Monthly Archives: June 2011

Gates deserves high honor

Good for President Obama for honoring — and surprising — Defense Secretary Robert Gates on his last day on the job with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a president can give a civilian. Gates deserved it for his four decades of service to this country. As is his way, Gates turned the focus from himself to the troops: “I’ll just say here that I will think of these young warriors — the ones that fought, the ones that keep on fighting, the ones that never make it back — until the end of my days.”

Obama should stop picking on corporate jets

President Obama left no doubt at Wednesday’s news conference about how he feels about corporate jet owners, repeatedly mocking tax breaks for them, and for millionaires, billionaires and oil companies. “If you are a wealthy CEO or hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been. They are lower than they have been since the 1950s. And they can afford it,” Obama said. “You can still ride on your corporate jet. You’re just going to have to pay a little more.” Obama is right about the need for a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. But can’t the president understand that such specific hostility toward corporate jets extends to those hardworking Americans who build them, and to a community such as Wichita that specializes in building them for the nation and world? Must he keep picking on aviation manufacturing?

Carr comment still getting reaction

A recent comment by New York Times media columnist David Carr (in photo)  likening people who live in Kansas and Missouri to Neanderthals is still getting reaction, locally and nationally:

“More than an apology is needed. I think he needs to resign. And if he does not resign, I think the management at the New York Times should fire him for this egregious statement and misconduct.” — Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, during Wednesday’s commission meeting

“This leads to death camps. These are the kinds of words that have always, since the history of progressivism, since it began, always led to mass death, because you haven’t evolved enough.” — Glenn Beck, on his radio show

“How could we forget all of the genocides that began by offhanded remarks made on late-night talk shows?” — Justin Kendall, Kansas City’s Pitch Weekly blog

“Clearly, Carr was making a joke, or was using hyperbole to deride red state vs. blue state politics. Yes, what he said was offensive and dopey, but to immediately compare it to death camps not only trivializes that tragic chapter in world history, the greater offense, but it infantilizes Midwesterners.” — Colby Hall, Mediaite.com

“Get over it, Midwesterners. You can’t even figure out what’s a joke and what’s not. No wonder people think you’re dumb.” — Hamilton Nolan, Gawker

President Obama vs. Sen. Obama

“The past is always an occupational hazard for presidents, who find themselves disowning statements they made when they were candidates or legislators embroiled in partisan fights,” the Washington Post reported. “But (President) Obama seems to have gotten himself into unusually hot water this year.” It noted how both Democrats and Republicans are citing statements Obama made as a senator that contradict his current positions as president. For example, Obama opposed raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator and was a strong defender of the War Powers Act, which lawmakers now say he is violating in Libya. The flip-flopping can work both ways, of course. For example, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was a critic of the War Powers Act before Obama became president.

Turns out Carr is from a ‘middle’ place, too

New York Times media columnist and former Minnesotan David Carr likened people who live in Kansas, Missouri and “the middle places” to Neanderthals on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” suggesting “that’s the dance of the low, sloping foreheads.” Afterward, a regretful Carr turned to Twitter:

“Have always enjoyed #TheTwitter setting on fresh pickings when somebody said something dumb. Then my turn came.”

“I hate being the guy who condescends, however accidently, to those pple that make America cool and fun.”

“To all of America, at least the middle place that I come from, I apologize for saying something so, so dumb on Bill Maher last night.”

“Live tv will get away from you and you will say some stupid stuff. which I did.”

“There was a second beat to that thought I never got to. But my Mpls. brothers are smacking me down. hard. all deserved.”

CEO salaries key driver of income disparity

The income disparity between the wealthy and everyone else is at levels not seen since the Great Depression. Yet until now, economists haven’t known what professions were driving this disparity. “Now a mounting body of economic research indicates that the rise in pay for company executives is a critical feature in the widening income gap,” the Washington Post reported. A review of tax returns indicates that CEOs and other managers make up the largest percentage of the highest-income earners. And their pay has been skyrocketing. “Executive compensation at the nation’s largest firms has roughly quadrupled in real terms since the 1970s, even as pay for 90 percent of America has stalled,” the newspaper reported.

Bachmann surges, but ‘flake’ concerns linger

GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., is now nearly leading in Iowa, according to a new Des Moines Register poll. Bachmann had 22 percent support, just behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 23 percent backing. Despite the surge, Bachmann is still dogged by her reputation for making erroneous and sometimes bizarre claims. Even Fox News host Chris Wallace raised the issue with Bachmann: “The rap on you in Washington is that you have a history of questionable statements, some would say gaffes,” Wallace said. “Are you a flake?” Bachmann didn’t like the question, saying that it was “insulting to say something like that, because I’m a serious person.” Later in the day, Wallace apologized, saying that he “messed up” and that he “didn’t mean any disrespect.”

