Front Page » Monthly Archives » Archives: December 2009


Happy New Year, Everybody!

Goodbye 2009

GREAT BEND, Kan. - My first article for the Kansas Free Press, and my last article written for 2009! Guess I better make this good. I could do an article about all the political atrocities that happened throughout this year, or prophesize the trouble coming in the next. There certainly is plenty that happened throughout the year that I could complain or even cheer about. I think instead, I will enjoy the last five hours of 2009 with a noisemaker in my hand and a smile on my face. I will leave the politics for tomorrow. May 2010 bring us health care reform (sorry couldn't resist)!

WICHITA, Kan. - Kansas is in a financial crisis, this is not news. However David Koch's group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has the Kansas Legislature in fear of repealing tax exemptions and offering revenue enhancements that will solve this financial crisis. This extremist group attacks anything that may be perceived as threatening Koch industries profits.

David and Charles Koch are known for their generous contributions to the arts and cancer research, but the Koch brothers are also known to fund vicious attack campaigns. Such as the "No Stimulus" television and radio ads launched to stop President Obama's stimulus package.

GREAT BEND, Kan. - Sometimes something is right in front of your face, and you don't notice it. The Bible repeatedly warns against the sin of "usury" - of charging excessive interest rates. There was a historic consensus among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that charging high interest rates is wrong.

I have sat through hundreds of sermons in my life, and I've never heard this issue mentioned once by a clergyman. The "pelvic" issues seem to be the only issue most pastors want to talk about - abortion, and issues regarding sexuality. The Bible contains thousands of verses that admonish us to help the poor. Yet economic justice simply isn't spoken of much today.

It reminds me of the story of the two monks. One obsessively studied various religious sects, to the point where he would spend hours a day reading and talking about obscure offshoots of mainline religion. His fellow monk got fed up and told him: "Sects, sects, sects, that's all you think about is sects!"

Tale of Two Approaches

WICHITA, Kan. - Let's take a look at two alternatives in the so-called war on terror:

  1. You arrest a guy, put him on trial, take testimony from the people who saw what he did, get a slam dunk conviction and put him away until the end of time.
  2. You put him into the war-on-terror netherworld, disappear him, deny him access to legal representation, and - what the hell - water board him a few times for good measure. It is now impossible to convict him (impossible solely because of what you did to him) but you don't care about that: your intention is to put him away forever without any kind (or with the most circumscribed kind of) trial, and by the time the courts throw out what you did to him you won't be in office anymore and you can blame the people who have to pick up your mess as "soft on terrorism."

WICHITA, Kan. - The year 2009 was an eventful year for the women of Kansas and the rest of the women of the nation.

We saw the advancement of the Kansas ERA in 2009. The hearing in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee was successful and SCR 1608 currently waits in that committee with the potential for placement on the Senate calendar for debate in 2010.

The 2010 legislative session may see the advancement of the DV Tagging Bill (HB 2335), a comprehensive sex education bill and potential legislation to address the short falls of the sexual assault examination procedure in Kansas communities. As always, there is sure to be an abundance of attempts at legislative restrictions on women's reproductive access and health care choices.

HALF MOON CAY, Bahamas - The final seminar of The Nation's 2009 Cruise featured Narda Zacchino, Patricia Williams, Christian Parenti and William Greider discussing the effects the "War on Terror" has had on the United States. Eyal Press moderated the panel.

Given the events that transpired on December 25th with the attempt to blow up Flight 253, the views and opinions share during this panel, have new and more urgent significance for progressives.

Each panelist was given five minutes to present his/her ideas. After each panelist had made their presentation, panelists were allotted an addition two minutes to respond to what had been said or pose questions to each other.

Christian Parenti, a Soros Senior Justice Fellow and a Ford Foundation Fellow at the CUNY Graduate School's Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, has reported from both Iraq and Afghanistan. He opened by looking at terrorism in context of the conflict in Afghanistan.

What I Want in Health Care Reform

WICHITA, Kan. - Last week, the Senate approved their version of health care reform, quite different from the House version. Among progressives, a cry is going out: either include public option or kill the bill. A public option, it is reasoned, is the only way to control costs, and since both bills include a mandate, not including a public option forces the American people to buy into an industry that has proven itself as little more than a money-making machine allowing access to little in the way of true health care. But many Democrats are pushing back: at least it's reform, and we can change it later if we need to. Health care reform died under the Nixon Administration because Ted Kennedy would not accept the public option compromise and fought only for single-payer. When reform was brought up again under the Clinton Administration, it died a painful death. We need something, the argument goes. Both arguments are completely valid, and both are still quite short-sighted.

HAYS, Kan. - Hays Medical Center is taking a leadership role in responding to its community's concern for local victims of sexual assault. The hospital will develop a program so that rape victims living in northwest Kansas will be able to receive expert medical forensic examinations much closer to home.


Hospital staff heard community concerns at meeting at the Sternberg Museum in December
(photo by Anne Bannister)

According to Human Rights Watch, there are approximately 200,000 reported rapes each year and, in most cases, DNA evidence is collected and stored in a "rape kit." Rape kits are evidence packets, containing tissue samples, photographs, notes and DNA collected from rape victims. The kits are collected by trained hospital staff and turned over to law enforcement for testing.

The U.S. Senate held hearings recently to figure out why approximately 180,000 rape kits held by law enforcement are never tested or examined.

In Kansas, some communities have had additional barriers to prosecution. Some rape victims have had to travel many miles from their homes in order to find health care professionals that were adequately trained to complete the rape kits or to collect the proper medical evidence in the first place.

us-capitol-2.jpgHAYS, Kan. - Families and small businesses in Kansas are still struggling to make ends meet in these tough economic times. Continued high unemployment takes its toll - both on those unemployed and their families who experience the frustration of not finding work and on the communities which must support them.

Mike Kruger, staffer with the Committee on Education and Labor, wants Kansans to know that the U.S. House is addressing the issues that Kansas families care most about in these tough economic times.

He said, "The 111th Congress inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the legacy of eight years of failed Bush economic policies. Over the past year, House Democrats have led an unprecedented effort to prevent a devastating recession from turning into a depression and revive our economy."

Mike backs this with details and facts, pointing out that electing Democrats to Congress means that important work gets done for children, students, working Americans and families. He recently sent the Kansas Free Press this "top 10 list" of congressional achievements in 2009.

Unsafe At Any Weight

YOCEMENTO, Kan. - In 1965 Ralph Nader wrote his earthshaking Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile, addressing the automobile industry's resistance to the introduction to safety features such as seat belts in designing cars.

Is football the new GM?

