Front Page » Story Type: Analysis

Highway Robbery

Kansas citizens are indebted, twice. They owe a debt of gratitude to Ed Flentje and Insight Kansas, for fully reporting their other debt.

Their other debt, in dollars, totals $4.5 billion with a B, to be exact. That debt will be paid by them and their children for untold years to come -courtesy of their "conservative" leaders.

Says Exodus 34:7, "the sins of the legislature shall be visited on their children and their children's children, unto the third and the fourth generation." Or something like that.

By now, Kansans should be used to the dark-of-night skullduggery perpetrated by those who pose as leaders, but are really mere lackeys for the big-bucks-boys.

Six lines buried deep in a 700-page appropriation bill last spring gave the Kansas Department of Transportation unlimited authority to issue debt. KDOT borrowed $400 million, the largest single highway bond in state history. For roads, allegedly.

But in December, the Guv and KDOT bank silently 'swept' said $400 million into the general fund, for a total of $436 million last year. Bad as that is, they have been at it for awhile. Total Brownback raids of KDOT: $1.6 billion. And get this: KDOT can continue borrowing without further authorization for the next year and a half!

So much for their old saw about living on the family budget. It's time to put your friendly local legislator on notice.

Adding insult to injury, $400 mill is a mere finger in the dike of the $700 million hole Sam's unfair and indefensible tax program has created so far.

We Kansas plains folk have a plain and simple name for this--highway robbery!

Back in the frontier's darker days, we knew what to do with such brigands. Today, we just elect 'em.

Until next time.

Reading a political party platform is probably considered by most people to be at the ho-hum level of watching paint dry. However, it is in the platform that people can discover what a political party values and what it stands for. .

I don't know how Republicans develop their platform. I do know, since I'm a Democrat and active in the Kansas Democratic Party, that the Kansas Democrats develop their platform with the input from a platform committee. This committee is made up of people holding elected office, Democratic Party officers, caucus chairs, county chairs, and district chairs. Democrats throughout the state have a say by letting members of the platform committee know about issues that need to be addressed. However, most people are involved in their day-to-day lives and seldom think about communicating to committee members before the committee meets the day before Demofest, one of two KDP state meetings held during the year.

Guarding the Kansas Henhouse

Life on my grandfather's farm in some ways epitomized the rural farm life I still envision as the ideal Kansas life. Neighbors helped each other, there was plenty of fresh air and beautiful country. Everywhere there was (with small exceptions) an atmosphere of trust.

If there were problems, they could usually be handled 'in-neighborhood.' Until they couldn't. For example, one neighbor raised a large number of chickens. Although he knew wild critters ran the creeks nearby, he was confident his hen house and collie dog were sufficient for protection. Until they weren't.

One day the farmer awoke, dressed, and walked out to feed his chickens. Only half were left. Both farmer and chickens were traumatized. The slaughter was widespread and ugly. Few spots were left unbloodied. Feathers still drifted, as if still frantically attempting escape, in the early morning breeze. The hens never knew what hit them.

Years later, we Kansans awoke to a much larger, more devastating, raid. The Kansas Teagislature, at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning, raided the public treasury of up to 10 million dollars annually, handing that $10-million gift to corporations (they deduct 70%) to siphon off from public schools to private schools, for "scholarships." This allows them to teach their choice of curriculum to their choice of students, at your expense.

Not only that, they simultaneously slaughtered teacher's due process rights, courtesy of our own non-Senator, Republican Tom Arpke. That due process chicken house had been safe for 60 years--yet both blows to public education were done in one dastardly late-night raid.

With no opportunity for debate, the amendments to the Education Funding bill can only be characterized as a surprise attack.

The process echoed Sam Brownback's earlier perversion of the legislative process. The one which shot a cannonball through the general welfare. The "experiment" making Kansas perhaps the leading example of irresponsible, regressive, unfair tax policy. The tax giveaway handing tank car loads of state money over to--not 1,900, not 19,100--but 191,000--that's One-Hundred-Ninety-One-THOUSAND relatively well-off partnerships and limited liability corporations.

Making it worse, they didn't ASK for it. Many or most would just as soon have that tax money kept to help others in the state. But the Brownback/ Americans for Prosperity/ American Legislative Exchange Council juggernaut of lies-in-advertising seems to have blinded enough Kansans to this reality: The chickens--no, in this case a huge nest of foxes--have come home to roost in their hen house.

According to the Kansas City Star, "Urged on by conservative special interests such as Americans for Prosperity, Republican leaders pressed hard to eliminate due process rights for teachers." The AFP agenda often mirrors that of ALEC, and both are heavily funded by the right-wing big-bucks boys. The Nation previously reported that "untold sums of cash" have been poured into ALEC by the Koch brothers.

