The survivors who weren’t at Pearl Harbor

On this 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I want to tell you about two people who were at the other end of that story.

In 1974, I met an old man who ran a sandwich shop and pinball arcade in Jefferson City.  He had been the first news director of the local radio station I was working for then (just before the creation of The Missourinet) and I had gone to interview him about the days when the station went on the air twenty years earlier.  After we talked about those times, I asked him how he wound up in Jefferson City and for the better part of an hour, Bud Wills and his wife, Phyllis, told me life stories that were jaw-dropping.

Phyllis was born in Canada, raised Japan by English missionary parents, and returned to what was then called Formosa when it was in Japanese hands in the early 1930s.  Bud had gone to Japan about 1928 to work for an English-language newspaper for three years and had stayed after the contract ran out.  In 1938 he and an unidentified American “with money” founded another English-language newspaper, Japan News Week, about the time the increasingly nationalistic Japanese government was putting other English-language newspapers out of business.  About the same time, Bud became the CBS correspondent in the Far East.

In that role, he covered the Japanese war with China, which many consider the real beginning of World War II when it started with the Japanese invasion in 1932. The same year that Bud founded his newspaper, CBS began its World News Roundup program that is best known for building the reputations of the Murrow Boys because of their reports as Europe disintegrated into war.   Forgotten in the telling of the story of the Murrow Boys is the non-Murrow Boy who often concluded the Roundup with his report “from halfway around the world” describing Japan’s increasing threat to peace in the Pacific, W. R. Wills.

Bud and Phyllis were at the home of a Tokyo friend, as usual, on Sunday night, December 7 (Tokyo time) for dinner and evening card-playing.  But instead of card-playing that night the group of people sat around the fire and somberly discussed when they thought war would begin with the United States.

A month, two months, said the others.  “Sooner than you think,” forecast Bud.

A heavy knock on his door at 5:30 next morning awakened him. He found officers of the Kempeitai, the Japanese Gestapo, there to arrest him.  As the bombs were falling at Pearl Harbor, Bud, Phyllis, and about sixty other American and British citizens were being arrested.  Bud and Phyllis were among those taken to the high-security Sugamo Prison (those who have read the Louis Zamperini story, Unbroken, will recognize the place).

They were held in small cells where they had to sleep on mats that would be rolled to the side during the day so they had some small space in which to pace.  They were forced to be in a squatting position for hours each day during interrogation.  Bud lost some teeth from being slapped repeatedly.  Phyllis suffered eye problem to her dying days because of the lights that were always on.  Both suffered from the cold in their unheated cells during the Japanese winter.

She didn’t learn about Pearl Harbor until about Christmas.  He didn’t learn about it until later.

Finally, in June, they were convicted of espionage—Phyllis being the first white woman convicted in a Japanese court of that charge.  He faced two years of hard labor; she, one.  But the sentences were stayed because the Swiss government at last had arranged an exchange of Japanese diplomats for American and British prisoners.  They left Tokyo by ship in June and didn’t land in New Jersey until August. They were married in Canada in September.

Wills,WR_Phyllis_Montreal_9-3-42001

A few years later they wound up in Steeleville, Missouri running a weekly newspaper. In 1954, they came to Jefferson City where Bud worked in radio for a brief time and eventually ran his sandwich and arcade shop. Phyllis became a journalism teacher at Lincoln University, and the foreign student advisor.

I interviewed them in 1974, the year Bud turned 81.  Phyllis, more than fifteen years younger, still spoke with her English accent.

Both died in 1977. Few people, if any, in Jefferson City remember Bud and Phyllis Wills today.  Fewer, perhaps nobody, ever heard them tell their story about being some of the first American POWs of World War II.  They were at the other end of the geography of the Pearl Harbor story.   And the interview that day in that little cubbyhole business at 626 East High Street in Jefferson City is the only recording ever made of them relating their experiences.

When I left the radio station to put a news department together for the Missourinet, I left that interview and many others I had done for the station’s 20th anniversary in one of two boxes of material gathered for a series of commemorative programs that were never produced because of my exit.  As the years went by and the station moved a few times and was sold a few times, old files and old boxes of recordings went into dumpsters.  The Bud and Phyllis interview is in a landfill somewhere now.

BUT:  Not long after I did that interview, their son, Bill, asked for a copy of  the recording and a few months later as I was passing through Indianapolis on a trip, I stopped by his house and gave it to him.  Shortly before my retirement two years and five days ago, a friend—Steve Morse, the chief engineer at Missourinet affiliate KWOS—dropped by my newsroom with a manila folder that had the typed transcripts I had made of all the interviews I had done more than forty years earlier.  The transcript of the Bud and Phyllis interview was in it. Steve and a friend had rescued one of the boxes from the dumpster but the other was gone before they got there.

