Tuesday, May 24, 2011

St. Louis Good Friday Tornado Update

As we watch tornadoes flatten Joplin Missouri, Oklahoma City, and now the Joplin area again, St. Louis county is still recovering from its own EF4 tornado a month later. That tornado tore through several municipalities, destroying thousands of homes, hundreds of businesses and doing severe damage to Lambert International Airport.

Tuesday, May 24, Congressman Clay hosted a telephonic town hall along with Libby Turner from FEMA, Mark Randall from the SBA and the mayors from three of the cities hardest hit Maryland Heights, Berkeley and Bridgeton: Mike Moeller, Kyra Watson, and Conrad Bowers. They gave updates on the recovery efforts and took select questions from the thousand or so callers.

The FEMA and SBA representatives started out by giving information about how to request assistance. The most important points, for those seeking assistance, is to contact FEMA to begin your application for assistance, details of which can be found on their website at http://www.fema.gov/assistance/index.shtm, by phone 800-621-FEMA, or their mobile site http://m.fema.gov. From there, they will send you paperwork to apply for grants from FEMA for everything from housing and personal loss to medical and funeral assistance. Also, they will send you applications for very low rate SBA loans to assist you in ways FEMA is not allowed to such as deductible coverage. In response to a question from the Post Dispatch's media representative, Lisa Brown, Ms. Turner and Mr. Randall explained that $610,000 in grants have been approved and over 600 SBA loan applications have been processed for homeowners and many area businesses.

The mayors then discussed the current status of the recovery. In the three municipalities represented, more than 1100 residences have been damaged, about ten percent of those flattened or in other ways left unlivable. Bridgeton alone has spent about $2.5 million on the recovery effort. All the mayor praised the volunteers and aid, both from other municipalities in the area and numerous private aid organizations. "FEMA cooperation has been outstanding," Moeller said. More volunteers are still needed, as clean up is expected to continue throughout the summer according to Mayor Watson.

During the question in answer session that came next, many of these details were expanded upon and a number of other issues were brought out. A Ms. Booker and another caller, Arlene, asked why the government is giving those in need loans when they really don't need to take on more debt. Ms. Turner explained that FEMA only offers grants, potentially totaling up to $30,200 while the SBA offers loans and works very hard with the home owner to make the terms as generous as possible, including rates as low as 2.68% and repayment plans as long as 30 years.

In response to one caller's thank you, Rep. Clay responded saying such actions are what government is supposed to do in such times of disaster. But when I asked what the government is doing to prepare for more and more frequent disasters like this, FEMA's first response was that they rely on a prepared citizenry, highlighting http://www.ready.gov/. Turner also highlighted national exercises that FEMA, state, and local emergency responders do to practice their response.

I find it telling that Ms. Turner's first response to "how is the government preparing?" is to say that people need to just prepare themselves. How is a family of four supposed to prepare for their home being hit by an EF5 tornado? How is a city supposed to prepare for a magnitude 9.0 earthquake like Japan faced. As Rep. Clay said, this is what government is for. Yet Republicans in the legislature feel they need to cut programs in order to pay for recovery efforts in Joplin. We are not a nation who says, "We can't help you unless we take money away from these people over here." We aren't a nation that says, "You'd better take care of yourself." We used to be a nation that cared for our neighbors, next door or across the country.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

@daveweigel Wins the Journalism #FAIL of the Day

Dave Weigel is a journalist I generally respect. I don't always agree with him politically, but he is generally honest and often witty. However, today, in what I'm not sure whether it was a failed attempt at wittiness or just a #fail, he attempted to compare two things that couldn't be more different. Whether or not it was an attempt at humor, many others at all levels on the right are saying this.

In a tweet today he said "Well, passing an unpopular bill over waves of protests worked for Democrats in 2010. Right? Right?" and defended the comparison in a couple further tweets. In so doing he compared a law where more than 30% of people didn't support it because it should have done more (myself included), 40% supported it and about 25% were totally against it to one where a plurality of Wisconsinites are flat out against the bill; saying it should not exist in any form.

