Oklahoma Senator On Hurricane Sandy Relief: “That Was Totally Different”

Already this morning, I have heard Oklahoma’s Republican governor Mary Fallin express the need for and her appreciation of federal help related to the killer tornadoes that struck parts of her state the past two days. I heard the mayor of devastated Moore, Oklahoma, say this morning that he could see FEMA trucks already rolling into his town.

But that’s no thanks to Oklahoma’s two senators, both of whom are not just conservative Republicans, but the sort of conservative Republicans who are part of a contingent of right-wingers who seek to undermine faith in the federal government to do anything positive in our lives—except kill terrorists—and who seek to starve the federal government of needed funds to do things like help out during and after disasters.

Here’s how HuffPo put it today:

Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.

Yet despite the efforts of Inhofe and Coburn, the FEMA trucks will show up in Oklahoma throughout today and beyond. Those trucks are representatives of the American people, most of whom live far, far away from Moore or any other city affected by what is now four days worth of storm damage.

Inhofe did manage to ask for help of Another kind:

inhofe and moore tornado

Yeah, now that the storm has done its damage, Inhofe seeks prayer. Seems to me, the prayer should have come before the storm not after. Others had different, less polite, responses on Twitter:

@jiminhofe Prayers work, no need for FEMA!

@jiminhofe what is your view on FEMA and federal disaster relief, or is prayer enough?

@jiminhofe My prayers 4 the ppl, the sadness that u represent them. U voted against Sandy, voted to slash FEMA, what will u and Coburn do?

Hey @jiminhofe. Maybe we would have to do less praying if you’d be a human being when it comes to disaster aid. You’re disgraceful.

@jiminhofe you’re an idiot, and the people of Sandy don’t forget how you voted to NOT help them.

@jiminhofe Maybe you can tell your constituency to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. You know, because YOU voted AGAINST Sandy relief.

Inhofe was interviewed by Chris Jansing of MSNBC this morning about that Sandy relief vote:

JANSING: You know there were a number of people along the East Coast shore who weren’t happy about your vote on Hurricane Sandy. In fact you said the request for funding was a “slush fund.” With all due respect, is there money to help the people here in your home state rebuild?

INHOFE: Well, let’s look at that. That was totally different. They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They had things in the Virgin Islands, they were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C.  Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.

I’ll leave you, my friends, to mull over that response, to let the phrase, “that was totally different,” sink in.

Meanwhile, Tom Coburn also expressed himself on Twitter:

coburn on moore tornado

Some of the responses to Coburn were also a bit impolite:

@TomCoburn & @jiminhofe voted NO to #SandyRelief http://bit.ly/10K1SOu  , will they offer more, now, than prayers to Okla ? #GopThugs

@AJK124 he’s calling for any funds for relief to be found in ‘cuts’ to other services first.

.@TomCoburn how dare you make them hunt and peck through the budget for disaster relief. They are STILL taking COVER you asshole

@TomCoburn You should not accept a paycheck issued by our govt until offsets in cuts are found, you worthless, anti American piece of shit

Those responses, as angry and harsh as some of them are, represent how a lot of folks feel during times like these. As another response related, it’s “@jiminhofe Karma.”  The truth is that some people get frustrated with right-wing Republicans bashing the federal government, then welcoming FEMA trucks and federal money into the state to help clean up the mess.

Some of us felt that way here in Joplin, when, almost two years ago to the day, a tornado not only killed 161 people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, but it temporarily blew away the locals’ dislike for “big government,” as many took advantage of the generosity of the American people, as expressed through FEMA and other federal and state agencies.

Senator Inhofe, one of the chief GOP obstructionists in the Senate, has been particularly damaging, in terms of how people in his state (who have elected him with 57% of the vote the last three cycles) view not only the federal government, but President Obama—who received a mere 33% of the vote in 2012 from Oklahomans. Just two months ago, Inhoffe said about our President:

I was one of those who never believed he could be reelected. Sure he’s charming enough to elected the first time, but once people know that charm cannot overrule his performance in destroying this country, but yeah I guess it’s still working.

Yeah. A charming Obama is destroying the country. He’s not a citizen. He’s a tyrant using the IRS to get his enemies. He should be impeached over Benghazi. The federal government is perpetuating a global warming hoax so Obama can turn us into socialists. And he’s helping Muslims implement sharia law across the land. The Sandy Hook shootings were either a hoax or planned by authorities in order to take away gun rights. The government is either incompetent or out to get us or both. In short, the federal government is the problem, not the solution, as another famous Republican said so long ago.

These and other right-wing fantasies get to us sometimes. They get to those of us who care about the well-being of America, of Americans, and the government’s role in insuring and maintaining that well-being. And it gets to us when we find out that because of the Republican obsession with debt and deficits, the National Weather Service, which was able to warn people well in advance of the storms in Moore and Joplin and elsewhere—and thus saved countless lives—is facing sequestration budget cuts of over 8%

The American Institute of Physics said of those weather-related budget cuts:

…the government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error and, the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.

That’s why so many of us get frustrated and angry and say nasty things about Republicans. We know we shouldn’t. We know we should be civil, especially at a time when the death and destruction in Moore, Oklahoma, is still being contemplated. But we’re only human. We can only take so much of this stuff.

Fortunately, our President, who has managed to remain calm and steady through all the attacks on his character and his presidency, is much better than some of us when it comes to these things. He said this morning:

If there is hope to hold on to, not just in Oklahoma but around the country, it’s the knowledge that the good people there in Oklahoma are better prepared for this type of storm than most. And what they can be certain of is that Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts, to those in need because we are a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes. We’ve seen that spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa. We saw that spirit in Boston, in Breezy Point. And that’s what the people of Oklahoma are going to need from us right now.

That’s what a president of all the people, even of people who gave him only 33% of the vote, even people who loathe him and think he is destroying the country, that’s what a President of the United States should say at times like these.

And the rest of us, those of us who just get tired of the constant obstruction and obfuscation and obloquy related to President Obama and the federal government, we should bite our tongues for a while and fight our fights on a sunnier, less sorrowful day.

The President Remembers Joplin

The night of President Obama’s State of the Union speech, Ozark Billy Long, my congressman, greeted the President as he made his way up to the podium. No telling how long Ozark Billy waited to get the seat he had, but I am sure it was worth it, since he is such a great admirer of the President.

He’s not? Oh, well. In any case, here’s a picture of their encounter:

obama greets billy long at sotu

Long tweeted (while Obama was on the podium receiving an ovation before he began his speech) the following:

billy long tweet from sotu

On May 22, 2011, a tornado ravaged Joplin and killed 161 people. A week later, President Obama, Governor Jay Nixon, Senator Claire McCaskill and Billy Long visited our devastated city. The President said then:

This is not just your tragedy. This is a national tragedy and that means there will be a national response.

There was. Still is.

At a memorial service President Obama said:

 I can promise you your country will be there with you every single step of the way. We will be with you every step of the way.  We’re not going anywhere. The cameras may leave.  The spotlight may shift.  But we will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored and this community is back on its feet.  We’re not going anywhere.

