plan. Less than sixty miles from campus, there is a Planned Parenthood clinic in Fort Collins that averages three dozen surgical abortions each weekend of the school year. This is an “in-network” facility for United Health Care, the plan offered to UW students. It means that students who do not read the fine print are unwittingly subsidizing Planned Parenthood by their insurance premiums.

The College Fix contacted UW’s Office of Risk Management about the insurance coverage. Laura Betzold, the chief risk officer, confirmed that “elective abortion” is covered by the plan even though such coverage is not mandated by any state or federal law. So why is it included in the UW plan?

Apparently, insurance for elective abortions has become the latest hot-potato issue in the culture wars. As recently as the 1990s nobody included such coverage, according to Elizabeth Nash, Senior State Issues Manager at the Guttmacher Institute. Then, abortion special interest groups started quietly pressuring insurance companies to add the coverage.

This went largely unnoticed until it broke into the public eye during debates over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare. When the government gets into the insurance business through its state exchanges, can it cover elective abortions without running afoul of the Hyde Amendment? That is the federal law, renewed each year since 1977, which prohibits federal money from being spent on elective abortions.

This debate was finally settled with an Obama executive order that prohibits the ACA state exchanges from covering abortions. If the UW health plan is subsidized by any federal money, it would be in violation of that executive order.

Governor Matt Mead’s chief of staff, Mary Jo Gray, wrote in an email to The College Fix: “The University of Wyoming student health plan is funded entirely by students participating in the health program. No state money is provided for the plan.” That’s a good thing.

But questions still remain. How many of the students who sign up for this plan know about the abortion coverage? When Betzold was asked this question, she replied: “Students are provided electronic access to a summary brochure and a detailed policy document with all policy terms, including coverages and exclusions.”

That is true. I was able to go onto the UW website and find the Insurance Certificate listing “elective abortion” coverage. Even knowing what I was looking for, it took me about half an hour of searching. For foreign students who are automatically signed up for the coverage, one has to wonder how many get that far.

As the newest front in the culture wars, abortion insurance is not a neutral issue. Oregon recently enacted a state law that requires every plan to include it. On the other side of the coin, Texas passed a law that bans such coverage except when the woman’s life is in danger. In all, 29 states have some kind of restriction on the abortions that insurance can cover. Wyoming has none.

So, why has the University of Wyoming chosen to weigh in on such a loaded issue? The governor’s office told The College Fix that it is merely because the United Health Plan submitted the most competitive bid to the University. There is no reason to dispute that fact. Abortions are probably cheaper than live births.

But money is not the only consideration when it comes to proper health care. We must consider the well-being of our students first and foremost. Before offering them a plan that pays for abortion, we should at least be assured that it is proper “health care.”

Roe v. Wade made abortion “the law of the land” over 45 years ago. But we still have no serious clinical study that proves it enhances the physical, emotional, or mental health of the mother. Even the Guttmacher Institute has not conducted such a study. It’s another thing that nobody really wants to know.

Knowledge is power. The first thing that Wyoming should do is strengthen reporting laws so that the likes of Dr. Blue will begin to follow them. Once our state’s health department has actual data, perhaps we could lead the country in commissioning a study of whether abortion is actually “health care” at all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Marijuana Legalization: Colorado is Counting the Costs

Like most of my readers, I have never experienced marijuana. So, when the subject comes up in debates about public policy, we don’t feel qualified to weigh in and instinctively defer to others. This results in a skewed public discussion. While more than half of Americans have never used marijuana, and the overwhelming majority do not currently use it, much of the policy discussion is driven by those who do.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the only people who talk about marijuana are pot-heads. I’m only saying that the voices participating in public debates about legalization are probably not representing a cross section of the general public. Let’s address this imbalance by educating ourselves enough to participate in the debate that is not going to go away any time soon.

Marijuana refers to two species of the cannabis plant (sativa and indica) which contain a cocktail of more than 100 cannabinoids. For hundreds of years its leaves, stems, seeds and flowers have been dried and ingested in various ways to induce a euphoric feeling. The main cannabinoid that causes this “high” is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

One important fact to know is that the concentration of THC can vary widely from plant to plant. Unlike alcoholic beverages, which always specify their concentration on the label, the THC in cannabis is more of a crap shoot. In recent years, growers have made strains of the plant that are significantly more concentrated than they were decades ago.

