During Morning Edition and All Things Considered, or on Cityscape

Commentaries are opinion pieces provided by a wide variety of individuals in the St. Louis region. They are not necessarily the opinion of St. Louis Public Radio, but are intended to reflect diverse viewpoints on issues affecting our region. To submit a commentary or proposal, email

U.S. Supreme Court
Matt H. Wade | Wikipedia

The era of unanimity on the U.S. Supreme Court lasted about four days.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued three important decisions last week with unanimous votes, a flurry of legal and media commentary talked about Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. having engineered a new era of consensus on the court, with nearly two-thirds of this year's decisions decided without a dissent. Some contended that this new consensus court had rejected President Barack Obama's extremism and bolstered House Speaker John Boehner's threatened lawsuit against the president.

For the Sake of All

The grant-funded project that St. Louis Public Radio recently announced is ambitious.

It’s big — more than $170,000 from the Missouri Foundation for Health for our news organization and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. And it addresses a big question — how to reach people whose voices and views are often left out of public policy discussions that directly affect them.

Credit Cast a Line / Flickr

The St. Louis area has had more than its share of education headlines this past year. St. Louis schools are trying to regain accreditation amid much turmoil. Normandy and Riverview Gardens lost their accreditation. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has taken over the Normandy School District and announced that all teachers must reapply for their jobs. Riverview Gardens is in a holding pattern as it has enough resources to continue school for a while, but uncertainty remains and its academic record is poor.

Ulrik |

About four years ago I realized that, although my business statistics students were understanding the math fairly well, they didn't “get” the statistics part. When asked to apply their knowledge, they were fairly clueless. My challenge was to change that. But how?

That challenge had another prompt: In the book “Academically Adrift,” authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa provide strong evidence that a student only experiences small to nonexistent gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over the entire undergraduate college education.

Redoing the Grand Boulevard Bridge filled just one piece of the city's transportations needs. Derek AuBuchon was foreman of a crew that painted the bridge’s four metal towers.
Tom Nagel | File photo

I want to speak to city voters and to our friends. The rest of you should take this opportunity to check the Cardinals score.

The city of St. Louis has big plans over the next 10 years. I am talking about the kind of transportation system that befits a great city.

We want to create a major streetcar line centered downtown with a North-South and an East-West route.

St. Louis Media Archives

Gloria Ross’s obituary for radio icon Lou “Fatha” Thimes took me way, way back. Back to the hiss of static on an AM radio in a green Studebaker. Back to a time when the 1950s TV icons were Ozzie and Harriett  rather than Don Draper. Back to a grade school classroom where the African-American kids had only recently won the legal right to be present.

Ken Howard | OTSL

Thirty-one years ago, Opera Theatre of St. Louis pulled off a season that resounds in memory as an artistic volcano, a bonanza, an operatic gold mine, a tour de force. It followed the defining 1982 season, one crowned with Jonathan Miller’s “Così fan tutte,” a show conducted by Calvin Simmons, who died the summer following his and Dr. Miller’s triumphant achievement.

Power of Poulenc

(via Flickr/KOMUnews)

During its recently completed session, the Missouri General Assembly passed a measure that would let voters decide whether to increase the state sales tax to pay for improvements to highways and for other transportation needs. This action is interesting for a couple of reasons.

First is the underlying assumption that voters are in fact capable of making an informed decision about how to generate revenue for the state.

buzzybee |

It probably says something about our times that the book that’s sold out on Amazon is not the latest Twilight thriller but a dense, 700-pager by a French economics professor: Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. He’s also making the rounds of TV talk shows like an A-list actor promoting a new movie.

Commentary: The Power Of WE

Jun 17, 2014
Sam Fiorello
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Years ago when I lived and worked in Washington, D.C., the city was crippled by an intense January snowstorm. My office was a short walk from my apartment so I was able to salvage at least an abridged day of work. While walking home, with snow still falling heavily, I came upon a homeless man named Charlie whom I had seen almost daily in the same spot. When I stopped to ask Charlie if he was OK, he stood transfixed, looking at a few flakes of newly fallen snow on his gloved hand. Charlie smiled at me and said, "Isn't it amazing? Individually these flakes are so fragile.

