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Political Rundown: From Washington To Kabul, With A Stop In Jefferson City

U.S. Dept. of Defense

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 reading pleasure.

Parallel universes

The Washington, D.C., most of us see is a city of landmarks and legislators. It is a seat of immense power, with its status constantly reinforced by the grandeur of its buildings and monuments and the constant buzz and movement of lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists and bureaucrats. But there is another Washington, what Politico calls "The Other Washington." As this photo essay by Susana Raab shows, it's a more invisible city, one that seems light years away even though it's just around the corner.

I admit it, I was intrigued by the headline on the New Yorker website: "Thomas Dworzak's Taliban Glamour Shots." A strict interpretation of Islam, of course, doesn't allow for photographs or images of people, but as the post by Thea Traff indicates, "Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, recognized that his soldiers needed passport photographs and allowed a group of photo shops in downtown Kandahar to supply them." Of course, that led to these clandestine, "flattering portraits." It's hard not to notice how young some of these fighters are -- or how their eyes have been retouched to look as if they are ringed in kohl. The backdrops for some portraits are amazingly enough of European pastoral scenes. Maybe that accounts for the dissonance of one portrait of a teenaged Talib. In one hand, he holds a vase of artificial flowers; in the other hand, a gun -- pointed straight at the viewer. (Susan Hegger)

Wedding bell blues

August will mark the 10th anniversary of the passage of Missouri’s ban on gay marriage ban. And one legislator is marking that milestone by trying to repeal this constitutional amendment.

State Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, introduced a constitutional amendment last week that states that “to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage may exist between a man and a woman as well as between a same-sex couple.” (The changes to the constitution are in italics.)

Colona said in a statement, “We’ve seen a seismic shift in opinions away from marriage exclusion and toward marriage equality in recent years.” He added that “given another chance to weigh in on this issue, I believe Missouri voters will reach a far different conclusion than they did a decade ago.”

Who knows? Back in 2004, voters approved Missouri’s constitutional amendment with more than 70 percent of the vote. Now, gay marriage is legal in 17 states, including ones like Iowa and Minnesota. And some court decisions have placed other gay marriage bans in doubt.

Because Missouri’s ban is a constitutional amendment, there are only two ways for it to be dissolved. The first is through a court decision. The other is Colona’s method of taking the issue back to the people.

I would guess that a push to repeal Missouri’s gay marriage ban through the ballot would have far more money, organization and political support than in 2004. After all, two of the state’s top Democrats – U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Gov. Jay Nixon – are now in favor of gay marriage. And it’s possible that young Missourians of both political parties may be inclined to repeal the ban.

Still, going from 70 percent for a marriage ban to 51 percent against is a tough mountain to climb. It would take millions of dollars – and a huge shift in attitude in some of the state’s most conservative areas. That may be why a court decision would be a more likely option in repealing Missouri’s gay marriage ban.

Still a lot has changed in 10 years, which is why another vote may showcase different electoral dynamics. (Jason Rosenbaum)

Budget battles

The Missouri House passed the state budget last week and the Senate will soon begin going through all 13 budget bills and making its own adjustments. Meanwhile, other states are also working on their budgets.  In a story picked up by the Kansas City Star, the AP’s Bruce Schreiner reports on the state budget passed by the Kentucky Senate, where there’s a wide gap on how much money to spend on bond issues, one of which would be used to renovate the basketball arena at the University of Kentucky.

Meanwhile, an AP article picked up by HutchNews.com details a long-running conflict between Kansas lawmakers and the University of Kansas over the Sunflower State’s higher education budget.  And in Mississippi, a story from the AP’s Emily Wagster Pettus picked up by the Huffington Post, relates how
lawmakers are trying to decide what to do with a budget surplus -- after revenue in the Magnolia State came in higher than originally estimated. (Marshall Griffin)

Uneasy rider

Fewer people are dying in car accidents. Good right? But the New York Times found some bad news within the numbers: Motorcycle deaths are rising.

The Times tells the story in a few graphs (you can check it out in the time it would take you to read this) and contrasts the rising motorcycle fatalities with the growing number of states that have rolled back helmet requirements. "This year, of the 19 states that still have universal helmet laws, eight are considering legislation that will change those laws," the Times writes.

Missouri currently has a law that requires motorcyclists to wear protective headgear. There's at least one proposal (Senate Bill 604) in the legislature that would remove that requirement for some riders. (Chris McDaniel)

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.