Monthly Archives: September 2009

Sorry for blog problem

Sorry about the comments function not working. Our online people are trying to figure out the problem.

UPDATE: Problem fixed. At least for now.

Roberts lampooned for relationship with insurance industry

robertspat2Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., argued that a 72-hour delay between the Senate Finance Committee’s markup and vote on a health care reform bill was needed to give time for “the people that the providers have hired to keep up with all of the legislation that we pass around here, and the regulations that we pass around here, to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Have you considered this?’” That’s a reasonable suggestion, as lobbyists are an important part of the legislative process.
But the Democratic National Committee produced an ad claiming Roberts’ comments revealed how the GOP is protecting the health insurance industry. The “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central lampooned Roberts’ “bold admission” that the delay is really about giving time for health care lobbyists to change the bill. Host Stephen Colbert congratulated Roberts for coming “out of the closet” about his committed relationship with the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, noting the campaign donations Roberts has received from both groups. “I say, ‘Good for you, sir,” Colbert said of Roberts. “The truth shall set you free.”

More people competing for jobs

jobhuntIf it seems harder to get a job, that’s because it is. Job seekers now outnumber job openings 6-to-1. That is the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000, the New York Times reported. Only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs were open in July, with 14.5 million people officially unemployed, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Open thread 9/30

thread4

Pro-con on Polanski’s prosecution

Roman PolanskiRoman Polanski is a cinematic genius with a tragic history. But he is also a fugitive from justice who pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and the U.S. Justice Department acted properly in asking Switzerland to extradite Polanski, regardless of how much time has elapsed and despite the fact that his grown-up victim isn’t seeking his imprisonment. The 76-year-old director of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown” and “The Pianist” was arrested over the weekend in Zurich, where he was to have received an award. Many of Polanski’s admirers in this country and abroad were outraged. But Polanski shouldn’t be left alone because of tragedies in his life or his status as a legendary director. Nor is it relevant that his victim seeks no further punishment for him. Prosecutions are brought in the name of the state, not the victim. The arguments are eclipsed by a simple fact: Polanski fled the country. In February, a judge said there had been “substantial” official misconduct in Polanski’s original case, so the director may well persuade a court to free him. But first he must return.
— Los Angeles Times editorial

Polanski’s crime — statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl — was committed in 1977. The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him. There is evidence of judicial misconduct in the original trial. There is evidence that Polanski did not know her real age. Polanski, who panicked and fled the U.S. during that trial, has been pursued by this case for 30 years, during which time he has never returned to America, has never returned to the United Kingdom, has avoided many other countries, and has never been convicted of anything else. He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film. Polanski is 76. To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren’t famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.
Anne Applebaum, Washington Post

Death penalty worth the cost?

deathpenaltyLawmakers chose not to advance last spring’s proposal by state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, to repeal the Kansas death penalty because of its cost, which has been estimated at 70 percent greater than non-death penalty cases. But McGinn’s bill deserves another look next year. Noting McGinn’s efforts and those of lawmakers in other states including New Mexico, which abolished its death penalty in March, the New York Times editorialized: “If lawmakers cannot find the moral courage to abolish the death penalty, perhaps the economic case will persuade them to follow the lead of New Mexico.”

Try engagement with Iran, then tough sanctions

iranmissileIran has strained credulity for years with assurances that its nuclear ambitions were peaceful, our editorial today notes. The recent disputed elections and the brutality of the crackdown on protesters furthered distrust in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics. The tension ratcheted up last week with the revelation by the Obama administration, France and Britain that Iran had a secret underground uranium enrichment facility in the works. Then came Iran’s several tests of missiles capable of striking Israel, parts of Europe and U.S. military bases in the Middle East. Diplomacy may not defuse the situation. But engagement must be tried in order to work. And it will be easier to build and sustain a global coalition against Iran if its leaders are given every opportunity to stave off tough economic sanctions or other action.

Open thread 9/29

thread-comm

Virally rocking the health care debate

number37Singer Paul Hipp is making his own contribution to the health care discussion with his catchy video “We’re No. 37,” highlighting the World Health Organization’s ranking of the United States as 37th among health systems. The Web site PolitiFact.com noted that other WHO rankings have put the U.S. system in 15th place and first place (the latter for responsiveness). “Still, this is a rock song, and a well-sourced one at that. So we find Hipp’s claim to be Mostly True,” the fact-checkers declared.

