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. 45 -- No Escape
September 13, 2014

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Like a lot of people, I enjoy following the world of sports because it provides a temporary escape from a world which, at times, seems to have gone mad. Unfortunately, this past week has been one in which real world issues have intruded into the realm of fun and games.  On Monday, the Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract running back Ray Rice when a new video emerged of his infamous assault on his then-fiance (now-wife) in an Atlantic City casino elevator. The former Rutgers star had faced a ridiculous two-week suspension based on a video showing him dragging the unconscious woman from the elevator.  But it wasn't until news giant TMZ released an inside-the-elevator video of Rice clocking his girlfriend with a face punch that the Ravens and the NFL were forced to take more realistic sanctions against the woman-beater. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told CBS News that no one in his office had seen the video until this week and that once confronted with it, it was new evidence that required tougher actions. There are three problems with that explanation. First, you didn't need to see the video to know what had happened in the elevator - Rice already had told the commissioner the whole story in testimony at the league offices. Second, even without the video, how could the fact that a woman entered an elevator conscious and left bloodied and unconscious have been interpreted as anything other than a vicious assault? Talk about a failure of imagination. And third - and perhaps most damning - are allegations that the NFL had been in the possession of the infamous video for months and that Goodell was either blissfully ignorant or a full-out liar.  Right now, most of America believes the latter. And in the public's eye, officials ignoring domestic violence and sexual assault is as much a crime as that committed by the perpetrator. Of course, there were other atrocities this week in the world of sports. Former Olympian Oscar Pistorius was convicted of negligent killing in the 2013 death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and declared not guilty of murder by a South African judge.  Of course, if he had shot her in Florida, he'd have been proclaimed a hero for standing his ground against a presumed 98-pound burglar cowering her for life in a locked bathroom. On Friday, Baltimore Oriole slugger Chris Davis -- who last year proclaimed he wanted show the world that you can hit home runs without the use of banned chemicals -- was suspended for 25 games after testing positive a second time for the use an amphetamine. That would have been the sad story of the day had not Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson been indicted by a Texas grand jury for what is essentially child abuse. He apparently punished his child by flogging him with a tree branch.  (One wonders if there is any video of the incident that Roger Goodell can pretend not to see?) To top it off, another NBA team owner is selling his team and a front-office executive is taking a leave of absence because of particularly stupid, racist remarks.  Between mad men in the Middle East who want to kill anyone who doesn't agree with them (especially Americans), to the senseless murder of a Topeka policeman, it has been a bad week. And to make it worse, the sports world has provided no escape from this twisted and deranged world.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 44 -- The Cotton Candy Caucas
September 7, 2014

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At about the same time the University of Kansas Jayhawks kicked off their 2014 football season, thousands of Kansans gathered at the State Fair in Hutchinson for a different kind of kick-off. In what is a long-standing Sunflower State tradition, the candidates for major offices -- in this case the governorship and a seat in the U.S. Senate -- held their first major debate.  This year's debates drew special attention because the two republican incumbents in the race, Governor Sam Brownback and U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, are in surprisingly difficult battles for reelection.  Brownback is trailing State Senator Paul Davis in the polls and Roberts, coming off a bruising primary battle, is facing a formidable challenge from independent Greg Orman. Press accounts of yesterday's events suggest that the embattled republicans took a page from the play book of the most famous Kansas republican, Bob Dole. Facing a potential loss in the Watergate year of 1974, Dole went on the attack during his State Fair debate, barely winning that election, but -- according to contemporary accounts of the event -- losing the respect of some of his supporters, who booed him on stage. The accounts of yesterday's debates in Hutchinson showed the incumbent republicans were more aggressive, much in the manner of wounded animals.  However, the challengers also got in their fair share of licks.  Perhaps the best came from Davis, who called out the Governor for claiming the state had only $876.05 in the state coffers when he took the oath of office in 2011. Davis noted that figure represented the state's general balance on July 31, 2010, six months before Brownback took office.  By the time Brownback was sworn-in, the budget coffers had swelled to more than $200 million. And, according to the Kansas City Star, the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, actually shows an all-funds ending balance of $163.4 million in Kansas government as of June 30, 2010. In the Senate debate, Orman suggested he had been to Dodge City -- Robert's proported residence -- more often this year than the incumbent. Roberts challenged Orman and they compared numbers. Turns out Orman was wrong. Roberts claimed to have been in Dodge City seven times this year compared to Orman's four. That might have scored a minor debating point, but also pointed out the Senator's most challenging problem this year -- he may pick up his mail in Dodge City, but his real home -- the place where all his personal stuff resides -- is in Washington, D.C. Amidst the funnel cakes, cotton candy and popcorn of the Kansas State Fair, four men joined their electoral battles in earnest.  Two of them are fighting hard to win, while the other two are fighting hard to survive. It's going to be a long two months until Election Day.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 43 -- The Tyranny of Silence
September 5, 2014

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As a teacher of history during these troubled times, it is not uncommon for me to look to our past for expressions of wisdom that can guide my thoughts today. In the wake of recent events locally and internationally, I find myself turning to the words of an 18th century Irish statesman, author and philosopher.  It was Edmund Burke who said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Burke, who served many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain, is remembered for his support of the American Revolution and his opposition to the French Revolution. At various times since his death, conservatives and liberals have praised Burke’s wisdom. It is similar to the way U.S. Democrats and Republicans cherry-pick various aspects of Ronald Reagan’s life when it best suits their purposes. However, some of Burke’s wisdom defies political characterization. “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little,” Burke once said. It calls into question those who choose caution over “doing the right thing” in matters involving justice, equality and compassion. And when some choose to sit on the sidelines out of fear of retribution, Burke reminded us that “all tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” While it may be sad to have to look back three centuries for guidance, it would be sadder to have looked back and ignored such wisdom.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 42 -- Lackluster Leadership Legacy
August 24, 2014

