From across the state

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Missouri newspapers:

Dec. 7, The (Independence, Mo.) Examiner on America's borrowing and spending:

Americans love to buy goods from overseas, far more than we sell overseas. Americans also demand services from their government, far more than they're willing to pay for up front. Those facts could, sooner or later, have some ugly consequences.

Follow the money: A shopper buys a pair of tennis shoes from China. The Chinese company that makes the shoes now has some cash in hand, which it turns around and puts in American government securities -- the debt that Washington issues to keep spending more than it takes in.

Asian countries in particular have been buying up American debt. Japan's Finance Ministry, for example, holds $720 billion -- that's billion with a "b" -- in U.S. government securities. This all works well enough, for now, as long as the dollar looks attractive to these investors. It's helped keep U.S. interest rates down.

But now those investors are starting to worry about the U.S. government's debt, and that's driving the dollar downward. If the dollar's decline continues and those foreign investors decide not to support our spendthrift ways, they might dump those securities, raising interest rates and thereby raising the cost of everything from a new car to a new manufacturing plant.

Just a theory so far, right? There are only whispers, so far, that this might be starting, right? Yes, so far. But these are huge forces at play, and American consumers can only be shielded from them from so long.

Dec. 5, News Tribune of Jefferson City, Mo., on smoking:

Last. Dead last.

That's where Missouri ranks nationally when it comes to funding programs to protect children from tobacco. So far the state has received $822 million in tobacco settlement money -- and not one penny has been spent on prevention programs.

... Missouri's smoking rate is the nation's third-highest, with more tobacco-using high school students -- 30.3 percent -- than adults smoking statewide, or 26.6 percent. More than 16,000 kids become regular smokers -- make that new addicts -- every year This alarming number cries out for aggressive prevention efforts. But it's not just clouds of cigarette smoke that have obscured the path to correction; it's hard to navigate through the smoke screen laid out by politicians.

The lion's share of blame for the state's predicament goes to our elected leaders. ... Let's just say politicians are as addicted to money as smokers are to tobacco.

A new crop of tobacco companies joining the settlement will increase Missouri's share by $7 million next year. Last week, Attorney General Jay Nixon made a pitch for the new money to go strictly to tobacco prevention programs. ...

It's a terrific idea and a first step in the right direction. ...

Perhaps with a new governor and a fresh set of legislators, something can finally be done. ...

And let's go a step further. Missouri has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation at 17 cents per pack. Radically increasing the tobacco taxes would have a multilevel effect: it would boost the money available for prevention efforts, make it cost prohibitive for kids to start smoking, or push more smokers to give up the habit. In any case, the state comes out a winner.

The alternative is to see more young people become addicted to tobacco. That means more lives will be lost to tobacco-related disease and taxpayers will face an ever higher cost of treating that disease.

Dec. 5, The Sikeston Standard Democrat on early voting:

The argument behind early voting is shallow at best. Those who favor early voting would allow registered voters to cast their ballot weeks in advance of Election Day. Their primary argument is that the process would be more convenient for voters. But that's also an argument against the process. Voting should not be made more convenient. Absentee voting is already allowed for those unable to vote on Election Day for whatever circumstance. And part of our civic duty should be to become informed on the candidates and issues and then to cast a ballot on that one special day set aside to decide the fate of our nation.

Here's what would happen. Labor unions and special interest groups would hand deliver voters to the precincts in the early voting period to cast their ballot. But that means elections would be decided by which side could mobilize the most people. It reminds me of the days when groups were rounded-up, given a pint of whiskey and taken to the polls with written instructions on how to vote. Don't imagine for one minute that the very same process would not be repeated under early voting. We have a national day of election in this country when all of the debate and all of the issues are finally decided. We dilute that process when we allow early voting. And a diluted electorate is not appealing.