Leave 14th Amendment alone

The idea of denying birthright citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal immigrants has support from GOP presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has co-sponsored legislation that would allow a child to be a citizen at birth only if one parent were a U.S. citizen, legal resident alien or active member of the U.S. armed forces. But in a new Time magazine survey, 62 percent of respondents said the 14th Amendment should not be revised.

Public concerned about Medicare reform plan

Fifty-seven percent of Americans think they would be worse off if the GOP plan to convert Medicare to a system of subsidized private health coverage were adopted, according to a new Bloomberg News poll. Meanwhile, 51 percent of those surveyed said that while President Obama’s health care reform may need small modifications, it shouldn’t be repealed; another 11 percent said it should be left alone.

Why kids know little about history

The latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress history tests are beyond depressing, with only 12 percent of 12th-graders earning “proficient” scores and only 35 percent of fourth-graders knowing the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. “For all we spend on public education, you’d think kids would at least learn basic history,” tweeted conservative media mogul Steve Forbes in response. But it’s hard for students to be ready for infrequent NAEP history tests, given all the emphasis on the federally mandated No Child Left Behind math and reading tests. “What gets measured, gets taught,” Sue Blanchette, president-elect of the National Council for Social Studies, told the Wall Street Journal.

Moran, Huelskamp take hardball vow on debt ceiling

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who was one of the first (and few) senators to join the Senate Tea Party Caucus in January, has similarly stepped out front to take the “Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge” being pushed by conservative groups including Let Freedom Ring and the Club for Growth. By taking the pledge, Moran has committed not to vote to raise the debt ceiling unless the vote includes substantial spending cuts and caps, and a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution — no small task politically. As of Friday, 12 Republican senators had taken the pledge. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, was among 20 House members to take the pledge.

Is Kansas a rich state or poor state, and why?

Gov. Sam Brownback wrote the foreword for the new report “Rich States, Poor States” and participated in a press conference last week in Topeka with the free-market advocacy group that produced it, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The report ranked Kansas in the middle of the pack for economic competitiveness. Brownback wrote that the evidence is clear that “states should pursue policies that leave more money in our citizens’ pockets to help fuel and drive our economy.” But Bernie Koch of Wichita, the executive director of the Kansas Economic Progress Council, contends that the report is too narrow in its evaluation of economic outlook, focusing mostly on taxes and regulations. “Other factors not evaluated in the study have been shown by respected empirical studies to be as important, if not more important, including investment in infrastructure and equipment, labor efficiency, education and innovation,” Koch said in a statement.

No shortage of material for Kansas satirists

Titled “Teamtime in Kansas, or Your I.D., por favor,” the Topeka Bar Association’s recent satirical show for the Kansas Bar Association annual meeting had a lot of new material to work with, including activist Gov. Sam Brownback. Its “Brownback” summarized his to-do list for the audience: “I recently noticed a loophole in the Uniform Commercial Code, and I’ve instructed the secretary of state to take immediate action. We’ve created a whole new filing category — faith-based mechanic’s liens. But there’s still a lot more work to do. We still have some Democrats. We still have labor unions. And the Koch brothers still have to pay taxes.”

So they said

“Drive myself to Burger King.” — Defense Secretary (and Wichita native) Robert Gates, when asked about his first retirement activities

“The Arts Aren’t in Kansas Anymore, Toto” — headline on a Huffington Post commentary

“Overall it’s a noble experiment that Sam Brownback has begun in Kansas, and the dramatic value may be worthy of an opera someday. Privately funded, of course.” — World magazine’s Janie B. Cheaney, on Brownback’s arts-funding veto

Pro-con: Will regulatory-review plan boost jobs?

Yes, the Obama administration’s regulatory-reform proposals will help spur private-sector job growth by identifying the regulations that fail to protect American families and then reforming or removing them. The proposal, spelled out in Executive Order 13563, reaffirms the principle, established in the Reagan administration, that enacted regulations should have benefits that exceed their costs. Where the order breaks from tradition is the requirement that agencies routinely revisit the measurement of costs and benefits of existing regulations and identify the least costly ways to achieve a regulation’s goals. It then requires agencies to amend their regulations. Of course, the executive order is not perfect. The evaluations are currently performed by the agencies that write the regulations. A next step might be to consider shifting to a system of independent evaluations. Still, the Obama administration has taken vital steps in reforming our system of regulation. — Michael Greenstone, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

It appears in the early going that the Obama administration’s executive order requiring a review of existing regulations “that are out-of-date, unnecessary, excessively burdensome or in conflict with other rules” has encouraged some regulatory agencies to make recommendations that will save businesses time, money, headaches and resources. But more must be done. That’s because the order exempts from review the huge flow of regulations in the pipeline generated by the health care and financial reform laws, as well as the large number of major rules generated by the Environmental Protection Agency over the past two years. This enormous onslaught of new regulations could well cost hundreds of billions of dollars, hamper our recovery, undermine our competitiveness and cost jobs. The regulations are being promulgated under the same system that generated the ones the administration found necessary to review. And the “look back” plans do not appear to fix this problem. — Evan Bayh and Andrew Card

Constitution has its flaws

Especially among tea partiers, the Constitution is regarded as infallible. But its framers “were fully aware that the Constitution was a product of compromise and urgency,” said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. In Roll Call, Ryan Teague Beckwith enumerated a “few bugs” in the Constitution: There is no means of removing a severely ill or impaired Supreme Court justice who refuses to step down. Inflation has hugely expanded the Seventh Amendment right to jury trial. It empowers, but doesn’t require, Congress to change the size of the House of Representatives to reflect population growth. “The vice president could preside over his own impeachment hearing.” And “slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person when determining the size of Congress.”

