Snapping Turtle
The personal blog of David W. Guth
Copyright 2014
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Blogging my way from Tornado Alley to your computer screen, these are the personal observations of David W. Guth.  There are a lot of people online with nothing much to say.  I am not one of those folks.  I hope that you find my comments insightful, provocative and occasionally amusing.  I am a college professorJayhawk Journalist and writer.  I am not software engineer.  I am a content guy. Whatever this blog may lack in flash will be more than made up for in substance.  From the photo (left) you may also assume that I have East Coast roots -- I grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and am a proud Terrapin. The purpose of this blog is simple: I want to practice what I teach.  How can a guy talk to students about social media if he doesn't participate in the online discussion?  So here is my foray into Web 2.0.  I also want to demonstrate that writing doesn't take a lot of words: My blog entries will brief. If you wish to comment on anything you read, please feel free to do so at dguth@ku.edu.  I'll answer you directly or in this space as the demands of my real life permit. And now, the legal stuff: Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of his employer, his publisher, the Internet service provider or that of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  Unless otherwise noted, the contents of this blog are the intellectual property of David W. Guth - which means they are copyrighted.  So there!

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Testudo's Tales

Vol. 8 No. 19 -- Newman's Third Law of Emotion
April 17, 2014

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If you hearken back to the days of your high school physics class, you may remember Newton's Third Law of Motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When it comes to physical laws, Sir Isaac nailed that one. For example, when a fish swims, its tail pushes on the water, and the water pushes back and propels the fish forward.  However, when it comes to 21st century social sensibilities, I believe another set of laws come into play, Newman's Third Law of Emotion. (The law is named for Alfred E. "What, Me Worry?" Newman of Mad magazine fame.) Under Newman's Third Law of Emotion, every action has the potential to provoke a disproportionate and irrational reaction. We've seen it at work all around us. There have been tragic shootings and stabbings in public places committed by perpetrators reacting to perceived offenses that only they know. Nevada cattle ranchers who have routinely ignored the law now threaten to make war when the government has the audacity to enforce those laws. There's the irrational fear of immigrants who come to this country for the same reasons most of our own ancestors came to these shores, freedom and prosperity. Today we hear of a college professor censored because he posted a picture of his son wearing a T-shirt with a quotation from the Game of Thrones television series. (I've long suspected that there is a disconnect between college administrators and popular culture.)  Some organizations, most notably the Westboro Baptist Church, have evoked Newman's Third Law of Emotion to its extremes. Others, who are less sinister in their intent but still overwhelmingly passionate, are willing to intimidate and threaten anyone with a view other than their own. In effect, they overwhelm an individual's free expression with a tsunami of vitriolic rhetoric of their own. And like a cancer destroying healthy cells around it, these organized malevolent and irrational outbursts eat away at the fabric of democracy.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 18 -- The Numbers Game
April 9, 2014
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There are more people living in Kansas today than there were in 2010. That's what the U.S. Census Bureau says.  However, America's head counters also say that more people left the Sunflower State in the last three year than have come here to live. It sounds contradictory, but it isn't. The Census Bureau estimates that the state's population rose by 1.4 percent to 2,893,957 between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2013. However, an estimated 16,752 people moved to Kansas while another 26,949 moved to other states. The overall increase in the state's population comes from 129,453 births during that period, compared to 78,479 deaths. To some, these are just numbers.  But to others, they are clues as to future of the state and how best to allocate resources. And to still others, these numbers provide political ammunition for coming electoral battles. However, to really appreciate these numbers, you have to dig deeper. For example, Douglas County, where I live, has grown by 3.2 percent to 114,322 - faster than the state average. Neighboring Johnson County, in the Kansas City metropolitan area, has grown at an even faster 4.2 percentage rate.  In western Kansas, it is a much different story.  For example, Meade County in southwest Kansas has 4,343 people, 5.1 percent fewer than three years ago. That is typical of most western counties. The exceptions are those with population - and job - centers such as Dodge City, Garden City or Scott City which are adding some of the people moving away from rural areas. Growing counties demand resources to cope with the influx of people. Counties experiencing population decline want resources that will help them survive, if not grow. If you need proof, just look at the state's ongoing struggle to finance public education. Schools in the west want to be the equal of those in the east, but lack the people and tax base to achieve that end.  One thing the Census Bureau figures do not tell us is why more people are leaving Kansas than moving here. That is the subject of analysis and speculation - and has already reared its head in the state's gubernatorial campaign. Kansans are going to be exposed to this numbers game a lot in coming months. It is important to remember that while the numbers don't lie, they don't tell us the whole story, either.  It will be up to us as informed voters and citizens to fill in the blanks.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 17 -- Is Money Speech?
