Monday, October 23, 2006


Kansas Gov Cadidate Barnett Visits Adult Sunday School Class

State Senator Jim Barnett honored my "Issues and Us" class by visiting with us recently and sharing his ideas for the future of Kansas.

Such a nice man, a doctor, and pretty well-informed. He is, of course, wrong on many things, but I must say, he struck me as sincere. He just needs someone with a deeper understanding of public service to brief him.

He opposes school vouchers, for the same reasons right-thinking Kansas everywhere oppose them. Vouchers undermine public schools by taking tax money and spending it on private schools.

He is running against the state government, a time honored tradation now - to run on a platform of attacking the institution you wish to head. He says the state government in Kansas has grown faster than the governments of the other 49 states, and points to numbers of employees as evidence.

This is worth talking about, because the number of employees is only one indicator of the size of government. Because many government services are contracted out, the actual numbers of employees could decline markedly over a few years while the size of the government mushrooms. (In fact, this is precisely the situation at the federal level - we now have far fewer feds, but the size of the national goverment has exploded. We now have vast numbers of "shadow" employees through contracters.)

A more interesting measure would be percentage of gross state product spent on government - sort of GDP at the state level.

I asked Barnett about the school finance formula. He said he would change it by increasing the local option budget, but not by too much. In essence, he would leave the present system in place, with only minor adjustments that would appeal to Johnson County.

If you read my posts of a few months ago, you know I feel the whole rotten system must be scrapped.

He did take the time to denounce governor Sibelius, although his manner was polite.

Barnett feels very strongly that the current system of health insurance does not meet the needs of the state. He would patch the current system by requiring insurance companies to offer low cost coverage to certain classes of poor people.

He rightly identifies part of the problem, but the solution still escapes him. His proposal simply shifts the cost of an expensive, ineffective system to those who already have insurance, with a dollop of gravy reserved for the insurance companies.

Barnett would require proof of citizenship before any state services would be permitted to an individual. When asked if he would give medical treatement to somebody without papers, he said he would.

As a nation, we are moving towards having a national i.d. card. Resistance to the idea has waned in the face of terrorism. I can forsee a day, soon, when any person can be stopped at any time, and have to produce proof of identity. Although I'm sure Barnett would argue that his proposal does no such thing, I fear it is another step down that path.

Barnett looks you right in the eye. He says "I'm not a politician." For the record, he talks like a politician, walks like a politician, shakes hands like a politician, and thinks like a politician.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Foley: Hysteria or Hype?

I must confess, I chortled with glee when I first heard about Representative Foley's resignation, and the reasons for it.

"Leaders" in Congress and the talking heads on Fox news blame the democrats and ABC news for Foley's troubles. The democrats are to blame? Those antics make it hard to keep a smile off my lips.

But a more thoughtful response might put Foley into perspective.

Let us note: he did not take bribes from contractors working on Iraqi reconstruction; he did not (as far as we know) take money and favors from the crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff; he did not order troops into battle or start any preventitive wars.

In fact, no body fluids were actually exchanged.

Not that I condone sexual messages from an adult to a minor, far from it. But I'm not going to froth at the mouth over it, either.

On the grand scale of outrages, this hardly registers. My concerns are the increasing concentration of wealth and widening pool of poverty in this nation. I worry about the 8,000 kids in my town who go to bed hungry every night. I worry about friends and acquaintances who, despite having good insurance, cannot afford life-sustaining medicines.

Every single day we waste time focused on this scandal, we are not focused on the men and women fighting and dying in Iraq. Every hour we worry over some instant message to a 16 year-old, is an hour not spent pursuing the billions of dollars being stolen from the United States and Iraq by crooked contractors; each minute of airtime spent castigating the Speaker of the House is a minute spent not working to end the genocide in Darfur.

Foley did wrong; he resigned, he's in treatment and under FBI investigation.

Lets move on to truly important issues.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Did Al Qaeda or Bush Start the War in Afghanistan?

A reader says, "I was under the impression that Al Qaeda started the war in Afghanistan. Something about crashing jetliners into skyscrapers." This in response to my statement that, "The new, 21st Century Republicans started two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq."

Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. You have a legitimate point to make, though I feel you could have made it better.

If I took your comment at face value, it would be like saying "Oklahoma declared war on the United States when Tim McVeigh blew up 195 of our people." But I will try to respect what you meant.

Given the tolerance the Taliban had for Osama and his minions, the case for going to war in Afghanistan was pretty strong. That being said, it's crystal clear that the Taliban is not the same thing as Afghanistan; and, of course, Osama and his followers are not native to that country. If we are to win, we must be clear about the facts and not blur important distinctions for the sake of scoring rhetorical points. Neither Afghanistan nor the Afghan people attacked the United States.

I urge you to think, write and speak clearly, long-term and strategically; our enemies do.

Try thinking through the purpose and operation of terrorism. It is not simply a blind outpouring of hatred; it has its own "think tanks," sophisticated logic and ideology. The September 11th attack proves the danger of underestimating the enemy.

We chose our response to the attack on September 11, and we chose war. We could have responded by narrowly focusing on Al Qaeda, the gang that instigated the attack. Instead, we invaded. Given the facts on the ground, that is, that a narrow retaliation like the cruise missle strike Clinton ordered during his term would most likely fail, war to rout the Taliban and Al Qaeda was logical.

Of course, from a larger, strategic perspective, the issue is more problematic. One of the certain consequences of war is to make more enemies. This calculation, incidentally, is the logic that drives genocides.

The purpose of terror tactics, briefly, is not merely to strike terror in the heart of the enemy. In fact, history shows that a people's resolve is strengthened during a struggle; so long as hope of eventual victory remains, people will keep on fighting. No, the purpose of terror is to provoke an overwhelming and disproportionate response that harms innocents. The aggrieved innocents then become the enemies of the one struck by terror, and allies of the terrorists. This is why the national intelligence estimate says that the war in Iraq has actually made us less safe.

We must understand history, politics and look at how other movements have succeeded or failed. Our enemies do. At this point, it would be most illuminating to examine the French experience in Algeria. (Here:

I think it is important that we explore whether or not agreement on the facts is possible as part of working together towards making us and the world safer.

So, yes, there is a sense in which you can say Al Qaeda started the war; just as you can say the United States fell into the trap and continues to respond according to Osama's plan.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006



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(Note the photo is a link to a larger version of the image.)

These guys are actually descended from the ancient Mayans. They dress up for the tourists and strike a pose as part of the show put on at Xcaret.

The show features these guys, barefoot and barelegged, playing hockey with, literally, balls of fire. The wooden balls are about the size of a basketball, and have been soaked in some flammable liquid. The guys slap the ball hard enough to send if flying across an 80 meter or so long arena. Sometimes the ball shatters in a shower of sparks and flaming shards. The arena has a stone floor, and seats maybe five thousand or so. The games and show are way cool - highly recommended.

They also play a traditional game with a heavy leather ball. In this game, only the hips can contact the ball. A sideways stone hoop is mounted on the wall; the first team to get the ball through the hoop wins.

The Mayans were playing these sports and building a high civilization at about the time of Plato and Aristotle. I seldom think of any ancient civilzation as very advanced other than our own ancient European ancestors, but that's a bad habit.

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