The President came back to Joplin in May of 2012 to speak to graduates of Joplin High School. Some local conservatives thought he was doing so as a campaign event, even though there was no chance of picking up any votes in this Obama-despising part of the country. Indeed, the locals gave him a whopping 28.3% of the vote.

Obama told the graduates,

Now, just as you’ve learned the goodness of people, you’ve also learned the power of community.  And you’ve heard from some of the other speakers how powerful that is.  And as you take on the roles of co-worker and business owner — neighbor, citizen — you’ll encounter all kinds of divisions between groups, divisions of race and religion and ideology.  You’ll meet people who like to disagree just for the sake of being disagreeable. You’ll meet people who prefer to play up their differences instead of focusing on what they have in common, where they can cooperate. But you’re from Joplin.  So you will always know that it’s always possible for a community to come together when it matters most. 

On Tuesday, before the State of the Union Address, President Obama saw Billy Long and remembered Joplin. Good for him. Good for Joplin. And good for Billy Long for telling us about it.

Here is a short clip I put on YouTube of the President greeting Ozark Billy:

 

“Stupid FEMA Trucks”

By now we have all been reminded, through various statements he has made in the past, how Mitt Romney feels about FEMA and firemen and policemen, about those faces of government that folks in a heap of storm trouble rely on, in this complex society, whether the need is rescue, recovery, or rebuild.

We know all about that in Joplin. More than a dozen federal agencies were on the ground here after our tornado, and in our community of about 50,000 folks, more than 800 FEMA employees were doing their thing here, so much so that people normally a little suspicious of government, like the president of our Chamber of Commerce, said,

FEMA was an absolute champion.

Millions upon millions of dollars from American taxpayers have flowed into this area for all kinds of purposes, from housing to debris removal. President Obama has been here two times, pledging each time to keep government’s commitment to partner with private efforts to get Joplin back on its feet.

As we see the horrendous pictures on television of the destruction brought on by a much larger storm than the devastating Joplin tornado, as we see government workers of all kinds on the ground doing what it is they do in the wake of such destruction, we should remind ourselves of how strong is the anti-government spirit that animated Mitt Romney to say “we cannot afford” to do the kinds of things that those government workers, firemen, cops, and, yes, FEMA folks, are now doing all over the Sandy-ravaged Northeast.

Or animated Romney to say, in the context of FEMA and disaster relief:

Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. 

That anti-government spirit is strong, indeed. Last year, the popular conservative, Glenn Beck, announced that he was going to bring ordinary people, including religious leaders, together to, as one report put it,

step up and help the less fortunate by providing goods and services for the poor and for people who are faced with a disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the Joplin, Missouri tornado.

“God forbid if there is a Joplin or Katrina,” Beck said. “If we have done our job so well that when the stupid FEMA trucks come rolling down, we say ‘Man, turn around, push off,’ that’s when Man will be free again.”

Stupid FEMA trucks.” I wonder how many Glenn Beck, anti-government conservatives in the path of Hurricane Sandy feel that way about FEMA trucks today?

Locally, here where FEMA and the federal government has played such a crucial role in our post-tornado recovery, a local blogger, a man who sometimes writes the in-house editorials for the Joplin Globe , a man who is often a guest Globe columnist, wrote earlier this year:

America was great because of the lack of government controls, by and large. I want to go “back” to that principle and simply allow government to do the minimum needed to prevent anarchy. Otherwise let the “people” sort it all out on their own. I don’t care how “complex” society becomes. The Constitution is so basic to any society that it will work fine regardless of new technology.

As for “needs” of people, That has NEVER changed in history. And by and large the Constitution ignores those needs other than defense against foreign “needs”.

Give people freedom and they will by and large as a nation do fine.

This writer, again a man with a voice on the Joplin Globe’s editorial page, including authoring some of its own editorials, said he wants to go back to a time when there was just enough government to “prevent anarchy.” Let people “sort it all out on their own,” he said, no matter how “‘complex’ society becomes.”

Hmm.

Give people freedom,” this writer says, and “by and large” they’ll do just fine.

By and large. I wonder, as I see folks all over the Northeast in shock at what has happened to them, what has happened to their communities, if they are by and large doing just fine. I wonder if all those storm victims, including conservative ones, want to sort it all out on their own. I wonder if those victims long for a shoestring government just big enough to prevent anarchy.

Yes, I wonder.

After The Storm Is Over

In my reaction to the Joplin Globe’s why-should-the-rich-pay-more reasoning in its editorial endorsing Mitt Romney, I wrote:

…let’s just let the moochers and their mooching kids in Romney’s “47%” starve to death here in our lovely Joplin community, a community propped up by a lot of government money after the tornado paid us a visit. Now that houses and businesses are going up all over the place, now that there is plenty of money floating around this FEMA-blessed area, to hell with everyone else.

I had forgotten, when I wrote that, that Mittens had something to day during a CNN Republican primary debate about the kind of federal disaster relief that benefited folks here in Joplin:

KING: What else, Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?

ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. 

Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…

KING: Including disaster relief, though? 

ROMNEY: We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.

The Joplin Globe, a paper that has spent the last 17 months chronicling the post-tornado recovery of Joplin, including stories on the large role FEMA and the federal government played in that recovery, endorsed a man who said that “we cannot afford to do those things” these days because neither he nor the Joplin Globe believe that the rich should pay a little more in taxes.

It will be interesting to see how many Republicans, those in the path of Hurricane Sandy, will refuse the help of the federal government after the storm is over.

I didn’t see any refusal of federal help around here in this very red Republican town after the tornado tore through the middle of it, and I don’t expect Governor Christie or any other Republican official or any other Republican voter will say after their storm subsides, “No, we cannot afford to do those things.”

 

St. John’s Witness

“And I, John, saw these things, and heard them.”

—Revelation 22:8

In case some locals haven’t seen it, here is recently released footage from the emergency waiting room inside Joplin’s St. John’s Hospital on May 22, 2011:

And here is a photo I took this morning, 5-22-12, showing the slow demolition of the iconic hospital:

Obama: “You Are From Joplin And You Are From America.”

After listening to our president deliver a number of speeches, I don’t know why I am still surprised, but President Obama’s address at the Joplin High School graduation ceremony on Monday night astonished me, not just for its comely detail, but for the empathy with which it was delivered.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Mr. Obama had been living in Joplin this past year.

About the damage done by last May’s tornado, I recently lamented:

I will never again walk the track just east of St. John’s listening to the dogs bark in the neighborhood where Sarah and Bill Anderson were killed, he being a fellow coach in the Joplin South Little League years ago.

Bill Anderson’s motivation for coaching was his son, Quinton, who was a part of this year’s Joplin High School varsity baseball team. And, fittingly, President Obama ended his speech with this:

In a city with countless stories of unthinkable courage and resilience over the last year, there are some that still stand out – especially on this day. By now, most of you know Joplin High senior Quinton Anderson, who’s probably embarrassed that someone’s talking about him again. But I’m going to talk about him anyways, because in a lot of ways, Quinton’s journey has been Joplin’s journey.