April 3, 2014
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The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday stoked the fires of the hottest constitutional debate of the 21st century. In a 5-4 vote split on ideological and party lines, the justices ruled that caps on the total amount campaign contributions an individual can give to individual candidates, PACS and political parties are unconstitutional. While there are still limits on how much one can give to each candidate, PAC or party, McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission removes aggregate limits - meaning is is OK to give to as many different candidates one may want.  Some see this as a good thing, bringing more campaign money back to the political parties after four years of record spending by outside - and often uncontrollable - groups. In the 2008 presidential election cycle - before the groundbreaking Citizens United v. FEC decision opened the door to unfettered spending by third-party independent organizations - independent expenditures totaled $359,366,910.  While that was more money than the campaign of Republican nominee John McCain spent, it was still just half of what the campaign of eventual winner Barack Obama spent. Four years later, after Citizens United, independent non-candidate committees spent $1,250,572,291 - approximately the same amount of money spent by the Romney and Obama campaigns combined. "This Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “We have consistently rejected attempts to suppress campaign speech based on other legislative objectives. No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to ‘level the playing field,’ or to ‘level electoral opportunities,’ or to ‘equalize the financial resources of candidates…’ The First Amendment prohibits such legislative attempts to ‘fine-tune’ the electoral process, no matter how well intentioned.” Writing for the dissenters, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the majority decision “creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citizens United…today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.” (These quotations are courtesy of Politico. Click here for the full article.) The immediate effect of the SCOTUS ruling is that even bigger money will pour into the electoral process. It
especially will be felt in this year's mid-term elections, where Republicans appear to have a serious chance of retaining control of the U.S. Senate. It all comes down to the the central question: Is giving money to a political cause an act of expression covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and, if so, are there limits? The reality of the situation is that free speech is whatever the SCOTUS says it is and, at this moment in time, a majority of the court sees it as speech with few limits.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 16 -- True Value
March 27, 2014
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The Chicago District of the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that football players at Northwestern University are university employees and can unionize. The time commitment of the football players was cited as the reason for the ruling. Northwestern University plans to appeal - and well it should. There is no question about the amount of time and physical commitment football players give to their sport. However, the NRLB ruling minimizes the value that comes with accepting a football scholarship.  First of all, they get to play a sport they love on a higher level.  They are given an opportunity to earn a college degree which means they will earn an average of a million dollars more in a lifetime than those who do not have a degree.  Some of the players, those good enough to play professionally, will earn even more. However, most will not, making that degree more impactful on their lives. As college athletes, they receive benefits other students do not in terms of the quality of housing, tutoring, food, health care and travel. And, most important of all, they knew about the expectations facing student athletes from the beginning. It can not be called exploitation when one not only voluntarily seeks out this lifestyle, but is overjoyed when the opportunity is realized. If we want to place a true value on the college experience, then athletes should be at the very bottom of the ladder of perks. If people were really paid according to their value to the greater society, athletes and actors would be be at the bottom and teachers and nurses would be at the top. What about other scholarship students at the same university - the ones engaged in meaningful research that enhances society's quality of life?  Doesn't a potential cancer researcher or the next Bill Gates deserve at least the same treatment as a potential Cleveland Brown? Imagine how insulting this ruling is to the young men and women who work harder and often spend their own fortunes to take on the rigors of medical school.  (I know from the testimony of doctors within my own family that the mental and physical commitment of a medical school education makes football practice look like playtime.)  The complaint from these two Northwestern University football players should be seen for what it is, a union-inspired money grab. And if they feel they are being mistreated, they have other choices. They could go out and get a real job.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 15 -- Media Speculation
March 23, 2014
