Front Page » Table of Contents » Archive: Policy: January 2010

Obama, Find Your Inner FDR

GREAT BEND, Kan. - A corporation is not a person. A corporation is a piece of paper filed with the Secretary of State's office. As has been said many times: "A corporation has no body to throw into jail nor soul to throw into hell."

The U.S. Supreme Court, all nine of them, will tell you that the idea that a corporation is a person is a "legal fiction." Although a corporation is not a flesh-and-blood person, the U.S. Courts have ruled for a hundred years that they are "fictional persons" and thus have the same rights as you and I.

Republican economist Milton Friedman, when asked if corporations had any duty other than to make money for stockholders, replied: "No." In other words: "Send American jobs overseas, raid the pension plans of American workers - don't feel guilty corporate officers, because you don't have to have morals."

Politicians from both parties - from Thomas Jefferson to Theodore Roosevelt to Jim Hightower - have railed against the dangers of unfettered corporate power. The Democratic party was always the last line of defense to make sure that "We the People" were never drowned out by big corporations.

And then a terrible thing happened.

Angelo Lopez: Jasper Debates About War

Lighters Are Tools, Not Toys

TOPEKA, Kan.- Last week, I submitted the following written testimony in support of Senate Bill 342, which was introduced before the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee by Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wichita.

This bill would ban the sale of novelty lighters that resemble popular toys and entice children to play with fire, leading to deaths, injuries and property damage. Adults have sustained first-hand injuries form these lighters, too. They are manufactured haphazardly overseas, and have been subject to a multitude of recalls over the years. Other states have taken action on this, and I think Kansas should follow suit.

Cause and effect

WICHITA, Kan. - Last week I wrote about the real repercussions cuts in the state budget have on people in need who depend on not for profits for services, which in turn depend on funding from the state, and the fetishism of anti-tax elements in Kansas who refuse to look at revenue streams no matter how many people it hurts.

You couldn't find a better example of this than the front page of today's Eagle. On the top of the page is an article about how funding is about to run out for the Child Advocacy Center, which deals with the most voiceless, helpless victims in our society - children who are victimized by those closest to them. The work is complicated and difficult and is spread across many agencies. The Center gets 54% of its funding from the state. If that gets cut, tough luck battered children.

Kris Kobach's Krazy Kaper

EMPORIA, Kan. - Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, is reportedly assisting in a new legal challenge to in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants.

At issue is a Nebraska law passed in 2005 which authorizes the children of undocumented persons/illegal aliens who have attended a Nebraska high school for at least 3 years and promise to seek legal status with the same tuition rate as legal residents. While there may be some degree of political expediency involved in taking on this new case, Mr. Kobach has been involved around the country in similar past efforts. A quick Google search of his prior efforts in this regard yielded this story.

kansas-state-capitol-2.jpgGREAT BEND, Kan. - Rep. Mitch Holmes' (R-114th) legislative update in the St. John, Kansas newspaper begins with news of legislative sacrifice:

"The Kansas Legislature started the 2010 session last week with several announcements. The first was the plans of Leadership to establish furlough days for all legislators during the session. Legislators are paid $88.66/day during the session or interim committees. The session is limited to 90 days by the state constitution. The furloughs will be on days not yet specified, but they will not be at the end of the session as a means of shortening the session."

In other words, the people of Kansas have been told the legislature is making a financial sacrifice in these difficult budget times. Legislators are already crowing about their sacrifice, as seen by Rep. Holmes' press release.

There are several reasons this "furlough" announcement is meaningless.

athome.jpgSALINA, Kan. - For days at a time during a four-year period, the two men slept under bridges and in makeshift camps set up by homeless individuals they befriended. They also spent a night in a shelter and visited other shelters for their research.

Jeffrey Michael Clair, Ph.D., and Jason Wasserman, Ph.D., set out to find the answer to one simple question: Why do many homeless individuals prefer living on the street to living in shelters?

So the two ventured into the streets of Birmingham, Alabama to interview homeless people, learning in the process that many programs and policies designed to help the homeless succeed only in alienating them.

Clair and Wasserman say armchair proclamations by experts and politicians about dealing with homelessness are routinely dismissed by those on the street with this response: "They don't know us."

