Recent Missouri Editorials

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Associated Press
Springfield News-Leader, July 11

Don’t overlook root of jail issues
Committed leaders and active volunteers. New developments to boost the economy. New university partnerships to strengthen our health systems. A proactive effort to learn what most concerns some neighborhood residents — and develop solutions.
These are all good examples of Springfield’s strengths, as shared by Mayor Bob Stephens last week in his State of the City address. For these reasons, and many more, we’re privileged to live in this community.
Springfield faces a number of challenges and Mayor Stephens discussed one in particular at length: how excess prosecutor caseloads and inadequate staffing creates a bottleneck in the law enforcement and justice system. At the heart of the problem is the city/county tug-of-war over crowded jail space, which took center stage again Friday in a press conference that could only be described as tense. As area municipalities cry foul over Sheriff Jim Arnott’s policy to take municipal inmates only as he has room, and Arnott insists there simply is no room, it’s clear the issue must be addressed. With the current tenor of the conversation, a $44 million solution could be headed to a vote in Greene County.
But why not take it a step further and also discuss the root causes?
Although overall crime in 2014 was down by 12 percent, reported aggravated assault increased by 7 percent, and of that, 52 percent were domestic assaults. As a city, we have yet to significantly reduce domestic crimes (and the resulting caseloads). The early portion of 2015 was marked with violence, including an eight-day stretch in February which saw 11 violent deaths. And just a few months ago, officials learned from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that Springfield is in “severe fiscal distress” because it surpasses thresholds for poverty rate and per capita income set by the department. It’s the only metro area in the state with that designation, outpacing Kansas City, St. Louis and the other five metro areas, according to a March News-Leader story. More than 17 percent of Springfield families live in poverty, statistics show, and the per capita income is under $21,000 — worse this year than last.
As mentioned above, there are people working to reverse these trends: The Impacting Poverty Commission and the city’s community listening sessions are all good examples. Their success can help address an issue underlying much of Springfield’s trouble. People in our city need more and better jobs to help move out of a cycle of poverty. It’s no stretch that high poverty correlates with higher crime — and higher crime with more court caseloads, more people in jail, more overcrowding and — well, you get the idea.
Reduce poverty, reduce crime, reduce the bottleneck.
Finally, there are the children: homeless, low-income and abused.
Too many children in this community need access to early education and intervention. They need a place to sleep and food to eat. Let’s talk about the state of our city’s children and the Every Child Promise to help more of them grow up safe, happy and strong. That in turn will keep more from spiraling into a cycle of poverty and crime.
While exploring solutions for the crowded justice center and jail, we must remain committed to holding down the jail population in the first place. Reduce that need, and perhaps the bottleneck will ease.
Perhaps in a year, the mayor will be able to stand in front of the “Good Morning, Springfield” crowd and tell the story of a less crowded justice system, not just a larger one we fill to capacity soon after it opens.
That’s a state of the city we, and potential businesses looking for new locations, would like to hear.
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Columbia Daily Tribune
Gov. Nixon, and others, on anti-discrimination, July 12
After the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gov. Jay Nixon directed state agencies to recognize same-sex marriage as a right protected by the U.S. Constitution, and he asked local agencies to do the same.
Nixon also urged the General Assembly to expand anti-discrimination laws next year, prompting reaction from local legislators.
The governor’s message to administrative agencies is straightforward, ordering or asking them to fairly implement the new law. In his call to legislators, he is asking for new policy, opening a political discussion.
As an example, Nixon said same-sex couples now can get married but still can be fired for being gay.
Local Democratic Reps. Stephen Webber and Kip Kendrick welcomed the call. Webber has introduced a bill expanding protections. “People should not have to hide who they are so they will not be discriminated against,” he said.
Kendrick expects a muted legislative response because many Republican voters support the Supreme Court decision.
The Republicans avoided committing to anything. Reps. Caleb Rowden, Chuck Basye and Caleb Jones and Sen. Kurt Schaefer seized on the safest plank in the water — protection for the right of a minister to refuse to perform marriage for a gay couple.
