Monthly Archives: September 2011

GOP in full retreat from past stands

Republicans were for energy-efficient lightbulbs before they were against them. The 2007 bill phasing in cost- and energy-saving lighting “passed the House with 95 Republican votes and was signed by President George W. Bush,” writes Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson. “There were no riots in the streets. Yet by the time Republicans took over the House in January 2011, this previously uncontroversial legislation had become the basis of an ideological war. Between 2007 and 2011, energy waste and pollution seem to have become inviolable conservative principles.” Republicans “increasingly reject the tissue of their own proposals and their own reasonable history,” she noted, citing similar retreats on the individual health insurance mandate, cap-and-trade and federal loan guarantees. “The problem here isn’t hypocrisy, which abounds at all points on the political spectrum. It’s that Republicans have abandoned market-based solutions in favor of no solutions at all,” she writes. “They’ve traded in their traditional small-government philosophy for anti-government rage, generally doing their level best to look like yahoos whenever cameras are near.”

Will Pompeo draw a primary challenge?

As Daily Kos election watcher David Nir observes, the decision of state Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, to run for re-election next year means she won’t pose a primary challenge to U.S. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, who defeated her and three others in the 2010 GOP primary and went on to succeed eight-term Rep. Todd Tiahrt. But after that bitter primary fight, it seemed possible Pompeo might not get a free ride from his fellow Republicans going forward. “After he won the primary, the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers all held back on endorsing him,” Nir notes. “One, Wink Hartman, even went so far as seriously considering a third-party bid.” Now that Schodorf is out, Nir writes, “I wonder what Hartman’s up to.”

Should Obama pass on re-election?

President Obama is in full campaign mode and unlikely to heed a hometown call to drop out of the 2012 race. But the column by the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman is drawing others’ attention. The reasons to take a pass are getting to be compelling, as Chapman notes: “The sputtering economy is about to stall out, unemployment is high, his jobs program may not pass, foreclosures are rampant and the poor guy can’t even sneak a cigarette. His approval rating is at its lowest level ever. His party just lost two House elections — one in a district it had held for 88 consecutive years. He’s staked his future on the jobs bill, which most Americans don’t think would work.” Noting that presidents’ second terms are “a bog of frustration, exhaustion and embarrassment” historically, Chapman wonders: “Why not leave of his own volition instead of waiting to get the ax?” Chapman’s idea for someone to run in his place: Hillary Clinton. “Her husband presided over a boom, she’s been busy deposing dictators instead of destroying jobs, and she’s never been accused of being a pushover,” he writes.

So what is Perry’s price?

In the exchange at last week’s GOP presidential debate over Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s executive order requiring girls to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, it might have seemed as if the loser was Rep. Michele Bachmann for her anti-science fearmongering. But the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne was struck by Perry’s reaction to the suggestion he was too friendly with the drugmaker. Dionne wrote: “Perry’s response to the pay-for-play intimation . . . was one of the worst of its sort ever offered by a politician. ‘The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them,’ Perry declared. ‘I raise about $30 million. And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.’ The question this raised in a listener’s mind was: So how much can you be bought for? That question will linger,” Dionne predicted.

Shame to end longhorns’ 33-year standoff

The Sedgwick County Commission may vote today to split up the Kansas Coliseum’s two chrome longhorns, especially because it has the consent of the wife of 87-year-old Chicago sculptor John Kearney. That might seem the best thing to do given that Maize South High School and the Historic Delano district both seek the bulls, which need $87, 560 in repairs. But a letter writer in today’s Eagle makes an excellent point: Kearney’s work, commissioned for the Coliseum’s opening in 1978, is titled “Two Steers.” Does the fact that they were sculpted of car bumpers make them less worthy of respect and preservation than sculptures made of bronze, ivory, marble, gold, silver and wood — materials the Italian-trained Kearney also worked in? It would be a shame to end the longhorns’ 33-year standoff. In any case, the demand for Kearney’s sculpture seems in keeping with the local popularity of the artist, who once told The Eagle: “This place is the No. 1 supporter of my work. Detroit’s second.”

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ finally history

The military’s 18-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is no more as of today, ending all related investigations and other actions. Officials say the military is ready and predict few problems. The rules of personal conduct still apply, regarding public displays of affection and otherwise. Indeed, the only obvious changes may end up being higher recruiting numbers and the ability of individuals discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” to re-enlist. Especially with the U.S. now involved in three overseas military campaigns, and in no position to discharge or reject troops with valuable skills, it was past time for this discriminatory policy to go.

