Saturday, September 23, 2017

McCaskill: Missourians have a right to know how government is spending tax dollars

(From Sen. Claire McCaskill)

I know it’s not flashy, but protecting your tax dollars from waste and abuse is a passion of mine, dating back to when I was Missouri’s State Auditor. And as a leader of the Senate’s main government oversight committee, I’ve been working closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure federal agencies aren’t wasting your tax dollars, and wanted to give you a quick update:

-Passed a bill in the Senate with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa to prevent abuse of government charge cards by government employees

-Worked with Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana to introduce two bills that will target wasteful spending and over-budget projects at the Department of Homeland Security
-Held the Department of Defense to account after an audit revealed that a federal contractors spent over $50 million on questionable purchases in Afghanistan, including luxury vehicles and inflated salaries for family members of corporate officers

-Released a report I requested outlining massive fraud and waste in government phone program—waste which I continued to combat at a recent Lifeline hearing with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

Missourians have a right to know how their government is spending tax dollars,

St. Louis Democrat: The difference between right and wrong

(From Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis)

I keep coming back to what I know.

What I know is the distinct difference between Right and Wrong.

Regardless of race, faith, gender identity, age, party preference ---we each need to distinguish between Right and Wrong and recognize justice or the lack of justice when we see it.

I've faced the question of Right and Wrong numerous times in committee or on the House floor when we vote on bills and amendments. Through many discussions on ethics (especially with fabulous 4th graders at Saul Mirowitz Community Jewish School who love to challenge me on ethics) I've developed a personal litmus test of Right and Wrong by evaluating the consequences of legislation on real people.

I keep it simple. If a bill has horrific consequences such as the 2017 law enforcement bill (HB57) that puts my own colleagues in further danger with measures that allow racial targeting ---it is Wrong. Even with Democratic votes, it was still Wrong.

Proposals like SB43 (now signed into law) which make it easier for businesses to discriminate and harder for whistleblowers to speak up - is Wrong. Bills which interfere with private legal medical decisions and medical professionals like SB5, (also now law) which are filed in masse every year targeting women are Wrong.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Kansas City Democrat: Greitens push to grab control of State Board of Education creating turmoil

(From House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City)

Gov. Eric Greitens' attempt to take control of the Missouri State Board of Education resulted in more turmoil as he removed a new board member who refused to go along with a plan to fire the state's top K-12 education official and then appointed a replacement board member who later decided not to take the job. The eight-member board is the independent governing authority for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state constitution prohibits the board from having more than four members from the same political party, which traditionally results in a split of four Democrats and four Republicans. Greitens, however, seemed to create a de facto 5-3 Republican majority by appointing people with strong GOP ties to Democratic slots.

The first suspect appointment was Melissa Gelner of Springfield, whom Greitens designated an "independent" in picking her on July 31, even though her family exclusively has donated to Republican political candidates, including $500 to Greitens' campaign. Greitens withdrew her appointment on Sept. 15.

In a letter to other board members, Gelner said she was ousted due to her refusal to bow to pressure from the Greitens administration to replace education Commissioner Margie Vandeven, who oversees day-to-day operations at DESE. Vandeven has held the post for nearly three years and is highly regarded among Missouri educators.

Greitens quickly replaced Gelner with Heidi Crane of Springfield, whose family donated at least $1,250 to Greitens' campaign. Crane, who also was officially designated an independent, later declined the appointment. Greitens hasn't yet announced another choice for the spot.

Previously, former state Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, whom Greitens appointed to the board on July 31, declined to serve after learning of a state law that would have required him to quit his job as president of Kansas Christian College, a private school in Overland Park, Kan. On Aug. 23, Greitens appointed Lebanon business Doug Russell to fill the spot instead.

The first-year governor's other state school board appointments are prominent Republican campaign operative Eddy Justice of Poplar Bluff and Kansas City lawyer Claudia OƱateGreim, whom Greitens appointed as a Democrat despite her strong personal and professional ties to Republicans. OƱateGreim is a former partner in the law firm of John Ashcroft, a Republican former Missouri governor and U.S. senator, and is married to Edward Greim, a top Missouri Republican Party attorney.

Billy Long: I will keep visiting southwest Missouri businesses

(From Seventh District Congressman Billy Long)

Every year a large contingent of workers with intellectual and developmental disorders make the trek to Washington to lobby me and other members of Congress. For what do they lobby? Simply to communicate how much it means to them and their families to be productive members of society and to be allowed to continue working. They live in constant fear that we in Congress are going to pass new laws to prevent them from doing so.

Missouri is home to more than 500,000 small businesses, which employ more than 1 million people. In the United States, 99.7 percent of employer firms are small businesses. These small businesses employ almost 50 percent of the private-sector workforce and are 63 percent of net new private-sector jobs. Small businesses play a vital role in our economy – one that can’t be ignored. However, a part of our population is disproportionately underrepresented.