This is a red herring, of course. Nothing in the Supreme Court decision or elsewhere in the law does or will require a sectarian official to ratify a marriage. Legal marriage is granted by the state, not by any church. Many couples seek a church blessing for their union, but in signing a paper replete with religious symbolism, the minister merely recognizes a legal status already granted by the state.
The new Supreme Court interpretation ensures states will recognize same-sex marriage. The rest is window dressing.
I can imagine no circumstance in which the law will require a minister to perform any ceremony. To enforce such an order would be to violate the most basic concept of separation of church and state.
Of course, that does not mean majority Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly will ignore the issue. By passing a law ensuring the independence of ministers, they can make a vague and meaningless political statement that will sound nice and won’t cause legal mischief.
While we’re on the subject, how does this jibe with the now famous refusal of the Colorado cake baker to create a concoction for a gay wedding? He said he had religious objections but was sued for illegal discrimination because he operates a place of public accommodation, like a restaurant. The baker is open to everyone except a same-sex couple wanting a cake for a wedding?
Is making a cake an act of religious recognition akin to performing a marriage? My hunch is a church can refuse to minister to anyone for any reason. Whether a cake baker can do the same is a different question. Courts long ago decided the operator of a lunch counter cannot discriminate based on race or gender or the other familiar caveats mentioned in the law, now being expanded to include same-sex marriage. In this context, is a baker the same as a lunch counter operator? Hmmm. The same as a church minister? Don’t think so.
Obviously, the season for obfuscation regarding the recent same-sex marriage decision is only starting.
Extraneous lawmaking will be on agendas accompanied by all sorts of demagoguery. It’s the American way, as politicians try to satisfy a glorious array of citizen sensibility.
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Southeast Missourian, July 13
Women in athletics are dedicated, inspiring
More than a sports victory, more than a victory for women, last Sunday’s World Cup victory is an American victory. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s win over Japan made the country proud. The manner in which the team won, with a hat trick by Carli Lloyd in the first 16-minutes of play, is reason enough to cheer, “USA! USA!” But who can deny enthusiasm for women’s athletics is indeed mounting and that when young female athletes have role models to inspire them, it’s a good thing?
Women have fought over the years to get the same respect as their male counterparts when taking the field or stepping on the court. They have been paid less money, have had fewer fans in the stands, and received far less media coverage. But they have never stopped competing. From the soccer field to the tennis court, young ladies have worked and practiced tirelessly for the sheer love of the sport. And it has paid off — in gathering championships and garnering respect.
When it comes to global athletic competition, America expects to win. The Olympics, the World Cup, tennis at Wimbledon — it doesn’t matter. We expect to hoist a trophy or don a medal. It’s in our DNA. We love anyone who can further that tradition.
American female athletes are winning while the nation is watching. When the U.S. soccer team advanced to the finals and came out kicking, winning 5-2, we took note. When American Serena Williams took to the grassy courts of Wimbledon, defeating everyone, including her sister Venus, in pursuit of another, historical Grand Slam title, we took notice. Even here in Cape Girardeau on Saturday, when former professional softball player Jennie Finch shared her journey with attendees at the Semoball Awards, we took notice — and found inspiration. Young American women look in the direction of these young women and say, “If she can, I can.” Then they do.
Congratulations to those athletes who have made a difference for themselves and our country, and just as important, congratulations in advance to the athletes to come who will find inspiration in their example.
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 12
Color us less than shocked at the news that policymakers in the St. Louis region aren’t doing much to prepare for the slow-motion catastrophe that is global climate change.
In “Living with Climate Change,” a three-part series in the Post-Dispatch last week, reporter Jacob Barker found that most city, county and state officials have barely stirred to begin addressing what are expected to be profound changes in the region’s climate.
Scientists and academics have sounded warnings and are doing important research. Corporate executives, particularly at places like Monsanto, whose business is getting plants to grow more efficiently, have been ramping up for years. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan will show benefits locally (as well as impose costs), but it is a federal initiative.
Let’s face it: There are limits to what state and local governments can — or will — do to mitigate the effects of climate change. Strict land-use policies, big investments in mass transit and high taxes on carbon-based fuels could help, but politically they are nonstarters.