In an earlier article, I attempted to explain the physiology of repetitive hits to the head in football and the consequent brain damage. I mentioned the case of an eighteen year old. He died of other causes, but his brain upon examination showed evidence of tau neurofibrillary tangles; the same kind of tangles found in Alzheimer victims. The young man played only two years of high school football.

This evidence should be the source of concern for parents and young players. Is playing football at any age a potential threat to the brain?

constitution2.jpgGREAT BEND, Kan. - Democratic U.S. Senators who took large contributions from big health insurance companies and big pharmaceutical companies need to learn a lesson from three Kansans. Senators Landrieu, Nelson, Baucus, Dodd and Lieberman, are you listening?

Exhibit A is former Kansas Governor Joan Finney, who was elected Governor in 1990 having spent only a fraction of what her opponents spent. She made crystal clear to potential donors the following: "If you think I would be a good Governor, feel free to donate to my campaign. But there are no strings attached. I'm not promising you anything." How refreshing. No wonder she couldn't raise money well.

Exhibit B is former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. She was one of the only Democrats in the country to defeat a Republican incumbent in the 1994 Republican tsunami. She became Kansas Insurance Commissioner against all odds, especially considering that she refused to take one penny from the insurance companies. She made it clear the first day she launched her campaign: "I will not accept donations from the insurance companies that I will be regulating as your insurance commissioner." Voters found her decision refreshing, and she won.

The World According to Maisie

DODGE CITY, Kan. - Christmas has come and gone, so I'd planned to write a few of my thoughts concerning the world situation when I received a phone call from my elderly friend, Maisie.

She's a character, and since she and her husband, Herb, were getting ready to drive into town, I suggested they stop by my house for a cup of coffee before starting their Saturday shopping. They come in from the farm every Saturday and buy what they need to last them until the next Saturday. As Herb says, "After sixty-plus years, we mostly just do what we always did; that way we don't have to waste no time thinkin' up what to do next."

GREAT BEND, Kan. - If the Democratic party was in the vacuum cleaner business, it would have warehouses full of unsold vacuum cleaners. If the health care debate these last six months was a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight in August, and declared the Republicans the winner.

It was over before Labor Day, at least in terms of getting any meaningful reform. Because the Republicans "got there first with the most men." They defined the Democrat health care plan before the Democrats defined it, and it was over.

The Republicans know how to frame a debate, and how to play on people's emotions. The Republicans immediately framed the debate, using dynamite phrases like: "government-run health care", "socialized medicine","death panels", "a bureaucrat between you and your doctor", "throwing seniors under the bus."

By the time the bill was passed on Christmas Eve, it was Swiss cheese, and less than 40% of Americans support the bill. The Democrats only reached 60 votes by giving suspicious sweetheart deals to several senators.

GREAT BEND, Kan. - On November 1, 1967, I waited in line with hundreds of Great Bend kids to meet an astronaut. As a scrub-faced seven-year-old, I was awed when I saw him arrive at J.C. Penney Toyland in his silver space suit and space helmet.

He wasn't a real astronaut, I now know. But as a seven-year-old, you suspend disbelief. The "astronaut" was "Major Astro," a guy named Tom Leahy who had an afternoon children's program on KARD-TV, the NBC affiliate in Wichita. Each afternoon "Major Astro" would delight youngsters in Wichita and Western Kansas with his program, in which he played an astronaut on the moon showing cartoons from a space station. We only got one channel in Great Bend - KARD-TV, so "Major Astro" was the only game in town.

A few days ago, I posted something on Facebook about "Major Astro," and I got a huge response from baby-boomers, all favorable, and way beyond what I expected. And I have thought a lot about why people in their fifties still light up at the mention of "Major Astro."

A Merry Christmas to All

MANHATTAN, Kan. - One of my favorite of all holiday traditions is Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol. I know I am not alone since, at one point, circulation of this little tale was second only to the Bible. Dicken's life was almost as fascinating as his literature, and unfortunately, often as sad. According to Kathryn Harrison, who wrote "Father Christmas," for The New York Times Review of Books,

"What is true is that Christmas, more than any other holiday, offered a means for the adult Dickens to redeem the despair and terrors of his childhood. In 1824, after a series of financial embarrassments drove his family to exchange what he remembered as a pleasant country existence for a 'mean, small tenement' in London, the 12-year-old Dickens, his schooling interrupted - ended, for all he knew - was sent to work 10-hour days at a shoe blacking factory in a quixotic attempt to remedy his family's insolvency. Not even a week later, his father was incarcerated in the infamous Marshalsea prison for a failure to pay a small debt to a baker. At this, Dickens' 'grief and humiliation' overwhelmed him so thoroughly that it retained the power to overshadow his adult accomplishments, calling him to 'wander desolately back' to the scene of his mortification. And because Dickens' tribulations were not particular to him but emblematic of the Industrial Revolution - armies of neglected, unschooled children forced into labor - the concerns that inform his fiction were shared by millions of potential readers. ..."
Dicken's redemption becomes our joy and a cornerstone of popular culture, but it also becomes a nice reminder that it is not a crime to be poor. Criminalizing poverty is particularly devastating to children.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - This morning, the U.S. Senate passed (60-39) the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The House of Representatives had passed their own health care bill last month. Now, with two different bills passed by the two bodies, the U.S. House and Senate will send delegations to meet together in January, working out compromises between the two bills. The end result of the House and Senate conference will be a combined bill that will need to be passed by both bodies. The new bill could come as soon as February.

Senate Democrats united to pass what President Barack Obama is characterizing as landmark health care legislation. The Senate bill has measures that provide choice and increased competition and provides significant savings for small businesses and small employers.

Proponents of the Senate bill say that it will effectively reduce costs, increase access, and provide critical insurance reforms that will put patients first. This legislation also makes Medicare more solvent and expands prescription drug coverage, all while reducing the deficit and reining in health care costs.

However, many progressive leaders in the Democratic party are expressing disappointment in the Senate bill. They say that it doesn't go nearly far enough in reforming the broken health care system.

Their disappointment is largely centered around the fact that the Senate bill, in its final form, does not include the Public Option plan, whereas the House bill does. Proponents of the Public Option believe that the Public Option is the only way to introduce real change and competition into the insurance industry.

student-laptop.jpgSALINA, Kan. - Parents know that computers are important for their children's school work, but may worry that the lure of social networking pulls students away from studies.

New research from the University of New Hampshire has found that student grades are not adversely affected by social networking. Parents worried that their college students are spending too much time on Facebook and other social networking sites and not enough time hitting the books can breathe a sigh of relief.

Students who heavily engage in social networking do just as well academically as students who are less interested in keeping in touch with the medium.

