Kansas

What They Voted For: Why Government Doesn’t Work

#earthquakes | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

There is that part within that wonders―really, truly, genuinely in all good faith, wonders―who in these United States really thinks they can do that speech in which the audience is supposed to pretend they have no effing clue? Or, to check in with Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones:

If Pruitt’s address was meant to soothe staffers’ concerns about their incoming administrator, they may have come up short.

“Pruitt’s talk [was] as bad as expected,” said a current career EPA staffer of over 20 years, who requested anonymity, following the speech. “Not one word about public health. And talking about the rule of law as if we didn’t do EVERYTHING with the realization that it WILL end up in court. It was condescending and hypocritical.”

Some former EPA officials shared that view. “Trump’s team spent the entire campaign and the last few months railing against EPA’s existence, its staff, and its purpose,” Liz Purchia, an Obama-era communications staffer at the agency, said in an email. “Accomplishing agency priorities was no easy task when the administrator had staff’s back and politicals and careers agreed the majority of the time, so let’s see how well Trump’s EPA does getting staff to follow them when they feel disrespected. These are professionals with years of experience, who have been made to feel like their leader doesn’t trust their judgment. The American people are relying on them to defend the agency, protect its environmental statutes and stand up to Trump’s team to ensure they uphold science and the law.”

(more…)

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Beyond Comprehension

Fight: Mikasa awakens ― Detail of frame from Attack on Titan episode 6, 'The World the Girl Saw: The Struggle for Trost, Part 2'.

I … don’t ....

A Kansas police officer has been fired from his post after leaving a comment on a Dallas woman’s Facebook page that threatened her 5-year-old daughter.

Facebook user “Rodney Lee” published the comment at 11:50 p.m. last Thursday on LaNaydra Williams’ Facebook page. “We’ll see how much her life matters soon..” he wrote beneath a two-year-old photo of Williams’ daughter, India. “Better be careful leaving your info open where she can be found :​) hold her close tonight, it’ll be the last time.”

Overland Park Police Chief Francis Donchez Jr. confirmed in a statement that the post was written by one of his officers.

(Grenoble)

I mean, come on, really?

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Grenoble, Ryan. “Kansas Cop Fired After Threatening 5-Year-Old Girl On Facebook”. The Huffington Post. 11 July 2016.

The Brownback Effect

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) speaks at CPAC, 28 February 2015.  (Detail of photo by Gage Skidmore)

This is the part where reality comes crashing down:

Lots of numbers in a new statewide survey of Kansas from Fort Hays State University, but here’s the stunner:

Only 18 percent of state residents said they were “very” or “somewhat satisfied” with GOP Gov. Sam Brownback.

Kansas, in case there’s any misunderstanding, is a heavily Republican state.

President Barack Obama, long a punching bag for Republicans, rated higher. Some 28 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with the Democratic chief executive.

(Krase)

The whole thing with Kansas and Mr. Brownback really is a puzzle; it’s one thing to point out that he is wrecking the state’s finances to the point that schools can’t function, thus observing that there is a reason Kansans are annoyed with their governor. But there is also a twist, that Sunflower State voters already knew most of that when they re-elected Gov. Brownback last year.

Certainly, the numbers are remarkable; Mr. Brownback is so awful, in Kansans’ eyes, that President Obama now suffers less ill will in the Jayhawk Midway Wheat State. To the other, though, the notion of self-inflicted damage asserts itself. Kansans quite literally did this to themselves, and we might make that crass joke, “And we’re all just so proud of them for doing such a super job!” but in truth, no, nobody is proud. Nor is this merely a Kansas thing; the Brownback Way is merely a revival of the supply-side mysticism, the “voodoo” economics, of thirty years ago. And this Republicans would inflict on the nation.

Steve Benen recalls Mitch McConnell, who described the Brownback Way as, “exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington, but can’t, at least for now”:

“At least for now,” of course, refers to the fact that there’s a Democrat in the White House.

In other words, Kansas’ “experiment” – massive tax breaks, coupled with drastic cuts to public investments – is “exactly” the model Republicans want to impose on the nation. They’re just waiting for a far-right president to work with a far-right Congress, just like Kansas’ far-right governor worked with a far-right legislature.

It really is the strangest thing.

Then again, this is Kansas. They have their priorities.

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Image note: Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) speaks at CPAC, 28 February 2015. (Detail of photo by Gage Skidmore)

Benen, Steve. “Obama tops Brownback in ruby-red Kansas”. msnbc. 26 October 2015.

Krase, Steve. “Gov. Sam Brownback in deep hole with Kansans”. The Kansas City Star. 24 October 2015.

