Posts tagged with Citizen Journalism Academy

Loss II

What follows is one of many notifications. This was one of four yesterday. There have been a lot lately.

“Sgt. Jesse R. Tilton, 23, of Decatur, Ill., died July 16 at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, of wounds sustained July 13 when insurgents attacked his unit in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, with rifle, rocket propelled grenade, and small arms fire. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.”



I wrote once before about this but I think it worth mentioning again. Because of my sorted past I receive daily casualty reports from our various wars. In the last week or so casualty rates have gone up significantly.

Anybody see a daily casualty count on the major news stations. As I recall during Mr. Bush’s tenure the losses were considered so newsworthy that we were treated to a daily score card on most of the networks. We have not seen such lately. Have you?

Have we become so inured to the losses of our sons and daughters that they are no longer worth mentioning except in passing?


What you have not heard

The Senate finally passed legislation last Friday that would reverse the 21% cut in Medicare (seniors) and TRICARE (Veterans and serving military families) payments that took effect on June 1. Leadership form both parties agree the cuts needs to be reversed. House leaders, however, are saying that they will not fix the problem unless the Senate passes House-approved jobs measures.

So Mrs. Pelosi is holding medical care for seniors and soldiers hostage. Why must these citizens suffer because the Republicans are demanding we pay for any additional extension of unemployment (we are already paying for a year)? The Senate found funding to pay for the Medicare fix. Why doesn’t Mrs. Pelosi find the funding for the jobs measures?

Why are we doing this? Why have we not heard about it from the media (FOX, CNN, all the rest)? Are we playing politics with our soldiers and seniors?


Taming the Deficit

A bit of “georgism” follows. When I spent some time back in Washington, I was privileged to have a small glimpse of people with real political power. One dilemma I noted they always had to face was just how to “win” the particular initiative they were pursuing. Anything one tries to do with “government” will be opposed by somebody (frequently with considerable power). So do you accept “half a loaf” in order to make progress or do you hold out for the whole thing. This notion is important in that most things that “government” tries to do involve impacts on people. Frequently the real issue is who gets hurt. All too frequently the answer to the compromise is to “hurt” a relative “innocent” in order to accomplish a “good” for those who are to be favored.

Now taking the “georgism” a bit further could that be the challenge behind at least some portion of the “tea bagger” movement. Many of you have noted that they are older, from the middle and upper middle and seemingly comfortable. Could they perceive they are the ones elected to take the pain in the short term? If one thinks about this for a few minutes, one might consider that these are the very people who are looking toward living on a fixed income and who have probably spent a lifetime accumulating some wealth to fall back upon in retirement. Printing a lot of money to fund immediate social initiatives as this administration has done will inevitably cause inflation making that wealth less valuable. If we disconnect the inflation protection of their pensions (as has been suggested as a way to pay for new social initiatives) they will be impacted even more. At their age it will be hard to recover.

So maybe we have taken another short cut to a presumed noble social objective and elected to punish the relative innocent rather than fight the big battle to actually ask the rich to contribute more? Do any of you think that Mr. Turner cares about Social Security or Medicare? Have many of you more progressive advocates joined the free market crowd in order to affect what could be considered a noble redistribution of wealth while “hurting” the middle and upper middle? Why are we simplistically calling these people “racist” when many appear to be motivated by personal economics?

Maybe the answer we should be seeking is to co-op any legitimate economic concern reflected in the “tea bag movement” and use it to insure a Democratic win at the polls next fall? We can pay for a lot of the redistribution suggested by the Progressives by simply asking the really wealthy to pay their share without “destroying” the middle and upper middle. In fact, is it truly redistribution if the rich are protected and the middle and upper middle are collapsed into the poor? Politics can be “interesting” particularly where it intersects with economics. If the “tea baggers” are worried about their own future, ignoring them will be at the peril of the Democratic Party.


“Pots and Kettles”

We have been enjoying the dialogue in this space over wealth, taxes, entitlements and the like. Lots of strong heartfelt opinions- almost diametrically opposed.