Gridlock, Sports and My Uterus

WICHITA, Kan. - I have been a member of Kansas National Organization of Women (Kansas NOW) since 2005. During that time, I have seen the women of Kansas seemingly take two steps forward and then take two steps back, stuck in a state of gridlock. The Shiver Report of 2009 illustrates this. The findings show that for the first time in history half of U.S. workers are women. This seems like quite an accomplishment for our gender... but wait... women earn merely 70% of what their male counterparts earn. Women you may now take one step forward with pride, but then be sure to follow that with one giant step backward.

GREAT BEND, Kan. - Kansas campaign finance laws contain a huge loophole that allows big corporations to tilt election outcomes with "issue ads" without ever having to report who paid for the ads. The 2010 Kansas legislature should close this loophole immediately.

You've seen the ads on TV, heard them on the radio, or received them in the mailbox, usually days before the November elections. "Call Rep. Jones. Tell him to stop letting dangerous criminals out of jail!" The ads are intended to do one thing: get you to vote against Rep. Jones in the election. But as long as the ad doesn't mention voting or elections, they are exempt from campaign finance reporting laws. In other words, Rep. Jones gets slimed days or even minutes before people vote, loses the election, and never finds out who paid for the ad.

The legislative session runs from January through May, but these "issue ads" always seem to pop up right before elections in November - long after the legislature is finished for the year. So the true purpose of the ad is to defeat a particular candidate, not to influence how they legislate.

As a general rule, Republicans want to keep the secrecy loophole, and Democrats want to eliminate it. This is because Republicans tend to be the party of Big Business and the rich, and only people or entities with money can afford these ads. The average "John Q. Public" voter simply doesn't have ten grand laying around to pay for a big "issue ad".

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' HHS office has released a report, How Health Insurance Reform Will Lower Costs and Increase Choices.

The report includes statistics, summaries and CBO conclusions that assist citizens in sorting out the issues Congress is addressing as it tackles health care reform.

Upon its release, Sec. Sebelius said, "Health insurance reform isn't about politics, it's about families. Every day, millions of families across the country wonder how they will pay their skyrocketing medical bills or what they will do if their children get sick. Those families are our priority and we are fighting to give them the affordable, secure, stable coverage they need."

The report compiled by HHS states that health care reform will boost employment and raise individual families' incomes, claiming that "lowering health care costs by 1 percent will create 320,000 jobs nationwide and raise median family income by $6,800 by 2030. And reform will drive down premiums and limit out-of-pocket costs that eat into the family budget."

LAWRENCE, Kan. - The film adaptation of Thomas Frank's best selling book: What's the Matter with Kansas? will be screened at Lawrence's Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts Avenue, from December 21 through the 30th.

Author Thomas Frank will appear at a screening on Saturday, December 26, 2009 at Liberty Hall. The screening will begin at 7:10 p.m. and Mr. Frank will appear afterwords to talk about the making of the film and to take questions from the audience.

Whereas the book What's the Matter with Kansas? explored the 2004 national election, the film explores the 2006 Kansas election and whether the religious right will continue to drive working and middle-class voters to the Republican Party, to vote against their own economic interests.

HAYS, Kan. - As kids, growing up in Texas, we always hoped for snow at Christmas. On TV, we'd see Linus, Snow White, Santa or the Frosty the Snowman enjoying their sparkling winter lives. We just knew that all kids everywhere were iceskating, sledding and having snowball fights. Just not us! Never us!

One year, although snow was definitely not in the forecast, the temperatures were at least expected to dip below freezing overnight on Christmas Eve. My father and several of the fathers on our block got together and cooked up a plan to create a Texas version of Winter Wonderland. We lived on a concrete hill in suburban Dallas. The fathers made ice by connecting up several water hoses and letting lots of municipal water run down our street throughout the night. On Christmas morning, we were happy kids! We sled down our icy hill in trash can lids until everything melted by mid-morning. That's the closest that I've ever come to enjoying a white Christmas - until now!

Snow is coming! A strong winter storm is expected to develop over Kansas and move slowly across our state between Tuesday night and Christmas Eve day. Travelers should heed the warnings, however, since these storms may create blizzard conditions. The snow and ice is expected to significantly impact travel across most of Kansas this week. If you have travel plans, here are the latest watches, warnings or advisories for Kansas...

MS EURODAM, Atlantic Ocean - Anyone interested in media reform has seen a plethora of panels, articles, and speeches on the topic of what is happening to journalism. Yes newspapers have folded in record numbers and major papers have reduced staff in the wake of the economic downturn turning the venerated fourth estate into a waste land of unemployment for many a reporter.

Media Panel: Narda Zucchino, Robert Scheer,
Katie Halper, Patricia Willams, and Betsy Reed
However, new media, blogs and e-newspapers like the Kansas Free Press, now offer the average American more choices in their ability to have access to news and information than at any other time in our history as a democracy. So what's the problem?

Taking on the topic for The Nation cruise was Narda Zucchino, long-time write and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times and author of Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman; Robert Scheer; comic, writer, blogger, satirist and award-winning documentary film director Katie Halper; Patricia Williams; and Betsy Reed.

Showering Kansas Kids With Love

COLBY, Kan. - In these tough economic times, even when cash is low, many Kansas parents I've talked with feel bad that they can't do the holidays up in a big way. Most seem to think that they are letting their kids down if they don't come up with a big Christmas or Hanukkah.

It's tough. Parents hard hit by the recession may wonder how to explain to their children why there aren't as many presents under the tree this year.

SALINA, Kan. - One dose of vaccine may be effective to protect infants and children and reduce transmission of the H1N1 virus, according to a study in JAMA.

Initial reports of 2009 influenza A(H1N1) infection in many countries have largely involved children, especially those attending school. Reports have also indicated high hospitalization rates of children younger than 5 years of age in the current pandemic, according to background information provided by the authors.

Earlier, recommendations were for a two vaccines for babies and young children - one regular followed by a booster. These new findings suggest that a single dose 15-microgram dose vaccine regimen may be effective and well tolerated in children, and may have positive implications for disease protection and reduced transmission of pandemic H1N1 in the wider population.

The Culture Wars, Uncle Myron, and Me

HAYS, Kan. - Some of the chain e-mails that go around the internet annoy me even more than those telemarketing calls that come during the dinner hour. You know the kind I mean--not the e-mails promising rock-bottom prices on male enhancement products, but the chilling threats of imminent Armageddon all because Mom, apple pie, and God-fearing, democracy-loving Americans are once again under attack--usually by liberals or atheists or Democrats or gays or Muslims or, worst of all, by liberal atheistic Democratic gay Muslims.

These e-mails are usually forwarded to you and 938 other idiots who were dumb enough to give your e-mail addresses to Uncle Myron, who never met a conspiracy theory he didn't like. Or, for that matter, one he didn't think everyone in his address book should know about.

