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Manhattan, KS. Many have struggled during the past 6 years of the Brownback administration to find their voice as the radical conservatives in the Kansas Legislature set about to dismantle the State of Kansas we loved. Finally, in the 2016 election cycle, Kansans began taking back the state from the ALEC minions who had been elected under Brownback's watchful eye. But there is still much work to be done to reverse the unjust tax system and give back the financial support our public schools and universities need to educate our future generations. The Kansas People's Agenda hopes to give voice to those who are opposed to the direction the State of Kansas has taken under Brownback.

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Straight Shooters in Topeka

One quiet morning in my sunlit living room, I heard it on the radio, from Reuters. "Kansas Senate to consider Senate Bill 45, to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit." Hair raised on the back of my neck. Black clouds sent the room into darkness. Trying to remain calm, I stuck my head outside. Nope, no armed ruffians patrolling the streets, yet. But knowing how hastily our legislators have acted on bad ideas before, who knows? They could be out there. I silently mused at the irony of calling it Senate Bill 45. Why not SB 30-ought-6? Or SB Ak-47? Or SB M-16?

With a sigh of relief, I found they hadn't passed it yet. But then, sitting right there in my calm, weapons-free, quiet living room, I pondered, and had a revelation. The clouds parted. Light hit me, blinding as Saul's on the Road to Damascus. We Kansans are smart, so we surely elect smart people. My careful analysis finally detected the method in their madness.

Think of the benefits! My friend, for example, hates bureaucracy, so he's dead set against getting a permit. With this law passed, no problem. Weapons are easy enough to find. And here's a solution to his pesky neighbor dog barking till all hours of the night. Simple. One well-aimed shot should do it. If the neighbor objected, well, my friend would still have his peacemaker at his side--but hidden, of course, in case he really needed it.

If the neighbor's a faster draw or better shot, well, that's kind of immaterial, in the larger scheme of things. As we all know, our legislators have their eye on the larger picture, and so should we.

It's a pure matter of the free market measuring out beneficial outcomes, without the clutter and fuss of regulation and the cost of hiring government employees or law enforcement to oversee or enforce such regulation. Humans can sort out situations like this, or as some say, God will do it.

No, this innovative legislation is aimed at the larger economy. Clearly, the legislators envision more expansive horizons. Imagine for a moment the whole vast new industry of shops gearing up for more detailed weaponry training. Quick-draw would be a new skill, but people would pay, say, $500 a pop. Simple marksmanship could bring $250.

Training could occur on new shooting ranges, like the one recently denied a permit in Saline County. With the new law in place, neighbor's objections to such ranges would certainly be beaten back. It could become a weekend sport as popular as boating or baseball.

People compelled to keep their skills updated would guarantee a constant flow of income for entrepreneur gun and ammo salesman, trainers, shooting range operators, and a new category, camouflage experts. Granted, some customers might die, but simple fear would guarantee a continuing flow of new customers.
And we entrepreneurs could cash in. Given Kansas' new no-tax campaign to encourage business growth, I could incorporate, start partnerships with concrete companies, and build underground shelters featuring a year's supply of food and water. My patented new innovation: a rotating, bullet-proof-glass, gun turret. This would allow customers to take out pesky neighbors or hungry, angry area refugees coming for my shelter and supplies. They'd be no match for my perimeter alarm system.

After all, if Kris Kobach can profit, why not us? Kobach already cashed in on his new M-16-like Minute Man assault rifle, kept free from federal regulation by the Kansas 2013 law he helped write. He's no fool, so I'll buy some of Kris's guns to arm my gun turret. That way, we can both share in the profits, tax-free.

I am so proud of this legislature. They simply cannot be outdone in their effort to make us a free people. That is, I thought so till this morning, when I read that Oklahoma is considering a bill to allow guns into the halls of their legislature. Oklahoma's free-wheeling legislation will allow enforcement of the people's will--and right now! Why can't Kansas pass such fine laws?

It's all fun to watch, but it's the weekend and I'm bored. Till next week's legislative session, I guess I'll just go back to my calm, weapons-free, quiet living room, make some tea, listen to music, read, and wait for Armageddon to finally get here. Or write Sam Brownback to tell him how grateful I am that he got rid of those pesky moderates.