Budget cuts affect us all

WICHITA, Kan. - Our legislators are afraid. They are afraid they won't be elected if they raise taxes. They should be afraid of not being reelected for ruining our schools and not taking care of our senior citizens, and people with disabilities. The agencies that serve people with disabilities, our frail and elderly, and our schools have taken several cuts and absorbed them internally so that it doesn't affect the consumers. Any further cuts will affect the people who need the services. There is a reason why we protect our most vulnerable. Not just because its the right thing to do, but because the ugly truth of what could happen is too sickening to imagine.

GREAT BEND, Kan. - When President Obama decided to take on the difficult issue of health care reform, former Clinton advisers whom still had scars on their backs from their own failed health care initiative in 1993, advised the President, to wit: "Don't initiate your own detailed health care plan. The opposition and press will pick apart your plan. Instead, let Congress come up with the plan. Then you can step in."

So as Howard Fineman said recently: "Obama took all his political capital and let Max Baucus squander it." Max Baucus, the Democrat Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from Montana, botched it.

Baucus, who could walk through any shopping mall in America (outside the Beltway and Montana) and not be recognized by a single person, held the keys to health care reform. And he had taken so much cash from "Big Medicine" that there was no hope for any bill that would help "We the People."

As someone wrote recently, Baucus' staff is filled with former insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists, and all his former staffers now work as health insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists. Baucus is a poster boy for term limits. And he rendered the health care bill so lousy for middle America that not even Zig Ziglar could sell it.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

GREAT BEND, Kan. - Remember the old adage, "prevention is the best medicine"? I do, and it is used in my personal life on a daily basis. Simple preventative measures such as, taking the time to put on my coat when it is cold so not to get sick, eating healthy so my body can function, saving money so that I can plan for future life events, and attending doctors' appointments when needed. Prevention may cost me more at the time, but in the end will save large amounts of money. Sure, eating fruit and vegetables is rather expensive today compared to a bag of chips, and a ho ho, but the economics will play out in my favor. I consider it money saved every time I purchase a four dollar bag of grapes. Most of us that were raised in stable homes understand prevention and use it.

If prevention were used more in politics our state would not be suffering from a monstrous deficit. I attended a legislative meeting today here in Great Bend. State Senator Teichman, State Senator Emler, and Representative Wolf were key speakers. I sat and listened to their speeches, they discussed bills they will be voting on this legislative year.

5-4 Decision Cuts Many Ways

OLATHE, Kan. - The United States Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on Wednesday to allow unrestricted corporate funding of political messaging would seem to be a real blow to what most of us in the progressive community deem to be fair and just. But, with a little time to step back and analyze the situation, this could provide some fabulous opportunities for us.

Here's a case in point: this morning on the way to work I was listening to KCMO Talk Radio 710, a local Fox affiliate. Their drive-time entertainer and professional blatherer is a guy named Chris Stigall. He came up with what he thought was a brilliant two-pronged idea, the gist of which is the following:

MANHATTAN, Kan. - After giving Secretary of Revenue Joan Wagnon and Governor Parkinson the cold shoulder last week, the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee appear to have had a change of heart on Wednesday and introduced the tax bills they had declined to introduce last week: Governor Parkinson's 1% sales tax increase and increasing the cigarette and tobacco tax to national levels.

Observers interpreted the committee's actions last week as a signal that working to solve the state's $400 million revenue shortfall in the next fiscal year was going to be contentious as it was the first time in most observer's memories that a committee did not give the Governor the courtesy of introducing his or her legislation.

Wednesday's action by the committee means that the bills have now been introduced in both the Senate and House.

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

HAYS, Kan. - With the loss of Teddy Kennedy's seat in the Senate, perhaps progressives need to take a hard look at ourselves. Have we been on automatic pilot since November 2008? How many in our ranks thought that our jobs were more or less done following the presidential election? Who among us slowed down our activism because, in part, we believed that electing Democrats to the White House or Congress was sufficient enough to create sweeping social change and install justice throughout our land?

We can look back at history and see that all significant social changes began as people-powered tidal waves. The people maintained ownership and control of their own movements. The movements germinated, bubbled up and remained political forces powered by the people - and were never given away or handed off to Washington to mismanage.

DODGE CITY, Kan. - This afternoon, the Kansas Supreme Court granted an emergency stay, temporarily preventing a subpoena from forcing a Dodge City Daily Globe reporter to answer questions under oath regarding her confidential sources and unpublished notes.

