Saturday, March 30, 2013

Self-evident Truths

A recent political cartoon by Joel Pett in the March 22, 2013, issue of the Lexington Herald-Leader played off the NCAA tournament, depicting President Obama and a GOPer represented by an elephant comparing ideological issues in opposing brackets. Obama's brackets contained Compromise vs. Ideology, Leadership vs. Caution, Tax vs. Spend, Openness vs.Secrecy, Environment vs. "Bidness", Talk vs. Action, Principle vs. Money and Hope vs. Change. The GOP brackets contained Rich vs. You, Church vs. State, Jobs vs. Get a Job!, Big Tent vs. Get Lost, Compromise vs. Ideology, Env(iroment) vs. Bidness, Guns vs. Butter, and Tax Cuts vs. Spend. Out of these opposing terms, only two are common in the cartoon. The cartoon's brackets played out with Obama's preference for Compromise and the GOP's preference for the Rich.

The exercise of picking winners between opposing ideological positions caused me to think about the validity of the comparisons. The only comparison that was seen by me as polar opposites was that of Openness vs. Secrecy. I consider the rest to be artificial oppositions brought about by the warping power of politics. My next musing was to think of opposites that  I considered as truly trumping one another. I call them Self-evident Truths, as in "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." In my opinion, they are, to wit: Substance vs. Form, Reason vs.Ideology, Independence vs. Subservience, Love vs. Hate, Humility vs. Hubris, and Compromise vs. Contention.

If you read this, please comment and add your own truths.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

More on Naivete about Bad Things

A previous post discussed how the first reaction of some people to something bad happening is to attempt to do whatever is necessary to prevent it from ever happening again. It's a laudable sentiment, but it creates problems for actually finding a way to deal with the problem, the bad thing.

First, practical solutions that show promise to reduce the incidence of a bad thing are attacked. The reasons given for not trying promising solutions are many. Reasons include impracticality, cost, interference with personal liberties, inadequacy of the promising response, etc. The interesting thing about these criticisms is that no alternatives are presented as counter-proposals by their proponents.

Secondly, the naive solutions are targeted at specific circumstances surrounding the bad thing. The latest bad thing, a tragic shooting of school children and teachers, has prompted suggestions of putting armed guards in schools and/or arming teachers. The proponents of turning schools into fortresses have tunnel vision, omitting such venues where mass shootings have occurred such as movie theaters, supermarkets, shopping malls, work places and places of worship, from the scope of the solution. The naive solution is seen as the ultimate panacea without regard to it's own short-comings.

Thirdly, due to the emotional investment by the proponents of naive solutions, criticisms of the solution are often taken to be a personal attack on the proponent. This reaction delays others from criticizing the bad idea and suggesting practical solutions that show promise of reducing the chance of re-occurrence of the bad thing. In the meantime, in sympathy with the proponents of naive solutions, others become invested in the naive solution due to not hearing a critical analysis of its short-comings. The efficacy of the bad, naive solution becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A current example of a workable solution, realistic regulation of firearms aimed at reducing both the availability of weapons to persons who fit the profile of mass-murder shooters and the ability of weapons that can cause massive destruction of human life, is having a difficult time making traction against the simplistic idea of creating fortresses, an idea that is as old as civilization and one that is totally eclipsed by modern technology.

Let's get reasonable and find a solution to mass shootings.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Proposed Bill to Block Grade 4 for Poor Readers

A bill in the Kansas Legislature would block third-graders from advancing to fourth-grade, if they lack sufficient reading skills. The Governor cited statistics dealing with national rankings of reading skills based on 4th grade performance. Kansas fourth-graders over-all did not rank well. Our brilliant Governor reasoned that if only children who pass the reading test at the required skill level are promoted to 4th grade the Kansas ranking vis-à-vis fourth-graders of other states would improve. Indeed, by holding back the poor readers, Kansas might lead the nation unless other states adopt the same policy.

The outcome of this proposed law that is not being considered is the larger class sizes of third graders. Also, the possibility exists that, by the time these passed-over third-graders reach high school, they will be more prone to drop out of school, especially if held back for more than one year. Obviously, an experienced educator could predict other unforeseen adverse consequences of this policy, but I doubt that they were consulted.

The Governor and Legislature need to back off and stop trying to micro-manage the school system. The educational system has reading specialists who could succeed more easily with all students if the resources were made available to them. Having taught adult  literacy classes, I know that one of the reasons many adults failed at reading skills was the fact that as children they moved from school to school, often between states, which caused their education to be disrupted. Will holding back third graders fix this problem?

The Urge to Fix: Naivete on Display

Bad things happen. When bad things happen, it seems that nowadays the urge is to fix the circumstances that led up to the bad thing happening so that it never happens again. At least, this seems to be the first reaction when a bad thing happens.

I hear this reaction to bad things happening from persons interviewed by the new media, from pandering politicians, from unfortunate victims and from the family and friends of the unfortunate victims. This reaction is the display of naivete.

It is absolutely unreasonable to expect to prevent a bad thing from happening again. The most that can be expected is that the odds of a bad thing happening again may be reduced, but even this result cannot be guaranteed. There are simply too many variables involved in the occurrence of a bad thing to expect absolute control over whether or not a bad thing happens again. That being the case,  then whence the urge for a permanent fix?

I attribute it to the naive belief that there are absolutes that can be obtained by force of will. More later.  

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Comments on Kansas Economic Development – Brownback Style

From the perspective of a 30-year career as a city manager where economic development was a constant effort, I feel qualified to comment on the initiatives to “spur growth” that are occurring now in Kansas.

The Governor believes reducing, even eliminating, the state income tax is the key to economic growth.
I believe the way to stimulate increased manufacturing and the mid-level paying employment it brings is property tax relief. In my city government experience, I have not known manufacturing equipment to require increased municipal services and, to the extent that new equipment supplants labor, the demand for educational services is similarly not increased. Therefore, tax relief for expensive manufacturing equipment would do more to attract new plant investment.

