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Book Review: “Shooting From the Lip” by Donald Loren Hardy

Shooting From the LipWould it really be a dream for a biographer to have thousands of pages of daily journal entries to work from? It certainly seems so. But when Don Hardy set out to write Shooting from the Lip: The Life of Senator Al Simpson, and the former Wyoming senator handed him the journals, it must have been overwhelming. Not the task of reading all that material — after spending 18 years as Simpson’s Press Secretary and Chief of Staff, that material must have been a fascinating romp down memory lane for Hardy — but the task of winnowing it down into a 488-page book.

Imagine the pressure. Simpson gave Hardy free reign to include anything he wanted, as long as it was true. Al Simpson was a highly influential senator and majority whip. He was involved in groundbreaking legislation. He chaired many committees, including Veterans’ Affairs, Immigration and Refugee Subcommittee of Judiciary;  Nuclear Regulation; Social Security, and the Committee on Aging. He was there during the Iran-Contra scandal. He served under — and worked closely with — four presidents. Simpson’s father was a U.S. Senator as well. The volume of material available about Alan Simpson’s life is overwhelming.

And Don Hardy had to decide what details to include and what to leave out. In my humble opinion, Hardy did a yeoman’s job. Biographies are often one-sided documents, lauding or roasting the subject. Despite being very close to Simpson, Hardy presented the senator complete with all of his faults and foibles. He distilled all of the interviews, a 19-volume diary, and all of the documents from Simpson’s time in office into a story that held my attention. I really enjoyed reading it.

Audiences today have grown used to Dan Brown-style narrative crutches. If the plot isn’t exciting enough, the author can just add some gun battles, albino bad guys, kidnappings, mysterious coded messages, explosions, and (of course) sex. Non-fiction writers can’t throw in a car chase to liven a slow spot in the story. They have to rely on actual honest-to-goodness writing skill. Luckily, Hardy has that skill.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Don Hardy is a friend of mine. But I won’t praise his book just for that reason. Many of my friends and acquaintances are writers. Many of them are very good; I’ve written glowing reviews of books by Gary Ferguson, Mark Spragg, John Clayton, and others. Some are not so good; you won’t see reviews of their books written by me. When I speak highly of a book, it’s because I honestly thought it was a good book.

Hardy will be at my store on Friday, September 8 for a talk and book signing. I think that Shooting From the Lip is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in politics — especially the stark contrast between the way things work in Wyoming and they way they work in Washington, D.C.

NOTE: This review is based on an advance copy, and there may be changes before its scheduled release on September 4, 2011.

Montana medical marijuana law change: hurting everyone

medical marijuana symbolAbout seven years ago, I was diagnosed with lymphoma and given a 50/50 chance of survival. Within a matter of days, I had started chemotherapy and monoclonal antibody treatments. At that time, medical marijuana had not yet been legalized in Montana, so I used the legal medications: dangerous addictive narcotics for the pain and expensive experimental drugs for nausea and appetite stimulation. Comparing notes with cancer sufferers who used marijuana showed that their solution was cheaper, more effective, and had fewer side-effects.

When Initiative 148 made medical marijuana legal in Montana, I was pleased to see the progress. An overwhelming majority of Montana voters said that patients should get the best medication for their ailment, even if the Federal government didn’t support it. Last month, lawmakers in Montana showed their total disdain for the people who elected them by gutting the medical marijuana program. This astounded me. Why would they do such a thing? Marijuana is safer than narcotics (heck, it’s safer than alcohol!), and the Montana state constitution is very clear on the subject.

Section 1. Popular sovereignty. All political power is vested in and derived from the people. All government of right originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.

Our state senators and representatives do not have the legal right to overturn the will of the people. Yet they did it anyway! The new law is capricious and mean. It hurts almost everyone involved. Most of the time, you can ferret out the impetus behind legislation by following the money; by seeing who benefits from the bill. Let’s give that a try here by looking at everyone affected by changed to Montana’s laws:

  • Patients lose. No, it’s worse than that. Patients are screwed! Instead of being able to purchase tinctures, edibles, raw plants, and other forms of marijuana, they are forced to grow their own. Someone diagnosed with cancer today has to wait six weeks to get a card, then acquire a seedling, grow the plant, learn how to harvest it, and figure out what to do with the marijuana they harvest. By the time they have usable medication, their treatment is completed. Instead of having an experienced caregiver that can recommend different strains based on symptoms, they’re on their own. If they can’t figure out how to process the marijuana into edible form, they’ll end up smoking it: not a good thing for a sick person’s lungs. Instead, they’ll turn to prescription narcotics.
  • Caregivers lose. These people set up businesses that were 100% legal. They signed leases, purchased inventory, bought insurance, installed security systems, purchased office furnishings, and in general made a significant financial commitment to their business. Under the new law, caregivers must provide services for free (and only to family members), so they’re out of business and they’ve lost their investment.
  • Law enforcement loses. The illegal drug dealers who will set up shop to replace the caregivers are not licensed. They are more likely to break other laws; to commit other crimes. A friend of mine who used to be a narcotics officer told me there have been cases of violence between caregivers/dispensaries in Montana. Just wait and see how much better it is when they’re operated by a drug cartel instead of a small businessman.
  • The state government loses. License fees and taxes from caregivers and dispensaries are being replaced with higher enforcement costs and the costs of incarceration for newly-created criminals.

So who wins? Only two groups of people: illegal drug dealers and the drug companies who manufacture the narcotics that replace medical marijuana.

I contacted my state Senator, Jason Priest, before the bill was passed and urged him to vote against it. He responded:

The status quo is not going to work. After looking at the original ballot language it is clear that the voters approved a compassion model, not the legalization of mj. While I agree SB 423 is an ambitious regulatory model, it is better than the status quo.

I’m confident that those who need mj will be able to get it. Frankly, I think those who want it from the black market won’t have any troubles getting it. If legalized mj is the goal, that needs to be presented fairly to the public.

In other words, he’s encouraging sick people to seek out illegal drug dealers. The response from Representative Joanne Blyton is even more telling.

On the medical marijuana issue, overwhelmingly the messages are to repeal. Second to that is support for 423, reform and sideboards.  If my personal feelings were considered, I would give it back to the voters to take a re-look.  But my decision has to be for the betterment of the whole state.  

While some prefer what is currently taking place in our state, it is NOT what the voters thought they voted for and they will tell you that.

To paraphrase, she thinks that the voters (that would be you and me) were not smart enough to understand the wording of the initiative we voted for. She believes it’s better for the whole state if smart people like her figure out what to do for us instead of letting the voters make our own decisions. I am thoroughly insulted.

Now I understand. People like Senator Priest and Representative Blyton have sold us out. They have violated the state constitution, overridden the will of the people, hurt thousands of cancer and glaucoma patients, taken money from the state coffers, and put a new burden on our state’s law enforcement — all to benefit drug dealers and pharmaceutical companies.

We have been betrayed.

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