Who Turned My Blue State Red?

It is one of the central political puzzles of our time: Parts of the country that depend on the safety-net programs supported by Democrats are increasingly voting for Republicans who favor shredding that net.

It’s enough to give Democrats the willies as they contemplate a map where the red keeps seeping outward, confining them to ever narrower redoubts of blue. The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests.

But this reaction misses the complexity of the political dynamic that’s taken hold in these parts of the country. It misdiagnoses the Democratic Party’s growing conundrum with working-class white voters. And it also keeps us from fully grasping what’s going on in communities where conditions have deteriorated to the point where researchers have detected alarming trends in their mortality rates.

That pattern is right in line with surveys, which show a decades-long decline in support for redistributive policies and an increase in conservatism in the electorate even as inequality worsens. There has been a particularly sharp drop in support for redistribution among older Americans, who perhaps see it as a threat to their own Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, researchers such as Kathryn Edin, of Johns Hopkins University, have pinpointed a tendency by Americans in the second lowest quintile of the income ladder — the working or lower-middle class — to dissociate themselves from those at the bottom, where many once resided. “There’s this virulent social distancing — suddenly, you’re a worker and anyone who is not a worker is a bad person,” said Edin. “They’re playing to the middle fifth and saying, ‘I’m not those people.’ ”

Meanwhile, many people who in fact most use and need social benefits are simply not voting at all. Voter participation is low among the poorest Americans, and in many parts of the country that have moved red, the rates have fallen off the charts. West Virginia ranked 50th for turnout in 2012; also in the bottom 10 were other states that have shifted sharply red in recent years, including Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee.

This political disconnect among lower-income Americans has huge ramifications — polls find nonvoters are far more likely to favor spending on the poor and on government services than are voters, and the gap grows even larger among poor nonvoters. In the early 1990s, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky freely cited the desirability of having a more select electorate when he opposed an effort to expand voter registration. And this fall, Scott Jennings, a longtime McConnell adviser, reportedly said low turnout by poor Kentuckians explained why the state’s Obamacare gains wouldn’t help Democrats. “I remember being in the room when Jennings was asked whether or not Republicans were afraid of the electoral consequences of displacing 400,000–500,000 people who have insurance,” State Auditor Adam Edelen, a Democrat who lost his re-election bid this year, told Joe Sonka, a Louisville journalist. “And he simply said, ‘People on Medicaid don’t vote.’ ”

Republicans would argue that the shift in their direction among voters slightly higher up the ladder is the natural progression of things — people recognize that government programs are prolonging the economic doldrums and that Republicans have a better economic program.

So where does this leave Democrats and anyone seeking to expand and build lasting support for safety-net programs such as Obamacare?

For starters, it means redoubling efforts to mobilize the people who benefit from the programs. This is no easy task with the rural poor, who are much more geographically scattered than their urban counterparts. Not helping matters in this regard is the decline of local institutions like labor unions — while the United Mine Workers of America once drove turnout in coal country, today there is not a single unionized mine still operating in Kentucky.

But it also means reckoning with the other half of the dynamic — finding ways to reduce the resentment that those slightly higher on the income ladder feel toward dependency in their midst. One way to do this is to make sure the programs are as tightly administered as possible. Instances of fraud and abuse are far rarer than welfare opponents would have one believe, but it only takes a few glaring instances to create a lasting impression. Edin, the Hopkins researcher, suggests going further and making it easier for those collecting disability to do part-time work over the table, not just to make them seem less shiftless in the eyes of their neighbors, but to reduce the recipients’ own sense of social isolation.

The best way to reduce resentment, though, would be to bring about true economic growth in the areas where the use of government benefits is on the rise, the sort of improvement that is now belatedly being discussed for coal country, including on the presidential campaign trail. If fewer people need the safety net to get by, the stigma will fade, and low-income citizens will be more likely to re-engage in their communities — not least by turning out to vote.

(Excerpted from ProPublica 11/20/15)

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One state lawmaker used the university as a weapon against Planned Parenthood

An administrative decision by the university could have the startling effect of leaving the entire state of Missouri with just one abortion clinic as of December 1. The university also canceled decades-old contracts that allowed nursing students to learn gynecological practices (excluding abortion) by completing clinical rotations at Planned Parenthood. One graduate student has even come under fire from a state lawmaker for researching the state’s new 72-hour abortion waiting period law.

Strangely enough, all of these incidents go back to the same Republican state lawmaker. The story of how and why that happened is in many ways the story of how anti-abortion legislators are steadily restricting abortion access nationwide — and perhaps a preview of what they might do next.

Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) is the head of the state Senate’s Sanctity of Life Committee, which is investigating claims made in doctored videos that Planned Parenthood is illegally “selling” fetal tissue. Missouri’s Planned Parenthood clinics don’t even participate in fetal tissue research, and since Missouri’s attorney general and investigations in other states have already found no wrongdoing, Schaefer’s inquiry seemed destined to be a dead end. But Schaefer is still investigating — and his critics argue that those investigations unjustly pressured MU into revoking Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortions at its Columbia location.

Planned Parenthood operates the only two abortion clinics in Missouri: one in St. Louis on the state’s eastern border, and one in Columbia near the university in central Missouri. The Columbia clinic has admitting privileges — an arrangement between a doctor and a nearby hospital that lets the doctor admit patients there — through the University of Missouri. Doctors aren’t allowed to provide abortions in Missouri unless they obtain admitting privileges. But Schaefer claims that it’s actually against state law for a public facility like the University of Missouri to grant admitting privileges to abortion providers, because that uses public funds to assist with abortion.

If Schaefer is right about this, it would create a Catch-22 for Planned Parenthood. Whether he’s right is debatable. The law does bar state employees from “performing or assisting an abortion” and “encouraging or counseling a woman to have an abortion,” but Schaefer targeted Mizzou for something much less direct than that. Schaefer told Vox the university probably broke the law by “using itself as the catalyst” so that “abortions could resume” at the Columbia clinic.