The idea of eliminating “long-standing tax exemptions” is an area that should be explored more intensively for economic benefits. Strange, but this area of interest a couple of sessions ago is not being discussed.

I might also note that the Brownback administration’s avowed intent to eliminate the state income tax would shoot a big hole in the PEAK program and the ROZ program income tax abatement. The PEAK program has had bad unintended results with no-benefit tax relief. The ROZ program, although it will do no harm, is a mere palliative for depopulation, which in itself is not a bad thing, unless of course, it occurs with catastrophic effect as it did from the Plague’s devastation of 14th century Europe. The depopulation of parts of Kansas has occurred steadily since the mechanization of agriculture began and, in some cases, as natural resources were depleted or eclipsed. Surely, there are sufferers from depopulation, mainly retailers and others whose operations become economically not viable. As a believer in “free market” economics, I envision that a natural adjustment to a new economic reality is more beneficial than artificial attempts to restore a bygone era. While it may be politically tough, it is politically smarter in the long run to help declining rural areas consolidate into economically viable communities through redirection of state resources. Unfortunately, this is not current state policy.

Finally, in early August, 2011, I had a first-hand experience with the new 75 mile per hour speed limit on Kansas interstates which was instituted as an economic development measure, specifically tourism. At the old 70 mph, most traffic (except trucks) drove at 75 mph. Now, the trucks are going 75 and scaring the pants off of “tourists”. Most motorists are scooting along at 80 mph. I would have preferred that Kansas lower the speed limit on trucks to 60 or 65 as is the practice in a lot of states east of Kansas and left the 70 mph limit alone. There was no evidence presented that commercial truckers and tourists are choosing alternate routes due to the 70 mph limit. And, even if there was evidence, I’d just as soon that Oklahoma and Nebraska deal with the highway damage caused by heavy trucks. Perhaps, next session the legislators can raise the speed limit to 80 mph for more economic development benefits.

Friday, February 01, 2013

School Efficiency Task Force Findings

Kansas Governor Brownback’s School Efficiency Task Force spent their time looking for educational system inefficiencies. The task force identified no specific operational inefficiencies dealing with teaching and learning, probably because it was beyond their expertise. Most task force members were accountant types. As expected several recommendations dealt with financial matters, but not the amount of state funding. That subject was a political no-no for the appointees. The task force made several specific recommendations, some for further study, which will be discussed in future posts.
Democrats contend that reduced state educational funding has made schools less efficient. Their contention can be tested. In 2007, former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and the Kauffman Foundation commissioned Standard and Poor’s School Evaluation Services to conduct the Kansas School District Efficiency Study using data from 2004-05 and 2005-06. In the study, each school district was given a relative efficiency score ranging from about 60% to 100% efficient. The average Kansas school district was found to be approximately 85% as efficient as the most cost-effective districts. Twenty-seven of 257 analyzed districts achieved relative efficiency scores over 99 percent.
Reprising this study, using the latest available data from 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years when state resources were reduced, would provide up-to-date relative efficiency scores to compare district-by-district with the previous study. If the Democrats claim of reduced efficiency is true, there should be fewer districts achieving a relative efficiency score of 99 percent and the average relative efficiency score should be lower.
Rather than build Web sites to collect examples of school district performance like the Governor did, it might be more enlightening to redo the 2007 study. Personally, I think hard facts trump anecdotal fictions.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thoughts on Funding Education

In August, 2011, I wrote that cuts in funding of Kansas public schools and universities should not be occurring. Rather I felt that income taxes should be increased to fully fund the educational needs of the state, because property and sales taxes are pretty well maxed out. Since then educational funding has not been restored to its former level, indeed costs of operating school have continued to increase. The financial distress faced by public schools in Kansas is real.

Whether distressed or not, expenditures by school districts and universities should be closely monitored to insure efficient and economical operation and to eliminate inefficiencies, that is, to achieve greater outputs with the same inputs. One way to achieve greater efficiency is to reorganize school districts and institutions of higher education. Fewer school districts would reduce overheads while broadening support services. Universities and community colleges should be reviewed to eliminate duplication of services, excessive overhead and unnecessary “fluff”.  The Department of Education and Board of  Regents should provide oversight and assistance to subsidiary educational agencies with their primary focus on monetary savings.

On-line K-12 instruction diverts scarce resources from public schools to enhance home-schooling viability. State educational policy should encourage parents to seek public school education of their children as the better alternative. On the other hand, distance-learning programs that increase resources available to sparsely populated areas should be the focus of on-line instruction, but only in a public school setting.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Weaken the NRA

People who favor common sense gun control feel it is impossible given the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association whose power is based on a membership that vociferously advocates for firearm rights for hunting, sport or self-defense. Constitutional rights are inviolate, yet NRA members believe any gun restrictions will only be expanded to deny them firearms of any kind for any reason. This attitude opposing reasonable regulation can be changed by the influence of female kin and others who do not hold the macho idea that death is the only way a gun may be taken away from a patriotic American male.

Recognizing the tragic losses from gun violence, an alternative gun lobby should be established. Call it Your American Marksmanship and Hunting Association with the macho acronym, YAMAHA. Women in the lives of sportsmen and others should start referring to the NRA as the NARA (National Assault Rifle Association) and complain about any dues payments, because the lobbying group is adequately funded by the gun industry. With a weakened NRA, headway could be made for common sense gun control.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Firearms and Taxes

Gun sales, which increased after President Obama was re-elected, have soared since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I don’t want to hear anyone who has bought a firearm in the past couple of months complaining about increased payroll taxes. They probably spent more on their Bushmaster assault rifle or semi-automatic Glock pistol than the additional amount of money they’ll pay into Social Security. What I would like to hear about is the use they plan for that new pistol or rifle. If they say the firearm is for self-protection, they might as well have spent their money on Power Ball tickets. The odds are winning a 6 number lottery are about the same as the unlikely chance of having to fend off an armed attacker. Actually, the dream of riches and the dream of success against adversity have pretty much the same satisfying muses. But, what the heck, it’s a free country isn’t it? Enjoy your new dust-catcher.

