Recent Missouri Editorials

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Associated Press
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 4

Choose common ground over division:
It might seem unusual to look to the National Basketball Association’s all-time leading scorer for wisdom on the intersection of police shootings and protests, but a recent essay by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offers sage guidance for the national conversation on race and police brutality.
Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, whose father and grandfather were police officers, was reacting to the ambush killings Dec. 20 of New York Police Department officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were laid to rest last week. But he also was responding to some conservative commentators who wrongly blamed protests for a deranged man’s actions.
The entire essay is worth reading, as it touches on so much that is wrong with our national dialogue today, where various sides put forth straw-man arguments to blast opponents over behavior that can’t actually be attributed to them.
Here is the key section:
“In a Dec. 21, 2014 article about the shooting, the Los Angeles Times referred to the New York City protests as anti-police marches,’ which is grossly inaccurate and illustrates the problem of perception the protesters are battling. The marches are meant to raise awareness of double standards, lack of adequate police candidate screening, and insufficient training that have resulted in unnecessary killings. Police are not under attack, institutionalized racism is. Trying to remove sexually abusive priests is not an attack on Catholicism, nor is removing ineffective teachers an attack on education. Bad apples, bad training and bad officials who blindly protect them, are the enemy. And any institution worth saving should want to eliminate them, too.”
Institutions, particularly large ones like government bureaucracies, have a reflexive defense mechanism when they perceive themselves as being under attack. The “circle the wagons” mentality can get in the way of constructive change.
We see this in partisan political squabbles, in the church and school examples mentioned by Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, in criticism of cultural institutions such as the Missouri History Museum or Zoo-Museum District, or even in internecine battles between media outlets as they struggle to tell the story of Ferguson.
Right now, at an important time in our nation’s history, it is seen in the conflict between protesters and police, particularly in the most extreme comments made by both sides in an attempt to simplify complex discussions.
A couple of examples:
— NYPD union rep Patrick Lynch’s over-the-top rhetoric about “going to war” with protesters after his two fellow officers were shot in cold blood was disgraceful, as was the act by hundreds of union members who chose to turn their backs on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio while he paid his respect to Officers Ramos and Liu and their families.
— When state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, holds up a cut-out picture of Gov. Jay Nixon’s face and uses expletives in a rant against him, she serves only to divide, not make any meaningful point that moves the conversation forward.
— When some protesters imply that all police are evil, or when one, 19-year-old Joshua Williams, is accused of trying to set a QuikTrip on fire during a protest in Berkeley, they set back the cause of justice sought by the larger Ferguson movement.
— Similarly, when Ferguson police spokesman Officer Tim Zoll refers to the Michael Brown memorial as a “pile of trash” and then lies about it before being suspended, he diminishes trust in other police. That lack of trust is a major reason why the protests are continuing, even in cases of young men like Antonio Martin and Vonderrit Myers who allegedly aimed guns at or shot at police.
There is a reason black Americans don’t believe police narratives, and it can be found in the changing public narratives and grand jury decisions in both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.
In American political discussion these days, it is common to believe that everything is black or white, or a zero-sum game. That makes it easier to demonize a person on the other side of the argument. But most Americans find themselves somewhere in between.
There is no inherent conflict in believing that most police officers are honorable men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe, while still believing that our justice system is tilted against the poor, and specifically against people of color.
It is possible to believe that most police do the best job they can in trying circumstances, and still believe that improved policing would make our communities safer.
It is possible to understand the angst in black America demonstrated by the protests, and recognize some of the fundamental injustices in our systems, as President Barack Obama, and Attorney General Eric Holder and Mayor de Blasio have, and still stand by police and mourn with their families when officers are gunned down, whether in New York, or Pennsylvania, or Nevada or Missouri.
This is true in so many other elements of our American dialogue today — schools, politics, race, religion. There is often more that binds us than divides us. But of late, Americans tend to use their disagreements to drive wedges between themselves rather than seek the common ground that can bring us together.
“Shaming and blaming” is easier than working together toward difficult solutions, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar writes. As we begin the new year, we have a simple resolution for a divided nation:
Let’s vow to take the road less traveled this year. Let’s discuss our differences civilly. Let us recognize that we share common ground in a nation that has, over time, moved inexorably toward becoming a more just society.
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The Kansas City Star, Jan. 5
Legislature could defy low expectations:
Amid a steady drip of news about oversized campaign contributions, lobbyist influence and agendas drafted for special interests, many Missourians have stopped believing the GOP-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon can work together for the good of the state.
But the public deserves better. And legislators should demand more of themselves.
The Missouri General Assembly, which begins its 2015 session on Wednesday, could gain a measure of respect with an honest attempt to fix a few big problems. Here are three achievements that would make a huge difference.
Ethics reform
Cleaning up the Capitol’s money-grubbing culture would be the legislature’s most significant achievement. But the people best positioned to lessen the influence of money are the ones who depend on it the most.