When the tornado struck, Quinton was thrown across the street from his house. The young man who found him couldn’t imagine that Quinton would survive such injuries. Quinton woke up in a hospital bed three days later. It was then that his sister Grace told him that both their parents had been lost to the storm.

Quinton went on to face over five weeks of treatment, including emergency surgery. But he left that hospital determined to carry on; to live his life, and to be there for his sister. Over the past year, he’s been a football captain who cheered from the sidelines when he wasn’t able to play. He worked that much harder so he could be ready for baseball in the spring. He won a national scholarship as a finalist for the High School Football Rudy Awards, and he plans to study molecular biology at Harding University this fall.

Quinton has said that his motto in life is “Always take that extra step.” Today, after a long and improbable journey for Quinton, for Joplin, and for the entire class of 2012, that extra step is about to take you towards whatever future you hope for; toward whatever dreams you hold in your hearts.

Yes, you will encounter obstacles along the way. Yes, you will face setbacks and disappointments.

But you are from Joplin. And you are from America. No matter how tough times get, you will be tougher. No matter what life throws at you, you will be ready. You will not be defined by the difficulties you face, but how you respond – with strength, and grace, and a commitment to others.

Langston Hughes, the poet and civil rights activist who knew some tough times, was born here in Joplin. In a poem called “Youth,” he wrote,

We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame.

Yesterday
A night-gone thing,
A sun-down name.

And dawn-today
Broad arch above the road we came.

We march!!

To the people of Joplin, and the class of 2012: The road has been hard. The day has been long. But we have tomorrow, and so we march. We march, together, and you are leading the way. Congratulations. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Bittersweet

First published in The Joplin Globe on Sunday, May 20, 2012:

 never saw a discontented tree,” said the great naturalist John Muir. Well, I have seen a lot of discontented trees in Joplin this past year, as I have moved through the still-healing disruption that tracks across our town, a lesion the entirety of which is only visible from a heavenly perch.

And perhaps it is fitting that only God—who some dare argue is the author of people-killing storms like our life- and city-changing tornado—can sit on his celestial roost and marvel daily at the totality of his 5-22-11 handiwork: folks still mourning their dead, blocks and blocks of emptiness, trees struggling courageously to provide shade so as to perhaps entice the return of the dispossessed.

Oh, it’s not as if there hasn’t been plenty of progress. There have been uncountable efforts to right Nature’s wrong, told and untold heroic sacrifices by strangers and friends to mend the many wounds and The Wound. All of which reveals not just Ozarkian doggedness and diligence, but authentically American vigor, the kind that did both good and evil while cutting a civilization from the wilderness of North America so long ago.

But despite that American heartiness, a quartet of seasons has nearly come and gone and the city is still unrecognizable from certain places on the ground. I still—still—get geographically confused as I walk through what those with official responsibilities call—perhaps out of emotional necessity—the “expedited debris removal area.”

Driving south from 20th and Main is to drive in a strange and unfamiliar town. Driving east from 20th and Main toward Duquesne is, well, even more strange and unfamiliar. And depressing. Looking north from 32nd and McClelland to the hill where St. John’s thrived will always remind me of what was lost. I will never again walk the track just east of St. John’s listening to the dogs bark in the neighborhood where Sarah and Bill Anderson were killed, he being a fellow coach in the Joplin South Little League years ago.

It is more than unnerving to think that despite all the money poured into Joplin from public and private sources, despite all the volunteers who have provided countless hours of rehabilitation labor, despite all the best plans of city leaders, both official and not, a person my age will not live long enough to see the mostly endearing Joplin I saw before the homicidal rampage of last year.

And while so much was irretrievably lost, so much is slowly becoming new again.  But that’s just it: the landscape for many years won’t have the gratifying familiarity or eye-pleasing value that can come only with time—and with lots of trees. Big trees, trees of all shapes and brands. Trees that keep you from seeing all the way from Duquesne Road to Maiden Lane, a spectacularly disheartening reality.

“The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky,” a French poet once said. Trees of the kind I speak can’t be shipped in here from folks who earnestly want to help us recover. Trees, like communities, require time to grow and become indispensably part of our experience, part of what makes a city like ours familiar—and welcoming.

That and much more is what the heart of Joplin is missing, what it will be missing for years to come. Beyond the utter sadness of the death and destruction that visited us a year ago, is the gloomy idea that haunts some of us daily: that no matter how much good work is done, whether planting homes or trees in the quasi-barren neighborhoods, we will never again see the Joplin we knew.

“Hallelujah!”

The bold headline said it all:

The lede:

JOPLIN, Mo. — Voters in the Joplin School District on Tuesday approved a $62 million bond issue by less than 1 percent of the required majority, giving the district the funds to rebuild schools that were destroyed in the May 22 tornado.

I must say I had serious doubts whether the thing would pass—it required a four-sevenths majority—and there wasn’t much room to spare, but as Superintendent C. J. Huff said this morning, a win is a win.

In Jasper and Newton counties combined the bond issue received 57.68% of the vote—just a tad over the 57.14% needed for passage, a mere 45 vote cushion.

Congratulations to Dr. Huff (who has done unbelievably great work since last May 22) and his staff and the Joplin Globe (the paper supported passage) and all those in the community who worked to see this through.

One commenter on the Globe’s Facebook page said this:

I wish more people realized that great schools attract great employers, which attract great wages. This is an investment in your community, not an expense.

“Investment”? Is that how employers see it? Well, yes.  Here is a paragraph from an accompanying Globe story:

Susan Adams, human resources director for Able Manufacturing & Assembly in Joplin, and Lori Scott Dreiling, human resources manager at Modine Manufacturing in Joplin, said approval of the bond issue will make it easier to recruit people to the area.

“When we recruit from out of the area, the first thing people want to know about is the school system,” Adams said.

Selling them on a community where children attend school in a converted warehouse and a big box store isn’t easy, she said.

“All of this is going to go a long way toward convincing folks this is a community with a viable future,” Adams said.

Dreiling said that when Modine tries to recruit senior managers and specialized positions such as engineers from outside the area, some have a perception that Joplin was blown away by the tornado.

She doesn’t find it hard to make the candidates the job offer, but getting families to visit is tough.

“I had one candidate ask me if school was being held in FEMA trailers,” Dreiling said.

An estimated $185 million worth of investments in our local schools will now materialize rather quickly, Dr. Huff said this morning. All thanks to insurance proceeds, federal and state government funding, and the 4,982 voters who bothered to cast a “yes” vote on Tuesday.

As Susan Adams said, “Hallelujah!”

More Socialism For Joplin

Tuesday’s Joplin Globe featured a front-page story on two teams from AmeriCorps who are here to help with the ongoing cleanup after the May tornado.

I suspect most people around here don’t know that much about AmeriCorps, but they should, especially those disposed to dislike big government. Created by Congress and President Clinton* in 1993, AmeriCorps providesa way for Americans to give back to their communities and country and earn money for college in return.” As the Globe article notes,

AmeriCorps members are not volunteers. In exchange for their service, corps members receive $5,550 to help pay for college or to pay back existing student loans.

