Thursday, December 29, 2016

Of Class, Poverty and Wealth

In my efforts to discover the mysteries of humanity, I have always been perplexed at poverty, wealth and class. Why are some people a member of the country club, drive nice cars and live in big houses while other people live paycheck to paycheck? Why is it rare for someone to rise above poverty?


Right now $10 to $15 per hour is a common wage, but it is hardly sufficient for a family. After taxes, the worker brings home about $1,900 per month. Mom works at the neighborhood restaurant, she makes about $1,200 per month after taxes, while they raise three children. After they pay their bills, there is little money leftover. They are working for poverty wages. A living wage is $15 per hour. It's hard to get ahead, even with both incomes, $3,100 take home per month isn't much for a family of five.

Anytime people in poverty do get some money, it is hard for them to hold onto it. They are so used to spending every paycheck. But if perhaps they get a settlement like $50,000 from a wrongful injury lawsuit, they quickly find ways to spend the money. I know one person who started spending a promised $15,000 back pay settlement before he even got the money, he had already racked up $6,000 on his credit cards, buying stuff like a television, stereo, speakers and movies and CDs. When the $15,000 arrived, he paid off his credit card, and then quickly spent the remaining $9,000. It was all gone within a few months.

Institutional poverty is still with us in America. Three million slaves became "free" after the Emancipation Proclamation, but were kept in shackles through laws designed to keep them in prison, and separated from whites. Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896 upheld the racial segregation laws for public facilities under the doctrine of "separate but equal." It was only in 1954 that Brown vs Board of Education overturned the separate but equal clause. So think about it. Blacks didn't have wealth that was passed down from generation to generation. Grandpa was poor, Dad was poor and Son is going to be poor too. It's only been in the last 50 or 60 years that blacks have been able to build up wealth and pass it down to their children.

Meanwhile there are multiple thousands of white families who have had generations of wealth passed down to them. A good example is the Forbes family. John Murray Forbes was so wealthy in 1850 that he was able to buy an island in Cape Cod. That island, Naushon, is still in the Forbes family, it's probably worth billions of dollars. It's a private island in trust for the benefit of the Forbes family and its heirs. So the Forbes family has enjoyed generations of wealth that goes back over 150 years.

Wealth is so prized in America that anyone with that sort of pedigree can get into the best schools and land the best jobs and make the most money. No wonder Goldman Sachs is full of rich kids who went to Harvard.

Escaping poverty

Oprah Winfrey once tried an experiment to help the poor. Oprah said she would finance a program to move 100 families out of public housing, off public aid and into better lives, but only five families participated in the program. The experiment taught her some lessons. "At its most basic, the lesson of Families for a Better Life may be that the lives of the poor are so chaotic and infused with a 'mind frame of entitlement' that they defy even programs specifically designed to overcome these obstacles," The Chicago Tribune reported.

The crisis, paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle is a soap opera that requires constant attention; the car breaks down, Mom suffers from back problems from standing all night at the bar, Dad is a Manic Depressive Alcoholic, he should be taking his medication and not drinking so much. A teen-age son is in trouble for skipping school and smoking pot. Mom flirts with another Man at the bar, Dad is jealous. They drink late into the night, fighting and yelling, scaring the children, who wonder if Dad is going to move out. Talk about a house of pain. 

Divorce is another cause of poverty. Two incomes in one household are better than one income; two working together can do great things, but divide the family into two houses, you have twice the utility bills, twice the rent, twice the expenses of maintaining two homes.

How do you rise above that? How does one break free from the chaos? Some say religion is the answer, others say the answer is found in the 12 Step AA or NA program. God and money Evangelist Dave Ramsey has programs designed to help people pay down debt and get ahead financially. He talks about people being "slaves" to bankers, always having to pay debts to the banks. Stop being a slave, he says, pay off your debts and free yourselves from entrapment. 

Financial advisors will tell you to create a budget that not only pays your bills, but also sets aside money for emergency savings and retirement. All of this advice is readily available, even free on the Internet. There are thousands of self-help books like "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill.

My advisor in college said, "Get your social life in order, so you can focus on your profession." That was great advice.

I like rags-to riches-stories. GirlBoss is one of my favorites. Sophia Amoruso was a punk rocker who lived off the grid after high school, she had a job that paid poverty wages, while pursuing her fashion hobby, buying on the cheap retro outfits at estate sales and then reselling them on eBay. Her Nasty Gal business took off. For her Web site, she used her photographic eye to create images that were attractive to young girls. Customers paid a premium for her retro-looking clothes. Because Sophia lived off the grid for so long, she struggled to get credit. At first, banks didn't want to loan her money. So she paid for everything in cash. Eventually she created her own brand of clothing, operating out of a big warehouse in Los Angeles, the business grew to $100 million. A business like this has an 8% to 10% margin, netting about $10 million annually.

More close to home, I know someone who grew up in a small town in the Midwest. His parents were poor, but honest and hard-working. This person, Danny (a real person but I am changing his name to keep him anonymous)  entered the military after high school. He married well. His wife encouraged him to continue his education, earn a bachelor's degree and complete officer training school. They raised three children. Danny moved up the ranks in the military. After 24 years, he retired from the military with a pension paying $75,000 annually. He took two years off, then got a similar job as a civilian, making $75,000 annually. So now he makes $150,000 annually. Plus his wife works, making about $30,000 annually. They paid off their debts and plan to retire in a few years. A couple of reasons why Danny was successful: He stayed married, he and his wife worked hard to raise their children. Danny surrounded himself with good mentors. He particularly was fond of his wife's grandfather, who served 20 years in the military, got a pension and then started working again in banking for another 20 years. This grandfather mentored Danny. And Danny listened and applied the knowledge given to him. Danny believes the breakdown of the family is the root of poverty and misery. There is some truth to this.

