Monthly Archives: May 2013

Our enemies are not contained

President Obama wants to end the open-ended “war on terror” and refocus on individual terrorists or terrorist cells. But that doesn’t mean the threats are gone, columnist Kathleen Parker warned. “We may change our strategies, but we should not convince ourselves that our enemies are contained,” she wrote. “Rather, they are like cicadas, rising from their subterranean berths to wreak havoc when the time is ripe. Let’s hope we’re ready when that time comes.”

Veto of bill good but a bit of a surprise

It was good that Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a charity raffle bill last week that he determined would violate the Kansas Constitution. The governor has a responsibility to carefully review all bills that come before him, and he shouldn’t approve legislation that is clearly unconstitutional. But the veto was also a bit of a surprise, as Brownback hasn’t seemed particularly concerned about whether other bills are constitutional. He signed a gun bill this session that the Kansas Attorney General’s Office said was obviously unconstitutional (then basically shrugged when the U.S. Justice Department objected). In this and past sessions, Brownback also has signed legally and constitutionally questionable anti-abortion bills, including one to defund Planned Parenthood that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned would violate federal law (a position upheld this week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow Indiana to defund Planned Parenthood).

Some tax-exempt groups deserve scrutiny

The Internal Revenue Service deserves scrutiny and criticism for targeting conservative and tea party groups. But some of those groups also could use some scrutiny (as could some liberal groups). Though they claimed tax-exempt status as “social welfare” organizations, their activities seem primarily political. For example, while it was applying for tax exemption, the Wetumpka Tea Party of Alabama was sponsoring training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the “defeat of President Barack Obama,” and CVFC, a conservative veterans’ group in California, was spending thousands of dollars on radio ads backing a Republican candidate for Congress, the New York Times reported. “While some of the IRS questions may have been overbroad,” said Donald B. Tobin, a former lawyer with the Justice Department’s tax division, “you can look at some of these groups and understand why these questions were being asked.”

Resolution shows lawmakers have too much time on their hands

In addition to the $45,000 a day that they are costing the state, here is another reason why the lawmakers need to finish their work and go home: So they will stop passing bad laws and meaningless resolutions. Here’s one example: The Senate passed a resolution last week declaring that “the Judeo-Christian tradition has been, and continues to be, the majority religion in the USA and its military.” Senate Resolution 1767 also denounces the “increasing hostility from special interests toward religious expressions by military service members and of restrictions on military chaplains.” The resolution also instructs the Kansas adjutant general to “fully support and aggressively defend the rights of religious conscience and the free exercise of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the Kansas National Guard and support the professional chaplaincy.” But Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that National Guard officials “are not aware of any issues with freedom of religious expression within the Kansas National Guard.”

Melcher’s tax argument draws ridicule

During the Kansas Senate’s tax debate last week, Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, offered the novel argument that with a proposal to cut the sales tax on food from 6.3 to 4.95 percent, “we are encouraging the behavior of purchasing food and discouraging the behavior of purchasing anything else,” also calling it “social engineering” that could increase obesity in the state. That drew the notice of the Huffington Post: “Sure, there can be little doubt that an almost imperceptible decrease in the sales tax on groceries is bound to cause ordinary people to just straight-up spend all their disposable income on foodstuffs, to the detriment of all other industries.” The Wonkette blog exclaimed: “Look, Ma, we found a Republican what does not want to cut taxes!” Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, told the Huffington Post, “I have no words.” Kansas City Star columnist Steve Kraske concluded: “Melcher won’t be living down that one for awhile.”

House freshmen aren’t taking blame for long session

Kansas House members are understandably irritated by the condescending attitude of some Senate leaders. The last straw was when Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce (in photo), R-Hutchinson, blamed the long session in part on the House freshmen having difficulty grasping the major changes proposed for state policy, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Bruce said that most of the freshmen “spent half the session trying to find where the bathrooms are.” Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, responded that House freshmen “are more than capable of understanding state tax policy” and “will not assume blame for the current state of affairs.” Finch also noted: “We were not in the building last year when the tax plan was passed without the ‘pay fors’ that are now so hard to find. It was not us who promised the public a temporary sales tax that we are now told needs to be made permanent to the vexation of many citizens and legislators.”