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Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in November 2008 out of the electorate's strong belief that the nation should go in a new direction. The narrative of the time was that President George W. Bush had led us into an unnecessary war in Iraq and had brought the economy to the brink of ruin. While the timing of the war and the pretense may have been questionable, I have always thought that armed conflict with Iraq was inevitable. And as for the economy, Democrats have conveniently forgotten that the foundations for the Great Recession of 2008 were laid by the laissez-faire banking and housing policies of the Clinton administration the 1990s. (Yes, the Republicans had control of the Congress at the time. But President Clinton claimed them as his policy successes.) Now, with roughly 29 months remaining in the Obama presidency, it is time for the president -- and us -- to begin thinking about his legacy.  Despite the ongoing controversy, I think the Affordable Care Act will leave a positive legacy. It's not that the ACA couldn't use some tweaking. However, the point of it is that it provides health care protections for people who previously fell through the cracks and were unserved. That's a good thing. However, the biggest threat to the president's legacy lies in the Middle East. Sure, we got Osama Bin Laden on his watch. We pulled out of Iraq and are disengaging from Afghanistan. (It is important to remind you that our ability to leave Iraq was made possible by President Bush's surge strategy - the same one opposed by Senator Obama.) But now there is a new and even more dangerous threat to the peace of the region (and the world), ISIS - the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has been born out of the stalemate and chaos of the Syrian civil war. And while Obama apologists will deny it, the President bears some responsibility for the ISIS threat. Obama famously declared in August 2012 - in the midst of his reelection campaign - that a "red line" would be crossed if Syrian dictator Assad used chemical weapons against his people. One year later, he did -- and we did nothing. The Obama administration would tell you that its pressure led to Syria's surrender of its chemical weapons cache. However, there are many who doubt that is true. Most important, his failure to bomb Syria did not weaken Assad, weakened those who were on a precipice of toppling him, and emboldened what had been a weak ISIS movement. Just this past week, the spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that ISIS had significantly grown in strength during the past six months. Could that have happened if the Obama administration had followed through on its threats and aided Syrian rebels in the removal of Assad? No one really knows. But we do know this: The Obama administration is reengaging the United States in Iraq, largely for humanitarian reasons. However, the same conditions exist on the Syrian side of the border and we appear reluctant to do anything. This level of spineless presidential leadership is not only making ISIS stronger, but it is threatening Israel, emboldening Vladimir Putin to swallow up the Ukraine, and telling the Chinese that they can continue their cyber and economic warfare against the United States with impunity. The world is waiting for presidential leadership. And it can't afford to wait until January 20, 2017.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 41 -- Eyewitness News versus I Witness News
August 21, 2014

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The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, have vividly demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of American journalism. Reporters serve a vital role as eyewitnesses to the actions of government -- including the actions of police.  Most people, including most reporters I have known, are generally supportive of the members of the law enforcement community.  However, when police cross an often fuzzy line and engage in reckless and potentially illegal behavior, it is the job of the media to document that behavior and share it with their fellow citizens.  For the most part, this is what has been done in Ferguson. Of course, this works both ways. Police and, more importantly, the people who who consume media get to monitor and judge the quality of the reporting they are seeing, hearing and reading. From my vantage point, I feel too many of the reporters have gotten caught up in the drama of the story and have lost perspective.  I expect hysterical and biased rantings of MSNBC and Fox News because that's their brand. That's what they do.  But I am extremely disappointed when I hear seasoned political reporter Jake Tapper of CNN making broad, unsubstantiated and, at times, hysterical pronouncements about the appropriateness of police tactics.  Before he makes a judgment on live television that there are too many armored police units on the street, he should do what reporters are supposed to do: Ask someone in charge for the rationale behind these tactics. Having worked with and for law enforcement during my career, it is my professional opinion that Ferguson's law enforcement officers were ill-trained and not emotionally prepared to confront angry and, at times, violent protesters.  But I also have the sense that outside law enforcement more correctly assessed the situation and imposed more proper tactics. At this point, I only question how long it took the Governor of Missouri to response to the initial violence and how long it took the State Police to take operational control once they were summoned.  I don't know if the shooting of Michael Brown was justified or an illegal act committed in the people's name by a frightened police officer. That's not my job. Nor is it the job of the goons in the street or the buffoons pointing cameras at them.  This is the kind of situation for which our criminal courts are designed. Nonviolent legitimate street protests are free speech that should both be protected and considered. Based on the state and federal responses, one can say that has been the case.  Outsiders stepped in because the locals lost credibility. But giving voice and a platform to the violent and hysterical -- including the Jake Tappers of the journalism world -- creates more heat than light and does a disservice to the profession and the community it serves.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 40 -- Biden vs. Romney?
August 10, 2014

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Ever since Barack Obama was reelected to a second term - about the same time Karl Rove had his meltdown on Fox News - there has been rampant speculation as to who will win the presidency in 2016.  Yes, this speculation is annoying. But is also is as American as apple pie - albeit stale apple pie.  Most of the speculation centers on whether Hillary Clinton will throw her hat into the ring. She may be positioning herself for a run -- or she may be pulling a Sarah Palin by coyly amassing a considerable campaign war chest that can be easily converted into a finely feathered nest. During the past week, I read two commentaries that mentioned unlikely Obama successors, Joe Biden and Mitt Romney. Few seem to take Biden seriously because Vice Presidents are rarely treated as little more than a punch line -- with the exception of Dick Cheney who just scares people. And Joey from Scranton contributes to this low image with a record of malapropisms. However, Biden is a seasoned political veteran with substantial resume.  Even GQ has said the Veep is worthy of second look. Another person mentioned in the "second-look category" is 2012 Republican standard bearer Mitt Romney. Recent polls have indicated that if the 2012 election were a do-over, Romney would beat Obama. (The same poll says Hillary would beat Mitt.) As one British commentator has noted, many of the former Massachusetts governor's statements during the campaign were prescient.  The fact that I have mentioned Joe and Mitt does not mean that I either support them or predict they will win their party's nomination.  Frankly, if you ask me who I think will win the presidency in 2016, I will tell that I haven't mentioned his or her name in this column. I haven't settled on a particular individual yet, but I think America is looking for a new face. (Sorry Jeb Bush, you hardly qualify as a new face.) I also think America is thirsty for a leader -- and one has not yet emerged from what will likely be a crowded field. Besides, there's that little matter of the mid-term election in a couple of months.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 39 -- Don't Drink The Water
August 4, 2014