But Kansans are waking up. Hopefully in time to clean up the bloodletting and restore the hen house population.

We Kansans remember Sam Brownback's calling in a large group of lobbyists to demand they donate to his list of replacement candidates. Brownback's chosen frozen replaced legislators who actively asked questions, who did not knuckle under to the Brownback/AFP/ALEC agenda, who served the people, not Sam's special-interest underwriters. Thus did hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars in false advertising subvert the will of the people. The latest example: A television ad showing the Guv cavorting with kindergartners while his cohorts undercut public education. Kansans should not buy it.

We Kansans remember the raids on education and social services, the huge budget hole in the ship of state, sinking it under waves of debt, the general lack of compassion, concern--or sanity--in the making of public policy.

We Kansans now recognize similar local 'anti-tax' candidates who have no clue about sound public policy, who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We Kansans take little comfort in the discovery that ALEC has now sired a little (big) brother, the "American City County Exchange (ACCE) that will target policymakers from "villages, towns, cities and counties." Thus could some already clueless local lawmakers become even more susceptible to deception.

But we Kansans still have the vote. As Richard Crowson, Wichita media commentator, recently noted, "If you're just blaming cowardly, anti-education legislators, you are wrong. Our Legislature was not beamed to earth from another planet. They were elected." And they can be un-elected.

There's more than one way to guard a henhouse.

Drought: We Can Learn from Job

Out here on McDowell Creek there was a beautiful snowfall a few days ago, rain the next day, a cloudburst last night, and now fog today. While runoff is gathering in puddles, our hope is growing: Maybe it won't be a drought year after all.

"A drought has a long tail," my neighbor told me back in 2012, the summer without rainfall. "We're not out of it yet," he told me when the rains came that fall.

He was so right. Even though we had some good rains in 2013 and above average snows this February, we have also had, just about every day for at least three years now--wind.

In preparation for leasing our pastures to a cow-calf operation, we checked our ponds. We were shocked! Our black lab Deci walked right across pools that not too long ago we couldn't reach the bottom of, not even with a canoe paddle stretched straight down. Our prospective renters were people we wanted to work with, but we had to tell them no. Our ponds were just too low.

In fact, all of our water sources--seeps, springs, McDowell Creek itself--are looking puny. The likely culprit--that constant wind. It must be causing evaporation that's greater than whatever amount of precipitation we receive. Things just keep getting dryer and dryer.

So we might be in for it again this year. We dread the thought of lack of water--what it does to soils, plants, animals, and people.

But if it is another dry year we have to recognize that it's part of the package of living on the tall grass prairie.

You don't get the one without the other.

Bare-Brained Idiocy

In the Kansas legislative session that has included such crazy antics as the House passing a bill to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the name of "religious freedom," a sonogram on the House floor, and consideration of bills to end no-fault divorce, to send tax money to private schools, including those run by religious institutions, and a bill spelling out how far an adult can go in applying corporal punishment on a child's bottom, it should be no surprise that SB 401 has reared its crazy head.

SB 401, which has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, "removes from public, private, and parochial schools the defense of literary or artistic merit or significance when someone accuses the school of exposing students to 'offensive' materials." This information, from the Kansas NEA's Under the Dome newsletter, lets teachers know what they would be in for if they used instructional materials such as Michelangelo's David, materials that exposed children to nudity or language that some consider offensive.

The Creek Field is alive with strange powers!

Our Creek Field is 30 acres of cropground, bordered on three sides by McDowell Creek. In March, we seeded it back to native, a first step on the long journey of restoring bottomland prairie.

The first prairie restorationists were martyrs: they spent weeks on their hands and knees weeding their precious plots. But through experience they learned that "succession" would do much of the work for them. Succession is a natural progression from annuals to perennials, nature's way of healing the "wound" of open ground. Annuals germinate quickly, blossom, and set seed, holding the soil while perennials inconspicuously build up their roots. It can take years, but annuals are the warm-up act: they will make their bows and exit when the perennials take the stage.

I was therefore not worried when in late spring the first tiny seedlings to emerge were annual weeds--beggars' tick, prickly lettuce, hedge parsley, ragweed, horseweed, foxtail. I knew these raggedy, prickly plants had a role to play. But built into my preconception of succession was the idea that the beginning was inferior to the end. I thought I had to endure an unattractive first stage in order to get to some place better. Little did I know that while the land was healing itself, I would be healing my own lack of understanding!

No bull about climate change

I, for one, am grateful for Salina Journal editor Roshana Ariel's comments and research. Agree with her or not, she is direct, honest, self-revelatory--and offers many new perspectives for consideration. Most importantly, she doesn't pretend to be chief surfer on any ideological wave.