COLBY, Kan. - Now is the time for Congress and the President to bring about real health reform to cover every child in 2009 and provide quality, affordable health coverage for every family in America. I'm disturbed that neither of the health care bills being considered in the House or the Senate begin until 2012 or later.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Some readers may notice on C-SPAN that obstructionism is in play on the floor of the U.S. Senate this weekend.

Meanwhile, rising health care costs are crippling the economy, squeezing middle class families' budgets, and making health care unattainable for a growing number of Americans. More than 14,000 people lose their coverage every day. We know that as the number of unemployed goes up, the number of uninsured goes up as well. Most of these individuals are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. They are exposed and vulnerable, without access to any health care services.

Approximately 46 million Americans went without insurance in 2008 - a figure expected to rise in 2009 due to the recession - causing an estimated 45,000 premature deaths this year alone (pdf). Over the next decade, the cost of private health insurance is expected to double.

Once the current diversionary antics are finished on the floor, the Senate leadership hopes to pass a health care reform bill by its own self-imposed Christmas deadline. This comes after months of debates, town hall meetings, countless revisions and ongoing confusion.

Is the Senate bill still worth passing in the Senate? Most Republicans, on the right, and many Democrats, on the left, say it's not worth passing. Not me. I guess I'm "going rogue" today. I think the Senate should pass this bill. Here's why...

SALINA, Kan. - For more than 100 years, mainstream science has embraced the basic tenets of Darwin's view that characteristics that increase an organism's ability to survive and reproduce will be passed from generation to generation. Scientists later demonstrated that stable, significant traits are indeed inherited in the DNA carried in parental genes on chromosomes and randomly distributed to offspring.

Characteristics that affect an organism's ability to adapt and survive in times of environmental change have been thought to arise by chance through random mutations in an organism's DNA.

However, this view could not explain how such mutations, which arise only rarely, help organisms of every size and variety adapt quickly enough through time. Nor could it explain how diseases that lead to a dramatic loss of survival -- such as diabetes, heart disease, autism, and schizophrenia -- persist in populations. Indeed, genes that directly contribute to these conditions have been difficult to find.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Adam Airoldi, a graduate student in forest ecology and management, and Cate Cogger, an undergraduate in environmental anthropology, have spent several days at the United Nations' international climate change conference in Copenhagen this week.

Arriving days before the meetings, Cate was able to wander around the city and observe pre-conference activities on the streets. She said that on Saturday, thousands of GreenPeace members and empathetic global citizens marched throughout Copenhagen with placards and banners. "Their main message during their march was that the selling and trading of carbon credits is unethical and not a solution to reducing rising CO2 levels within the atmosphere," Cate explained.

Let's Create a Better Future Together

MANHATTAN, Kan. - It's been a fair amount of time since I have written a truly meaningful post that is more than just me covering a story or talking about an issue. Well today I plan to make up for that with this post. This post won't be about any story - just my thoughts on what I think can move Kansas forward.

I am like many other Democrats in this state that haven't been the most thrilled with the recent happenings, out of professional courtesy I won't discuss which happenings these are, but I'm sure you can guess. One thing that is particularly dear to my heart is the Kansas Young Democrats. I took over as KYD President about 4 months ago now. I am very happy to say that we have honestly done a lot statewide. We have increased our number of chapters and taken part in the planning of health care reform rallies held in Kansas City and Wichita. We brought the first Young Democrats of America meeting to ever be held in Kansas (planned for Feb of 2011). We've done multiple community service projects and we've shown that young people have, want and deserve a voice in our state.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to create urgently needed new jobs for construction workers, teachers, police officers, firefighters and others, and to extend critical assistance for the unemployed and those who have lost health insurance. Through this bill, bailout money that had previously been tagged for bailing out corporations on Wall Street would now be redirected to Main Street to help Americans get back to work.

The Jobs for Main Street Act (pdf) is the most recent step in Congress' year-long effort to rescue the economy and stem the crippling impacts of the worst recession in generations.

The legislation uses existing available funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to pay for targeted investments in infrastructure and emergency aid to state and local governments to hire teachers, police officers and other vital personnel.

MS EURODAM, Atlantic Ocean - The 12th Annual Nation Cruise reopened its seminar sessions after two days off to visit the ports of San Juan and Crown Bay, St. Thomas, turning attention to the US economy.

Joining William Greider and Robert Scheer, were Eyal Press, contributing writer for The Nation and author of Absolute Convictions, and Christian Parenti, foreign correspondent for The Nation. Press' role on the panel was to address the social effects of the economic downturn while Parenti would look at developing a sustainable economy. Betsy Reed served as moderator.

Panelists were given 10 minutes to give their answers to "What to do about the economy?" After which they would have an opportunity for a two-minute response to the other panelists before taking questions from the audience.

healthcare.gifSALINA, Kan. - Some programs that the government has previously said would be in deficit in the near future may actually have a surplus instead, once you account for the improved health and productivity of the population if real health care reform is implemented.

As the national discussion of health care focuses on costs, a new study from North Carolina State University shows that it might be more accurate to think of health care spending as an investment that can spur economic growth. The study also shows that government projections of health care costs and financing may be unduly pessimistic.

"Health care spending should be viewed as an investment in future capital, contributing to a productive workforce, rather than merely as an expenditure," says Dr. Al Headen, associate professor of economics at NC State and a co-author of a paper appearing in the Dec. 15 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People are living longer and are retaining their ability to be productive members of society - they are able to work, pay taxes, consume goods and go on vacation.

Bah, Humbug!

WICHITA, Kan. - Bah Humbug

I realize, given that the U. S. is involved in two wars, that health care reform is pretty much down the tubes, that the economy has put many people into poverty, and that the Democrats can't find a viable candidate for governor, what one says as a holiday greeting is small potatoes. However, because I live in Wichita and subscribe to the Wichita Eagle, I do read the Opinion Line. According to Opinion Line callers, the War on Christmas has already begun, with people calling for boycotts of stores in which clerks say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." It has occurred to me that this "war" is symptomatic of something larger in the scheme of things in this country. It indicates to me a lack of civility among people who are simply trying to make life easier as they deal with each other in everyday life.

