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Recent Kansas Editorials

September 10, 2019

The Manhattan Mercury, Sept. 8

On one key priority, Mike Pompeo has it exactly right.

The United States needs to stand for the inalienable rights of people around the globe.

Mr. Pompeo, the current U.S. Secretary of State, was in Manhattan Friday to give a Landon Lecture at Kansas State University. Mr. Pompeo is a former member of Congress from the Wichita area currently serving as the nation’s top diplomat.

The central thrust of his speech, which you can read in its entirety in Sunday’s Mercury, was that those rights are at the core of who we are as Americans. He said “we abhor violations of these rights, whenever and wherever they are committed.” That’s why he speaks out on behalf of the people of other nations — mentioning Iran, Venezuela and China — when they suffer such violations.

That is exactly right, but it’s easier said than done. The U.S. has other interests — inexpensive oil, for instance — and looks the other way at violations by key economic or political allies from time to time. Every time we do that, we bolster our critics and make ourselves look like hypocrites.

Mr. Pompeo was also arguing on behalf of a tighter definition of inalienable rights than is sometimes used by advocates for other causes. This is a long-running argument: Do people have a “right” to health insurance? To inexpensive housing? Do they have a “right” to a free college education?

Well, no, they don’t. Those are not rights, not in the sense that Mr. Pompeo was describing — and we agree. Rights are fundamental and inalienable. We’re talking about the right to free speech, and the right to practice any religion. Essentially, these are freedoms from government interference. The other things are more accurately called entitlements — at most — and they are not as foundational.

Certainly, we have sympathy for those who live in crummy housing, and we ought to do our best to provide good public education at a low cost. Some form of government regulation for health care also makes sense. We are not asserting that those things should go unregulated; we’re not engaging in a debate on those matters right now.

The point is that there is a debate, and there ought to be. Those are policy matters.

But there’s no debate about the right to free speech, and the right to assemble, and the right to a trial if you’re accused of a crime. These are in the Bill of Rights. So is the right to keep and bear arms, which is why any regulation of firearms is such a thorny matter. It should be. We’re talking about inalienable rights.

Mr. Pompeo is right to focus narrowly on those rights, and he’s right to emphasize them in our relations with other countries. Those principles are demanding, and at times difficult to stand by, but in the long run doing so is entirely in our best interest.

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 4

Continuing quakes inject need for action

Folks in the Hutchinson region recently experienced unsettling jolts in a series of earthquakes, the worst of which was a magnitude 4.2. With an epicenter about three miles from Hutchinson, that quake was felt as far away as Ponca City, Okla.; Topeka; and Kansas City, Mo., some 200 miles from Hutchinson. Three quakes with magnitudes ranging from 2.8 to 3.3 quickly followed in the area.

All of the tremors fell into the range described as “felt,” with the potential to cause minor damage. While not potent enough to result in significant damage, the shock waves did leave Kansans and others to wonder when they’ll experience more of the same or even worse earthquakes.

Kansans also want something done to alleviate a threat many experts attribute to human acts.

Blame for the earthquakes has centered on saltwater injection, which stems from the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), in which rock is fractured in an effort to extract oil and gas.

Drilling companies separate the water from extracted oil and gas — wastewater too polluted with oil and salt to be disposed of at ground level — and typically re-inject that water into deeper disposal wells. Scientists say the wastewater serves as a lubricant in allowing movement and shifting of geological structures, which can trigger earthquakes.

Kansas began seeing a spike in earthquakes in 2014 in a region of the Plains known for oil-and-gas production. After a record-setting surge of earthquakes, a number of factors combined to reduce the frequency of earthquakes — namely a drop in oil prices that slowed production, as well as new restrictions on the volume of wastewater injected.

The shift toward fewer earthquakes was encouraging, but the problem clearly wasn’t solved. The threat of potentially damaging quakes lingers.

A study on the consequences of wastewater injection predicted one potentially damaging magnitude 5.0 or larger earthquake before 2021 if current industry practices continue in Kansas and Oklahoma.