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After a weekend of worry, the people of Toledo, Ohio, have been told that it is once again safe to drink and bathe in the city's tap water. Residents were told to avoid using their tap water all weekend after the state and federal Environmental Protection Agency showed high levels of an algae-related toxin in two neighborhoods.  The city's drink water comes from the appropriately named Lake Erie. Environmentalists say the source of the contamination was likely algae blooms fed by
nutrients that wash into waterways from farm fields. According to CNN, "ingestion of the toxin can affect the liver and cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and acute liver failure." This is exactly the kind of situation the people living the six-state Chesapeake Bay Watershed want to avoid. That's why they agreed to an interstate compact that allows the EPA to impose detailed agricultural chemical nutrient runoff standards in the region. However, farm interests and 21 state attorneys general (including the one in Kansas) have gone to federal court to block the arrangement.  Simply said, they fear they may be held to higher standards themselves (Vol. 8 No. 20). To be certain, this is not a black or white issue. If there's one thing America does better than anyone else, it is producing food. A strong agricultural economy is not only good for this country, but it is a global necessity.  However, the agriculture vs. the environment debate is often reduced to the simplistic agricentric argument that "everyone has to eat." That's true.  But everyone needs water, too. Based on my recent conversations with people in the region once known as the Dust Bowl, I think farmers have a much better understanding of that reality than those in corporate agriculture and politics. Last weekend's water crisis in Toledo should serve as a cautionary tale. Instead of suing states that are trying to fend off disaster, the business folks and the politicians need to engage the problem of wastewater runoff in a meaningful and constructive manner. It's better to become a part of the solution now than to face the inevitable legal and financial consequences of doing nothing - plus it has the added benefit of being the right thing to do.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 38 -- Not-So Super Tuesday
August 1, 2014

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Next Tuesday is Primary Election Day in Kansas. And if you are not filled with a sense of excitement or anticipation, you are not alone. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he expects only a 22 percent voter turnout. (He didn't say how many illegal aliens he expected to cast their ballots.)  There isn't a lot of excitement in this round of voting, as few of the incumbents have serious challengers. The race that has gotten the most attention is the republican U.S. Senate primary pitting incumbent Pat Roberts, who gets his mail in Dodge City, and Miles Wolf, who apparently thinks X-rays are a new level of "selfie." Baring a big upset, Roberts should win this in a cakewalk. It is actually Kobach's race that may provide some drama. He is being challenged by Scott Morgan of Lawrence. Morgan has criticized Kobach for associating with nut case Ted Nugent, focusing too much on national immigration issues and for continuing to practice law while in office. For his part, Kobach has criticized Morgan for being from Lawrence - which in Kansas politics implies that you are much too liberal to be running in the republican primary. The only other race generating attention is in the Kansas Fourth Congressional District, where former Congressman Todd Tiahrt seeks to reclaim his seat from the man who succeeded him two years ago, Mike Pompeo. Tiahrt became the odd man out when he and eventual winner Jerry Moran vied to replace Senator Sam Brownback, who went on to become governor. The race appears to center on who will do the best job ensuring that nothing is accomplished in Washington. Of course, all of this drumbeat is preliminary to the big show in November. By all accounts, this could be a republican year nationwide. However, Kansas is a different story. Governor Sam Brownback, the man who many thought would be running for president in 2016, is currently trailing Democrat Paul Davis in both the polls and fund raising. That makes the Kansas gubernatorial race the most interesting race to watch this fall.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 37 -- A Looney Fish Story
July 27, 2014

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I have previously written about my prowess - or more accurately the lack thereof - as a fisherman (Vol. 5 No. 25). Last week, I returned to the scene of the crime (so to speak), Mound Lake in west-central Minnesota. The occasion was a weeklong vacation with my wife and her son's family. Fishing was only a sidebar to the main storyline - a lot of quality family time. It is amazing how sitting next to a body of water with your grandchildren can make you forget all of the world's troubles. That's not a bad thing when one considers how screwed up the world is that this particular time. However, it is the act of fishing that takes one back to reality. On the one hand, you feel omnipotent when you reel in three-pound bass and, in an act of practical compassion, you spare its life and let it go. However, there is also the realization that your five-year-old grandson and three-year-old granddaughter are catching a lot more fish than you are. As a grandparent, you are proud. As a fisherman, it is humbling. It may come as a surprise to remind you that some people occasionally embellish stories about the "ones that got away." My fish story on this trip is the one I let get away. I had just cast into the lake when I saw a loon swim underwater past me on a beeline to my baited hook. I immediately recognized that nothing good would happen if I hooked the bird and quickly yanked my lure from the water out of the loon's way. Perhaps I overreacted. Maybe the bird would have ignored my silver and purple rubbery worm. Maybe I wouldn't have gone to prison for killing a beloved and protected species. More likely, maybe I wouldn't have been mauled by a foul-tempered fowl. But why take the chance? That would have been looney.