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Speculation, by definition, is the presentation of an array of reactions to questions where there is not enough information available to achieve a definitive answer.  It is also the first step in a process of determining a plausible explanation. Physical and social scientists do it all of the time: After an initial fact-gathering process (the literature review), the scientists speculate on why things happen the way they do (hypothesis), and then they gather more information, often following a systematic process (testing the hypothesis) and, ultimately, then they render an educated judgment based on their observations (reaching conclusions). While I have heard and read criticism of the media's - particularly CNN's - excessive coverage of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, I'd suggest that we all take a step back and chill out.  What journalists are doing with this story is really no different than what scientists do -- except the media have an audience watching them do it in real time. Yes, some of the media speculation has been silly and easily dismissed. The same thing happens to scientists - except that embarrassment usually happens in private. The complaint that the coverage has been over the top and dominates too much airtime seems to ignore the reality of how we consume media.  Do we pick up an academic journal (or a newspaper or magazine) and stare at it all day? (Some are so poorly written it just seems like its all day.) Of course we don't.  We read what we are looking for and then move on. It is the same with television news - we check out what we are looking for and them eventually move on. Those who criticize cable news coverage ignore a critical dynamic of the medium: The audience is constantly turning over. With viewers coming and going, there is a real need for repetition. And unlike your local newspaper, which has no direct competition, and your local television station, which rarely provides news of substance, cable news operates in a highly competitive environment. There's plenty to criticize about cable news, but this is not one of those times. Continuing to ask questions about the disappearance of 239 souls - especially when Malaysian officials have been less than transparent - is absolutely appropriate. And to hold the nature and volume of coverage in one medium to the standards and dynamics of another is disingenuous.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 14 -- Afghanistanism
March 19, 2014
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When I took my first journalism class during the summer of 1972, I learned a new term: afghanistanism. It is defined as the practice of journalists to concentrate on distant, less-relevant issues while ignoring those close to home. Of course, one can immediately see the irony: With American soldiers fighting and dying in Afghanistan since 2001, that country is no longer distant or less-relevant. However, the concept of afghanistanism is alive and well in American newsrooms. It is far easier to write about Vladamir Putin's theft of the Crimea and the mystery of the missing Malaysian airliner than it is to cast a critical eye on the things happening in our neighborhoods. For one thing, reporting on distant issues usually involves information developed through someone else's resources, such as a TV network's news feed or a newspaper's wire service. Local investigative journalism, when done well, takes time and money - something of which local news organizations have precious little. I am not talking about the so-called investigative report where a landlord hasn't fixed a faulty rental-unit toilet. It's an important story to the person involved, but to one else. Instead, I'd like to see reporters take the time to explore the nuances of stories that affect us all.  However, that often involves risk - something media business managers, station owners and publishers don't like.  They often put the safety of their bottom line ahead of the mission they purportedly hold. There are good stories all around us. For example, how are our legislators voting on particular issues, what is their rationale and to what effect are their votes influenced by campaign contributions? How is it possible for someone to be a state legislator and a state employee without a conflict of interest?  Does anyone find it interesting that one Kansas state representative's campaign contributions nearly tripled upon election to a leadership post? And why is it that in Lawrence, a community notorious for its anti-development policies, certain hotel projects are green-lighted from the outset? These are legitimate issues that have nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with the health of our democratic institutions. The term afghanistanism may be outdated. Unfortunately, its practice is not.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 13 -- What A Great Teacher Does
March 11, 2014
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Just a few weeks past, I posted a somewhat whimsical piece on stargazing (Vol. 8, No. 5).  At that time I wrote, "
It is in this moment of crystal clarity that looking into the midnight sky becomes a journey to a distant past. The sparkling tapestry before us likely began its illuminating voyage thousands, maybe millions of years ago - long before there was anyone on Earth to appreciate it."  Those words were inspired by the late Carl Sagan, who has been described as the best science communicator of the 20th century.  Like many, I was mesmerized in 1980 when Sagan hosted a nine-part PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. In his magical and metaphorical Spaceship of the Imagination, Sagan told the story of our universe and of our place within it. Last Sunday, Fox TV and the National Geographic Channel broadcast the first of a 13-part reprise of the Sagan series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. It is hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, himself a formidable and personable scientist/communicator. Like its predecessor, the new Cosmos combines clear, concise and compelling writing with stunning visual effects to tell us who we are and where we came from. As Dr. Tyson said, "We are star stuff," created from the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago. As exciting and engaging as Tyson's story of the universe was, it was the story he told at the end of the episode that, literally, gave me chills. He produced a personal calendar that had belonged to Dr. Sagan, and displayed a page on which Sagan had written Tyson's name. As a 17-year-old, Tyson spent a day with Dr. Sagan at Cornell University. In an effort to recruit the teenager, Sagan gave Tyson a very personal tour of the university's laboratory facilities. Sagan also gave him an autographed copy of one of his books with the inscription "To a future astrophysicist." Tyson eventually opted for Harvard over Cornell, but he never forgot the kindness and passion of Carl Sagan.  He was inspired to follow in Sagan's footsteps and through the magic of television, he has. And that is what a great teacher does: Inspire us to believe that we are, in fact, star stuff.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 12 -- New York Times v. Sullivan
