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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.

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."

Dave's Dilemma

Let's call him Dave. Yes, that'll do. Dave, whose laugh always stayed with you.   Even today, it echoes in my Kansas Wesleyan hallway memories, resonant as Tom Durkin's lectures on John Locke or Ben Fuson's conjuring of Hester's Scarlet Letter.
Real life echoed the drama of our studies, and vice versa, as we returned to campus the fall of '63.  Our Methodist Student Movement got word of the Birmingham church bombing and the deaths of Addie, Carole, Cynthia, and Denise.  We decided our MSM should act.   Bob Blackerby took a plane South, but escaped Bull Connor's fire hose.   He was arrested the moment he stepped off the plane.   
No matter.  Bob's jailmates--and Stokely Carmichael--stoked our imaginations.  Our dedication to peace and justice was heightened by David C. Monk's presence in our Student Movement. 
Movement should have been Dave's middle name.  He brought unusual energy and laughter to every action.  Although quick to find humor, he was staunchly and loyally serious about our movement, KWU, and the Methodist Church. 

Spring has Sprung

COLBY, Kan. - First, let me offer my empathy and condolences to those who suffered great losses in last week's violent storms. No matter our political orientation or spiritual choices, we all recognize the magnitude of nature's power and fury. In spite of that power and destructive fury, we all can enjoy the beauty of nature and abundance of life. The sun is always shining, even behind the darkest of clouds. The world isn't in a hand basket in hell, yet. And, I don't think the liberals or the conservatives are going to, single-handedly, put it there.

Is Kansas Free Press Relevant?

two-men-talking-reading-newspaper.jpgCOLBY, Kan. - Kansas Free Press is a little more active than its mother media site, Everyday Citizen. The publisher's original intention, I believe, was to allow Kansans to put more local concerns and opinions up for discussion on this site.

I've been around a lot of years, all in Kansas, and I have been made aware of issues and events that I was not aware of, until I read it here. The comment section is certainly not limited to Kansans.

The comments, quite often, are much more detailed and revealing than the original articles. That is good. Most of us regular writers are hoping to get a dialogue going to help people become more involved in society's everyday happenings. Some visitors might think we, the writers, are all cheerleaders praising ourselves. But as you'll discover, we sometimes get into some pretty heated debates amongst ourselves.

'Tis The Season: For what?

COLBY, Kan. - 'Tis the season! What's the season? It's the season that motivates all the arguments about proper salutations. It's the season that merchants hope to make up for the slow economy of the past seasons and years. It's the season that some hope to reclaim their dominance in setting agendas and controlling the content of programs to celebrate the season. It's the season that mental and social professionals tell us more people suffer depression than at any other time in the year. (How sad that is!) All the bitter battles over whether it's 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holiday', a 'Christmas Tree' or a 'Holiday Tree,' whether any particular group has absolute ownership of a particular day, whether we'll sing my choice of songs or your choice of songs, or all the other battles that rage on don't benefit any of us.

The Bird Runner Art of Betsy Roe

MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - Much of artist Betsy Roe's work centers on the contact zone between humans and other animals. Now Betsy is creating an outdoor installation at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, and this time that zone is a bloody one -- the place where animals meet our vehicles on the road.

Betsy! Why are you making us think about this? Roadkill? Yuck! Sad -- but what can we do about it? People aren't going to stop driving and animals aren't going to stop trying to cross the road. So why dwell on it? What's the point?

Betsy's art makes us think of one answer after another.

Who Are We?

COLBY, Kan. - For the most part, we are a group of liberal leaning free thinkers and progressive minded individuals who enjoy sharing our opinions and experiences with one another and visitors to our site. I don't believe any of us think we have all the answers to society's problems.

We, the citizen journalists who write at Kansas Free Press, welcome comments from all, friend or foe, as long as they are not laced with foul language or abusive criticism. One visitor referred to our content as "common with older Everyday Citizen blogs." I'm not sure what 'old' for Internet media is, but Everyday Citizen (EC) and Kansas Free Press (KFP) have not been around very many years.

'What do you do out there in Kansas?'

MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - "What do you do for entertainment out there?" my husband's friend asked him. Ron was traveling east to help his mother with a long drive and had stopped to visit an old friend in DC.

"The land is our entertainment," Ron replied. His friend looked blank. "Do you drive into town to go to movies?" he asked, as if he hadn't heard what Ron said.

Why couldn't he hear the answer? Perhaps he was in the grip of the old stereotype of Kansas as flyover country, the middle of nowhere. Or perhaps he had a concept of entertainment as a commodity, a pre-packaged experience for which one purchases a ticket. In any event, Ron was aware that he had a mentality that was not easily recognized by his city-dwelling friend.

When Ron came home, it became a joke between us. "What do you for entertainment out there?" we would say every time we found ourselves transfixed by something right outside our back door.

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