American Terrorism

Detail of Wanted poster offering thirty million dollars for the murder of Dr. George Tiller;  in May, 2009, Dr. Tiller was gunned down at a church service.

We should not be surprised that anti-abortion terrorists are offering bounties.

Laura Bassett of Huffington Post gets the unfortunate duty of explaining:

According to abortion rights advocates, Joseywhales’ post is just one example of an alarming spike in death threats and violent acts against abortion providers, clinics and companies that work with them since the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood were released. Two Planned Parenthood clinics have reported arsons, anti-abortion protesters are showing up in large numbers at doctors’ homes, and commenters on conservative websites and online forums are calling for the bombings of abortion clinics across the country, according to Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. Saporta is so alarmed by the escalation of threats against providers that she asked the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations to intervene.

“In my 20 years at NAF, I have never seen such a volume, intensity and escalation of hate speech, threats and criminal activity, and we would like to prevent a serious violent act from occurring,” she told The Huffington Post in an interview. “We have enlisted law enforcement’s help.”

If history is any indication, death threats against abortion providers should be taken seriously. Two abortion doctors have been murdered during Saporta’s tenure at NAF: Dr. George Tiller in 2009 and Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998. Slepian was shot in his home after returning from synagogue, and Tiller was shot in the head while attending church services on a Sunday morning.

Saporta had worked with them both.

And that’s the problem; it easily sounds like the kind of big talk many enjoy around the internet, a manner of vice and hatred that allows one to feel better for ephemeral and illusory sensations of empowerment.

But there is history.

“I’ll pay ten large”? Yeah, it sounds like someone has been watching too much television, or something. That a certain business executive “should be hung by the neck using piano wire and propped up on the lawn in front of the building with a note attached”? Yes, at some point it is problematic that this is what a person so needs to say in order to feel better about life, the Universe, and everything, otherwise known as self.

Except for the fact that we know where this goes. Arsons and shootings and even that weird aspiring mass murderer in Wisconsin a few years ago.

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The Kansas Way (Brownback Note Downbeat Mix)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) speaks, in undated, uncredited photo.

“In the next three years I think we’ll have maybe the worst teacher shortage in the country―I think most of that is self-inflicted.”

Tim Hallacy

In November we learned that “Kansas will face a $279 million budget shortfall by July”; by April the crisis began taking shape as some school districts faced an early ending to the school year under such financial pressures as reality brought to bear. And all of this really is intentional; the economic hypothesis is validated, in the eyes of its creator, Arthur Laffer, because people will vote for it. The shortfall, of course, was unexpectedly larger than estimates tailored to make the destruction of Kansas government palatable had suggested, but even faced with this grim reality, Kansas voters re-elected Gov. Sam Brownback (R), asking for more of the same.

Rebecca Klein of Huffington Post explains how residents of the Sunflower State are now getting their wish:

Kansas school superintendent Alan Cunningham has been involved with hiring teachers for the past 35 years. In that time, he has never had a harder time filling positions than this year.

Qualified applicants for job openings in elementary schools or physical education “used to be a dime a dozen,” Cunningham said. Now Cunningham’s school district, Dodge City School District, is starting the school year with teachers in those positions who are not fully certified.

“We’ve had to go to substitute teachers,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham’s predicament is one superintendents throughout his state are facing. In Kansas, where teacher pay is low and schools are underfunded, hundreds of teaching positions throughout the state are still vacant just a few weeks before the start of the school year.

“This is the first year we’ve experienced a shortage as significantly as we are this year,” said Cunningham, referring specifically to his district. “We’ve had to combine some classrooms where we weren’t able to find a teacher and made class sizes significantly higher than we’d like them to be.”

Considering the conditions facing educators in Kansas, it is not an unlikely spot for a teacher shortage. Teachers in Kansas have some of the lowest average pay in the country. In 2014, the legislature voted to cut back on job protections for teachers that gave them certain due process rights if they faced dismissal. In June 2015, a three-judge district court panel said that the state’s school funding system is unconstitutional, in a ruling that was soon kicked up to the state Supreme Court. As a result of this funding system and pervasive tax cuts throughout the state that led to extreme revenue losses, several districts throughout the state had to end the 2014-2015 school year early because they did not have the money to stay open.

Capitalizing on the unrest among teachers, one school district in the neighboring state of Missouri even put up billboards in Kansas attempting to recruit dissatisfied teachers. Amid all this, an aging workforce has led to an increase in teacher retirements.

As one educator, Superintendent Tim Hallacy of Silver Lake Schools, explained, “In the next three years I think we’ll have maybe the worst teacher shortage in the country―I think most of that is self-inflicted.”

It is also by design.

This is the Kansas way.