I wondered if Bill Wills was still around and if he still had the dub of that lost interview.  I tracked him down through the internet, dropped by his home in Carmel, Indiana a few weeks later, and he arranged to provide a copy of the interview.  And he has provided me with a lot more.  I’ve been digging around since then for even more of their story. Someday I’ll be able to tell it to you, I hope.

The CBS World News Roundup is America’s longest-running network newscast. The Murrow Boys are legends in broadcast journalism history.  But there was somebody else who was there at the beginning.  And he and his wife told me their story that day long, long ago.

Bud & Phyllis, taken mid 70's

(Thanks to Bill Wills for the clipping and for the photograph of Bud and Phyllis about the time they told me their stories)

 

Grace

In a year that will not be remembered for its examples of grace, especially public grace, the sports world provided one at a time when anger and giant disappointment could have produced an example of ugliness.

Columbia racing driver Carl Edwards showed us a prime example of grace in this graceless year. For those who do not follow automobile racing as we do, here’s some background. .

Carl has been competing at NASCAR’s highest level for a dozen years.  He has finished second twice in the championship standings.  He is one of four extremely talented drivers who compete at this level for Joe Gibbs, the former NFL coach whose teams won three Super Bowls.

NASCAR determines is champion each year by taking the top sixteen drivers in points after the first twenty-six races and putting them through a series of elimination rounds until four drivers remain in the last race of the season to compete for the championship.  Carl Edwards made it to the final four by winning a race in the semifinal round at a time when he was on the verge of elimination because an earlier crash had left him far out of contention.

One of his competitors in the last race was teammate Kyle Busch, who had won the championship in a miracle season last year after missing the first eleven races with injuries.  Another competitor was Jimmie Johnson, who was hoping to win the championship for a record-tying seventh time.   The other competitor was Joey Logano, a young driver who has matured and succeeded driving for Roger Penske, one of the biggest names in motorsports competition.  Now, let’s set the scene:

The championship is within Carl’s grasp with just ten laps left after the racers have been slowed under a caution flag caused by an incident with another car.  He is on the inside of the front row, a prime place to reassert his leadership when the green flag is waved to go racing again.   If he can get a good jump, he’ll be running in clean air—a critical factor in cars designed to take advantage of aerodynamics—and headed for that elusive title.

Logano knows he has one shot at getting past him on that restart.  He dives low going into the first turn. Very low.  Carl knows his only hope is to drop low in the track to block Logano.   The front of Logano’s car touches the rear bumper of Edwards’ car, sending Edwards into the inside wall, then bouncing back across the track through traffic where he is hit from behind with such force by another driver that his car goes up on the other car’s hood before spinning off into the outside wall.  All hope of the championship is gone after what he called “the race of my life up to then.”

Few of us ever know the pressures of competing for anything at this level. And the intensity of “this level” is hard for any of us to imagine.  There are no halftimes, no timeouts, no free throws where you can catch your breath.  There are no shift changes as in hockey.  There are no innings that are split into two parts.  This is three or four hours in a fire-protective suit, sitting in a metal oven at temperatures of one-hundred-thirty degrees, travelling at frightening speeds (to you and me) surrounded by thirty-nine other people seeking the same thing you are seeking. And you are doing it at three times the speed limit with no rumble stripes to remind you that you have one of your wheels an inch from where it should be.

You are so close to being the very best in this sport that you can touch it.  And then in two seconds you are sitting in your stopped, wadded-up, smoking car knowing that everything you have worked for during the last nine months is now impossible.  One of your competitors has wrecked your car and your hopes.

NASCAR requires drivers whose cars crash out of a race to go to an infield care hospital to be checked for injuries, including concussions.  Track workers escort the driver from the wreckage of their car to an ambulance which whisks them away.  But that didn’t happen with Carl Edwards, who watched a replay of the crash on a big video screen that tracks have, and then walked with his NASCAR escort through the pits to Joey Logano’s pit.

That is not normally a good sign.  Angry words are often exchanged or shouted.  We’ve seen punches thrown.

Carl Edwards climbed to the top of a stand where Logano’s crew chief and others were sitting.  And he told them the crash was entirely his fault, that he wished Logano well, and shook hands with the guys on Logano’s pit box. “That’s just racing,” he told them. “Good luck to you guys.”

In an interview after getting checked at the infield hospital, he said, “I pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there…I couldn’t go to bed tonight and think that I gave him that lane.” Logano finished second in the race behind Johnson, who dodged the crash and led the last two laps for become champion for the seventh time.

“We were racing for the championship and that’s the race,” said Logano afterwards.  And he echoed Carl Edwards, “That’s just racing.”

After the roar of the race, after the take-no-prisoners competition for their sport’s highest honor the neither achieved—

there was grace,

a reminder in this graceless time that the quality still is within us.  And it is not demeaning to show it.