Mitigation is the job of national governments. In December, they’ll meet in Paris for the 21st U.N. Climate Conference. This is widely viewed as a last-ditch effort to adopt a global plan to address the worst effects of climate change.
At best, the Paris conference can only slow down climate change; if the world stopped pumping all carbon dioxide into the atmosphere today, it would still take a thousand years for atmospheric carbon dioxide to start tapering off.
Which means the people of Earth are going to have to adapt to a hotter planet with more volatile weather. Unfortunately, most humans are reactive beings, not proactive. Those human beings who live around the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers are a conspicuous example.
We want to know for sure something bad is going to happen, if possible the precise date, before we’ll do something about it. Race relations in St. Louis had been awful for 250 years until the Ferguson tragedy last August convinced us to start looking at the root causes — though apparently some people are still unconvinced.
This coming Dec. 3 will mark the 25th anniversary of the great New Madrid Fault Earthquake that didn’t happen. It had been predicted, at a 50 percent certainty level, by the late zoologist-turned-earthquake expert Iben Browning of New Mexico. Lots of St. Louisans stocked up on perishables, strapped their hot water heaters to the wall and took other precautions. Many experts had warned (and still do) that the New Madrid Fault would some day let loose, but Mr. Browning’s gift was to put a date on it.
Climate change will not be a one-day disaster, or even a six-year cataclysm like World War II, the prelude to which most people also chose to ignore. Climate change will be — indeed, already is — like dropping a frog into a pot of cool water on a stove and then turning on the burner. The frog is fine. For a while.
The world’s coastal areas, particularly island nations in the South Pacific, face more dramatic risks than we here in the Midwest. What are a few more hot days compared with inundation from rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice?
But farmers know what the implications are — uncertain growing seasons, more stress on crops, more frequent and violent storms.
And those who swelter through St. Louis summers know how hot things can get. “The last quarter-century has been the warmest quarter-century on record,” John Posey, director of research for the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, told Mr. Barker. “There’s good evidence St. Louis is becoming warmer.”
In 2013, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that St. Louis now has, on average, twice as many dangerously hot, humid days each summer than it did in the mid-1940s. We have an average of four more heat waves — three or more consecutive days of dangerously hot conditions — than we did 60 years ago. If global carbon dioxide rises without mitigation, we might average 43 days of 100-degree-plus each summer by century’s end.
Predictions of increased rainfall and more severe storms portend more flooding along the great rivers, with 100-year floods becoming more like 40-year floods. In the Midwest, we know this is happening, but short-term economic imperatives entice us to develop in the floodplains and build levees that make downstream flooding worse.
The Great Flood of 1993 should have convinced policymakers to stop doing that. It didn’t. The threat posed by climate change probably won’t either. You don’t get elected by selling sacrifice.
St. Louis city and the East-West Gateway Council of Governments have “sustainability plans” that speak to long-term social, economic and development goals. Environmental factors, including impact on greenhouse gas emissions, are supposed to weigh heavily on future development considerations.
The city has a “sustainability” director. With the help of a “Resilient Cities” grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, it will add a “chief resiliency officer.” Resilient cities are those that have “demonstrated a dedicated commitment to building their own capacities to prepare for, withstand, and bounce back rapidly from shocks and stresses.”
We will plant trees. We will install bicycle racks. We will make parking lots that absorb rainwater.
That’s all to the good. But the larger reality is that what growth there is in the metropolitan region is mostly taking place in exurban counties. That means more roads for more cars driving longer distances. It means more land swallowed up for the same number of people. Turning that trend around, in a region desperate for growth of any kind and in the absence of an Iben Browning-like catastrophe date, will be a heavy lift. Indeed, some have argued that preparing for climate change is impossible in a democracy.
It is human nature to let tomorrow take care of itself, to put short-term needs ahead of long-term goals. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century, and particularly after it hit high gear in the Western world 100 years late, carbon has fueled one amazing lifestyle improvement after another. From electric lights to automobiles to air travel and air conditioning, we have lived like there is no tomorrow.
But tomorrow is coming, if not precisely tomorrow. Absent a technological miracle that it would be unwise to count on, it will at the very least make life on Earth very difficult. We will all be gone by then, which is at once a comfort and a condemnation.