Monday, May 31, 2010

Rep. Sam Graves: Kill the campaign mailers

From the Parkville Luminary

“Our nation is at a fiscal crossroads, and tough decisions must be made.”—Rep. Sam
Graves, in a mailing recently sent out to his constituents.

Rep. Graves, for once, you and I agree on something—the need to curb spending. I’ve got a way that you, Mr. Graves, can take a symbolic yet important step in the right direction: stop sending mailers to your constituents.

According to House documents studied by KSDK-TV (St. Louis), Sam Graves wasted $98,627 taxpayer dollars on mass mailings, phone calls, and electronic messages to his constituents last year. These mass communications by Congress to 500 or more constituents at a time cost Americans a whopping $45.5 billion dollars in 2009. ( ).

Now, I know what Graves and his congressional cronies will say. They’ll claim that it is vitally important to stay in touch with their constituents, and that mailings are a great way to do this. He might have had a point 20 years ago. But with the advent of the Internet, interested and engaged constituents need look no further than Mr. Graves’ website ( or any of a thousand of other reliable sources about Graves specifically or Congress in general.

The use of these mailings, called franking, is especially questionable during an election year. In fact, one expert, Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayer’s Union, argues that such mailings should be banned during an election year. "Content restrictions, while minimally helpful, really haven't solved the ultimate problem, which is that mass communications can serve as very favorable publicity for incumbents that challengers have to pay money to counter,'' he said. ( ).

Two mass mailing sent out by Graves, one in April and another in May, are especially blatant examples of the use of the franking privilege by an incumbent. A large slick April mailing lists Mr. Graves’ legislative initiatives on one side. These are as innovative as they are controversial. Imagine—Graves favors small business job creation and investing in tomorrow’s jobs. Sounds like the same kind of platitudinous hogwash that one expects to hear in campaign commercials.

In fairness, the mailer also discusses “making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent”. Though you’d never know it from reading this mailing, at least this is controversial, since Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts primarily benefited the wealthy. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “The tax cuts have conferred the most benefits, by far, on the highest-income households — those least in need of additional resources — at a time when income already is exceptionally concentrated at the top of the income spectrum.” ( )

On the flip side of Graves’ April campaign mailer is an unscientific survey designed to generate only the answers that Mr. Graves wants to hear.

To save a little postage, let me respond now to a few of the “controversial” questions on your survey, Mr. Graves:
1. Would you like to see across the board federal spending cuts? Of course not. It’s a matter of priorities. Start by ending the wars, and save billions.
2. Should congress vote to renew the 2001 and 2003 middle class tax cuts? Making the Bush tax cuts permanent would benefit mostly the wealthy. 39% of the benefits of making the cuts permanent would go to the richest 1% of the population. (Paul Krugman column, 5-16-10). No tax cuts for the rich, please.
3. Should Congress’ priority be to reduce the size of the deficit or trying to stimulate the economy with new spending? Both. You voted against the stimulus, but where would we be without it? It worked.

Your slick May mailer featured more of the same—Republican boilerplate on fiscal health, providing tax relief, and creating jobs. The congressman is pictured several times sporting a hardhat. All that’s missing is Mr. Graves kissing babies.

Yes, it is time to cut the deficit. Mr. Graves. You can start by not squandering any more of our money on these thinly veiled campaign mailings.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lots going on the world of Peace Journalism. See my peace journalism website or peace journalism Facebook page for details!

Protecting our kids from porn--good luck with that!

From the Parkville Luminary

This week’s effort features some quick takes on the news, neatly labeled for your reading comfort.

A. I’m sleeping better at night these days, thanks to Missouri state Senator Matt Bartle, who has led a successful drive to snuff out the biggest scourge facing the good people of the state. Yes, thanks to Mr. Bartle, full nudity is now banned from strip clubs. Also, the clubs will no longer be allowed to sell liquor. In a quote too silly to have been made up, Bartle told the Star, “…If you mix alcohol and women dancing in the nude, that’s a tough combo. Bad things happen.” Had I been the Star reporter, I would’ve asked him to define “bad”. (5-13-2010)

Legislators, I’m glad to see that you’re on top of things, so to speak. There’s no question that if you stamp out these dens of immorality (or at least, hide them behind pasties) that our state will become a more wholesome place to raise our children. After all, these clubs are the only available outlet for pornography, right? Well, not really. You see, Mr. Bartle and legislators, there’s this thing called the Internet. So while you may be able to cover up nude women in strip clubs, you can’t cover them up online. I just searched “nude women” on Google and got 12.7 million hits. (Note to wife: this search was strictly academic).

