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Syria-ously, Tim?

Tim Huelskamp finally arrived in Salina Nov. 23rd, after town-hauling it all over West-Central smaller towns. Speculation was, he didn't want to face more critical questions likely in more populous areas.

Turns out, he didn't have to worry. Such stage shows masquerade as 'listening' tours, but primarily feature the representative front and center. They are held during most people's working day, with resulting attendance consisting primarily of retirees, other Republican office-holders, business folks with potential benefit from federal sausage-making, and standard-bearers of the rep's fan club.


Room for dissenting views is largely overshadowed, if the rep is even moderately skilled in the art of question deflection, non-sequitur creation, and appeals to his base's basest emotions. Tim is.


Despite his "Front Lines of Freedom" newsletter claim that, "Saline County residents were especially concerned about the threat of ISIS," I saw little of that, but plenty of contradictions in his barriers to Syrians fleeing for their lives.


His drumbeat that we are the land of freedom seems not to apply to Syrians--unless they are Christian.


From all evidence, he hasn't consulted Jesus' actual stance on such exclusions. Nor did he specify a litmus test. Syrians wearing crosses? Syrians taking loyalty oaths to Jesus?


More strands of his threadbare analysis frayed when confronted by a KWU student, afraid she might not be reunited with her Indian husband. Who will we let in?


This Republican stock-in-trade fear is much harder to maintain when confronted with a real person in a wedding picture--or lying drowned on a beach.


To paraphrase John Oliver, only one wave of refugees did huge damage to the existing population. It began in 1492.


I could only hear, as a descendant of immigrants in Tim's Town Haul, Pogo drowning Tim out. "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

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.

Roots of the n-word

While N-word dialogue has slackened following Saline County Commissioner Gile's use of it recently, the word still has great power. So, let's look inward at the N-word.

To reach a much deeper path to understanding, simply go to Ad Astra books, order Wendell Berry's book "The Hidden Wound," and read it. As Berry himself notes, it will be work. But you will be far better for it. In the interim, I offer my poor, feeble glimpse (inspired by Mr. Berry) into our "hidden wound."

Racism is not a racial problem. It is a cultural problem. An economic problem. An environmental problem. And most of all, a human problem.

The root of our "racism" is not racism. Rather, it is our desire to be superior to our condition. We whites brought Africans here for one reason: to exploit and dominate this New Earth. We discovered early on that living upon this sacred ground requires work. Hard work. Back-breaking work, at times.

Early on, we created a society which values 'beautiful people' who need not work. Picture old-time Plantation owners and Southern Belles. Fast forward to today. Whether buying vacation timeshares in order to make ourselves into leisure kings and queens once a year, or buying homes and cars we clearly cannot afford--or simply dreaming of it--we conjure a life vision devoid of drudgery. This remains the American Dream.

The back-side Janus-face of our forward-looking, hoped-for prosperity, however, is cast in a shadow of darkness. In our pride, we assigned hard work (deemed demeaning) to black Africans. We could only bring them here against their will, utilizing extreme force, by convincing ourselves they were inferior. By circular logic, they were inferior because they did the work--and they did the work because they were inferior. Thus did we become prisoners of our self-created fiction.

Separated from hard work and clear insight, we lost our connection to the land itself--a connection sustained by slaves we regarded as chattel. (Biblically, women were referred to as chattel. That status surfaces innumerably in tragedies such as the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse, death toll now nearing one thousand, where our "cheap, chic" clothes from Wal-mart and the Gap are made.)

Our lost earth-connections have caused us to create the term "nigger." A nigger was someone of inferior status, yet knowledgeable in the ways of the earthy world. Nigger street sense, however, escaped the effete sensibilities of masters in ivory towers. And it still creates a dynamic bond with fellow niggers, who get what the white mastuh has no clue about.

Thus a book well-read by the rebellious scholars of my generation was "The Student As Nigger." In an academic world controlled by administrative masters of various stripes, the metaphor was contagious and powerful. As a master text of 60's student movements, it challenged us to escape--or embrace--our niggerhood. We learned a lot about the world's realities in the process.