I know a young talented man who could go far in life, but he is struggling post high school, trying to figure out how to get ahead. He does not want to go to the University of Kansas or Kansas State University because he says he can't afford it. His parents did not go to college. This person, I shall call him Johnny, does not want to work in restaurants because the pay is low and the work is hard. He wants to be a graphic artist. Most employers hire graphic designers with college degrees. I suggested my friend work any job that supplies steady income, save up $1,000 while living at home with your parents. Open a studio in NOTO Arts District for $300 per month, or open a studio in your home. Work part-time at the studio, focusing on solving client's graphic problems. Clients will tell you what THEY want, you do what they want, make them happy, and you will grow your business. Work two jobs, work all the time, when not working the regular paying job, work on the design job. But Johnny didn't seem interested in that plan. He seems to be floundering.

With any business idea, find out if there is a market for your services or product. Do a market survey. Find the biggest problems and solve them. Entrepreneurs get paid well for solving problems.

I worked two jobs for much of my life. One summer in college I had three jobs, as a Daily Nebraskan reporter, a telemarketer and as a line cook at Wendy's. And I took classes in between these jobs. When I finally got a full-time job as reporter at a daily newspaper, I started working on a second job as an investor. Charles Armstrong, an Edward Jones representative from Grand Island, Neb., told me to read everything I could get my hands on about investing. I did. In my spare time, I read Money magazine, Value-Line, and books about Warren Buffett. I opened a brokerage account with $1,000 and started buying stocks. I worked these two jobs for about 20 years before I finally was able to give up the 9-to-5 job and work on my own, operating my own investment portfolio and freelance business from home.


The rags to riches story is a story of hard work, persistence and dedication. It is a story of struggle, learning and great reward. It is also a story of sacrifice, change and adaptation. Don't let history hold you back. To anyone wanting to get ahead, find out what you love to do, figure out a way to make money doing it, and then do it all the time. You will be amazed at how much income you can have with this mindset. Once the income is rolling in, save 10% to 20% of your income, invest it wisely and you have a lot of money over time. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

Westar Energy Sale Not In Best Interest Of Public, KCC staff says

Westar Energy’s (WR) sale to Great Plains Energy (GXP) is not in the best interest of the public, said Jeffrey McClanahan of the Kansas Corporation Commission, in testimony filed on Friday.
Jeffrey McClanahan is employed by the Kansas Corporation Commission as Director, Utilities Division.

“Staff’s overall conclusion is that the proposed transaction fails most of the 22 merger standards and is, therefore, not in the public interest,” he said. “Moreover, there are fundamental flaws in the proposed transaction that prohibit staff from recommending merger conditions that would support a finding that the transaction is in the public interest. Thus the proposed transaction should be denied.”

Justin Grady, KCC staff, says the purchase price Great Plains has agreed to pay cannot be determined to be reasonable in light of the savings that can be demonstrated and it is not within a reasonable range.

Adam Gatewood of the KCC says the post-merger entity will be financially weaker than the existing stand-alone entities. He also asserts  that the merger is not in the public interest because customers will be asked to pay rates that are in excess of the cost of providing services. Finally, the transaction weakens the commission’s ability to effectively regulate the post-merger entity.

Robert Glass, Ph.D., finds that the transaction will have a negative effect on the Kansas economy.

McClanahan said the proposed transaction would leave ratepayers, the state, and even the post-transaction entity in a worse position moving forward. In fact, this transaction primarily promotes the interests of Westar’s shareholders – due to the overcompensation they will receive – to the detriment of the public interest.

McClanahan said staff cannot recommend approval of the merger even with conditions. Merger conditions cannot remedy several fundamental flaws within the transaction as proposed. These fundamental flaws are: The purchase price of $12.2 billion is too high because it results in Great Plains and its subsidiary Westar being in a significantly weaker financial position post-acquisition. Even though joint applicants assert they are not explicitly requesting recovery of the acquisition premium, ratepayers will inevitably pay this acquisition premium implicitly through financial engineering.

Financial engineering requires the commission to change its current approach to setting a utility’s cost of capital by allowing Great Plains to earn equity-level returns on investment financed with lower-cost debt, McClanahan said.

Joint applicants have failed to demonstrate that the transaction benefits customers through demonstrable and quantifiable savings which can be reasonably attributed to the acquisition, McClanahan said.

Joint applicants have failed to provide any certainty with regard to the continued financial health of the companies.

Great Plains Energy plans to acquire Westar Energy for about $12.2 billion. Westar shareholders will receive $60 per share -- $51.00 in cash and $9.00 in Great Plains Energy common stock. Upon closing, Westar will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Great Plains Energy. On Sept. 26, 2016, the two companies announced that the shareholders of both companies voted to approve Great Plains Energy's acquisition of Westar Energy. The companies hope the acquisition will close in second quarter 2017.

The governing body for the Kansas Corporation Commission are three commissioners. They do not necessarily have to follow recommendation of the staff.

Jay Scott Emler was appointed to the KCC by Governor Brownback on January 8, 2014. He was confirmed by the Kansas Senate on January 16, 2014. On May 21, 2015, Emler was confirmed for a four year term, which expires on March 15, 2019. He was elected Chairman on January 14, 2016.

Shari Feist Albrecht was appointed to the KCC by Governor Brownback on June 25, 2012. She served as Chair from January 9, 2014, to January 14, 2016. Her term expires on March 15, 2016.

Pat Apple was appointed to the KCC by Governor Brownback on March 24, 2014. He was confirmed by the Kansas Senate on April 6, 2014. His term expires on March 15, 2018.

