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Five ideas

In this section, we present a few of the major issues that have come up in the public discourse in the past week. We end each subject with a question to encourage you to consider your own opinions about these issues and how they affect our community. Please take a moment and contribute to the dialogue.
Sunday, March 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:20 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

[1] Justice flap

Seeking more information about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, a House panel authorized subpoenas last week for top Justice Department and White House aides, including President Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove. The Senate also revoked a provision of the Patriot Act that had allowed the attorney general to appoint federal prosecutors without Senate confirmation.

President Bush said he would make Rove and others available to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for private interviews, but no oath would be administered and no transcript of the proceedings would be made. The administration also made available thousands of pages of documents, though there are gaps in the chronology, and the documents are heavily redacted.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has denied that the firings were politically motivated, saying that the attorneys were dismissed for performance-related reasons. He has also said that mistakes were made in how the firings were initially explained to Congress.

Do you think Congress should accept the president’s offer to interview his advisers or issue subpoenas to force them to testify publicly? Why?

[2] Prescribing physicians

Expert advisers who have received more than $50,000 from a drug or medical-device company will no longer be allowed to serve on Food and Drug Administration advisory panels reviewing the company’s products. Such panels recommend drugs for approval by the FDA or removal from the market, decisions which have serious implications for the profitability of pharmaceutical companies.

The decision to limit the influence of FDA advisers who receive large sums of money is another recent development that forces doctors and drug companies to shed light on their financial relationships. A handful of states have passed laws requiring differing levels of disclosure regarding drug companies’ marketing efforts, which at times include payment for trips, consulting fees and research subsidies for doctors. Missouri is not one of those states.

FDA officials say advisory panels help the public understand how drugs are approved, and that prohibiting certain experts would be detrimental to the process.

What effect do you think the new rules will have on how the FDA reviews new drugs and devices?

[3] Changing channels

Under the statewide video franchising bill approved by the Missouri General Assembly last week, individual cities and towns would no longer be able to negotiate with cable providers wanting access to customers. Instead, the companies would go through the Missouri Public Service Commission to get a statewide franchise agreement.

Currently, cities negotiate individually with cable companies for public right of way in exchange for franchise fees. The companies usually guarantee some revenue to be spent to provide public, educational and governmental channels. The video franchising bill would only secure funding for such channels through 2011.

Proponents of the bill say it will increase competition and lower prices for customers, as it allows numerous providers access to customer bases that were previously tapped by only one or very few providers.

Columbia City Attorney Fred Boeckman has said the bill will not cut down on revenues for the city, but that funding for public access will likely decrease because of the bill.

How important is public-access television to you?

[4] Going hungry

The amount of food the U.S. provides to the hungry around the world dropped by 43 percent over the past five years, the Government Accountability Office said in a report to Congress.

Two-thirds of the funding for Food for Peace, the main food aid program, is consumed by administrative, logistical and shipping costs. As a result, the report said, the U.S. is helping to feed 20 million fewer people a year than it was five years ago.

Canada, Australia and some European countries have addressed the problem by giving cash to buy food from areas closer to the country that would receive the food. But, U.S. law requires that almost all food given as aid be grown in the United States. President Bush has asked Congress twice to increase the amount of food bought on foreign soil, but lawmakers say there are no assurances the government would not buy food from America’s competitors in Europe and Australia.

Should it matter where the food given to poor countries is grown?

[5] Civilian review board

A majority of the candidates for City Council told the Missourian last week that they are in favor of some sort of a review board that would provide civilian oversight of the Columbia Police Department. One candidate said having a civilian review board like the military’s would be a good idea.

City Manager Bill Watkins has said repeatedly that he thinks such a board is not necessary and that the current internal review procedures at the Police Department are sufficient.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm reported in November that civilian review boards tend to find that 10 percent to 13 percent of complaints against police are valid. He said internal reviews by the Columbia Police Department resulted in disciplinary action in 12 percent of investigations.

Some proponents of the civilian review board cite racial profiling by police as one of the main reasons for the establishment of a board.

How will the candidates’ positions on the review board affect your vote this April?


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