In an attempt to curb the number of quakes in the region, the Kansas Corporation Commission in recent years did restrict the amount of oilfield wastewater that can be injected underground in southern Kansas — although when implemented, KCC staff at the time said the limitations on wastewater injected didn’t go far enough.

It’s all left policymakers with more work to do. One question is whether oil-and-gas companies engaged in wastewater injection should be held accountable in some way. A trust fund created by those companies that would compensate for damage is one possibility worthy of consideration.

Mother Nature’s repeated warnings cannot be ignored. While there’s been some progress, policymakers must pursue more in-depth study and action.

Kansans deserve better than being left to fret over whether there are destructive earthquakes ahead.

Moving forward, one thing’s certain: The region will experience more earthquakes. All involved who can make a difference should move with a greater sense of purpose, and not wait for an earthquake to cause significant harm to people and property before taking meaningful action.

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The Kansas City Star, Sept. 3

Vaping is causing breathing illnesses in Kansas students. Time to raise the legal age?

Joe Camel died over 20 years ago, but the tobacco mascot’s child-enticing spirit has hauntingly returned in the form of vaping — the growing use of e-cigarettes.

The stunning fact is, vaping is more prevalent among teens than tobacco use: While less than a quarter of Kansas and Missouri high school students use tobacco, about a third acknowledges having vaped, though estimates say it’s closer to half.

Every parent needs to be alerted to this rising epidemic and to vaping’s seductiveness, addictiveness and cryptic dangers, which are showing up in the heartland in alarming ways. Eerie cases of unspecified vaping-related breathing disorders have recently been identified in at least three Kansas young adults, to go with some 200 similar cases nationwide, according to the state’s Department of Health and Environment.

“No lie, it really is the majority of teens nowadays,” Tryston Zohfeld told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram after an extended hospitalization for lung failure that doctors attributed to vaping. “If you’re going to do it, you need to know what you’re getting into. We have no idea what we’re getting into.”

These are just the acute cases we know about. How many are going unreported? And how much long-term damage might vaping be doing to youths? Besides the ill effects that are known, including those of nicotine, Johns Hopkins Medicine clinical researcher Dr. Michael Blaha warns, “You’re exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don’t yet understand and that are probably not safe.”

It may be a legal, albeit uncharted, adult pursuit often marketed as a way to quit tobacco. But vaping is not a government-approved smoking cessation method, and, in fact, Johns Hopkins says most who try to use it for that end up smoking both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes anyway.

What’s far worse is the wrenching grip that vaping is getting on kids, which is happening faster than schools and school districts can respond with code-of-conduct changes, health services and information for parents and students.

“It is an epidemic,” Shelby Rebeck, director of health services for the Shawnee Mission School District, told KCTV-5. “We’re so behind in responding to this. I think our kids are already physically addicted by the time we’re trying to address it.”

That’s because vaping is easier to cloak than smoking and because vaping is being picked up as early as middle and grade school.

The best that can be said for vaping is that it exposes users to fewer toxic chemicals. Faint praise, certainly. But any mistaken notion that it’s just water vapor is as harmful as the toxins that accompany it. Even the innocent-sounding e-cigarette flavorings that appeal particularly to the young — cinnamon, vanilla, buttered popcorn and such — can themselves be toxic when inhaled, and impair lungs, blood vessels and more. And researchers still don’t even know all the possible ill effects of vaping.

Schools and school districts must be more vigilant and proactive than ever this year in policing the grounds and helping students caught up in this destructive trap while preventing others from falling into it.

The Kansas State Board of Education has formed a public-private, multi-agency task force to promote and track anti-vaping efforts in schools and in their health curricula. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, a member of the task force, has a “Vape-Free Schools Toolkit” online — something that schools and parents should both make use of.

Yet, doesn’t the state need more laws? While nearly 25 cities and counties in Kansas have bumped up the legal age for nicotine products to 21 — including Kansas City, Kansas, Johnson County and Douglas County — the Legislature needs to do the same and more statewide to curtail this epidemic.

A lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association is absolutely right that educators and administrators need rapt attention and support from parents and policymakers on this crisis.

Educating our young has always started with parents, and there has rarely been a more urgent need for them to engage and inform their kids than now.

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