I’m sure your Lee’s Summit constituents will be really impressed by your pointless pro-family grandstanding, Mr. Bartle. But the rest of us Missourians would prefer that our legislature address the real issues affecting the state.

B. At least our representative from Parkville has his eye on actual issues impacting Missouri’s families. Two recently passed bills, one sponsored and the other co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Grill, will give families battling Autism a much-needed break. The bills, once signed, will require insurance companies regulated by the state to cover autism spectrum disorders. This includes coverage for therapy known as "advanced behavioral analysis", or ABA, which has proven effective is controlling difficult to manage behaviors. The bill caps treatment for ABA at $40,000 annually for children through the age of 18.

The legislation will have a tremendously positive impact on the lives of Missouri families battling autism. Take State Sen. Eric Schmidt of St. Louis, who is raising a child with autism. “What the therapies (covered under the bill) really mean for families…is the difference between whether or not a mother can take her daughter to a movie, or a dad can take her son to a ball game,” Schmidt told the KC Star (12-04-09). What Schmidt means is that without intensive therapy, children with autism often don’t react well to unfamiliar environments like movie theaters or stadiums or restaurants. This can result in panic attacks or screaming.

Thanks to Grill, Schmidt, and their colleagues, families coping with autism will have one more tool that could make their lives a little less difficult.

C. Senator wanna-be Roy Blunt brought his “Washington Insider Express” to Parkville last weekend. Republicans, before you reflexively vote for this guy, I urge you to look up his record, and particularly his ties to greasy Washington lobbyists. Meanwhile, his probable opponent, Robin Carnahan, made the first bone-head move of the campaign by accepting a $1000 donation from the repugnant Barbra Streisand. Robin, give the money back, and stay out of Hollywood, for goodness sake.

D. “Drill baby, drill” looks increasingly “Stupid baby, stupid” in light of the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Remember, every dime spent on drilling is a dime not spent on cleaner energy, including nuclear power. Ever seen a bird fouled by a U.S. or Western European nuclear power plant? Additionally, nuclear power plants don’t release greenhouse gases. I say, “Split atoms baby, split atoms.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Disentangle church and state

From the Parkville Luminary

Imagine an America with mandated prayer time in public schools, crosses and nativities displayed at every public building, and a Christianity litmus test for all public office holders (although, de facto, this already exists for elected officials).

For millions of Americans, this is their dream—a country that endorses, encourages, and embraces Christianity.

For me, this vision is closer to a nightmare. It’s not a nightmare because there’s necessarily anything wrong with Christianity. Rather, the problem lies in the entanglement of church and state.

Two recent court cases addressed this issue head-on. One court got it right, while the other decision imperils the separation of church and state.

Recently, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer (May 6) is unconstitutional. The decision said the prayer day “goes beyond mere acknowledgment of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.” U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, who wrote the opinion, is right on target.

So, what’s wrong with prayer? Nothing, if you ask the 90% of Americans who say they pray daily. (Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 5/3/10). In fact, only 5% of American oppose a National Day of Prayer ( Interestingly, the same poll said that 57% favor the prayer day, while a whopping 38% said it “doesn’t matter”.

For his part, President Obama is characteristically taking a politically expedient position on the issue. He said the prayer day is an “acknowledgement of the role of religion in American life.” I can’t blame him for siding with an overwhelming majority, but I am disappointed nonetheless at his lack of backbone on the issue. I don’t believe for a second that Obama, as an intellectual, doesn’t see the obvious: the National Day of Prayer does promote, advance, and support religion, since prayer is, in the words of Judge Crabb, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.

If it’s okay for government to encourage and support prayer, what’s next—a national day for confession and communion? A national snake-handling day? A national baptism day? When we allow the government to meddle in religion, even in seemingly innocuous ways, we invite government to take the next step, and the step after that, down that slippery slope that can lead to a state religion.

For example, the display of a Christian cross on public lands might seem harmless, but it’s not, since it implicitly and explicitly endorses one religion to the exclusion of others. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court couldn’t see the easy logic in this argument. In a recent 5-4 decision, the court conservatives ruled that a Christian cross displayed at the Mojave National Preserve in California is permissible since the Constitution “does not require the eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm”. (KC Star, 4-29-10)

The court’s dissenters logically wrote that such a display, even if it’s meant to honor war heroes, should “avoid endorsement of a particular religious view”.