Get your own envelope

envelopeSome state budget cuts are causing real pain and regrets. Yet a reasonable one is drawing complaints: the Kansas Department of Revenue’s decision to save $57,000 (and two jobs) by no longer including a return envelope with its vehicle registration renewal mailings. “It’s a change, but we wanted to be budget smart and we knew that this was one thing we could do,” Carmen Alldritt, director of vehicles in the Kansas Department of Revenue, told the Hutchinson News. Surely it’s not too much to ask Kansans — at least those who prefer not to renew online or in person — to contribute their own envelopes to the cause of getting the state through this budget crisis.

40 years of helping kids

bigbrotherslogoCongratulations to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sedgwick County, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary today. Since it started here in 1969, BBBS has helped more than 25,000 local kids, and it now matches more than 2,000 kids each year with caring mentors. Those pairings make a big difference in the lives of kids, both now and in the future. According to a study by Harris Interactive, BBBS alumni are much more likely than other kids to receive a four-year college degree, to be engaged in their communities, and to be very satisfied with their relationships with friends and with life. Keep up the great work.

‘Vast right-wing conspiracy’ still at it?

clintonbill2When she was first lady, Hillary Clinton said that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to destroy her husband’s presidency. When asked Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether the conspiracy is still there, Bill Clinton said it was. “It’s not as strong as it was because America has changed demographically,” Clinton said. “But it’s as virulent as it was.”

Business as usual for investment bankers

banksign“Now that we’ve stepped back a few paces from the brink — thanks, let’s not forget, to immense, taxpayer-financed rescue packages — the financial sector is rapidly returning to business as usual,” columnist Paul Krugman warned. “Even as the rest of the nation continues to suffer from rising unemployment and severe hardship, Wall Street paychecks are heading back to pre-crisis levels. And the industry is deploying its political clout to block even the most minimal reforms.” Krugman argues that one of the biggest problems is that investment bankers are still “lavishly rewarded if they deliver big short-term profits — but aren’t correspondingly punished if they later suffer even bigger losses,” which encourages excessive risk-taking.

Open thread 9/28

thescream

Six should look into fishy funding

Nearly $713,000 in extra Medicaid funds went to Community Living Opportunities of Lenexa last year without going through the process required of other groups that serve Kansans with disabilities. That sounds like a good enough reason for Attorney General Steve Six to investigate, as he was newly asked to do last week by some state lawmakers. The situation looks more suspect because the group’s board included Democratic Party chairman Larry Gates and others with ties to then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Such a side deal looks especially bad because other groups were told no money was available. Rep. David Crum, R-Augusta, said that the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services’ “decision sidestepped the normal funding process and put the integrity of the system at stake. It is even more disconcerting if Medicaid funding rules were not followed.”

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

SPOOFSLOGOThe following satirical headlines come from borowitzreport.com and theonion.com:
MENTAL PATIENT BREAKS INTO U.N., GIVES 90-MINUTE SPEECH; Breach of Security Under Review
CRITICISM OF OBAMA ‘NOT ABOUT RACE,’ SAYS NEW POLL OF WHITE PEOPLE; Foreign Birth, Resemblance to Hitler Cited
MAN SUCCUMBS TO 7-YEAR BATTLE WITH HEALTH INSURANCE
CONGRESS DEADLOCKED OVER HOW TO NOT PROVIDE HEALTH CARE
BUSH QUESTIONS BREVITY OF OBAMA’S VACATION; Short Break ‘Sends Wrong Message to Terrorists’

Might Wichita’s arena make money, too?

arena2One new arena’s success is no guarantee of another’s, of course, but it was interesting to read that Kansas City, Mo., will reap a $1.8 million profit from the Sprint Center’s operation during the past fiscal year. That’s because of a profit-sharing deal with arena operator Anschutz Entertainment Group; also, without an NHL or NBA team, the Sprint Center has the flexibility to book more big concerts and other events. The arena also was ranked by Pollstar among the nation’s top five live entertainment venues for the first quarter of 2009. “It means it’s a must-play marketplace. Two years ago, it wasn’t,” Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, told the Kansas City Star.
Similarly, Sedgwick County’s contract with manager SMG for the Intrust Bank Arena protects the county from losses for the first five years. And what if it proves profitable? SMG would get the first $450,000 of annual profit after recovering money for any prior losses. The county would receive the next $450,000 in profit after being reimbursed for any capital expenses exceeding $250,000. And after that, the county would receive 60 percent and SMG would receive 40 percent of any remaining profit.