Gates cautious about ‘wars of choice’

“I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice,” said outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Reflecting on the past 4½ years, Gates said that what he has learned most clearly is that wars “have taken longer and been more costly in lives and treasure” than anticipated.

School board wise to extend Allison’s contract

When John Allison became superintendent two years ago, he knew that the Wichita school district faced budget challenges. But he couldn’t have foreseen how severe the funding shortfalls would be. Allison has had to recommend and implement difficult and, in some cases, damaging cuts. But throughout this painful process, Allison has been thoughtful and professional. The Wichita school board was wise this week to extend Allison’s contract for three years.

Reason to be suspicious about abortion rules

Abortion providers in Kansas have reason to question the motive behind and fairness of a new law imposing additional health and safety standards and a special licensing process on the abortion clinics. The providers didn’t receive the latest version of the clinic regulations until this week, and inspections already have started. They are concerned that they won’t be given enough time to make any changes needed to meet the new standards. Though anti-abortion legislators say the new law is aimed at protecting the health and safety of women, it looks like a backdoor way to try to close clinics.

Both political parties are pathetic

“The two parties contesting this election are unusually pathetic,” columnist David Brooks wrote. “Their programs are unusually unimaginative. Their policies are unusually incommensurate to the problem at hand.” Brooks blasted Republicans’ growth agenda of tax cuts and nothing else as “stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible.” And he criticized Democrats for offering practically nothing. “They acknowledge huge problems like wage stagnation and then offer . . . light rail! Solar panels! It was telling that the Democrats offered no budget this year, even though they are supposedly running the country.” Brooks’ conclusion: “Covering this upcoming election is like covering a competition between two Soviet refrigerator companies, Cold War relics offering products that never change.”

War on drugs has failed

Last Friday marked 40 years since President Nixon asked Congress for $155 million to launch a war on drugs. “Seven presidents later, the war grinds on,” columnist Leonard Pitts wrote. “And if it has made even a dent in drug use, you could not prove it by me — nor, I would wager, by most observers. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group of international leaders including Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, issued a report this month that begins with this unambiguous declaration: ‘The global war on drugs has failed.’”

No clamor for higher speed limit

Odds are that most Kansans will take advantage of the new 75 mph speed limit, up from 70 mph, coming to 807 miles of six Kansas highways as of July 1. But not everybody who responded to a new SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, felt a need for more speed: 50 percent disagreed with the Legislature’s decision to hike the speed limit, including 63 percent of women and 66 percent of people 65 and older. Good for the Kansas Department of Transportation for declining to extend the 75 mph limit to the busy Wichita-area routes K-96 and K-254, which are not limited access and already accident-prone.

Kobach for president?

The Kansas Republican most likely to run for president would seem to be Gov. Sam Brownback, who already has one attempt on his resume. But some conservative voices are eyeing another Kansan: Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Speaking to ABC, columnist Ann Coulter included Kobach on a “farm team” of “stunning Republican talent” such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Florida congressman Alan West. And while responding to a recent New York Post commentary by Kobach, National Review blogger Mark Krikorian wrote: “Kris is a patriot, a genuine conservative and a good guy, and I will happily vote for him when he runs for president some day, as I think likely.”

Voting laws really about lowering turnout

“An attack on the right to vote is under way across the country through laws designed to make it more difficult to cast a ballot,” wrote syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne. “If this were happening in an emerging democracy, we’d condemn it as election-rigging. But it’s happening here, so there’s barely a whimper.” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach drafted Kansas’ new voting law and has been encouraging other states to pass similar laws, claiming that reforms are needed to stop voter fraud. But Dionne noted that “study after study has shown that fraud by voters is not a major problem — and is less of a problem than how hard many states make it for people to vote in the first place.” Dionne added: “In a democracy, the electorate is supposed to pick the politicians. With these laws, politicians are shaping their electorates.”

Huntsman faces long odds

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has a good resume but faces long odds in his candidacy for president, which he announced today. His biggest challenge: Most Americans don’t know who he is. He also has managed to unite opposition by conservatives and Democrats. Conservative activists don’t think Huntsman is conservative enough, and Democrats are concerned that he could be a formidable opponent for President Obama — so they don’t want him to make it out of the GOP primaries.