Transition

Several years ago your observer was strolling through the Capital Mall when he spied Lt. Governor Bill Phelps and his wife, Joanne, having a casual lunch in the food court.  They probably had driven to the mall and had done their shopping with few if any distractions from fellow shoppers. I remarked to him as they sat surrounded by other folks who were paying them no mind, “You know, if you win the election this year, you won’t be able to do this.”   Phelps was running in the primary against Christopher Bond who wanted to get his old job back from Joe Teasdale.  It was 1980.

Phelps lost the primary and probably has been eating his meals out for these last thirty-six years without any hassles from the voting public.

But had he won and then defeated Teasdale, his life would have changed. The Phelpses probably wouldn’t have driven their own car to the mall.  They likely would have been chauffeured by a Highway Patrolman.  And they wouldn’t be shopping anonymously because people would recognize that The Governor(!) was in their midst.  They’d be living in a great big house that would not contain much of their own furniture.  Somebody with a badge and a gun—sometimes more than one somebody—would be with them wherever they went.

We recall that John Ashcroft had a Mustang he liked to drive.   He didn’t get the chance to do that much after he became governor.

Ashcroft, Bond, and Phelps had some understanding of the transition to the governorship because they had been in public life at increasingly higher circles. They knew that the private life would diminish markedly when they became the state’s highest-ranking public official.

Transitions for incoming governors involve far more, however, than coming to grips with the fact that your life is not yours any more.  The responsibilities of being a public servant, the state’s highest public official, can be beyond the expectations of the candidates who seek that job.

So while an incoming governor who has no previous public office experience has to spend the two months between election and inauguration preparing to meet the challenges of governing, he and his family also have to come to grips with any number of personal issues.  What do we do with our house?  What about our furniture?  What things are so meaningful to us personally that we want to take them to the Executive Mansion so it feels like home?  What about schools?  How will we adjust to having a security officer with us?   How will we deal with a loss of our personal freedom?  How will the family deal with the things that are likely to be said about the husband and father who happens to be the Governor of Missouri?

Here we offer a slight diversion because the spotlight might be on the new governor but it also shines, at least in its dimmer edges, on his family, particularly on the person who is to become the state’s First Lady.   What are her obligations?

Most First Ladies have adopted a public role in one form or another.  But one First Lady was different and because she was, future First Ladies might owe her a debt.  Theresa Teasdale wanted nothing to do with the spotlight.  She was not Mrs. Governor.  She was Mrs. Teasdale, wife and mother.  She didn’t advocate for a particular cause (as we recall).  She and Joe did not make the mansion a great social event location.  It was their home.  It was where the Teasdale family lived.  It was a house where there was a family that was apart from the intense world of governing. This reporter tried to interview her once and came away almost embarrassed that he had intruded.  Theresa Teasdale was a First Lady who made it alright for future First Ladies to remain private citizens.

The new governor thus has two transitions to deal with—the personal and the public.  He has just two months to assemble a team of people in his office as well as those who will lead state agencies.   He realizes he will inherit a state budget sixty percent of the way through a fiscal year and will have to immediately deal with possible income shortfalls; Governor Nixon already has withheld tens of millions of dollars to keep the budget balanced.  He will have to prepare his first major address to a joint session of the legislature outlining budget recommendations for a fiscal year that will start July 1 and outline issues he hopes the legislature will pass laws about.

And that’s just the surface.  He also is responsible for finding and appointing about 1,700 people to state boards and commissions.  About 1,300 of those nominations will have to be pleasing enough to the Senate to be confirmed.

We checked with Scott Holste, who has been on Governor Nixon’s staff as governor and attorney general for more than twenty years, and Scott reminded us that the governor also has to make appointments to fill vacancies caused by death or resignation or conviction of judge in circuits that aren’t part of the Non-partisan Court Plan.  He also appoints prosecutors and county officials as needed in non-charter counties.  And he has to make appointments of judges from lists submitted to him under that same court plan.

There’s another important component that has to be decided.  How public will the administration of the state’s top public official be?   What will be his relations with the press?  It’s not a parochial question.  How open will he allow his administration to be in providing expertise to those with questions about public policy issues?  Will he allow department staffs with expertise to provide information to the public or will he limit the flow of information by limiting access to them—as, to be frank, the current administration has done in many agencies?  The operative word in the phrase “public official” should be public.

We have scratched the surface of what a governor-elect has to go through to be ready to govern as soon as he takes the oath of office.  It’s a steep, steep learning curve even for those who have been in and around state elective office.  To go from private citizen to public leader relatively overnight is a major test.

All of this is why a two-month well-organized transition effort is essential but why it also is highly stressful, not just on the governor-elect but on his family—because life on January 8th will likely be worlds different by the end of January 9th.

Time to get to work

Some who follow these entries will consider the writer naïve in his outlook but we shall plunge ahead because we cannot give up on our belief that our system is worth working for. And on.  And in.