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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 36 -- Not Knowing What To Say
July 16, 2014

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It is something that happens in virtually every family - in my case, a brother. You react to news that the health of someone you care about has taken a bad turn, and has left him or her in a diminished, uncertain and unhappy state. The person does not appear to be on the brink of death, but the long-term prognosis isn't promising.
Some people die suddenly. Others have enough warning to gracefully orchestrate their own final exit. It is those who find themselves somewhere in between -- never to be well again, but with no real sense of how or when things will play out - who suffer most. When the time comes to show your love and support, you don't know what to say. There's a certain cruelty in offering false hope of a miraculous recovery -- and the person can usually see through that.  If anything, this is a time for personal honesty.  But telling the afflicted of your personal fears for their future seems both self-centered and ill-advised. So you do the only thing you can do and try to remain positive and empathetic. You tell your loved ones that they are, in fact, loved. You say that you are thinking of them and pulling or praying for them - which ever best fits you spiritual lifestyle.  You want to be positive, but not Pollyanna. You want them to feel better mentally, if not physically. And you have to remind yourself that the conversation you are having with someone who, by no choice of their own, has been placed into a debilitating, painful and depressing existence is for his or her benefit - not your own. Yes, you will feel better later when you know you had a chance to reach out at a time your presence was most welcomed. But you also know that it is also a hollow victory, one in which you probably did very little to change the cruel reality. And you say a silent prayer that neither you or other loved ones find themselves in the same sad situation.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 35 -- Dear Chancellor Merkel
July 14, 2014

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Dear Chancellor Merkel - may I call you Angela?  Congratulations on Germany winning the World Cup yesterday over Argentina.  I am sure it is a source of great pride for all Germans - with the exception of those who migrated to Argentina. I hear that you are unhappy to learn that your ally the United States has been listening in on your cellphone and trying to gather intelligence about your government's intentions. You say that's not the sort of thing allies do to one another.  However, I feel compelled to point out that this is an assymmetric relationship and that our two countries are not really on an equal footing. After we sent millions of our sons and daughters to Europe in the early 1940s to liberate the German people from the clutches of a murderous tyrant, we then spent hundred of billions of dollars over the next 70 years rebuilding your country and protecting it from yet another murderous tyrant in the east. While you have had the luxury of focusing your economy on building consumer goods that you can sell to us, we have had to invest a large portion of our economy on maintaining a military that protects you as well as ourselves. So when you act like a wilting daisy in the face of threatened Russian aggression in the Ukraine, did it ever occur to you that the United States might want to know your true intentions?  Did you ever consider that with a history of two wars of aggression under your country's belt during the past century, we might not entirely trust you?  We mean you no harm -- and just want to make certain that the opposite holds true. As long as our nation is expected to carry the bulk of responsibily for your safety, I am going to ask that you forgive our ocassional indiscretions. Otherwise, we should take our American soldiers and money and go home, leaving you and your rubbery spined European friends to fend for themselves. If you forgive us for our intellience gathering, we can forgive you for beating us in soccer, er, futbol.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 34 -- The Real Meaning of Freedom
July 4, 2014

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On this Fourth of July, most Americans will engage in traditional celebrations of our independence.  Some will go to parties, others to ballgames, and still others will take in the evening fireworks display in their local communities.  However, along the U.S. - Mexican border, still others will be exercising their freedom of speech in protest against illegal immigrants who are being processed in their area by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Yes, these people have a right to lawful protest against their government.  But the image of white, middle-class Americans illegally blocking highways to prevent three bus loads of women and children seeking to escape poverty and oppression is, well, unAmerican.  It is a sure bet that everyone blocking that highway has immigrant ancestry.  I also believe that everyone on that highway loves his or her country and professes to share its values. And there's the rub -- for freedom is not something we possess. It is something we share.  And we certainly don't show a love of freedom by acting as if we are the same as the people from those areas these refugees are fleeing.  Should we have a completely open border? No, we should not.  There are legitimate national security concerns. Should we deport the millions of the people who have made it to America without proper documentation? No, we should not.  We can't treat everyone as if they are a terrorist. We should do what President George W. Bush first proposed and President Barack Obama has since endorsed - provide these people a pathway to citizenship. The people who seek to come to America are not trying to take anything away from anyone.  Freedom is not a limited resource - giving someone else a better life doesn't diminish your own. These immigrants want to share in the opportunity to make something of their lives without fear -- the same motivation our Founding Father and Mothers shared when they came to these shores four centuries ago. As we celebrate this Independence Day, let's rejoice that this is a nation to which people aspire, not flee. And let us remember that freedom is a gift our ancestors gave us and that we should pass on to others.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 33 -- No Rubber Stamp
June 29, 2014

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No matter how much the nation's punditocracy professes to be all-knowing, the fact remains that no one really understands politics. At best, pundits try to place a rational spin on an irrational science. Observers will always tell you that politicians act in their self-interest. But if that were the case, can anyone explain what is happening in Kansas?  If the polls are to be believed, Governor Sam Brownback, generally seen as the most powerful Republican in one of the nation's reddest of red states, is facing an uphill battle for reelection. Not only has democrat Paul Davis successfully matched Brownback's poll numbers, he is also competitive in his fund raising efforts.  Brownback's troubles have been evident for months.  One would have thought that the Republican-controlled legislature would have tried help the governor during its most recent session by passing bills that would bolster Brownback's electoral chances. Instead, in the final hours of the session, conservative lawmakers slipped in legislation targeting teachers. As John Milburn of the Associated Press reported in today's Topeka Capital-Journal, "After seeing laws enacted restricting paycheck contributions for political activities, eliminating administrative due process and easing the requirements for obtaining a teaching license, educators say they are fighting back."  One can only wonder why Kansas conservatives chose to pick this fight. Perhaps they see it as targeting teachers unions in state that is not friendly to organized labor.  The problem they now face is that there are a lot moderate Republicans, Democrats and independent voters that view this not as a battle against unions, but as an assault on one of the state's most revered institutions - the local school teacher.  You just can't make a second grade teacher appear to others as a union goon.  The legislature's actions make as much sense as picking a fight with Santa Claus. Going back to my original assertion: I do not pretend to know what is going to happen in the August legislative primaries and the fall General Elections.  However, I feel confident in saying that this will not be a rubber-stamp election for Republicans. More and more this is feeling like a year when no incumbent will be safe.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 32 -- Last Week's Other Electoral Upset
June 20, 2014