Healing vs. Wounds

MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - I have just had spine surgery and am currently in the period of inactivity which recovery requires. In the Oxycodone-induced fog that blankets my days, it's hard to separate one thought from the other. I've been thinking of my good fortune in having had a skillful surgeon; I keep reaching for the phone to call my mother, who died of congestive heart failure over a year ago; and my thoughts return again and again to my dear friend Jan Garton, who committed suicide last month. Healing and hurt seem all mixed up together. As T S Eliot wrote, "These fragments I have shored against my ruins." But fragments are ruins, as well as buttresses. Here are three of mine--but whether they amount to a holding up or a falling down, I do not know:

While I was coming out of anesthesia, I hallucinated that my caregivers were looking down on me through a giant microscope, while I lay at the bottom, in a circle of light. Their gaze seemed a part of the light, which felt both warm and bright, the tangible, visible manifestation of kindness. Their helpfulness seemed to match my helplessness exactly, and I relaxed totally into their care. The revelation of their beneficence seemed a glimpse into the nature of the cosmos itself. I was in good hands! Even now I think back on that vision with exhilaration and a sense of having learned something new and wonderful about reality.

tom-wiggans.jpgTOPEKA, Kan. - Tom Wiggans announced that he has ended his exploratory committee, and his campaign for governor. Wiggans announced he was running less than a month ago.

In an email to his supporters, Wiggans said,

What I have learned from my discussions, and from public opinion polling, is that Kansans are hardly in sync with Sam Brownback and they are deeply concerned with the performance of Congress. What I have also learned is that for a candidate who has recently returned to my home state and who has never run for political office, it will take more time and resources than I can assemble to mount a winning campaign. While I have remained involved in many activities in the state over the past years, I have spent much of my business career away from home and thus am unknown to many voters and donors.

Therefore I believe it is in the best interest of the voters for me to end my exploration of running for Governor and entering public service at this time, and instead offer my ideas and experience to state leaders, institutions, and companies and focus my energies on creating new jobs and a strong economy for the future. I am committed to continuing my dialog with the voters of Kansas and becoming fully engaged in the many issues facing our state.

BASEHOR, Kan. - It's 23:00 hours. Do you know where your American officers are?

We had our farewell dinner with our Indian officer and his family last night. Wednesday morning they're off on their way, back to India. One of the main topics of our dinner was the similarity among people everywhere in the world. The same problems, concerns, annoyances, and daily trials that unite us all as human beings. But a troubling issue we discussed in our meal was this, according to the officer we sponsored: out of the 47 foreign officers in a cohort of 61 for this rotation, all 47 foreign officers joined in to create a Facebook page to commemorate their joint experience. Of the 14 American officers in the cohort, only two joined in the effort. Two.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - After a morning of shore leave on Grand Turk Island, the participants of The Nation Cruise sat down to discuss the state of health care reform. Many members in the audience had supported the efforts of Health Care for America Now and other groups pushing for a robust public option. The vast majority of those gathered are unhappy, if not down right disappointed with what has transpired over the past seven months and share a common belief that Obama has failed to lead on this issue.


Health Care Panel: Patricia Williams, Howard Dean,
Betsy Reed, Katrina vanden Heuvel, William Greider
Coming together to express their opinions and what progressives need to be doing in the weeks ahead were panelists Howard Dean; Besty Reed, executive editor of The Nation and author of Going Rouge: An American Nightmare; Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation; and, William Greider. Patricia Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University and author of Open House: Of Family, Friends, Food, Piano Lessons, and the Search for a Room of My Own, moderated the panel.

Williams set the tone by saying we all thought that health care reform was going to be a straight forward discussion, instead it "has become a convoluted reality" that few of us are able to follow. The mission of the panel was to "find something coherent" to say about the issue and bring the discussion back into the realm of understandability.

EMPORIA, Kan. - Today, I was driving past the Lyon County Health Department and noticed a long line of people waiting on the sidewalk to gain entrance. I parked across the street and contacted the security guard who was stationed out front to inquire as to why so many people were waiting. By the way, this was in 15 degree weather!

It turns out that the several hundred people I observed were waiting to receive flu shots! The county was offering $20 seasonal flu shots and free H1N1 [Swine Flu] shots.

This is what passes for health care under the current system. There are 2 systems in this county. One for the insured and well to do and the other in which the working poor are forced to depend on government handouts.

Annual Christmas Essay

HAYS, Kan. - My internal clock tells me that it is time for my almost-annual, semi-curmudgeonly Christmas essay.

There has been the usual tsunami of "Christian-Right" protest items in the newspapers and in e-mail forwardings regarding the secularization of Christmas, the "Happy Holidays" trend (versus "Merry Christmas"), and the like. This wave washes strongly across the High Plains of western Kansas, but I suspect few regions of the U.S. of A. are spared. Perhaps surprisingly, I find myself somewhat in agreement with the "Christian-Right" on this.

It is true that no one has the least idea what day of the year is the true anniversary of the birth of Jesus. The Church designated a day for the celebration, which is reasonable enough, and shrewdly placed it to co-opt the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. One can't blame the Church for being shrewd. If Darwinian principles apply to organizations, there is survival value in shrewdness.

WASHINGTON - The talk now is that the Senate bill has stripped away any mention of a public option in order to capitulate to Joe Lieberman because they need his vote. The story goes that all the Republicans are going to vote against any sort of health care reform because they don't want to see any Obama policy put into law (which is true) and Democrats need Lieberman's vote in order to get any bill passed (which may or may not be true as well). So the Democrats now have the scapegoats they need in place in order to begin the great flim-flam they are going to call "health care reform."

While it is true that the obstructionist party would have voted no on anything that the Democrats put forward and Lieberman has been huffing and puffing all along about what he "will" and "will not" vote for, this is all smoke and mirrors, folks. Let me tell you what is really going on behind the scenes right now.

America Through the Looking Glass

TOPEKA, Kan. - One of my best friends from grade school in Topeka forwarded me an e-mail entitled "Bumper stickers to annoy liberals." I read through them, there were maybe 20 or 30. They were clever, caustic, hostile jokes. Millions of these things swirl around the Internet. Many are falsely attributed to people like Jay Leno or George Carlin and they borrow a little of those satirists' style of sarcasm, but are based on a solidly right wing ideology and they muster up a great deal more genuine, well-stewed hate than those comedians ever could. They lash out furiously at "liberals," whom they see as some sort of subhuman beasts intent on taking everything from them and destroying civilization.

WICHITA, Kan. - Months ago, a couple of friends and I gathered at my small apartment after I had shopped at an organic foods store here in town. The excitement of this fruit's acquisition led to the creation of a work of art that will live on forever on YouTube:

TOPEKA, Kan. - For most students, high school will always be high school, driven by concerns about homework, curfew, popularity and the prom. But students at Southeast of Saline High School received special recognition for their efforts to raise awareness and money to combat domestic violence in Kansas last week.

As part of the kick-off events and press conference for Jana's Campaign, www.janascampaign.org, the domestic violence advocacy movement announced by nationally known activists Christie and Curt Brungardt in honor of their daughter, the late Jana Mackey, the Brungardts drew attention to students in Juanelle Garretson's Life Dimensions class.