According to the 2016 Disability Statistics Annual Report, only 35 percent of individuals with intellectual and developmental disorders were employed compared to 76 percent of individuals that did not have intellectual and developmental disorders. Over time, the gap between individuals with intellectual and developmental disorders and those who don’t has increased. In 2008 the employment gap was 38.8 percentage points. In 2015 it was 41.1 percentage points. In Missouri alone, the employment rate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disorders is 35 percent.

Thankfully in southwest Missouri we have excellent small business leaders in our communities working to close that gap. One such organization is SWI Industrial Solutions located in Springfield. I’ve had the chance to visit this business numerous times. I couldn’t be more proud of the work it is doing and the opportunities it is providing for individuals with special needs. This business offers packaging solutions, assembly solutions along with a variety of other solutions to businesses in need.

Another great business in southwest Missouri providing opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disorder is Joplin Workshops, Inc. This business has two branches, the Mid America Solutions and Healthcare Linen Specialists, that specialize in health care linens and industrial-based work. Not only does this business help the local community, this business provides services to businesses nationwide.

It’s organizations like these that help encourage other businesses to expand job opportunities to individuals with intellectual and developmental disorders that they otherwise would not have. I will continue to visit these businesses in southwest Missouri to hear what does and does not work. Each American should have the opportunity to contribute to our economy in a meaningful way. It’s possible. Numerous businesses have proven this to be the case.

State flags to fly at half-staff for Ballwin soldier killed during training exercise at Fort Hood

(From Gov. Eric Greitens)

Gov. Eric Greitens has ordered that the U.S. and Missouri flags at state buildings in all 114 counties and the City of St. Louis be flown at half-staff on Sept. 25 to honor the bravery and sacrifice of Staff Sergeant Sean Devoy. Staff Sergeant Devoy, age 28, of Ballwin, was a member of the United States Army who died on Sept. 12 in the line of duty during a training exercise at Fort Hood, Texas.

In addition, Gov. Greitens has ordered that the U.S. and Missouri flags at all state buildings in St. Louis County be flown at half-staff from Sept. 26-Oct. 1, 2017.

Staff Sergeant Devoy was a flight medic assigned to the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. His awards and decorations include the Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Aviation Badge, and the Combat Medical Badge.

Greitens leaves Saturday for first trade mission to Asia

(From Gov. Eric Greitens)

Governor Eric Greitens and First Lady Sheena Greitens will depart tomorrow for a trade mission to China and South Korea. The trip will include meetings with government officials, business executives, and civic and educational partners in Beijing, Shanghai, and Seoul.

The Governor and First Lady chose Asia for their first trade mission because of the great opportunity that the state of Missouri has in the Asia-Pacific to increase trade, promote job-creating business growth, attract investment to Missouri, and create educational and cultural ties.

“Our goal is to sell more Missouri products around the world, attract more investment in Missouri’s economy, and create more quality jobs for Missouri families,” said Governor Greitens.

China and South Korea are two of Missouri’s largest manufacturing export destinations today, and there is tremendous growth potential for Missouri in Asian markets.

Cleaver: Graham-Cassidy rips away the promise of affordable health care

(From Fifth District Congressman Emanuel Cleaver)

When people review the latest version of the Trumpcare bill, they will see this attempt is even worse than the first. The extreme version of Trumpcare, now the proposed Graham-Cassidy bill, introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), would rip away the promise of affordable quality health care in America. In the state of Missouri, it would rob insurance coverage from 534,000 people in 2027.

Republicans in the Senate want to rush this to a vote next week - without a score by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The Graham-Cassidy bill has not been fully evaluated by the CBO and has not been subject to hearings in the House or Senate. We simply cannot be so reckless with the healthcare of millions of Americans. The Graham-Cassidy bill would devastate some of our most vulnerable citizens; veterans, seniors, women, working families, people with pre-existing conditions and rural communities.

It slashes Medicaid funding by $236 billion dollars between the years 2020-2026 by limiting the amount of funding states would receive. For people with pre-existing conditions, the cost of healthcare would increase astronomically – resulting in higher deductibles and annual limits on their care.

Nearly all of the health care industry is opposed to the legislation, including: the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American Hospital Association, the Children’s Hospital Association, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

There is room for improvement when it comes to the Affordable Care Act but rather than attempting to pass another version of Trumpcare, Congress should work in a bipartisan manner to up with an improved plan – one that protects access to healthcare for all Americans.

City Council approved arts center plan after study done by group that promotes the arts

When the Joplin City Council okayed more than $4 million in spending to renovate Joe Becker Stadium to bring the Joplin Blasters into this community, it was done on the basis of a flawed study commissioned by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.

The study made glowing recommendations on the prospects of minor league baseball in this town with wild estimates of how many people would attend the games.