Listening to Heart-Speech

Sometimes our hearts tell us things.

When we lived in town we had a neighbor who would put her hand up to the right side of her face, like a blinder, whenever she left her house. One day I asked her why. She pointed to the new buildings in the ravine at the end of our street. "Those houses--I can't bear to see them," she said. "My children used to play there. It was all woods. We had picnics--"

Her voice broke, and she didn't finish her sentence.

But her meaning was clear:

We bond with landscape just as we do with people, and the breaking of those bonds hurts just as much.

But growth is the one thing our modern capitalist society cannot do without. When housing-starts fall off, the economy is in trouble. When people stop buying consumer items, the economy is in trouble. Expansion, constant expansion, is what we need. Therefore, we are trained to suppress stabs of grief such as my neighbor felt. "Well, that's progress," we are supposed to say, resignedly, when a highway, shopping mall, or subdivision replaces the greenspace we had loved.

But our hearts keep talking.

Enter writers, whose job it is to hear heart-speech and then express it through their own creations.

Kansas for Sale?

Just yesterday, I was distributing flyers for a local candidate while wearing my Davis-Docking shirt. The Royals had won the pennant, it was a beautiful fresh fall-air day, and folks were mostly in a good mood. I came upon a fellow watering his plants, handed him a card and urged him to vote for my candidate and for Paul Davis and Jill Docking . As I walked on, he said derisively, "Oh, I see, Obama Democrats, eh?" "No, just Democrats--and fellow citizens, like you," I replied.

His remark could just be dismissed, except that we know exactly where that came from. His own misconceptions--and the latest TV ads. I am not trying to be pious here. I've been watching TV ads too. Who can escape the constant bombardment? Millions are being spent by NRA, Americans for "Prosperity," the Chamber of Commerce, outside campaign groups buying a force-fed stream of oversimplifications, exaggerations, character defamation, and outright lies.

In the Governor's race alone, nearly $8 million has been spent. Just one organization backing Brownback has spent $1.8 million. The Alliance for Freedom is a "Virginia-based group advocating limited government and a free market." There's the Koch brothers' philosophy. AFF is linked to Dick Cheney's family and Halliburton, the #1 war profiteer. They raked in our tax dollars while many Kansans died. Now those dollars rob us again.

Even worse, in most cases, we don't know who's giving to the PACs. We do know, however, that it's a great investment. Return on investment for most corporate lobbying and campaign contributions is 100% to 100,000%. For example, Big Oil's ROI was 5,900% when seeking fossil fuel subsidies. In 2003, Big Pharma's ROI was 77,500% on when they kept prescription drug prices high by barring Medicare from competitive bargaining.

It's outlandish. These secret, stealth millionaires think they can buy our trust. Trust for a governor and his sycophants who have papered the state with lies that cost us daily and dearly.

I'm no math whiz, but consider this easily understood comparison: 191,00 relatively well-off individuals in partnerships and limited liability corporations freed completely from income tax responsibility because of our Governor's ACTION. On the other hand, 182,000 people ineligible for Medicaid coverage, cut off from basic health care, because of this Governor's INACTION.

More numbers: As former Republican Senator and Secretary of State candidate Jean Schodorf points out, there are now 22,000 Kansans disenfranchised by henchman Kris Kobach. This makes voting crucial for the rest of us.

After all this, the Guv has the nerve to tell us, "The sun is shining in Kansas." As Barbara Shelly, KC Star columnist, says, "All politicians spin. . . . But I have never seen a public official lie as easily and as relentlessly as Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback." Says Republican Steve Morris, former Senate President, "During the past three and a half years, I have witnessed the decline of civil discourse in Kansas. . . . It is time to say enough is enough. It is clear that Gov. Brownback has very little regard for the truth."

Consider that this same Governor and sycophantic legislature passed a bill that would allow their wholly-owned and co-opted state apparatus to take over our Medicare entirely. Seniors and upcoming retirees, given KanCare's failure, is this what you want? Consider that this seemingly remote possibility could come to fruition if we send Pat Roberts and Tim Huelskamp back to Washington. Reason enough to vote for Orman and Sherow.