The journalist, Claire O'Brien, was subpoenaed to testify about her reporting of an ongoing murder case in Dodge. She was scheduled to appear before an inquisition in Ford County on Wednesday.

GREAT BEND, Kan. - Republican Attorney General candidate Senator Derek Schmidt attending a "States Rights" rally last Friday may seem innocuous to many. Lots of politicians rightfully point out that the federal government issues too many "unfunded mandates" to states and local units of government.

Steve Six, Kansas Attorney General
But many Tenth Amendment boosters have far more on their mind than unfunded federal mandates. Many believe that Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was a coup against
"the real constitution." They believe that the Tenth Amendment, when properly applied, forbids programs like Medicare, Social Security and the Federal Minimum Wage.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that such programs do not violate the Tenth Amendment. Attorney General Six wisely points out the proper remedy for an alleged Tenth Amendment violation is for the aggrieved party to file a lawsuit alleging the unconstitutionality of a particular law. Then let the courts decide.

Bankrupt Kansas, Bankrupt Legislature

WICHITA, Kan. - On Friday I attended the Nonprofit Chamber of Service's "Board University," its annual meeting surrounded by an all-day conference dedicated to issues of interest to NFPs and their boards. A lot of the organizations that belong to it are grassroots social service organizations, like drug treatment centers and working with the mentally disabled and abused children. Really hands on, on the ground work.

I went to all the "leading your nonprofit through hard times" sessions. We would go around the room and talk about whether our budget was going down, if we'd had to lay off people or cut back services, etc. A lot of the organizations are very reliant on government support for their efforts, and that has been falling. So someone would say, "we lost $60,000 in government support," or "it depends on what level the state funds Medicaid reimbursements" which is a big issue for some, and some other groups depend on the sales tax exemptions, which I'll get to in a minute.

Of course, as you may know, the state of Kansas has cut about 20% of its budget in the past year due to recession-caused revenue shortfalls. Well, that and the steadfast refusal of the state legislature to do anything on the revenue side. We have a pretty strong tea party culture in this state, and it's an election year, and there isn't a Republican in the Central Time Zone who wants to be on record supporting a tax increase. So because some people are mad about deficit spending in Washington, programs in Kansas that deal with the most vulnerable get cut and cut and cut again.

GREAT BEND, Kan. - Democrats are terrible at explaining things in simple, emotional ways that win hearts and minds. Republicans are experts at explaining things in simple, emotional ways that win hearts and minds. That is the message of Drew Westen's remarkable book: The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

While Democrats give arcane professorial arguments that go over the heads of most voters, the Republicans make punchy gut-level arguments that scare people. And fear is a powerful emotion. It wins elections.

These are difficult days for Democrats, especially Kansas Democrats. Last night I watched three politicians, former or current Presidents, Obama, Bush and Clinton, standing on the same stage, talking about Haiti. Obama and Bush made bland pleas for people to "send cash" to Haiti. Meanwhile, former President Clinton did what Democrats rarely do - he explained the need in a short, punchy, emotional way:

"I stayed at that hotel in Haiti that collapsed. I had dinner with people who are dead. Hillary and I worshiped in that Cathedral that is now in rubbles." How refreshing! A Democrat speaking in simple, emotional terms, using powerful images. Bill Clinton seems to be the only Democrat out there who knows how to do this.

Judge Qualification

"For the people of Kansas to now place faith in a Catholic judge that has courted the anti abortion vote through his career would be remiss." (from comment on previous post, Religious Fanaticism Should Never Be Defense for Murder)

COLBY, Kan. - There has been no real evidence that Judge Wilbert has let his Catholic faith and doctrines interfere with his judgment calls. His association with or support of Right to Life groups is a personal right that we all have. Unless there is evidence that he has let that association influence his judgment in prior cases, we should trust him to uphold the law. Besides, this case has nothing to do with abortion. A man's life was taken and it appears to be a case of premeditated murder.

HAYS, Kan. - In 2010, the world's biggest corporation and largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT), expects to add approximately 38 million square feet of retail space through remodels of existing stores and by accelerating growth of new stores. In the last decade, many U.S. cities have sweetened these deals for Wal-Mart in hopes that the retailer will move into their neighborhoods and boost local economic development.