March 9, 2014
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Americans often take their freedoms for granted until they are threatened. And when they are threatened, they often look to the nation's courts to protect them.  In the American system of checks and balances, the courts are often the forum of last resort - an institution we turn to when other governmental entities fail us. So it was 50 years ago today, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued one of its most significant rulings in American history. At issue was press coverage of the civil rights movement.  The New York Times published an advertisement in 1960 critical of what was termed "an unprecedented wave of terror" by officials in Montgomery, Alabama, against civil rights advocates and local black residents. While the gist of the ad was accurate, it also contained a number of minor, factual errors. Southern segregationists saw the ad as an opportunity to strike back at liberal Northern media and hit them where it hurts most, in their pocketbooks.  Montgomery City Commissioner L.B. Sullivan sued the newspaper for libel, and a state court awarded him $500,000. The case eventually worked its way to the Supreme Court and, 50 years ago today, the libel verdict was overturned.  In doing so, the court said that public officials have a higher burden of proof in libel cases. The court said it was no longer enough for public officials to show that communications made within the context of robust public debate contain factual errors. In a unanimous ruling, the court said these officials must show actual malice, defined as "knowing falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth." And why did the court do this? Simply put, the justices saw the threat of libel suits by public officials over minor inaccuracies as having a "chilling effect" on public debate. "Erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate," Justice William Brennan wrote. He added that even erroneous public debate "must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the breathing space that they need to survive."  In an editorial today marking the occasion, The New York Times said, "The ruling was revolutionary, because the court for the first time rejected virtually any attempt to squelch criticism of public officials - even if false - as antithetical to the central meaning of the First Amendment."  As important as the Sullivan case was in 1964, it is even more vital in today's social media climate. While I do not join those who cynically see government as an instrument of evil, I also understand that its institutions are administered by people who, at times, will exceed their authority to preserve their self-interests.  In a democracy, free speech - exercised by individuals and the media who serve them - is the best defense against government excess. That is why New York Times v. Sullivan is so significant and should be celebrated.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 11 -- Putin's Sudetenland
March 2, 2014
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In a claim that ethnic Germans were being persecuted, Adolf Hitler seized the northern and western regions of Czechoslovakia in 1938.  To be more accurate, the region of the country known as the Sudetenland was willfully ceded to Hitler by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and other western European leaders in an attempt to avoid armed conflict with Germany. After the Munich Agreement was signed - with a gun to the head of Czechoslovakia - Chamberlain proclaimed "Peace in Our Time" and Hitler said he had "no further territorial claims in Europe." (And how well did that work out?) If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is because a similar drama is being played out this weekend in the Ukraine. Russian troops -- and let's be clear on this point: With or without insignia on their uniforms, these are clearly Russian troops -- have violated the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people and sent troops, tanks and helicopters into the Crimea. Putin's excuse for invading his neighbor is to protect ethnic Russians living in the region. There is no evidence to suggest that any danger to these people existed. However, they are Russians, which also means they are naturally paranoid. These Russo-Ukrainians were upset by the recent popular revolt which resulted in the ouster of the nation's pro-Russian President.  It doesn't seem to bother them that this Quisling had enriched himself to a Trump-like level at the people's expense. The final straw came when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade agreement with Western Europe that would have benefited his people and, instead, accepted a three billion dollar bribe from Russian Czar Wannabe Vladimir Putin. We have now reached the point where the players in this remake of Munich 1938 drama are being cast. Putin has taken the role of Hitler - an odd choice for the leader of the nation that lost 20 million of its citizens because of Der Fuehrer's madness.  Let's hope that President Obama doesn't jump into the Chamberlain role.  It is clear that the United States and NATO are not in a position to intervene militarily.  But we have very potent economic weapons at our disposal that can make Vladimir the Terrible pay for his empirical folly. A strong, unambiguous message should be sent to the leader and the people of the Russian Federation: If you want the benefits that come with global economic and cultural exchanges, stop trying to revive the rotting corpse of the Soviet Union and start making nice to your neighbors.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 10 -- Finite Possibilities
February 21, 2014
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A central tenet of American philosophy is that the United States is a land of infinite possibilities.  We believe that we can overcome any hardship through our resourcefulness, grit, determination, inherent fairness and decency.
