Monthly Archives: December 2012

Kansas’ bad ranking for preparedness unfair, officials say

State officials are objecting to a national report that ranked Kansas and Montana as the worst-prepared states in the nation for public health emergencies, terrorism incidents and natural disasters. The “Ready or Not?” report by the nonprofit group Trust for America’s Health said that Kansas meets only 3 of 10 readiness criteria, and it blamed the low ranking in part on funding cuts in state and local public health programs, insufficient staffing at the state’s public health laboratory, and the state’s inability to meet preparedness standards set by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. Gov. Sam Brownback complained that the report “does not provide an accurate and thorough picture of the state’s readiness.” Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, faulted the changing indicators used in the ranking and its all-or-nothing scoring system. “No matter the score, the report presents a skewed view of public health readiness, draws inaccurate conclusions and in no way indicates the actual preparedness level in Kansas,” Moser said in the statement.

Gun debate puts Tiahrt’s name in the news

Former U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Goddard has been back in the news as part of the debate about gun control. The New York Times and other media have reported how members of Congress are skilled at placing restrictions on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The so-called Tiahrt amendment, first championed by Tiahrt, limits how the ATF can share gun-tracing information. When he was in Congress, Tiahrt regularly had to defend the amendment against complaints from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others. The politically difficult process of Senate confirmation also has resulted in the ATF being without a permanent director for six years.

Predictions for Brownback, Kobach

As he asked and answered some questions about regional politics past and future, Kansas City Star columnist Steve Kraske noted that Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo) is “on the hot seat at the dawn of 2013” because he “faces enormous challenges balancing the state budget the next two years in light of last year’s massive tax cut.” On the question of whether Secretary of State Kris Kobach will try a GOP primary challenge to either Brownback or Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014: “The early buzz says ‘no,’” Kraske wrote. “He wants a second term in his current job and recognizes that both would be tough to beat.”

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

The following satirical headlines come from borowitzreport.com and theonion.com:
Billionaires Warn Higher Taxes Could Prevent Them From Buying Politicians
Boehner: Obama Needs to Stop Acting Like He Won Election
Time Names Mitt Romney Man of the Year 1912
U.S. Signs Declaration of Dependence on China
Obama Paranoid Government Coming for His Guns
Mumford and Sons Can’t Believe They All Got Each Other Mandolins for Christmas
Taylor Swift Apparently Now Dating ‘Garfield’ Creator Jim Davis
‘The Hobbit’ Features 53-Minute-Long Scene of Bilbo Baggins Trying to Figure Out What to Pack

Government giving government a bad name

“A reality has become too obvious for the world’s dazed inhabitants not to notice: The greatest threat to the upward arc of human progress is the collapse of public policymaking. That is the biggest cliff of all,” Daniel Henninger wrote in the Wall Street Journal. He said that “government, for the past 80 years or so, has seen its purpose as mainly to ‘respond’ to society’s failures the moment they occur or whenever they are imagined.” But the problem with governments around the world today, he wrote, “is that its advocates are enacting policies that do damage or don’t work.”

Yes, there really is a ‘best of Opinion Line’

Visit our website to read the “best” of Opinion Line for 2012. Among the favorites:
The GOP has become a “Father Knows Best” party in a “Modern Family” world.
Contrary to what Hollywood and the Democrats want you to believe, most of us don’t have a homosexual family member and Sofia Vergara would never marry a guy who looked like Ed O’Neill.
At this stage of my life, a zombie apocalypse would be a lot of fun.
Everyone should learn to play a ukulele.
Just when I’ve given up on the younger generation, I hear about alcohol enemas.
The reason more men are grocery shopping can be summed up in two words: yoga pants.

Do liberals (and others) not care about drone attacks?

“I’m amazed that so few Americans – most notably, so few liberals – have protested President Obama’s secretive remote-control assassination program,” columnist Dick Polman wrote. “Drones have killed 3,000 people in Yemen and Pakistan, including collateral-damage civilians, but the actual numbers are secret. So is the process. We don’t know anything about the rules of engagement, how people wind up on Obama’s hit list, who reviews the evidence, and what criteria are applied to that evidence.”