If Wal-Mart seeks to expand operations in your area, its developers may approach your city leaders looking for tax advantages and tax exemptions. Even in this economy, some city or county governments may be enticed by the sales pitch, willing to accept Wal-Mart's assurances that its new stores can stimulate local employment and improve its local business climate.

Before giving Wal-Mart any new taxpayer gifts, municipalities might wish to read a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola University Chicago.

The study's results suggest that communities shouldn't see Wal-Mart or other big-box retailers as panacea for local economic problems.

kansas-state-capitol-3.jpgTOPEKA, Kan. - Join Kansas NOW on January 21, 2010 for Roe v. Wade Day at the Capitol!

Now, more than ever, it is important that we have a strong pro-choice presence in Topeka. This is the first Roe v. Wade Day event since the assassination of Dr. Tiller.

Come to the Capitol and honor him and his unfailing dedication to the women of Kansas.

Transportation is available from Kansas City and Wichita.

EMPORIA, Kan. - The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States ensures that persons charged with crimes are permitted to have the assistance of counsel. In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) it was determined that for those persons who cannot afford an attorney, one must be appointed for them by the charging jurisdiction. In order to comply with the ruling, the State of Kansas currently reimburses private attorneys in counties which do not have established Public Defender offices but recent budget cuts imperil the rights of defendants as fewer attorneys will be able to offer their services to the citizens of Kansas.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - The conservatives in the Kansas Legislature are going to face a new kid on the playground this year. Kansans for Quality Communities has come out to play and they intend to change who gets to play on the swing set.

Bringing together organizations representing education, health care, the disabled and state workers, Kansas for Quality Communities will provide a united front in reforming tax policy that has been inspired by the now discredited "starve the beast" mentality of the conservatives.

Following the passage of California's Proposition 13 in 1978 and the Reagan victory, conservatives sought to undo the policies begun by Franklin Roosevelt and the economic benefits those policies had brought to the working class by dismantling the social safety net provided by federal and state government bureaucracies. Thus government became the "beast" to be starved in order to reduce government to reflect the ideology of free-market capitalism.

EMPORIA, Kan. - A recent Kansas Supreme Court decision upheld the Wabaunsee County Commission's decision to enact a countywide ban on commercial wind turbines. I don't fault the Court's reasoning -- I am very disappointed in Wabaunsee's elected officials and in the citizens of Wabaunsee who supported the restrictions.

Sam Brownback's Special Interest

GREAT BEND, Kan. - Sam Brownback's special interest (HINT: It's not the constituents).

Health care is an issue that affects every person in not only America, but Kansas as well. According to a recent study, one in three (under the age of 65) Kansans went without insurance for all, or part of a two year period from 2007 until 2008. (I won't even get into the topic of "underinsured" persons in the state). This is over 33 percent of the population in our state! Out of this 33 percent, 80 percent of the uninsured have at least one person in the family who is employed. Our health care system is broken. That is not a debate, although I am sure the health insurance companies and Sam Brownback would like to think it is. Small town businesses and "the average Joe" cannot afford to keep their families and employees healthy.

Republican Tax Policy Is a Farce

COLBY, Kan. - Prosperity cannot be attained by the lowering of the Federal Income Tax rates! At least not prosperity for the masses of people.

Income tax rates have fluctuated up and down since the first income tax was levied to fund the military in the earliest days of our Nation. And, in all honesty, there is very little correlation suggesting business boomed when taxes were down and then lagged when taxes went up.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - The 2010 Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice (MAPJ) Film Series opens January 12th with the 2009 documentary The Age of Stupid. The film will be shown at 6:30 pm at the Manhattan Public Library Auditorium.

Following the Copenhagen Conference on Global Climate Change, The Age of Stupid is a new documentary-drama-animation hybrid from Director Franny Armstrong (McLibel, Drowned Out) and Oscar-winning Producer John Battsek (One Day In September, Live Forever, In the Shadow of the Moon). Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off, The Usual Suspects) stars as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055. He watches 'archive' footage from 2008 and asks: Why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?

Runaway climate change has ravaged the planet by 2055. Postlethwaite plays the founder of "The Global Archive," a storage facility located in the (now melted) Arctic, preserving all of humanity's achievements in the hope that the planet might one day be habitable again. Or that intelligent life may arrive and make use of all that we've achieved. He pulls together clips of "archive" news and documentary from 1950 - 2008 to build a message showing what went wrong and why. He focuses on six human stories:

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