Medical marijuana refers to using the whole, unprocessed plant to self-medicate for various conditions such as pain and nausea. Because it is impossible to determine consistent dosages from whole plants, and because the additional cannabinoids in the plant have not been tested for safety, the FDA has not approved its use for medical purposes. Medical marijuana should not be confused with medicine which is made from the cannabis plant.

There are three such medicines that have undergone clinical trials and are approved by the FDA. Two of them, dronabinol and nabilone, contain THC and are approved drugs that are often prescribed for AIDS patients and people undergoing chemotherapy. The third, Epidiolex,® is a cannabidiol (CBD oil) extract that is prescribed for certain forms of epilepsy. CBD oil is also available over the counter and sometimes recommended by doctors. Additionally, nabiximols is a drug combining CBD and THC which is sold in Europe but is not approved by the FDA.

The push for medical marijuana is not about making the medicinal use of THC and CBD available to suffering people. It is already available. Medical marijuana legislation is about bypassing quality control, dosing, labelling and clinical trials. While this makes access to THC cheaper for the patient, it also makes it more dangerous and more easily obtainable for non-medical use.

In fact, legalization of “medical marijuana” has a habit of becoming the gateway to “recreational marijuana.” That’s the pattern we saw played out on our southern border. In 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, they had already been leaders in medical marijuana.

Six years have passed since Colorado’s ballot initiative that commercialized pot. That’s enough time to see how it’s working out and it’s not pretty. Bob Troyer, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, recently published a guest commentary in the Denver Post. It should be required reading for anyone who thinks legalization is a good idea.

For starters, marijuana use among Colorado’s youth is 85 percent higher than the national average. This is a troubling statistic because the neurobiology of the developing brain makes youth far more susceptible than adults to addiction. As the marijuana industry seeks to make more money, creating a large pool of heavy users is most easily accomplished in the youth market.

On the road we are seeing that marijuana-related traffic fatalities are up by 151 percent. Remember, that number doesn’t just mean that marijuana users are dying on the road. It also means that non-users are being killed in greater numbers.

One of the arguments for legalization claimed that alcohol and opioid use would decline. This proved not to be true. Colorado’s alcohol consumption has risen steadily since pot legalization. Also, studies now show that heavy users of marijuana are more likely to abuse opioids.

Another argument is that, since people are going to use it anyway, we might as well make it legal and tax it. In the bargain, we will get rid of the black market and make the world a safer place. This argument plays well among libertarians and fiscal conservatives. But now all three elements of its narrative have been disproved.

First, legalization did not merely harness the market of people who were already using. Rather, it is creating more users every day. The very act of legalization sends a public message that marijuana is a harmless drug. On top of that false message, the pot industry is aggressively expanding the market for its product. Do we really think that seductive ads targeting our kids are harmless?

Second, the promise of increased state revenue has not panned out. Pot taxes have increased Colorado’s revenue by less than one percent. But even this gain is wiped out by the regulatory costs coupled with public health and safety losses.

Third, the black market has not gone away. It has exploded. Colorado has become an exporter of marijuana. Last year alone 6.4 metric tons of the stuff was grown in Colorado but was not sold there. Federal lands became the home of more than 80,000 black market plants. Organizations from Cuba, China, Mexico and elsewhere now operate sophisticated money laundering and drug-trafficking operations within the state.

Troyer lays out all these devastating statistics and more in his informative column. But he does not deal with the family cost. I have read a good number of articles both for and against legalization. Some are written from a medical perspective, some from a legal perspective, some by libertarians and some by liberals.

However, no one ever talks about the simple fact that the more widely mind-altering drugs are available, the more difficult it is for families to keep their children free of their corrosive effects.

Somewhere along the way we forgot that freedom is for families. The family is the basic building block of society. Strong families give us healthy societies. Broken families give us unhealthy societies. Our lawmakers need to remember this when making policy.

The modern impulse to deregulate absolutely everything from porn to pot has cost the family dearly. It pits the radical freedom of the individual against the healthy freedom of the family. As a result, both families and individuals are harmed. It’s high time we remember that individual freedoms can only be preserved when families are supported. This should be a simple litmus test.