Her October 19 column had a lot of meat on it, and in it. Plenty of food for thought, from the Hamburger Project's future lab-produced meat to Allan Savory's TED talk, where he claimed we can save the world from becoming a desert--and even mitigate global warming-- through better livestock grazing. That's one tall order.

Especially because beef has always been problematic. Many argue that the most direct protein delivery is straight from plant to stomach, bypassing all the energy and cost, in dollars, water, and calories, to raise cattle or other livestock. Yet steakhouses proliferate, and many fast food chains are still thought of as 'hamburger joints,' even though they serve chicken strips and salads. There is no denying the appetite for beef.

In pursuit of this appetite, staggering acreages are planted to water-thirsty and input-hungry corn, much of which goes (after our other addiction, automobile ethanol) to feed cattle. Far-too-cheap permits for livestock grazing on federal lands remains controversial and contributes to habitat destruction.

Compounding those negatives is the demand for greater and greater production of bigger and bigger cattle.

Perhaps the ugliest example of this trend taken to extremes is the new Belgian Blue. Anyone asking, "Where's the beef?" need only google "Supercow" to get an idea of what the beasts look like. Their sculpted, heavily muscled appearance, known as "double-muscling, " is a heritable condition which results in increased numbers of muscle fibers. It is One. Big. Ugly. Cow. So big it can barely stand on its own. Although leaner (a virtue, for some producers), the beef yield per cow is huge.

This big cow trend, however, has come into disfavor among some cattlemen who have been inundated by large dollar requirements for grain, antibiotics, and other inputs. Back even in 2010, the Kansas Rural Center hosted a Kansas Graziers Conference to investigate raising smaller animals. As presenter Kit Pharo then said, "(Many) Western Kansas ranches were put together and paid for with 350-lb. calves, and now those same ranches are struggling to make it with 600-lb. calves."

So, in the midst of all this doom and gloom for the cattle industry, comes Allan Savory, whose news is, well, savory. At its heart, Savory's recommendation is for 'rotational grazing,' which utilizes moving cattle to different pastures, whether permanently fenced or with mobile electric fence, or moving them by cow herders. All this controls grazing impacts for the health of the land, the animals, and the people who raise and eat them.

I first became enamored of Savory because of an email from Tim Hobson. Tim, now deceased, was one of the most persistent researchers and evangelizers in the Resilience Group. One day last year, he sent out Savory's TED talk to the group for discussion. Savory grabs attention particularly with his claim that wise grazing practice can not only reclaim deserts, but likely reduce spreading deserts, thus combatting global warming.

Other farmer/cattle raisers echo his claims, though not focusing on the climate change argument. Kit Pharo practices rotational grazing. Joel Salatin, featured in recent food films "Fresh" and "Food, Inc.", grazes rotationally. As he states on his Polyface Farms website: "This natural model heals the land, thickens the forage, reduces weeds, stimulates earthworms, reduces pathogens, and increases nutritional qualities in the meat." A former college colleague of mine, now full-time farmer/stockman Dale Strickler, regularly has a graziers' forum at the Kansas Rural Center. When I phoned, he confirmed his long-term and beneficial use of the moving-paddock practice.

Heartening news, all round. Certainly, reclaiming desert land is a goal few would reject.

But the rub comes in Savory's claim that this can be a solution to climate change--not to mention his added claims of increased productivity, water infiltration and utilization, nitrogen availability and carbon sequestration (two possibly competing claims).

As some scientists pointed out in our Resilience discussion, peer-reviewed studies reject such sweeping claims. Convincing as Savory's TED talk is, gripping graphics and swelling music do not a convincing argument make.

It's good to seek solutions. It is, however, unwise to pin our hopes on any magic bullets. Savory or unsavory, the only way to work our way out of world-wide threats to our existence is by working together intelligently, not savior-seeking. And that's no bull.

A funny thing happened on the way to the first day of school at Minneha Core Knowledge Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas.

Minneha fourth graders study the five major religions of the world (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, & Buddhism) focusing on the history and geography of the ancient civilizations that gave birth to these religions. To that end, the school personnel crafted a bulletin board explaining the Five Pillars of Islam. Keeping in mind the bulletin board was not encouraging a belief in this faith but simply educating the students about their beliefs.

The Wichita Eagle reported that a parent took a picture of the bulletin board and posted it on Facebook with the sentence, "Prepare to Take America Back."
Of course, in this viral age, the Facebook posting spread quickly across the conservative blogs with other captions exclaiming, "This is a school that banned all forms of Christian prayer...This cannot stand."

Yes, in Wichita, Kansas-the bible belt of the nation, parents don't cotton to such radical notions as learning about the history of other religions except promoting their own faith at school.

And that is exactly the point. It must have been rather shocking for some parents in the district to face the reality that a school was educating students about other religions when the expectation has been one of promoting and upholding only the Christian faith in USD-259.

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