These members, who come from all over the country, receive that modest pay (along with “a small living stipend, and room and board”) from taxpayers. Yep, it is a big guv’mint, socialist program, just like FEMA, which has poured a lot of socialist-stained money into the area.

Here is how The New Republic described what AmeriCorps members do:

Corps members spend a year or two in the most blighted neighborhoods in America, serving in nonprofits, social service agencies, and community- and faith-based organizations. They teach in schools, clean up parks, create affordable housing, and respond to natural disasters.

Needless to say, both Missouri Republican senators at the time—Kit Bond and John Danforth—voted against the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993. And surprise, surprise, the congressman representing Joplin then—Mel Hancock—also voted against it. In fact, most Republicans in the country did. This was a Democratic program and hated very much by conservatives.

A press release from the Clinton White House mentioned that after AmeriCorps’ creation,

Congressional Republicans immediately and frequently targeted the program for elimination… 

Imagine that. But by the time an effort in 1999 came to kill AmeriCorps, Kit Bond had changed his mind and voted to keep it. Unfortunately, Missouri’s other senator—at that time it was John Ashcroft—tried to vote it out of existence. (Then-Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma also voted against it.) 

To his credit, George W. Bush eagerly embraced AmeriCorps and even expanded it. He was ruthlessly criticized by rabid right-wingers like James Bovard who trashed the program (“Bush’s AmeriCorps Fraud“) and wrote of Bush:

Politicians have long used moral doggerel to make citizens docile. Though President Bush is often verbally inept, he has hit the same chords his predecessors played to sway Americans to glorify government workers as moral icons worthy of gratitude and respect.

That was in 2007, and we know there is little worry today that conservatives will glorify government workers and deem them worthy of gratitude and respect. And it is certainly laughable to think that in today’s environment anything like AmeriCorps could be created. Indeed, earlier this year House Republicans proposed a budget that would have killed it. 

Enjoy AmeriCorps’ help while you can, Joplinites, because if you and other socialism-hating voters keep sending conservatives to Washington, it won’t be around for our next disaster. 

________________________________

* An article in The New Republic began with this story:

Upon leaving office, George H.W. Bush left his successor with only one request: preserve federal support for Points of Light, the foundation he created to encourage volunteerism and civic engagement. Bill Clinton followed through on that appeal and went on to establish AmeriCorps in 1993, which further solidified government support for nationally organized community service. He, in turn, had one request for his successor. “When I was leaving, and George W. Bush was coming in, the only thing I asked him to do was to preserve AmeriCorps,” Clinton said at a recent event in Washington. “And he did.”

Outrage, Pressure, And Doing The Right Thing

Thanks to a story that appeared first in the Joplin Globe and then thanks to an Associated Press story that appeared on Sunday in papers and other media all over the country, Mark Lindquist, tornado survivor, will finally get workers’ compensation benefits.

Lindquist, for those not familiar with his story, was at his job as a social worker taking care of developmentally disabled adults in a group home just across the street from the Joplin High School, where the EF-5 tornado, as Globe reporter Wally Kennedy described it, “was at its zenith.”

Nearly everyone in the country has seen the pictures of Joplin High School and the surrounding destruction, and Mr. Lindquist’s heroism is now legendary around here. As the tornado approached, he and a co-worker, Ryan Tackett, tossed a mattress over three men with Down syndrome and jumped on top in a futile effort to save them.  The three men died in the storm.

Lindquist himself “was found in rubble two houses south of the group home,” Kennedy reported for the Globe.  Here’s how the AP reported it:

The storm tossed Lindquist more than half a block. Two men out searching for survivors found him buried in rubble, impaled by a piece of metal. Large chunks of flesh were torn off, and pieces of his shoulder crumbled to the ground as the rescuers lifted him to safety.

Things got even worse when Lindquist developed a fungal infection from debris that got into open sores, an infection that killed five other Joplin tornado victims.

Lindquist wasn’t expected to survive and was in a coma for nearly two months, first at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, then at a hospital in Columbia and finally at a rehabilitation center in Mount Vernon. It was there that he awoke.

“I’m a walking miracle,” he said.

Maybe he is a walking miracle. But what may be more miraculous, in a devilish sort of way, is that the insurance company for his employer managed to find a way to not pay Lindquist workers’ compensation benefits, despite the fact that his employer urged the company to do so.

The insurance company, Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, explained in a letter to Lindquist that his claim was denied,

based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado.

Now, Lindquist’s own home was not damaged and had he been there instead of at his just-above-minimum-wage job he would still have all of his teeth, have full use of his arm and his short-term memory, move around more quickly, and not have medical bills in excess of $2.5 million.

But that meant nothing to an insurance company motivated not to pay such an obvious claim. A spokesman for the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation said that out of 132 claims filed related to the Joplin tornado, “only” eight were denied by insurance companies.

From the Insurance Journal:

The company says its initial decision to deny Lindquist’s claim was based on Missouri workers’ compensation laws, which limit recovery for injuries received during a tornado to situations where the employee was subjected to a greater harm than that of the general public.

Accident Fund initially found that Lindquist did not face a greater risk than the general public at the time of his involvement the Joplin tornado. The insurer says it has revisited the case and changed its determination.

Lindquist, who could not afford health insurance on his wages, was both a victim of nature and corporate nature, the latter victimization thwarted by publicity first generated by a story in the Joplin Globe, which editorialized today:

Mark Lindquist’s story has the right kind of ending — finally. And it’s because of the outrage of readers like you and the pressure you placed on an insurance company that Lindquist’s medical bills for injuries he suffered on the night of the May 22 tornado will be covered.

Yes: “Outrage” and “pressure” on misbehaving corporate entities. Isn’t that what the Occupy Wall Street protests are all about?

Billy Long Gets A New Name

Remember when Bill Clinton was dubbed Slick Willie?  He can now move over and make room for Slick Billy.

As the dreadful prospect of yet another budget battle in Congress looms over us, thanks to Frank Morris and NPR we have Southwest Missouri’s own congressman, Billy Long, giving us his not-reassuring assurance that Joplin will continue to receive disaster aid following our record-setting tornado. 

Morris reported that Long, “a Tea Party stalwart who ran for Congress as a man fed up with Washington,”  is full of praise for the place today, including Washington residents Barack Obama and Janet Napolitano and, uh, Nancy Pelosi:

“The president came in, he was great. [Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano came in, she’s been great,” he says. “[House Minority] Leader Pelosi came up to me on the floor, hugged me and said, ‘Billy, anything the people of Joplin need they’ll have.’ “

Napolitano was here in Joplin on Thursday and praised Long back:

“He’s worked well with our office, with our shop,” she said. “When he was asked about FEMA, to rank it shortly after the fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, he said he’d give it a 12.”

FEMA has, according to the story, provided “close to $100 million” to help clean up the mess, some of which still remains, and “an additional $19 million plus on rent and home repairs.”

But the story does not reveal whether Long, given the current fight over disaster relief at the center of the budget impasse in Congress, will side with those who are demanding budget offsets for FEMA funding or whether he will treat that emergency funding like it has been treated in the past: in times of disasters, we don’t fight over disaster relief.