Elation or disappointment in election results must be short-lived.  Resignation is not an option nor is gloating.  This week after the election is time to get back to work as citizens of whatever leaning. It is time to become even better-thinking, better citizens.

Don’t believe Janice Joplin’s 1960s claim that “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Whether you have spent the last week celebrating or the last week depressed is immaterial now. Freedom requires effort—because it is in greater danger of being given up than being taken away.

Winston Churchill is often cited as the person who said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” although he admitted he was quoting someone else.  Here’s something he DID say—in the House of Commons on December 8, 1944:

How is that word “democracy” to be interpreted? My idea of it is that the plain, humble, common man, just the ordinary man who keeps a wife and family, who goes off to fight for his country when it is in trouble, goes to the poll at the appropriate time, and puts his cross on the ballot paper showing the candidate he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foundation of democracy. And it is also essential to this foundation that this man or woman should do this without fear, and without any form of intimidation or victimization. He marks his ballot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected representatives and together decide what government, or even in times of stress, what form of government they wish to have in their country. If that is democracy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”

The election is over.  Our system of democracy, often ungraceful in its practice, remains. Now comes the time to “work for it.”

Notes From a Quiet Street    VIII/2016 

Something seems to be wrong with our telephone.  It only rings a couple of times a day and the only people who seem able to get through are Nancy’s sisters.  We must have said something wrong to President Obama, who called us three days in a row, because he hasn’t called back.

Gary Scharnhorst, in his book Mark Twain on Potholes & Politics, cites a letter to the editor of The New York World published on Christmas Day, 1894:

“It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us—the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage—may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss—except the inventor of the telephone.”

If Mr. Twain were with us today he might change the last line to say “except the inventor of the robocall.”

—–

Ashley and Brian let your correspondent play reporter on election night, doing reports on The Missourinet about legislative and congressional races and the ballot proposals. It was a lot of fun and the best part was that now I could go home at 3 a.m. and not worry about getting up an hour later to do morning newscasts until the rest of the staff could return from the victory/loss parties.

—–

Got up and made the usual morning trip to the Y.  Thought it appropriate to wear a red shirt.   The one that says, “Of course I’m right, I’m Bob.”   Because I am.  Bob. Some of you dispute the accuracy of the first part.  But it’s my shirt.

—–

We got a notice from the Social Security people that we’re getting an increase in our monthly benefits next year.   The national average is four dollars a month.  We didn’t get any cost of living increase this year.  Who does the Social Security Administration think we are?  State employees?

Came across an article from Collier’s magazine from 1905 recently that began, “For the first time in forty years there has been no lobby maintained at the capital of Missouri during a session of the state legislature.  Lobbyists visited the Capitol, it is true, but they did so occasionally and their stay was brief.  When they appeared they came only to argue bills before committees; their coming was known, and at the time of their appearance the hour of their departure also was made known in advance.”

Lobbyists were running scared in 1905 after a major bribery scandal of 1903 exposed exchanges of cash and other favors between lawmakers and lobbyists.  New governor Joseph Folk, who earned the office as a corruption fighting prosecutor, added to the concerns when he was sworn in on January 9, 1905 and said “professional lobbying should be made a crime.”

That’s one issue this year’s candidates for governor missed.  Among others.

Given the number of candidates this year who sneered at “career politicians” who apparently think they can retain their status as amateur politicians now that they’ve been elected, perhaps they might think of Holy Joe Folk, as he was called, and pass a law allowing only amateur lobbyists so the field will be level.

Your faithful observer cannot recall the last time he observed so little post-season baseball.                                                                       —

Or in-season Tiger football.

As we travel throughout Missouri we find ourselves increasingly unable to understand why the most expensive gas we put in our car is in Jefferson City.  By far.  We fueled up in Kearney for a dollar-79 and in Nevada for the same amount a week later.  The gas stations on the street leading to our house were charging two-oh-seven and two-oh-nine at the time.  Some fluctuation in prices is understandable. But “absurd” is the word that kept going through our mind as we drove between stations on the way home.

We try not to re-fuel in Jefferson City.  There’s one station that’s usually three to seven cents cheaper and if we must put gas in our car in Jefferson City, we’ll go there.  Otherwise, gas stations closer to home are good only for lottery tickets.

—-

Voters have spoken strongly—again—that limits must be imposed on the financing of campaigns.   Now we will see if there are lawsuits to throw out the limits.  We will be watching one group especially closely if the big money people win in court to see if legislators and other politicians who are quick to blast the court system for “ignoring the will of the people” will say that in this instance.  A lawsuit might be unnecessary, however. Opponents of campaign limits were saying before the election they know an end-around of the new law so they can keep pouring boatloads of money into campaigns.  We’ll be interested to see if the legislature does anything about it—to make sure the will of the people is truly honored.