Depending on whom you ask, Schaefer either did his due diligence as a lawmaker to investigate a potential violation of state law, or he abused his position as the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee to explicitly threaten the university’s funding unless MU cut its ties to Planned Parenthood. (It’s the former if you ask Schaefer and the latter if you ask his opponents and critics.)

Either way, the outcome was the same. Schaefer and his committee urged the university to review its agreements with Planned Parenthood. University administrators, including soon-to-be-resigned Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, did just that. They decided that both of the university’s major partnerships with Planned Parenthood — the contracts with nursing students and the admitting privileges — were unnecessary and outdated, and they ended both.

Students and advocates were outraged about both actions, but canceling the admitting privileges was an especially big deal. Without admitting privileges, the Columbia clinic’s new physician, Colleen McNicholas, can’t even prescribe an abortion pill. This will once again make the St. Louis clinic the state’s only place to get an abortion of any kind, medical or surgical.

When MU cut ties to Planned Parenthood, Schaefer celebrated getting the university “out of the abortion business.” But he wasn’t finished after this victory. A month later, he had another target for his investigations into “public funding” of abortion — a graduate student’s research.

Lindsey Ruhr is studying the effects on women of the state’s 72-hour waiting period for abortions, which passed last year over the governor’s veto. Her research isn’t finished yet, and she says we don’t know yet whether the results will show a positive, negative, or neutral effect on Missouri women.

But Schaefer wrote a letter to Chancellor Loftin objecting to Ruhr’s dissertation research and demanding more information for an inquiry. Schaefer argued that the study probably breaks state law because, again, it uses public funds and public employees to aid abortion. He said the study is likely biased because Ruhr’s adviser is on the board of Planned Parenthood, and he called the study a “marketing aid” for Planned Parenthood because study documents acknowledged that the research “may help” the local clinic “improve its services” for women seeking abortions.

The university stands by Ruhr’s research and notes that she doesn’t receive scholarships or grant money from the university. Kansas and Mid-Missouri president and CEO Laura McQuade issued a statement accusing Schaefer of “using taxpayer funds for political grandstanding,” and called on Loftin “to remain stalwart in the face of political interference with academic freedom.”

(Excerpted from Vox 11/20/15)

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Anti-Muslim rhetoric is what ISIS wants

n the months and years following the horrific attacks of 9/11, it became a cliché to say “the terrorists win” if someone took (or failed to take) a particular action. Comic strips mocked it, as when Rat in Stephan Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine” told a woman at a bar that if she didn’t go to dinner with him, “The terrorists win.”

But here’s the thing about clichés — sometimes they actually have meaning and relevance. Like this: If the United States succumbs to fear after the attacks on Paris and refuses to offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees, the terrorists have won.

One of the primary goals of the Islamic State, which claimed credit for last week’s deadly attacks, is to destroy what they call the “gray zone,” a space where Muslims aren’t forced to choose between their faith and the modern world.

In their own literature, Islamic State leaders say they want a world that is black and white like their flag — divided between those who believe as they do and everyone else. And they want those two camps to engage in a great global war.

The best way to bring that about, these leaders believe, is to provoke hostility against Muslims around the world, to sow fear, distrust and hatred so that modern societies turn on all Muslims, forcing them to turn to the Islamic State for safety and salvation.

Those who respond to the attacks in Paris with anger and fear aimed at anyone other than the terrorists are playing right into the hands of the Islamic State. Governors who try to block the settlement of Syrian refugees in their states or presidential candidates who shamefully argue that Christian refugees should be given precedence over Muslim refugees, a position that is simultaneously un-American and un-Christian, are following the Islamic State handbook to the letter.

What such hysteria and the hate-mongering leads to is exactly what the Islamic State was trying to provoke with the heinous slaughter in Paris.

Islamic State leaders want us to forget that the refugees fleeing Syria are running from the same kinds of monstrous actions and indiscriminate violence the world witnessed in Paris (and Beirut and Baghdad). They want the Western world to equate all Muslims with Islamic extremists and terrorists.

They want peaceful Muslims scorned, ostracized and turned away.

More than two dozen governors of U.S. states — most of them Republican — appear more than willing to give the Islamic State exactly what it wants. At least 27 governors have announced they oppose the settlement of Syrian refugees in their states. The good news in Missouri is that Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, is not doing that. He says the refugee debate is a federal issue and called on the government to “implement the strongest possible safeguards to protect our state and nation.”

Some governors have ordered state employees to refuse to work with the federal government on resettlement efforts. Others have asked President Barack Obama to stop admitting Syrian refugees altogether.

At least two Republican presidential candidates have gone further: Both Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz initially said the United States should only accept Christian refugees from Syria and close the door on Muslims.

Safety and security are the stated rationale to justify such bigotry, following the revelation that one of the Paris bombers had a Syrian passport and had been registered as a refugee in Croatia.

But, despite what you might hear from people like Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., Syrian refugees are being carefully vetted before they are allowed into the United States. In fact, the vetting process is so cumbersome that the nation has allowed only 2,000 Syrian refugees to resettle here in more than four years of that country’s brutal civil war.

A refugee undergoes extensive investigation, background checks and medical screening before being admitted to the United States. The process can take two or three years, and sometimes even longer.

There is a massive humanitarian crisis in Syria. Nearly half the country’s population has been displaced by the civil war. In the past, the United States has taken the lead in assisting in such times of crisis, taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees after World War II and the Vietnam War. Not now.

Despite the fears, refugee resettlement is an extremely ineffective way for terrorists to infiltrate. The Migration Policy Institute says that of 745,000 refugees resettled in the United States since the 2001 terror attacks, only two have been arrested on terror charges — two Iraqis who were arrested in Kentucky for attempting to aid al-Qaida in Iraq in 2011.

The Islamic State wants a war between Islam and the rest of the world. But the Islamic State does not represent true Islam any more than abortion clinic bombers represent true Christianity.

Those who would have us deny the humanity and need of millions of refugees because of their religion are doing nothing more than helping the terrorists win.