As an aspirational quality, this aspect of of the American character is laudable. However, there is a dark side to our optimistic streak, one that doesn't allow us to recognize that some some possibilities are limited by the laws of nature and finite resources. This reality was on display for the world to see yesterday at the University of Kansas Law School.  It hosted a symposium with the provocative title "Preventing the Ghost Town: What Rural Communities Need to Do to Survive in the Modern Economy." I attended the day-long session because the symposium's subject dovetails nicely with the sabbatical research I am conducting this semester. I am looking into areas of declining population - mostly western Kansas - and the role media play in maintaining community cohesion. To place this issue into perspective, Kansas Director of USDA Rural Development Patty Clark noted that there are 44 Kansas counties where the population peaked by 1900 and have been in steady decline since 1900. Because of their low population density, some of these areas are technically classified as frontier.  It's a hard place to live, farm and ranch. Yet everyone I've met from that region loves it - in part a manifestation of that belief in "infinite possibilities." Yes, they are optimistic people. But they are also realistic.  They know that their future in the frontier depends on the availability of the most basic element necessary for life - water - and that it is running out. There are many visions for the future of western Kansas. Some suggest abandoning the area for farming and letting it develop into a "Buffalo Commons," a vast grasslands nature reserve. Still others believe technology in the form of a multi-billion dollar aqueduct that would bring Missouri River water uphill and across the state of Kansas to the state's parched southwest.  For what it is worth, my sense is that neither approach is politically or economically viable. Earlier this week, I interviewed Don Worster, a distinguished KU professor who has written extensively about western Kansas and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. He is not one to sugarcoat the challenges western Kansans will face. At the end of the interview, I joked - and he agreed - that he had a "Dirty Harry" philosophy about the future of the High Plains: "A man has got to know his limitations."
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 9 -- A Primer on Stalemate
February 15, 2014
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Based on the historically low approval ratings garnered by the United States Congress, there's little doubt as to why the American electorate is fed up with its elected leaders. However, when one looks inside the numbers, one cannot escape the reality that we, the people, are a large part of the problem. President Obama won 51 percent of the popular vote (65.9 million) and 61 percent (332) of the Electoral Votes in defeating former Governor Romney in the 2012 general election. As convincing as that may seem, Obama's actual vote total was down 4.5 million votes from 2008. His percentage of the popular vote and Electoral Vote also dropped. Those facts, in and of themselves, do not mean that Obama wasn't the people's choice in 2012. To the contrary, he was a clear winner. But here is where it gets fuzzy: According to a Politidata analysis completed last year, Obama in 2012 became the first winner of the presidential election to lose a majority of the congressional districts since John F. Kennedy in 1960. When votes are counted by congressional districts, Romney won 234 and Obama won 201. Republican congressional candidates won in 17 districts which voted for Obama, Obama won nine Romney leaning districts. Even when President Bush lost the popular to Vice President Gore in 2000, Bush carried 20 more electoral districts than Gore. According to OpenSecrets.com, 90 percent of House incumbents and 91 percent of Senate incumbents were reelected in 2012. Baring cataclysmic events, Democrats will have very little chance of taking back the House in this year's mid-term elections.  Because of retirements, Republicans have a better chance of seizing control of the Senate. Even if the Democrats were to pull off a major upset and win both the House and the Senate, we would still be confronted by a deeply divided legislative branch and a lame duck President who every day reminds us that he will never measure up to our expectations. That's why I say that we, the people, are part of the problem.
