The New Face Of Joplin

When our first African-American president visits Joplin again in May, our city’s first African-American mayor will be there to greet him.

Congratulations to Melodee Colbert-Kean, who was elected by the city council Monday night to the largely ceremonial post. She reportedly is only the fourth woman so elected in Joplin and she will serve as the face of the city during events like the visit of President Obama on May 21.

Although we have a council-manager form of government, in which the city manager essentially supervises day-to-day operations, it is nevertheless, as Joe Biden might say, a big bleeping deal that Colbert-Kean is our new mayor.

It says something good about her and about our city, the population of which is only 3.3% African-American.

Ozark Billy Long Makes The Big Time!

I have to admit that although I knew Ozark Billy would embarrass us here in Southwest Missouri, I had no idea he would be this big:

Watch the segment, after the commercial:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And in case you missed it, here is Colonel Ozark Billy’s first appearance on Worst Persons, although the Colonel only won the silver medal:

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?

A Remarkable Day

“The cameras may leave. The spotlight may shift. But we will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored. We’re not going anywhere. That is not just my promise; that’s America’s promise.”

Barack Obama, Joplin, Mo., May 29, 2011

There are lots of great pictures of Barack Obama’s inspirational visit to Joplin on Sunday, but I just want to post one that I think captures much about Mr. Obama and the residents hit hardest by the tornado. Former or current Joplinites know what I mean:

Okay. Maybe two photos:

 [Top: AP; Bottom: White House]

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.

Forbes: Congressman Billy Long is “Caught In An Ideological Buzz-Saw”

Clay Bowler of Bungalow Bill’s Conservative Wisdom pointed me to a story on Forbes about the “perverse GOP ideology” related to the controversy brewing in Congress over emergency aid to Joplin.

Not only does the writer, Rick Ungar, point out Eric Cantor’s “rather heartless engagement with this heartbreaking situation,” he mentions our own congressman:

…it turns out that Joplin is represented in Congress by a Tea Party backed Republican named Billy Long – one of the angry freshmen elected to Congress on a platform of being ‘fed up’ with career politicians and who ran on the motto that he was “Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

So, what is a Tea Party Congressman – dedicated to smaller government and individual responsibility – to do when the very people who are hurt and in serious need of federal assistance are the same people who sent him to Congress in support of his uber-conservative beliefs?

In Long’s case, the answer -so far- has been to do nothing as he weighs his ideological commitment against the dramatic needs of his constituents and the political damage that might follow whatever decision he makes.

Ungar ends his rather long piece with this:

Check in next November on the status of Billy Long’s Congressional career.

I have a feeling that this Tea Partier from a Tea Party district will be looking for new work as his inability to side with the folks who count on him – simply because he was caught in an ideological buzz-saw – will be more than enough to make him a one-term Congressman.

Where have you heard that before?

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