Eric Shinseki
Veterans Affairs photo | Wikipedia

Too often governmental scandals become couched in blaming an administrator for the problem. Critics seldom look at a bureaucratic organization for its failings or how bureaus channel the behavior of their employees. One element that should be examined is how success is judged.

In the case of the Veterans Administration and Gen. Eric Shinseki, we see staff at VA hospitals responding to how they would be evaluated. Such evaluations affect compensation and promotion and hence behavior. Employees also tend to go along to get along.

Shinseki sowed the seeds of his own demise.

Mehlville website

Some of St. Louis Public Radio’s best work this week wasn’t breaking news. It was making sense of news that broke days or even months earlier.

It’s been a year since the court ruling that opened the door to student transfers from Normandy and Riverview Gardens to Francis Howell, Mehlville, Kirkwood and other districts. Reporter Dale Singer circled back this week to ask key participants to reflect on their hopes, fears and actual experiences.

(via Flickr/KB35)

What progress can this country point to since the 1954 decision in Brown v Board of Education? It gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement, and that, ironically, has had greater success in parts of society such as housing integration and voting rights than it has in education. Today we still have separate and unequal schools -- not by legal mandate but by other de facto conditions in our neighborhoods. The trials and tribulations in the Normandy schools this past year have helped illuminate the stark contrasts in our public education system.

In discussing how women are portrayed in the visual arts, I realized that it's an endless topic.

Going back through the ages we think of the idealized goddesses and mythological characters portrayed in ancient Greek and Roman art. The Saint Louis Art Museum has wonderful examples. The Greek Kalistrate Stele is an excellent example of a memorial grave marker of an idealized beautiful young woman bedecked in jewels with flowing locks.

file photo

Forty two years ago this week, St. Louis Public Radio began broadcasting from its home at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Coincidentally, those of us from the St. Louis Beacon, which merged with the station six months ago, are about to complete probation and become full-fledged UMSL employees.

In this 2011 photo taken in Harlem, Maya Angelou is seated and Eugene Redmond is at her right.
Ros Crenshaw

St. Louisans may have felt some civic pride this week in noting that Maya Angelou was born here. But you have to wonder whether her brilliance and strength developed because of her St. Louis experiences or in spite of them. Perhaps both.

Obituaries recounted that the renowned author split her childhood between St. Louis and Arkansas after age 3, when her parents divorced. The rape she wrote about in "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" happened here. Segregation was an ugly fact of life in both places. Yet so were family resilience and ambition.

Commentary: Trip To Vietnam Was Its Own Memorial

May 25, 2014
American vets place incense in respect for the fallen enemy. Tony Shaw, second from the right, is in the black T shirt.
Cathy Primm

For a small group of veterans, Memorial Day was a long month this year. We began our observance in Vietnam where we volunteered to build schools.

I was the only veteran on the trip sponsored by the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project who still lives in Missouri. But Tony Shaw grew up in suburban St. Louis, went to Mizzou and graduated in 1968 as an ROTC second lieutenant. He is now a board member of VVRP and lives in Prescott, Ariz., where he practices law.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

Recent national data indicate that schools are becoming resegregated and African Americans are less likely to be in integrated schools. That is why the continuation of the recent student transfer plan is so important.

The Missouri Legislature just passed a new complex, comprehensive student transfer bill, which unfortunately has so many flaws that it is likely to be vetoed by the governor. Should that be the case, the current transfer program for students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens will remain in existence until a reasonable alternative becomes law.

Rams media

When Michael Sam finally got the call that the St. Louis Rams had drafted him, he turned to his partner, they embraced and kissed. This scene has played out every year during the NFL draft and rarely garners national attention. The difference this time is that Michael Sam is gay and he kissed his boyfriend.

Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The Missouri legislative session’s finale played out this week with members in their usual swivet of last-minute activity and suspense. Watching the action in the closing days is like watching the cap dance at a Cardinals’ game — blink and you lose track of what’s going on.

St. Louis Public Radio

What better way to show potential development in an area than to actually have that development “pop-up” for all to see. That was Citizens for Modern Transit’s idea when it launched the Metro Market at the finish line celebration of CMT’s Great Race on May 8 at the Shrewsbury-Lansdowne MetroLink Station.

Commentary: Did Missouri Conservatives Just Peak?

May 9, 2014
(via Flickr/Tax Credits)

The state Legislature recently put in place a series of tax cuts, overriding Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. It was a banner day for the Republicans and their allies who drove the fight, including the hard-right national group, ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, business organizations, and multi-millionaire libertarian Rex Sinquefield. The current House speaker, Tim Jones, from exurban St. Louis, serves on the board of ALEC; and many other Republican state legislators are ALEC members.


Our world is never free of conflict. There are many “we” versus “they” imbroglios in which an exalted group lets pride lead to disdain, second-class status, or even violence against those outside the group. The lines of demarcation include race, ethnicity, religion or nationhood.

Commentary: What Is The Point Of Prison?

May 6, 2014
(via Flickr/neil conway)

The saga of Mike Anderson, a man convicted of armed robbery 13 years ago and amazingly never put in prison (except for a few months at the time he should have been released), is seemingly at an end. A circuit judge decided that making Anderson serve his sentence would “serve no purpose” and released him to live the rest of his life a free man.

The series of events raises troubling questions on the front end of the Missouri criminal justice system: How could a person guilty of a serious crime be able to escape punishment without anyone noticing?

Commentary: Normandy Superintendent Urges Legislature To Act

May 3, 2014
Ty McNichols
Normandy School District

As superintendent of the Normandy School District, I urge our legislators and governor to reform the school transfer law before the end of this year’s session. Getting this done now is critical for our district and for metropolitan districts throughout the state.

In the past couple of months drag shows and a lively burlesque scene in our city have been brought to my attention.

In January, drag shows moved from the bars to such places as The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts where Tyler Cross (stage name Siren) performed with other drag divas and Washington University's 7th annual drag show was for the first time held in the mainstream Danforth University Center.

Robert Joiner, St. Louis Public Radio’s health reporter, is not the kind of person who calls attention to himself. At staff meetings, he speaks sparingly. He chooses words carefully.

It’s worth paying attention to what he thinks.

Zoe Vonder Haar and Jacqueline Petroccia as Louise Seger and Patsy Cline in Stages' presentation of “Always…Patsy Cline.”
Peter Wochniak | Pro Photo STL

From the minute Patsy Cline’s biggest fan demands “How y’all doin’?” you just know it’s just a matter of time before she’s side-by-side with the singer, doing the swim to “Stupid Cupid.” Watch out, front row and bald-headed men, the spotlight's headed your way too.

Commentary: Health And The Least Of Your Sisters And Brothers

Apr 27, 2014
seal of the state of Missouri
Missouri Secretary of State website

I realize that in many quarters there is a feeling that all federal spending, even for vital human services, must be cut. However, if we can put that aside for the moment and look at the reality of life in Missouri, I would offer these considerations.

“The poor you will always have with you and you can help them when you will.” Mark 14:7.


Nixon impeachment hearings began this week.

Not THAT Nixon. Not President Richard Milhous, who resigned 40 years ago this August rather than face House votes on three articles of impeachment. This time, the Nixon under discussion is Gov. Jeremiah Wilson “Jay,” who remains very much in power as a Missouri House committee begins consideration of three articles of impeachment against him.

Beyond the jolt of déjà vu you might get from the headline, there’s little to connect the political drama of 1973-74 and the political theater playing out now.