Friday, November 16, 2012

First Amendment Solution to Anti-Abortion Laws

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The Supreme Court, in numerous cases, has held that government cannot require or support activities in furtherance of specific religious beliefs, i.e., prayer in schools or certain denominational exhibits. These court decisions have not specified a particular church organization. The idea that abortion of a fetus is an act of murder is based on a religious belief espoused by various Christian denominations and possibly other non-Christian religions of which I am unaware. Some Christian and other religions hold the belief that the term "unborn child" is an oxymoron, that a human being does not exist until a live birth occurs. For Congress to pass a law concerning abortion that says otherwise or is based on a religious belief that gives human status to a fetus, in my opinion, respects an establishment of religion. Further, if a woman is required under penalty of law to submit her body to the dictates of a law that opposes her personal religious beliefs concerning abortion or other reproductive issue, the Congress has prohibited this woman the free exercise of her religion. Any effort by the court to uphold laws regulating abortion is likewise a violation of the First Amendment. Not only does the Congress need to stop intruding one personal liberties, so also do the courts when they give Congress leeway to enact laws that regulate abortion beyond what is necessary to insure safe medical practices. Since state constitutions also have provisions similar to the First Amendment, the same reasoning applies to their legislatures to place strictures on abortion.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Faith Voting

Two letters in this morning's Kansas City Star contained polar opposite views on voting your faith.

One letter stated, "As a woman, I am very disappointed with the women who voted President Barack Obama back in. To me, this is demeaning to women. To the Hispanics who are Catholic, does your faith not matter?"

The other letter stated, "I am a Christian mother,wife, daughter, nurse, and friend. I won't be bullied [by a Billy Graham full-page advertisement urging biblical values to guide voting decisions] to vote with the right wing by conservative Christians. We live in America. Can't we all respect free will and our privilege to vote as we choose?

The first letter writer is a "faith voter". The second letter writer is not. My guess is that the first writer is an Evangelical, and the second writer is not. The first has probably been influenced by a preacher, the second not. The first is probably "pro-life, the second "pro-choice". The first is probably a right-wing Republican,  the second not. There are probably other differences and similarities between the two, but what is the critical feature of their existence that moves them to polar opposite views? Answer this question and you have the knowledge to unlock the political grid-lock that besets America.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Counseling – Good for what ails you?

Counseling can help you mend psychic flaws, so many believe. It can help you get your head on straight to better deal with the realities or fantasies of life. It can enable you to improve your attitude towards others and yourself. It can help you overcome your “hang-ups”, those inner demons, also called phobias and/or personality quirks that frustrate your existence. It can help you learn about your inner-self, your motivations and aspirations and your fears and revulsions. It can help you direct your behaviors away from destructiveness to wholesomeness by learning coping habits that deal with life’s vagaries. It can help you modify your behavior away from bizarre actions to socially acceptable or normative ones. It can help you learn self-effacing skills like anger management, other-directed communication, tolerance and empathy. In other words, if some aspect of your psyche ails your interpersonal relationships, getting counseling will fix it, that is, if the counseling process goes well.

The counseling process can involve either a one-to-one relationship or a group endeavor with a therapist, depending on available resources. The process is typically conducted in short-term sessions of 45 to 60 minutes duration. However, the session may be abbreviated or lengthened depending on need. The process itself is verbalization of feelings in a non-judgmental setting that encourages introspection and reflection. The listener’s role is to probe for deeper meaning, to summarize or recap statements for affirmation or clarity, to empathize with viewpoints expressed, to confirm understanding by restating the subject’s vague expressions, to offer non-judgmental insights for remedial action, or simply to listen. The subject’s role is to gain awareness of self-perceptions that hinder effective behaviors and to internalize responses to challenging stimuli that are effective adaptations to one’s emotional and cognitive state. The result of the process will be a catharsis of the subject’s behavior that provides a metamorphous from dysfunctional to adaptive. In essence, counseling is a learning experience that the subject undergoes to achieve existential self-actualization, in other words, peace with one’s being and with others.

Who needs counseling? The answer is clear – virtually everyone, except Jesus. If the resources were available, everyone would have a personal, professional counselor whom they would visit regularly to maintain their psyche free of neurosis and psychosis, self-doubt and hubris, egotism and altruism. What a wonderful utopia we would live in -  no strife, misunderstanding, contention, or other adversity in relationships. The problem with solution is its impracticality, needlessness and expense. Our efforts should be directed to fixing impaired interpersonal relationships by simply admitting fault or by apologetic expressions. In other words, go along to get along. No one is perfect.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Does God Choose Sides?

Evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is literally true and that the Good Book tells them that God takes sides between those who are with Him and those who are against Him. Further, they believe that our political leaders are selected by God. Therefore, Evangelicals belief that God takes sides in elections and that He ordains the winner (except when a godless Liberal wins). Losses for God’s favored candidates are the work of the Devil who clouds the minds of voters so they make the wrong selection. Those elected, who are not God’s choice, are therefore illegitimate office-holders. How then do we know who is legitimate and who is not?

Knowledge of who is picked by God to lead us is obtained by communion with God. This is how it worked in medieval Europe when kings were deemed in authority by divine right as communicated by the Catholic Pope who had a direct pipeline to the Almighty as the Vicar of Christ on the planet. Today, in America, there is no central religious authority holding sway as did the popes of yore. However, there is a network of evangelical churchmen who, after the political process to select nominees in which they overtly and covertly participate, give their imprimatur to God’s favored candidate. So indeed, God takes sides, but His side doesn’t always win, Obama’s re-election being a case in point.