It’s not cynicism that prompts the observation.  It’s observation that prompts the cynicism.

Where have they been?

Where have they been during this campaign against them, this campaign to control them, this campaign to restore the average citizen’s place in the political campaign world?

Where have they been, those who easily write six and seven-figure checks to buy candidates and laws and parts of the state constitution?

Where have they been in our mailboxes and on our television screens and on our radios, telling us why Constitutional Amendment 2 is bad for us, bad for our political system, unfair and unjust to them?

Where have they been in defending themselves from accusations that they are abusive of the democratic process, arrogant in that abuse, and uncaring about those whose voices they overwhelm by their wealth—because they can overwhelm them?

Their silence on a proposal to limit their contributions to campaigns to relative pennies speaks loudly of the reasons the proposal is on the ballot, for they already know the people cannot control them, cannot limit them; they are too powerful, too cunning.

Their silence hints that they already know how they will render Constitutional Amendment 2 nothing more than an exercise by voters.  Their silence tells us they already know how they will exploit contribution limits or attack them in the courts.

They who are silent already know their arguments before judges who will be asked to dismiss the people’s wishes.  They already believe they will overturn the people’s wishes because, after all, what do the people know?

Let the people think they can control us, their silence says.  Let the people think they can make their voices equal to ours again.   Yes, let them think it.   Let them think they accomplish something by approving the amendment—while we already know otherwise.

In two years, they are thinking, we will let them know what we think of Constitutional Amendment 2.  And we are right.  Because we are rich enough to know what is right.

But the people think, too.   And the people will see what happens if Amendment 2 passes and the next election cycle shows new creative exploitations of the law.  And the people, if they approve Amendment 2, can act again.  And again if they must.

Or perhaps the people might be surprised if Amendment 2 passes to see that enough of the legislators they will elect might find enough courage to fix leaks, seal loopholes, and strengthen weaknesses that become apparent.  But the people shouldn’t count on it.

Big money is silent.  Because big money knows.

Doesn’t it?

Corrupt career politicians

Your observer has thought throughout this campaign of writing something about the demagoguery behind the phrase “corrupt career politicians” that has been thrown around by challengers who seem to lack the intelligence to say how they will solve the problems of the state and the nation and think name-calling is the highest intellectual standard they need to display.

Then we read Jason Hancock’s article in The Kansas City Star Tuesday.  In a year when “corrupt career politicians” has been such a buzz phrase that relies on an intentionally uninformed public’s distrust of government, the Missouri Senate majority appears to have volunteered to become a poster child.

Jason’s article says Republican state senators are soliciting money from people who want to buy “face-to-face meetings with GOP leaders when they return to the state Capitol to begin legislating in January.”

A $5,000 donation will buy, among other things, a dinner with the Senate Republican leadership team during the first two weeks of the session.

Suppose you can’t afford 5K.  No problem.  Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin and Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City would love to have breakfast with you for just $2,500.

If you or your organization don’t have that much, well, you might have to go hungry in more ways than one in the 2017 session.  We say “might” because, despite appearances to the contrary, we don’t want to actually accuse Richard and Kehoe of participating in “pay for play.”

Wonder how much a “hello” might cost as one of the majority senate leaders goes the few steps across the hall from his office into the chamber.

This news breaks less than six months after legislators were patting themselves on the back for working on ethics bills—and passing some, toothless though they were.

Missouri remains the only state in the nation without campaign contribution limits and no ban on gifts to legislators from lobbyists. Nor, it is obvious, is there any limit on how much the leaders can charge those wanting to get close to them for breakfast and dinner. But building confidence in government by the electorate has been one of the lowest priorities of the legislature for a long time.  Now, you might ask, can it get any lower?

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 2-1.  Of the seventeen seats up for election next week, four Republicans and Four Democrats have no significant challengers.  So before the contested seats are decided, Republicans are guaranteed to hold their majority, 18-7.  If the Democrats are to break the two-thirds GOP control of the Senate, they must win six of the nine contested elections next Tuesday.

Fat chance.

If you’re supremely confident that you will be in total control of a situation, why worry about ethics and appearances of impropriety?  Make it profitable.

Dinner (or breakfast) might be served.  But public confidence sure isn’t.

The expendable right

It is hard to listen to the assurances that come at this time during campaigns that the right to vote is our most precious right as citizens.

It is hard to listen because Missourians apparently do not as a general practice believe that statement. And our legislature gives indications that it—although those who serve in it are there because of that right— cares little about strengthening that right.

Missourians have twice voted to reduce their right to vote.  And a recent survey published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows more than two-thirds of Missourians seem to think it’s a good idea to reduce their right even more.

The first time Missourians forfeited their right to vote was in 1992 when they adopted term limits for legislators, thus forbidding themselves from voting for their representatives and senators as often as they want to keep them representing them in Jefferson City.

