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.”


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.

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.


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.


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?

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