Morris tells us that, “Long insists the tornado hasn’t altered his views” on government generally, despite his praise for FEMA particularly:

“Budgeting is about priorities,” he says, “and you certainly have to prioritize for situations like this.”

Long says he’s confident that whatever tough choices may have to be made, Uncle Sam’s not going to skimp on helping people laid low by a natural disaster.

Okay. But what about the offset problem?  What are the “tough choices”? Will Long vote to provide disaster relief without strings attached?

Once again, nobody knows. He ain’t sayin’ or he ain’t been asked.  That’s why we can now call Colonel Ozark Billy Long simply: Slick Billy.

 

[h/t: Busplunge]

“Chaos”

Last week, I gave kudos to Sen. Roy Blunt for supporting disaster relief without strings attached.  In case you forgot, Blunt actually was one of 10 Republicans who voted with Democrats to approve a $7 billion funding bill for FEMA, which has been critical for our recovery here in Joplin and elsewhere.

My Blunt kudos may have been a case of premature ejaculation (don’t panic: “a short sudden emotional utterance“).

Discussing the possibility of the Senate voting on an amended version of the House temporary budget resolution—which failed to pass, but more on that later—Fox “News” reported:

The House is scheduled to pass it’s [sic] bill Wednesday and head out of town Thursday. Reid has said he intends to try to amend that bill to plus up disaster aid to $6.9 billion. Whether or not he will have the votes, again, remains to be seen. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who’s state was ravaged by a tornado in May, would not commit Tuesday to supporting Reid’s move, as he did previously.

So, my premature kudos for Blunt I officially, uh, withdraw.

Now to the House: With the end of the fiscal year fast approaching, House teapartiers, in an unholy alliance with Democrats, put a political chiv in the back of Speaker Boehner by not voting for the Continuing Resolution to fund the government through November 18. 

Boehner, who has never really been in operational control of the House, was understandably upset over the kids in the House Tea Party letting him down, even after he threatened them. But he promised there would not be another fiasco over the budget, like the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that.

In any case, here’s how Roll Call reported Boehner’s shallacking:

The House threw the appropriations process into chaos today, voting down a stopgap funding resolution that conservative Republicans and virtually all Democrats opposed.

Chaos.”  And what is at the heart of that chaos?  Disaster funding.  FEMA.  Offsets.  

Republicans have played games with disaster funding and Democrats refuse to join them. Democrats in the House oppose the inadequate funding of FEMA in the CR and refuse to support the budget offsets that involve cutting off funds for a valuable loan program for advanced technology vehicles that has been a real job creator.

For his part, Boehner only needed 18 more Republicans to pass his CR, but 48 Republicans, mostly extremists, voted against the resolution because it followed the discretionary spending levels of the infamous debt-ceiling deal instead of a slightly lower amount previously passed in a separate House budget resolution.

By requiring FEMA funding to be subject to a debate about offsets, as Tea Party Republicans and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have done, we are in chaos.  This is exactly why from the beginning of the disaster recovery in Joplin I tried to ask my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, what his position on offsets and disaster funding was. 

And of those few who have tried, nobody has been able to get him to answer definitively. He voted for Boehner’s CR, with its stingy funding for FEMA and its offsets for disaster relief, and unfortunately that doesn’t tell us whether he will vote for a resolution that does not contain offsets.

I guess we’re just supposed to wait and find out, because I still have not had a response from Long’s office to my question.

And, too, I suppose we’re going to have to wait and see how Roy Blunt will vote on disaster relief.

In the mean time, no more premature short and sudden emotional utterances from me.

Schweich Versus Nixon

The Joplin Globe‘s Thursday editorial offered some criticism of Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich’s peevish lawsuit against Governor Jay Nixon. 

The paper said Schweich’s “timing couldn’t be more wrong.”

The Republican Schweich is suing the Democratic governor over Nixon’s methods—”unconstitutional” says the auditor—of making disaster relief funding available to Joplin and other disaster areas in the state, which methods involved withholding $170 million in funds that had already been appropriated for other uses—including an extra $300,000 for Schweich’s state office—and diverting them into disaster relief, a hefty chunk of which is designated for Joplin.

The Globe mentioned the issue of Schweich’s political motives involving the pantless party-troubled Lt. Governor Peter Kinder:

Schweich, in an interview Tuesday with the Globe, brought up Kinder before we did. He said the lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with Kinder or politics. Asked if he would have filed the lawsuit had he been working with a Republican governor, Schweich was emphatic with his answer.

“Absolutely. I sent Nixon a letter about the audit findings and he’s blown me off. I would have done the same thing if that type of response had come from a Republican governor.”

You see?  Nixon’s real sin, apparently, is that he blew off the sensitive auditor.

The issue is interesting for another reason.  There is a battle of editorial positions of the state’s two largest newspapers over Nixon’s admittedly sneaky end-around.

A Kansas City Star editorial criticized Nixon for acting “at least unwise and arrogant” and for taking his “cutter in chief” reputation “too far“:

The Democratic governor has arbitrarily been altering the 2012 budget sent to him by the Republican-controlled legislature. He’s cut money appropriated for colleges and universities, the Parents as Teachers program, the state transportation department and other functions.

The paper suggests that Nixon’s motive for helping places like Joplin involves some politics:

Nixon can meet emergency expenses without further penalizing universities and people in need of social services. The obvious option is to tap the state’s $527 million rainy day fund. If flooding and tornadoes don’t qualify as a rainy day, why have an emergency account?

Using the fund would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature, and the money would have to be paid back over three years. Key lawmakers from both parties say they would be willing to authorize the spending. Nixon would have to share the credit for helping tornado victims, but at this point some esprit de corps would be a welcome change.

Yes, shame on a politician up for reelection for not wanting to share any credit that might come his way.  Shame, shame, shame.  But the Star does have a point about some of the budget cuts.  Part of the amount will come from general revenue, but the majority of it will come from cutting funding for state agencies and programs, including Medicaid and children’s services.

If a Republican were to do that, I think state Missouri Democrats would be, shall we say, not so supportive.

On the other hand, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized this way:

On its surface, the action might seem like just another example of a politician who equates governance with campaigning, a typical attempt at blatant partisanship wrapped up in legal arguments weaker than a first-year law student’s paper written after an all-night bender.

Ouch.

There’s more about that $300,000 increase in Schweich’s office budget:

In a nutshell: The governor is wrong to cut the auditor’s budget to pay for rebuilding the devastation caused by the Joplin tornado.

That’s right. Mr. Schweich wants the court and the public to believe that his budget is more important than helping a city rebuild from one of the worst natural disasters in our state’s history.

Mr. Schweich, were he granting interviews, probably would take issue with that characterization, but that’s what his lawsuit does.

And the final touché:

Were Mr. Schweich to win his legal argument, he would get access to his $300,000. The folks in Joplin would have to wait for the Legislature to decide whether they were as worthy.

As for the Joplin Globe, home of the largest disaster in state history, its editorial ended with this:

Now it will be up to the courts to decide if Nixon has overstepped the authority that comes with being governor.

We doubt the people who lived in the 7,000 homes destroyed by the tornado are going to care. We doubt the 545 business owners who are trying to get up and running are going to care.