It approaches blasphemy to imply that those of us in the student movement encountered anything like the oppression visited upon our black brothers and sisters. But our awareness of nigger-ism, a sense of brotherhood with those "under the yoke," remains vital to this day. As the priorities of the powerful take ever-greater precedence over everyday citizens, we are now paying, and have perhaps always paid the price.

As blindingly stupid as it was for whites to enslave the black man, it took equal stupidity to fail the lessons of the indigenous about living in, on, and with this land. Our very structures, aimed at freedom, instead consigned us to our own prison. Elevating an assortment of minorities into a racially equitable distribution of college degrees and professional salaries has not elevated our understanding of the problem.

We could have kept our connection to the very ground we walk on.

But we did not.

Slavery came too easy, and we have been trying to shed its yoke ever since. If we completely accepted the black race's humanity, we would not accommodate an alien people--we would receive into ourselves a poignantly missing half of our own experience, vital and finally indispensable. We have so far denied that, at great cost to ourselves and everyone.

We are not able to 'set free' our red and black sisters and brothers, let alone any other fellow-creatures of whatever size, shape, or hue. Until we recognize in them their distinctive full strength and grace, we will not set anyone free--least of all ourselves.

Yes, the n-word holds power over us--but only because we have let it.

Unfit, Unfair

Last week's online Kansas City Star led with this headline: Unfit by any standards, legislators run amok."

The story began, "The Kansas Legislature has made many jaw-dropping moves these last few months, but a Senate vote this week leaves us especially agog. By a 25-14 vote, senators agreed to eliminate property taxes for many of the state's private gyms and health clubs."

Forget your workout at the local gym. Let's exercise our minds here. The trail to truth is full of crooks and snags, but together we can get there.

This exhibition of favoritism is worthy of outrage on its own merits. But with full knowledge of the Governor's dramatic giveaway of income taxes, the consequent impoverishment of the state, and the ensuing blow of the property tax hammer on all of us, this bill exempting a private enterprise, thus enriching them at our expense, is especially egregious.

As for the Senate, why would, and how could, they? As is evident elsewhere in state politics, $$ are involved--45 thousand of them, to be specific. Even more specifically, the $45,000 donated by Rodney Steven, part owner of Genesis Health Clubs, to Senate Republicans. His $$ influence was also evidenced in his and Genesis' home base, Wichita. He sought tax-free financing from the city for an expansion of his clubs in 2004, only to have the city back out of the deal. Steven filed a lawsuit over the perceived broken promise, but the city won.

That didn't stop his dogged determination to buy politicians, local or state. Steven and Genesis each gave maximum donations to Wichita Republican Sen. Michael O'Donnell, bolstering his campaign with $4,000 as he successfully unseated incumbent Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf (who has since left the Republican party) and beat Democrat Timothy Snow in the general election. Not content to stay local, he also sent maximum donations to Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce.

His thirst for special privilege was evidently not quenched by his liberation from state income taxes. The Governor's special tax program had already eliminated taxes on profits for 191,000 businesses, including several of Steven's Genesis Health Clubs.

Since then, in a supposed attempt to 'level the playing field,' Steven has sought to force the YMCA to pay tax or some payment in lieu of taxes. (Even though the Y, and other non-profits, make genuine efforts to make exercise affordable across a wide range of income levels.)

"Continuing to shrink the tax base in the face of severe spending cuts," said Steven in 2011, "really makes no sense." His efforts two years later make us doubt his sincerity. If actions speak louder than words, his more likely 2013 quote would be, "To hell with the tax base, we need our special privileges."

The property tax break will cost the state treasury an estimated $4 million. And that's not the half of it--well, a bit more than the half of it. The original proposal, rejected by the Senate, was for an additional $3.4 million in sales tax exemptions. It's like used-car dickering: Start with a really high price tag and make an outrageous cost more palatable. Except used-car for-profit rehabilitators are much more honest than Steven's used-body rehabilitation program, at state expense, i.e., at ours.

North Central Area Senators voting for it were Sens. Arpke, Bowers, and Ostmeyer. Senator Emler voted against it. We can't account for the other Senators' votes, but perhaps Senator Arpke's can be explained by his attitude toward corporations expressed in the recent legislative forum, to the effect that he thinks "corporations can do whatever they want with their money." And he seems eager to help them get more of ours to accomplish it.

