Category: "culture/news"

Senate Votes on Afghanistan, Detention and Gitmo

Originally posted at

This week the US Senate considered several amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including one on accelerating the end of the war in Afghanistan, one on detention of US citizens and one preventing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Senate Amendment 3096 is a non-binding vote that expresses the Senate's endorsement of the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan and calls for that timeline to be accelerated. It passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support (62-33), though neither of Missouri's Senators voted for it. Republican Roy Blunt voted no and recently re-elected Democrat Claire McCaskill was one of 5 Senators that didn't cast a vote.

The war in Afghanistan has now dragged on for over 11 years, the longest war in the history of the United States. Over 2,100 American troops have been killed and thousands more wounded. A poll in March of 2012 found that 69% of Americans thought we should not be at war in Afghanistan, up from 53% four months earlier. With the public increasingly ready for this long war to end, it's time for officials from both parties to act. This week's amendment is a start and it's a shame that our Senators failed to get on board.

Another amendment (3018) to the NDAA made clear that the government is not authorized to detain citizens or lawful residents without charge or trial, even when we are at war. Though the right of habeas corpus is already guaranteed by the Constitution, it is good to see the Senate making this point after years of war and terror have eroded this fundamental right. Both of our Senators, McCaskill and Blunt, voted in favor of the amendment, which passed 67-29.

Though President Obama has made efforts to close down our nation's offshore prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, Congress continues to prevent him from doing so. Amendment 3245 to the NDAA prohibits the use of funds to transfer or release the 160+ prisoners still held there with murky legal status. It passed (54-41) with McCaskill voting against it and Blunt voting for it. Though the legislation hasn't been passed yet, and though the White House has made noises about vetoing the whole NDAA, the Republicans seem on track toward getting their wish to keep the prison at Guantanamo open.

Final scores: Blunt gets 1 out of 3 right, and McCaskill gets 2 out of 3 right with a disappointing abstention on the Afghanistan amendment. But hey, at least we don't have to worry about out how Todd Akin would have voted on these.

Ed Emery Will Continue to Accept Lobbyist Gifts

As the 2013 Missouri legislative session draws near, several elected officials from both sides of the aisle are calling on lawmakers to reject gifts from lobbyists, either voluntarily or through new ethics reforms. State Senator-elect Ed Emery (R-Lamar, MO) does not appear interested in joining this movement.

Between 2002 and 2010, when he was a State Representative, Emery accepted over $5,800 worth of meals and gifts from lobbyists, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission. Missouri is the only state in the nation where legislators are allowed to accept unlimited campaign contributions and unlimited gifts from lobbyists. Each year lobbyists spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying alcohol, food, tickets, trips, and other gifts for our elected officials.

While current state law allows lobbyists to wine and dine state officials, several Republican and Democratic legislators are calling for banning the gifts outright and have promised to refuse all gifts and meals from lobbyists.

Senator-elect Scott Sifton (D-Affton) campaigned on the issue, pledging to refuse gifts from lobbyists and criticizing his opponent, incumbent State Senator Jim Lemke (R-Lemay), for accepting nearly $30,000 worth of lobbyist gifts over the last decade. Sifton won the race 50.9% to 49.1%.

During his time in the General Assembly, Jason Kander (D-Kansas City) sponsored an ethics bill that would have banned lobbyist gifts, and this fall Kander was narrowly elected as Secretary of State, despite his opponent's flood of campaign cash from St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefeld.

Senators from both parties see a need for reform. John Lamping (R-St. Louis) is refusing all gifts from lobbyists and calling for an outright ban on the gifts.

Shortly after the election I asked Emery if he planned to join Lamping and Sifton in working to curb lobbyist gifts. Here is his response:

Danny Ferguson: Mr. Emery, will you join senator-elect Scott Sifton in calling for a ban on gifts from lobbyists to legislators?

Ed Emery: Danny, transparency and attentiveness are the most effective means to empower citizens. It is not more government. You and Scott must trust government a lot more than I do.

Ferguson: A government is only as trustworthy as the people serving in it. Banning gifts from lobbyists is a way to remove one potential source of corruption, which would make it easier for us to trust that you're working for the best interests of all your constituents rather than the financial interests of a few people who have given you gifts. This could even be a voluntary ban, at least at first. Would you consider committing to rejecting all gifts from lobbyists as John Lamping (R) and Scott Sifton (D) have?

Emery: Danny, If you confine politicians to the Constitution that will give lobbyist little to lobby for. When government is no longer allowed to pick winners and losers the bidding for power will cease or be greatly diminished. I would prefer limiting government to expanding or empowering it.

Ferguson: So, in other words, you're going to keep accepting meals and gifts from lobbyists. Is that correct?

Emery: [No response given.]

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.

Religious Slogan in City Hall

A lawyer in Springfield, MO is sending out letters to several cities in Missouri, asking them to prominently display the motto "In God We Trust" in city halls. He even sends along a sample resolution so the councils can vote the display in. Our mayor decided to bring the resolution before the council during our regular April meeting on Monday. We engaged in a discussion for about 15 minutes and then voted 3-1 to place a 8.5" x 11" sign with the slogan in city hall. I read the following statement and had it entered into our minutes:

Questions of religious faith are not the business of this municipal government. As Thomas Jefferson said, "the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions." I support the right of everyone to express any belief or opinion they like and the government must protect those rights. As part of that protection, the government remains neutral on questions of religious opinion.

I spoke in favor of the separation between church and state when I was a pastor and I continue to do so today as a non-believer. 35 million American citizens are non-religious and there are almost a million in Missouri. I've spoken with several people in Adrian, both religious and non-religious, who oppose the posting of this motto in city hall.

We have gotten along just fine without a motto on the wall of our council chambers. If we were going to add one, we should choose one that's more inclusive such as the original motto of the United States, "E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one)" or the motto of Missouri "Salus populi suprema lex esto (Let the good of the people be the supreme law)."

Regardless of your religious perspective, I hope you'll recognize that this entanglement between religion and government is good for neither the church nor the state. Our fourth President, James Madison, said it well, "I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

This sign will be a minor annoyance and discouragement to me when I see it. And it may serve as justification for further government endorsements of religion, just as "But it's on our money" was repeatedly presented as evidence in favor of posting the motto. But will it have any substantial effect on the business we conduct on the city council? No. I also trust that this episode won't prevent the council from continuing to work for the good of our city. I have no doubt that the aldermen who voted for this had the very best intentions. I hope that they also understand that I, too, was doing what I thought was best for the city. If you'd like to see what was said during the discussion, take a look at this transcript I prepared.

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