Friday, December 16, 2016

How To Play The Westar Energy Sale

Westar Energy is trading 4.5% below its sale price of $60 per share.
Great Plains Energy plans to acquire Westar Energy in Q2 2017.
GXP stock is down 11% since announcement of acquisition last spring.
Stock in Westar Energy (NYSE:WR) has gained in value from $9.60 per share in 2002 to $57.30 per share today, plus paid quarterly dividends over that time period. Westar stock is so popular in Kansas, it is held by Westar Energy employees and retirees, plus many Kansas investors who appreciate the dividends.
However, Westar Energy is changing soon. And investors in the stock need to make some decisions. Click here to read more.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Irwin Rosen: Scholar And Friend in Field of Psychiatry Dies

By Michael Hooper
Topeka lost a top scholar and a loyal friend in the field of psychiatry on Wednesday when Irwin “Irv” Rosen died at age 93 surrounded by his wife Betty and family.
Rosen came to Topeka to study at the Menninger Clinic in 1952 after receiving his Ph.D., in clinical psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Menninger’s post-doctoral training program and joined the staff and worked about five decades at Menninger, including as director of the Adult Outpatient Department and head of its psychotherapy services.
Roy Menninger, former Menninger president, said Rosen was a unique individual who had a positive outlook.
“He was an unflappably good man, who saw good in almost anything,” Menninger said. In an interview in 2003, Rosen recalled moving to Topeka in the early 1950s and seeing a sign that said, “Welcome to Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World.” The Menninger Clinic, Topeka State Hospital and the Veterans Administration Winter Hospital combined to create a mecca for anyone needing treatment or a job in mental health. Topeka State Hospital closed in 1997 and the Menninger Clinic moved to Houston in 2003. The VA continues to operate in Topeka.
Rosen’s colleagues said he helped others with his transformative and inspiring personality. He was a scholar who published into his late 80s. He had a quick wit, a big smile and a warmth that made it comfortable for others to confide in him.
He was very close to the late Irving Sheffel, former administrator of the Menninger Clinic, who died in May 2015, at age 98. At Sheffel’s funeral, Rosen praised his longtime friend’s talent for keeping peace at Menninger and then made fun of Sheffel’s golf game.
Roy Menninger said Rosen had a special talent for entertaining others. Rosen and Jerry Katz performed a song and dance act during an engagement party for Roy and his wife Beverly.
“Irv was marvelously imaginative, curious and creative,” Menninger said. Rosen was also extremely loyal and supportive.
“I was glad to have a friend like that,” Menninger said. “I have so much respect and fondness for him.”
Siebolt Frieswyk, a former Menninger employee, said Rosen had a profoundly influential career at Menninger.
“He transformed generations of students and colleagues with his passion for the theater and tennis and his devotion to professional excellence,” Frieswyk said. “His incredible humor and transformative passion for social justice and the concern for our fellow human beings whose lives he touched with grace and compassion often inspired those who had not grasped their special talent and possibilities. He and Jerry Katz could entertain endlessly, given their immersion in the American musical theater. Irv climbed mountains with his friends in Colorado and inspired us all to heights of excellence and devotion to our shared cause.”
Rosen was saddened to see the end of the Topeka Institute for Psychoanalysis when the Menninger Clinic left for Houston in 2003.
At the time, Rosen wrote, “The way now to perpetuate what we built together is to carry with us internally the place, the people, and what we did here, to re-create what we have learned here and keep it alive, and to practice and teach it afresh in our consulting rooms, our classrooms and our writings. On that premise, our Institute and its parent, The Menninger Clinic, will live in our lives and in the lives of all those patients and students whom we will ever touch.”
Services honoring Rosen will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 12, at Temple Beth Sholom, 4200 S.W. Munson. Burial will follow at Mount Hope Cemetery.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Panic Buying Drives Stock Market to New Highs

A "buying panic" swept through the stock markets today as stocks reached all-time highs, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 1.55% or 297 points to 19,549; the S&P 500 up 1.32% or 29 points to 2241 and the Nasdaq was up 1.14% to 5393.

Panic buying is the the action of buying large quantities of stock due to sudden fears of a forthcoming price increase. Investors don’t want to be left behind so they are moving billions and billions of dollars into stocks. Several commentators on CNBC described Wednesday's stock surge as a "buying panic."

The S&P 500 is up 7% since the presidential election on Nov. 8. I had predicted the election of Donald Trump would cause the stock markets to contract, but I was wrong. I’m glad I did not sell out when he was elected. Indeed I had just moved all idle cash into the stock market just before the election. I was all in and remain all in.

The businessman Donald Trump -- a true outsider who never before worked in Congress -- has cultivated a belief that he can improve the U.S. economy.

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States will take place on Jan. 20, 2017.

Who knows exactly what will happen with the stock market in 2017. By some measures, the general stock markets are over valued now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the stock market can’t go higher from here.

Eventually panic buying may turn into panic selling. But I’m not selling out. I invest for the long term. 

We’ll see how Donald Trump leads the country. I hope it’s not just the rich getting better, I hope all Americans see growth in household income.

I think some parts of the stock market are way overheated. Some regional bank stocks have gone up tremendously.

Equity Bancshares (EQBK) is up 35% since the Nov. 8 election. Equity Bancshares, Inc. is a bank holding company with headquarters in Wichita, Kan. Its Equity Bank provides financial services primarily to businesses, business owners and individuals through a network of 34 full-service branches in Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri, including the Wichita, Kansas City, and Topeka metropolitan areas.

Stock in Capitol Federal Financial (CFFN) is up 14% since the presidential election. Capitol Federal is a Topeka-based bank with a focus on lending to single-family home owners.