We create this mess every time we go to the polls and split our ballots between the two parties. I used to take it as a point of pride that I always split my ballot - "voting for the best man or woman."  I am no longer certain that's the best way to vote. However, I remain uncomfortable voting for party labels -- especially when they mean so little anymore. Unless there is a major sea change in the 2016 election - much like Roosevelt's election in 1932 or Reagan's election in 1980 - gridlock remains in the long-range forecast.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 8 -- Olympic Fever
February 11, 2014
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The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are not even a week old and already I am counting the minutes until they extinguish the torch.  Simply put, Vladimir Putin has found the cure for Olympic Fever.  First, let's look at the venue. Up until a few years ago, Sochi was a sleepy, run-down summer resort for Russia's aparatchnic elite with toilets that won't flush.  A few billion rubles later, the town has been transformed into glittering, yet still sleepy, spruced-up winter resort for Russia's aparatchnic elite with toilets that still won't flush. It's the equivalent of the United States being awarded the winter games and deciding to hold them Bisbee, Arizona. (For those of you unfamiliar with Bisbee, its most recognizable feature is a big hole in the ground.) Then there's the excitement of amateur athletic competition. Unfortunately, no such thing exists in the Winter Olympics.  These are all professional athletes - even the absolutely adorable Jamaican bobsled team. The Olympic Committee still maintains that it is a competition featuring the world's best amateurs - despite the fact that the only amateurs in Sochi are the Russian Organizing Committee. Then there's the quality of the competition, itself. The reason people like to watch sporting events is their unpredictable nature.  But how can anything be termed "unpredictable" if we don't know anything about it in the first place? Really? Who was the last winner of the ski, squat and shoot competition? Just sayin'. The only real drama in these games is whether Bob Costas will succumb to an eye infection. And finally, there's the overwhelming presence of the man would would be Czar, Vladimir Putin.  His facial expression - that of a man who just stepped in a pile of yak dung - never changes. Perhaps I'd be more impressed if he performed a shirtless ice dancing routine. No, better yet, perhaps he could stop providing arms and military support to the murderous Syrian regime. Then, I would be impressed. Until then, the Faux Fabio can take his winter games and stick them where the sun don't shine. Oh, I forgot. He already has.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 7 -- The Supremacy Clause
February 5, 2014
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When elected officials in the state of Kansas take their oaths of office, they do so with wording prescribed by state law. Under Kansas Statutes, Chapter 54, Article 1, Subsection 106, each public official must swear or affirm that he or she "will support the Constitution of the United States." This language is common to the oaths of office in every state in the Union. In taking this oath, these public officials are pledging to support Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution: "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding." This section of the Constitution is known as the Supremacy Clause. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison defended the Supremacy Clause as vital to the functioning of a nation. To paraphrase his argument, Madison said the clause was necessary to avoid the chaos that would come with individual states overturning federal laws and spiraling off in separate directions. Madison wrote that without the Supremacy Clause, "It would have seen the authority of the whole society everywhere subordinate to the authority of the parts; it would have seen a monster, in which the head was under the direction of the members." I mention this because many state legislatures, include the one in Kansas, have or are seeking to pass state laws that would nullify existing federal laws on a variety of issues, including immigration, gun control and health care.  These laws, in essence, claim that certain federal laws do not apply within the states that adopt them. Knowing that the federal courts have repeatedly ruled these nullification laws to be unconstitutional, I suspect most legislators who vote for them do so more for the symbolism than the substance. To me, such an action begs a critical question: What part of the oath you took "to support the Constitution of the United States" do you not understand? By the way, the fight over Nullification Theory was decided 150 years ago in something we know today as the Civil War.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 6 -- Grandiose to Granular
January 29, 2014
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Nora Roberts of CBS News had the best take on last night's State of the Union Address by President Obama.  In her post-speech analysis, she said that the President's legislative agenda had gone from "grandiose to granular." Bob Schieffer, another veteran CBS News correspondent, said the speech was really about the limits of presidential power. The truth of the matter is that President Obama's words sounded a lot bolder and decisive than they really were.  His threat (or promise) to use Executive Orders (depending on your point-of-view) was more symbolic than effective.  For example, how serious can we take his "My RA" proposal for personal retirement accounts when no one within his administration is capable of providing any meaningful details as to how it would work? It reminded me of President Gerald Ford's well-meaning but flimsy "Whip Inflation Now" effort in 1974. Representative Paul Ryan aside, the President doesn't need Congress to remind him that the constitutional power to make new laws and determine the budget rests with the legislative branch. As well meaning and inspirational as his words are, the President can get very little done as long as the Congress remains at war with itself. I will give the President credit for toning down his rhetoric on the immigration issue.  