Is there a good reason to keep marijuana illegal?

“While the use of cannabis has been illegal since the 1930s (when the name ‘marijuana’ was popularized by opponents to capitalize on anti-Mexican stereotypes), the ban – like alcohol prohibition before it – can be seen as the ultimate in intrusive government,” columnist Cathy Young wrote. “If the state’s going to tell us there are substances we’re not allowed to ingest or inhale, there had better be a very compelling reason to justify such intrusion.” Yet despite widespread public support for legalizing medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington state voters having legalized the sale of marijuana for any purpose, few national leaders have been willing to touch this topic.

Moran was biggest spender in Senate

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., spent a higher percentage of his congressional office budget this past fiscal year (99.4 percent) than any other senator, USA Today reported. Moran had spent all but $18,000 of his almost $3 million annual office budget through Sept. 30, according to Senate financial records. Moran’s spokeswoman said Moran spends that much because he travels back and forth to Kansas nearly every weekend. “Sen. Moran’s commitment to staying connected with Kansans is second to none,” Garrette Silverman said. USA Today noted that Moran helped found the Senate Tea Party caucus, which is “dedicated to cutting government spending and reducing the federal debt.” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ranked 33rd, having spent 93.9 percent of his office budget.

Top Kansas stories heavy on politics

Politics and public policy dominated the top stories of the year in Kansas, according to a survey of Associated Press member newspaper editors and broadcast news directors. The state’s tax cuts and the conservative takeover of the Kansas Senate were named the No. 1 and No. 2 news stories of 2012, while KanCare, the state’s reform of Medicaid, came in at No. 3. Other state government issues in the top 10 were Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s continued crusades against voter fraud and illegal immigration (No. 6), the state’s bungled rollout of a new computer system for handling driver’s licenses (No. 9) and the Legislature’s failure to draw new political boundaries (No. 10). Other top stories included the heat wave and drought (No. 4), Kansas State University’s football season (No. 5), Boeing Co. pulling out of Wichita (No. 7) and the University of Kansas playing for the men’s national basketball title (No. 8).

Lawmakers need training on open-meetings law

Good for some legislative leaders for scheduling training sessions on the Kansas Open Meetings Act. An investigation into meetings that Gov. Sam Brownback hosted early this year for GOP lawmakers revealed that many lawmakers lacked knowledge about what is and isn’t allowed by KOMA. To their credit, the House Republicans have scheduled a training session on KOMA with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office on Jan. 17, and Senate Democrats have tentatively scheduled training on Jan. 15, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. House Democrats and Senate Republicans also should get training.

Thomas to be keynote speaker for Kansas chamber

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce recently announced that the keynote speaker for its 2013 annual dinner will be syndicated columnist and author Cal Thomas, whose commentaries have appeared in The Eagle since 1989. The dinner will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, with Neeli Bendapudi, dean of the University of Kansas School of Business, as master of ceremonies. “For years I have admired Cal Thomas’ thoughtful and challenging literary contributions to American political dialogue,” said Kansas chamber president Mike O’Neal. “We’re excited to bring such a leader to Kansas during the opening weeks of the 2013 legislative session.” For more information, go to www.kansaschamber.org.

Are Americans more homicidal than everyone else?

“Compare the rate of murder by gun in the United States to the rate in any other advanced industrial nation, and you’re forced to draw one of two conclusions: Either there are far more homicidal people in this country than just about anyplace else on Earth, or far more guns,” columnist Harold Meyerson wrote. “We must either be home to more people who succumb to murderous rage or who kill out of the coldest of calculations, or it’s easier to pick up a gun and start shooting here than in any comparable country.” Meyerson noted that there are 3.2 gun homicides per 100,000 residents in the United States, while only 0.1 per 100,000 in France, Britain and Australia. “Want to argue that we have 32 times the rate of dangerous mental illness that they have in Australia?”