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While much of the nation's attention was focused last week on the primary election defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va), there was another surprising election outcome for people in Kansas who like to drink water.  The water rights holders in Groundwater Management District 1 - Wichita, Scott, Lane, Greeley and Wallace counties - voted against the establishment of what would have been the state's second Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA). That leaves portions of the Sheridan and Thomas counties (Sheridan-6 LEMA) with the only LEMA in the state. The consensus of the farmers, editors and elected officials I spoke with during my recent dust bowl tour was that the proposal would pass. But it lost 173-158 with the majority of opposition coming from Wallace County. LEMAs are an attempt to slow the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer through a five-year program of voluntary conservation. The goal was to reduce the drain on the underground water supply by 20 percent. Speculation as to the reason behind the failure was reported in the Scott County Record. It pitted younger farmers worried about their long-term prospects against older farmers who have been pumping water for 30-50 years and have no desire to change their practices. The vote came after an 18-month education effort designed to showcase the benefits of collective water conservation. However, it didn't allay the fears of those who saw the LEMA as a threat to their bottom line and to their way of life. It didn't help that the state Division of Water Resources recently granted permission to dig a new well south of Scott City over the objections of the GWMD board. The Scott City Record said some thought is being given to establishing a LEMA in a smaller area where voters were receptive. Meanwhile, the drought continues, corn producers continue to pump water from the aquifer, and another opportunity to address the region's most pressing problem evaporates into the blue Kansas sky.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 31 -- Exits 53 and 54
June 17, 2014

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After more than 15-hundred often dusty highways, I returned to Lawrence last Saturday from my four-state Dust Bowl Tour. My last stop was Colby, Kansas, a place known to many as a stop along Interstate 70 when traveling to and from Denver. Although it wasn't my first visit to Colby, I hadn't spent any time there since December 1991.  The purpose of that visit was to meet with the board of the Citizens Medical Center about a class project. On this occasion, I talked with the local newspaper editor, the education director of the Prairie Museum of Art and History and Katherine Wilkins-Wells, the manager of the Northeast Kansas Groundwater Management District. Wilkins-Wells gave me one of the best quotes of my two-week journey: "There are two kinds of towns in western Kansas, those on the interstate and those that aren't." There is a lot of wisdom in that statement. There are towns like Colby that have their economies boosted by a steady stream of revenues from gas stations, hotels, restaurants and other needs of the weary traveler. Non-interstate towns are solely reliant upon agriculture and as any farmer will tell you, farming is a lot like gambling. This year, in particular, stands to be a losing proposition if there isn't a break in the drought before the winter wheat planting. While Colby benefits from its fortunate relationship with the highway, there is a down side. According to Sharon Friedlander, editor of the Colby Free Press, much of the community's commercial activity once was located downtown near the railroad tracks. Today, Colby's downtown is fairly sparse as a majority of the town's commercial enterprises have moved in close proximity to the interstate. Most of eateries in town are chain restaurants, literally leaving Colby without a local flavor. Those things notwithstanding, Colby is holding its own as a regional center with beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods, strong schools and well-maintained public facilities. Colby isn't a bad place to be from. Nor would it be a bad place to return to, either.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 30 -- Lamar Laments
June 13, 2014

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As I travel on my two-week trek through the 1930's Dust Bowl region, this week's visit to Lamar, Colorado, presented me the appearance of a prosperous community.  Located in the southeastern corner of the state, the town makes a good first impression on visitors. Perhaps I was influenced by my recent visit to Boise City, Oklahoma. In comparison, Lamar seemed vibrant and bustling. The schools, the parks and the public buildings appeared to be in good shape.  The town has converted its railroad depot into a visitors center and office for the local chamber of commerce - something I wish we had done here in Lawrence with our own depot. The residential neighborhoods are attractive and the streets are in great shape and tree-lined.  The people say they love their town. However, looks can be deceiving. As I arrived in town, the Arkansas River Power Authority (ARPA) was seeking public comments on the future of the Lamar Repowering Project. Several years ago, the community partnered with a half-dozen or so nearby communities on a $150 million project to convert the Lamar Power and Light plant from a natural gas-fueled generator into a coal-fired facility. It was going to save consumers money. The project even won industry design awards. Unfortunately, the plant has yet to generate nary a kilowatt.  It seems that the boilers failed to meet federal air quality standards and they were shut down before the plant began operations. A Colorado-based environmental group eventually won a settlement in which ARPA agreed to not run the plant before February 2022. This has left Lamar with bonded indebtedness for a $150 white elephant and forcefeeding business and citizens  some of the highest utility bills in the state. If that were bad enough, the town is struggling to meet the demands of its residents for water. For the past decade, it has been in the grips of the worst drought since the Dirty Thirties. To hear local officials tell it, Lamar is getting squeezed by thirsty Metro Denver's water demands upstream and the requirement to provide sufficient water to downstream Kansans under an interstate water compact. One official was chaffed at the thought of Prowers County barely pumping enough water to get by while farmers just across the state line in Kansas were running their irrigation wells full bore. And as if to add insult to injury, there's the false hope of wind energy. If you drive into town from the south, you'd think the town was prospering from one of the largest wind farms in the nation. However, that, too, is an illusion. Most of the benefits come during the windmill construction phase. While there is room to build plenty more, there is inadequate transmission line capacity to add more power to the grid. One county commissioner told me that the citizens are getting frustrated, but they don't know whom they should yell at. The people who made the decisions ten years ago are no longer in office to be help accountable for what were well-intentioned, but ultimately flawed reasons. So, they are frustrated. Some are leaving town - the county population dropped 13 percent in the 2000s. Those who remain are trying to make the best of a bad situation -- one that is not of their doing and over which they have little control.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 29 -- An Ill Wind
June 9, 2014