United Way of Greater Topeka Suffers $1.3 Million Operating Loss in 2014

United Way of Greater Topeka has suffered operating losses in recent years.

United Way's total revenues have fallen from $6.9 million in 2013 to $5.6 million in 2014. The organization suffered an operating loss of -$1.3 million in 2014, according to its Form 990 tax return.

There is a 2015 Form 990, but it only runs for a half year; nevertheless, the organization had posted a $1 million loss in the first six months of 2015, according to its tax returns at

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that United Way of Greater Topeka's top executives resigned effective immediately. Miriam Krehbiel resigned her position as CEO and president, and Kim Ribelin resigned as vice president of resource development, the newspaper reported.

The local United Way's total expense for salaries and benefits was $1,008,406 in 2013. Total expense for wages, salaries, employee benefits grew to $1.18 million in 2014. 

Krehbiel’s total compensation in 2013 was $128,173. That year revenues were $6.9 million, with total expenses of $6.6 million, with a $270,985 net gain (profit).

In 2014, total revenue was $5.6 million, expenses were $6.9 million, with a -$1.3 million loss. Krehbiel's compensation was $129,222. 

In recent years, United Way changed the way it distributes grants. Historically, donors got to choose which charities they want to support. However, in recent years, the organization changed focus to supporting projects to implement change in the community. The top three areas of focus are improving education, financial stability and health care. 

Donors have struggled to understand how this works. I think it’s easier for a donor to say I want to support Girl Scouts, or Housing & Credit Counseling. But now United Way is choosing how to use donor money to support education, financial stability and health care. With the change, it’s difficult to measure whether United Way’s efforts are actually working or making a difference.

The United Way's mission statement on its tax return says: "We create positive, sustainable change in our community. We work to solve issues no single donor, charity or government agency can handle alone. By focusing on education, financial stability, and health, we help more children graduate and get stable jobs, help families become financially stable and improve the overall health of our community."

Oh really? It seems to me there is more work being done in our local schools than in the UW to help more kids graduate from high school. The chamber and Go Topeka are more equipped to create jobs than the UW is. I think Housing & Credit Counseling, local financial advisors and Dave Ramsey programs in our churches do more to help people gain financial stability.

The UW's mission statement seems like a top-down, push-down into our community that doesn't really match the charitable giving style of Topeka.

I've heard plenty of United Way presentations over the years. After the change was made in recent years, I heard a presentation that sounded nebulous. The presenters could hardly make sense of it, let alone the people they were trying to convince.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How To Pay Down Student Debt Fast

College graduates last year entered the workforce with $35,051 in student debt on average.

It is common to meet college graduates with over $75,000 in student loans, even $90,000. They will be paying on these loans for the next 30 years. Many of these students will be approaching 60 when they are debt free. But if their housing costs were reduced, and they made a decent living wage, perhaps they could afford to send extra payments every month to their student loans, thereby reducing the terms by years.

Employers could provide matching student loan debt payments to help employees quickly pay off their debts. Some employers are doing this nationally. Next year, the health insurer Aetna will start matching employees student loan payments, paying up to $2,000 annually with a $10,000 lifetime maximum.

If you have $30,000 in student debt, you could pay it all off in five years with aggressive payments of $579.98 per month (6% interest), according to a loan calculator at Let’s say during that same five-year period, you automatically invest $420 per month into the Standard & Poors 500 Index every month through a brokerage account at Charles Schwab or TD Ameritrade. If you earn a 10% annual rate of return, you will have $33,214.60 in five years. This five-year plan requires $1,000 per month going into debt service and investments. You may have to work overtime or a second job. In five years, your debt is paid off and you have a substantial investment account. With that substantial savings, you could buy a house, start a family, open a business or go on an extended vacation.

Let's say you have $60,000 in student debt at 6% interest. If you sent $1,159.97 per month to the loan, you would pay it off in five years. To pay off the same loan in 10 years, you would have to pay $666.12 every month. To pay off $60,000 at 6% interest over 30 years, the payment is $359.73. Most people fear they cannot afford to make a payment of $1,159.97 per month, but if you could find a way, you could cut your loan's term from 30 years to five.

It is cheaper to live in Topeka than many other places around the world. If Topeka can market itself as better living for less expense, many people would consider staying here or moving to Topeka from another community. Topeka has to market itself as a dynamic place to live and work, with affordable housing and support for cycling, organic foods, craft beer, music, entertainment and the arts.

Don’t be a slave to a student loan for the rest of your life. Instead, work hard, live cheap, and use discretionary income to pay down debt quickly and save money. You will get ahead faster in life without debt. With no debt, your world gets larger because you can afford to do more than just slave away for the bankers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Why Berkshire Hathaway Stock Is Going Higher

Berkshire Hathaway trades like a financial, but should be considered a congolomerate.
The company gets most of its earnings from its non-financial businesses.
The stock has 17% upside if the market realizes it's erred in valuing the company.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Kansas Trader Profits From Day Trading In Union Pacific Stock

I made four day trades with Union Pacific yielding $811.83.
Union Pacific's bottom is around $88 per share.
Jesse Livermore loved trading UNP.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How To Retire at Age 30

When I was in my 20s, I paid off $2,200 in credit card debt and saved up $5,000. I quit my newspaper job, moved to Europe and retired. I lived cheap for a long time in Greece. This was a life-changing experience for me. Now 53, I look back at my diary from 1990 with amazement and wonder at all the places and people I met in Europe. I did not have a real job for six months, although I did work part-time at a hotel in Athens.
Michael Hooper in Santorini, Greece, 1990

Today, youth face much greater challenges. I only had $6,000 in debt from college loans when I graduated in December 1987, and my monthly payment was just $55.00. Today, students are graduating with astronomical levels of debt. Many youth will be paying student loans for the rest of their lives. If you have $30,000 in student debt, you could pay it all off in five years with aggressive payments of $566.14 per month (5% interest).