When legislators are considering anything and everything, the most important thing to do is to stand in the shoes of mothers and fathers. Don’t ask merely about the revenue possibilities. Don’t just ask about the cost of enforcement. Don’t ask about whether you want the personal freedom to do this or that.

Rather ask this: would this law help me raise my children or, would it make my job more difficult? That’s the one question that was overlooked in Colorado. Now, the whole state is paying for it.

Read More:
Jeff Hunt, USA Today: Marijuana devastated Colorado, Don't legalize it nationally.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We should all support Cheney's Wilderness Study Area bill

Washakie Wilderness Area, Norton Point
Last spring the commissioners of three counties (Big Horn, Lincoln and Sweetwater) formally asked Wyoming’s congressional delegation to address a 40-year-old problem. They have asked that Congress act to remove over 386,000 acres of land from a limbo that was created by the Federal Land Policy & Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976.

The story begins with the Wilderness Act of 1964 that created the National Wilderness Preservation Service (NWPS) and gave Congress the authority to designate lands from the National Park Service and the National Forest Service as “Wilderness Areas.” Once designated, the federal government restricts most forms of human development including logging, mining, mechanized vehicles (including mountain bikes) and road maintenance.
Wyoming's 15 Wilderness Areas

Under the Wilderness Act, Congress designated 15 wilderness areas in Wyoming totaling 3,111,975 acres of land. These large tracts of land offer some of the best backpacking, horse packing and snowshoeing in the United States.

There is no better way to experience the rugged beauty of Wyoming than to hike a couple of days into these regions far away from the crowds and the sound of human mechanization. I know because as a young man just out of high school, I fell in love with Wyoming in the Washakie Wilderness Area just out of Dubois.

There is, however, a price to pay for the privilege of walking in undisturbed wilderness.

First, the ability to experience their enchantment is limited to those who are young enough and fit enough to hike rugged trails and camp in primitive conditions. Without vehicle access, large numbers of Wyoming citizens, and an even larger percentage of Americans will never have the joy of seeing one of these preserves.

Second, lands that once contributed to the local economy through multiple uses are now restricted to the single use of hiking. The people who once made a living through sustainable logging, or mining needed to find work elsewhere. As they were pushed off the land, counties lost revenue in the form of taxes.

Third, by restricting the use of mechanized equipment, trails fall into disrepair making even hiking and horseback riding difficult. With restrictions on power equipment comes the inability to clean out deadfalls and undergrowth. As a result, a wilderness area becomes a tinderbox ripe for the annual wildfire season. This not only threatens wildlife, but also property on the non-restricted lands surrounding them.

Despite these costs, wilderness areas are beautiful and important parts of Wyoming’s total land management. Most Wyomingites are willing to pay the price for a few carefully chosen tracts of land to be kept as nature preserves.

Because wilderness designations are always a balance between costs and benefits, the Wilderness Act of 1964 was careful to keep the authority for designating wilderness areas in the hands of our elected officials. Wilderness designations should be made judiciously and with the consent of the people who are paying the price.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 changed all that. This new law allowed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to suggest new areas for the NWPS but it also added a twist. The FLPMA instructed the Secretary of the Interior not only to identify possible areas for addition to the NWPS, but to designate these as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and to unilaterally apply wilderness area restrictions to these lands for up to 15-years while they were studied.

This Act represented an end run around the Wilderness Act of 1964. By giving temporary restrictive authority to the Secretary of Interior, it bypassed the requirement that wilderness areas be designated by elected representatives.

Thus, with the stroke of a pen the BLM designated over 700,000 acres of Wyoming land as WSAs. Suddenly, without input from our elected representatives, the people of Wyoming lost mining, logging—even mountain-biking—rights on these previously accessible BLM lands.

The story gets worse. In 1991 a new Secretary of the Interior released the long-awaited study of these WSAs along with a recommendation that Congress make about 41 percent of the 707,000-acre total into wilderness area and release the other 59 percent back to multiple use. But Congress never acted on this recommendation. Rather, 40 years after the unilateral restriction of three quarters of a million Wyoming acres, our elected officials have yet to weigh in.
Pete Obermueller

In 2015 Pete Obermueller, director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, launched the most recent attempt to get these lands out of limbo. The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative hoped to capitalize on Wyoming’s unique situation under federal law in order to negotiate a resolution of the WSA problem.