Open thread 9/27

thread3

Greensburg still drawing national attention

greensburg2The New York Times had a lengthy article last week on the greening of Greensburg. Among the impressive signs of progress reported were the buildings that have earned or likely will receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification. For example, the town’s arts center was designed and built by graduate students of the University of Kansas School of Architecture and is powered by windmills and solar panels and heated and cooled by a geothermal system. It was the first LEED-platinum building in Kansas. The Kiowa County Memorial Hospital, currently under construction, is seeking to become the first LEED platinum critical-access hospital in the country, the article reported. The town also is about to break ground on a wind farm capable of supplying electricity to 4,000 homes. The article noted that such achievements would be impressive anywhere but seem unexpected in Kansas, which “routinely elects to Congress skeptics on matters of energy conservation and environmental regulation.”

So they said

parkinson,mark“Don’t do that right now.” — Gov. Mark Parkinson’s advice to those school districts considering litigation over state funding

“It’s not too late.” — Mayor Carl Brewer, in the Boston Globe, urging the makers of the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz “Untitled Wichita Project” to reconsider their decision to film Wichita scenes in Massachusetts

“As the overweight person said as he crawled through a barbed-wire fence, one more point and I’m through.” — Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., trying to argue for a 72-hour delay between the Senate Finance Committee’s markup and vote on its health reform bill

“It’s like writing a big fat check on an overdrawn bank account.” — Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., speaking in Olathe about the Obama administration’s spending plans

Pro-con: Is ACORN controversy overblown?

acornACORN has received a grand total of $53 million in federal funds over the past 15 years — an average of $3.5 million per year. Meanwhile, not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars of public funds have been, in the past year alone, transferred to or otherwise used for the benefit of Wall Street. Billions of dollars in American taxpayer money vanished into thin air, eaten by private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. So with this massive pillaging of America’s economic security and its control of American government by its richest and most powerful factions growing by the day, to whom is America’s intense economic anxiety being directed? To a nonprofit group that devotes itself to providing minute benefits to people who live under America’s poverty line. Apparently, the problem is not that taxpayer dollars are going to prop up billionaires, oligarchs and their corrupt industries. It’s that America’s impoverished — a group that is growing rapidly — is getting too much, has too much power and too little accountability. — Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com

The Census Bureau recently severed ties with the advocacy group ACORN, and the Senate voted to deny it access to federal housing funds. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it took this long and hidden-camera video footage of ACORN workers apparently advising others to commit crimes before officials would act. Allegations of fraud have dogged ACORN for years, sometimes resulting in convictions. Florida authorities recently arrested 11 ACORN workers and charged them with submitting fake voter-registration papers. The videos, which were made by self-described conservative activists, show ACORN employees exhibiting disdain for the law. In one, a couple posing as a prostitute and her pimp are given advice on how to open a brothel and launder the ill-gotten earnings. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., called on Congress and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate ACORN. That’s a good start, but the videos suggest that a Justice Department criminal investigation is also needed. — Wall Street Journal editorial

Open thread 9/26

thread

Big policy changes tough to get through Congress

obamahandsbyfaceAn article by the conservative Hudson Institute concludes that President Obama has a “policy approach” to governing. Rather than focusing on incremental changes and fixes, Obama prefers comprehensive policies aimed at making systems more rational and coherent. While that may be admirable, columnist David Broder warns that such an approach usually isn’t very successful because of the messy legislative process. Congress has 535 members, all with their own agendas or parochial interests. Add in the influence of special interests, and it makes large changes difficult. For example, Broder said, the energy bill started out in the House as a “reasonably coherent set of trade-offs that would reduce carbon emissions and help the atmosphere” and ended up as “a grab bag of subsidies and payoffs to various industries and groups.” Broder wrote: “Democracy and representative government are a lot messier than the progressives and their heirs, including Obama, want to admit. No wonder they are so often frustrated.”

Talk radio similar to gangsta rap?

rushrapperWriter David Segal contends that “the similarities between talk radio and gangsta rap are nothing short of uncanny.” He argues: “Once you subtract gangsta rap’s enthusiasm for lawlessness — a major subtraction, to be sure — rap is among the most conservative genres of pop music. It exalts capitalism and entrepreneurship with a brio that is typically considered Republican.” Segal counts among other similarities:
– “Extolling your greatness is nearly as crucial to rap as it is to talk radio.”
– Both base credibility on claiming “to have hordes of detractors.”
– Without verbal skills, “you can’t rap and you’ll never make it as a talk radio opinion-machine.”

Where was outrage about Bush’s czars?

czarsMany of those complaining about President Obama’s “unelected and unaccountable czars” seem to have a bad case of amnesia — or at least selective outrage. After all, President Bush had more such “czars” than President Obama supposedly has. Yet during the Bush years, columnist Dick Polman noted, “there was nary a cry about imperial Russia from the president’s congressional cheerleaders, nor from his fans on Fox.”