Expect more raiding of state’s transportation plan

The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and other groups want the state to stop raiding the transportation program to cover its budget shortfalls. “Dedicated transportation funding streams should only be used for the transportation program,” the chamber’s 2013 agenda states. But Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Mike King indicated last week that he is ready and willing for the state to continue using his department as a piggy bank. He told the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce that his agency has money it will be willing to offer to cover budget shortfalls for the next fiscal year or two, the Hutchinson News reported. “We’ll be asked to give money up for other uses,” King said. He said his department can get by because of low bid prices, inflation and bonding rates. “We’re ahead of the game on the cost side,” he said. But former KDOT Secretary Deb Miller warned when she resigned a year ago that continuing to raid the transportation plan could jeopardize the 10-year highway plan.

Best of the worst political gaffes

U.S. News and World Report rounded up the top 10 political gaffes of the past election, including Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” and Richard Mourdock’s what “God intended” comments about abortion, Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video put-down and “binders full of women” reference, and President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” phrase and open-mike assurance to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that Obama would have “more flexibility” after re-election. And no gaffes roundup would be complete without Vice President Joe Biden, who made the list with his shocking warning to black voters that Romney would “put y’all back in chains.” GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich also won a spot for saying that “by the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon.”

Merry Christmas

Christmas greeting to all you bloggers. Though the shooting in Newtown, Conn., has left many people saddened, and economic struggles continue for many, may the peace, comfort and hope of this season be felt by all.

Expanding Medicaid could save money, lives

Gov. Sam Brownback still hasn’t announced whether he will allow the expansion of Medicaid, which the federal government will cover until 2016 and nearly cover after that. In addition to saving the state money and boosting its economy with the influx of federal funds, the expansion would have another benefit: It could reduce deaths in Kansas. A study by Harvard University researchers published in September in the New England Journal of Medicine found that states that previously had expanded Medicaid reduced their mortality rates by 6.1 percent. The researchers concluded that the expansions “were significantly associated with reduced mortality as well as improved coverage, access to care and self-reported health.”

Strong public support for immigration reform

The public is way ahead of many politicians on immigration reform. A Politico/George Washington University national poll found that 62 percent of those surveyed support “an immigration reform proposal that allows illegal or undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship over a period of several years.” A whopping 77 percent of those surveyed support allowing “the children of illegal or undocumented immigrants to earn the right to stay here permanently if they complete a college degree or serve in the military” (which is essentially the DREAM Act that GOP lawmakers have blocked).

Kobach: Illegal immigration is ‘ultimate unfunded mandate’

It doesn’t sound like the results of the 2012 presidential election will deter Kris Kobach from his mission to fight illegal immigration at the state and local levels. Characterizing illegal immigration as “the ultimate unfunded mandate,” the Kansas secretary of state told NPR: “If state and local government can add their shoulders to the wheel and help to increase the total amount of enforcement, that will change the cost-benefit analysis of your typical illegal alien who says, ‘You know what, it’s getting harder for me to work illegally in the United States. It’s getting harder for me to get these public benefits, and I’m going to go home.’”

Free journalist for Christmas

The parents of journalist Austin Tice (in photo), who was captured in Syria four months ago, wrote an open letter to his captors asking that he be released. “Let Austin come home for Christmas. Let us hug him, laugh and cry with him, love him in person. Let us be a whole family again,” they wrote. Anders Gyllenhaal, vice president for news at McClatchy Newspapers (The Eagle’s parent company), also wrote about why reporting from conflict zones is vital and why Tice should be released. Read both at Kansas.com/opinion.

After derailing ‘Plan B,’ Huelskamp stuns MSNBC panel

A press release from the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said he “led the efforts” to keep House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” fiscal-cliff solution from coming to the House floor. “Republicans should not be forced to vote for a ‘show’ bill that asks us to compromise on our principles,” Huelskamp said in a statement. When the “Big First” congressman took his defiant message to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Friday, also tangling with host Joe Scarborough over gun control at one point, Huelskamp left the panel of hosts and pundits exasperated. “There is the problem for the Republican Party right there,” tweeted host Mika Brzezinski afterward. Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post opinion columnist appearing on the show, said: “It was stunning. It was depressing. I didn’t know whether to scream or weep. But there you see the problem.”