That was almost three years ago, and the results are still projected for next spring. One of the problems that perennially discourages local attempts to negotiate with the federal government is that after countless hours of negotiation, heartbreaking compromises and herculean efforts the results of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative will inevitably end up in federal court.

We have seen this with every good-faith effort to come together on wolves, sage-grouse, grizzly bears and a thousand other matters. When Congress gives broad authorities to unelected bureaucracies, bad things happen.

They begin by “clarifying” what Congress left unanswered. This produces mountains of red-tape and confusing guidelines. Each new guideline in nuanced language will become an invitation to some special-interest group to hijack the process of negotiation. Groups having no intention of compromising with anybody can cynically sit back and watch the process knowing that no matter what is decided, an army of lawyers can undo the deal and make the personal opinion of some unelected federal judge to be the only opinion that matters.

It’s no wonder that so many people are feeling disenfranchised and marginalized. The American ideal of self-governance offers the promise of good-hearted people dealing face to face to solve vexing and complex problems. It was designed to be both transparent to public scrutiny and responsive to the voting public. Its success depends entirely on elected people, not faceless appointees, writing the laws. For this reason, three Wyoming counties have decided to break out of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative and go to the root of the problem.

Let’s be absolutely clear. Nobody is challenging Congress’ creation of 15 wilderness areas in Wyoming. Rather, Big Horn, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties are challenging the BLM’s authority to create an additional 42 wilderness areas without congressional action. These counties alone encompass over 54 percent of the lands that were unilaterally regulated by the federal government contrary to the 1964 Wilderness Act.

They have been convinced by 40 years of fruitless negotiation that unless Congress acts directly, the people of Wyoming will never be given the chance to work together. If special interests wield litigeous power to scuttle good-faith negotiations, only an act of Congress can enable good people to come together and resolve the problem.
Liz Cheney

Congresswoman Liz Cheney agrees with these three county commissions. On September 27, the “Restoring Local Input and Access to Public Lands Act” (H.R. 6939). This does not undermine local control of public lands but gives it back. Since local control and elected representation was taken away by a bad act of congress in 1976, only congress has the power to restore it once again.

Kudos to our lone representative in congress. Let’s help her succeed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

America’s most prolific serial killer almost got away with murder

Dean Cain as Detective James Wood and AlonZo Rachel as his partner, Stark
What if I told you that a woman born and raised in Colorado and Kemmerer, Wyoming played a key role in taking down one of America’s worst serial killers?

The Green River Killer
H.H. Holmes used to be considered America’s most prolific serial killer. He is said to have murdered 230 victims during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, is suspected of killing over 90 women between 1982 and the early 90s. Both are dwarfed by a killer whose victims began disappearing in the 1980s.

For years, the murders went largely unnoticed. Then, in 2010, the Philadelphia police combined with the DEA and the FBI to raid his place of business. They were looking for evidence of an illegal drug operation. What they found was an office filled with corpses—more than thirty of them. They also found evidence of hundreds, perhaps thousands, more.

For instance, an industrial-strength garbage disposal had been completely worn out. Evidently it was used to grind up bodies for disposal into the Philadelphia sewer system. A waste-disposal company unknowingly had hauled off countless more for incineration. Still others had been taken to his vacation home and used as bait in his crab cages.

The principle of habeus corpus requires that prosecutors have evidence of a body to prove murder. Because of his effective disposal of remains, we will never really know the final count. The sheer volume of his crimes was too physically taxing to perform alone. So, he hired assistants and trained them to help. They helped bring victims into the office and dispose of the evidence.

Some even performed murders on his behalf, but they were not prosecuted. Eyewitnesses could testify to what they had done but proving intent would be more difficult. The serial killer had trained girls as young as 15 years old in his own private medical school. There he taught as a legitimate medical procedure what anyone else would have recognized as murder in cold blood.

The name of America’s most prolific serial killer is Kermit Gosnell. He avoided the death penalty by waiving his right to appeal. He is currently serving life without parole. His story is told in the movie, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. It opens nationwide this Friday, October 12.

It is a riveting story on several levels. Perhaps uppermost is the question: how was he able to perform so many murders without getting caught? He had numerous witnesses with evidence literally piled up in the hallways, stored in freezers and refrigerators. How could all of this go unnoticed for decades?