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There's dust in the air today in Boise City, Oklahoma. A storm front roared through this panhandle town last night and was followed by roaring, howling and unrelenting 50+ mile-and-hour winds. That speck of dust in your eye probably blew in from New Mexico or Colorado. The gathering clouds on the horizon have a brown hue. However, folks are grateful that it rained in Cimarron County the last two weekends.  Otherwise, Boise City (pronounced Boyce City) would today look like it did in the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. In recent years, the High Plains have suffered through a drought comparable to the one that created the Dirty Thirties. During a visit to the Cimarron Heritage Center, I was shown a photo taken last April - before the rain - of a massive wall cloud of dust descending on the town. Fortunately, dust storms are now more the exception than the rule. However, there's always the fear that Dust Bowl conditions could return. Boise City was its epicenter - it was here that a New York Times reporter coined the phrase "Dust Bowl." Truth be told, this town has never recovered from that experience. The county's population briefly rose in the late 1940s, but began its steady decline when another devastating drought hit in the mid-1950s. Today, the county's population has fallen to 2,335 - with most of the people living within the town limits. This county is agriculture dependent, and in case you haven't noticed, it takes fewer and fewer people on big mechanized corporate farms to produce the food we consume. Wheat, a product of dry farming, is held hostage to radical climatic changes. Corn, a product of irrigation, is the farmer's double-edged sword.  A lot of money can be made growing corn, but it also takes a lot of water. Around here, that's Ogallala Aquifer water and it is growing scarce. There is no local industry to take up the slack if the agricultural economy goes south. If the wells run dry and the fields turn to dust, it is likely another ill wind will blow through Boise City.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 28 -- Exciting Garden City
June 6, 2014

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An item in this morning's newspaper may have taken some by surprise -- Garden City has been ranked among the five most-exciting places in Kansas. The blog Motovo rated the state's cities with more than 10,000 population for their culinary, recreational and cultural opportunities. If Garden City's high ranking surprises you, it may be that you haven't visited the Finney County seat recently.  I have spent the better part of the last three days in Garden (as the local residents call it) conducting research interviews of civic leaders.  As I mentioned briefly in my last post, my first impressions were good -- and nothing has since changed that assessment. The city has tree-lined streets, beautiful homes, well maintained public buildings, parks, public arts, a new high school, a zoo and the largest public swimming pool you'll ever see. But more than that, Garden City has a cultural diversity unlike anywhere else in Kansas. While its transformation into a "majority minority" community wasn't always easy, the city now embraces that diversity as a badge of honor. Garden has always had a significant Hispanic/Latino community.  In the 1980's, the demographic mix shifted with an influx of Pacific Rim immigrants - many of them Vietnamese refugees - lured to jobs in the meat packing industry. They came looking to start a new life and found it in western Kansas. Lately, the refugees have been coming to Garden from places like Somalia and Myanmar. Mayor Roy Cessna, also the public information officer for the Garden City School District, told me that students speaking more than two dozen languages are enrolled in the school system. A majority of Garden City students are in the federal school lunch program - suggesting that cultural richness does not always translate into financial wealth. And to be certain, Garden is not the Garden of Eden. It faces a variety of issues common to any dynamic and diverse community. And common with the rest of western Kansas, the long-term availability of Ogallala Aquifer water is a looming concern. But as has been the case with other challenges, the people of Garden City are not afraid to tackle adversity. Everyone I interviewed left me with the same message: Garden City prospers because it turns challenges into opportunities. And that attitude is what makes Garden City exciting.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 27 -- Scott City's High Expectations
June 4, 2014

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I am posting from a hotel room in Garden City, Kansas - my base of operations for the next three days of my two-week tour of the southern High Plains. I can't say much about Garden City except that a brief car tour of the community left me with a good first impression. However, before I focus on this diverse and complex community, I'd like to share some thoughts about the town I just left, Scott City.  I believe it is an exceptional small town with forward-thinking residents.  In recent years, the citizens have bucked the "no more taxes" trend and supported a renovation of the county courthouse, renovation of the local high school, and they have just opened one of the finest hospitals in the region - and maybe in the state. Scott County's economic development efforts are aggressive, highly sophisticated and, most importantly, successful. This is not to say that the community isn't facing serious challenges, not the least of which is water. This region is in the third year of a devastating drought.  Local agricultural extension agent John Beckman told me that this summer's wheat harvest "is very bad" and that if there is not rain very soon "we aren't going to have a fall crop, either." Water, specifically the scarcity of it, cropped up several times during Tuesday's three and one-half hour county commissioners meeting. James Minnix, the longest-serving member of the commission said, "Rainfall affects a lot of things around here." Another concern is succession - who takes over community leadership when the current leadership retires? After the meeting, Minnix told me that he filed for reelection this week only because he couldn't find anyone willing to fill the third commissioner's spot. To address this problem, Scott County businesses and officials are planning a community leadership development program, much like the Leadership Lawrence program, designed to prepare the next generation to take stewardship of the community.  I've come to believe that Scott City isn't just "surviving."  It's moving ahead with an ambitious vision for its future. As several people told me during my two days of interviews, "The people of Scott City have high expectations."
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 26 -- And So It Begins
June 1, 2014