(Excerpted from St.Lousi Post Dispatch 11/17/15)

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Rep. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove): Beware the “Islamization of Missouri”

Rep. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) sent a letter to Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) sharing his fears about Syrian refugees, and calling on Gov. Nixon to put “a stop to the potential Islamization of Missouri,”… yes, you read that correctly.

We’re used to extremist ideas from Moon, who sought to impeach Gov. Nixon and who feared the United Nations’ “Agenda 21” would creep into Missouri. However, Moon’s new crusade against the “Islamization” of our state is beyond the pale even for him, hitting a trifecta of new lows on bigotry, fear-mongering, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the responsibilities of state government.

In the letter obtained by the Kansas City Star, Moon writes that since Muslims “come in all flavors,” Missouri cannot be “too cautious.” And Moon doesn’t stop there— he offers a solution: set up refugee camps and hold a special legislative session to stop the “Islamization of Missouri.” Seriously.

(Excerpted from Progress Missouri 11/18/15)

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AG Koster announces agreement with for-profit school system to forgive loans, change recruitment practices

For-profit education company Education Management Corporation (EDMC) will significantly reform its recruiting and enrollment practices, and forgive more than $1,965,000 in loans for approximately 1,586 former Missouri students, through an agreement with Attorney General Koster and a group of state attorneys general.

EDMC, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, operates 110 schools in 32 states and Canada through four education systems: Argosy University, The Art Institutes, Brown Mackie College and South University. The corporation operates Brown-Mackie – St. Louis, The Art Institute of St. Louis, The Art Institutes International – Kansas City, and Brown Mackie College – Kansas City.

The agreement with attorneys general in 39 states plus the District of Columbia mandates added disclosures to students, including a new interactive online financial disclosure tool; bars misrepresentations to prospective students; prohibits enrollment in unaccredited programs; and institutes an extended period when new students can withdraw without incurring financial obligation.

Nationwide, the agreement requires the for-profit college company to forgive $102.8 million in outstanding loan debt held by more than 80,000 former students. Thomas Perrelli, former U.S. Associate Attorney General, will independently monitor the company’s settlement compliance for three years and issue annual reports.

The agreement will also benefit all prospective students who utilize federal student aid or loans by requiring a significant interactive online financial disclosure tool. The online system, called the Electronic Financial Impact Platform (EFIP), is currently under the final stages of development by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and state attorneys general. Based on a prospective student’s individual data, EFIP will produce a detailed financial report that includes the student’s projected financial commitment, living expenses and potential future earnings.

(Excerpted from Missouri Times 11/16/15)

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Remember When Kurt Schaefer Said Politicians Should Leave Academic Decisions Alone?

Back in 2008, Kurt Schaefer said about stem cell research, “I think that academic decisions should be made by academics based on peer-review academic standards and professional standards and not by politicians.”

The sentiment is strikingly similar to that expressed by Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia) recently in response to attacks on the University of Missouri’s stem cell research.

A major anti-abortion group’s call to end embryonic stem cell research at the University of Missouri is a threat to academic freedom, state Rep. Stephen Webber said in a news release calling on other area lawmakers to protect two projects from legislative encroachment.

Rep. Kip Kendrick (D-Columbia) agreed saying, “The university is in the cross-hairs right now of the General Assembly, and I believe it is a very real threat. I believe this is going to be a recurring theme throughout the 2016 session.”

Stem cell research at the University of Missouri happens in the Bond Life Sciences Center, of which Jack Shultz is the director.

All the research is done within the bounds of current federal and state law and efforts to shut it down in the legislature would be an attack on academic freedom, Shultz said.

“Worse than that, it would be interference with progress toward solving some serious health problems.”

Those serious health problems he’s referring to are pregnancy disorders.

Attacks on Missouri women, such as this one led by Missouri Right to Life, are political and unsubstantiated. Yet all too often, Jeff City politicians eat this stuff up.

Schaefer used to be a “very moderate” candidate, but now he’s trying to win a GOP primary. Here’s to hoping the more reasonable 2008 Kurt Schaefer shows back up.

(Excerpted from Progress Missouri 9/22/15)

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This GOPer Wants to Sabotage a Missouri Student’s Dissertation Because It’s About Abortion

A state lawmaker is trying to stop a graduate student at the University of Missouri from studying the effects of one of the state’s abortion restrictions, claiming that her dissertation violates state law and is an abortion marketing ploy.

In a letter to University of Missouri officials, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) argues that Lindsay Ruhr, a graduate student in the School of Social Work, is illegally using public funds to conduct her dissertation research on the state’s law that requires a 72-hour waiting period before a woman receives an abortion. Ruhr is using Planned Parenthood data to analyze the effects of the law on women’s decision making. In Missouri it is illegal for public employees and facilities to use state money towards “encouraging or counseling” a person to have an abortion not necessary to save her life.

“This is a concerning revelation considering the University’s recent troubling connections to Planned Parenthood,” wrote Schaefer. “It is difficult to understand how a research study approved by the University, conducted by a University student, and overseen by the Director of the School of Social Work at the University can be perceived as anything but an expenditure of public funds to aid Planned Parenthood.”

A university spokeswoman told the Huffington Post that the doctoral student received neither scholarship money from the school nor state grant money for her research. “We must stay committed to the discovery, dissemination, application, and preservation of knowledge to support our mission while abiding by state and federal laws,” said Mary Jo Banken. “We will continue performing life-saving research in our laboratories while providing the highest quality of educational opportunities to our students.”

Ruhr told Al Jazeera that she stands by her project and the objectivity of her research. “The whole point of my research is to understand how this policy affects women,” she said. “Whether this policy is having a harmful or beneficial effect, we don’t know.”

But Sen. Schaefer, who chairs the state’s recently-created Committee on the Sanctity of Life, contends that the dissertation is nothing but a “marketing aid for Planned Parenthood.”

