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Recent Missouri editorials

August 6, 2019

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 3

Hawley’s radically intrusive solution fixes a problem that might not exist.

Josh Hawley, Missouri’s Republican junior senator and Capitol Hill’s resident anti-social-media crusader, is at it again. This time, he proposes establishing technological roadblocks to coerce users into spending less time online. He asserts that platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are causing “social media addiction.”

There’s one problem: medical science hasn’t established that any such addiction exists. And there’s another problem: Hawley claims to be a political conservative, yet this bill, like some of his other attention-getting attacks against social media, blithely scuttles conservatism’s core principles of free enterprise, limited government and personal responsibility. So what, exactly, does Hawley stand for?

The issues Hawley raises here might in fact be real. The question of whether social media is addictive in harmful ways is currently the subject of a vibrant debate among experts. But Hawley’s unilateral rush to both diagnose the disease and impose his own ham-handed version of a cure smacks of grandstanding. This is especially true in light of his broader war on Silicon Valley, which is premised on the silly assertion that the social-media industry is out to silence conservatives.

Hawley has dubbed his bill the Smart Act, for Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology — thus concluding right in the title that “social media addiction” is a real thing that needs reducing. Again, this has not been established in any scientific way.

The measure (which so far has no co-sponsors) would require social-media companies to automatically limit users to 30 minutes a day on their platforms. That limit could be manually removed by the user, but would automatically reset itself a month later. So anyone who wants to spend more than half an hour a day online would have to assert that desire once a month. This senseless bit of intrusive aggravation would come courtesy of Big Brother.

The bill would ban several routine practices that users by now are used to, such as the infinite scroll and auto refill functions, which automatically pull up new content when the user has already exhausted the content he or she requested. (For example, YouTube automatically plays the next video listed on the page). And the bill would require sites to include “natural stopping points,” ending continued content after a certain amount of scrolling.

Before Hawley became Facebook’s scourge in the Senate, he was Missouri’s attorney general, a position from which he joined a national lawsuit seeking to kill the Affordable Care Act on the basis that it is too intrusive.

So it’s not the federal government’s role to guarantee Americans’ access to medical care, but it is its role to make sure internet users are inconvenienced (for their own good, of course) every time they try to scroll their Twitter feed?

If Hawley is even half the conservative he claims to be, he should hit “delete” on this bill.

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The Kansas City Star, Aug. 5

Did rich Missouri families give up custody of kids to get college aid? How’s that legal?

It’s illegal to enter into a sham marriage to skirt immigration laws. It’s illegal to change your name to avoid creditors.

Yet for some reason, it’s not a crime to give up legal guardianship of your kids to get them a break on college tuition.

Following a report of the cynical scheme occurring at the University of Illinois, university officials across Missouri are unearthing cases in which wealthy families are suspected of relinquishing custody of their high school students so they appear to be poorer or independent adults who qualify for college financial aid intended for lower-income applicants.

The racket may be even more extensive, and no less outrageous, than the celebrity-driven admissions scandal that burst into the collective consciousness earlier this year with infuriating tales of the rich and famous lying, cheating and bribing to ensure their privileged kids gained admission to elite universities.

This newly exposed chicanery is just as fraudulent as what went on in that scandal, and it ought to be made explicitly illegal, not just in Missouri but nationwide. It’s also unethical on its face and, since needed funds are being diverted from more disadvantaged families, it’s immoral.

While the earlier made-for-TV college admissions scandal, which has inspired an upcoming Lifetime network movie, netted some 50 alleged perpetrators, the guardianship scam could be more widespread, potentially playing out at universities across the country.

There are dozens of moneyed families with students at Missouri universities who’ve allegedly given up guardianship of their children to siphon off federal aid. Officials at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla have identified nearly two dozen students. The University of Missouri has found just under 10. But the investigations are far from over across the university system.

Did these well-off parents give one moment of thought to the lessons they were imparting to their college-bound kids? Having dishonorably wedged their way into a university with their parents’ blessings, what other corners might these students be tempted to cut — in either their academic or professional careers?

And what of the impact on the greater society? Sen. Bernie Sanders exhorted the Democratic presidential debate audience last week to “stand up and take on the greed and corruption of the ruling class of this country.” A Fox News focus group guru noted after the debates, “The hostility of these Democratic candidates, most of them, to corporate America, to CEOs, to those who’ve been successful, is significant. . The audience just lit up with applause. . I say to every CEO who’s watching right now, and every corporate executive, they’re after you.”

If so, yet more tales of well-to-do families cheating to get into college, or to gain admission more cheaply at the expense of the rest of us, certainly can’t help quiet the crowd.

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The Joplin Globe, Aug. 1

Fund health care centers to preserve access

Congress should renew funding for at least five years for the program that supports federally qualified health centers to ensure stability and preserve access to health care for those who rely on these sliding fee health care providers.

Recently, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., an advocate of the health care centers, toured a $1.4 million expansion of Access Family Care’s Joplin clinic, one of the centers that relies on the funding for its operation. Blunt called attention to the need for funding as well as his effort to expand the National Health Service Corps funding — the program that awards scholarships and loan repayment to primary care providers such as doctors and dentists who agree to work at federally qualified centers — with $15 million of proposed increased funding.

Federally qualified health centers are a critical part of the health care safety net in the United States. They receive funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas. They particularly help care for veterans, the homeless, those in public housing and public schools as well as others.

More than 27 million people rely on these health centers for affordable, accessible primary health care. That includes one in nine children nationwide, one in three people living in poverty, one in five people in rural communities and more.

Blunt — a founding member and co-chairman of the U.S. Senate Community Health Centers Caucus — said it is important for people to understand the role of federally qualified health centers in providing people access to medical care.

“I am a big advocate, and I think most of the health care community over the past couple of decades has also become a big advocate for the role these centers play and the ability of everyone who comes through the door to find a way they can get treated,” Blunt said.

The two programs make sure medical, dental and mental health care are available regardless of insurance status and based on your ability to pay. They play a vital role in making sure care is available in rural areas and help ensure vulnerable people don’t fall through the cracks. They also save the overall health care system an estimated $24 billion.

These two programs provide an important safety net, a good return on the investment and are well worth supporting. Congress should provide the funding.

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