It may turn out that Schweich is right about the process the governor used to find money to pay for Joplin’s disaster relief.

But his timing couldn’t be more wrong.

Ozark Billy Long: The Invisible Man

Sometimes you get what you ask for.

Here in Joplin, here in Southwest Missouri, we have voted time and again for right-wing politicians who tell us that government is the problem not the solution, who tell us that government is sucking the life out of the country, making everyone wards of a socialist state, taking our liberty, and killing our spirit.

In short, folks around here have said they are “fed up” with Big Daddy government, which is why Colonel Ozark Billy Long, who was “fed up” before Rick Perry stole his thunder, can belly-up to D.C. bars and rake in the cash on behalf of his constituents here at home.

As everyone around here knows by now, FEMA is running out of dough:

WASHINGTON — After a devastating hurricane swept across several East Coast states this weekend, the federal government has announced it will divert some of the long-term funding promised to rebuild roads, schools and other buildings destroyed by tornadoes in Joplin and other states.

Oh, don’t worry anti-government Joplinites.  FEMA says this only affects long-term funding and the short-term cash will still keep flowing into the area and into the bank accounts of many fed-up anti-government voters.

The Joplin Globe editorialized on the matter this morning:

Both Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt responded to the announcement with statements of reassurance that the needs of Joplin and other areas of the state would be met.  We’re still not sure where freshman Rep. Billy Long, a Republican from Springfield, stands because his office didn’t return our calls.  That’s troubling because Joplin needs to know the philosophy of all its legislators on funding for disasters.

Way back on May 24—two days after the tornado—I asked Ozark Billy the same question.  That was just after Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader, had started all the nonsense about budget offsets for disaster relief and the implication that budget battles over such relief would be part of the mix.

Long refused to answer me even though I looked him right in the eyes and asked him about Cantor’s remarks and about funding for Joplin.  His handler told me, rudely, that they would “look into it.”  Well, I called Long’s office the next day and ask the question again and was told that I would be receiving a response from Long’s press guy via email. 

I’m still waiting for that response, even after repeated attempts at the time to reach him.

It turns out that Long has responded to the recent FEMA announcement, courtesy of a statement released on his normally dormant website:

Rep. Billy Long, a Springfield Republican whose district includes Joplin, said he, too, would work to make sure Joplin gets what was promised.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to those on the East Coast that were affected by this hurricane. Those of us in southwest Missouri know just how devastating a natural disaster can be,” Long said. “My staff and I have been in constant contact with FEMA to ensure that FEMA keeps its promise that they would see the rebuilding of Joplin through.”

That response doesn’t exactly address the problem, does it?  The problem, as the Globe stated it quite accurately this morning is this:

Remember, FEMA isn’t driving the train on long-term funding, but Congress is.  Typically, Congress appropriates more money for FEMA when one disaster piles onto another.

But times are different in Washington, D.C., and we can no longer count on business as usual…

In the end, it will be up to Congress to make sure disaster promises are kept.

Yes, it is up to Congress, and Billy Long, contrary to the Globe‘s suggestion that we don’t know his philosophy on things like federal funding for disasters, obviously is trying to have it both ways. 

Long doesn’t want to cross Eric Cantor and the Tea Party in Congress on budget issues—remember Long’s philosophy: He is “fed up” with all the government spending—but he wants to come across as one who is fighting for his constituents here in Joplin.

Well, honestly, local media have allowed Long to have it both ways.  Colonel Billy, during his month-long hiatus from his demanding work in Congress—passing worthless bills that never become law is hard work, you know—as far as I know hasn’t had any town hall meetings anywhere in the district, except maybe Metropolitan Grill in Springfield, nor has he given any extensive interviews to reporters.

He has been invisible for the most part, and that’s no easy task for our capacious congressman.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the disaster funding issue comes to a head this fall, we may have local reporters demanding some access to and some answers from Mr. Long, instead of merely accepting—as the Springfield News-Leader did in its story on this issue this morning—a short statement from Long’s website.

The Socialist Capital Of Missouri: Joplin

As I have mentioned before, the EF-5 tornado that blew through Joplin on May 22, killing 160 people and destroying or damaging more than 7000 homes and businesses, also seems to have destroyed or damaged the anti-government sentiments of a lot of folks around here. 

At least until it’s time to elect more anti-government politicians to office.

In the wake of the deadly storm has come a tsunami of socialism to this notoriously fed-up-with-gubmint part of the country.

Consider just the last two days of reporting in the Joplin Globe.  On Friday, the above-the-fold news was:

In that article we learn:

JOPLIN, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon at a news conference Thursday afternoon announced state funding of up to $1.5 million for the Joplin School District to offset a projected drop in property tax revenue as a result of the damage wreaked by the May 22 tornado.

And:

Without the state funding, state and local officials said, the district would have had to contemplate raising the local operating and debt-service levies to meet financial needs for fiscal year 2012.

Think about that, all you anti-government types in Joplin.  In order to keep from raising local property taxes, our school district needs the help of other Missourians.  That’s called democratic socialism, my friends.

Or consider Saturday’s Joplin Globe:

In the first story we learn:

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin’s city administration will ask the City Council at its meeting Monday night to allow the city to make application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for individual storm shelter funding.

Assistant City Manager Sam Anselm said that if the council authorized submission of the application and it was eventually approved, residents could build storm shelters or safe rooms and be reimbursed for 75 percent of the cost.

In the second story we learn how eager some other area communities are in getting in on the federal program that would help with storm shelter funding.

Now, you can call this stuff anything you want, but when other Americans are helping Joplinites purchase and install storm shelters, I call it democratic socialism.

Finally, Saturday’s Globe also brought us this headline:

Contracts total $31 million for temporary schools

FEMA to pick up most of the cost.

In that story we find out many details about to whom this particular FEMA money—courtesy of democratic socialism in America—will go.  The money, only part of what FEMA has done for Joplin, is designated for contracts to establish temporary schools to replace those that were destroyed in the tornado. 

Here is a partial list of some of the local direct monetary beneficiaries of democratic socialism around the area:

Crossland Construction of Columbus, Ks.: $9,456,774

R.E. Smith Construction of Joplin: $5,786,104

Intelligent Investments of Neosho: $2,485,498

KIR Joplin, which owns the space in Northpark Mall that will house half of Joplin High School: $1,000,000 per year

Northpark Mall‘s management company: $134,250 per year

Joplin Business and Industrial Corporation for leasing space for East Middle School students: $432,000 per year

Bentley Investments, owned by Joplin resident Gary Hall: $420,000 per year

Joplin Memorial Hall, owned by the city: $400,000 per year

There you have it.  Socialism is alive and well in our fair city, but few dare call it that. 

Joplin Recovery: The Way It’s Suppose To Work

If you live or work in Joplin, The Tornado hasn’t really gone away.  To date, 159 folks lost their lives.