Answer: he was hiding his murders in plain sight. This was made possible because they took place in an abortion clinic, giving him an almost impenetrable layer of protection. Nobody wants to scrutinize abortion clinics or think too carefully about them. They have become sacrosanct, so that their very mention freezes us in place.

Consider your own reaction to the paragraph above. If you’re like most, the sudden appearance of the word “abortion” made you hesitate to consider whether you wanted to continue reading this story. Until it was mentioned, you might have suspected who I was talking about, but it was less emotionally conflicting.

Words do powerful things to us, but none greater than this one. It does powerful things to politicians, too. Because of the “A-word,” Philadelphia authorities were reluctant—unreasonably reluctant—to inspect Gosnell’s clinic or follow up on numerous complaints. While nail salons receive health department inspections every year, Gosnell’s clinic had not been inspected by Pennsylvania’s Department of Health for over 17 years—not once.

This is a bi-partisan problem. It’s not only Democrat politicians who will move heaven and earth to block abortion-reporting laws, pro-life judges and health standards for abortion clinics. Republican politicians also work to frustrate common-sense legislation and minimal enforcement of the laws. Most are afraid that if they look too closely at abortion practices their political ambitions will be destroyed by powerful lobbyists.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge

In the case of Gosnell, it was a Republican governor, Tom Ridge, (later named the first Secretary of Homeland Security by George W. Bush) who prevented discovery of the murders. Grand Jury testimony alleged that his office instructed the Pennsylvania Department of Health not to inspect Gosnell’s clinic unless it received a complaint. This permitted the practices and conditions of the clinic on Lancaster Street to be effectively unaccountable to anyone but Gosnell.

Opening statements in Gosnell’s trial were held on March 18, 2013. He was charged with over 200 counts of violating Pennsylvania’s law requiring a 24-hour waiting period and 24 counts of illegal abortions after the viability of the child. However, none of these illegal abortions counted toward his title as America’s biggest serial killer. He was convicted of multiple murders because of his practice of having his nurses deliver alive-and-healthy babies who were later killed either directly or by neglect.

His defenders, both in the courtroom and in the press, sought to portray him as merely a sloppy practitioner of partial-birth abortion. That procedure kills the baby after it is mostly, but not quite completely, delivered. Gosnell couldn’t be bothered to observe that fine distinction. After all, if it is legal to kill a baby a few centimeters and a few seconds before birth, what magically makes it illegal a few feet and a few minutes after birth?

This defense cast a spotlight on a plainly indefensible idea: that humanity and the protection of law are bestowed on a person by his passage through space and time. This ridiculous logic inevitably leads to a blurring of all human decency. Those who are unable to see that a fetus is a baby have no reason to see a baby as a murder victim—for the very same reason.
Empty press seats, Photo: J.D. Mullane

America’s press corps went into vapor-lock. Gosnell’s actual practice was too sick to support. But there was no logical way to distinguish his practice from what they were already supporting. So, they just didn’t show up.

The most sensational trial of a serial killer in the history of America had virtually no reporters in the court room. The biggest crime since 1893 could not be covered because the reporters could not say why it was wrong.

One of those who noticed was Mollie Ziegler Hemingway who spent her earliest years in Kemmerer and later grew up in Colorado. As a reporter for she watched local coverage on Gosnell’s trial for three weeks waiting for any coverage by the mainstream media. On April 7, 2013 she published a story about the blackout and followed up with six more, published between April 10 and April 16.

Meanwhile, J.D. Mullane, a reporter for Calkins Media, snapped a picture of rows of empty seats that had been reserved for the press. The photo went viral, prompting Kiersten Powers of USA Today to break the media silence. She published a column subtitled: “We’ve forgotten what belongs on Page One.”
Mollie Hemingway, Reporter at

Once the dam broke, all the major networks and newspapers dispatched reporters to Philadelphia to cover the trial. This had a significant impact both on the strength of the prosecution and on American public opinion.

In the new Gosnell movie, the role of Mollie Hemingway and J.D. Mullane are woven together into a fictional character named Mollie Mullaney. In many ways she is the heroine of the story. She reminds us of the vital need for an unflinching press corps that will cover, and not cover up stories that challenge the media narrative. Only by exposing the darkness of our hidden inhumanities can the press help us regain humanity.