About half of states have 24-hour waiting period laws on the books, which require that a woman meet with a physician a day before getting an abortion. Missouri is one of a handful of states that require women wait 72 hours. In September, amid nation-wide investigations into the organization over its fetal tissue research, the University of Missouri responded with a number of measures against the women’s health organization. It canceled its contracts with Planned Parenthood that eliminated the option for medical students to do clinical rotations at the health care network. A month later, the nursing school reinstated its contracts with two Planned Parenthoods, but with a clause that prevented students from learning about abortion by prohibiting any student from helping to provide them. The university also revoked Planned Parenthood’s hospital admitting privileges, which allows the clinic to offer medication abortions, a safe and effective method of first-trimester termination. Without admitting privileges for that center, Missouri will be left with only one abortion clinic, in St. Louis, 125 miles from the university.

While the university works on its response to Schaefer’s request for documents, Ruhr’s research will continue with the school’s backing.

(Excerpted from Mother Jones 11/12/15)

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A Real Missouri ‘Concerned Student 1950’ Speaks, at Age 89

They named themselves Concerned Student 1950, in reference to the year the first black students were admitted to the University of Missouri.

What the student demonstrators who toppled the president of the university system and the chancellor of its flagship campus in Columbia this week may not have known was that somewhere out there — in Frankfort, Ky., to be precise — one of those very students, Gus T. Ridgel, now 89, was watching.

Mr. Ridgel today is a celebrated graduate of the university, with an honorary degree and a fellowship in his name. But that seemed implausible in mid-20th-century Missouri, where efforts to integrate St. Louis swimming pools were met with bat-wielding white youths and educational segregation was enshrined in law.

He gained admission to Missouri’s graduate program in economics in 1950 only after civil rights groups won a court ruling desegregating the university. He decided to attend knowing that one of the black men who had gone to court seeking to break the school’s color barrier had vanished. He lived alone in a two-bed dormitory room in the midst of a campus housing shortage, because no white student would room with him.

Blacks had but one opportunity for off-campus socializing, a coffee shop near the university bookstore. Mr. Ridgel recalled entering a second cafe with three white students: “The man looked up from the counter,” he said, “and said, ‘I can serve you three, but I can’t serve him.’

“And they said, ‘If you can’t serve the four of us, you can’t serve any of us.’ And we walked out.”

He speaks almost matter-of-factly of his past as a path-breaker, and remembers his time at the university, during an era when separate-but-equal was still the law of the land, as surprisingly free of conflict. He said his presence had provoked no racial epithets, like those hurled at the current student body president, who is black, or swastikas scrawled on campus buildings, like the one found in recent weeks.

Rather, a student poll claimed broad support for the admission of blacks. Classmates made a point of sitting with him for meals, he said — and, eventually, asking to study with him.

Asked whether he had suffered discrimination on campus, he replied, “I’ll put it this way: My lowest grades, both of my B’s, were from one professor. I think the students with whom I studied felt I should have been in a higher category.”

Mr. Ridgel went on to earn a doctorate in economics at the University of Wisconsin and pursue an academic career at institutions across the South. He retired as vice president for finance and administration at Kentucky State University, a historically black institution in Frankfort, where he now lives.

Still, his path into the university was a struggle. In the 1930s and 1940s, black students sued to break the color barrier at state institutions to no avail; the Supreme Court ruled in 1938 that the university had to admit a black student to its law school — but only if there was no comparable institution elsewhere.

The state converted a cosmetology school at the all-black Lincoln University, in Jefferson City, into a law school.

Mr. Ridgel was the valedictorian at his high school in Poplar Bluff, in southeast Missouri near the Arkansas border. After graduating magna cum laude from Lincoln University in three years — he lacked the money for a fourth — Mr. Ridgel was approached by civil rights groups to join a handful of other students testing the segregation laws once more.

“Everything was segregated in Missouri,” he said. “They had decided that they wanted to find a candidate they were fairly sure could not be refused for any academic reason.”

When a ruling was handed down, surprisingly and suddenly, in his favor, Mr. Ridgel said, he realized that he had no money to attend. A coalition of black civic leaders and an anonymous white donor assembled a year’s worth of tuition and room and board, but upon arriving at the university, Mr. Ridgel discovered a second, even bigger problem: The graduate program in economics was two years long, not one.

His department chairman came up with a solution. “He told me that I could graduate in one year if I could do all my course work and write my master’s thesis,” Mr. Ridgel said, “but nobody had ever done it.” Two semesters later, he received a master’s degree in economics.

Mr. Ridgel went on to earn a doctorate in economics at Wisconsin and to conduct postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, Duke University and other institutions. His academic experience, he said, was hardly bias free; as a Ford Foundation fellow at Duke, he said, he was barred from going through the cafeteria line and even from dining with other Ford fellows until a partition was erected shielding them from other diners. Nor could he retrieve books from library stacks, something other students routinely did.

Unlike black students at Missouri today, Mr. Ridgel said, he felt largely powerless to do much about his situation. “They have available to them means to react to an unfair situation that obviously weren’t available to me in 1950,” he said.

That they had to be used, Mr. Ridgel said, is unfortunate.

“It’s distressing, after this long period of time, that there would be racial incidents that would precipitate that kind of reaction. I had no idea that such an atmosphere existed,” he said. But the fact that students were able to address the incidents, he said, is a sign of progress by itself.

(Excerpted from New York Times 11/11/15

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Greenhouse gases hit new milestone, fueling worries about climate change

Greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere reached another grim milestone earlier this year as carbon dioxide levels surpassed the symbolic threshold of 400 parts per million across much of the planet, the premier global meteorological association confirmed in a report to be released Monday.

Figures compiled by the World Meteorological Organization showed strong growth — and new records — in the concentrations of all three of the most important heat-trapping gases, continuing a long-term trend with ominous implications for climate change, the group said.

The report is likely to add to concerns about global warming in a year that climate experts say is almost certain to surpass 2014 as the hottest year in recorded history.

“We are moving into unchartered territory at a frightening speed,” WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud said of the report’s findings.