If this were the only problem with his false equivalence, I would just hit him with a tweet or two on Twitter, but that's only the start. President Obama, Senator McCain, Secretary of State Clinton, and John Edwards (among many others) debated the health care law for almost two years before it there was ever presented to a Congressional committee. Governor Walker, on the other hand, made one mention of changing collective bargaining rights during his entire campaign.

Then there was the legislative fight itself. For health care reform, the entire debate took nearly a year between the myriad committees, several floor debates, hundreds of amendments from both sides and incessant public input. Gov. Walker would hear of no amendments, even from his own party. By his own (tricked) admission, he wouldn't negotiate or even meet with the opposition until after his bill was passed. And just today passed a completely modified bill that few, if any, legislators have had the chance to read in the TWO HOURS from when it was put forward to when it was passed (and it still hasn't been released to the public to my knowledge).

While I believe Mr. Weigel is against Gov. Walker's union busting, it is outrageous false equivalencies like this that seriously damage the ability of reasonable people to have real discussions about what's going on in our country. Some times there are no comparably wrong (or right) things done by the other side. There is no comparison to people going armed to presidential events wearing a shirt saying "The tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots." There is no honest "other side" to saying we shouldn't threaten or encourage the threatening of political opponents' lives. And there is no act that any modern Democratic has done that compares in any way to what Governor Walker and those 18 Republican state senators did today.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Words Have Power

Yesterday, a United States Congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot along with about nineteen other people, six of whom have died. The shooter, who's name I will not mention in order to not bring him any more publicity than he deserves, walked through a crowd of Rep. Giffords's constituents to shoot her point blank in the face and then fired randomly into the crowd. There is no other word for such a brazen act than attempted political assassination.

Such acts of politically inspired terrorism have been growing in recent years: people have flown planes into government buildings, others have shot police officers in fear of an oncoming "Obama gun ban", not to mention the dozens of people who have been arrested on their way to attempt to kill President Obama. Then there's the increase in anti-government militia activity and other politically driven violence and intimidation that hasn't risen to the level of killing throughout the country: brandishing weapons or saying "I didn't come armed... this time" at political rallies, campaign offices vandalized, shot up (including Rep. Giffords's), or firebombed.

These things aren't happening in a vacuum. Throughout the country, especially on the Right, violence and violent rhetoric is not just accepted, but becoming rewarded by increased air time and multi-million dollar contracts. Senate candidates can say that if voters don't get their way they should employ "Second Amendment remedies" and come within 40,000 votes of winning. Other Congressional representatives can say they want their constituents "armed and dangerous" against the government, and yet be accepted saying we need to root out those in government who are "anti-American". Using cross-hairs, shooting and other similar rhetoric to talk about defeating your political opponents is becoming commonplace.

It is this violent rhetoric, and the main stream media's happy acceptance and encouragement of it, that creates people like the one that attempted to kill Rep. Giffords and did kill a 9 year old girl. When people are told "So-and-so wants to kill your grandma," or "My opponent is a Nazi," or "These people want you to die quickly," how do you expect people to react. You can't say "Barack Obama is a terrorist," and minutes later "We need to go out and kill all terrorists," and not expect people to put the two together. Saying we have to defend our country to the death, and then turning around and saying one party or the other is trying to destroy our country is only going to lead to more of this.

And this can backfire both ways. Those on the right don't, I hope, want people to use guns to get their way, but their supporters see the acceptance such rhetoric gets and may think it's acceptable. Meanwhile, those others who are being targeted, or feel targeted may feel they need to defend themselves from the perceived threat and act violently preemptively. I fear that especially after this heinous act that there will be both copy-cat attacks and retaliations that would make the blood fued in Romeo and Juliet look tame.

We all, on both sides, need to turn down the rhetoric. Republicans don't want you to die quickly if you don't have insurance, they want you to deal with it yourself and leave them out of it. Democrats don't want to destroy our country by ensuring everyone has access to health care, they want to make even the weakest among us stronger. We may have different visions of where our country should go, but neither wants to harm the country. We can disagree, even fight vocally about these differences without being violent or hateful toward each other.

We have to stop the hate, or soon we won't have a country to defend.