Let’s say during that same five-year period, you save $433 per month, and you automatically invest the money into the S&P 500 every month through a brokerage account at Charles Schwab or TD Ameritrade. At a 10% annual rate of return, you will have $34,113 in five years.

Let’s say you start doing this plan immediately after college at age 25. This five-year plan requires $1,000 per month going into debt service/investments. You may have to work overtime or a second job. By age 30, you are debt free and have a substantial investment account.

You move to one of the best cheapest places to live, like Thailand or Vietnam or Argentina, where you only have to spend $300-$400 per month for an apartment. You live cheap, you make your money last a long time.

I met several people who lived many years on their savings. When I was in Greece, I met a 32-year-old chemist from Chicago who had saved enough money for two years of travel. I lived six months on $5,000 in 1990. I could have stayed working at the hotel in Athens, and extended my trip, but I wanted to return to America for a regional reporting job. Plus I was broke and tired of living like a vagabond and missed my friends and family in the states. I had been sleeping on park benches in Barcelona.

Americans will have to sacrifice to live below their take-home income. But this can be a good thing. It's cheaper to cook food at home than to eat out. And the food at home is probably better for you. I know a poor man who is extremely healthy because he lives on rice and beans and rides his bicycle daily and works in his garden. Steady incomes don’t necessarily translate into healthy living. Two thirds of Americans are overweight.

Dreamers who are serious about retiring early must live cheap. They work hard at their jobs.  They take a sandwich with them to work and snack on popcorn. At the end of each day, they cook a good meal for themselves. Their passions don’t cost much. A walk through the park with the dog, a stroll through the garden, a trip to the library -- all these cost nothing, no money spent, yet you might witness a glowing sunset or find a great movie to borrow from the library.

Why did I retire at age 26? To see the world, to experience new cultures, new people, new ways of thinking and living. I wanted to be like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, I wanted to live overseas and look back at America. I wrote several short stories that revealed in me some truth about who I was and what I was doing with my life. I went to Europe to suck out all the knowledge and wisdom of thousands and thousands of years of civilization. I did not want to look back on my 20s and 30s and say I did not live.

I discovered a secret for better living in that special experience. To live each day like an adventure, like I’m going on a special trip, to see a new place, to carry on a new conversation, to go somewhere I had never been before, with people I never knew, and to cherish and love my family, my friends and my home.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Menninger Leaves Lasting Mark On Topeka

By Michael Hooper
The ghost of Menninger’s past is still seen in places all over Topeka. The hospital for the treatment of the mentally ill operated in Topeka for 77 years before leaving in 2003 for Houston.
Siebolt Frieswyk, a former Menninger psychotherapy instructor, remembers seeing nearly all of the city’s landscape from the Tower building on Menninger Hill in west Topeka. He worked there with professionals including Harriet Lerner, Irwin Rosen and Stephen Appelbaum.
Visiting scholars to the Menninger Clinic included Margaret Mead, Anna Freud and Aldous Huxley — friends of Karl Menninger, co-founder of the Menninger Clinic.
Menninger’s continuing education programs for psychiatric residents, psychologists, social workers and therapists attracted students to Topeka from across the world — the United States, Europe, South America, Japan and Mexico.
“It was an atmosphere of enormous intellectual excitement,” Frieswyk said. “This had the feel of a major university.”
Menninger had a profound affect on the field of psychiatry, while benefiting Topeka economically, culturally and socially. Menninger’s acceptance of the mentally ill became a social norm in Topeka.
Menninger employed about 1,100 people. The organization provided professional, steady, well-paying jobs with good benefits.
Employees were paid a living wage, Frieswyk said. And each employee — from the lunch counter server to the top psychiatrist — were all on the same mission of helping the mentally ill.
“It was all about the patient,” said Ira Stamm, a Topeka psychotherapist in private practice who worked at Menninger from 1972 to 1995.
Patients who came to Menninger often stayed long-term, up to a year or more. Some patients loved Topeka so much, they stayed there.
Local theater, music and the arts were influenced by Menninger employees.
Frieswyk said the Topeka Civic Symphony continues to have several former Menninger staff members as instrumentalists playing violin, viola, cello and trumpet. The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library benefited from the creative input of Menninger staff.
Topeka Civic Theater staged a presentation of “Whose Life Is It Anyway,” whose director was a Menninger psychoanalyst. Many of the principal roles were played by Menninger clinical staff. At the end of the run, the meaning of the play was discussed by a panel of Menninger psychiatrists.
Faith communities have also been enriched by the participation of Menninger musicians and vocalists. Mary Cerney, a Menninger staff psychologist, was choir director and organist for Most Pure Heart of Mary, where she also offered grief counseling. She was the first nun in the history of The Roman Catholic church to complete full training as a psychoanalyst, Frieswyk said.
Menninger’s legacy is so rich, many of these former Menninger employees have come back to Topeka this weekend for a reunion.
One of the reasons Menninger was such an economic powerhouse was its national reputation as a place where you go for help if all other efforts have failed. Menninger used an extensive diagnostic method that involved a battery of tests and patient interactions with a team of professionals, said Stamm. The diagnosis typically took a week, sometimes two weeks.
In 1979, Richard Carpenter, of the 1970s hit group The Carpenters, reportedly kicked his addiction to Quaaludes at the Menninger Clinic, according to a Jan. 1, 1989, Chicago Tribune article by Frank Sanello.
Gene Tierney, a popular actress from 1940 to 1964, came to Menninger in 1958. She remained there for a time and worked as a sales girl in a local dress shop as she integrated back into society.