With the burning of fossil fuels, levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have risen steadily, soaring from about 278 ppm during ­pre-industrial times to above 390 ppm by the start of the current decade.

Many scientists contend that the carbon dioxide levels should remain well below 400 ppm to avoid long-term disruptions to the Earth’s climate. But since 2012, several of the WMO’s 125 individual monitoring stations have detected readings above that threshold.

The long-term implications for the planet, he said, include “hotter global temperatures and more extreme weather events” as well as melting ice, rising sea levels and increased acidity in oceans.

“It is an invisible threat, but a very real one

(Excerpted from Washington Post 10/09/15)

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Rapid, Climate-Informed Development Needed to Keep Climate Change from Pushing More than 100 Million People into Poverty by 2030

A new World Bank report shows that climate change is an acute threat to poorer people across the world, with the power to push more than 100 million people back into poverty over the next fifteen years.  And the poorest regions of the world – Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – will be hit the hardest.

But the report – Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty  – also points to a way out. This requires that poverty reduction and development work continue as a priority while taking into account a changing climate.  It also means taking targeted action to help people cope with climate shocks – such as developing early warning systems and flood protection, and introducing heat-resistant crops.  At the same time, efforts to reduce emissions should accelerate, and be designed to protect the poor.

(Excerpted from World Bank 11/08/15)

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Missouri gets D- grade in 2015 State Integrity Investigation

Here in the “Show Me” state, ethics reform has been an uphill battle as steep as the streets of Jefferson City, the capital.

It’s not that ethics bills have no supporters. Indeed, they do. The number of ethics-related bills and joint resolutions introduced in the General Assembly has increased each of the last three years, with 39 introduced in 2015. Democratic Gov. Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon has pledged to take the issue directly to voters in a ballot issue if lawmakers didn’t act. But not one ethics bill has passed in the last three years, despite Missouri’s dubious status as a state without campaign finance limits, lobbyist gift limits, or cooling-off periods for legislators registering as lobbyists.

As a result, Missouri earned a D- grade with a score of 62, tied with Idaho for 26th place among the states in the State Integrity Investigation, an assessment of state government transparency and accountability conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity.

That’s a drop from 2012, when the Missouri garnered a C- and a rank of 16th.

Show-Me lobbyists

Missouri’s lack of certain limits allows state legislators and other elected officials to have a particularly troublesome relationship with lobbyists, who spent $1.85 million on gifts to state officials in the 24 months through last December.

Some of those lobbyists spare no expense: in January, four members of the House Telecommunications Committee met for a hearing at Jefferson City Country Club, paid for by the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association. The committee had no assigned bills to discuss. The next day, as criticism grew over the frequency of out-of-town dinner hearings paid for by lobbyists, then-Speaker of the House John Diehl, a Republican, ordered that all committee meetings be held at the state capitol, effective immediately.

As the end of their terms approach, some legislators also will likely be searching for jobs as lobbyists.  Since November 2012, at least 11 legislators have registered as lobbyists within a year after leaving office or announced resignations to become lobbyists. Some did not even wait until their terms ended to make the switch.

Republican Steven Tilley, who was House speaker in 2012, resigned nearly five months before the end of his term and eventually took on more than 20 clients, including Tesla Motors and Anheuser-Busch. But even after resigning, he continued to use his campaign committee to contribute to legislators he lobbied. In October, Tilley shut down the campaign fund and transferred its remaining half-million dollars to several political action committees.

It’s all legal, for now, but few would argue that it is ethical. “If you comply with all the ethics laws, that doesn’t make you an ethical legislator,” said Wally Siewert, director of the Center for Ethics in Public Life at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Critics say many of the current practices make a mockery of the words engraved inside the Senate chamber: “Nothing is politically right that is morally wrong.”

More recently, a different type of controversial behavior focused public attention on the Legislature. Diehl, the former speaker, and Democratic state Sen. Paul LeVota resigned in May and August, respectively, over allegations of sexual harassment of legislative interns.

Meanwhile, Progress Missouri accused Senate committee chairmen of regularly violating the state’s open meetings law, known as the Sunshine Law. In a lawsuit filed in April, the group said Senate chairmen arbitrarily denied its requests to shoot video of public committee meetings. But Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem dismissed the suit in June without ruling on whether the senators violated the Sunshine Law.

(Excerpted from Center for Public Integrity 11/9/15)

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MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin is learning the high price of appeasement: New broadside on academic freedom from Missouri Sen. Kurt Schaefer

Loftin made a huge mistake in September when he caved in to legislative bullying and revoked admitting privileges at MU’s hospital for a doctor who also performs non-surgical abortions at a nearly Planned Parenthood clinic. The admitting privileges are necessary for the clinic to comply with state law.

The chancellor also agreed to the cancellation of 10 contracts with Planned Parenthood for nursing and medical students to complete clinical hours at its health care facilities.

The chancellor’s appeasement had the effect of a sugar rush on anti-abortion lawmakers. They scrambled for more. This week brought a new attack by Missouri Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a candidate for Missouri attorney general who believes his role as Senate appropriations chairman has bestowed him with dictatorial powers.

 Once a strong supporter of the university system, the senator from Columbia now spends a great deal of time sniffing out connections between the university system and Planned Parenthood. Loftin was subjected to hostile interrogations from Schaefer’s “sanctity of life” committee shortly before he canceled the clinical contracts and the doctor’s admitting privileges.

Now Schaefer is demanding documents related to a research project in which a doctoral student in the university’s School of Social Work is gauging the impact of Missouri’s new law requiring women to wait 72 hours before obtaining an abortion.

Schaefer had gotten hold of a consent form the student designed for women who agreed to participate in the study. The form is professionally drafted, assuring women that their participation is voluntary and confidential.

It also includes this sentence: “The information that you provide may help Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri improve its services to better meet the needs of women seeking abortions.”

That was all Schaefer needed to accuse the university and everyone connected with the study of violating a Missouri statute that bans state funds from being used to perform an abortion or encourage or counsel a woman to terminate a pregnancy. To him, the study looks like a “marketing aid” for Planned Parenthood.

