- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Joplin Globe, June 1

Republicans got lost on the environment:

When the Clean Air Act passed in 1970, not a single U.S. senator opposed it and only one member of the House voted against it.

Two years later, after President Richard Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act, Republicans rallied to its defense. Seventeen Republicans in the Senate voted in favor of the override, as did 96 Republicans in the House.

“There are many, many federal programs that are wasteful, and many American tax dollars are idly spent on programs that do not produce commensurate results - but that is not true of the federal pollution effort,” said U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, a Republican from Tennessee, during floor debate.

Contrast that with the hostility Republicans demonstrate toward anything “green” today.

Just this week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a possible presidential contender, announced that his state will not cooperate with new proposed federal regulations designed to curb pollution responsible for global warming. And this, despite the fact that his own state agencies warn at-risk residents, such as children and most women, not to consume too much fish caught in Wisconsin because they are contaminated with mercury. Some species of Wisconsin fish should not be eaten at all. Coal-fired power plants, by the way, are the largest source of mercury.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, came under criticism for backing away from the notion that there is a consensus among scientists on global warming. This, despite the fact that scientists say they are 95 percent certain that humans are the main cause of global warming and that 97 percent of the scientific literature on the subject concludes that it is happening and that human activity is responsible for it.

Not content with that level of damage, a number of Republicans also took issue with new rules proposed for the Clean Water Act, which protects drinking water. It would lead to “regulatory and economic hell,” said House Speaker John Boehner. And this, despite the fact that fully 60 percent of the nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetland are not included under federal protection.

For more than a century the environmental cause was a Republican cause - one they led, one they owned.

Does anyone want to seriously argue that this country is worse off today because of these kinds of laws, many brought about because of Republican leadership? Does anyone want to argue that these kinds of laws would stand a snowball’s chance in a Cuyahoga River fire today?

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The Kansas City Star, May 30

Volunteers needed to help endangered kids after record caseload increases in Kansas, Missouri:

The area agencies that seek volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children have a recruiting pitch they never wanted to use.

Help is needed, they say, because record numbers of children in Kansas and Missouri are entering court protection.

“Caseloads are so overwhelming that no one has the time to take care of these kids except our volunteers,” said Martha Gershun, executive director of Jackson County CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Gershun’s counterpart in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, Lois Rice, is making a companion plea.

The CASA chapters recruit and train volunteers to follow children who fall under court jurisdiction because of abuse or neglect. The volunteers visit the children, check on their progress in school and provide vital information to judges.

It is crucial but hard work. Children in the Kansas City area who would benefit from a CASA volunteer include an infant whose mentally ill mother put bleach in his bottle; a young girl with a drug-addicted mother who was sexually molested by a relative; two school-aged children who lived with their drug-addicted mother in a shabby hotel room before she abandoned them; and four siblings who were found physically abused in a filthy home with little food.

The need locally should not be as great as it is. Nationwide, foster care caseloads have leveled off. Federal data shows 402,000 children in state custody in July 2014. That’s about 108,000 fewer cases than a decade earlier; numbers moved steadily down from 2003 to 2012 before jumping slightly last year.

But Missouri and Kansas have been speeding in the wrong direction.

Missouri reported record highs in January and February of this year of more than 13,000 children who had been removed from their parents’ care and placed in foster care, with relatives or in other settings. Almost 2,000 of those children were in Jackson County.

Kansas had an all-time high of 6,507 children in out-of-home placements in April. In Johnson County, the numbers have grown so rapidly that the district court added a second judge to handle cases involving abused and neglected children. Wyandotte County saw a 42 percent increase in children coming under court protection in 2012.

Caseload numbers rise and fall for a variety of reasons, and not all of them are bad. More people could be reporting suspected child abuse, for instance. But the increases in the two-state region are too dramatic and longstanding to qualify as a blip.

Gershun offers a succinct explanation: “The failure of the Kansas and Missouri legislatures to provide for families.”

She and Rice know the danger signs all too well. Substance abuse. Mental illness. Worries about finances. Erratic work schedules that lead parents to take chances on babysitters or leave children alone.

Missouri has chronically ranked among the bottom of the states in its investment in child care, substance abuse and mental health treatment and cash assistance to families. Kansas, after choosing tax cuts for wealthier residents over adequate funding for state services, is headed in that direction.

Neither state has expanded Medicaid eligibility, which would help families with access to mental health care and fewer health and financial worries.

And conservative legislatures in both states chose to make it harder for the poorest families to obtain cash welfare benefits. Lawmakers said they were helping parents escape dependency by imposing stricter work requirements. But child advocates believe increased stress and demands will put more children in danger.