Illustrious history
Karl Menninger co-founded the Menninger Clinic in 1925 with his brother, William, and his father, C.F. Menninger. Karl led the agenda of American psychiatry in the 1930s and 1940s, publishing multiple books like “The Human Mind,” “The Vital Balance” and “Man Against Himself.” Karl was known for his difficult, irascible personality, but he had a knack for engaging patients, said the late Irving Sheffel, longtime administrator at the Menninger Clinic, in previous interviews. Karl understood the power of hope in a patient’s recovery.
With an agreement with the VA in late 1945, the Menninger brothers were able to use the Veterans Administration Hospital as a training center for psychiatric residents.
The Karl Menninger School of Psychiatry and Mental Health Sciences trained hundreds of psychiatric residents after World War II.
Psychiatrist Samuel Bradshaw completed his residency at the Menninger Clinic. He was chief of psychiatry at the VA in Topeka for 20 years.
Bradshaw said that when he arrived at Menninger, he was impressed with employees’ compassion and kindness. The clinic was filled with engaging, empathetic intellectuals who cared deeply about the mission of helping people with mental illness. Bradshaw quickly made friendships with several professionals who shared his love of psychiatry and music.
“It felt like home,” he said.
Bradshaw said the Menninger Clinic way of treating patients was implemented at the VA. Much has changed throughout the years with the treatment of mental illness in America, but the VA still has resources to treat veterans suffering from PTSD and other illnesses, he said. When treated, these veterans are less likely to end up in prison, he said.
Topeka lost the Topeka State Hospital in 1997; Menninger left six years later. Many people who would have been treated at either place now end up in prison, Bradshaw and Frieswyk said.
Prisons are full of the mentally ill, they said — a great tragedy.
Today, pharmacology has supplanted psychotherapy. Research at universities is often funded by drug companies. As a result, universities cater to drug companies in order to get research grants, Frieswyk said.
Sigmund Freud was a huge part of the Menninger way, and the founder of psychoanalysis was given a large bust in the Tower building at one time. Menninger’s brand of Freud’s psychoanalysis was dynamic and interactive. Freud’s mantra that a healthy person is able to love and to work was taken to heart. Karl Menninger had patients working in arts, crafts and gardens. Treatment was not only for the mind, but also for the body and soul.
A frequent consultant to Menninger was John “Jock” Sutherland, a prominent Scottish psychoanalyst who said that, “We are in the growth and development business.”
It is a delusion to think that a pill can solve a person’s mental illness, Bradshaw said. So much more of the person needs to be examined and treated.

The emigres
In the 1930s and ’40s, Menninger hired numerous Eastern Europeans. Their children attended local schools and families joined local churches and Temple Beth Sholom. They brought with them their love of opera, orchestra and theater and engaged in local groups that supported their passions, interests and beliefs.
Topeka is blessed with a rich theater community, including one of the oldest, longest-running civic theaters in the country. Longtime Menninger employee Sheffel gave $1 million to Topeka Civic Theatre.
Partly because of efforts by Karl’s daughter, Rosemary Menninger, Menninger left a significant archive at the Kansas Museum of History. The Menninger family archives, correspondence by Karl and others and letters by Sigmund Freud, William James and Florence Nightingale are there, drawing scholars from around the world to do research.
Many former Menninger employees influenced and worked at several local organizations, such as Valeo, Family Service & Guidance Center, The Villages and Heritage Mental Health Clinic of Topeka. Many private practice psychotherapists in northeast Kansas are Menninger-trained.
On Saturday, Lee Wright and Alice Eberhart-Wright hosted a party for former Menninger employees, called the Gunavardina Reunion. Gunavardina was a social network in the psychiatric community that occurred in the early 1970s as a gathering place to celebrate cultures, food and entertainment. Mahasen DeSilva came up with the name, which means “overflowing with goodness” in Sinhalese. They once had a Brazilian carnival, a French wedding, a Dutch Christmas, Chinese dinners and plenty of singing, dancing and developing lifetime friendships.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Letter To David Byrne

I read four bicycle books this summer, Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne; The Story of the Giro d'Italia, Volume I, by Bill and Carol McGann; The Rider by Tim Krabbe, and Gironimo! by Tim Moore. The Rider was a speed read like a bike race full of energy. The McGann's Story of the Giro is glorious. Gironimo was a slog, perhaps retracing the very terrible 1914 Tour de Italia put the author in a bad mood.

I just finished reading Byrne's book Bicycle Diaries this morning. Wonderful, insightful, progressive, intelligent, you captured the beauty of a bicycle in everyday living/traveling. Your description of Berlin was fantastic, I loved the pictures of the art exhibits. Byrne's night riding was like another beautiful dimension, the bicycle is taking us to a place I had never been before. Well done.

I also am in my mid 50s. I recently I did an experiment, I quit driving a car for about three years and rode my bicycle only. Since I work from home, this was fairly easy, I could ride to the store, the bar, the coffee shop, the park, concerts, downtown, etc, but I struggled to make it to short-notice, long-distance-away events, so I finally broke down and bought a car last spring.

I had the opportunity to ride a bike through New York City in March, it was wonderful, I road all over Central Park, along the Hudson River, Midtown and Harlem. Two weeks ago, I returned from a bike trip through Cape Cod, a buddy and I rode from Falmouth to Provincetown. We also rode bikes on Nantucket. The environment seems to be winning on Nantucket, as I saw no street lights, no stop lights, no billboards and no chain restaurants. My friend who is a landscaper there says use of chemicals is highly restricted (good!). When leaving on the ferry, I threw a penny into the harbor with the hope I will return there some day...natives say this trick works...but when we were throwing in our pennies, one lady's penny blew back onto the deck, "that is bad luck," my buddy said!