A few years ago, voters threw away their right to vote when they voted to require voters in St. Louis and Kansas City to approve their city’s earning tax every five years.  In approving the second half of that issue, they forever took away their right to decide whether their city should ever have such a tax. By approving the proposal they forfeited their right to decide what is best for their own communities.

So now we have the voter photo-ID issue on the ballot.  And it appears that many voters have swallowed the bilge-water distributed by conspiracy theorists who claim that, “There is voter fraud but it’s just not prosecuted,” or that since people have to show ID cards to cash checks or rent motel rooms, or rent cars, they should have to do the same thing to vote.

Perhaps voters who do not distinguish between the PRIVILEGE of cashing a check or renting a motel room and the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to vote deserve to lose the freedom they presently have. And for those who say there’s fraud but it’s not prosecuted—we have not heard a single one of them offer any specifics of unprosecuted voter fraud in their own districts. If fraud at the voting places is so pervasive and such a great danger to our democratic form of government, don’t you think these watchdogs we have elected would blow the whistle on prosecutors who are not doing their jobs? They won’t because they can’t.

But there is cheap political advantage to be gained by encouraging doubt in the very system that put them in power. And power, not broad public service, is the goal.  If the poll is right, voters are playing into their hands.

Talk is cheap.  Constitutional rights have been expensively won.  Sad to say, Missourians appear to be on the verge of wasting a right that has been paid for at great price.

Again.

The cowboy code

In the gentler time in which your observer of the passing scene grew up, when most matinee movie heroes were clean-shaven, wore white hats and rode Palomino horses while villains were facially grubby, wore black hats and rode dark horses, when people were killed without huge doses of blood, guts, and brain matter being sprayed about, when nude scenes were those showing the hero’s horse without a saddle, three good guys set a tone for their young admirers to live by.

Oh, there were others on the screen and on the radio—and later on television (although this young viewer was always disappointed that Clayton Moore’s television Lone Ranger lacked the authoritative deep voice of  Brace Beemer’s radio Lone Ranger), but Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the Lone Ranger were the ones who not only exemplified by their actions what good people were supposed to be but who also had written codes of conduct that might seem quaint today but were—it seems through the tinted glasses of nostalgia—part of the upbringing of a few generations that seemed more—-well, courteous.

loneroygene

We know society in those days had its dark sides—-we don’t recall any black cowboy heroes on the movie screens of our childhood movie houses, for example, and the Lone Ranger was the only movie hero that had a minority sidekick—unless you count the Cisco Kid and Pancho.  But in our insulated world, our radio and movie heroes told us how we should behave.

In these days when language is loose and clothes are sometimes even looser, when too many movies and TV shows are a series of explosions around which is stitched a weak plot, when our politics have become crude and our policies have tended toward narrowness, perhaps a reminder of what our cowboy heroes expected of us is in order.

Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code said:

The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.  He must never go back on his word, or trust confided in him. He must always tell the truth.  He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas. He must help people in distress.  He must be a good worker.  He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.  He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.  The Cowboy is a patriot. 

Your correspondent was a proud member of the Roy Rogers Riders Club and as I recall, my membership card had ten rules:

Be neat and clean.  Be courteous and polite.  Always obey your parents. Protect the weak and help them. Be brave but never take chances.  Study hard and learn all you can.  Be kind to animals and take care of them. Eat all your food and never waste any.  Love God and go to Sunday school regularly.  Always respect our flag and our country.

Fran Striker, who created the Lone Ranger for Detroit Radio Station WXYZ in 1933, composed the Lone Ranger’s creed:

I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one; that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world; that God put the firewood there, but every man must gather and light it himself; in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right; that a man should make the most of what equipment he has; that “this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people,” shall live always; that men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number; that sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken; that all things change but the truth, and the truth alone lives on forever. I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man. 

Sometimes, as we watch campaigns and legislatures, it seems that our cowboy heroes aren’t the only things that have ridden off into the sunset.

Sigh.

(About the picture:  It was taken November 29, 1981 at the Hollywood Christmas Parade.  Left to Right:  Iron Eyes Cody, Clayton Moore, Roy, Gene, and Pat Buttram.  The picture was taken at a time when Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to The Lone Ranger, got a court order barring Moore from appearing as the Masked Man.  Moore wore the wrap-around sun glasses until Wrather relented in 1984. http://www.westernclippings.com/treasures/westerntreasures_gallery_10.shtml)

Plainer Language

Every election cycle, the Secretary of State’s office offers a “plain language” explanation of ballot issues.  About a month out, newspapers publish each ballot issue in full with the short ballot title that is required.  Some of the ballot titles have been challenged in courts as incomplete, inaccurate, or unpleasing to the people who wrote the proposition and the ballot titles we will see in the polling places represent the results of the challenges that were made.  Today we offer a “plainer language” explanation of each issue.  And we are not, as is the case with the official ballot titles, restricted in the number of words we will use for each.