There appears to be a bipartisan compromise in the works that may not provide illegal aliens an automatic path to citizenship, but will at least give them legal status. Strident presidential rhetoric could have derailed that effort. I also give the President credit for calling out the Republicans on Obamacare -- unless they have constructive alternatives to offer, shut up and move on. Frankly, whether or not the President's "Year of Action" comes to fruition is in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner. He has recently shown hopeful signs of annoyance with the uncompromising Tea Party wing of the GOP.  If the Republican Party is truly "the big tent" he and others have claimed it is, he should end his practice of withholding legislation from consideration until he has a "majority of the majority." In other words, he should end the practice of letting a minority of the House of Representatives dictate public policy for the entire United States government. Not only do I think that is the right thing to do, I also believe it is the smart political play.  Continuing to cow-tow to the Tea Party - a group of self-proclaimed patriots who have rejected the most basic American principle of governing by popular consensus - will lead to an electoral disaster for the Republican Party.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 5 -- Stargazing
January 26, 2014
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On a cloudless and moonless night, stars brightly shine within a black velvet cloak. You feel as if you can reach out to touch the heavens. It is in this moment of crystal clarity that looking into the midnight sky becomes a journey to a distant past. The sparkling tapestry before us likely began its illuminating voyage thousands, maybe millions of years ago - long before there was anyone on Earth to appreciate it. In a sense, this blanket of stars is a time machine, but not the kind H.G. Wells envisioned. He wrote of a contraption that could transport us to a time and place, allowing us to alter events in the hope of achieving a better outcome. However, humanity should be thankful we can't tinker with time. Just because we may think we have learned from our mistakes doesn't mean we really have. History is and will always be defined by unintended consequences.  For example, the printing press made it possible for the Catholic Church to propagate the faith.  But it ultimately weakened the power of the church and gave more to the masses. Nor does this celestial time machine help us see our past clearly. Our individual and collective memories are under constant revision and refinement. How often have you been told told things are not the way you remember them? Some people redefine the past for living: We call them historians. Others do it simply because they can. We call them family.  No, the night sky is not that kind of time machine. It doesn't alter the present. However, the stars can inspire your future - if you let them. Human history is driven by stargazers who see the world as it is and dream of what it can become. The stars do not provide light to navigate the hazards of the night as much as they illuminate the soul to a universe of possibilities.  The heavens may not tell us very much about distant galaxies. However, if we let them, they can serve as a catalyst for solemn introspection that leads to a greater understanding of this world.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 4 -- You Reap What You Sow
January 23, 2014
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With new legislative sessions underway in both Washington and Topeka, we see the same battle lines forming over the same tired issues.  In our Nation's Capitol, the fight is over government spending and health care, In the Kansas Capitol, lawmakers have drawn lines over tax cuts and education. This, in and of itself, is neither new nor negative. The essence of a successful democratic progress is a healthy debate over the allocation of resources and the establishment of priorities.  However, missing from the debates in Washington and Topeka is a mutual trust that each side, despite different approaches, fundamentally believes in the same overarching goals aimed at bettering the lives of their constituents.  Making this dance all the more difficult is a deepening antipathy among the governed toward those they elected to govern. Some of this mistrust is deserved.  Some of it is also the ingrained fear of centralized power that has permeated the American DNA since the birth of the nation. Frankly, what is needed is for politicians - democrat and republican - to start treating their elective offices more as a temporary obligation and less as a birthright.  Our elected officials should approach their roles as limited public service - not as a career option.  Public servants more readily seek common ground among one another to do what is best for the people than do career politicians who are always thinking ahead to the next election cycle. One way to accomplish such a sea change in attitudes would be term limits.  However, those same limits come with their own drawbacks; most notably the constant loss of institutional memory and the inability to retain truly gifted leaders. So, what is the answer? How can we ensure that we will have the kind of government we want and deserve?  I humbly suggest you do what I try to do: pay attention to what they are doing and hold them accountable for their actions. Read the newspaper and listen to the news every day.  Don't wait until your local paper publishes a shallow "voters guide" a few days before balloting.  If you like what your elected representative is doing, let him or her know.  If not, take time to write him or her about your views and direction what you would like to see them take. The more you make your voice heard, the more they will listen.  You can reach your member of the Kansas House of Representatives here. As for the Kansas Senate, click here. As for the members of the Sunflower State's Congressional delegation, click here. Our elected leaders are not evil, uncaring people. To the contrary, the overwhelming majority of them want to do what is right.  Without your voice to guide them, you leave them to organized interests to show them the way. It is like planting a crop of Kansas wheat - you reap what you sow.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 3 -- People of the South Wind
January 15, 2014