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Associated Press. “Kansas faces $279 million budget shortfall by summer”. KSN. 10 November 2014.

Klein, Rebecca. “Kansas Underfunded Education And Cut Tenure. Now It Can’t Find Enough Teachers To Fill Classrooms.” The Huffington Post. 31 July 2015.

Oklahoma Governance

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), in May 2015. (image: KFOR)

There are days, you know, when it is really easy to pick on an idea. Take Oklahoma for instance. Last week we learned about the strangeness of Oklahoma virtue, and then a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin (R) found himself blaming Texas for protests in Durant and Oklahoma City demonstrating support for the Confederacy as President Obama arrived.

Talk about a trifecta; this also happened:

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and the GOP-led legislature announced they’re prepared to ignore the state Supreme Court, at least for now, while they consider new solutions.​

The Republican governor talked to reporters, saying roughly what you’d expect her to say: she’s “disappointed” with the court’s decision; she thinks they made the wrong call; etc. But as KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, reported, Fallin added one related thought that wasn’t expected at all:​

Gov. Fallin said she believes the final decision on the monument’s fate should rest with the people.​

“You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide,” she said.​

The KFOR report added, “Despite what the governor said, the three branches of government include the legislative, executive and judicial branches” ....​

.... We can certainly hope that Fallin, a former multi-term member of Congress, knows what the three branches of government are. Indeed, in Oklahoma, she’s the head of one of them – the one she left out this week.​

(Benen)

This is actually one of the big differences. Look, Democrats might well be just as middling, mincing, and incompetent as they seem, but, to the one, to the one, it’s nothing comparable to this, and, to the other, ritual equivocation would only obscure important considerations.

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The Bobby Jindal Show (Exploratory Sneak Peak Preview Pak)

The ad, which was previewed for some news outlets including BuzzFeed News, features Jindal rhapsodizing — in his signature rapid-fire twang — about the sacred need to protect religious believers' 'freedom of conscience,' which he argues 'must, in no way, ever be linked to the ever-changing opinions of the public.' It concludes with a line that has become a mainstay of his recent speeches and interviews: 'The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America.' (McKay Coppins, BuzzFeed, 19 May 2015; photo uncredited))

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to be another culture warrior fighting for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed offers a glimpse of the governor’s groundwork:

With a new political ad airing this week in Iowa, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is informally kicking off his bid for the Republican presidential nomination by casting himself as the conservative movement’s leading voice in the culture war battle over religious freedom.

The ad, which was previewed for some news outlets including BuzzFeed News, features Jindal rhapsodizing — in his signature rapid-fire twang — about the sacred need to protect religious believers’ “freedom of conscience,” which he argues “must, in no way, ever be linked to the ever-changing opinions of the public.” It concludes with a line that has become a mainstay of his recent speeches and interviews: “The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America.”

In keeping with what is bound to be a relatively low-budget, scrappy campaign operation at the outset, Jindal’s ad doesn’t have much money behind it. According to an operative at The American Future Project — the pro-Jindal advocacy group launching the ad — the commercial is debuting in Iowa with a “five-figure ad buy,” meaning the organization spent somewhere between $10,000 and $99,000 to get it on the air. It will appear on cable and online and it will run for one week, according to the group.

There really is no question about what is about to happen. Yesterday the presidential hopeful announced his exploratory committee:

“For some time now, my wife Supriya and I have been thinking and praying about whether to run for the presidency of our great nation,” Jindal said in a statement Monday.

“If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction. Not a course correction, but a dramatically different path.”

He said he won’t make a final decision until after the legislative session ends next month. The creation of an exploratory committee allows him to raise money for the White House, though, and is just the latest signal toward Jindal’s seriousness about jumping into the 2016 contest, despite his low ranking in many polls on the large Republican field.

As Elizabeth Crisp reports for The Adovocate, Mr. Jindal is finished as executive of the Pelican State according to term limits, and has begun moving about like a presidential candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire, and turned much of his public expression toward more nationally-oriented policy discussion. That said, there are still opportunities to mix Pelican politics with Beltway dreams.

(more…)

A Kansas Education

Great Seal of Kansas (detail)

This is a grim joke, I admit: Closing schools early in order to underwrite tax breaks for the wealthy is an exercise in building character.

I have a daughter; it is unclear if “character building” has any significance to her generation beyond a Calvin & Hobbes punch line.