There are a few things to note about these propositions.  Except for Constitutional Amendment #1, an issue that is mandated by the Missouri Constitution to be voted on every ten years, and photo voter ID—all of the other issues are on the ballot because the legislature has not done anything about them.

Second, it’s a good idea to check https://ballotpedia.org/Missouri_2016_ballot_measures to get all kinds of information about these issues including information about who is spending money to get them on the ballot and get you to approve them and other editorial comments that offer perspectives on what the proposals REALLY mean.

There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors on the ballot in November.

Constitutional Amendment #1

This continues for another ten years the 1/10-cent sales tax, half of which goes for soil and water conservation and the other half for state parks and historic sites.  About three-fourths of the funding for Missouri’s 87 state parks and historic sites comes from this tax, which was enacted in 1984 at a time when Missouri had one of the worst soil erosion records in the nation. Now, Missouri has one of the best.

Constitutional Amendment #2

This amendment is so long that it takes more than an entire newspaper page filled with small type to print all of it. Missourians have a chance to re-impose limits on the amounts individuals can give to political campaigns.  Voters went for the idea by 74 percent in 1994.  The legislature threw out the limits in 2008, claiming better reporting would be sufficient. “Better reporting” is a joke, particularly with the rise of the non-profit political action committees that let donors hide their big-bucks contributions.  To boil it down, this proposal—offered at this time of great public distrust of and disgust with government—would re-institute limits, saying no donor could give more than $2,600 to any candidate in an election cycle and no more than $25,000 to any political party.  People who do not hesitate to throw large amounts of money at candidates (who often claim government cannot solve problems by throwing money at them) are strongly opposed to this proposal and even if they lose the expected court challenge—should the plan pass—will quickly find loopholes that the legislature has a non-existent record of closing.   This petition campaign was backed by St. Louis millionaire Fred Sauer who at times has thrown large money around for political purposes but thinks St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield is bent on—as Barbara Shelley wrote in Pitch last month—“destroying representative government in Missouri for his own interests.”  Sinquefield and the Humphreys family of Joplin have continued to write six and seven figure checks for favored causes and candidates, this not being one of them.

The legislature wanted absolutely nothing to do with this issue this year, hence the petition campaign that put the issue on the ballot.

TWO PROPOSED ISSUES WOULD RAISE THE TOBACCO TAX

Missouri’s tobacco tax of seventeen cents a pack is the nation’s lowest by far and Missourians—despite years and years of information that smoking is destructive of health—have refused to increase it. Missouri also is the only state that does not require small tobacco companies to make payments into the government tobacco tax settlement fund agreed to by the big companies eighteen years ago. Both of these proposals have agendas behind them, depending on the industry that is proposing them. One is a proposed constitutional amendment.  The other is a proposed law. Usually when there are competing ballot issues on the same topic, the one that gets the most votes prevails. This is different, however. It is generally held that the constitution is the supreme law and therefore its provisions are superior to statute. It is likely to take court review to sort out the situation if both pass. Both have features that have raised questions about motivation. Both were generated by special interests, not from any concerns by the general public.

An important ethical question for voters:  Is it proper for industry groups to, in effect, decide what taxes they will give the state permission to collect from them?  In effect, they’re taking power away from our elected representatives to set tax rates—assuming our elected representatives would have the courage to do anything but lower them. And they’re taking away from our elected representatives the authority to decide how state funds are to be spent. (Perhaps it could be said more accurately that our elected representatives have abdicated their responsibility to special interest groups.)

Constitutional Amendment #3 hikes the tax on Big Tobacco produces by sixty cents per pack of twenty smokes to 77-cents.  Little Tobacco’s taxes would go up by an additional 67 cents, up to a dollar-44 for its products. The income is earmarked for early childhood education. Don’t kid yourself.  This proposal is not about children. It’s about the tobacco industry. Earmarking the proceeds for early childhood education programs is intended to elicit public support but this is a temper tantrum by Big Tobacco. There’s a hook in this proposal that backers don’t talk about that we will talk about in a little bit. Amendment 3 is supported by big tobacco, which doesn’t like the fact that little tobacco doesn’t have to pay into the national tobacco settlement fund in Missouri.  So big tobacco’s proposal would increase state cigarette taxes on its products by sixty cents AND add an additional 67-cents a pack tax on small tobacco companies. R. J. Reynolds has pumped a lot of money into this proposition. The Raise Your Hand for Kids group that endorses this plan because its cause would reap a lot of money also likes it because it claims the cheap cigarettes entice young people to smoke. The convenience stores say this idea is less about education and more about slapping smaller competitors with a bigger tax. And convenience stores sell a lot of cigarettes made by those smaller competitors. They have their own self-serving proposal that we’ll talk about next.