GRAND TURK, Turks And Caicos Islands - The participants on the 12th Annual Nation Cruise engaged in lively debate on the issue of foreign policy at the second panel seminar on Monday afternoon.

2009 Nation Cruise
Katrina vanden Heuvel, Robert Scheer, Steven Cohen, William Greider, Howard Dean
Members of the panel included: Robert Scheer, a 30-year veteran journalist, Nation columnist and editor of Truthdig.com; Steven Cohen, retired head of the Russian Department at Princeton University; Willian Greider, journalist, Nation columnist, and author of numerous books including The Soul of Capitalism (2003) and Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country (2009); and Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, presidential candidate and six-term Governor of Vermont.

The stage of the MS Eurodam's performance theatre provided the backdrop as Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, set the tone for the panel discussion by saying that "the cost of war can undermine change." While this was a major theme of the Obama campaign, vanden Huevel also reminded the audience that while Obama ran as an anti-Iraq War candidate, he did not run as an anti-war candidate and that is a notable difference.

GREAT BEND, Kan. - The Democratic party is the voice for working people, farmers, and small business. The Republican party is the voice of Big Business. Never was this contrast between the parties more clear than on February 12, 2007 in the Kansas House of Representatives.

That's the day State Rep. Mark Treaster (D-Pretty Prairie) tried to tone down a corporate welfare bill sponsored by Republicans. The Republicans planned to abolish the "Franchise Tax" on all corporations in Kansas, regardless of size. The "Franchise Tax" is the annual fee that corporations pay to do business in Kansas. At that time, the cap on the franchise tax was $20,000 per corporation, and the franchise tax raised $44 million for the State of Kansas each year.

Democrat Rep. Mark Treaster offered an amendment to eliminate the state's franchise tax on all businesses licensed in Kansas with a taxable equity of a half a million dollars or less. The bill not only would have provided a tax break to small businesses, but also included a provision rewarding those small businesses who provide health insurance to employees. (The exemption could climb to 3 million if the company provided health insurance for workers.)

Who could be against such a win/win bill for both small businesses and the everyday Kansans who work for them? The Kansas Republican legislative delegation, that's who. The Treaster amendment was defeated 73-48. The vote was strictly along party lines.

Why did the Republicans object to the Treaster amendment?

Obstructionist Senators

brownback.jpgCOLBY, Kan. - We have 2 senators, just like the other 49 states. Well, no, they aren't just like all the other senators. Some senators are contributing input to the health care issue and the war issue our nation is facing.

What do we hear from our senators? Not much! About all they are doing is standing in the way. We cannot have health care reform by default. When we have to put up with a 41% minority holding legislation hostage, the wheels of progress come to a standstill. They need to either actively become vocal with solutions to the inequity of our system or move to support allowing a vote on what has been proposed. Our system of government is supposed to protect the human rights and welfare of the minorities in society. That does not mean the minorities should be able to limit, indefinitely, the ability of the majority to effectively enact legislation that has majority support.

EURODAM, Atlantic Ocean - The Nation's 12th Annual Cruise got underway this morning with The Nation's editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Robert Scheer (Truthdig.com/LA Times) interviewing Gov. Howard Dean, Chair of the Democratic Party.


Katrina vanden Heuvel, Howard Dean, Robert Scheer
Scheer opened the discussion by looking at the two major issues facing the nation: the escalation of the war in Afghanistan and the banking crisis.

While the Democratic Party often has been the party of war in recent history, Scheer thought the party had made fundamental changes following the disaster of the Vietnam War and its fallout. But instead, what he heard in Obama's recent speech at West Point in which he outlined his intent to send an additional 30,00 troops to Afghanistan is that the party "seems to be back to (the days of) Scoop Jackson."

LAWRENCE, Kan. - As I sat in Prof. Harry Shaffer's "Economics 101" class in 1979 as a sophomore, the KU professor dropped, what was for me, a bombshell. "Lawrence had a public swimming pool called The Jayhawk Plunge," he said. "Anyone in town could buy a day pass and swim there, except black people," he said. For all I knew he was talking about the "Bleeding Kansas" era.


John Brown, from State Capitol mural, Topeka, Kansas
Then he said something that caused my jaw to drop. "We organized pickets, and protested at The Jayhawk Plunge all through the 1960's," he said. "The pool was finally integrated in 1969," he said.

I was dumbstruck. Just ten years before I had enrolled at KU, Lawrence, Kansas would not admit blacks to the only public swimming pool in town? I thought Lawrence was settled by New England abolitionists, and that Lawrence was different, progressive. What happened to the spirit of John Brown?

Although Kansas was pitched to former slaves as "The Promised Land," and "The Land of John Brown," I knew from growing up in Great Bend that Kansas didn't deliver as promised to thousands of Exoduster families who migrated here starting in 1879.

TOPEKA, Kan. - On July 3, 2008, Christie Brungardt received news that is every mother's worst nightmare. Her 25-year-old daughter, Jana Mackey, a KU law student, had been killed by her daughter's ex-boyfriend in Lawrence.

Jana was well-known throughout Kansas for her advocacy for women's rights. A Hays native, Jana had spent years volunteering to aid victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in Topeka and Lawrence. She received her bachelor's degree in Women's Studies from KU and was an active participant in KU's Commission on the Status of Women. Jana also served as one of the youngest lobbyists at the Kansas State Capitol for the National Organization for Women.

On Thursday, more than a year after Jana's murder, about 50 people attended a news conference at the Topeka YMCA. Attendees heard Christie Brungardt and Jana's stepfather, Curt Brungardt, both also of Hays, announce the roll-out of Jana's Campaign to Stop Domestic Violence.

Realizing that other women continue to suffer the same tragic fate as their daughter, the Brungardts believe that much more must be done to adequately protect women in Kansas.

The Road to Health Care Reform

TOPEKA, Kan. - Moments ago on the Senate floor, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts compared health care reform to a pivotal moment in American history. Of the following five options, can you tell us which it was...

A) The passage of the Social Security Act
B) Pearl Harbor
C) Man walking on Moon
D) Balloon Boy
E) None of the above

Click here to submit your guess on what Pat Roberts compared health care reform too!

If you get it right, you'll get a sneak peek of the new KDP website. trust me, (you'll want to see it!)

P.S. The answer and video is below, but we'll trust you! ;)

HAYS, Kan. - According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some U.S. homes built or remodeled between 2001 and 2008 contain imported drywall, known in the press as Chinese drywall. The defective drywall gives off a toxic sulfuric gas that is thought to corrode metal components in homes and create health and safety problems for residents.

Some consumers who live in these homes have reported health and safety problems, including a strong sulfur smell, like rotten eggs; health issues, like irritated and itchy eyes and skin, difficulty breathing, a persistent cough and headaches; and premature corrosion or deterioration of certain metal components in their homes, like air conditioner coils and wiring behind electrical outlets and inside electrical panel boxes.