Global warming is a real threat. The bicycle could save our planet. We just need to change our entire way of thinking. Out here in Kansas, too many people are still stuck in automobile land, partly because of our long distances from one another. I like Penalosa's thoughts in your book, let us make the community friendly to children first, if kids are safe and comfortable, we have a community, let us build our community from there. We have created new "pocket parks" in downtown Topeka, we have new bike trails and new bike lanes, we have a progressive Community Cycle Project that helps rebuild bikes for people in need of a bike; and the city has a bicycle department with 200 bicycles for rent, located in various parts of the city. And artists have created a new art district in an old part of town, called NOTO, which is very bike friendly. So we are making progress, but still have a long way to go. My hope is that our community will become transformed by cyclists, we have a few cyclists in leadership positions, they are really trying to make a difference.

If you ever are in Topeka, Kan., please look me up. We could go for a bike ride!

Thank you for writing a good book! I enjoyed it.

Take care and happy cycling!

Michael Hooper
Topeka, Kansas

Saturday, July 23, 2016

I Don't Pray for Money

"I don't pray for money. I pray for wisdom. I would rather have one honest dollar and wisdom than $1 million and no wisdom. Without wisdom, I probably would lose the $1 million and my life. With wisdom, I can build a fortune and a happy life."
--Michael Hooper 7-13-2016

"We can hope for a better tomorrow, but we have only today to make our dreams come true," said Michael Hooper, July 3, 2016.

"Nature Creates Homes"
--Michael Hooper, July 7, 2016

Guns Take Away Our Freedom

The common thinking about guns is they protect us from our enemies and ensure our freedom and safety. This is a fallacy. A truly responsible gun owner -- a person on alert -- is actually missing out on life. Why? Because a person carrying a gun must have a hyper-consciousness, a super awareness, to sense the enemy and shoot to kill if the situation requires it. If you are the least bit unaware, you might get shot yourself, or someone might take your gun from you and use it against you. Achieving a state of hyper consciousness requires tremendous commitment and devotion to safety. Why does this limit your freedom? Because if you are spending all your time managing your gun and thinking of ways to use it against your enemy, you are not enjoying the moment. You are at a rock concert, you are thinking about your gun and how to use it. Can you truly enjoy the moment with a revolver in your pants? Some people are comfortable with a gun, but get too comfortable with your gun, its value goes down substantially. Now people are willing to take the risk and responsibility of owning and carrying a gun. This step increases fear. The higher number of guns in circulation, the higher levels of fear and distrust. Cops fear black people are going to kill them even though their fear is often misplaced. As a result, cops have shot black people who are no threat at all. There is multiple cases of this happening. The end result is more distrust. Black people are protesting, rightfully so, to stop the cops from shooting them. Black lives do matter. All lives matter. Regardless of race, all peoples in America are under a threat that didn't exist 30 years ago. We have a mass shooting in America every day. Escalating violence has led to more gun ownership, and therefore more fear. I know someone who said he was worried his shotgun and revolver would not be sufficient to fight off 15 people invading his house. So he acquired an AR15. But is there a real threat of 15 people coming into your house? I don't think so. Burglaries usually don't involve more than two people. But my friend's fear is driving him to purchase yet more weaponry. I am willing to take the risk of not owning a gun. First of all I don't want the responsibility of owning a gun. I have children and young nieces and a nephew. I eliminate the risk of accidental shooting by having no gun in my house. There is too much access to guns. In many homicides and accidental shootings, if there had been no gun, there would have been no death. No gun, no death. Without a gun, I am free to absorb the moment, free to look at the concert and enjoy the show, free to listen to a conversation and follow it with real sincerity. The highest compliment you can pay a person is giving your ear, fully listening to their words and feelings and reassuring them you can empathize and understand. But if there is too much noise and fear in and around your brain, you can't pay attention, you are too busy worried about killing the enemy. The enemy lives in our brains. The enemy is fear. Fear is a weed that can't be killed with more guns. I don't feel safer when a person carries a semi-automatic weapon into the grocery store. Only greater understanding and higher levels of trust will produce peace. The gun limits that. Freedom is the ability to live without fear and restraint, the ability to look at a person in the eye and see humanity and share life as a divine gift, to breathe the same air and know that we are humans together. Let us find a way to stop guns from being the barrier to freedom and shared humanity. Let us live freely without restraint, with the hope to move forward in the direction of our dreams of a safe and viable community, nation and world. Put down your guns. Peace can be had, if we all work together to achieve this goal.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Farmers Battle Low Corn Price With Higher Production

Farmers hold two to three years supply of corn waiting for better prices. Crop production has surged to 300 bushels per acre in recent years.
A combination of genetics, excellent management, and pest-free environments have contributed to farmers producing 300 bushels of corn per acre.
Take some profits in corn now because another bumper crop may cause prices to plummet.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cyclists brave tough terrain in increasingly popular Dirty Kanza race

EMPORIA — Cyclists battled hot sun, wind and tough road conditions in the Dirty Kanza bicycle ride through the Flint Hills of Kansas on June 4, 2016.
Andrew Escandon, 24, of Topeka, suffered six flats over the 200-mile course. On the third flat, he was riding 30 mph downhill when he heard a hissing sound from a tire, the inner tube had been pinched and needed to be replaced.
“That was so disappointing,” Escandon said. “It took me 17 hours to finish. My time was comparable to last year due to the flats and trying to play catch up to the other riders in the DK200.”
The theme for the 2016 Dirty Kanza was appropriately called “Find Your Limit.” About 1,900 riders had an opportunity to test themselves in the 200-mile course, the 100-mile, 50-mile or 20-mile fun ride, said Jim Cummins, founder and executive director of Dirty Kanza Promotions LLC.