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After months of delays and a 365-mile drive through wind-swept Kansas, I am finally out in the High Plains conducting my sabbatical field research. I am posting tonight from Scott City, Kansas - the first stop on a two-week swing through one of the most rural areas in the lower 48 states. Most of the counties in this region have seen a steady decline in population. In some places, it peaked in the 19th century. My research is focusing on rural media, their survival and their role in maintaining community cohesion. My original plan was to conduct interviews with journalists, business leaders, farmers and government officials during the winter months. However, life and its many complications conspired against me.  I had to content myself with doing archival research and interviews with folks living within short driving distance of my Lawrence home. Don't get me wrong - I accomplished a ton of stuff during the last five months.  My research files are overflowing. But I have been itching to get here and have "quality face time" with the subjects of my research. And now I am here. I am starting with a couple of days of interviews in Scott City, which is typical of the region. Scott City's population has risen slightly since 2000, while the overall population of Scott County has declined. Also typical of the region is the growth of the county's Hispanic/Latino population - up 133 percent since 2000. Granted, that represents only 15 percent of the local population. However, it is the only demographic growth group during that period. Missing from the census tabulations are the Native Americans, who comprise only one-half of one percent of the local population. That is ironic, because it is believed that offshoots of the Dismal River Culture lived in this area long before recorded history. That's just one of this region's many contradictions. To a lot of folks, the High Plains is little more than wide open spaces. But my research tells me that there is a lot more to the story - and that's why I am here. Finally.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 25 -- This One's On You
May 30, 2014

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It has taken awhile - some would argue too long - for President Obama to make a change at the top of the Veteran's Administration.  He today accepted the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in the wake of the growing scandal over veterans health care delivery.  Administrators at VA hospitals across the country have been gaming the system to gain performance bonuses while covering up unconscionable delays in veterans health care delivery. Dozens of deserving vets have died waiting for health care they earned with courage and valor. Today's resignation is a sad end to Shinseki's outstanding half-century career of public service.  He doesn't deserve the all of blame. However, he has lost all credibility as being the one to lead the scandal-ridden agency through needed reforms.  Nor is this mess entirely President Obama's fault. Some of these issues go back as far as the Bush Administration - the George H.W. Bush administration. The VA has never had a reputation for administrative efficiency. However, I am bothered by President Obama's claims that he didn't know of the problems at the VA until recently.  He may not have known the specifics of the "wait-time" scams being pulled off by greedy VA administrators, but he did know of the systemic bureaucratic problems in the agency. As early as 2007, when Senator Obama was running for the presidency, he said that addressing the needs of veterans was going to be a high priority within his administration. As for the "wait-time scam" itself, the George W. Bush administration specifically noted the problem in the documents it gave to Obama's transition team after the 2008 election. And now that we are in the sixth year of the Obama administration, this president can no longer make a credible claim that it was George W. Bush's fault.  Nor can he blame the republicans in Congress.  These are not budget issues. They are management issues - the one area over which the executive branch of government has complete control and responsibility. I am hoping that some good will come out of this mess and that both republicans and democrats will finally honor the moral contract we have made with our service men and women. However, the first step in this healing process is for the president to take ownership of a problem that he may not have created, but largely ignored for six years. If Obama wants to leave office with a legacy of leadership, that would be a good start.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 24 -- Going West
May 17, 2014

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I will embark June 1 on a path that many of our ancestors took on their way to what had been called the Great American Desert. There will be obvious differences – I’m pretty sure they didn’t follow an Interstate highway and stay in air-conditioned motels. However, it will still be a voyage of discovery. I will be exploring communities in the High Plains and interviewing residents in connection with my research into areas of declining population. I have been to western Kansas only a handful of times during 23 years in the Sunflower State.  This journey will take me into places I’ve never been, including a stretch in the Oklahoma panhandle that is known as “No Man’s Land.” I am especially looking forward to meeting the people of the region, who have earned a reputation as being friendly, independent and fiercely loyal. It has been my experience that people living outside the region can’t understand why anyone would want to live there while those who do wonder why anybody wouldn’t. As a journalist and a researcher, I know there is only so much one can gather by reading books and academic journals.  The real education comes through talking to people and seeing things with one’s own eyes. I am looking forward to being schooled on life in the southern High Plains.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 23 -- What's In A Name?
May 13, 2014

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In Act II, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's most famous play, Juliet asks Romeo "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet." Impeccable logic - for everything but politics, that is. It seems that two Shakespearean dramas played out yesterday involving Kansas politicians. The part of Romeo was played of U.S. Senator Pat Roberts. With apologies to another Shakespearean drama, some of Roberts' constituents feel as if something is rotten in Dodge City.  The Senator claims Dodge City as his legal residence, although he doesn't actually live there. He rents that home and lives in a house in the town where he is employed, Washington, D.C. Supporters of Roberts' Tea Party primary challenger Milton Wolf claim that Roberts can't represent Kansas if he doesn't live in Kansas.  But the Kansas Board of Elections yesterday said that the fact that Roberts pays Kansas property taxes and has a Kansas drivers license is good enough to establish residency. While the usual practice for lawmakers has been to rent a place in D.C. and have a real home in their home state, apparently the rules don't say Roberts can't flip tradition on its head. As for Juliet, a/k/a Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins,  The Kansas Board of Accountancy its allowing her to keep using her designation as a Certified Public Accountant even though she let her state CPA permit lapse two years ago. In essence, the board said it was OK for her to call herself a CPA just as long as she didn't actually perform the duties of a CPA. It seems Representative Jenkins was too busy to acquire the required continuing education hours for recertification and the board wasn't willing to buy her claims that her work on the federal budget and tax code should be considered suitable substitutes.  I don't necessary object to either Roberts' or Jenkins' circumstances given the financial and time demands on our elected representatives.  But that reminds me of another Shakespearean quote: "What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Oh, wait - that's not a Shakespeare quote.  It is a quote from Marmion written by Sir Walter Scott. But no mind. After all, what's in a name?
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 22 -- Eighteen Months Out
May 2, 2014

