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SPOTLIGHT
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Crime and punishment -- Kansas style

Published on -4/18/2013, 10:12 AM

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I tend to think the best of people. When confronted with the despicable aspects of human nature, it's my optimism that gets me through, keeps me going. It isn't easy, sometimes. There are times when I envision I have a wet mop I can whack about, when people are blatantly rude or condescending.

Don't worry, I've never done it, I've only imagined it. It's comic relief that keeps me from despair. The image of some self-righteous fool getting slapped by a wet mop is a good way to diffuse the anger such a one evokes.

And it's harmless. It's imaginary. If it keeps me from opening my mouth it's probably a good thing. It's too easy to say something hurtful when confronted with people who want to punish me for my perspectives.

And there's plenty of punishment going around in Kansas these days. The neo-conservative Kansans want to punish everyone for something. Punish the indigent, the old, the working poor, the immigrants, the educated and the uneducated, take your pick.

The tea party struck up this tune a few years ago and it's only gotten louder since Sam Brownback got his seat of judgment and was voted a group of lackeys to sing the chorus. The latest punishment is drug testing people on assistance. Added to the punishment the schools and universities are taking, and the punishment given the unions and the civil servants, and Kansas is making a name for itself as the most punitive state in the union.

Whatever happened to "judge not lest ye be judged?" I remember the lesson that sanctimony was a sin of pride. That must not be true anymore.

Taken in a strictly economic view, these punishments are costly. If we took the 1.3 million dollars it takes to test people on assistance, and put it into education that would get them a job, we'd have a win-win situation. Florida has already implemented the drug testing policy, one of the one-size-fits-all legislative bills from the neo-conservatives, and found that only 2.4 percent of welfare recipients tested positive, much lower than the 8 percent positive rate of the overall population. The Kansas legislature has decided it's a better idea to waste money punishing people on assistance.

In a classic tea party move, the section of the bill that allowed for drug rehabilitation was gutted. At least they've admitted the bill isn't about drugs or addiction, it's about segregating users. It's about spending dollars to save pennies. This is standard tea party economics.

The neo-conservatives like punishment. It must feel righteous to them. A real conservative would find that helping the citizen creates a taxpayer, and understands that a citizen's potential is something to be fostered. A real conservative has a healthy understanding of the common good.

Where is the line drawn between punishment and cruelty? It's an important distinction, and one I fear the tea people are not capable of making. They don't see the end game of this collective abuse of a citizen's rights and privacy. It is odd that the very people outraged at the abuse of the constitution are so willing to crawl into the privacy of others.

To create policy that inflicts punishment, one supposes there must be a transgression against some law. Illegal drugs are covered by existing law, as is alcohol consumption. Why double down on punishment? There are those in this moral minority that see themselves as enforcers, and like the idea of having the poor under another hammer of the law. It is conspicuously bigger government, but as a Kansan, I'm used to the double standards and false morality of the GOP.

Would the punishment be different if the recipient were taking Ambien instead of drinking beer? Is there a punishment for an overweight person receiving food stamps? Is this a new state job, going door to door and checking out people's refrigerators? We'll need a list of acceptable grocery items.

This newest intrusion into personal privacy goes against the tea party yank about unnecessary bureaucracy, but the GOP is famous for its hypocrisy.

The best news in the last month is the falling approval rating of the Kansas governor and legislature. It is possible to return to rational government. I'm hoping the majority will have had enough by the next election..

Mary Hart-Detrixhe is a lifelong resident of the prairie and Ellis county. Her work can be found at www.janeQaverage.com.

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