To read more, click on the link

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Hippo Acquires The Elephant: Great Plains Energy Gobbles Up Westar Energy

Westar Energy (NYSE:WR) has agreed to be acquired by Great Plains Energy (NYSE:GXP), a company that is valued at $3 billion less than Westar.
Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light, has a market capitalization of $4.5 billion compared with Westar Energy's market cap of $7.5 billion.
In the late 1990s, Westar tried to buy Kansas City Power & Light in a hostile takeover, but was spurned. Now the roles are reversed, and KCP&L's parent company is acquiring Westar Energy in a deal approved by the boards of directors at both companies.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Tax Returns Show Losses At St. Francis Health Center

St. Francis Health suffered a loss of $6.19 million in 2014, according to its Form 990 federal tax return.
The financial loss was worse than the $1.46 million loss incurred in 2013.
St. Francis is controlled by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc., also known as SCL Health.
SCL Health announced Thursday it is soliciting proposals from health care providers interested in taking over St. Francis’ 378-bed hospital in Topeka.
To read more click on the link

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How to Survive An Oppressive Political Environment

Politics is a dangerous game in America. The presidential race is a battle of extremes on the right and left. The U.S. economy appears to be slowing down. US GDP Growth was a meager 0.5% growth in first quarter 2016 and was only 1.4% in fourth quarter 2015. Many people have lost jobs and never gained full employment after the economic crisis of 2008-2009. State governments are struggling to balance their budgets. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback's tax breaks for businesses is creating higher budget deficits. One day I was so frustrated with state cuts to child care, I had to get on my bicycle and ride out my anger. While on that bike ride, I examined my philosophy toward politics. To better cope with the mess here, I put together a coping philosophy. Here it is:

World Citizen
I consider myself first and foremost a citizen of the world. I just happen to live in Kansas. When I’m not happy with Kansas, I protest, I call my legislator, I write letters and I post my thoughts on The Internet. But after doing all of that to fight for justice, I leave. I get out of Dodge. I go somewhere. Anywhere to connect with nature and the larger world around us. I have taken my family to Puerto Rico, France, Scotland, England, Colorado, Nebraska and  Minnesota. I once lived in on an island in Greece in my single days. I worked in Yellowstone National Park in 1984 and 1982. I am at heart a “vagabond soul” having met the beautiful stranger a time or two, connecting at train stations, bars and beaches around the world.

When I can't leave Kansas, I remain connected to friends and colleagues around the Globe through Facebook and Seeking Alpha. These ties are important because they provide a global culture to my living as opposed to a Kansas culture only.  I have friends in Greece, France, Israel, Canada, Puerto Rico, Chicago, New York and San Francisco and all over the United States.

I retreat to nature. This is a critical part of my coping system. I put my hands in the dirt and plant flowers. I clean the bird bath, and watch eagerly the bluejay that bathes in the fresh water. I get lost in the sound of a Carolina Wren with its lyrical song, so unique that it sounds mysteriously unlike anything ever produced by a human being. I ride my bicycle to the river, and watch it flow. I connect with like minded friends at the bar. I'll buy you a beer, tell me your story.

Politics of Trickle Down
Having lived in Kansas for 17 years, Nebraska 19 years and Iowa for 16 years, I have seen a variety of city and state political environments. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback four years ago eliminated taxes on 330,000 businesses while cutting services to the poor and middle class. The idea was the business owners would re-invest their tax savings into their businesses and create more jobs and ultimately more state revenue. But this did not work. To make up for losses, Kansas raised the state sales tax from 6.15% to 6.5%, plus raised cigarette taxes.

Increasing sales tax is tougher on the poor than the rich or middle class. The poor pay sales tax on food and drugs in Kansas but don't have to in other states like Nebraska, where food and drugs are exempt from state sales tax. Topeka's total sales tax is now 9.15%, up nearly two percentage points since I moved to Kansas.

Brownback’s administration has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from the the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Brownback has delayed his promises for completion of a four-lane highway on  US-69 because of the budget crisis in Topeka. Brownback in April delayed payment of $93 million to the KPERs pension and has made multiple cuts to education. 

While the U.S. economy was modestly growing since 2009, many states have prospered with the help of strong state governments. Minnesota, Nebraska and Colorado are doing well. Nebraska ended its last fiscal year with a surplus of money and it has among the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.5% while Kansas unemployment rate is 4.3%.

If Kansas can't balance its budget during "good" times when U.S. Gross Domestic Product is growing and unemployment is going down, then it will do much worse when there is a recession. And a recession is not out of the question. I think we could see a recession in the United States this year. Pity the state governments that are broke. They will get worse. I want the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to admit to making a mistake with their tax policy and reversing the exemption of tax on limited liability companies in Kansas. This would generate over $250 million in needed tax revenue. Several businesses who benefit from the exemption testified the exemption should be eliminated to help balance the Kansas budget. Yet the Legislature and Brownback do not have enough courage and wisdom to reverse their mistake. Brownback has too much pride to admit he made a mistake.

This brings me back to my original thesis. How do we cope with a political environment that is upsetting? We participate. We get involved. We vote. I will vote in the November general election. I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. I will not vote for Donald Trump. He is not fit to be president. I don't like Hillary much but she is certainly more skilled than Trump. My favorite is Bernie Sanders but it looks like Hillary may have him beat. I wonder if the two will join together if either one wins the White House?

I vote in every election. This gives me a right to bitch. I did not vote for Sam Brownback. At least my neighbor admits he made a mistake when he cast a vote for Brownback. It may take multiple years to reverse the damage done by Brownback. But my inner soul will carry on as a citizen of the world, a lover of nature, a man who cherishes connecting with family and friends around the world.