We have the free market advocates who wrap around themselves the riches of our country as a prime exhibit of the success of that approach. In opposition we have those abhorring the very skewed distribution of wealth that has resulted. . The former abhors government intervention in the marketplace to “fix” it and the latter demands it as the only way to restore some sense of equity within the system.

Is there no middle ground? There is truth in the notion that the individual efforts of those trying to improve themselves has produced more broadly shared wealth per capita then in most countries throughout history. There is also truth that in recent years in particular that wealth has not found its way to the average citizen and has been aggregated at the top.

How do you fix that assuming you want to “fix” it? Will it fix itself? No! Greed being a perennial motive for human accomplishment those that have it rarely will share with those who do not. Is the government the way to “fix” it? Perhaps? However, the government can and has had duplicitous motives. NAFTA certainly allowed us as a nation to better compete. It also has caused the loss of many, many well paying domestic jobs. Good? Bad? Might depend on whose ox has been gored. A third way we tried for a while was employee representation such as unions. Bargaining power did certainly advance the cause of the workers.

From the standpoint of some the current administration is trying to use “government” to redistribute the economic pie. The discretionary portion of the budget has been increased by 25%. New entitlements for the lower socio-economic have been created. We are running a massive deficit and printing money to pay for it. We are looking at massive deficits for years to come. Taxes have not been increased at the federal level although committees have been established to make suggestions on how to tame the deficit. The outlook is bleak. Now what?


Critical Thinking

Mr. Pitts wrote another fascinating column published in the LJW this AM. His conclusion in the story header was “Tea Party Anger has racial Tone”. That is a pretty serious charge. How did he get there?

How about we walk down this one. Mr. Pitts started with a study from a University of Washington Think Tank. The study defined racist attitudes by asking a number of questions. Mr. Pitts elected to define a positive answer to one of those questions as indicating the respondent is a racist.

First of all a check on the University of Washington. The University is active in political polling and I could fine no comments critical of their efforts. In fact a number of comments were positive. There were some comments questioning the political leanings of the faculty but I could fine nothing to clarify that comment. They appear to know how to conduct a poll properly.

So we can assume the study was professionally done with no political bias. Now let us ask our own question. Who decided that agreeing with the statement that “if blacks would only try harder; they would be just as well off as whites” indicates you are racist? I suspect we could have a lengthy dialogue about that determination. I even suspect that many if not all of the group answering that question in the affirmative do not consider themselves racist.

But, let us accept that an affirmative answer defines you as raciest. The real meat in the study would be that 56% of all whites answered it in the AFFIRMATIVE. Worse, we have data that suggests that people not infrequently provide answers to such questions that are not accurate. I am sure some respondents saw where the study was going and said "Oh, no”. That means the number of whites who are racist as determined by this study could be even higher. Essentially, the study data suggests that a majority of all whites are racist. Since whites are a significant majority in this country that does not bode well for the future of efforts to address racism. Bet we could have a really good dialogue on this topic.

The next step in Mr. Pitt’s reasoning was to indicate that upwards of 73% of the “Tea Parties” most rabid followers supported the above notion. Interesting. What portion of the “Tea Parties” members are considered the “most rapid”? Just who was defined as a “Tea Party” member? Last I looked there was not registration for membership in what appears to be a very heterogeneous group. Are the “most rapid” a significant majority or even a significant plurality of the “movement”? Could a significant majority identify with the 56% “of all whites” – essentially making them no different from most of the electorate. I bet we could have a real dialogue on this topic also.

So, in summary. If you believe that the question posed does in fact indicate that a positive response makes you racist and if you believe that the “most rapid” tea party members are a significant portion of the movement and in fact reflect the attitude of most others who identify as “tea party” members (and are in fact tea party members), than the article is predictive. Otherwise – I am sure we could have a good dialogue on that, too.



In a few weeks our state legislature will meet to set a budget for next year. There is a projected deficit of about $300 million dollars from last year’s expenditures (about 5% of the general fund). The deficit would be about $600 million from the governors originally proposed 2011 budget. There are many proposals to address the situation. They include reductions in projected expenditures as well as significant tax increases. The piper is here.

