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Five Ideas

Sunday, July 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:40 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

[1] Meth hazards

Rural Missouri is one of the most popular places in the country for methamphetamine production. The state has established guidelines for how a meth-production site should be cleaned but has no enforceable legal standard for determining when a site has been adequately cleaned. Michelle Hartman, of Missouri Department of Health, said there isn’t enough evidence on the adverse health effects on residents of former production sites to merit legal guidelines.

Some researchers believe that even after a meth site has been cleaned, chemicals can be present that could cause pulmonary damage and peripheral nerve compression. Residents may also be at risk for more serious side effects, including cancer and asthma.

A state hazardous material operator trains law enforcement officers on the safe handling of confiscated meth materials and taking them to collection agencies. Other states, such as Washington and Oregon, have created a comprehensive program to handle meth lab cleanup, using state-certified contractors.

Who should be responsible for cleaning up former methamphetamine labs? Law enforcement or property owners?

[2]Thou shalt not confound

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on public displays of the Ten Commandments that many people found confusing. The high court ruled 5-4 that a 6-foot monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol was constitutional, but framed copies on the walls of two Kentucky courthouses were not.

The ruling indicates that the court will continue to allow religious symbols and texts to be displayed on public property so long as they have a plausible secular purpose. Groups on both sides agree that the ruling didn’t do much to clarify the issue. Rather, it would spawn more disputes over Ten Commandment displays in parks, town halls and courthouses. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon says the high court walked a fine line on a touchy issue. The ruling did, however, protect a Ten Commandment monument on the grounds of the Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City.

What is the difference between a Ten Commandments monument in a courthouse and one at a state capitol building?

[3]Blogging for dollars

The Federal Election Commission is considering whether weblogs, or blogs, are a threat to democracy. At hearings last week, the FEC heard testimony from numerous political bloggers on whether their online activities provide unregulated benefits to specific political campaigns. The commission proposed extending some campaign finance regulations to bloggers.

The proposed restrictions come at a time of increasing influence of weblogs. A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that over one third of U.S. adults went to the Internet to get political news during the 2004 election. Meanwhile, candidates and campaigns have used the Internet to raise money. Last year, a federal judge ordered the FEC to extend some campaign finance and spending limits to political activity on the web. Bloggers fear an increase in government oversight and have been working with a political action committee, lawyers and public-relations consultants to fend off government regulation.

What blogs do you visit, and do you think they should be regulated like other political activities?

[4] Long way home

The Bush administration has expressed conflicting views on how long U.S. troops will have to remain in Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney said recently that the insurgency is in its “last throes.” A few days later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speculated that the fighting by those opposed to the new Iraqi government could last as long as 12 years.

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that 61 percent of Americans don’t think the president has a clear plan for Iraq. More than half said sending troops there was a mistake. And 51 percent said they want a timetable for getting U.S. troops out. In a prime time speech Tuesday, President Bush, however, said that setting a timetable to withdraw would be a mistake because it would signal to the insurgents that they can wait out the United States and the fragile Iraqi regime.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld acknowledged that U.S. officials have met with insurgents, although he offered no details on what was discussed.

Would you support a negotiated settlement to the fighting in Iraq

[5]Medicaid

Cuts to state Medicaid benefits took effect Friday, eventually removing 90,000 people from the rolls for the federal health care program for low-income people. The first round of cuts will affect about 24,000 families. Along with the downsizing of Medicaid program, some medical centers, especially those providing health care to the poor, plan to cut services.

An 11th-hour lawsuit aimed at delaying the cuts was filed in the U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, contending that the Department of Social Services violated constitutional due-process rights by not providing parents adequate notice that they would lose their benefits. The suit seeks class-action status, as well as an injunction that would prohibit the state from cutting anyone’s Medicaid benefits. A judge denied the request for an injunction.

Meanwhile, Congress is investigating “questionable billing practices” by states to get more federal Medicaid money. Investigators said that two-thirds of the states hired consultants who advised them on how to drive up Medicaid costs. The consultants were paid contingency fees based on the increases.

Should consultants be hired to help the state control Medicaid costs?


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