Fire Vicky Hartzler, Hire Teresa Hensley

In 2010, Missouri replaced moderate Congressman Ike Skelton with a far-right candidate named Vicky Hartzler. In her two years in office she's veered even farther to the extreme right and proved herself incapable of getting things done. Now we have a chance to replace her with a moderate, law-and-order Democrat who will better represent the 4th District: Teresa Hensley.

Teresa HensleyTeresa Hensley is the person we need in Congress to get things done. Hensley has an impressive record as the Cass County Prosecuting Attorney. She has sent murderers, child abusers and wife beaters to prison. She knows how to bring different agencies together to accomplish goals and she knows that the most vulnerable among us need understanding and support, not vilification.

Teresa Hensley comes from a working-class family and will fight for a stronger middle class. She will get things done where Hartzler has only produced more partisan gridlock and petty attacks. Teresa has been endorsed by the Kansas City Star and the Columbia Tribune. Let's send a common-sense moderate to Congress, someone who will really represent the values of hard-working Missourians.

One of the strongest signs that Vicky Hartzler has taken leave of her senses came in a town hall in April of this year. Responding to a constituent's question about the President's place of birth, she said, "I have doubts that it really is his real birth certificate." Did I mention that this was almost a year after President Obama released his long-form birth certificate? This conspiracy theory is embarrassing to her constituents and an unmistakable sign of bad judgement.

Hartzler also voted for the Paul Ryan budget that would replace the guaranteed coverage of Medicare with a voucher system. Under the plan that Hartzler supported, the next generation of seniors would be given a coupon and left to the whims of the private insurance market. Seniors would be responsible for around $6,000 in extra costs under this plan.

Though Hartzler claims to be very concerned about federal budget deficits, she has refused to consider many options that would actually help the budget gap. Rather than putting top tax rates back to where they were in the surplus days of the Clinton administration, she wants to cut them. This trickle-down approach would make the deficit worse, not better. The spending cuts she supports are almost exclusively aimed at the less fortunate among us. Hartzler voted to cut food stamps while preserving the farm subsidies that have put over $820,000 of government checks into her pocket.

At every step, Hartzler has shown herself to be a comforter of the comfortable and an afflicter of the afflicted. She reliably sides with the polluter, the corporation, the investment banker, the defense contractor and the 1%. At a time when we need government to come together and move the country forward, Hartzler has been extremely partisan and ineffective.

Hartzler has trumpeted awards from groups like the NFIB and RetireSafe, who gave her an award called "Standing Up for America's Seniors." On the surface that sounds nice, but people familiar with Hartzler's record knew something smelled fishy. A closer examination of this organization shows that RetireSafe is a corporate-backed group founded with the stated purpose of privatizing Social Security, a move that would be devastating to the financial security of seniors. An award from that group is nothing to be proud of.

Let's choose a Representative who will work to strengthen the middle class and protect our seniors. Vote for Teresa Hensley on November 6.

Barack Obama 2012

Barack ObamaIn 2007, before the Presidential primaries had started, I endorsed Barack Obama. Now I'm endorsing him again in his run for reelection. In order to explain why, I'd like to revisit the 6 reasons I listed back in 2007.

Iraq

Obama was against this war from the beginning and pledged to bring it to a close. On December 18, 2011, the last U.S. troops left Iraq. Promise kept. This was and is one of the most important reasons I support President Obama.

Diplomacy

The US was engaged in two land wars when President Obama took office and now we have one. Not only did he end the Iraq war, but he hasn't started any new ground wars. I'm not entirely comfortable with our expanded use of drone strikes, the (now ended) escalation in Afghanistan or the bombing in the Libyan civil war, but I'm afraid that Romney or McCain would have done even worse.

Health

I knew Obama's proposals in healthcare reform would be more modest than I would like and that was true. After months of haggling with Congressional Republicans, the final version of the Affordable Care Act was even more moderate than I expected. The public option was stripped out in an attempt to get at least some GOP support. Many elements of the plan were modeled on proposals from Republicans like Mitt Romney and the Heritage foundation. Despite his compromises, not a single Republican voted for the bill. Stranger still, they all decided that their own ideas were unconstitutional and socialistic once Obama had embraced them. Though far from ideal, the AFA is an improvement to our broken healthcare system. More people are getting coverage and the insurance companies have fewer tricks for denying healthcare to their customers.

Energy

The CAFE Standards that set the pace for vehicle fuel efficiency have been improved as promised. We're importing less oil and producing more energy at home. The electricity generated from renewable sources has nearly doubled in the last 4 years. Increased used of cleaner-burning natural gas has meant that we're burning less coal and putting less pollution into the air and water. We've still got a long way to go, but we're moving forward.

Lobbyists, corruption and open government

Congress is weaning themselves off of the opaque appropriations process known as earmarks. The Obama administration has supported this change and they've continued to push for transparency for government spending, moving more information online and making it accessible to everyone. We need to know how the money is spent if we're going to be informed voters. The President hasn't been as firm as I would have liked when it comes to lobbyists, but he still wins this category by a country mile.