To date, the federal government has received 2,276 complaints of defective drywall from homeowners in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. State governments and local authorities have received untold numbers of additional reports. No complaints have yet been verified in Kansas, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would like homeowners to notify KDHE if they suspect that Chinese drywall may have been installed anywhere in Kansas.

TOPEKA, Kan. - A 72-year-old woman from the Wichita metro area has died from infection with the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

It is important to note that the number of deaths confirmed to be caused by pandemic H1N1 influenza under-represents the true number of deaths; many more deaths may have been caused by the virus in Kansas. Numbers are not complete because routine testing for H1N1 was stopped earlier this year because once a patient has acquired a flu-like illness, those with the swine flu are offered the same medications as thought with just seasonal flu.

The great majority of all influenza or pneumonia-related deaths that occur (pneumonia is the most common severe complication of influenza) do not have a confirmatory lab result associated with them.

Though the vaccine is not yet widely available in all counties to all Kansans, Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Kansas State Health Officer, points out, "Healthy adults are susceptible to severe complications of the pandemic H1N1 flu virus."

SALINA, Kan. - A newly discovered dinosaur that lived approximately 215 million years ago (Triassic Period) in the region of New Mexico in the United States is providing a team of paleontologists new information on early dinosaur evolution.

Reported in the December 11 issue of Science, an analysis of Tawa hallae, a meat-eating theropod dinosaur between two-and-four meters long, reveals that the early history of theropods was characterized by waves of migration from South America, not just localized or regional species diversification.

Originally excavated in 2006 at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico, two nearly complete skeletons and several other partial specimens of Tawa hallae provided the scientists with the samples they needed to complete a full anatomical analysis and model its evolutionary history.

COLBY, Kan. - Latinos now make up about 14 percent of the nation's workforce. Rural Midwestern and Great Plains states have experienced rapid increases in immigrant populations in recent years, as workers from Latin America have moved to small towns to work in the meatpacking and construction trades. This shift has heightened discussion in these states about the impacts of immigration on both local cultures, economies, service industries and crime.

Industries located in rural Kansas, such as meat-packing, create job opportunities that bring significant numbers of Latino workers and their families to our small- and medium-sized towns.

This influx of Latino migrants is often met with resistance from other Kansas residents, who fear increases in crime and poverty rates will accompany the population growth.

But a new study from North Carolina State University debunks some of those fears.

brownback.jpgTOPEKA, Kan. - Too little, too late Sam.

After a 25 year career in Washington, Sam Brownback has suddenly become aware of the staggering size of the U.S. debt -- and not a moment too soon, as he's ambitiously seeking the Governor's mansion in Kansas this cycle. The Kansas City Star explains:

...Sam Brownback of Kansas [snip] along with 23 colleagues from both sides of the aisle, believe that the imbalance between spending and revenue is too worrisome to ignore.

But as usual with Brownback it's just another move of political expediciency. Just as Brownback is leaving the Senate he's suddenly rediscovered his inner "fiscal responsibility" just in time for election.

During his time in Congress, a staggering $7 trillion has been added to the U.S. debt -- with hardly a peep in opposition from Kansas' junior Senator. In fact, as I'll detail below, Sam Brownback has been a leading contributor to the problem over the last two decades.

SALINA, Kan. - As Congress debates financial regulatory reform and the Obama Administration advocates for greater consumer financial protection, a new study finds a need for Congressional action on fringe banking practices used heavily by financially vulnerable families.

About 60 million Americans live without a bank account and resort to using pawn shops, payday loan storefronts and other non-bank operations to handle their finances, according to a report issued a few days ago by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Payday lending is a practice that has become part of the growing web of fringe banking largely concentrated in low-income and disproportionately minority communities. It allows lenders to provide cash advances on post-dated checks and has increasingly become a way for financially-strapped families and individuals to obtain money in the short-run.

Nearly all of these loans come with exorbitantly high interest rates and fees, and these monetary costs to families who become trapped by them has been well documented.

Aren't these non-banking systems providing a valuable service to Kansans? Who pays the most - and who profits the most - in Kansas? Why should we care?

TOPEKA, Kan. - As anybody who has followed my writing here on Kansas Free Press or at Everyday Citizen knows, I am a passionate advocate for ending domestic violence. My advocacy stems from my friendship with one of the most amazing women I've ever met, Jana Mackey, whose life was taken much too early by the epidemic of domestic violence that engulfs the world.

In a world where 1 in 4 women will be subjected to some form of domestic abuse, it is hard to find hope. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Here in Kansas, Curt and Christie Brungardt, Jana's parents, have started an organization whose goal is to eliminate domestic violence. While that may seem like a lofty goal, I think we can all agree that it is a worth one.

So, I implore you to join Curt and Christie this Thursday in Topeka for the kickoff press conference for Jana's Campaign to Stop Domestic Violence. Here is the information:

Thursday, December 10, 2009, 10:00 a.m.
YWCA (North Door Entrance)
225 SW 12th Street
Topeka, Kansas

For more information please visit www.janascampaign.org

MANHATTAN, Kan. - As a nation we have been slow to evolve in our understanding of human rights. When asked, most of us think that civil rights are human rights. They are, but they are only the beginning.

Civil rights are basically your right to be created equal to everyone else. Civil rights are incomplete if they are not accompanied by economic, social, political, and cultural rights. Unfortunately early on in the civil rights struggle, here was a big battle in the NAACP over human vs. civil rights. At the heart of this battle were two men: Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP and a lawyer who could pass as white, and W. E. B. DuBois one of the founders of the NAACP. DeBois asked: "Why should we ask for only one of the five rights categories?" Eventually, White won, and force out an ever more radical DeBois from the NAACP which set human rights back 50 years. Equality is precious but is incomplete.

Political rights are closely related to the Bill of Rights - the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. They cover codes such as freedom of speech, assembly, and the right to vote. But they also cover such things as forbidding torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; slavery or involuntary servitude; arbitrary arrest and detention; and, debtor's prisons. Political rights forbid propaganda advocating either war or hatred based on race, religion, national origin, language, sex or gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,

Political rights provide for the right to equality before the law; the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty (something our mass media often forgets these days); the right to appeal a conviction; the right to be recognized as a person before the law; the right to privacy and protection of that privacy by law.

money-200px-wide.jpgHAYS, Kan. - National economic indicators may signal the end of the recession, but here in the Midwest and specifically in Kansas, the job market is teetering. Companies are still laying off workers. New data shows communities reliant on the farm economy may be the last to rebound.