Republican John Diehl, the new House speaker, has been a prolific fundraiser, scoring millions of dollars for GOP candidates as a way to consolidate power for himself. Other legislators from both parties already have declared their intentions to run for statewide office in 2016 and are in the hunt for large campaign contributions, which are uncapped by Missouri law.
Likewise, the lawmakers who would have to limit lobbyist gifts are the same ones who enjoy those free meals and trips, tickets to sporting events and other perks.
Though some lawmakers have filed ethics-related bills, few of those would really stem the flood of special interest money into politics. Serious reforms would limit campaign donations and lobbyist gifts, prohibit lawmakers from moving directly into lobbying jobs and ban legislators and staffers from working as campaign consultants.
If the legislature can’t get those things done, reformers should shift to a citizens’ ballot initiative.
Tax credit reform
The legislature wrapped up its 2014 session by doling out tax credits, heedless of the damage those favors to special interests would inflict on the budget.
The favors highlighted how undisciplined the legislature has become about tax credits. The state forfeits well over half a billion dollars a year through more than 60 tax-credit programs.
Missouri needs a revamped strategy for tax credits. Some programs should be capped or done away with to make room for newer, more productive incentives. A 2010 commission studied the issue and made useful recommendations, but the legislature hasn’t mustered the political will to act on them.
It is hypocritical and unseemly for a legislature whose members regularly begrudge aid to low-income Missourians to dole out corporate welfare so haphazardly.
A great goal for the session would be a tax-credit program that is smaller and smarter.
Medicaid expansion
The word from the Capitol is that expanding Medicaid eligibility is a nonstarter. Legislative leaders aren’t interested, and a contingent of senators would block any bill that tries to make health care accessible to poor Missourians. No sense even talking about it.
Nonsense. About 200,000 citizens either earn too much to qualify for the state’s stingy Medicaid limits or too little to receive assistance through the federal health insurance exchange. The state is forfeiting millions of federal dollars by not expanding Medicaid eligibility.
The resistance comes from conservative Republicans who despise everything about President Barack Obama’s health care law. They use the excuse that “Medicaid is a broken system.”
Well, if that’s the case, reform it. Some serious proposals have been proposed to demand more accountability from recipients while expanding eligibility.
Legislators should talk about those ideas — every chance they get.
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Jefferson City News-Tribune, Dec. 30
Another ill-conceived helmet law:
A proposal to ease motorcycle helmet restrictions has no redeeming value.
But with each new year and each new legislative session, some lawmaker files a bill to relax the common-sense, safety standard.
This time, newly elected state Rep. Shane Roden, Cedar Hill, has advanced a proposal to lift the requirement for riders age 21 and older. The helmet requirement would remain for riders under age 21 or those with learner’s permits.
Proponents of easing or eliminating helmet laws say the issue is about individual freedom.
It isn’t.
It’s about collective concerns, including public safety, insurance rates, health care expenses and social costs.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures most recent data, “the percentage of people killed in motorcycle crashes in 2011 who were not wearing helmets is higher in states without a mandatory helmet law.”
In addition, the Highway Loss Data Institute has reported when Michigan relaxed its helmet law, similar to the Missouri proposal, the average medical claim from a motorcycle crash increased by more than one-fifth.
When insurance claims increase, premiums also increase.
From a public health perspective, taxpayers also have an interest in this proposal. Why?
Because helmetless riders are more prone to head injuries, and many head injury victims reside at rehabilitation and long-term care facilities, often subsidized or supported by government funding.
And let’s not forgot the emotional toll for family members, friends and co-workers when a motorcyclist is killed or suffers a debilitating injury. The victim isn’t the only person affected when consequences from an accident could have been prevented by a reasonable safety standard.
A similar bill failed to make it to the Senate floor last session, although, for some inexplicable reason, it passed the House.
We encourage lawmakers not to burden Missourians, and motorcyclists, with the consequences of a law that defies common sense.
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Joplin Globe, Jan. 4
Water regulations worked:
Some regulations serve the public well. Others don’t. But an act of Congress passed 40 years ago is an example of what good government practices can achieve and protect.
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Water Drinking Act to protect the nation’s drinking water and its sources: rivers, lakes and wells.
Instead of continuing to pollute the very water we needed to live, those who would destroy our most valuable resource were stopped by laws that took aim at the improper disposal of chemicals; animal wastes; pesticides or human waste into our drinking supply.
Consider that public drinking water systems regulated by the EPA, and delegated states and tribes, provide drinking water to 90 percent of Americans.
Individual wells are not regulated under this law if they serve less than 25 people, but testing is recommended, and depending on where you live, required.
Yes, all this regulation sometimes seems burdensome, almost high-handed to some. But, we applaud those in Congress 40 years ago who had the foresight to pass this law, knowing that without strict standards and enforcement we would squander and spoil a resource that other countries envy.
Travelers to America are not constantly reminded that they shouldn’t drink the water as we are when we visit other countries.
David Hertzberg, who heads up the Tri-State Water Resource Coalition, said it best in an interview with the Globe: “Water is life and water is jobs.”
We need it as well as those who go to great lengths to make sure it’s clean and stays clean.