We have already reduced our state general fund budget about 10%. Further reductions will likely impact schools, colleges and programs for the poor. Cutting is easy. A proposal to reduce the budget to the expected revenues of $5.2 Billion for the general fund is on the table (total reduction over two years of about 13%).

Sin taxes (liquor, smoking, etc.) are on the agenda and a strong majority supports increasing them. There is just one problem - they will not cover the shortfall.

Restoring sales tax exemptions and other taxes for businesses cut in recent legislative sessions is also on the table. The legislature has been very generous in reducing taxes on this group citing the action will produce jobs. One could argue that a fair amount of the current shortfall results from these reductions. Strong elements of our legislature do not support this option.

Extending sales taxes to utilities and various charitable groups is proposed. There is a lot of money in taxes on utilities as they would increase our utility bills by as much as 6% in addition to the every increasing (> 20%) overall rate increases already programmed. Taxing religious activity could help defray cuts if we can sustain the legality of our actions – this action alone will not cover the shortfall.

A general sales tax increase of up to 1% is on the table. For the math phobic that would be about a 20% increase that would hit hardest on those least able to afford it. This option can go a long way to covering the shortfall depending on how much the increase.

An increase in income taxes for the very wealthy has been proposed. This option did not fair well in the polls. Do we really have that many people with taxable incomes over $150K? This option by itself will not cover the problem although some might argue that when combined with a smaller sales tax increase it might be more equitable.

Now for those of us in Lawrence we face a property tax increase for Library improvements. We also face the costs of new recreation facility to be paid from already existing but no longer required sales tax revenue. It appears that we may also get permission to increase our local option school budget – a property tax increase locally. It is not yet clear whether the county of the city have designs on a property tax increase but noises from down under suggest one may be coming.

All of the above suggest a hefty tax increase for many of us – and I have not even presented the federal situation where we have a continuing deficit of over a trillion dollars a year that will undoubtedly lead to tax increase on many of us – not to mention increases in the costs for medical insurance and fees resulting from the new health care entitlement.

We are all going to have to face this and decide what we want done and how we intend to pay for it. One way or another we must now pay the piper. Make your choices known.


Misrepresentation II – Where are we going?

The LJW is all for the city revitalizing the old Farmland property on the east side of town. The argument appears to be future growth. The details are at best vague- as they seem to be for all our economic development activities. Just who will benefit from these efforts and who will pay?

Now, I would suspect that the latter is obvious. Current and future taxpayers will pay – for a long time. The money has to come from somewhere and last I looked there is no printing press in the city building basement. Yes, there will be some federal money, but given our federal over-commitment can we be sure it will be there?

Who benefits? I am having trouble with answering that question. First, I am not sure that “growth” for growths sake is such a good idea. Lacking detail as to the type of growth to be sought, I can only wonder. If we are to bring in more jobs such as the predominant type in our eastern business park and in our recent history, I suspect most of the new hires will not even be able to afford to live here. If we extend tax rebates to the owners of whatever we obtain it would seem to lead to a net loss. Why would we want to do this?

If we are going to be highly selective as to the growth to be obtained - where the new jobs will be well paid and perhaps actually contribute to our tax base - then maybe this could benefit our community. However, it would seem that to obtain such growth we would have to offer something unique. Competition for high paying jobs such as in biotechnology is keen and many other communities have a university and in some cases an existing biotechnology business base. What do we have to offer to trump their offers?

What I am afraid of is that this is another misrepresentation where our lawgivers are more interested in lining the pockets of some of our local business interests (developers come to mind). After we acquire various facilities and pay developers to upgrade and or repair them we will be unable to attract the kind of business that will make for a positive return Our law givers will then lose interest and like past city investments we will be left holding a less then attractive “bag”. Worse, with the acquisition of the farmland property we run the risk of open-ended costs to ameliorate environmental deficiencies. There is no guarantee our exposure is limited.