On HUD grant, better luck this time

Last year the Sedgwick County Commission refused to help sponsor an application for a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Planning grant, turning its back on the Regional Economic Area Partnership in a phony attempt to look tightfisted. REAP applied any way, but its application wasn’t successful. Now, a proposal to join in a consortium for REAP’s latest try at a three-year, $1.5 million grant is going before area local governments. Harvey County signed on Monday. As it goes to the Wichita City Council today and the Sedgwick County Commission (probably next week), let’s hope the majorities on both panels appreciate not only the value of thinking regionally on issues such as transportation, affordable housing and economic competitiveness but also the value of ensuring that south-central Kansas claims its fair share of federal dollars. Whereas the city of Wichita must sign on, Sedgwick County’s participation is optional. But “it only strengthens us if we have them at the table,” Joe Yager, REAP’s chief executive officer, told The Eagle editorial board. And if elected officials decline to join the consortium, it doesn’t mean the federal money will be saved, only that it will be spent somewhere else.

Missed opportunity to mark Kansas’ birthday

The Kansas State Fair ended its 2011 run over the weekend with good crowds and good moods. That bodes well for the fair’s future. Where the fair fell flat was in its visible acknowledgment of the past. If you missed the comeback of the fabled wheat fountain, which referred to the 150th anniversary of statehood in its signage, you might have left the fair without knowing about the sesquicentennial at all. Fair organizers might want to leave their successors a reminder in the files to do more for the 200th anniversary in 2061.

Obama’s plan detailed, but also maybe DOA

President Obama certainly answered those who say he has no ideas for deficit reduction. In the process, of course, he provided numerous specific targets for his opponents. “This is not class warfare. It’s math,” Obama said of his plan, which includes repealing the Bush-era tax rates for couples making more than $250,000 and a “Buffett Rule” newly taxing millionaires. But charging corporate jets more per flight, for example, didn’t fly under President Bush. Four other ideas that a Washington Post blog highlighted as unexpected: Reforming the U.S. Postal Service, including by refunding $6.9 billion in pension overpayments; cutting back flood insurance; selling off federal property; and capping contractors.

Schmidt still keen on changing judicial selection

If Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative Republicans push to change — and, many would argue, politicize — how judges come to sit on the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals, that will be fine with Attorney General Derek Schmidt. When Schmidt was a state senator, he sponsored legislation to require Senate confirmation of those judges and otherwise change the merit-selection process, which involves a nominating commission dominated by attorneys. Now, Schmidt told the Southwest Daily Times, “I believe it is important to let the policymakers decide, but my views have not changed.”

‘Wichita Zoo’ promoting Dwayne the Fruit Bat

The satirical news site theonion.com did a fake news story about the “Wichita Zoo.” It said that in a desperate attempt to attract visitors, the zoo was heavily promoting a fruit bat that was “christened Dwayne following a statewide naming contest and has since become a ubiquitous presence on the backs of benches and sides of buses” throughout the area. “We’ve all got Dwayne fever around here,” fictitious zoo director David Tucker said, sporting a Dwayne the Fruit Bat mesh trucker cap. Though the Sedgwick County Zoo does have bats, it is the state’s top outdoor family tourist attraction and hasn’t had to resort to the promotions tried by the “Wichita Zoo,” including “Bring Your Own Food for the Animals Week.”

Pompeo targets ‘radical’ EPA internships

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, who is making his name as a crusader against the Environmental Protection Agency, now aims to defund EPA minority student internships and fellowships with a proposed “EPA Student Nondiscrimination Act.” The EPA says the program provides “student internship opportunities focusing on environmental justice.” But Pompeo said: “At a time when millions of Americans cannot find work and are saddled with record deficits and crippling environmental regulations, spending $6,000 of taxpayer money per student to act as tools of this administration’s radical policies is clearly not acceptable — nor is it ever the role of the federal government to indoctrinate.” Pompeo’s legislation also would prevent funding for “programs related to the study of greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Keep pushing trade agreements

Good for Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., for pushing for the approval of trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. The agreements were reached during the Bush administration but have been held up by labor concerns and by the GOP’s defunding of a program that helps workers and companies negatively affected by trade deals. But as Roberts noted last week, the delay is causing U.S. businesses and producers to lose out. “Other countries are not waiting for the U.S. to get into the game,” he said. “They are enacting trade agreements without the United States. It is not without consequences. For the folks on the farm, export markets are critical to their bottom line.” The Kansas Farm Bureau estimates that the three agreements would increase total direct exports by $129.5 million for Kansas agriculture producers. Kansas planemakers also stand to benefit from the agreements. “The bottom line,” Roberts said, “is U.S. companies must be able to compete in foreign markets to survive and grow.”