That assertion is ridiculous. The study, which has undergone a rigorous academic review, is designed to assess whether the extended waiting period discourages women from having abortions. Missouri being the first state to pass such a draconian law, you would think lawmakers would find that information valuable. If the waiting period turns out to be a disincentive, they can use the study for bragging rights.

Schaefer’s attack is a broadside on academic freedom. If Loftin won’t draw the line this time, he has no business leading a major university.

Things will get nasty. Schaefer has threatened to cut the university’s budget if leaders don’t do his bidding.

But to allow a politician to shut down a research project would undermine the foundation of any university and leave MU even more vulnerable.

Already, some extremist members of the Missouri General Assembly and candidates for office have their sights on a longtime embryonic stem cell research project taking place at the university. Missouri Right to Life, the influential anti-abortion group, has falsely compared research on microscopic embryonic cells to the destruction of human life.

I don’t claim to know what the future holds for Loftin or Wolfe, who reportedly are hopelessly at odds. But if they care about the future of the University of Missouri they will tell Schaefer and the other meddlers to keep their power-hungry hands away from academic research.

(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 11/06/15)

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Republicans continue the war on voting rights

For years, Republicans have argued that voter fraud is so great a threat to democracy that Americans should be required to present some form of photo ID — say, a driver’s license — before they can cast a ballot.

So it stands to reason that GOP leaders would be thrilled with new laws that automatically register people to vote when they obtain a driver’s license, right?

Not so much. Republicans claim that setting all those prospective voters loose with photo IDs, wait for it, increases the risk of fraud.

Apparently there’s just no pleasing the GOP — especially when the voters in question happen to belong to demographic groups that tend to vote against the party.

In the seven years since Barack Obama was elected president, 18 states — most of them led by Republicans — have passed laws requiring voters to show some form of ID. Research indicates that as many as 25 percent of African-Americans don’t have a government-issued ID, the form most often required. The numbers are also disproportionately high for Latinos, young people and the poor, all of whom tend to lean Democratic.

Thirty-two states, including Missouri, now have ID measures in effect. Nine require photo ID, and eight others have approved photo ID laws that grant narrow exceptions. Missouri’s attempts to require photo ID have been struck down by the courts, but the state GOP hasn’t given up.

Automatic registration of voters is good for democracy, but it’s obvious that people who want to thwart the electoral process won’t give up easily.

In Republican-led Alabama, a state that requires photo ID from its voters, officials recently announced they would shut down 31 driver’s license offices where people can obtain IDs if they don’t drive. The closures were described as a cost-saving measure, but it’s no coincidence that they hit every county where African-Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters.

A state that once subjected its black citizens to “how many bubbles are in a bar of soap?” tests really ought to know better. And the rest of America shouldn’t have trouble picturing why today’s more genteel but equally pernicious obstacles to voting should fall.
(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 11/01/15 )

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Debate Fallout: Even Conservatives Are Appalled By Republican Mendacity

For people who so often accuse Hillary Clinton of lying, the Republican presidential candidates seem to feel perfectly free to bend, twist, and shred the truth at will. Unsurprisingly, that is just what several of them were caught doing in their free-for-all CNBC debate. They prevaricated about themselves, their policies, and their opponents, without blinking an eye – and for the most part, they got away with it.

Do nice people tell self-serving lies? Perhaps they do, because it was terribly nice Ben Carson who uttered one of the most blatant whoppers of the evening.

To loud booing from the partisan audience, moderator Carl Quintanilla asked the soft-spoken neurosurgeon about his long and lucrative involvement with Mannatech, a nutritional supplement manufacturer that has been cited for false health claims for its “glyconutrients.” (How bad was Mannatech? Bad enough to provoke a fraud action brought by Greg Abbott, the former Texas attorney general who is now that state’s very conservative governor.)

“I didn’t have an involvement with [Mannatech],” retorted Carson. “That is total propaganda, and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda.”

What Carson’s noisy fans probably didn’t know is that this was no “liberal media” setup. The doctor’s decade-long relationship with Mannatech – which turns out to have included a written contract, paid speeches, and a video endorsement on the company’s website – was exposed last year by Jim Geraghty of National Review, the flagship publication of American conservatism. Following the debate, Geraghty slammed Carson for “bald-faced lies” and “blatantly lying” about his relationship with the supplement firm.

Equally mendacious about his own personal history was Marco Rubio, who “won” the debate according to many observers. When Becky Quick of CNBC asked a predictable question about his checked financial affairs, which have included foreclosures, liquidations, phony expense accounts, and other embarrassments, the senator from Florida shot back: “You just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I’m not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all.”

Discredited attacks? Actually, Quick’s question was premised on facts that are not in dispute – as even Rubio himself acknowledged in his own campaign book. So frontally deceptive was his response that an outraged Joe Scarborough, his fellow Florida Republican, called him out on MSNBC’s Morning Joe the next day.

“Marco just flat-out lied to the American people there,” Scarborough complained. “And I was stunned that the moderators didn’t stop there and go, ‘Wait a second, these are court records. What are you talking about?…Becky was telling the truth, Marco was lying. And yet everybody’s going, ‘Oh, Marco was great.’ No, Marco lied about his financials.” Not incidentally, Rubio also lied about the effects of his tax plan, claiming his tax cuts would mostly benefit lower-income families when in fact its biggest benefits would accrue to the top one percent, as Republican tax schemes almost always do.

Another brand of lie was pronounced by Carly Fiorina, who drew attention at the last GOP by insisting she had watched a grisly Planned Parenthood video that doesn’t exist. This time, she reached back to the 2012 Republican campaign to invent a factoid about women’s employment.

Fiorina tries to sell herself as the candidate tough enough to take down Clinton, and tries to prove it by making stuff up. At this debate, she huffed:

It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president, when every single policy she espouses and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstratively bad for women. Ninety-two percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women.