Despite the Senate vote, it's not too late. SB72 has been referred to the House Taxation Committee. Contact your local representative and tell them such special breaks have no place in state policy.

Perhaps it's time for an Exodus from Genesis?

And as importantly, from the dogma that all private business is hallowed, and by definition provides much more efficient and superior service than publicly-funded entities--like community fitness centers and schools.

As for the Senate, as the Star article put it, "The new conservative majority has lost any standing to lecture Kansans about the need for fiscal responsibility."


Forked tongues stab public workers

Any hard-working, self-respecting wage earner knows payroll deduction has long been a fact of life. It's used for tax withholding, charitable giving like the United Way, health insurance premiums, cafeteria plans for tax deductions--and professional association (union) dues.

Now worker's unions are in the cross-hairs of Kansas' Koch/Brownback Buddies, and KKBB's first legislative target is payroll deduction. Teachers, firemen, police, etc. can join and pay union dues without it--but in the real, practical world, collecting dues to protect worker rights is made far more difficult.

The KKBB's know that, passing House Bill 2303 by a slim (68-56) margin. The bill bars using payroll-deducted public-employee money for any political purpose. Thus public workers will be outgunned in any kind of election--school bond, school board, legislative or gubernatorial. Corporations and big-money enterprises, however, remain free to influence the public unimpeded. We public employees--teachers, firemen, policemen--are told by the state what we can and can't do with our payroll-deducted money.

AND it will be 'enacted' immediately upon the Gov's signature, just in time to squash workers' voices in Slick Sam's upcoming assaults on responsible government.

So, how could any legislator defend a yes vote on 2023? They can't. But the language they use to 'defend the indefensible' as George Orwell put it is, well, Orwellian.

Orwell's books, 1984 and Politics and the English Language, and later, Edward S. Herman, political economist and media analyst, called it Doublespeak. Herman's book, Beyond Hypocrisy, defines Doublespeak as "the ability to lie, knowingly or unconsciously, and get away with it; and to choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don't fit [one's] agenda or program."

Here's the boiler-plate language ("clearing up some rhetoric") from 69th District's new J.R. Claeys: HB2303 "removes the State of Kansas from the responsibility of bookkeeping for public sector union political action committees (PACS)." Really?

In other words, our school districts, who have for years simply deducted dues from employees' pay like all other myriad deductions, simply won't do it--or if they do, the law will not allow workers to use any of said funds to lobby to protect their employment rights.

My school district is not, with all due respect, "the State of Kansas." It is my partner in education. And to see this as some burden on the state is just plain malarkey.

Also, says Claeys, the bill "allows union members to . . . contribute to a public sector PAC from the privacy of their home without outside pressure."

What universe does Claeys inhabit? It is hard enough, in a "right to work" state, to get teachers to join their local association. Kansas' law already ensures that public workers are not legally required to join the group negotiating their hours, working conditions, or compensation. The built-in temptation to "free-ride" ( which I myself once briefly indulged), makes it easy to forget that, without your association's solidarity, you do what The Man (or Woman) says.

In addition, some teachers' reluctance to join is heightened by already low salaries. (A goal of this administration?)

Claeys' implication of unbearable union pressure and a White Knight KS Legislature riding in to save the poor, downtrodden worker goes beyond implausible to ludicrous.

Another bill rumored ready for flash-passing, HB2085, would essentially dismantle professional negotiations, gutting the right of school and public employees to have a say in their wages, hours, and working conditions.

These bills do not spring fresh from legislators' foreheads. They're not from J.R., but from ALEC.

ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, backed by huge companies like State Farm, sends hundreds of pre-packaged, anti-worker, anti-citizen bills to all states. Some are passed. Some are not. Cumulatively, however, they bypass Congress and become de facto national legislation. For further information, google "The United States of ALEC."

Other area "representatives" also attacked workers through HB2023 and should hear from you. They are John Barker of Abilene, Susan Concannon of Beloit, Steven Johnson of Assaria, Don Schroeder of Hesston, Sharon Schwartz of Washington, and Troy Waymaster of Luray. There are others throughout the state.

Local Reps. Diercks, Christmann, Moxley and Schultz deserve kudos for voting against the bill.