Flinchbaugh’s tough talk on Congress, tax cuts

Barry Flinchbaugh, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at Kansas State University and a veteran of farm-bill fights, recently predicted at an American Bankers Association conference in Milwaukee that the new farm bill won’t come until April. As reported by the High Plains Journal, he lamented that the “hard work that was put in the Senate will have to start over” and blamed “political uncertainty” for the state of the economy. “As my old friend, former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, would say, this Congress gives 2-year-olds a bad name,” Flinchbaugh said. “We have elected a bunch of wingnuts that don’t understand compromise and how government should work. Wingnuts on the left and wingnuts on the right.” As for Flinchbaugh’s congressman, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler: “If I had him in class I’d have flunked him,” the professor said. During a question-and-answer session, Flinchbaugh called Gov. Sam Brownback a friend but complained about the state income-tax cuts. “He’s listening to that fraud economist from California, Arthur Laffer, who’s a supply-sider, who thinks you can grow by cutting taxes,” he said. “It doesn’t work. History shows it doesn’t work. It transfers the bills from state government to the local government so Gov. Brownback can run for president in 2016 and say, ‘I cut state taxes.’”

‘65 percent solution’ is part of the problem

To its credit, Gov. Sam Brownback’s school-efficiency task force recognized that the “65 percent solution” is itself a problem. In appointing the task force, Brownback complained that few school districts are spending 65 percent of their funding “in the classroom.” But as the task force members learned, whether schools meet that standard depends on what is counted. “There are a lot of things normal people would think are included in instruction that are not included in that definition at the present time,” task force chairman Ken Willard told lawmakers last week. Also, different districts have different needs. For example, fast-growing districts may need to spend more on capital improvements. “Our general belief is the 65 percent number is a bit arbitrary,” Willard said. The task force is recommending the state redefine what is included in the number. “If we are going to have a number, it should have some meaning,” Willard said. But the other big problem is that there is no research showing a relationship between the 65 percent threshold and improved student outcomes. It’s just a made-up number.

Pro-con on speeding up troop withdrawal

More than 60 percent of Americans want out of Afghanistan. Yet the war goes on, and even the White House plans for too slowly reducing the U.S. troop presence meet resistance from the Pentagon. U.S. commander Gen. George Allen was pushing just a few months ago to keep the current level of troops for another year. The military would also like to maintain a permanent presence of 6,000 to 15,000 troops. That is not going to happen, as the Afghan people don’t want foreign troops in their country. But the attempts to establish a permanent base of operations will make it more difficult to negotiate an end to war. We need to end this war in Afghanistan and other operations in the Middle East and elsewhere that are making Americans less secure and recruiting new enemies daily. Then we can focus on fixing our broken economy at home. – Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research

American soldiers should never be put in harm’s way unless it’s vital to our national interests. And if it’s a vital interest, they should stay until the mission is accomplished. To suggest that they can be withdrawn from a mission by an arbitrary date – regardless of progress made or lost – implies that the mission is not important, that they shouldn’t have been sent in the first place. Our armed forces don’t fight for the sake of fighting. And they don’t want to fight on a clock. They fight to serve our nation. And they would rather stay longer and do the job right than come home too soon. Rather than pick a date, the U.S. would do better to ensure that its interests are protected before it walks away. And it should commit to maintaining the forces and capabilities needed to secure its interests in the foreseeable future. – James Jay Carafano, Heritage Foundation

Majority (but not of men and GOP) support gun control

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 54 percent of Americans support stricter gun-control laws while 43 percent oppose them, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. There is a gender gap on guns, as 59 percent of women support more gun control compared with 47 percent of men. Only 29 percent of Republicans support more gun control. Regarding specific proposals, 59 percent of those surveyed support a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, and 52 percent support a ban on semi-automatic handguns. Only 27 percent support banning all handgun sales except to law enforcement.