Political Rundown: A Glimpse Behind The Curtain | St. Louis Public Radio

Political Rundown: A Glimpse Behind The Curtain

Feb 12, 2014

Politics can be a 24/7 occupation, as anyone with a cell phone, computer or cable subscription knows. It's not hard to find political news, commentary or just plain rants. They are everywhere. Sometimes it takes a little more digging to find the context, perspective or background on major issues of the day. 

Once a week, our political team would like to share stories that gave them insight into the news of the day -- or perhaps just some pleasure to read. This week's topics range far and wide, but they all share something in common. They are an attempt to look behind the scenes, behind the headlines, behind the noise.

If I had a hammer

Although technically not about politics, a New York Times piece by writer Vegas Tenold – entitled “Sochi or Bust: Have Niva, Need Hammer” -- offers a fascinating look at the body politic as he recounts a 1,000-mile auto trek from Moscow to Sochi, site of the Winter Olympics now underway.

Accompanied by a Russian documentary filmmaker, Tenold relates:

  • Encountering auto mechanics who rescue the duo when their Russian-made rental car, a Lada Niva, is beset with mechanical problems. A hammer often is the best remedy.
  • Meeting a group of Russian Orthodox priests who love to party.
  • Accepting an impromptu invitation to a wedding reception for a typical Russian couple.
  • Driving through a blizzard, where they couldn’t see any of the road.

The saddest part of the sometimes hilarious article is that it ends too soon. The duo are forced to ditch their now-beloved Niva outside of Sochi and take a cab because security is so tight that no out-of-town autos are allowed within the city limits. (Jo Mannies)

Taking aim at gun control laws in other states
Missouri’s Republican-led General Assembly has made nullifying federal gun control laws a top priority again this year, after last year’s effort was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.  But the issue has been simmering in other states as well, including our next-door neighbor, Kansas, where a similar bill became law last year.  Lois Beckett of Pro Publica details what happened in Kansas and elsewhere. Within weeks, Attorney Gen. Eric Holder weighed in, as described by Christopher Collins of the Examiner.  

Missouri’s nullification battles take center stage in this article from The Week’s Jon Terbush, but he also reminds us of South Carolina’s long history of defying Washington, D.C.:  The Palmetto State began pushing back against the federal government nearly three decades before seceding from the Union in December 1860.
Finally, two op-ed pieces -- one from the New York Times and the other from the Chicago Tribune -- chronicle the roots of today’s nullification battles, which stretch back to the days of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. (Marshall Griffin)

Rush to justice

We’ve done a lot of reporting on Missouri’s death penalty in the past few months. Our stories have focused largely on the quality of the drug as well as the secrecy the state has employed to get the drug.

But in Politico Magazine recently, legal expert Andrew Cohen focused on a different aspect: that Missouri has been carrying out executions with stays still pending in court. A federal judge phrased it this way in December: “Missouri put [an inmate] to death before the federal courts had a final say on whether doing so violated the federal constitution...In my near 14 years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening.”

The Missouri attorney general’s office was grilled about this issue on Monday, defending its actions to a House committee. After hearing both sides, the chair said he didn’t think the state acted untoward in carrying out the execution before the courts made the ultimate decision.

Cohen’s article explores the issue in detail and concludes that “Missouri may or may not have had a legal right to proceed with (Herbert) Smulls’ execution. But it showed a level of disrespect for the judiciary, and a level of disregard for process and tradition, that the judiciary can’t let stand.” (Chris McDaniel)

Fries with that?

Ever notice how there's a study to support any every political point of view? Take, for example, the minimum wage. Both sides quote studies proving that an increase will or will not hurt the economy, will or will not reduce the number of jobs or will or will not increase the cost of goods and services. It's hard to know which studies to trust, especially when the interests funding the studies are hidden.

In a fascinating story in the New York Times, "Fight Over Minimum Wage Illustrates Web of Industry Ties," reporter Eric Lipton examines "how groups — conservative and liberal — are again working in opaque ways to shape hot-button political debates, like the one surrounding minimum wage, through organizations with benign-sounding names that can mask the intentions of their deep-pocketed patrons." In particular, he look at the Employment Policies Institute, one of the most influential players on the issue of the minimum wage,  and its particularly cozy relationship with an advertising and lobbying firm that campaigns against the minimum wage.

To bring the minimum wage debate down to reality, the New York Times also offers an interactive graphic: "Can You Live on the Minimum Wage?" It lets readers build a monthly budget based on their monthly expenses for housing, transportation, food and other necessities of life. In Missouri, the minimum wage of $7.50 would yield a yearly income of $15,000. (Susan Hegger)