What in the Evangelical’s mind went wrong when God’s side loses? There are several possibilities: (1) God has a greater purpose that will be revealed in the future when true victory will be obtained. (2) The process that picked the candidate was flawed in some way. (3) The electorate was misled by the Devil embodied in a Liberal media, an unscrupulous financial backer supportive of the Left and/or lies of the Devil’s candidate. And, finally, (4) God doesn’t really take sides in picking our leaders. I suspect the latter is the right reason, although I cannot establish that with absolute certainty. Unless, of course, I reject the idea of a supreme being who has the power to ordain human happenings or I decide that the Bible is not to be taken literally and that the historical precedent of the Divine Right of Kings was merely a convenient justification for oppressing the ignorant masses of peasants who were the kings unwilling, but powerless, subjects.

My God doesn’t take sides. He is embodied by Jesus who accepts everyone with love. I am amazed at the hubris of Evangelicals who believe that they can stake a personal claim on Jesus’ love that excludes others. I am sure their motives for this belief are many and varied, but definitely not in sync with the fact and example of Jesus.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Borrowing from China

Our government issues bonds to pay some of its expenses, but that’s not simply borrowing from China. We don't go to China for a loan as a borrower would. Issuing bonds and taking out a loan have similarities, but they are not the same thing. A critical difference (among several) is that U.S. bonds are sold world-wide on an open financial market, rather than being sought from a potential lender.

China buys U.S. bonds for its own financial security, not to control U.S. fiscal policy. China cannot dictate bond repayment terms and relies on the U.S.’s full faith and credit as do all bond holders. The seller of bonds is in control of the terms, including repayment terms.

Conservatives suggest it’s bad that the U.S. borrows money from China. But the conservatives are wrong about that.  It is good that China buys U.S. bonds, because that increases world-wide competition for the bonds, which lowers the interest rate received.

Mr. Romney and cohorts, please stop saying that our government borrows from China. That’s a good sound bite, but it is not factual. It’s just another lie to mislead the American voter.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Consolidation - Panacea or Problem

Kansas Governor Brownback’s School Efficiency Task Force is looking for educational system inefficiencies that, if corrected, would provide a greater percentage of state resources for classroom instruction. He claims only 15 of 286 school districts spend more than 65% on classroom instruction. School officials maintain that including funds used for classroom support services raises classroom instruction spending for all districts to over 75%. The task force was instructed not to include consolidation of small enrollment school districts in its efficiency recommendations.

Former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and the Kansas City Kauffman Foundation commissioned Standard and Poor’s School Evaluation Services to conduct the Kansas School District Efficiency Study, which found that “on average, larger districts appear to be more efficient than smaller districts statewide. … (T)he state’s smaller districts tend to have comparatively high per-student spending levels, which may in part be explained by a lack of economies of scale among these districts.”

School district consolidation, generally opposed in rural areas, would as a practical matter reduce administration and other overhead costs, thus directing a greater percentage of state resources to support classroom instruction. How successful will the Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force’s be? Which will win: politics or your pocketbook? You decide.

In my opinion, some consolidation should be done according to plans developed by the residents of school districts, not by state mandates. But, the State should definitely provide incentives and models for consolidation, as it will be beneficial to all: taxpayers, students, and educators.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Candidate Melcher's Cure-All

Jeff Melcher, Republican candidate for the Kansas State Senate 10th District, claims in campaign literature that he is committed to health care reform “the Kansas way”. He has a three-pronged plan to “fix health care”. Here it is:

1.     Ailment: Individual Health Insurance Costs. Presumably, the ailment is that costs are too high. The solution fails to mention family coverage. Melcher’s Cure is to allow Kansans to buy health insurance across state lines which he claims would create a larger choice of vendors and available coverage. The broadened offerings would create “vigorous competition for … health insurance dollars” bringing premium costs down.
Response: The only health insurance vendors which I can imagine being added to the pool of available policies by Melcher’s proposal would be those not presently offering health insurance in Kansas. Do such insurers actually exist? And, if they do, why do they not compete now for Kansans business? What kinds of coverage options would out-of-state companies provide that presently are not available in Kansas? Is it because the policies they offer do not qualify according to the review standards of the Kansas State Insurance Commissioner? Is it good public policy to permit the sale of health insurance policies in Kansas by companies that are not regulated by the state and might be fiscally unsound. A low-cost, non-regulated out-of state policy will be a risky proposition, if it doesn’t fully pay legitimate claims or cancels coverage without recourse. A low-cost policy regulated by another state that does not have standards that protect consumers as well as Kansas will not be competing on a level playing field with Kansas insurers. What would keep companies that now sell insurance in Kansas to forgo the Kansas regulatory process and sell to Kansans from across the state line? Commissions collected by insurance salespersons in other states will be income lost to Kansas agents. Is it true that competition drives insurance premium costs? I think not- utilization of health care services, health care costs and negotiated reimbursement rates, and insurance company operating cost efficiency  have a larger impact on health insurance premiums. Like many proposed solutions, the cure for this “ailment” may sound good to someone who is not knowledgeable about health insurance, but it is dangerous for consumers, unnecessary given the regulatory structure of the health insurance industry and impractical considering the extra costs of bureaucracy that would be created . Buying insurance “across state lines” would be practical only if the federal government were to replace the state governments as the regulators of health insurance policies. Frankly, I’m surprised that this idea of going out-of-state for health insurance has not been dismissed by insurance experts as a crackpot idea. Am I missing something?

2.     Ailment: Small Employers Can’t Afford Employee Health Insurance Coverage. Melcher’s Cure is “to allow small business to band together to leverage a greater risk pool when shopping for insurance, making available access to association health plans for small employers.”
Response: I know of no Kansas laws prohibiting employers large or small from pooling health insurance risks. This sounds like a solution looking for a problem that is thrown into the mix to increase the number of proposed ideas for solutions. As to the affordability of health insurance coverage, that is a problem for each employer to address independently. There are basically two ways to control the employer’s cost: increase the employee’s share of the cost and reduce medical, hospital, drug, dental or optical or other coverages.