Dole: Today’s GOP wouldn’t even welcome Reagan

The Republican Party of today wouldn’t even welcome Ronald Reagan, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole said on “Fox News Sunday.” Dole also doubted that he would be welcome. The former Senate majority leader said that the Republican National Committee should put a “closed for repairs” sign on its doors while it works on ideas and positive agendas. Dole, who was known for reaching agreements, is mystified by how little today’s lawmakers get done. “It seems to be almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget or legislation,” he said. “I mean, we weren’t perfect by a long shot, but at least we got our work done.”

When groundwater runs out, it’s gone for good

The wet spring is helping alleviate the drought in parts of Kansas. But as a recent New York Times article noted, lack of water is still a major problem for western Kansas farmers who depend on irrigation. “In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry,” the Times reported. “In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers. And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.”

Good for Kansans for supporting Srinivasan

To their credit, Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts helped confirm former Kansan Sri Srinivasan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as the Senate finally broke the seven-year political standoff on nominees to the influential court with a remarkable 97-0 vote last week. Srinivasan, the first member of a federal appeals court to be of South Asian descent, now is considered a front-runner for a U.S. Supreme Court nomination. He moved with his family to Lawrence as a 4-year-old and went on to become a basketball star at Lawrence High School (sharing the court with Danny Manning) before earning bachelor’s, law and business degrees from Stanford University. Most recently, Srinivasan has been the principal deputy solicitor general. Even with Srinivasan’s confirmation, the D.C. Circuit still has three vacancies.

Remember nation’s war dead

On Memorial Day, many of us pay homage to loved ones we’ve lost to injury, illness and time, decorating their graves with spring flowers and visiting them in our memories. But the holiday’s reason for being is our nation’s war dead, making the somber occasion a precious annual opportunity to reflect on their service and honor their sacrifice.

Likening Sebelius’ fundraising to Iran-Contra

Under the provocative Wall Street Journal headline “Kathleen Sebelius, Meet Oliver North,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., addressed reports that the Health and Human Services secretary and former Kansas governor has been doing private fundraising, including from health care executives, for a private entity helping implement Obamacare. Alexander quoted an HHS spokesman as saying that because Congress didn’t provide additional funding needed, “we had to come up with Plan B.” Then Alexander asked: “Isn’t ‘Plan B’ what got Oliver North in trouble during the 1980s?” referring to charges that the Reagan official circumvented Congress by using the proceeds of secret arms sales to Iran to bankroll Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Alexander concluded: “ Is Ms. Sebelius raising funds for a private entity and then coordinating with that entity to do something Congress has refused to authorize, or for which it has refused to appropriate funds? And is she raising money from organizations she regulates, in violation of ethics laws? If the money being raised by Ms. Sebelius is being spent to do an end-run around Congress, then the Obama administration had better brush up on its Iran-Contra history.”

Governor needs to usher lawmakers to the exits

Instead of ending in 80 days, as promised by the Legislature’s new conservative GOP leaders, the legislative session has spun out of control. On the 91st day, which was Friday, the House unceremoniously rejected the Senate’s tax plan on a 5-109 vote and adjourned until Tuesday. That was despite a closed-door appeal to House freshmen that morning by Gov. Sam Brownback. Such rancor among conservatives reflects badly on the leadership of the governor, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and the resulting overtime days are wasting tax dollars. Senate negotiators took a big step Friday afternoon in blessing House negotiators’ preferred 6 percent sales-tax rate, but will the rank and file fall in line? Brownback needs to usher lawmakers to the exits.

Did president ever say ‘corporate fat cat jet owners’?