But as PolitiFact quickly established, that statement was false in every particular. Not only did women not lose “92 percent” of the jobs in Obama’s first term, the number of women employed during the period from January 2009 to January 2013 grew by 416,000. Naturally, as she did with Planned Parenthood, Fiorina angrily repeated the lie when challenged.

(Excerpted from National Memo 10/30/15)

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The Solution to Income Inequality? Unions

Teresa Ghilarducci in The Atlantic: New research from the International Monetary Fund recommends “reviving unions as a way for democracies to grow their economies and boost productivity.”

“In the U.S., where less than 9 percent of private-sector workers are organized, they could use a revival. The U.S. has one of the lowest unionization rates in the world … The IMF concluded that countries with higher rates of union coverage enjoy lower rates of inequality and lower rates of poverty.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 8.30.22 AM

“The causal link identified was pretty much the same: Unions reduce inequality by bringing up the wages of middle-income and the lowest-paid workers … Unionized workers are 28 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance and 54 percent more likely to have a pension.”

“Who covers these raises? Managers’ and executives’ wages tend to be slightly lower at businesses with unionized workforces … Unions appear to raise productivity [because] employers of unionized workers tend to spend more on updating their machines and computers and training their workers. They’re more incentivized to do so when an hour of work is relatively more expensive, and this raises productivity overall.”

“When unions represent their workers, they often push for things—higher taxes on the wealthiest, Social-Security benefits increases, and better public education, to name a few—that benefit even non-unionized workers.”

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 10/30/15)

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Springtime for Grifters

At one point during Wednesday’s Republican debate, Ben Carson was asked about his involvement with Mannatech, a nutritional supplements company that makes outlandish claims about its products and has been forced to pay $7 million to settle a deceptive-practices lawsuit. The audience booed, and Mr. Carson denied being involved with the company. Both reactions tell you a lot about the driving forces behind modern American politics.

As it happens, Mr. Carson lied. He has indeed been deeply involved with Mannatech, and has done a lot to help promote its merchandise. PolitiFact quickly rated his claim false, without qualification. But the Republican base doesn’t want to hear about it, and the candidate apparently believes, probably correctly, that he can simply brazen it out. These days, in his party, being an obvious grifter isn’t a liability, and may even be an asset.

But the targets of such schemes know, just know, that the liberal mainstream media can’t be trusted, that when it reports negative stories about conservative heroes it’s just out to suppress people who are telling the real truth. It’s a closed information loop, and can’t be broken.

Furthermore, the success of the grifters has a profound effect on the whole party. As I said, it defines respectability down.

But the Republican base doesn’t care what the mainstream media says. Indeed, after Wednesday’s debate the Internet was full of claims that John Harwood, one of the moderators, lied about Mr. Rubio’s tax plan. (He didn’t.) And in any case, Mr. Rubio sounds sensible compared to the likes of Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump. So there’s no penalty for his fiscal fantasies.

The point is that we shouldn’t ask whether the G.O.P. will eventually nominate someone in the habit of saying things that are demonstrably untrue, and counting on political loyalists not to notice. The only question is what kind of scam it will be.

(Excerpted from Krugman – New York Times 10/30/15)

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The House science committee is worse than the Benghazi committee

The thing is: The Benghazi committee is not even the worst committee in the House. I’d argue that the House science committee, under the chairmanship of Lamar Smith (R-TX), deserves that superlative for its open-ended, Orwellian attempts to intimidate some of the nation’s leading scientists and scientific institutions.

The science committee’s modus operandi is similar to the Benghazi committee’s — sweeping, catchall investigations, with no specific allegations of wrongdoing or clear rationale, searching through private documents for out-of-context bits and pieces to leak to the press, hoping to gain short-term political advantage — but it stands to do more lasting long-term damage.

Hassling a scientist for unwelcome results

In June, a scientist named Thomas Karl, along with colleagues, published a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Science called “Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus.” It cast doubt on the global warming “pause” that has become the latest cause célèbre for climate change, er, doubters.

That did not sit well with Smith, who is a doubter himself, like many of the Republicans on his committee and more than half of all House Republicans. And it was the subject of much heated attack in the denial-o-sphere.

So Smith has gone after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where Karl works as the director of the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). For a play-by-play, I recommend this scorching letter to Smith from committee ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

In it, she notes that Smith made three written requests for information about Karl’s study, all of which NOAA responded to in writing and in personal briefings. “Moreover,” she writes, “NOAA attempted to explain certain aspects of the methodology about which the Majority was apparently confused.” (Imagine how that meeting went.)

Among Smith’s repeated demands: access to the data and methods behind NOAA’s work on climate. Except, as NOAA and Democratic members of the committee kept trying to explain, those data and methods are posted on the internet. Anyone can access them. Yet Republicans kept demanding them.

Unsatisfied with the total cooperation and untrammeled access his committee received, Smith issued a subpoena:

On October 13, the committee subpoenaed nearly seven years of internal deliberations and communications among scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including “all documents and communications” related to NOAA’s measurement of our climate.

“All documents and communications” would presumably include emails, preliminary drafts, peer review comments, notes, audio recordings, and a treasure trove of other material. This would mean thousands upon thousands of records for employees to identify and go through and analyze for no clearly stated purpose.

NOAA was given two weeks to comply.

To be clear, Smith has not alleged any corruption, wrongdoing, or even bad science. He hasn’t alleged anything. Nor has he offered any justification for why he needs access to NOAA internal communications. The new rules mean that he no longer has to explain or justify himself to anyone. He’s just hoping to find something he can use.

Hassling a prestigious research organization for funding studies with funny names

For more than 60 years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported basic research in science and engineering. With a $7 billion budget, it is responsible for about 20 percent of the federal government’s basic research spending.

The NSF “merit review” process is something of a legend, a multilayered process that sends each grant past a panel of independent scientists, researchers, and educators in the field, with scrupulous rules to avoid conflicts of interest. About 80 percent of applications fail to pass review; receiving an NSF grant is widely seen as a mark of prestige in the science world.

Crucially, the peer review is blind. The names of reviewers are never disclosed.

