The Associated Press
The Kansas City Star, Dec. 15
Meaningful ethics reform is needed in Missouri
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon stood alongside lawmakers from both political parties last week and called upon the General Assembly to reform the state’s ethics laws, which the governor correctly described as among the weakest in the nation.
The focus on cleaning up Missouri’s shameless political culture is exactly right. And a show of bipartisanship is usually a good sign.
But not all ethics reform is created equal. Nixon and the public must be wary of watered-down bills that do little to slow the excessive influence peddling that campaign contributors and lobbyists direct toward lawmakers.
It takes years for the legislature to work up the energy to challenge a status quo that greatly benefits incumbents. To pass a weak law just for the sake of “doing something” would actually make it harder to gain substantial reform.
Meaningful ethics reform in Missouri must include caps on campaign contributions. Democracy is poorly served when a few wealthy donors can routinely pump six-figure checks into the coffers of public officials.
For the caps to be effective, the public must be able to track where donations are coming from. And the law must be written to guard against hiding contributions by passing money through and amongst campaign committees.
Limits on lobbyist gifts must include an annual cap, not simply a lid on individual donations. It does no good to limit meals from lobbyists to $50 if a lawmakers enjoys a $45 dinner from the lobbyist twice a week.
Legislation also should ban lawmakers and their staffers from working as paid political consultants while holding office. A two-year moratorium on ex-lawmakers serving as lobbyists would also improve the system.
Nixon vowed in his State of the State address this year to push for a ballot initiative if the legislature didn’t act on ethics reform last session. Apparently he’s holding out hope for a legislative solution. It must be a substantial solution, however. Otherwise, the governor should make good on his pledge to go to the ballot.
St. Joseph News-Press
Labels of limited value
Careful consideration is given to what goes on a burger — cheese, ketchup, lettuce, tomato or more exotic choices. More consumers, however, are turning their attention to what goes into the burger, asking questions about the meat that makes up one of America’s signature dishes.
One well-meaning attempt to label meat products has deteriorated to 10 years of bureaucracy at its finest. Country of Origin Labeling — nicknamed COOL — began as legislation in the 2002 Farm Bill. The regulation was designed to inform consumers about where the meat they purchased came from. Many believe buyers will willingly choose U.S. beef over foreign options.
Portions of the bill went into effect in November, requiring muscle cuts of beef, pork and lamb to state where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The federal rule will prove much more complicated than slapping on a “Made in the USA” sticker. Meatpackers say tracking the travels of each animal that enters their plants, then ensuring the required labeling, will be costly: The USDA estimates it will cost between $50 million and $100 million.
In St. Joseph, Triumph Foods slaughters 5.5 million hogs each year and the paperwork required is tremendous. The United States, meanwhile, imports many head of cattle and hogs from Canada and Mexico.
Good trade relationships with our neighbors have helped boost our local economy. However, some packers are already cutting back imports and trade relations have suffered under the suggestion that COOL will further anger our foreign nation trading partners. Mexico and Canada already have filed petitions with the World Trade Organization.
For most consumers, the deciding factor on meat purchases is price, not pedigree. The labels may be informative, but we’re not convinced the data are worth the cost to livestock producers, packers and retailers. And everyone should be concerned about the potential for trade wars that would limit our access to foreign markets.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association argues that the market, not regulation, should drive the labeling. Cargill, for instance, recently announced it will note when a beef product contains “finely textured beef,” the subject of last year’s meat controversy. This type of voluntary labeling can give consumers the information some want without piling onto the heap of federal regulation.
COOL can be expected to go back for more rounds of bureaucracy and bickering. A better option would be to direct regulation spending to issues that directly affect food safety — which the USDA agrees this effort does not address.
Jefferson City News Tribune, Dec. 15
Discourtesy, mistrust rend social fabric
Is courtesy going out of style?
The question arises in response to the possibility of lifting a ban on in-flight cellphone calls.
No collective, public hallelujah greeted the FCC chairman’s proposal to eliminate the “outdated and restrictive” prohibition. Debate among members of the Federal Communications Commission began Thursday.
An Associated Press-GfK poll revealed 48 percent of Americans oppose allowing the use of cellphones during flights, in contrast to 19 percent in support. Another 30 percent offered no opinion. Instead of welcoming the added convenience, a majority of respondents fear escalating discourtesy. They are alarmed at the prospect of becoming a captive audience among incessant yammering.
Instead of welcoming the added convenience, a majority of respondents fear escalating discourtesy. They are alarmed at the prospect of becoming a captive audience among incessant yammering.
The cellphone has become a ubiquitous element of public life. Unlike its electronic brethren — e-readers, tablets, laptops — equipped with earphones, cellphone conversations typically are audible.
The argument can be made that the proliferation of mobile electronic devices reflects the human appetite for self-absorption. We constantly must be entertaining ourselves, we must check who is responding to us, we must expound our opinions, advice and expertise.
We surf, search, instant message, text, game, blog, post and tweet.
Routine reminders now are issued to audiences at movies, plays, concerts and church services to turn off cellphones and other electronic devices. In other words: Be courteous.
The poll responses may mirror a growing backlash against discourteous behavior. And, by definition, discourtesy is self-absorbed behavior that ignores the wishes or preferences of other people.
Are the results of the phones-on-flights poll linked to those of another recent poll that revealed rampant distrust of institutions, privacy protections, other people and more?
And if mistrust and discourtesy are increasing, does that indicate honesty and civility are receding?
Finally, is electronic preoccupation — including social media — ironically exacerbating anti-social behavior?
An examination of recent poll results suggests our social fabric is in need of mending.
The Springfield News-Leader, Dec. 11
Back to basics at Fort Wood
When Maj. Gen. Leslie Smith thinks about the future of warfare he thinks about the basics — pitching tents and building relationships.
That makes sense in a world where the biggest threats come from disgruntled and disenfranchised civilians rather than government-sanctioned armies.
And Fort Leonard Wood, where Smith has been the commander since June, is the place where our Army (as well as other branches of the U.S. military) is learning the basics.
In the future, Smith says, our military will have to work with less money and fewer forces, and those forces will serve in more austere environments. Instead of arriving at a base set up with barracks and beds, as is the situation in Afghanistan, troops will more likely have to set up their own tents and campsites.
The most likely location in which future troops will work is Africa, Smith predicts, where they will work on projects to help rather than fight.
It is that “personal engagement” that Smith expects will shape the future of our military and our country’s relationships around the world.
It is also how Smith envisions the fort’s relationships with the community and the country.
On an international level, Fort Leonard Wood plays host to military members from around the world. It is in the Ozarks where many of those international visitors get their first impressions of the United States. With its impressive campus and training, that impression can be significant. But the willingness to work hand-in-hand with other countries and the hospitality extended by the camp and the community may make an even more significant impression on people who will bring that experience back to their homeland.
Smith believes that the same philosophy can work on a local level.
With the number of military veterans and retirees living in the region, support is key. That support runs in both directions — extending assistance to those vets and the support that veterans and their families extend to the fort.
Smith’s work with area universities, including Missouri State University, to work together to solve problems and meet needs is a great way to accomplish goals and encourage new leaders in both the military and education.
His work with the St. Louis and Springfield Cardinals on the issue of head trauma is an innovative way to approach a problem both the military and sports face.
All that effort is likely to pay off in many ways for both the fort and the community.