While CA3 creates tens of millions of dollars earmarked for early childhood education, the mechanics of state budgeting does not guarantee that those programs will see a huge windfall.  Your observer has seen time after time that the legislature, which maintains authority to write the state budget, uses earmarked funds to replace substantial amounts of state general revenue funds going to programs and moves that general revenue funding to something else.  So passage of this proposal does not guarantee a lot of extra money for kids.  And that’s not all—

Here’s the hook—and it’s not education. Critics say wording buried in the proposition threatens to undermine the protections voters approved in 2006 for embryonic stem-cell research.  The wording says none of the money can be used for human cloning, embryonic stem cell research or abortions.  One legislator says anti-stem cell research advocates have hijacked this proposition.  Supporters deny the claims but admit the language was added because of “concerns” from the pro-life community.

Some critics think this amendment, if adopted, will wind up in the courts because, they argue, it violates the standard that amendments should be about a single issue.  They argue that inserting the pro-life language into it adds a second issue that makes the entire proposition unconstitutional.

Now let’s look at the second gas tax increase and the baggage it carries to the polling place.

Proposition A increases the tobacco tax to forty cents per pack in the next five years with proceeds going to transportation.  This one is backed by convenience store operators who historically have opposed tobacco taxes hikes—and fuel tax increases that would have provided more money for transportation. Despite that track record, the convenience stores association wants you to approve a tobacco tax increase for transportation.

And they don’t want anybody ever again to change the tax they are willing to accept with this proposal. Proceeds would go to transportation, i.e., highways along which convenience stores do a lot of business.  This proposition says convenience stores will allow a seventeen-cent increase. This is not a constitutional amendment, which is harder for the legislature to tinker with.  It is a proposed law which the legislature could repeal or change so that it could adjust the tax increase up or down.

There’s a severe penalty if the legislature ever wants to do that.  But it might not be that serious.

And that is the hook.  Or rather a poison pill.  The convenience stores propose to make this tax increase as permanent as it can be by saying the entire tobacco tax will be repealed if there is ever a proposal to increase or decrease the amount on any state or local ballot. In other words, the tax will drop to zero as soon as anything is certified for a vote, even in Left Puckyhuddle, Mo.,  and if the proposition fails, the tax stays at zero, not at the level this amendment could establish (section 6 of the proposal). The convenience stores are saying “Take it AND leave it.”

But if that is a hook, here is the counterpunch:  Because this is a proposed STATUTE, not an amendment, the legislature can remove the poison pill.  Remember when a petition regulating puppy mills was approved by voters in 2010 and almost immediately was changed by the legislature in 2011? The legislature felt the statute enacted by a petition led by the Humane Society of the United States was too costly and unfairly targeted legitimate dog-breeders.  Although the HSUS, criticized by legislators as being more interested in the politics of animal rights than in proper regulation of a legitimate industry, howled about it and threatened to run a new petition campaign, it never has.

Constitutional Amendment #4

Missouri’s real estate dealers do not want the state to impose a sales tax on their services.  Or any services—the person who fixes your sink drain, the person who connects or disconnects the cable to your house, the kid who changes your oil at the local sludge shop, the person who cuts or does your hair, etc. Realtors say they’ve watched some legislators and some influential donors to legislative campaigns—Rex Sinquefield in particular—who want to get rid of the state income tax and hike sales taxes to make up for the lost revenue, and they’re hoping this proposal will short-circuit that talk.  Critics such as the Missouri Municipal League say this amendment would “fix” a problem that does not exist and say the amendment would make it harder for cities to revise their local tax codes as society and the economy change. They also say they’re leery of the idea because of future court interpretations of it.

Constitutional Amendment #6

Photo voter-ID.  It asks voters to make it more difficult to vote.  It’s portrayed by supporters as a way to eliminate voter fraud at the polling place.  Critics say the measure is intended to disenfranchise thousands of voters, a large percentage of whom support the party that does not control the legislature. The New York Times has reported (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/17/us/some-republicans-acknowledge-leveraging-voter-id-laws-for-political-gain.html) that some Republicans have admitted the proposition is intended to diminish support among Democratic voters. Republican sponsors of this measure have not been able to show any significant voter fraud at the polling place has happened in Missouri. They point to abuses in petition campaigns and to the recent absentee voting cases in St. Louis but this proposal does not address those matters, nor does it address fraudulent registration and only focuses on making it harder to vote at the polling place and as we have noted in previous entries, most particularly the one for May 18, THAT is not a problem in Missouri.

Some who read these summaries will disagree with our assessments of them, which is fine.  They can post their responses if they wish.  But we encourage voters to force themselves to a few hours of reading the fine print in their newspapers that publish the entire texts of these proposals and to check Ballotpedia.org.  We also encourage voters to consider the agendas of the interests behind them, and the practicality of the purposes for their enactment or continuance.