For those interested in a very good summary of the damage done to Joplin, as well as good words for the federal effort—none dare call it socialistic—to help the business community in the storm’s aftermath, the following is an edited version of the written testimony of Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, as he appeared before the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs:

The fourteen mile long tornado cut a swath nearly eight miles long, and at times almost one mile wide, from the far west side of Joplin through the city, into Duquesne, then back into Joplin. For more than half of the path, through the most densely developed residential and business part of Joplin, the tornado was an EF 5, with sustained winds of more than 200 miles per hour. On the original Fujita scale, used until 2007, an F-5 tornado had winds of 260 to more than 300 miles per hour. It has been determined a good portion of the tornado in Joplin had wind speeds of approx. 300 miles per hour. In creating the EF scale, it was determined that winds greater than 200 miles per hour resulted in total destruction, so the EF 5 designation is anything over 200 miles per hour. If the new scale, like the old, recognized winds in excess of 260 miles per hour, Joplin would have the distinction of reaching EF 6 or EF 7 status.

Nearly 8,000 housing units, about 1,000 of them in apartment complexes, were impacted by the tornado.  4,250 of those units were destroyed or severely damaged. The storm did not discriminate, destroying some of the highest priced homes in Joplin as well as those in low and moderate income neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, those lower income neighborhoods are also some of Joplin’s oldest with small houses on small lots, 14 to 16 homes in a block.  These are very densely developed and populated areas. The tornado devastated those neighborhoods. In all around 18,000 people, 35% of the population in our communities were immediately displaced. Around 9,000 were displaced for the long-term. Of those, 1500 are still on the list for FEMA housing.

Also in the direct path of the storm were nearly 500 place of employment, from the news media’s icon of the storm, St. John’s Regional Medical Center with more than 2,000 employees, to scores of mom and pop operations. Overall, nearly 5,000 job positions were impacted directly. Hundreds of other businesses in our area have also been touched by the storm, from being physically damaged, to being without power for days, to being completely unharmed, yet losing a good portion of their customer base.

Mr. O’Brian proudly and justifiably praised the efforts of his local chamber and those who came in to help from outside of Joplin to assist devastated businesses beginning on the day following the Sunday storm, and he also praised the efforts of the federal government—the SBA and FEMA—and its willingness to essentially partner with the chamber to meet the needs of the business community.

On Monday afternoon we had our first contact with the SBA Business Recovery team,” O’Brian wrote.  Imagine that. Less than 24 hours after the disaster the feds were here to not only help fellow citizens—another story altogether—but to help businesses. He continued:

We were greatly aided in our initial and continued recovery efforts by the personnel from the Small Business Administration Business Recovery Team. By the third day after the tornado, we were introduced to FEMA’s private-sector recovery team.  The FEMA private-sector support is a relatively new approach…the FEMA team has been a good conduit in keeping us and, consequently, the business community aware of the larger recovery efforts.  All of the people representing these organizations are professionals that have a sincere desire to help our businesses and our community.  All of these people do an excellent job of representing their organizations.

O’Brian does thoughtfully point out some improvements that could be made in the process, at least part of the problem due to the reluctance of the SBA and FEMA to be seen as dominating the scene:

The SBA and FEMA teams have experience with large scale disasters, which most communities do not. We understand that the FEMA team members want to ensure they respond to our needs and not be, in reality or perception, running over us.  However, FEMA personnel have the experience and resources to share with those of us without disaster experience.  As part of that process, we consider ourselves experienced and professional enough to evaluate the FEMA input and resources and make a determination of what works for our communities.

He finished with this:

I want to stress that our experience with the teams from SBA and FEMA have been professional and beneficial to our businesses…

…the FEMA Long-Term Recovery team has been of great help in organizing our city, chamber, schools and the broader community to begin the recovery process…

…We believe the Federal effort in the recovery of our community and, in particular, the business sector, have and continue to be of great benefit. While there are always areas for improvement in any organization, the speed and focus of the recovery in Joplin and Duquesne would not be possible without this assistance.

I have to say that Mr. O’Brian, as well as other local community leaders, in government and out, state government officials, especially Governor Nixon, thousands of volunteers from all over the country, and, of course, the federal government, have done excellent work and have all worked well together. They have made the best out of a bad situation, a situation that will require all of those entities to continue working together for years to come.

The way things have worked here in Joplin—not always perfectly, to be sure— since the May 22 tornado is the way things are suppose to work in a civilized society, as public and private resources pull together to rebuild a devastated but not despondent community.

Does Billy Long Support A Clean Aid Bill For Joplin?

Three weeks ago I ask Ozark Billy Long, congressman and colonel, about GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s controversial comment that offsets in the federal budget would have to be found before federal aid would flow to Joplin.

As of now, I don’t know if Billy Long has ever been asked by anyone but me about Cantor’s comment, nor, as far as I know, as he offered any criticism or support of Cantor’s offset idea. 

What I do know is that Long voted for an initial aid package for Joplin, but that vote was for something called the “Aderholdt Amendment,” part of the 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. That amendment was a Cantorian offset, as it moved money from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program in order to provide aid to Joplin.

So, we have Billy Long on record as voting for a budget offset, but we don’t have him on record as urging his House colleagues to avoid a protracted an ideological budget fight over the issue of offsets and disaster relief to Joplin.  In fact, on Long’s website, he said:

“While we need to look everywhere to make spending cuts, making sure our first responder, disaster relief, and national defense communities have the tools they need will always be a priority while I am in Congress,” said Long.

Does that mean he is for or against Cantor’s offset scheme?

Beats me.  So, I called Long’s D.C. office this morning and talked to Molly, a very nice and polite intern.  When I asked Molly about Long’s position on aid to Joplin and budget offsets, she read me the statement above.  I asked her to clarify whether Long would support aid to Joplin, if there were no budget offsets.  She was unfamiliar with Long’s vote on the Aderholdt Amendment, so I explained it to her.  She then put me on hold for a few minutes to get more information.

She came back and said, “Here is what I have found out.” She then tried again to formulate a statement that would allow Long to have it both ways: “So far, offsetting hasn’t been an issue,” she said. and Congressman Long believes “funding to Joplin is most important,” and he “doesn’t want to waste time with a political debate.”

Okay, but will he support funding without offsets?  In other words, I ask her, will he support a clean aid bill for Joplin?

She then told me that if I wanted a more definitive answer, I would have to email Bret Funk, Long’s press person.  Okay, I said.  She gave me his address and I emailed him the following:

Simple enough, right?  It shouldn’t take five minutes to formulate a response to those questions.  After all, the issue has been out there for three weeks. I’ll let you know what I find out, if anything.

But in the mean time, today’s Joplin Globe editorial, avoiding its usual boilerplate conservatism, boldly and accurately proclaims:

Leave Joplin out of it

The editorial opens with this:

What does cutting funds for a program to encourage clean-car technology have to do with federal disaster relief in Joplin and elsewhere?

The answer should be “absolutely nothing.”

The editorial ends with this:

If legislators need to find cuts to the budget to make funds available for disaster relief, then that’s what they should do—separately from approving funds for Joplin and other towns and cities across the United States that have been hit hard by tornadoes and flooding.

At a time when our city is already suffering, we don’t need to be caught in the middle of political warfare.

Well, it’s about time the Joplin Globe took this position.  And now that the paper has come to its senses, maybe someone with a little more journalistic clout can ask our congressman about it.