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In just under 18 months, a successor to Barack Obama will be chosen. And it won't be long before the excruciating process of whittling down the contenders becomes serious blood sport. Some - count Chris Christie and Hillary Rodham Clinton among their numbers - are already targeted. In the case of the New Jersey governor, he's been under siege for taking political pettiness literally a bridge too far.  The moderately conservative (or is it conservatively moderate?) governor may have thrown up a large - more likely a 4XL - roadblock to what was already considered a difficult path to the Republican nomination. As for the former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, the sniping has begun. She is facing a gauntlet of Benghazi investigations, Monica Lewinsky's book tour and, perhaps most dangerous, the release of previously classified Clinton presidential documents. Frankly, I am not all that convinced that she will run. Nasty politics aside, her age and her health may finally catch up with her ambition.  My "18-months-out" guess is that neither Christie or Clinton will be on the November 2016 ballot. The political environment right now is so volatile that Americans may be looking for a fresh face, a sort of latter-day Jimmy Carter. That person could well come from either the left or the right. A lot depends on what happens with this November's mid-term and state elections. If this week's Republican Senate primary in North Carolina is any indication, the Tea Party movement may be running out of steam.  However, with virtually no campaign spending limits in place, it is possible those fading fires can be stoked. Who's going to win the presidency in 2016? I have no earthly idea. There's a lot of time - and a lot of mud throwing - between now and November.  And then it may get really ugly.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 21 -- Boomer (2003-2014)
April 28, 2014

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He was his mother's dog.  When we went to the Lawrence-Douglas County Humane Shelter in November 2004, I was under strict instruction to look at only "small, short-hair" dogs. And, as any dutiful husband does, I said, "Yes, ma'am." That is why I was shocked when Jan told me that she wanted a hyperactive golden retriever who had to weigh at least 90 pounds. "I want this guy," she proclaimed.  I asked, "What happened to looking at only small, short-hair dogs?" Her response/command, was "I want this guy." And so it was that Boomer came into and took over our lives for the next 11 years. His name was a compromise of sorts: My daughter was attending the University of Oklahoma at the time (Boomer Sooner), and I wanted him named after a former University of Maryland quarterback, Boomer Esiason. He calmed down and became Jan's constant companion. My wife was telecommuting to work, which meant she spent most of her workdays in her basement office with Boomer by her side. When Jan unexpectedly and suddenly passed away in March 2007, it became obvious that he understood what had happened and went into a period of mourning. As silly as it may sound to some, Boomer and I helped each other work through our collective grief in the weeks and months that followed. He was my constant companion - except when any female came to the house. On those occasions, he'd dump his old man and make new friends. This was especially true when my daughter Susan was around. However, he gravitated toward every female, be it a daughter, neighbor, friend or delivery person. Boomer was a ladies man.  And when I married Maureen in June 2010, he embraced her as his new mommy and pretty much ignored me - except when he wanted something. But that was OK, because it was quintessential Boomer. Last week, we lost this man's best friend to lymphoma. Maureen, Susan and I made the difficult decision to spare him additional suffering. He remained the same, bright-eyed happy dog we all loved so dearly right up until the time he closed his eyes, went to sleep for the last time, and left for heaven to live with his mommy.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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Vol. 8 No. 20 -- Whose States Rights?
April 22, 2014

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Just a generation ago, a confederacy of southern states joined together in a "states rights" chorus in an effort to block black residents their basic human rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  They claimed that oppressive state laws had legal precedence of federal civil rights and voting rights legislation. Fortunately, that issue was settled 50 years ago.  Or was it? Today, the issue is whether 21 states - including the state of Kansas - can stop six states and the District of Columbia from agreeing to a compact designed to help clean-up Chesapeake Bay, one of the nation's most significant waterways.  The Chesapeake Bay Watershed stretches across more than 64,000 square miles. It encompasses parts of six states – Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia – and the entire District of Columbia. More than 17 million people live in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Under this compact, the Environmental Protection Agency would be allowed to impose detailed agricultural chemical nutrient runoff standards in the region. Farm interests and the attorneys general of 21 states, including Kansas, have gone to federal court to block this from happening.  It is not so much that they care about what happens to the drinking water of 17 million people back east as it is about a fear that they may eventually be forced to clean up their act, as well. "Congress deliberately structured the Clean Water Act to involve states in the Mississippi River basin and the EPA over management of nutrients that wash into waterways from farm fields and suburban lawns," said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt in a February 3, 2014, news release. "That's because runoff regulation inevitably implicates land use decisions and private property rights, and Congress did not intend to centralize those decisions in Washington, D.C." A federal judge in Pennsylvania has already rejected that argument. The case is now in the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a "friend of the court" brief filed last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said that the compact in question is a product of negotiation among the Chesapeake Watershed states. "Claiming this case involves federal commandeering of the type disapproved by the Supreme Court misunderstands the record and overlooks the history of the Bay States' cooperative efforts," wrote Herring. In essence, Herring questions whose states rights are involved. Don't the states within the Chesapeake Watershed have at least as much right to work with the EPA to clean up their water as Kansas has to turn its water supplies into open sewers?  Do the rights of agricultural companies to make big profits at the expense of human health trump the right of people to ask their government to ensure a clean environment? That may be true in the mind of Derek Schmidt and 20 other farm state attorneys general, but 17 million people in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed disagree.
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That's it for now. Fear the Turtle.
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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 years 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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