So they said

“We don’t need your stupid stimulus dollars.” — Steve Baccus, president of the Kansas Farm Bureau, about the federal government

“Let us do the cutting with a scalpel, not a Lizzie Borden ax.” — Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on farm subsidies, also suggesting existing congressional committees, not a supercommittee, should be identifying cuts

“Many in the Kansas arts community felt they had been poked in the eye with a stick.” — Gwyn Mellinger of Baker University on Gov. Sam Brownback sending his chief of staff to read a congratulatory proclamation at the grand opening of a Kansas City, Mo., dance center

Pro-con: Should U.S. approve Keystone pipeline?

By 2020, the amount of Canadian oil shipped to the United States could double from current levels, increasing up to 5 million barrels per day and accounting for at least 40 percent of America’s oil imports. But that depends on the construction of the Keystone pipeline, a 1,700-mile artery extending from Alberta to Texas refineries at the Gulf of Mexico. Keystone will be the most modern pipeline in the world, equipped with monitoring devices to check the facility’s integrity. Most important, if construction of the Keystone pipeline is blocked, the Canadians won’t leave oil sands in the ground. China covets the oil and, if need be, a pipeline could be built to carry the oil to Pacific ports in Canada, where it would be loaded on tankers and shipped to Asian markets. Another thing: the Keystone pipeline would create 20,000 American jobs and nearly 120,000 indirect jobs as well as increase revenues for state and local governments along its route. It would be senseless to forfeit such a huge economic stimulus with guaranteed job creation and an estimated $20 billion in revenue at a time when 25 million Americans are looking for work. — Mark J. Perry, University of Michigan-Flint

While importing oil from Canada is arguably better than getting it from the Middle East, there are two major problems with this option. One is that we remain dependent on a highly polluting fuel source. The process of extracting and processing tar-sand oil comes with an especially heavy environmental toll. It contributes substantially more to greenhouse-gas emissions than conventionally produced oil. The second problem surrounds the building of new sections of pipeline from the Canadian oil fields in northern Alberta to refineries in Texas. The $7 billion, 1,700 mile-long Keystone XL pipeline could handle an extra 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day. But opponents argue that such pipelines have a heightened risk of oil spills due to the corrosive nature of tar-sands oil. The pipeline also would cross the shallow Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world and vital for the region’s $20 billion agricultural operations. — Michael E. Kraft, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Foulston has made history and news

The retirement in January 2013 of Nola Foulston, Sedgwick County’s no-nonsense six-term district attorney, will end quite an era for her and the county’s justice system. The Democrat made history in 1988 when she became the county’s first female district attorney by unseating two-time GOP incumbent Clark Owens. And Foulston has made lots of news since, playing high-profile roles in the successful prosecutions of murderers Dennis Rader, Scott Roeder and the Carr brothers; appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court; and bringing a bat to a County Commission meeting to plead her case for funding. Even her vocal critics — on her handling of child welfare, abortion and police-involved shootings, for example — should admire Foulston’s professionalism and staying power. Now, the race to replace her is on.

Cheney may not be what you think

Stephen F. Hayes, a senior writer for the Weekly Standard and the author of a book about former Vice President Dick Cheney, wrote a commentary on five myths about Cheney. They are: Cheney ran the Bush administration. Cheney is a neocon. Cheney has never admitted a mistake regarding Iraq. Cheney has never gotten along with the press. Cheney favored a strong executive branch to expand his own power base.