Experience

In 2007 Obama had more experience in public office (10 years) than most of the primary candidates, including Mitt Romney who has only served one 4-year term as governor of Massachusetts. Obama has now served 14 years, including nearly four as President. He has calmly faced natural disasters, financial crisis, war, uprisings in the Middle East and an obstructionist Congress.

And here are a few more reasons I support Obama that didn't make my 2007 list:

Equality

Obama oversaw the repeal of Don't Ask Don'T Tell, the policy that Bill Clinton put in place to bridge the gap between the strict ban on gays troops and a more open policy. Under DADT the military discharged over 13,000 troops at a time when we could ill afford to turn away patriotic young people who want to serve their country. Now anyone can serve in the military regardless of who they love.

The President has also publicly supported marriage equality, a first for any President in the history of our nation. This position is supported by a majority of Americans, led by a huge majority of young people.

bin Laden

After years of the Bush administration's stance of not really working toward capturing the 9/11 mastermind, Obama pursued the evil bastard, personally pushing for the spare helicopter that allowed the daring mission to succeed. Of course the brave troops who actually put boots on the ground deserve the lion's share of the credit, but it was a victory for the President and the nation as a whole.

Economy

In 2007 no one knew just how bad the economy would get. When things started getting really awful in the fall of 2008, the electorate turned to Obama and the Democratic party to clean up the mess. Years of trickle-down economics, irresponsible wars and financial deregulation led to the worst recession in 50 years. Within months of taking the oath, Obama oversaw a reversal of soaring unemployment and the beginnings of a recovery. We still have a long way to go, but it's way to early to give up and return to the failed policies that got us into this mess.


Sources and further reading:

Key features of the Affordable Care Act
Romneycare and Obamacare Differ Only in Inconsequential Ways
Renewable electricity
Comparison of Obama and Romney energy policies

Vicky Hartzler's 10 Gay Marriage Analogies

In 2004, before she ran for Congress, Vicky Hartzler was the spokesperson for the campaign to amend the Missouri Constitution to outlaw same sex marriages and civil unions. A Massachusetts court had just ruled in favor of marriage equality, so some on the religious right were nervous, upset and willing to work to prevent gay people from getting legal recognition for their relationships. On July 27, 2004, Hartzler went on a Christian radio show to promote her crusade against marriage equality. In the course of the 15 minute interview, Hartzler draws comparisons between gay marriage and 10 different things that are very different from gay marriage. Here's her list:

1. Untested social experiment
2. 12-year-olds with driver's licenses
3. Blind people with driver's licenses
4. Impersonating a doctor
5. Counterfeit $20 bills
6. Driving 90 miles per hour
7. Three people getting married
8. Five people getting married
9. Polygamy
10. A man marrying a horse

Here is a 2 minute video highlighting each of the items above:

And here is the full 15 minute interview:

Here's a transcript of the full interview.

Hartzler is running for reelection this year in Missouri's 4th Congressional District. If you would like to be represented by someone who doesn't go on the air and compare same-sex relationships to man-on-horse sex, then you might want to vote for her opponent, Teresa Hensley.

First Annual Adrian VEX Robotics Competition

Yesterday Adrian's award-winning robotics program held their first competition at home. Teams from Kansas City and Clinton, MO joined Adrian for a day of VEX robotics matches. Students have been building their robots over the last few months and practicing the task of picking up balls and putting them into goals. Each match begins with a 20 second period where robots can perform the task autonomously. None of yesterday's teams attempted that, but then it's followed by a a couple of minutes where the teams can use a remote control to drive their robot. And many of these teams were quite well-practiced at driving their robots. Here's an excerpt from one of the matches:

Congratulations to Mr. Hogan and all of his students for organizing a great competition. Despite some difficulties, they managed to get through over 70 matches in just a few hours. The team who won the tournament was made up of Adrian students and one robot ended the day undefeated (you can see it in the video above).

Swarm of Flying Robots

This is very cool. Be sure to watch to the end to see the swarms flying in formation.

Abraham's Faith

Imagine this scenario. A close friend comes to you and says that they have had a powerful religious experience. The Creator of the universe has audibly spoken to them, commending them for their strong faith. But the voice also made a request. It commanded your friend to take their 13-year-old son, tie him up, stab him in the heart and then burn his body as a sacrifice to the voice. Your friend soberly tells you that he intends to obey the voice. Do you a) congratulate your friend on his strong faith and offer to help carry the wood for the fire, or b) promptly call the police?

Now imagine the same scenario, but rather than a close friend in the present day, it's a stranger in the distant past. Rather than hearing your friend's firsthand account, you read about the story in a legend that has been passed down through the centuries. Do you think of this person who is willing to kill their own child as a hero or a villain?

Of course, I didn't invent this scenario, it comes straight out of the Bible. The story of Abraham and Isaac is told in Genesis 22. This is not some obscure passage that I'm taking out of context. Abraham is a central figure in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and all three religions include this story as evidence of Abraham's great faith. The Christian New Testament refers to this episode specifically when listing some exemplary displays of faith (Hebrews 11:17-19).