In this photo taken Sept. 6, 2014, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback speaks in Hutchinson, Kansas. The writing is on the wall for gay marriage bans in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina after federal appeals courts that oversee those states have made clear that keeping gay and lesbian couples from marrying is unconstitutional. But officials in the three states are refusing to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses without a court order directing them to do so. It could be another month or more before the matter is settled. In a political campaign debate Monday, Brownback vowed to defend his state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. A federal court hearing is scheduled for Friday.(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)Controversial Republican economist Arthur Laffer was recently asked about his handiwork in Kansas. It was Laffer who crafted Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) radical – and radically unsuccessful – economic experiment, which has failed to deliver on its promises and which has ruined Kansas’ finances.

“Kansas,” Laffer said two weeks ago, “is doing fine.”

“Fine” is a subjective word, though when a state finds that some of its schools don’t have enough money to keep the doors open, it’s safe to say everything isn’t “fine.”

Six school districts in Kansas will close early this year, following budget cuts signed in March by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Two school districts, Concordia Unified School District and Twin Valley Unified School District, announced earlier this month that they would end the year early because they lacked the funds to keep the schools open. This week, four more districts confirmed they would also shorten their calendars, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

One superintendent told the Topeka Capital-Journal he doesn’t want to permanently change the school calendar, but at least for this year, budget concerns made it necessary to wrap up early.

(Benen)

(more…)

The Shadow over Indiana

22 FEBRUARY 2015: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appears on 'FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace'.  Guest host John Roberts interviewed Mr. Pence regarding various issues, including his status as a 2016 'dark horse' for the GOP presidential nomination, and the Hoosier State's 'religious freedom' bill empowering discrimination, which Pence signed into law in late March.  (Image credit: FOX News)

“Indiana businesses can now discriminate against gay people because of the ACA’s contraception policy?”

Steve Benen

Perhaps it seems an odd question, but there is a reason, after all:

The Republican governor, and possible presidential candidate, published a Wall Street Journal op-ed overnight in which Pence outlined his plan to address businesses that exploit his new law to discriminate against gay consumers: “If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore.”msnbc

As Rachel joked on the show last night, “So, if you were worried that gay people might be refused service by a business in Indiana now, don’t worry. That could never happen because the state has decided to wield the grave threat of depriving businesses of Mike Pence’s personal patronage.”

In the same piece, the Hoosier State governor suggested this whole mess can be traced back to Obamacare.

Many states have enacted [Religious Freedom Restoration Acts] of their own … but Indiana never passed such a law. Then in 2010 came the Affordable Care Act, which renewed concerns about government infringement on deeply held religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby and the University of Notre Dame both filed lawsuits challenging provisions that required the institutions to offer certain types of insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.

Last year the Supreme Court upheld religious liberty in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, based on the federal RFRA. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the need for a RFRA at the state level became more important, as the federal law does not apply to states. To ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year the General Assembly enshrined these principles in Indiana law. I fully supported that action.

Hmm. Indiana businesses can now discriminate against gay people because of the ACA’s contraception policy?

This apparently wasn’t persuasive, either, leading Pence to announce this morning his support for a legislative “fix.”

The question persists: How did Pence not see this coming?

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A Note on “Family Values” in “Flyover Country”

In this May 3, 2010 photo, attorney Kris Kobach poses for a photo in Kansas City, Mo. When politicians and police across the county want to crack down on illegal immigration, they often reach out to Kobach, a little-known Kansas attorney with an Ivy League education who is the architect behind many of the nation's most controversial immigration laws. Kobach helps draft proposed laws and, after they are adopted, trains officers to enforce them. If the laws are challenged, he goes to court to defend them. His most recent project was advising Arizona officials on a new law that empowers police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Two words: Middle America.

Two more: Flyover country.

Do the phrases ring a bell, maybe hearken back to 2008 when Republicans condemned coastal liberals as treating the interior states like a foreign country?

How about two more words? Sunflower State.

And two more: Kris Kobach.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the chief architects of the anti-immigrant movement’s legal and legislative strategies, told a caller to his weekly radio program last week that while he thought it was “unlikely,” it would not be a “huge jump” to predict that the Obama administration could call an end to the prosecutions of African Americans for any crime. Claiming that “it’s already happened more or less in the case of civil rights laws,” Kobach told listeners that “I’ve learned to say with this president, never say never.”

(Blue)

This is standard fare for Kobach. Remember, people in Kansas elected him, not despite the lying and racist paranoia, but because of it.

The next time you hear a conservative crying about “Middle America” and how the nasty liberals in the Democratic Party―(What? All three of them?)―”hate” the “family values” of “Middle America”, remember that these are the values in question. Mr. Kobach’s tenure in office is its own condemnation of Sunflower State values.

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Blue, Miranda. “Kris Kobach: ‘Not A Huge Jump’ To Think Obama Could Ban Criminal Prosecution Of Black People”. Right Wing Watch. 4 March 2015.