If the symbol displayed at the Mojave National Preserve was a Star of David or an Islamic crescent or a Wiccan symbol, would the court have ruled the same? Don’t count on it. Aside from being bad law, the Supreme Court’s decision will unfortunately provide aid and comfort to those who insist on adorning public lands and buildings with Christian icons.

Both freedom of religion and freedom from religion are protected and enhanced when an impermeable wall is erected between the secular, governmental world and the spiritual, religious world. It’s too bad the Supreme Court’s conservatives don’t understand this.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Congrats to the Parkville Rotary Club
Their Uganda school lunch program has taken off! For details, see my peace journalism site.

Take your child to Uganda

From the Parkville Luminary

I sort of wish that on “take your child to work day”, I could have taken my son to an awful job—something tedious and physical and sweat-inducing. That way, he would have learned the same hard lessons my brothers and I did when we went to work with our dad a few (few dozen?) years ago.

Dad was a commercial laundry truck delivery driver. He dropped off sheets, towels, etc. to big hotels and fancy restaurants, and picked up their heavy, wet, stinky, dirty stuff for delivery back to his laundry. Dad hated this job, but did it for years. The heavy lifting sometimes caused his back to ache, and on these occasions he grabbed one of us three boys to ride along on his route and assist him. My older brother spent the most time with dad at work, though my younger brother and I did go a few times ourselves.

We would have been hard-pressed to find a more powerful incentive to get a good education than to spend a day with dad at this job. The work was not only hard, but you were out in the elements. He came home frozen in the winter and dripping sweat in the summer. My grandmother, who lived with us, loved my dad, but would always inappropriately ask him about his day the minute he walked through the door. On rainy days, as dad busted through the door soaked through to his underwear, grandma would ask him, “Larry, did you get wet today?” Dad patiently mumbled, “Yes, grandma.” On 100-degree days, grandma’s question was, “Was it hot?”

Dad’s work day started at 5:00 a.m., another strong disincentive. Although helping him lift heavy pallets of laundry was ostensibly the reason for dragging us along on his route, I’ve always thought that dad made it a point to show us the kind of job he was stuck with because he didn’t have advanced training or go to college. It was a powerful lesson.

A few years later, my 12-year old son Alex spent the day with me last week at Park University, where I teach communications. My job is not physical or sweat inducing or tedious (unless you count meetings), nor are you out in the elements, though we did have to traipse through a monsoon on our way to one of my classes. Still, I hoped that Alex’s day would help frame his ideas about the value of higher education.

Alex sat in on two of my classes. In the first, Reporting II, we analyzed feature stories written by the students, discussed website design, and took a look at a new trend of reporting with smart phones. Alex had some valuable input about the characteristics of good websites. Afterwards, Alex said that class was interesting, although he thought some of the students were “sluggish.” Now, in their defense, most of my students are very good, although at the end of any semester, sluggish is the perfect word to describe a minority of them.

Lunch, his favorite part of the day, consisted of bellying up the bar at a local watering hole and ordering a few beers (root) and discussing such weighty items as Cher, girls, and the prospects for meaningful financial reform. (Well, at least two out of three).

Alex’s day concluded in my Peace Journalism class. Since Alex and him mom are going with me to Uganda (I’m teaching there for six months beginning in July), and since this class is discussing that Uganda project, Alex was keenly interested in the proceedings. Alex told the class about why he’s looking forward to living in Uganda (meeting new people and experiencing new cultures) and about why it’s tough leaving home (missing friends and family, especially grandparents) in an intelligent, nearly adult way.

In both classes, Alex was hyper-attentive, riveted on the proceedings without a hint of boredom, fidgetiness, or distraction. This attentiveness is probably easier to achieve when your dad is the professor and when you are iPhone-free.

Alex reports that he had a great day, and that he enjoyed both classes and chatting with my students. I asked him if my job was easy or hard, and he replied, medium. At least he didn’t call me sluggish.

I’m sure Alex received my not-so-subtle message: with an education, you can have a job that you love, just like your dad. I hope he will receive another message next fall in Uganda: with an education and the right job, you can make a positive difference in the world.

EPILOGUE: I told my class that the boy said they were "sluggish". Rather than laughter, which I expected, some smiled sheepishly, while others had no visible reaction. Were they offended, or embarassed?