3.   Ailment: ObamaCare Spikes Health Care Costs. Melcher’s Cure alleges that ObamaCare increases costs, limits choice, and hurts the economy. Melcher claims, “It must be repealed.”
Response:  These are classic complaints by conservatives. Unfortunately, the facts don’t support their contentions. The Affordable Care Act actually lowers costs. Choice of healthcare provider, quality of healthcare, and available medical services are unaffected. The economy will be strengthened by lowering health insurance costs and by prevention of ailments that decrease the health and thus the productivity of Americans. Unfortunately his ailment is phony therefore the "cure" is non-sensical.

I wouldn’t call Melcher’s cures for what doesn’t ail us the Kansas Way. Surely, a Kansas voter is too smart to buy Melcher’s health care fix that supposedly will “keep the bureaucrats from getting between you and your doctor.” By the way, where and when does that happen? Surely there is no third party in the room at any of the doctors with whom I have appointments. I will rely on my doctors to keep bureaucrats out of the examining, operating or recovery rooms and not some politician who attempts to regulate my medical treatment by falsely attacking the Affordable Health Act. Melcher's 'Cures" are nothing but snake oil remedies.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Tax Increase on Fixed Income Retirees

Kansans for No Income Tax, an ad hoc political organization dedicated to eliminating Kansas' income tax, has flooded Johnson County with a mailer urging residents to ask State Senators to support the group’s goal. The advocates of no Kansas income taxes claim their cause will mean “more money in your pocket for Kansas taxpayers”. Really? I’m retired. Most of my income is exempt from Kansas income tax. After applying deductions to my taxable earnings, I pay little or no Kansas income tax. Without the income tax as one of three major sources of State revenue, the other two major sources, property taxes and sales taxes, will have to increase above what I pay now to fund State services. The truth is that “No Income Tax” will mean less money in my pocket. Not just seniors, but all Kansas taxpayers, should be cautious about buying this “No Income Tax” pig in a poke.  

Doin' Fine

President Obama has caught a lot of flak from Republicans and media commentators for saying “the private sector is doing fine.” I agree with the President. First, “doing fine” is not the greatest compliment one can bestow. It is not high, effusive praise. In response to “How are you?”, it’s used to indicate nothing more than the status quo. Secondly, “private sector” does not include the employment status of individuals. Private sector means non-governmental enterprise. Consider that: The stock market has mostly recovered from its 2008 low. Businesses accounts are strong fueled by rebounded sales and cost controls. Commercial construction projects are moving forward with closed down sites being completed and new buildings started. New restaurants are opening with crowds of diners. Travel and tourism are strong- witness the recent activity surrounding the MLB All-Star Game held here in Kansas City.  We can easily find more examples of a strengthened economy, but it is still not at its best. It will only ramp up as time passes. My point is that jumping on the President’s statement that the “private sector is doing fine” says more about the motives of critics than the President’s statement says about the economy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pitts and Silence as a Response to Voter Suppression

Leonard Pitts' column in the KC Star titled "INSTEAD OF ANGER ... ONLY SILENCE" bemoans what he believes is silence as the response of the African-American community to the voter ID laws. If there is the possibility that one vote will be suppressed, the voter ID laws will create a severe injustice against any legitimate voter who is disenfranchised. This in itself is reason enough to keep voter ID laws off the books. Yet, the possibility exists that photo IDs are so prevalent in the African-American community that the critical mass necessary for an effective protest by this grouping does not exist. If that is the case, no one appears ready to champion the voting rights of the few, mostly elderly and/or impoverished, who are adversely affected. Perhaps this will change after the up-coming primary elections and a storm of indignation, non-violent hopefully, will create a tempest before the general election, although it will be too late then for those enacted voter ID laws, We'll just have to wait and see. While we are at it, let's not hold our breath waiting for voter fraud cases to be detected and bemoaned by the conservatives. You'll be certain to turn blue.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Newbies Revive Oldies - How Retro

Reading the KC Star yesterday, I came across an Opinion letter opposing fluoridation of public supplies. Having been associated with the management of public water supplies over a 30-year stint, I am well aware of the basis for fluoridation and the myriad falsehoods that are perpetuated about its alleged ill-effects. The attack on fluoridation was a staple in the John Birch Society's tirades. However, fluoridation continues and expands, although there are cases when hysteria has caused it to be abandoned or left unimplemented. It is interesting that the issue persists, despite all efforts to put it away. This can happen only because persons new to the controversy pick up debunked allegations against fluoridation and repeat them as if they have discovered a new conspiracy by "government" to harm Americans.

The letter alleges that fluoridation started in 1945. In truth, it's older than dirt and the 1945 date is bogus. Fluoride is found naturally in some potable water supplies. The discovery was made that children and, by extension, adults who drank fluoridated water had fewer cavities than people who drank water with no or very little fluoride. Ergo, fluoride was added to water supplies to obtain its benefits, better oral health. No ill-effects were observed in populations with naturally fluoridated water. Thus, the letter writer's assertion that fluoridation is unethical and ineffective is wrong, because it promotes a public good, fewer cavities.

The writer alleges studies that have shown "levels of fluoride in most American cities is high enough to cause brain damage especially in young children". No evidence is provided to support this extreme claim, although one would expect health authorities to be cognizant of such an effect and to have taken remedial action. The writer even cites a Web site,, for more information. The site sponsored by a group calling itself the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), a group founded in 2000 which since 2004 has been associated with the American Environmental Health Studies Project, also a 501(c)(3) founded by activists studying radiation effects, for legitimacy. Bed fellows make strange politics.

