- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Joplin Globe, Dec. 7

What we learned:

Until the 2011 Joplin tornado, there were many among us who never knew what it was like to work as a volunteer.

How much we have changed.

The steady sounds of hammers and saws was Joplin’s theme song for months that changed into years. On Saturday, a group instrumental in getting 180 homes built or repaired, ended its chorus on a note that leaves us all very grateful.

Rebuild Joplin describes itself as a community-wide effort to help connect existing resources with community needs. In the days following the tornado, a small group banded together and put Rebuild into place. It has continued operation with the support of the St. Bernard Project, Toyota and Farmers’ Insurance. In fact, Farmers’ funds and volunteers likely kept Rebuild going during the past year.

Rebuild’s mission was to help provide affordable and safe housing by coordinating volunteers and construction experts. They have now ended the project.

Rebuild taught us a lot more than just how to build and repair houses. It taught us how to care about our fellow man, how to pool our efforts and how to take action in times of crisis.

Thomas Corley, Rebuild director, told our reporter: “I want to believe that we made things better here.”

Let us assure every single member of the Rebuild staff as well as every volunteer - and there were many - that this organization did make a difference.

It provided homes, it changed lives and it taught us the meaning of community.

___

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 8

No comments:

For the next two months, we are turning off the comment function on all editorials, columns and letters in the opinion section.

Why?

Ferguson.

Last Sunday, we challenged our region to have the serious discussion on race that it has been avoiding for decades. Such difficult discussions are made more challenging when, just to present a thoughtful point of view, you have to endure vile and racist comments, shouting and personal attacks.

If you’ve watched many of the talking heads on cable television try to discuss the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, you know what we’re talking about. Unfortunately, sometimes comments on newspaper stories and columns have a similar effect.

In fact, it has a name: “The nasty effect.”

That’s what University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele dubbed the negative effect certain comments can have on a reader’s understanding.

In their study, published last year, researchers concluded that “Much in the same way that watching uncivil politicians argue on television causes polarization among individuals, impolite and incensed blog comments can polarize online users.” In some cases, negative blog comments actually changed readers’ perception of what they read, not just their opinions about it.

Ever since newspapers started putting stories on the Internet, there has been a vigorous debate within the industry about the effect of reader comments. The Post-Dispatch has made efforts to improve the level of discussion in comment sections, but there are wins and losses.

There are positive moments, such as when readers last week left touching tributes in comments about sports columnist Bryan Burwell after he lost his battle with cancer. But there are other instances where comments deteriorate into racist remarks or demeaning discussion that has nothing to do with the original story or editorial or column.

Recently, the news service Reuters decided to get rid of comments on its stories. The online startup Vox doesn’t allow commenting.

We intend to use our opinion pages to help the St. Louis region have a meaningful discussion about race. So we are going to turn off the comments in the editorial section for a while, and see what we learn from it. (Comment will continue on news articles). Comments might return to the opinion pages. Or we might find that without them, the discussion - through letters, social media conversations and online chats, rises to a higher level.

That’s the goal.

We post all of our editorials and much of our other content on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/PDPlatform, and you can talk to us there.

Also, starting this week, we plan a weekly live chat to discuss the various issues surrounding Ferguson. Details will be posted on our website and social media platforms.

To be clear: It’s not that we don’t want to hear from those who disagree with us. Quite the contrary. Every day we publish letters from people criticizing our editorials, and we engage in discussions on Twitter and Facebook about the things we write. We believe those venues offer a safer, more civil place to talk about the racial injustice that dominates the Ferguson discussion.

Let’s give civility a try.

___

The Kansas City Star, Dec. 6

Somali teen’s killing:

Whatever the motivation, the killing of a 15 year-old Somali boy outside of a mosque in northeast Kansas City Thursday is appalling.

Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, a sophomore at Staley High School in the North Kansas City School District, was struck by an SUV as he was getting into a car that was parked alongside the curb at Admiral Boulevard and Lydia Avenue. The teenager, who also used the names Abdi and Adam, died at a hospital.

Witnesses said the driver of the SUV intentionally barreled the vehicle into the car being used by Abdisamad and several other persons. Police got to the scene quickly and apprehended Ahmed H. Aden, 34. Prosecutors on Friday charged Aden with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

The killing is being investigated by both Kansas City police and the FBI, because of suggestions that the driver may have targeted the car outside of a mosque in order to kill Muslims. People in the Somali community said Aden was a Somali-born Christian. The Kansas Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a news release saying that the vehicle involved in the boy’s death had been spotted with an anti-Islamic message written on a rear window.

People who were in the area just before and after Abdisamad was run down said a man fitting Aden’s description was brandishing a machete and a handgun. Court documents said Aden talked about unknown people trying to kill him when he was questioned by police.

Whatever possessed the driver, he took the life of a beloved and promising youth. Abdisamad was described as a resource to the Somali community, helping to care for children, deliver food to the needy and teach English to adults.

Most Somalis in Kansas City came here as refugees to escape violence in their homeland. It is beyond cruel that an apparent act of senseless violence has claimed one of their children here.

___

Columbia Daily Tribune, Dec. 4

Ban the box:

On Monday the Columbia City Council passed Missouri’s most comprehensive “Ban the box” law. Is this an overdue effort to ease discriminatory hiring practices or an unacceptable burden on employers?

The new law prohibits employers from asking prospective workers on application forms whether they have criminal records or checking public records for such information before making a conditional hiring offer.

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce objected to the provision in the law banning background checks before conditional offers of employment, but Mayor Bob McDavid’s amendment to that effect failed to get a second, and the mayor then joined the unanimous vote to approve the new law.

So what has happened?

Though the new law irritates some in the business community, its premise is vague but valid and its burden is not that bad.

The intent of the law is to remove an impediment to successful rehabilitation for former offenders. Reducing recidivism clearly is beneficial to everyone, and having a secure job is a vital factor. The law aims at increasing employment prospects for this at-risk group.

From an employer’s standpoint, the new law is mildly inconvenient but won’t make that much difference in most cases. Sensitive jobs are exempted - an employer can check for a record of embezzlement when hiring a person handling money, for instance. For jobs of a menial nature, checking criminal records might not be that important. Where a check is needed, it can be done after the conditional job offer. If deemed necessary, the offer can be withdrawn soon enough, and in the meantime the employer might decide withdrawal is not necessary.

Under the current law, applicants sometimes lie about former records. If later discovered in a background check, the employer has options depending on the nature of the job and a discussion with the liar.

Few employers will want to undergo the cost and trouble of doing background checks on all applicants.

On the other hand, doing background checks before conditional offers of employment probably is not much of an impediment to employment. Whether an employer finds unacceptable trouble before or after making an offer usually won’t make a difference, but it is more convenient for employers to know before making an offer.

I could go on with the possible implications of this law, but for me it’s not a big deal one way or the other. It’s largely a feel-good measure proposed by the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence that has only tangential connections with the goal of the task force. Enforcement will be done by the city’s Human Rights Commission, indicating the imperative of the law is more persuasive than obligatory.

Employers will grumble briefly then comply without much difficulty. Violent crime will not be noticeably abated. The very idea of the law is good, but its effect will be unfathomable. Asked whether the law should have been passed, one might answer, “Why not?”


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