Late-night laughs

“A man wearing an Obama mask robbed a bank. Either that or Obama has an exciting new plan to reduce the deficit.” — Conan O’Brien
“Obama plans to visit Australia for a trip that has already been canceled twice. I wouldn’t be offended, though. Obama’s our president, and we’re still waiting for him to show up.” — Jimmy Fallon
“If the tea party cared about us, they wouldn’t have scheduled their debate against the opening night of football, especially the Patriots. That’s something Kenyans would do.” — Jimmy Kimmel
“Mitt Romney said that President Obama does not understand that the president doesn’t create jobs. Then Romney went on to describe his plan to create jobs once he’s elected president.” — Jay Leno

Anti-fraud company accused of fraud

It doesn’t inspire much confidence when the company that Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration hired to prevent fraud has settled a $63.7 million whistle-blower lawsuit accusing it of fraud. Kansas recently awarded Accenture an $85 million contract for a computer system to verify eligibility for Medicaid and other services, plus another $10 million a year for five years to administer the program. But whistle-blowers in Arkansas and the U.S. Justice Department accused the company of bid-rigging, taking kickbacks and fraudulently inflating the prices the government paid for computers and services. Accenture said the settlement was not an admission of guilt.

GOP win a bad omen for Obama, Democrats

Republican Bob Turner’s upset victory in Tuesday’s race to replace Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., does not bode well for President Obama and Democrats. This is a district that Democrats have held since 1920. On the other hand, the pundits said the opposite thing in May when a Democrat won a special election in a conservative New York district.

Happy belated Philip Blake Day

Wichita’s unofficial keeper of what he rightly calls a “priceless asset” got his due Tuesday at the Wichita City Council, when Vice Mayor Lavonta Williams read a proclamation declaring it Philip Blake Day. Blake, an 87-year-old World War II veteran, was properly honored for his dedication to the maintenance and long-term oversight of Veterans Memorial Park and other local veterans monuments, including the World War II memorial scheduled for a ribbon-cutting Nov. 12 and a Revolutionary War monument due in 2013. As the proclamation urged, Wichitans can best honor Blake’s important legacy by lending “physical and financial support for his efforts in keeping all veteran memorials alive for generations to come.”

Douglas Place already a catalyst

The Wichita City Council’s 5-1 approval Tuesday of the big incentive package for the Douglas Place boutique hotel at Douglas and Broadway was sweetened by the related news of another important transformation in the works nearby — turning the former Henry’s building at Broadway and William into retail and restaurant space. That’s just the sort of synergy that Project Downtown anticipated. The 50 citizens who argued against public financing and tax breaks deserve credit for more than showing up at City Hall on a Tuesday morning: Their detailed critique of the plan raised some worthy questions, including whether council members should recuse themselves from voting on public-private partnerships with developers who have contributed to their campaigns. But in the end, the prevailing argument made to the council was the one from Wichita attorney Dick Honeyman, who chairs the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. “If no incentives were necessary, something would have happened there a long time ago. . . . The proposal before you will serve as a catalyst for additional development in the future. I hope you have another dozen of these proposals to vote on in the next five or six years.”

Brownback not conservative enough for lawmaker

Gov. Sam Brownback bowed to conservative pressure in deciding to return a $31.5 million federal grant to develop an online insurance exchange. Now he is being blasted by state Rep. Charlotte O’Hara, R-Overland Park, for signing an $85 million contract (90 percent paid for by the federal government) for a computer system aimed at verifying eligibility to Medicaid and other public services, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. “I’m really disappointed and my confidence in the Brownback administration is in tatters,” O’Hara said in a newsletter. O’Hara doesn’t want the state doing anything even remotely associated with the federal health care reform law. But instead of basing decisions on partisan politics, the state should ask this question when deciding whether to accept federal money: Does it make sense for Kansas? Regardless of what happens to the health care reform law, setting up an insurance exchange and preventing Medicaid abuse are good ideas.

Expect partisan division to continue in Congress

“Perhaps it was inevitable the American electorate would be driven to extremes by an economic crisis unlike anything in the collective memory,” Vic Fazio wrote in Politico. “And yet when the American people most needed to trust government, they found their institutions gridlocked, divided and incapable of concerted action. Indeed, since the economic crisis of 2007 and the struggle to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program proposed by President George W. Bush, nothing of consequence has happened in Washington that was truly bipartisan. Instead, rigid and often unanimous opposition is the norm. And media coverage this summer indicates the relentless coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign will continue unabated for the next 18 months.”

Perry wore bull’s-eye at debate

Move over, President Obama; Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the main target of Monday’s GOP presidential debate. The other candidates repeatedly pressed Perry about his views on Social Security and his support for vaccinating schoolgirls and allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition. The candidates also challenged how much Perry is responsible for Texas’ economic growth. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, complained that his taxes had gone up while Perry had been governor and that a significant share of the job growth in Texas had been government jobs. He then joked, “I don’t want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes or something.”