The November Business Conditions Index for the Mid-America region, a leading economic indicator from a survey of supply managers in a nine-state area, slumped to its lowest level since May of this year. The index stood at 47.5, which was down from October's 51.8 and September's much healthier 56.2. An index of 50.0 is considered growth neutral.

The leading economic indicator for Kansas sank from October's reading. The November Business Conditions Index, based on a survey of Kansas supply managers, stood at 42.1, down from October's 50.0.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - On December 10 the world marks the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is commonly referred to as Human Rights Day and this year's theme is: "Embrace Diversity: End Discrimination."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillary said: "Discrimination lies at the root of many of the world's most pressing human rights problems. No country is immune from this scourge. Eliminating discrimination is a duty of the highest order."

Download and read An End to Discrimination, the official publication for the 2009 Human Rights Day.

How appropriate considering that the FBI released hate crimes data in November that once again showed a "slight increase" in the number of "hate crimes" committed in 2008 as compared to 2007 with 7,783 incidents and 9,691 victims (including individuals, businesses, and institutions) that were reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies across the country.

HAYS, Kan. - With Sen. Sam Brownback (R) not seeking reelection to the Senate in order to launch his run for Kansas Governor, two House Republicans are apparently in a dead heat in the Republican Primary for the open U.S. Senate seat. The primary contest is now just 8 months away.


Jerry Moran
Earlier this fall it appeared that Jerry Moran had the lead. In November, Todd Tiahrt catapulted forward and is now running neck-and-neck with Moran.

The two are effectively tied. Moran is nominally ahead by 3 points, 37% to 34%, according to this latest SurveyUSA poll conducted for KWCH-TV Wichita and KCTV-TV Kansas City.

Who will win? The conservative or the maverick? And which is which?

Contrary to popular myth, the facts show that Tiarht is slightly more independent, more of a maverick legislator. On the other hand, Moran tends to vote in lockstep more consistently with the Republican leadership in Washington. Closer scrutiny shows that Moran is indeed the more conservative of the two.

Change the Tone of Our Discourse

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Where I work we happen to sell a President Obama bobble head doll that speaks when you push the button beneath him. I know you all know what I'm talking about - it's the kind of thing that you see while you're waiting in line at a Walgreens and then you make it talk even though you know the 5 people ahead of you already did it and the cashier is most likely going insane. Obviously, working around one of these dolls can get rather obnoxious.

After listening to this Obama bobble head day after day, however, I began to actually think about what I was hearing. Granted, the doll spouts about 6 different quotes (rather impressive actually...the sound quality is crystal clear!) but the one that I hear the most is from the election night speech in Chicago:

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there."

university-of-kansas.gifLAWRENCE, Kan. - As KU faces off against UCLA in basketball today, it brings back memories of seven foot legends Wilt Chamberlain for KU and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabaar) for UCLA. But they weren't the first.

In the fall semester of 1927, University of Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen quietly planned a basketball revolution. With little fanfare, Phog Allen enrolled the first known seven foot basketball player in classes at Lawrence.

In the 1920's, a player 6' 4" was considered extremely tall, and a player seven foot tall was unthinkable. Harry Kersenbrock enrolled at KU, and quickly earned the nickname "Big" from his KU classmates. At the time, freshmen were not eligible to play varsity, so Kersenbrock played for the freshman team.

This was 1927 - long before anyone had heard of giants Bob Kurland at Oklahoma A & M, George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers, or even Wilt Chamberlain.
Kersenbrock was raised in Crete, NE, and people didn't know what to make of the sometimes clumsy "freak of nature."

GREAT BEND, Kan. - If there was a way Tiger Woods could visit his father's grave in Manhattan, Kansas today, I'm sure he would. Earl Woods' always kept a close watch over Tiger, and his death on May 3, 2006 probably had an impact we are only realizing today. Maybe we should have seen it coming.

Earl Woods was an African-American pioneer in his own right. Born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas, Earl Woods was the first African-American baseball player in the Big 7. The Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues showed an interest in signing the catcher to play professional baseball, but Woods turned them down, graduating from college in 1953, and becoming a Green Beret in the Army.

Woods retired from the service as a Lt. Colonel, and he always emphasized discipline and self-control in raising Tiger. In a letter to Great Bend's Frances Burns (widow of Earl's Ban Johnson baseball coach in Great Bend in the summer of 1951) Woods mentions "discipline." He wrote that the discipline he learned from Coach Al Burns in baseball "has helped me in teaching Tiger and has directly contributed to his success."

ELLSWORTH, Kan. - Rookie State Representative Don Svaty (D-108th) is a man of many accomplishments. However, he is usually introduced to people as "Josh Svaty's father." Svaty, speaking to Rice County Democrats on Wednesday night, seems smitten with the situation, and is justifiably proud of his son, Joshua Svaty, the new Agriculture Secretary for the State of Kansas.


Josh Svaty
Fresh out of Sterling College in 2002, Josh Svaty had barely reached the legal drinking age when he challenged two-term Republican State Representative Jerry Aday. Svaty stunned the political establishment when he upset the incumbent in the 2002 general election, becoming the youngest member of the Kansas House of Representatives.

When Governor Parkinson recently tapped Joshua Svaty to become Kansas Agriculture Secretary, Josh's Dad, an Ellsworth County farmer, was unanimously selected by 32 Democratic precinct committee members in the 108th District to replace his son. This is probably the only time in Kansas history that a parent has succeeded his or her child in the legislature.

A Photographers Journey


KANSAS CITY, Kan. - My father, Steve Curtis, has been a photographer since I've was born. Over the years his love for photography and the arts has transformed and taken him from being a commercial photographer to a teacher and to an all around artist.

Here's a video about my dad and his journey.

GREAT BEND, Kan. - The Newton, Kansas telephone book is full of Unruhs. Newton is where thousands of German-Mennonite families like the Unruhs immigrated. They introduced Turkey Red Winter Wheat to Kansas, which transformed Kansas into the "Breadbasket of the World."

On September 30, 1922 Jesse Marvin Unruh was born in Newton. He was raised in poverty, and his sharecropper family moved on to Texas when Jesse was only 7 years old. But Kansas left it's imprint on Jesse Unruh, and he left his imprint on the world.

Politicians are often advised not to say memorable things. But Jesse Unruh couldn't refrain from saying memorable things, and is often remembered more for two quotations than for his role in history.

This son of Kansas sharecroppers became Speaker of the California State Assembly, and his maxim that "Money is the mother's milk of politics," paled in comparison to what he once said about lobbyists' influence in the legislature: "If you can't drink a lobbyist's whiskey, take his money, sleep with his women, and still vote against him in the morning, you don't belong in politics." Now that's a "sound bite."

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This is an archive page containing all stories published in Kansas Free Press in December 2009. These are listed from newest to oldest.

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