Finally, consider what ads now stoop to, including Salina's own non-resident, J.R. Claeys'. Personal attacks based on many-years-ago unproven allegations 
regarding personal behavior--not the issues of the day--to plant just enough doubt to get us to vote for them and against our own best interests--again. And then, they trot out those key fear-monger words--"Obama." "Liberal." "Agenda." And for the few remaining unquestioning Republican faithful, "Democrat." The message: Trust us, not them.

If only we could.

That day is long gone, leaving Kansans to face the acid test: Can millions of dollars convince us that an otherwise threadbare Emperor might, somewhere in there, have even one stitch of credibility remaining?

No matter what happens to the Royals, the far more high-stakes competition this October is the election. Will we get a read on the curveballs and knock the BrownBackers' pitches out of the park? Will we send Team Brownback packing?

We can't control a Royals victory or defeat. We can control who runs our state. So get out there and play ball.

This July has been the month of turkey vulture nestlings.

In late May I noticed that every time I approached the Guest House, a vulture would fly up from the sunken patio. Was there a carcass nearby? In a cubby hole under the walkway to the front door, I found a different explanation. Lying on the gravel, amidst last-year's blown-in leaves, were two giant eggs, white with tan splotches. I had seen vultures going in and out of abandoned barns, and I had assumed that they nested up high, closer to where they soar, perhaps in the rafters or the hay loft. A little research enlightened me: Vultures nest in enclosed spaces, so yes, they do use old buildings, but also hollow logs, caves, burrows under overhangs, holes in trees. The nook under the walkway definitely fit their specs.

I was alarmed by what else I learned: When the eggs hatched, the carrion-eating parents would regurgitate food for the young, leading to noticeable aromas. This would not be a quick process, either, as the nestlings would take two to three months to fledge!

Uh-oh. Eco-tourists use our Guest House to reconnect with nature. We'd be offering them nature all right, nature with a capital N. Still, how could we justify killing only to avoid the aroma of what was already dead? We, the proprietors of a wildlife refuge, were not about to destroy a nest--or lose the opportunity to observe it closely. So first, a quick announcement on the web site: The Guest House is currently unavailable for rental. Next, a trailcam, pointed at the cubby.

So began my involvement with Family Vulture. Through trailcam videos, I learned that both parents brooded the eggs and that mice, songbirds, woodrats, and squirrels could approach the nest with impunity. But when a possum ambled into the cubby, it was a different story. The adult fluffed up and glared, and the possum, being a possum, didn't notice at first--but when it finally dawned on him what was in front of him, he backed out fast! Ditto for a raccoon, who developed a sudden interest in another location once he got a load of the vulture's stare. But one night when both parents were gone, the possum came back. I assumed that that was it--the next generation would have naked tails, not naked heads--and it was all because the parents were off gallivanting when they should have been protecting the eggs. But I was wrong. The possum nosed the eggs myopically and then began grubbing in the leaf litter, where he found something interesting, pulled it up, and munched it slowly. Then he turned around three times (what was that about?), and waddled off. I breathed a sigh of relief. Threat averted, but how? I had read that vultures use projectile vomiting as a defense against predators--not to disgust them but to distract them with an easier meal. Now I wondered if the adults had left some tidbits near the eggs for that same purpose. My criticism of the parents changed to admiration.

But at the end of June, while I was at a family reunion in Wisconsin, my husband called to tell me that the eggs were no more. My heart sank. I had visions of the possum finally claiming the prize. But then Ron laughed and said the eggs were gone because they had been replaced by two fluffy chicks! He sent me photos, and I saw the cubby now graced by what looked like two balls of white cotton stuck onto big black beaks.

Since returning to Kansas, I have watched the cotton balls grow into chicken-sized birds whose feet aren't made for walking, as the youngsters lurch and teeter and stumble wherever they go. They are still covered in fluffy white down, and when left alone they huddle in the back of the alcove, like giant snowballs. But when Mom or Pop shows up, they spring to life. They jump up and down and flap their undersized wings, looking a little like penguins as they stand up tall to reach their parent's bill. The adult puts his or her mandibles around the nestling's head and then brings up predigested food. Not every item on the menu makes it into the little gullet; it's that spillage that accumulates and becomes the source of stench. However, when the parents are away, the nestlings turn the leftovers into snacks and even allay their hunger by eating the food stuck to their nestmate's chest and back. The smell thus goes as well as comes, thanks to the little odor-eaters.