The letter also calls fluoridation a "medication" that low-income families are forced to "ingest", because they cannot afford cleaner water. First, fluoride is not medicine. It's a mineral. Secondly, potable water, unless distilled and processed for mineral removal, contains numerous minerals, all regulated by Clean Drinking Water standards of the EPA and enforced by State health departments. The writer suggests a government conspiracy is responsible for fluoridation. Well,that does it for me. I classify this opposition to fluoride along with "Birthers" and other conspiracy finders.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

He'll Say Anything

Newt Gingrich wants to colonize the Moon. He wants an American moon station. He would have this in place by 2020, presumably at the end of his second term as President of these great states. Which is the greater fantasy, moon station or second term? Second term, of course, because the idea of a first term is preposterous.

Newt promised the moon, quite literally, to a crowd at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the space program is in hiatus until a new launch vehicle can be developed. It's unfortunate that the federal government's finances are tight and the Florida folks who have enjoyed the bonanza of the space program's largess are seeing their gravy train dry up. Perhaps, if our country hadn't depleted its resources by two unfunded and unnecessary foreign wars, more money would have been available to hasten the next generation of space vehicles into production. But, as things stand, space stations are a lower priority than paying down the massive debt caused by wars, tax cuts, a recession and obstructionism.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mischief Afoot

The Kansas legislature is back in session and there's mischief afoot. A prime example is the bill to allow exemption from immunizations based on the personal belief of a parent that vaccinations for contagious diseases are potentially harmful. Kansas already provides for an exemption based on religious beliefs, but taking the step towards nullification of the law is crazy. Sure, there are other "crazy" states, 20 in all, that have a personal belief exemption- so Kansas joining them would not swell their ranks. If this bill is passed into law, we might as well throw out legitimate science and ignore sound medical advice. Be prepared for sob stories about deceased babies who contracted a fatal infection from a playmate.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Misguided Missive

Danedri Herbert's article, "Don't be shocked when the trash police arrive", which appeared in the new KC Star's '913' magazine on December 7, 2011, is misguided. She blames Johnson County Environmental Department employees for new solid waste management regulations that will require recycling as an included refuse collection service and special handling of yard wastes to decrease the volume of refuse in the landfill that the county contracts with Deffenbaugh to provide. Ms Herbert's article advocates shooting the messenger, deriding county employees as behaving like Chicken Little who infamously made a false claim that the sky was falling.

The main problem with her interpretation of the conditions leading to the new solid waste regulations is that they were adopted by our elected officials for good reason. The fact is that solid waste is both measurable and predictable. Unless action is taken to reduce its volume, increased costs for new disposal facilities will be required sooner than later, which will translate into higher solid waste collection and disposal costs. The elected officials understand this and acted accordingly. Residents need to do the same.

Personally, although I am a Johnson County resident, these new regulations will barely affect me. My refuse service fee will go up $18 per year, which probably would have happened sooner or later anyway. I already separate my recyclables fr0m other household refuse and both are collected for one monthly fee. I don't collect grass clippings and I do compost the leaves that I collect from my yard. The other yard wastes: flower bed clippings, twigs and similar plant debris that don't compost well go in bio-degradable paper bags, rather than plastic bags, for collection starting next year,. There will be no need for trash police or environmental lectures as Ms Herbert suggests; not for me or any other county resident, because compliance with the changes will be an easy adjustment.

It's true that much education is needed to increase recycling on the part of residents who don't bother to do it. I guess it's parallel to the seat-belt usage problem. But, unfortunately Ms Herbert's article won't contribute to a better world. The inflammatory words and phrases that she uses to obscure the need for positive action to protect the environment and to provide urban amenities poorly serve the residents of Johnson County. But, in a conservative place like this, if you want to resonate with the vox populi, invoking images of bureaucrats, misinformed elected officials, befuddled residents, beleaguered businesses, and excessive regulations, that's what you write. One can only hope that future articles in '913' by Ms Herbert will be more temperate and reasonable.

Kobach's Sidelines

Steve Rose in the new KC Star News Magazine for Johnson County decries Kris Kobach's income from sources outside of his Kansas Secretary of State office. Steve's point is that the work ethic of one holding a major state office is questionable when outside income is substantial and may even exceed the state salary. But, it's not illegal. That's why Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis is said to have introduced a bill to curb outside employment by state-wide officers or department heads. Steve says the need for the bill points out the abuse and bad precedent associated with Kobach's law practice and other consulting efforts. However, the fact that the Statement of Financial Interests, which the Secretary of State and other state officers are required to file, mandates reporting of outside income is a backhanded endorsement of outside work income. All the more reason for new restrictions on outside work.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Newt's Ethics

During the GOP TV showcase staged by who knows, Newt Gingrich said faith “absolutely” matters, arguing that one can’t have sound judgment without faith. Bull.

Tell that to Sam Harris. Or Richard Dawkins. Or for that matter, any number of thinking persons.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Careless Talk

I've heard some conservatives refer to Obama's 'minimum tax on the millionaires' proposal as "class warfare". That's careless talk. Class warfare is exemplified by the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the street battles of the Arab Spring, and urban American riots of the 19th and 20th centuries, not by a tax proposal that would still have the millionaires paying less than has been the historical norm. Conservatives should stop the outrageous language, else if and when true "class warfare" ever erupts, no one will heed their alarm. Actually, Obama's proposal might help prevent class warfare.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Pass the Jobs Bill

I listened to Obama's joint session speech. I liked what I heard. I agree with the proposals to grow jobs. Congress needs to do what Obama said. "Pass the American Jobs Act right away."

Americans should realize that if the President fails, the country fails. Is this what the Republican party wants, failure? If we can't learn from history, what will provide the lesson that creates recovery from this deep recession. A failed Presidency got is into this mess. A successful President Obama can get us out of it.