I wish the scenario I presented above was just hypothetical. Tragically, the members of some present-day religions are still asked to place their faith above the well-being of their children. A Jehovah's Witness stood on my front step and told me that if her own child needed a blood transfusion to live, she would rather let them die than to violate her religion's rules against transfusions. Like Abraham, she had faith that her god would raise the child from the dead.

The problem with faith is that, by definition, it's detached from reality. Abraham is considered a hero because he was willing to look past the consequences of his actions and focus on that voice in his head. The Witness at my door was also ready to downplay the consequences of her beliefs. It seems to me that making a decision based on faith is misguided at best. There is a better way.

Or, today's theists can hope that Doc Brown will have intervened and spared them the humiliation of trying to defend and spread a religion supposedly founded by a man who agreed to obey a disembodied voice by killing his son.

Infrastructure: Our Shared Investment

Flush a toilet, take a shower or drive across town. What makes these important, everyday things possible? Over several generations the citizens of our community have pooled their resources in the form of a city government. One of the main functions of that government is to build and maintain the infrastructure that we all depend on: streets, water and sewer. If we want to see our community flourish, we must continue to invest in the maintenance and expansion of these vital systems.

In the summer of 2011, the city street crew applied three inches of asphalt to 1st Street, Old 71 and Kentucky Street. In the summer of 2010, they did the same to 8th Street. That spring the city government purchased the equipment to allow our crew to do this work in-house, stretching your tax dollars to cover as much street as possible. I'm proud of the work of our crew has done and I look forward to seeing the improvements they bring to other streets in the coming years. All of this is possible because the citizens of Adrian voted on a tax issue in 2000 to provide funds for street maintenance. The money was raised ahead of time and the work was done without borrowing money.

In 2010 and 2011 city crews and private contractors replaced over three miles of water mains in the city. These new lines deliver water to local homes and businesses and provide enough pressure to supply fire hydrants around the city. Many of the retired water mains were smaller, corroded, cast-iron pipes.

In 2009, after years of frequent boil orders, the city of Adrian opened its new water treatment facility. The 500,000 gallon per day membrane filtration system was capable of providing clean, safe water to the residents of Adrian for the next two decades at least. In the fall of 2011 the plant capacity was doubled to 1,000,000 gallons per day, enough to provide water to the city of Adrian and Public Water Supply District #5, which serves the surrounding area.

These improvements were possible because of a new contract with District #5 and because we made use of grants and low-interest loans. But, the city also had to increase water rates to cover the ongoing costs of producing cleaner water in the new plant. That rate increase would not have been so dramatic if the city had gradually raised its rates as the old plant approached the end of its life. While I'm convinced that our new water production system is worth the cost, I think there are lessons to be learned when it comes to future infrastructure improvements.

Our sewer system is the next element of our infrastructure that needs some attention. Aging and leaky sewer lines around town are allowing too much water into the system, which risks overloading our simple lagoon based sewage treatment system. In a few spots, the water coursing through leaky sewer lines is even allowing raw sewage to escape the lines after heavy rainfall. The city council has already begun to consult with our engineering company about ways to assess what needs to be done to our sewer system.

For years now, the city has been pursuing grant money for sewer improvements, but we also need to begin to gradually raise our rates. That's why I proposed a $0.50 increase (per 1000 gallons) in December of 2011. The rate change passed, so a household that uses 3000 gallons of water per month will see their sewer bill go from $10.50 per month to $12 per month. I don't take this increase lightly, but I think we should start to invest in our sewer system now rather than waiting until we have an emergency and need a dramatic rate increase.

This spring we will perform some tests on the sewer system and then we’ll be able to plan for addressing the system’s most critical problems. Our sewer rates are still lower than most towns in the area and there will almost certainly be a few more gradual rate increases in the coming years.

We will continue to pursue federal and state funds to help with the costs of these improvements. You may be able to help with one of these. One of the grants we would like to apply for requires that we first collect some data about the income levels of a random selection of households. We have sent out these surveys twice, but there haven’t been enough responses to allow us to apply for the grant. If you received a survey, but didn’t return it, please call or stop by city hall and get another copy of it. It won’t take more than a minute to fill out and it will make a big difference for our infrastructure and the rates we charge over the coming years.

The health of a city’s infrastructure is no accident. It requires careful planning, wise management of limited resources and, most importantly, a shared investment by the citizens of our community.

Money in Politics

The conclusion of the dissenting opinion by Justice Stevens in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:

At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

Emma's New Pet

This summer Emma decided she wanted a lizard. She woke up early one morning, researched the different types online and wrote a page and half research paper which concluded that a bearded dragon would be best for her. She did a couple of pet-sitting jobs and saved some money and then two weeks ago we went and picked it up. Alex is around six inches long now, but he or she (too soon to tell) will grow to two feet. Here's a video we made showing Alex eating crickets, jumping, taking a bath and being held.

LEGO NXT Segway on my kitchen counter

Practicing for robotics camp. The instructions for this project are here: http://www.nxtprograms.com/segway/index.html

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ... 105