Republicans on the science committee believe they have discovered an important flaw in the process: Sometimes it awards grants to studies that sound funny.

Smith is convinced that NSF is wasting public money by funding these funny-sounding studies, which has led to a long and acrimonious fight between Republicans on the committee and committee Democrats, NSF’s leadership, and much of the academic and research community.

(Said parties have engaged in a long and spirited exchange of correspondence, which you can read in full here.)

Smith is demanding that NSF turn over all the details — including internal communications and the names of reviewers — related to a growing list of grants that he thinks don’t sound quite right. It’s up to about 50 now, and as journalist Jeffrey Mervis explains, “the scientific community is scratching its head over how Smith compiled his list of questionable grants”:

[T]he list is hard to characterize. One grant goes back to 2005, and 13 appear to have expired. The total amount of money awarded is about $26 million. The smallest grant, awarded in 2005, is $19,684 for a doctoral dissertation on “culture, change & chronic stress in lowland Bolivia.” The largest, for $5.65 million, is for a project that aims to use innovative education methods to educate Arctic communities about climate change and related issues.

In another damning letter to her counterpart, Rep. Johnson says:

The plain truth is that there are no credible allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse associated with these 20 awards. The only issue with them appears to be that you, personally, think that the grants sound wasteful based on your understanding of their titles and purpose. Seeking to substitute your judgment for the determinations of NSF’s merit review process is the antithesis of the successful principles our nation has relied on to make our research investment decisions. The path you are going down risks becoming a textbook example of political judgment trumping expert judgment.

Republican radicalization has already laid waste to many of the written and unwritten rules that once governed American politics. The use of congressional committees as tools of partisan intimidation is only a chapter in that grim story.

But the science committee is going after individual scientists, who rarely have the resources on hand to defend themselves from unexpected political attack. It is doing so without any rationale related to the constitutional exercise of its oversight powers — not with a false rationale, but without any stated rationale, no allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse — in service of an effort to suppress inconvenient scientific results and score partisan political points against the executive branch.

The federal government is an enormous supporter of scientific research, to the country’s great and enduring benefit, though that support is now under sustained attack. If such funding comes with strings, with the threat that the wrong inquiry or results could bring down a congressional inquisition, researchers are likely to shy away from controversial subjects. The effects on the US scientific community, and on America’s reputation as a leader in science, could be dire, lingering on well past the 2016 election.

(Excerpted from Vox 10/26/15)

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Politics Isn’t About Whom You Love, But Whom You Fear

Ezra Klein: A paper by political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster “attempts to untangle a mystery about modern American politics: how can there be record levels of party loyalty and straight-ticket voting at the same time that fewer Americans than ever before are identifying as Republicans and Democrats?”

The real key, they found, to predicting party loyalty “was fear of the other party: ‘Regardless of the strength of their attachment to their own party, the more voters dislike the opposing party, the greater the probability that they will vote consistently for their own party’s candidates.’”

“Abramowitz and Webster include this graph of people’s attitudes toward their party, and toward the opposing party, and it gets more disturbing the longer you look at it:”

party thermometer chart

“This, then, is the last 30 years of American party politics in a sentence: we like the party we belong to a bit less, but we hate the other party much more.”

“The question all this raises is why voters are coming to fear the other party more with each passing decade. The answer Abramowitz and Webster offer is that it comes down to changing composition: the two parties are becoming more demographically dissimilar from each other, and that’s making it easier for them to hate each other … As the parties become more distant demographically and culturally, they become more distant on policy, too.”

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 10/27/15)

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Study shines light on pay disparity for women at University of Missouri

Female faculty members at the University of Missouri tend to make $16,000 less than their male counterparts, while racial and ethnic minority faculty members also make $16,000 less than their majority counterparts, according to a study released at the university Faculty Council meeting this week.

Despite those differences, there is no gender, racial or ethnic equality in faculty salaries at most university departments, the study found.

The differences can be explained by three main elements – research productivity, rank and administrative service, said Mike Urban, co-chairman of the Chancellor’s Status of Women Committee.

Male faculty members tend to have 3.5 more years of experience at the university than female faculty and earn more because of that experience – not necessarily because of unfair treatment by the institution, the study concluded.

Male faculty members were more likely than females to reach the rank of full professor and were more likely to have higher productivity, the Columbia Missourian reported.

Linda Reeder, chairwoman of the Status of Women Committee in the College of Arts and Science, said she did not think the study adequately answered her committee’s concerns about salary inequity for associate professors. She said she is hopeful the university will continue to commission studies on gender pay gaps.

Urban encouraged the administration and Provost Garnett Stokes to use the study to prompt a discussion of the issue.

“What we would really like to do is basically explore that a little bit further and use this study as a starting point for a broader discussion about these things so that we can sort of help make the institution a little bit stronger,” he said.

Faculty in the School of Medicine and the School of Law were not included in the study because their salaries are determined by different factors. Non-tenure-track faculty and part-time faculty also were not included in the study.

(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 1026/15)

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Pass the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act

Statement from Sarah Rossi, ACLU of Missouri director of advocacy and policy, regarding today’s Pittman (copy of the Court’s decision) decision:

Today the Missouri Court of Appeals made two things very clear: Missourians are being harassed, bullied, and fired from their jobs for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual and they will have no recourse in the courts unless the State Legislature changes the Missouri Human Rights Act to protect them.

In what was clearly a reluctant decision, the court denied James Pittman’s claim against his employer for creating a hostile work environment – and eventually firing him – because he is a gay man. The court did not deny that what James experienced was real, but instead made clear that their hands were tied by Missouri law.

Contrary to what many believe, lesbian, gay, and bisexual Missourians can still be fired, kicked out of their homes, or denied service at a restaurant because of who they are and who they love. The ACLU has been calling on the legislature to change this for years, to have the basic decency to catch up to what 27 other states have already done – include LGBT people in the Missouri Human Rights Act. Pass the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act.

(Excerpted from ACLU 10/27/15)

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