Drinking with the foreigners 

In a Colorado Springs-datelined analysis of how migration is transforming politics in the New West, The Economist tells us a joke this week:

"A Californian, a Texan and a Coloradan are out drinking. The Texan picks up his Lone Star beer, throws the bottle in the air, takes out a six-shooter and empties the chamber. Froth and glass everywhere. 'We've got plenty of beer back in Texas,' he says, 'but I've got to keep my aim straight.'

"An hour passes and the Californian starts on his second bottle of Merlot. He tosses it up, takes out his Saturday Night Special and blasts away. 'We've got plenty of wine back in the Napa Valley, but I've got to keep my trigger finger sharp.'

"Then the Coloradan puts three bottles of Coors beer on the table, takes out his rifle and shoots the Californian and the Texan. 'We've got plenty of those back in Colorado,' he says, 'but the bottles I've got to recycle.' "

The Economist is a London-based weekly magazine that has tracked international business and political trends since 1843. In this piece, the periodical uses the humorous cowboy scenario to dramatize how the migrational patterns of the West have changed our landscape dramatically over the past 20 years.

As relatively liberal Latinos have poured into the Golden and Lone Star states, ultraconservative Republicans have fled inland to Colorado, Idaho and Utah. The result has been a liberalized California while states like Colorado are now bulging with a new brand of Republicanism.

In the past, Republicans in the Centennial State have tended to be fiscally conservative but less willing to force themselves into the bedrooms of private property owners. The Economist calls the differences between the two GOP camps "strange," and notes, "The ideological disconnect has already caused intense fights between the Western legislatures."

Unconvinced? Try these two (new) Colorado names on for size:

Focus on the Family's James Dobson, a Californian who despises abortion and the idea of homosexuality.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a Texan who is trying to de-fund women's health programs at Planned Parenthood clinics across the state.

Ed Bircham's at it again. By now, most people are familiar with the advertorials that the Colorado Springs office-supply-store owner runs in the local daily newspaper, wherein, next to his smiling mug, he advises, "Come on, America, wake up, we can do better than this."

In the past, Bircham's ads have attacked gays and lesbians and advised readers that black golf champ Tiger Woods should go eat watermelon and collard greens. (In an August interview with the Indy, Bircham voiced his views with great clarity when he noted that homosexuals make him want to puke and that he doesn't have any black friends and doesn't see anything wrong with physically separating the races.)

Bircham's recent ad, which ran last Sunday, was also a real charmer. Remembering the O.J. Simpson "fiasco" of a murder trial, Bircham bemoaned the length of time it's taken to bring the case of murdered UCCS student Jacine Gielinski to trial, speculating that special interest groups get better justice. In Bircham's own words: "Why does it take three years to bring these cases to trial? Is there no consideration for the victims' families? On the other hand, we have a homosexual murdered in Laramie, Wyo., and that case came to trial within 12 months of the murder. We know there are different laws for the rich and famous. Do we now have different laws for special-interest groups? And why all the media hype?"

What Bircham is likely wailing about are the frustrating delays of the 3-year-old Gielinski case vs. the year's time in which the accused murderers of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard were brought to trial. The homophobic Bircham would probably prefer to believe there is some sort of secret homosexual agenda involved.

However, 4th Judicial District Attorney Jeanne Smith noted several other factors at play.

First, Colorado is not Wyoming. (Different death-penalty laws, Ed!) Second, the 4th Judicial District has an incredibly backlogged court load, in part because we need two more judges -- which must be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Third, Colorado's death-penalty laws are still relatively new, without a lengthy body of case law. So, over time, the trial time will be reduced as new legal precedents are set.

What of the presumption that there are "different" laws for rich people, poor people and now gays and lesbians? Smith notes, "There's one set of laws; they apply to everyone."

Of course, even Smith would agree that sometimes the system isn't fair, especially when you can afford to buy the best lawyer in town. But implying that special trials are held for the alleged murderers of gays as opposed to say, college students, is just plain crass. Come on, Ed, you can do better than that.

Houston, we've got a problem. Last week, the Texas megasprawl topped Los Angeles, winning the dubious title of the city with the nation's dirtiest air. The Sierra Club, along with a coalition of health and environmental groups across Texas, responded by launching an 18-month effort to deal with the state's growing air pollution problem.

In its campaign kickoff, the group released an analysis holding Texas Gov. George W. Bush and the Texas National Resource Conservation Commission responsible for the crisis. So far, Bush hasn't said whether or not he'll join in to help clean up his state's air. Maybe he's just too busy, what with running for president and all.


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