The Senate's companion bill SB31 has not yet been voted on. Call regional Senators Elaine Bowers of Concordia, Jay Emler of McPherson, Tom Arpke of Salina, Tom Hawk of Manhattan, Mitch Holmes of St. John, Ralph Ostmeyer of Grinnell--or any other Senators--to tell them this travesty of a bill should be rejected. Thanks!

My Friend Colleen

cjohnston.jpg
WICHITA, Kan. - When my friend Colleen Kelly Johnston died on August 18, 2012, she left behind a huge void that will likely not be filled.

She also left behind her husband James, six children, and many grandchildren and great-children as well as a large circle of friends, all of whom loved her.

More importantly, she left behind her influence on those of us who looked to her for strength, guidance, and inspiration as we became involved in the many liberal and feminist movements that have marked the years since the '60s.

WICHITA, Kan. - On August 3rd, 2012 in Municipal Court in Wichita, the case against grandmother and citizen activist Doris Lynn Crouse Gent (Ravenfeather) on a charge of obstruction of justice, was finally adjudicated.

As Doris attempted to leave the Drury Hotel with other activists on November 16th after protesting Governor Brownback's Town Hall Meeting on childhood poverty, Doris allegedly grabbed and/or pulled the arm of a police officer who was holding another activist. City police arrested her on a charge of obstructing justice.

The activist at the center of this storm is Susan Schoket. Susan was stopped by Officer Creighton who physically held her arm as she attempted to walk out the door. Creighton said he did not know why he was asked to provide backup at the Drury Hotel nor did he know why he was asked to detain Susan. As Susan was being held, other activists were making their way to the door to leave.

Doris was one of those activists. She was accused of coming up and trying to interfere in Susan's situation by pulling her away from the officer. During the trial, Susan adamantly testified that Doris never touched the police officer in any way, nor grabbed Susan's arm to pull her away from the officer. Susan did admit that she and Doris were loud in telling the office they had done nothing wrong and were leaving.

Pride in Our Ride

SALINA, Kan. - This city is not the center of the universe.  But it is a regional hub.  And it's the place where recently an unlikely outcome, well, came out.  

That is, the Salina City Commission voted 3-2 on May 14 to add lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people to its non-discrimination list.   It and the death of our first, famous, woman astronaut have made our city and state an important universal, not just regional hub.
 
Sally Ride, astronaut and former spouse of Steve Hawley, the astronaut who claims Salina as his hometown, just came out -- in her obituary.  

Ironies echo to the heavens.  Sally Ride, the first woman to play a crucial role in our search for greater knowledge of the universe, was herself unknown in a basic personal sense. While she escaped the bounds of earth, our knowledge of her was buried under it.  Sally Ride rode a rocket clean out of this world, but could not come out of the closet. 

My Way or the Highway

Diane's article in May, Which Way I Fly Is Hell, was a good one.

"Sam Brownback and the right-wingers are doing everything in their power to ensure that Republican moderates will be voted out of office in the primary election, which means that Brownback, and by extension, his Koch handlers, will be able to declare open season on those of us who depend on state funding for our most basic needs." (more here)

We all are dependent upon government funding and oversight of society, including Brownback and the Koch brothers. Without stable government Brownback's political agenda would be in jeopardy.

The 'Threat' of Foreign Doctors

WICHITA, Kan. - People of a certain age often find their conversations turning to ailments, doctors, medical tests, and drugs they have to take to deal with those ailments. I suppose that is to be expected when often the highlight of a person's day is going to a doctor's appointment or for an MRI. The water aerobics class at one of the Wichita YMCAs is full of people around my age. We are retired and while most of us are relatively healthy, we do have minor health issues that we often discuss in the locker room after our workouts.

I have a minor heart problem that is easily managed by a couple of fairly inexpensive drugs. Years ago, my family doctor referred me to a cardiologist. It was then I met Dr. Farhat, a young, red-haired man who came here from Lebanon some years before and started his cardiology clinic with several other doctors of Lebanese birth. Dr. Farhat is a soft-spoken man who treats patients gently and with respect. He explains what's going on with my heart in detail, even when he's running behind because of an emergency he's had to deal with.

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