Senator McConnell was quoted in the news media as saying that Obama's jobs proposal is merely a re-election plan. When that statement comes from a man who has said that the goal of the Republican party is to make President Obama fail, I have serious doubts about a Republican controlled House of Representatives passing tht American Jobs bill. Let's hope I'm wrong, because if Obama fails, America fails. The stakes couldn't be higher.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Presidents and the Economy

President Obama’s critics complain that he has not revived the economy from its recent recession. Unemployment hovers at 9 percent. Job creation is minimal compared to the number of new jobs needed for available workers. Never mind that the U.S. economy enjoys: good business profits, corporations with hefty cash assets, robust securities markets, building permit gains, and other positive indicators of economic health; President Obama is deemed by his critics to be personally at fault for a tepid recovery. Besides the critics, plenty of pundits, pollsters, professors, protesters, and politicians ascribe power over the economy to the President. Truth is: the President alone has no power over the nation’s economy, let alone the global one. Actually, the domestic and the global economy’s condition is the result of complex economic actions by a multiplicity of entities engaging in a multitude of behaviors, not the singular policies or practices of the “leader of the free world”. Sadly, the myth of Presidential power to rule the economy for better or worse is accepted as gospel. Let’s dispense with this falsity. Instead, we should acknowledge shared responsibility for the economy’s health and not saddle any President with an impossible burden.

Presidents and the Economy

President Obama’s critics complain that he has not revived the economy from its recent recession. Unemployment hovers at 9 percent. Job creation is minimal compared to the number of new jobs needed for available workers. Never mind that the U.S. economy enjoys: good business profits, corporations with hefty cash assets, robust securities markets, building permit gains, and other positive indicators of economic health; President Obama is deemed by his critics to be personally at fault for a tepid recovery. Besides the critics, plenty of pundits, pollsters, professors, protestors, and politicians ascribe power over the economy to the President. Truth is: the President alone has no power over the nation’s economy, let alone the global one. Actually, the domestic and the global economy’s condition is the result of complex economic actions by a multiplicity of entities engaging in a multitude of behaviors, not the singular policies or practices of the “leader of the free world”. Sadly, the myth of Presidential power to rule the economy for better or worse is accepted as gospel. Let’s dispense with this falsity. Instead, we should acknowledge shared responsibility for the economy’s health and not saddle any President with an impossible burden.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pickle Recipe

For this recipe use 50 large to 75 small cucumbers. The recipe writer added: "I like to double or triple the recipe,as since it is about as easy to fix a large amount as a small amount."

Wash cucumbers and cover with a brine made by adding 1 pint of salt to 1 gallon of water. Let solution stand for 1 week, skim off as necessary. Next, drain well and cover with boiling water to which has been added 1 tablespoon of alum. Let stand 24 hours, then drain. After several hours or when dry, split large cucumbers into halves . Cover again with boiling water and let stand for 24 hours. Drain again for several hours or until dry.

Put cucumbers (which will now be referred to as pickles) into a stone jar (or jars) and cover with following solution:
2 pieces of ginger root
1/2 of stick Cinnamon
6 cups of sugar
5 cups of vinegar

Bring solution to boil and add to pickles. Pour off and reheat vinegar every day for one week. Add 1 cup sugar, each day, for the first 3 days. Finish rest of time without adding more sugar.

Pack pickles in jars and fill each jar with the boiling liquid on the last day and seal. Celery salt may be added, if desired.

Note: After reading through this recipe and thinking of the logistics of following it, isn't it wonderful that you can go to the grocery store and choose from a wide selection of pickles in a variety of sizes, shapes and containers. Ain't progress great?

Education Funding in Kansas

Cuts in funding of Kansas public schools and universities are devastating the excellence that has been the standard for decades. Reduced state funding has occurred because of reduced revenues as a result of the 2007-08 Recession. The reduction of tax rates carried out by conservatives over the past decade or more has compounded the reduction in revenues. Resistance to increasing income taxes (and thus revenue) in order to provide adequate funding for education has been expressed as “job-killing”, if done during a recession. Well, although the recovery is not over, the recession is over. Sales tax was increased temporarily in 2010 to avoid drastic cuts in educational funding. Sales tax kills sales, which in turn kills jobs. But never mind that, because the sales tax increase did not hurt the “job creators” like it did the folks who are “job fillers”. As soon as the temporary sales tax increase expires, income taxes should be raised to the extent required to fund fully the educational needs of the state. Property taxes could also stand a modest increase to fund educational needs that localities want to enhance education above minimum state standards.

In addition to providing adequate revenue, expenditures by school districts and universities should be closely monitored to insure efficient and economical operation. Particularly, district central office and higher education administration staffing and non-instructional activities such as community relations, athletics, transportation, food service and building maintenance should be scrutinized closely for any possible cost-savings. Structural reorganization of school districts and institutions of higher education should be actively pursued to eliminate duplication of services and excessive overhead. Consolidation of school districts and duplicated small enrollment major programs are examples of specific cost-saving targets. I support a stronger role for the Department of Education and Regents in oversight and assistance to educators to achieve monetary savings. Particularly troubling is the apparent duplication of the K-11 on-line instruction program that diverts scarce resources to home-schooling. Distance-learning programs that increase educational resources available to sparsely populated areas should be expanded for cost-savings.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Homemade Mayonnaise

Tired of store bought mayonnaise? OK, make your own! Here's how. Sounds simple enough.


Eggs, well beaten, 2 ea
Mustard (Prepared), 1 tablespoon
Sugar 1, tablespoon
Vinegar, 1 cup
Sweetened condensed milk, 1 can


Pour vinegar over eggs beating all the time. Then, add sugar and milk in the same manner. Next, add prepared mustard. Makes about 1 quart. Refrigerate.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Letter About Debt Ceiling to Congressman Kevin Yoder

If Congress fails to increase the debt ceiling, I am very concerned about the effect lack of action would have on the investment markets which in most portfolios are not fully recovered from losses in 2008.

Increasing the debt ceiling does not create new Federal spending; it simply permits payment of interest on debt already incurred, which unfortunately requires borrowing to finance. If Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling, U.S. Treasury obligations will be in default with serious adverse consequences for investment portfolios.