Politico highlighted the Light Aircraft Revitalization Act, the legislation recently introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (in photo), R-Wichita, to boost general aviation by streamlining the certification process and lowering costs. He said its passage would help the “very, very troubled” aircraft-manufacturing industry in Wichita. “You cannot have a tax and regulatory structure that puts American manufacturing at a decided global disadvantage. And that’s what I think we have today,” Pompeo said. Politico questioned Pompeo’s claim that President Obama has made “dozens and dozens of speeches in which he says ‘corporate fat cat jet owners.’ You can talk to the folks at these businesses; they will all tell you: ‘The president gives that speech; it spooks the market.’” According to Politico, “a LexisNexis search didn’t turn up any references of Obama using the phrase, and the White House had no record of it.” Perhaps, but the president’s policy proposals and rhetoric regarding corporate jets and their owners speak for themselves.

So they said

- “Speedos are not required.” – Wichita Festivals president and CEO Mary Beth Jarvis, pre-empting Mayor Carl Brewer’s question about the new Riverfest Beach Party-

- “I’m a big fan of the turkey leg myself.” – Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Jim Skelton, during a discussion of Riverfest’s highlights

- “It’s easy. Three words: ‘I was responsible.’” – Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., goading former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman during a Senate hearing on IRS targeting of conservative groups

- “I want to be the hush in the room.” – House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, noting House chatter increases during comments by legislators who frequently go to the microphone and diminishes for those who rarely speak

- “This is about circling the wagons and shooting inward.” – Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, as the House and Senate’s GOP leaders battled over taxes Thursday

- “This is the Washington model for gaining stature in your own community – bringing home the bacon.” – Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, on a state budget proposal’s $85,000 for golf tournaments in Wichita and Newton (the latter home to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades)

Why presidents are disappointing

Almost all U.S. presidents, whether Republican or Democrat, are disappointing. Why is that? Here are five reasons offered by scholar Aaron David Miller: The challenges that confront presidents far exceed the powers at their disposal. Our expectations are unrealistic. The presidency is too up close and personal. The job is just too big. We want presidents to have the common touch and be heroic.

Can’t blame Legislature’s dysfunction on moderates

When Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative backers ousted most of the moderates from the Kansas Senate, so that conservatives had control of both chambers, this year’s legislative session was supposed to be a breeze. In fact, House and Senate leaders said it would take only 80 days, instead of the allotted 90. But 90 days ended Thursday, and today the House overwhelmingly rejected the Senate tax plan and then adjourned until Tuesday. They can’t blame this dysfunction on moderates.

What’s next on lobbying ban?

Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, was correct to raise concerns about a bill the Legislature passed this week that bans the use of state money to advocate for or against gun control. Though the prohibition likely would be difficult to enforce, Dillmore fears that it will be an impediment to the conversations that need to go on between entities. And if you can restrict discussions on this topic, what’s next? “This is a very undemocratic and very foolish piece of legislation,” Dillmore said. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from the Legislature.

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

The following satirical headlines come from borowitzreport.com and theonion.com:

• Obama Denies Role in Government
• Republicans Agree to Stop Using Word ‘Scandal’ in Every Sentence if Obama Resigns
• Obama Asks Staff to Start Cc’ing Him on Stuff
• Kim Jong Un Defends Right to Obtain Journalists’ Phone Records
• GOP Split Over Whether to Waste Time Investigating Benghazi or Repealing Obamacare
• Obama Supporter Has Perfectly Improbable Explanation Absolving President From Blame for Scandals
• Republicans Question Whether Obama Could Handle Actual Scandal
• ‘Our Thoughts Go Out to Oklahoma,’ Says GOP Congressman, Mentally Calculating When He Can Bring Up Benghazi Again
• Fox: New Evidence Hillary Killed Lincoln
• Republicans: Obama Must Take Action in Syria So We Can Criticize Action He Took in Syria
• Sanford’s Comeback Gives Hope to Liars
• NRA Leader Warns of Rising Cost of Senators
• Obama Orders Reinvasion of Iraq After Illuminating Trip Through Bush Presidential Library
• Yahoo Back on Top After Purchasing Millions of 13-Year-Old Girls’ Blogs