The study, it is clear now, was comparing apples and oranges. It wasn't minor league baseball that arrived in Joplin when the transplanted El Paso Diablos management blew into town, but a cheap operation that never had a chance to succeed.

Don't we ever learn?

The City Council Monday night approved a memorandum of understanding to turn over the Memorial Hall parking lot to Connect2Culture to build an arts center for Joplin. Connect2Culture has promised to raise the money for this undertaking, so at least city taxpayers won't be hit with another $4 million boondoggle. The Council decision was made following the presentation of a study showing the economic impact of the arts on Joplin.

The study, though, was just as suspect as the one that launched independent baseball in Joplin and the results were always going to end up positive because that's what Americans for the Arts, the group that conducted the "Arts and Economic Prosperity" study does.

The organization's stated mission is to "support the arts in America," and certainly there is nothing wrong with that.

The Wikipedia page for Americans for the Arts notes that the organization's purpose is to "motivate and mobilize opinion leaders and decision makers "who can ensure the arts thrive in America."

One way the organization does this is through its Arts and Economic Prosperity studies. Joplin was included in the most recent one.

Naturally, the results come back showing a strong support for the arts in Joplin, something that appears to be accurate, though the results themselves can be interpreted in different way.

The study showed the arts generated a $5.4 million impact on the City of Joplin, including $1.8 million from non-profit arts and cultural organizations and $3.6 million in "event-related spending."

The study provided absolutely no information on which a reasoned decision could be made to give the go-ahead for the arts center project using land surrounding Memorial Hall as the site and it was done by a group that has never released a study that did anything except encourage investment in the arts.

The study examined the support for arts and cultural organizations that are already here, not the support that might or might not be generated for an arts center in the downtown district. The study did not examine the impact such a center might have on the currently existing cultural organizations, nor did it examine the effects that traffic might have on the downtown area.

The Chamber-commissioned study on minor league baseball glossed over the abundance of nearby baseball, including a St. Louis Cardinals' minor league farm club in Springfield and teams in Tulsa and northwest Arkansas. The same questions, maybe to an even greater extent, exist with bringing musical and artistic attractions to Joplin. The study that seemed to hold such sway with City Council members did not address that subject.

The study showed there is support for the arts not in Joplin, not for a multi-million dollar center that, no matter what anyone says, will eventually wind up causing harm to Memorial Hall.

I might suggest that City Council members are forgetting history in their zeal to bring something bright and shiny to Joplin, but some of those council members are the same ones who sat at City Hall seven years ago as then City Manager Mark Rohr talked to the council about the origins of the Connect2Culture group, which was created an an offshoot of a Chamber of Commerce arts and cultural committee and spoke of the need for an arts center.

Rohr also talked about coming up with a "master plan" for the area."

An opportunity for the master plan and an arts center arose following the May 22, 2011 Joplin Tornado. In Rohr's book, Miracle of the Human Spirit, he talked about how he and Chamber President Rob O'Brian formed the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team and it was made up primarily of people who had already been meeting to plan the city's future.

While CART made a big deal of holding meetings and collecting ideas from the entire community, the ideas that were eventually presented were primarily ones that had been goals for those people, including leaders of Connect2Culture.

The state auditor's report on the City of Joplin detailed the shenanigans that took place to ensure that Texas con artist David Wallace, who had been meeting with Rohr and O'Brian and eventually hired two people from the Chamber as full-time employees, was hired as master developer, creating the position, which appears to have been unnecessary, and then stacking the deck to make sure Wallace Bajjali was hired..

One of the projects approved by CART and promoted by Wallace Bajjali was an arts center.

Rohr is gone, but city officials should be extra careful in providing a gift of valuable free land to people whose questionable actions in the past have had such lasting repercussions for this city.

Maybe an arts center is exactly what Joplin needs, but at this point, there is no evidence to indicate that is the case.

Latest Blasting News article: Children's singer/songwriter arrested on child pornography charges

In my articles for the national website Blasting News, I offer reporting on news from across the country that would normally not be found on the Turner Report or any of the Inside Joplin blogs.

My contract with Blasting News gives the website complete ownership of my work and does not allow it to be reproduced on other websites, so whenever I have a new article, and that will be frequently, I will promote it here.

This article focuses on a music teacher at a Jewish school, teaching children from pre-school through high school, who also is a nationally known children's singer and songwriter, whose home was raided by the FBI earlier this week.

More information about what the FBI agents found and what Eric Komar admitted can be found at this link.

Earlier Blasting News articles:

Meth-soaked greeting card leads to four-year prison sentence for Texas couple

Federal court order in Free the Nipple case a victory for women's breasts

Jemele Hill, Curt Schilling and the "liberal" bias at ESPN

Tucker Carlson bullies his way to the top, but for how long

Newsmakers program focuses on local, state, national politics