Indeed, the chicks' destiny is to transform the loathsome into the benign. The pathogens that flourish in putrid flesh are killed by a vulture's digestive tract. Sacred in some ancient cultures, vultures certainly live up to their genus name Cathartes, the purifiers.

It's true that while working in the guest house I sometimes have to close the windows and turn on an air cleaner. When that happens I find myself counting the days until September or October when we can bring in the powerwashers. But in the meantime, it's not bad to be reminded that nature, which renews our spirits, is not all gorgeous sunsets and blooming flowers. In fact, "renewal" depends for its meaning on something old, past it, done for. Carrion being fed to growing chicks reminds us that all stories are connected, and that when one thing is too far gone, another is just getting started.

MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - We Americans are a can-do people, surrounded by technological wonders that allow us to detach ourselves from nature. Here I am writing this in air-conditioned comfort while outside the thermometer tops 100. I have already lived longer than most people did before the Industrial Revolution, and I am pain-free because a surgically implanted titanium brace keeps my lumbar discs 4 and 5 in line. My longevity - and my mobility - are owing to technological success.

Still, our problem-solving culture can have a down side, and that is a certain coldness to people experiencing tragedy. We are "worshipers in the church of the machine," writes historian Loren Baritz about American culture. But machines have no feelings -- they know nothing of guilt, heartbreak, loss. When people face terrible suffering there is no deep well of American cultural wisdom for them to draw upon. People do find houses of worship that suit their needs, but even these islands of spirituality are influenced by the larger society. Often neither the sufferers nor those around them know what to say or do.

I was forced to think about this cultural helplessness recently when in a short period of time two terrible things happened to acquaintances. One was the suicide of a teenaged child; the other, the accidental drowning of a guest at a pool party.

healthcare-reform.jpgCOLBY, Kan. - How did we get into the mess we are in? What mess? Moral decay, mid-east conflict, national debt, financial collapse, illegal residents, unemployment, racial tensions, and on and on. You add your own concerns to the list. We have passed the point of no return. Really?

When you listen to the conservative news networks, it sounds like it has all fallen apart since Barack Obama became president. When you listen to the liberal news networks, it sounds like the G.W. Bush administration was and is responsible for all of our woes. When you listen to the 'religious right,' it's the infidel liberals, and when you listen to the progressive left, it's the bigoted religious fanatics.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansans will have an opportunity to make sense of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act at the third annual community forum on health care on August 2nd at the Manhattan Public Library Auditorium beginning at 7:00 pm. Janet Witt from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) will be the featured speaker at this year's event.

The Affordable Care Act envisioned an expansion of Medicare to insure the uninsured but the court decided the federal government couldn't force state to expand their Medicare program, even if 90% of the cost of expansion was going to be paid by the federal government. This has lead to a string of Republican governors saying they won't implement the ACA, including our own Governor Brownback.

healthcare.gifGREAT BEND, Kan. - I dream of a world where facts are checked before inaccurate information is spread. Where people don't fan a flame, just to get a reaction. I dream of a world where people are honest, and interested in politics, not just a 30 second sound bite.

The Supreme Court decided this week President Obama's health care plan is constitutional. (Yes, Rand Paul, the Supreme Court decides what is and what is not constitutional)

Hours after the decision was made, Facebook was flooded with inaccurate cartoons and portrayals of the health care plan. Perhaps the one that is most misleading is the one that states, "President Obama, Congressmen/women, and Senators are exempt from this plan." They are not exempt from holding insurance. This is not an opinion, it is a fact.

Huelskamp's Healthcare Update

SALINA, Kan. - This past week my congressman's update on the federal health care law arrived in my mailbox. In small print under the return address was a note saying that the mailing was "prepared, published, and mailed at taxpayer expense." The report and its disingenuous claims require further scrutiny.

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