What is driving this sudden spurt in economic development? Do we have a plan? Has anyone seen that plan? You would think that responsible civic leaders would know where they are going and how they plan to get there. Is anyone clear as to the total costs to do whatever we are going to do? What are the steps? What are we expecting from KU? Is the state a party? Where will the investment come from if not the taxpayers? It would seem to me a philosophy of “if you build it they will come” is a very poor approach to nurturing the future of our city.

Does anybody know where we are going? Could our lawgivers, some of whom have ties to the development community, be working their own futures at our expense? Maybe, I am just out of touch! What do you think?



This morning, a letter to the editor suggested that there might be other options to improving the downtown library such as creating satellite facilities. Some people thought that might just be a good idea. Someone identified such a solution as a potential for the “haves” to further exploit the “have nots”. The definition seems to be geographic – west of the campus is the domain of the “haves” with the rest of the city inhabited by “have nots”.

I started to think about that and wondered if it is just that simple. I concluded it is not. We all, at least most of us, know that there is a significant amount of income transfers in our taxes at all levels. Rent subsidy, child care, child support, medical care, ownership incentives, job training and so on are there to help the “have nots”. Is it enough? I honestly do not know but I do know we are trying.

So could there be another issue in Lawrence that drives this debate? Could part of our business community be using this issue to further their own interests? Certainly, they will not come out and say they want more for themselves. However, if you wrap their interests in the “have-have not” issue does that not benefit them? Just exactly who benefits from our tax money to “downtown” – the “have nots”? Maybe the obvious is correct, certain business interests do.

I just might point out that those very interests have actually contributed to the “have not” problem. Lawrence is below the Kansas average in pay to employees (and Kansas is no shining star). So we exploit the students (and everyone else) by paying them low wages and conceal our ploy by constantly raising the “have- have not” issue as a distraction.

If I am right, and I just may be, how could we all fall for this? Must we constantly use tax money to subsidize business interests in the name of the “have nots”? Why have we allowed this artificial east-west issue to be used to divide us?


Is Democracy As We Know It Dead?

Thomas Jefferson once opined that “an enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight”.

I n our modern information age, is it any longer possible to be enlightened on all the major public policy topics of debate? The idea for this blog originated in a set of threads elsewhere that are questioning the boundaries between opinion and fact. Being able to recognize that difference is IMHO very important in being enlightened. At first I thought it would be obvious. But, is it?

Today our society IMHO relies heavily on data, statistics, polls, studies and the like to inform us on public policy options. Many of these sources are quite complicated. The media and our political leadership tend IMHO to reduce that complexity to short “talking points” as a means of informing their various constituents.

Does that work? Are we getting the full story or even an accurate story? Is opinion to include spin manipulating the underlying facts? Do we know what assumptions were used in generating the information – IMHO sometimes assumptions drive the outcome. How do we know that this information is factual and very importantly that the interpretation of that information is well informed, accurate and free of bias?

Has the complexity of public debate led to our acceptance of the facts and conclusions as portrayed by various information sources. Not only does an inability to determine what is “fact” potentially compromise our nation’s future, it IMHO is influencing our public debate as we throw around concepts using unvalidated and perhaps inaccurate information to advocate our position and demean our opponents?

Are we willing and able to educate ourselves on what is “fact”, how to determine it and how to interpret it? If we are significantly dependent on others (many of whom hold an advocacy position) to inform us then maybe we should no longer be an element of the political process and simply allow the “experts” to formulate and execute public policy?

In our local blog world are we reflecting this dilemma by using the terms opinion and fact interchangeably. If it is my opinion it is obviously fact but if it is your opinion it is just that and worse. Do we have a common perception of what the terms mean and how to distinguish them in an article? Are we trying to separate them or are we deliberately mixing them to make points? Are we using those terms in ways that discredit those with whom we disagree?

IMHO this is very important. If we can be easily bamboozled by the “experts” or those who manipulate their ideas than why even bother to hold elections since they will frame the debate so as to drive our decisions anyway?

What do you all think?