Dear Tea Party: Should Price Gouging Be Legal?

The Kansas City Star reported on Friday that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster “obtained a temporary restraining order” against an Independence, Mo., towing company for violating our state’s Merchandising Practices Act,

by towing semi-tractors and trailers damaged by the May 22 tornado and then demanding amounts that were  “considerably more than the fair market price in the area.”

The Merchandising Practices Act is essentially a consumer protection statute, being applied in this case to unfair pricing and the possibility that the company towed vehicles without the owner’s authorization.

In any case, just one day after the tornado, Missouri’s top law enforcement official put this word out:

Jefferson City, Mo. — Attorney General Chris Koster today warned individuals and businesses against price-gouging following the devastating tornado in Joplin.

“Missouri law is clear – price gouging is illegal and the Attorney General’s Office will investigate and prosecute instances of price-gouging to the full extent of the law,” Koster said. “The unimaginable disaster in Joplin will take everyone working together to recover. There is no room for anyone to try to take advantage of tornado victims in need.”

Koster’s office is sending investigators to the area to monitor for price-gouging and to examine any allegations on-site. The Attorney General urged any person who believes a business has suddenly and artificially raised the prices on necessities including gas, food, diapers, clean-up equipment, etc., should contact his office at 1-800-392-8222, or online at ago.mo.gov to file the complaint.

Now, I have some questions for all you free-market, anti-government regulation types out there:

Why shouldn’t businesses be able to charge any damn price they want to for any service or product, including necessities?  After all, if I have the only gasoline in town, why can’t I charge you, say, $20 a gallon to get it?  That’s capitalism, isn’t it? 

Even if I paid $3.50 a gallon for the gas, I know you need it. And I know you’re willing to pay much—much—more than what I paid for it.  In effect, the “fair” market price has instantly escalated due to the disaster. On what principle can you deny me the right to charge whatever the market will bear?

Huh?

The War On Terror And Aid To Joplin

I just want to remind everyone who has a Scroogish opinion about federal disaster aid to Joplin of one thing: The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are costing us at a minimum $3 billion—every week of the year.  To put that in perspective, that’s the reported estimated damage caused by the tornado that hit our city a week ago, destroying or severely damaging almost one-third of it.

Here is a conservative estimate of the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars—no offsets for them, you know; all have been and are being paid for with borrowed money—as of 8:30pm Central Standard Time:

 

If you follow and buy into the argument by Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, you get a much higher number.  Just in the case of the Iraq War, Stiglitz estimated the cost to be, well, his book (co-authored with Linda Bilmes) was titled, “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict,” so you get the idea.  It’s a lot.

Stiglitz believes that the Iraq war has had particular macroeconomic effects that are not part of the calculation most people make when totaling up the cost of the war.  For instance, he argues that “the war has led to higher oil prices.”  In his book he only conservatively attributed a $5-10 increase to the war, but believes “a reasonable number would be at least $35 and probably much more.”

He also argues that the war spending in Iraq didn’t and doesn’t have much of a stimulative effect on our economy, either in the short or long run:

If we spend money for somebody from Nepal to work in Iraq it does not stimulate the American economy in the same way as building a road in America or hiring a teacher in America. It certainly does not increase long-run productivity in the United States.

The third argument he makes, related to the Joplin emergency funding issue,  is this one:

This war was financed totally by deficit financing, unlike any other war.  Normally when countries go to war they talk about shared sacrifice. As America went to war we lowered the taxes on upper-income Americans. Really very strange behaviour in a context in which we already had a large deficit. The national debt has grown by almost $1 trillion just because of the war and by 2017 we estimate it will rise by another $1 trillion.  That is a lot of money.

He adds:

These three factors have led to a depressing of the U.S. economy today and weakening the U.S. economy in the future.

He also believes that “lax monetary policy” by the Federal Reserve, which was implemented in order to compensate for the decreased purchasing power in the economy resulting from higher oil prices, led to a distortion in the economy that itself contributed to the pre-collapse bubble before the fall of 2008.  How do you calculate that cost?

Finally, Stiglitz points out that the long-term cost of disability payments and health-care costs for wounded soldiers, and the cost for replacing equipment lost or damaged during the war, all add up to his final cost of what he called “a war of choice.” 

And the simple point is that in the case of the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan—both wars of choice that have been deficit-funded—no one in the Republican Party argued that the costs of the wars had to be offset in the budget or else there would be no funding for those wars.

As a commenter on this blog pointed out,

Picking up the pieces of disasters such as the one that hit Joplin is one of the many reasons why we have a government in the first place.

So, before anyone argues with me about “bailing” out Joplin, or argues that the costs of emergency funding for our city should be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget and thus become part of a protracted political fight, please tell me why you weren’t arguing since 2001 for cutting the budget to fund our war efforts.

That’s what I thought.

AP: President Obama’s Visit To Joplin Today Is On “Unfriendly Political Ground”

The Associated Press reported President Obama’s upcoming visit to Joplin later today this way:

The president travels to tornado-wrecked Joplin, Mo., on Sunday, a day after returning from a six-day European tour of Ireland, England, France and Poland.After days of focusing on the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world, he’ll turn to an even more critical connection: his own, with the American people.

[...]

Though times of trouble can erase politics and unite people, a phenomenon Obama has commented on, his task as healer Sunday will be carried out on unfriendly political ground as his re-election campaign approaches. Obama narrowly lost Missouri to Republican John McCain in 2008, but in Jasper County, where Joplin is located, McCain won by a large margin: 66 percent to 33 percent.

Jasper County is unfriendly political ground?  Yes.  But hopefully not today.

Local Coverage Of Tornado Aftermath Courtesy Of The Joplin Globe

The Sunday edition of the Joplin Globe has excellent coverage of the events of the last week here in our city.

The Globe has provided free access to the electronic edition of the complete paper, which is available here.

Rare Praise For Roy Blunt

From stltoday.com:

WASHINGTON • Sen. Roy Blunt said this morning he believes damage from the Joplin tornado could reach $3 billion. He wants the federal government to assume a bigger share of cleanup costs than usual.

You’ll note he said nothing about “offsets” in the budget or any other such nonsense lately on the lips of House Republicans.  This response by Blunt is exactly what I would have expected from Rep. Billy Long, when I asked him about Eric Cantor’s budget offsets-or-else-no-money-for-Joplin comments .

On this issue, even if only on this issue, Roy Blunt gets it and he’s not about to play politics with federal funds for our devastated city. Not only would that be the wrong thing to do, it could change the politics in this part of the country. 

I give Roy Blunt rare kudos for his statement on federal help.

He also exhibited reasonableness regarding the timing of President Obama’s visit to Joplin:

Responding to a question, Blunt said he believed that President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit Joplin on Sunday after a trip to Europe was soon enough.

“I don’t think the president could have been particularly helpful” coming earlier, he said. “I have plenty of things to disagree with the president on; this doesn’t happen to be one of them.”

Obviously, Blunt’s reaction to events here is what all of us were eager to hear. And his comments transcend politics, as they should. 

Again, kudos to him.

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