Court-appointed special advocates have a proven success in achieving positive outcomes for children at risk. The two area agencies are hoping to recruit 183 qualified new volunteers, and we fully support their efforts. For information, visit www.casakc.org or call 816-984-8208 in Jackson County or 913-715-4040 in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

The best course of action is to keep children out of protective court custody in the first place. For that, we need a change of heart, mind and leadership in Jefferson City and Topeka.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29

Governor’s arrogant tactics may doom stadium project:

Grace Murray Hopper, mathematician, computer pioneer and rear admiral in the United States Navy, is generally credited with coining the adage, “It’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”

The effort by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the state-appointed members of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority to barge ahead and spend public money on planning a new football stadium is a Hopper Ploy. It almost surely contravenes a state law and a city ordinance.

But if somehow the effort succeeds, and the city keeps an NFL franchise in a new stadium and redevelops its north riverfront, Mr. Nixon and the RSA commissioners can smile and say, “Please forgive us. How bout those (Rams) (Raiders) (Chargers) (Jaguars)?”

Right now the public has at least $800,000 in the project, money spent by the RSA to pay architects, planners, lawyers and other professionals. It’s money that’s supposed to pay for various costs at the Edward Jones Dome. The law authorizing that spending says nothing about using it for any other purpose.

So last week, six state lawmakers - five Republicans and one Democrat - sued the Democratic governor and the RSA. The lawsuit cites five ways in which the governor and the commissioners allegedly are violating the 1989 state law that created the stadium authority and authorized spending $12 million a year in state money to build and maintain the dome.

The lawsuit says (1) spending on a new stadium would exceed the principal owed on the dome; (2) that it would extend the debt beyond the statutory 50-year payback limit; (3) that the RSA has no authority beyond the immediate area of the downtown convention center; (4) that while the law stipulates that no more than six RSA board members can come from any one party, currently it’s stacked with Democrats and (5) state appropriations for 2014 were specifically allocated to the Edward Jones Dome.

This lawsuit is not to be confused with one the RSA filed in April seeking to pre-empt any challenge to its authority to spend city money on a new stadium without a public vote. In 2002 voters passed an initiative giving them a vote on any future stadium spending. The RSA wants a judge to declare the ordinance “overly broad, vague and ambiguous.”

A hearing on that suit was canceled Thursday when St. Louis Circuit Court Judge David L. Dowd called in sick. No wonder.

St. Louis is being steamrolled by St. Louis Rams owner and real estate tycoon Stan Kroenke, who could see the value of his team double or even triple if he’s allowed to move into a mega-stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Location, location, location.

NFL rules pay lip service to keeping franchises in their current locations as long as good-faith efforts are underway to accommodate stadium demands. The league is playing nice with new stadium proponents here; its unfair deadlines have boxed St. Louis in. Whatever the legal merits of these lawsuits, they portend lots of delay.

As we’ve previously noted, basic math indicates that the presence of the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome amply repays the city and state investment. Furthermore, if the city and state can keep an NFL team in a new stadium on a redeveloped north riverfront for $18 million a year, that’s not a bad deal.

But process is important and the law is the law. Ignoring the process, and the law, is arrogant. Angry people are unlikely to forgive.

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Columbia Daily Tribune, June 1

Education: What are the basics?

It’s fair to say American students are not well versed in “the basics.” Usually we think of the three R’s, but those are skills. How about knowledge of basic subject matter like American civics?

Educators and others who fret about what citizens do and don’t know long have been dismayed. Just 13 percent of high school seniors scored “proficient” or higher in American history on the 2010 National Assessment of Education Progress, usually referred to as the nation’s report card. Ignorance of current civic affairs is common knowledge, often the subject of demeaning questions failed by people on the street.

Arizona has passed a law requiring high school students to pass a U.S. citizenship test to graduate. A few other states might follow suit. Many educators think schools today give short shrift to American history and government. The point is well taken and has to do with what students should learn in high school, a subject of interminable consideration.

Let’s try to articulate: “High school students should learn how to keep learning during a lifetime after school. They must master the language, the basics of mathematics and how to function in a civil society.”

Other experiences will seem vital to some, like athletics and exposure to the arts, but in trying to identify the “basics” we try to list the broad underpinnings of learning necessary to everything we might do and become. From such a foundation, thoughtful people might devise lists of essential course work through high school. Keyboard typing and American civics would make sense. How to handle money would be good.

The list could vary, but to enable any of it, all students must be exposed to learning the basics over and over until it soaks in. Particularly use of the language. Particularly through the technique of writing, about subject matter that can encompass anything and everything in the world.

Comprehensive use of writing as an education technique is hard, losing out as a sea of diverse interests encroaches and technology encourages use of easy clicks. Computer word processing can abet writing. Beyond that, digital technology interferes with basic learning unless compared with nothing at all.

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