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I can't imagine anyone living in the United States this winter who hasn't learned a new-found respect for Mother Nature.  Whether it be cold, wind, rain or snow, the current winter season can reasonably be classified as brutal. This comes to mind as I am in the early stages of a semester-long sabbatical studying and spending time in Western Kansas.  Other than the Wizard of Oz, most people know Kansas as a flat and windy prairie.  Much of Kansas is flat, but not the part where I live.  There are serious hills in Lawrence, Kansas that especially come into play when the roads are icy. But everywhere in Kansas is windy.  The state is named after the Kansa (a/k/a Kanza or Kaw) Indians - the People of the South Wind. During the early stages of my research, I am exploring the Dust Bowl that engulfed the Southern Plains in the 1930s. Specifically, I have been listening to recordings of the survivors of the ordeal, perhaps the worst man-made environmental disaster in history.  What has impressed me about these interviews is the almost matter-of-fact heroics common throughout.  The things people did to survive - and many people didn't survive - are remarkable. It's hard to image an environment where a sunny, calm day could suddenly be transformed into a rolling, pitch-black cloak of horror.  Try as they may, the new People of the South Wind couldn't escape the dust.  It seeped into every crevice through which air could pass and into their homes and lungs. People had to cover their faces with wet cloths to avoid breathing in the dust. Still, hundreds - mostly children - died from what was called "black pneumonia." Many people fled the region.  But more stayed, stuck it out, and became stronger and more prosperous for their experience.  Every time I hear the wind blow in Kansas - which is practically every day - I think of the People of the South Wind, the settlers who followed, and the quiet courage that is instilled into the people of Western Kansas.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 2-- Let's Do the Math
January 8, 2014
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According recently published news accounts, Kansas business owners say both taxes and the amount of money spent on school administration are too high. The poll was conducted by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce in early December of last year and has a margin of error of 5.6 percent. To be more precise, 73 percent said they would favor increasing the funds available for the classroom while reducing non-instructional costs. I am not an accountant, but I can read, write and do basic arithmetic. I looked at the online budget figures of the local school system (Lawrence) for the past seven years - roughly the period since the onset of the "Great Recession"- and guess what? Instructional funding has risen approximately 30 percent. However, during that same period, funding for general and school administration has dropped 12 percent.  What about administrative costs at the University of Kansas? It's a far more complicated budget, but I looked at the line items for the Chancellor's office, the Public Affairs Office and the Provost's office.  Those budgets have dropped 28 percent during that same period. Just in case you are wondering, the Kansas Division of the Budget says that the cost of operating the Kansas legislature during that same time frame increased 11 percent. But let's get back to that Chamber of Commerce survey.  Sixty-five percent said they thought the quality of the Kansas workforce is "very satisfactory" or "somewhat satisfactory." (Thirty percent said the workforce was somewhat or very unsatisfactory.) That makes you wonder whether they are really dissatisfied with the cost of school administration or its just that the DNA of the respondents created an automatic revulsion to anything that smells of government spending and taxes.  Even more curious - and alarming - is that
only 1 percent of Kansas business owners indicated that education was among the important issues facing them today. (Remember, that's with a margin of error of 5.6 percent).  Who do they think prepares that work force, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Let's hope that our state's public policy officials check their math before making critical decisions on the future of education in Kansas.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 1-- Restless America
January 1, 2014
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On this first day of the new year, the American people are restless.  According to the latest figures from the Gallup Poll, 76 percent of U.S. adults are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. An anemic 12 percent approve of the job that Congress is doing. (Perhaps the remaining 88 percent are asking themselves "Are they doing anything?") President Obama's job approval rating has dropped 10 points in the last year to 43 percent. Amazingly, more people have a favorable opinion of George W. Bush than of his successor. (I get the feeling that Obama will be be widely admired after he leaves office.)  Part of Obama's problem is the botched roll-out of the Affordable Care Act a/k/a Obamacare. What makes this curious is that 69 percent of American adults say they are unaffected by the health care law.  However, ACA approval may increase - marijuana sales are legal as of today in Colorado.  More significantly, Gallup says 58 percent of American adults now favor the legalization of marijuana. More than half of Americans, 53 percent, say they now favor same-sex marriage. Folks in higher education start the year concerned about competition from online degree programs.  The bad news for the brick and mortar folks: Americans rate online degrees better than traditional schools for value and options.  However, Americans also say that online schools are less rigorous, with less qualified instructors and with less credibility among employers. 2014 is a political year, and Republicans are surprisingly doing better than Democrats in generic ballots.  Although mid-term elections tend to favor the party out of the White House, these Republicans have shown an amazing ability to shoot themselves in the foot. (Ask President Romney.) As of now, Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie appear to be the favorites to win their party's presidential nomination in 2016.  My opinion: Neither one will be on the November 2016 ballot. As for me, I am starting a sabbatical that will eventually take me into western Kansas and throughout the High Plains. As one who was reared in a rural setting, I have always been interested in the fate of small town America.  I plan to visit communities which are facing a historic population decline and will be studying the role media play in maintaining community cohesion. It is likely some future posts will come from these communities. A restless America starts a new year -- and I am getting out of town.
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That's it for now. Happy New Year. Fear the Turtle.
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