I deplore deficit spending as a standard practice and believe it should not occur. But, holding the debt ceiling hostage to change this practice is not the way to balance the budget for on-going government programs. Debt financing is only prudent for infrastructure investments which should always be considered in a cost-benefit context.

Balancing the budget can only be achieved by scaling back current spending financed by general tax revenues until they are equivalent. Spending for new programs should be authorized only when tax revenues are available through whatever means to maintain a balanced budget. To achieve this, Congress will have to make hard decisions on the viability of Federal programs and fund only the most worthy. With 435 Congresspersons and 100 Senators working in numerous committees aided by seemingly innumerable staff, line-item review of the budget should be possible.

If the debt ceiling is not approved in a timely manner and serious investment losses occur on that account, every member of Congress should be held personally responsible for the losses.

Friday, July 08, 2011

President Obama’s Faults

So far every Republican who has announced his or her candidacy for President has blasted President Obama by spewing out a litany of alleged faults. I suppose they do this to demonstrate to the GOP faithful that, as a candidate, they will go after President Obama with fervor. Well, despite all the patently untrue things that the likes of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are claiming President Obama has done in the past, is presently doing or will do in the future, they don’t know the half of it. So, before candidates yet to be announced invent more crap about President Obama, let’s set the record straight with the true dirt on the man.

President Obama is a vampire. He sucks blood from his victims and leaves them among the undead. President Obama provided, in the Affordable Health Care Act, that no government paid medical care will be available to a victim of a vampire, thus ensuring that the victim remain among the undead. It’s a plan to get votes, because an undead person does not have to pay taxes, but can still vote if they are registered in Chicago.

President Obama cheats at sports like basketball and golf. When keeping his score, he conveniently forgets a third putt, does not count a mulligan for a shot that landed deep in the rough or out of bounds and ignores duffs. By shaving points, President Obama alleges to shoot in the low 80s, a respectable showing for someone who plays infrequently. Except President Obama is actually a frequent golfer, using his position as President for free golf at military golf courses, the Army/Navy Country Club and other private links around the USA. In basketball, his height is an unfair advantage that he exploits by also being able to jump

President Obama is a wife beater. Michelle Obama is the frequent target of outrageous physical attacks that leave her body bruised and swollen. Fortunately, she is nearly the same size as President Obama and is able to return his onslaughts, blow for blow. Because Michelle has amazing powers of regeneration and healing, the bruises and swelling that his beatings inflict are invisible after an overnight rest. This regenerative power as a vampire victim also qualifies Michelle as one of the X-squad.

President Obama is an alcoholic. He has a pint flask of quadruple distilled vodka hidden in his inside suit coat pocket. From the container a clear plastic tube leads to his lips, so he can take a swig any time he pleases. The tube is disguised as a microphone lead wire that he could plug into a podium amplifier. That’s why he makes so many speeches. The amount of alcohol consumed during a speech depends on how many teleprompters are in front of the podium to hide his sucking motions.

President Obama’s feet stink. The foul odor is produced by copious feet sweating. He refuses to put odor eaters in his shoes, because he believes they interfere with his ability to side-step questions with the agility that a frequent liar requires. Rather than abate the odor, he chooses to perpetuate the myth that he walks on water, a myth spawned by the constant wetness of his shoes and the squishing sound he makes. The first thing Obama does when he goes to the family quarters is wash his feet like in a Muslim ritual.

President Obama misuses Air Force One for his personal pleasure. He is notorious for donning his Air Force One jacket to flaunt his position as President of the United States. He could just as easily tell the pilot to turn up the heat so he would be comfortable in his shirt sleeves. He has even purchased monogrammed bath robes, pajamas, sweaters, socks, slippers, underwear, slacks, sleeping caps, and hoodies for himself, his family and his staff, at a cost of $500 million.

President Obama talks too much. Instead of just listening to the persons whom he contacts during his work day and nodding to confirm his understanding of their communications, he actually replies aloud to them. He feigns courtesy and interest by sharing his ideas on the subjects being discussed. Because of his high intelligence and broad vocabulary, he contributes to conversations extensively. He patiently receives their feedback just as he gives others feedback on their ideas.

If you hear or read of these faults of Obama, remember you saw it here first. I'm going to keep my ear to the ground to learn of other faults of Obama that are as baseless as these. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

I’m tired of hearing that spending cuts can reduce the nation’s debt

I’m tired of Republicans who think they can reduce the deficit and the nation’s indebtedness through spending cuts alone. I believe that the federal government is too big. I believe it has too many employees. I believe its standards and regulations create unnecessary and excessive costs. I believe its programs are ill-designed and thus encourage fraud, waste and abuse. I believe it spends federal dollars on things that are the responsibility of state and local governments. I believe it spends American tax dollars on things that other countries should pay for themselves. I believe that social security payments should be means tested. I believe that Medicare and Medicaid costs should be reduced through greater competition in medical services. I believe that the prescription drug benefit is too generous for both pharmaceutical companies and beneficiaries. I am pretty much open to a lot of ways to reduce federal spending. But, when the money to pay the interest on the federal debt has to be borrowed, which increases the debt; when the country’s population is growing by leaps and bounds from a robust birth rate, lower death rate, and immigration of whatever legality, which requires more government services and thus spending; when our politicians are loath to alienate special constituencies by sharply cutting sacred cows like farm or other business subsidies, which frustrates the idea of reduced government spending; and when many other things can happen or conditions exist that are too many too enumerate or even identify in advance of their occurring, which never-the-less can affect the ability of well-intentioned spending cuts to reduce the annual budget deficit or the national debt, how can anyone with even a smidgen of intelligence maintain that spending cuts alone can solve the federal fiscal problem. We need to ask our conservative congressmen and political powers to get real, Grover Norquist to the contrary not withstanding, and raise taxes. It's time to pay the piper before the piper does his thing.