Education leaders pushing back in support of Common Core

There is still a push in the Legislature to block the Common Core education standards. But leaders of the state’s associations of school boards and administrators and teachers union are trying to push back. They wrote lawmakers to try to dispel some of the myths about Common Core and urge them not to defund its implementation. Among their points:
• We support these standards because they establish rigorous academic standards in English language arts and mathematics, and define the knowledge and skills all students should master by the end of each grade to be college- or career-ready upon high school graduation.
• These standards are included in the Kansas College and Career Readiness Standards, and our schools, under the guidance of the state board, have already invested significant resources and time in preparing our members to implement the standards.
• The standards are not a mandate of the federal government. They were created through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. States that adopted the standards were able to provide input into their development and to add state-specific content.
• The standards are not curriculum; rather they identify where students should be academically at any given time.

School district, voters wise to build storm shelters

When the Wichita school district included storm shelter safe rooms as part of its 2008 bond issue, some opponents of the bond questioned the expense. But the tragedy in Moore, Okla., shows why the rooms are important – even as we hope they are never needed. As The Eagle reported Wednesday, Wichita was the first public school district in the country to build a Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved storm shelter in a school. That was in 2000, and since then the district has built 69 safe rooms. Eight others are under construction, and 14 are in the planning or design stages.

Airport needs to have basement shelter ready

Full of windows and usually on the edge of town, an airport terminal makes a lousy storm shelter. At Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, that should make it a high priority to plan and practice for tornado warnings. So it was alarming to learn that at least some of the 500 to 600 people at the airport during Sunday’s warning were mistakenly informed that the terminal’s basement was full. One of the passengers who was turned away credited security with getting people to other safe places. But before and after the new terminal opens in early 2015, Mid-Continent officials need to ensure they have the basement shelter ready and procedures in place to use it fully.

Congratulations to McConnell on its tanker win

Wichita got a great, well-timed boost with today’s news that McConnell Air Force Base will be the main active-duty operating base for the KC-46A tankers, emerging the winner in the 54-base field. McConnell also was in the running to become a formal training base for the new tankers, a job won by Altus, Okla. But McConnell got what it wanted most with the Air Force’s decision, meaning it can expect to receive 36 new tankers in 2016 and the jobs and economic benefits of hosting them. That’s the perfect role for McConnell, which is currently the world’s largest tanker base, with 62 KC-135s, and the home of the Air Force’s 22nd Air Refueling Wing and the Air Force Reserves’ 931st Air Refueling Group. So even though Boeing Wichita won’t help build the tankers after all, due to Boeing’s decision to leave town by the end of this year, many of those planes will end up calling Wichita home. As Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said in a statement: “We’re thrilled that McConnell AFB has been recognized as an indispensable part of America’s defenses and excited about the opportunities this creates for the rest of Kansas.” Congratulations and thanks to all who fought for and won this exciting new role for McConnell and Wichita.

Better news on the federal deficit

The federal budget deficit is expected to drop to $642 billion this year, congressional budget analysts said Tuesday. That’s still too high, but it’s the lowest level since the economic crisis hit in 2008, the Washington Post reported. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the deficit will fall below 3 percent of the overall economy by 2015 but will rise again by the end of the decade as more baby boomers retire.

Kansas cities among worst-performing

Economically, Lawrence is the second-worst-performing small-metropolitan area in the nation, according to a new study. But other Kansas communities didn’t do that well, either. Of 179 small metro areas studied by the Milken Institute, Lawrence ranked 178th for creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth. Topeka came in 144th – better but not good. Among 200 large cities studied, Wichita was 146th while Kansas City was 104th. The ranking emphasized high-tech jobs, which is one reason why Kansas didn’t rank higher.

House leader promotes anti-climate-change book she didn’t read

Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, initially said she didn’t recall writing the letter on her office stationery that was sent along with an anti-climate-change book to the homes of Kansas House members. But she later confirmed that she wrote the letter endorsing the book, which she has not read. Parts of Mast’s endorsement were taken almost word for word from a Publishers Weekly review of the book, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The book, “The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism,” was distributed by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank funded in part by Charles and David Koch.