Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hartzler: We don't need a balanced approach; we need a balanced budget

In her weekly newsletter, Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler says it is time for a Balanced Budget Amendment.

It’s been a very busy week on Capitol Hill as the House and Senate try to reach agreement on legislation to deal with the debt limit crisis that President Obama has told us could lead to national default as early as August 2nd. Even though many economists question the President’s claim, representatives of the people in the U.S. House have carefully crafted a realistic solution to our problem.

We approved a two-step approach that prevents our country from defaulting on its loans, controls reckless government spending, and requires passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution before the debt ceiling could be raised again. This key component of the package will require your federal government to live within its means.

Once the Balanced Budget Amendment is passed it would be sent to the states for ratification. There is so much talk in Washington of the need for a “balanced approach” to our budget situation. America does not need a “balanced approach;” it needs a “balanced budget!” I worked with House leaders to strengthen the original bill and to have this measure included in the final version. I have said many times that American families must live within their means and the federal government must learn to do the same and only agreed to support this final version after the leadership agreed to include this vital provision I was advocating for.

The plan passed by the House begins the task of controlling spending by cutting $22 billion in the 2012 fiscal year – and does this without any increase in taxes. If you have talked to me you know I am always ready to share the fact that Washington is in debt because it has a spending problem, not a taxing problem. The American people have had enough with runaway spending and a lack of accountability. Those days must come to an end to secure our country’s economic freedom.

Americans are concerned about their jobs, rising costs, and our fragile economy. It is time to put people above politics. The House has passed a responsible bill that puts the government on the path to spending discipline. It is an important step on the road to changing the way Washington works – changing a broken system of spending. Reforms are needed and they are needed now.

The debate continues and moves onto the Senate. It is imperative the Senate and White House agree with the common-sense solutions of controlling spending and putting us on a path to fiscal sanity. Keep watching. Time is of the essence for America and for future generations.

As we discussed and debated the debt situation this week we received some disappointing economic news. Commerce Department figures released Friday show the economy expanded at a rate of just 1.3 percent annual rate in the spring. Many economists say this means the economy will grow at a weaker pace the rest of the year and are saying this does not bode well for the unemployment rate which was pegged at 9.2 percent last month. This is yet another indication that our country is headed in the wrong direction. Out-of-control government spending and uncertainty over future tax rates harm the ability of job creators to make decisions that put out-of-work Americans back to work and strengthen the economy. The stimulus package and other unsuccessful ideas have clearly not worked. It’s time to take America out of its economic doldrums and put it on the right path. No more budget tricks. No more accounting gimmicks. No more empty promises!

Stay tuned as this fight to bring about responsibility in Washington continues in the days and weeks ahead.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Coming soon: 5:41- Stories from the Joplin Tornado

Everybody who was in Joplin at 5:41 p.m. Sunday, May 22, 2011, has a story about the tornado that ripped through our town. It would be impossible to find a way to include all of them in one volume, so Carthage Press Editor John Hacker and I have collected a representative sample, which will be published in September with the title 5:41 and the subtitle #Stories from the Joplin Tornado."

The photo accompanying this post, is the one that will be used for the book's cover.

The following is the introduction to the book. Some of the stories that will be included are listed after the introduction:

Tragedy brings people together.

I saw evidence of that right in front of me as I walked along the checkout lines a the 7th Street Wal-Mart in Joplin looking for one of those blue hand baskets so I didn’t have to push an unwieldy cart around the store.

I saw two of my former students, a brother and sister, sitting on a bench, apparently waiting for other family members to finish shopping. The older one had just finished her first year in college. When she was in my eighth grade English class, she was a gifted writer with a way of translating her feelings and fears into poetry. From Facebook conversations with the girl’s younger sister, another former student of mine, I knew that her family had been hit particularly hard by the May 22 tornado that hit this city.

The girl had her arm around her younger brother in a manner that could only be described as protective.

She spotted me approaching and shouted, “Mr. Turner!” drawing the attention of those in the checkout lanes directly behind us.

For the next 20 minutes, I heard a harrowing story of how her family had been right in the middle of the most destructive tornado to ever hit our city. She was home alone at 5:41 p.m. She was the only member of her family who did not get hit by the tornado.

The family was rushing home to be with her when torrential rain began, accompanied by hail. Her father pulled over and they ran into the AT&T building, which proved to be no protection when the tornado hit.

Her mother and her sister were badly injured and had to be taken by helicopter to a Springfield hospital. Thankfully, both survived, though they have a long road ahead of them.

After our conversation ended, I finally found a hand basket and began shopping. As I walked through the aisles, I saw more people who were stopped and talking than I had ever seen in a Wal-Mart store before.

I caught bits and pieces of the various conversations. Not one of them did not include at least some mention of the tornado. For the first few weeks after May 22, the tornado was the only topic of conversation here.

I changed the way I approached conversation and I am sure others did, too. When I ran into friends, acquaintances, and former students, after the initial greeting, I always asked if they had been hit by the tornado. The last thing I wanted to do was start up some silly chatter with people who may have lost someone or who had been displaced.

After I asked, nearly every time the question was greeted with a story. It also changed the way we talked about where we lived. When I was asked the tornado question, I always replied, “No, I was lucky. I was about three blocks from where the tornado hit.”

I quickly realized that I was not the only one to take that approach. I cannot count the number of people who told me how many blocks they were away from the tornado.

I wish everyone could have had that answer. Sadly, many of my conversations were with people who had lost their homes and all of their possessions. Some were staying with relatives. Some had been lucky enough to locate scarce rental property. Some feared they would never again live in the city limits of Joplin.

Every one of the people I talked to had a story about the Joplin Tornado. And every one of them will remember that time, 5:41, forever.

I heard the tornado stories while going about my everyday routine. For my co-author, John Hacker, it was part of his job. John, the editor of The Carthage Press, was in Joplin less than a half hour after the tornado. Though he has a well-earned reputation as one of the best reporters in Missouri, and is a skilled interviewer, he discovered what many reporters who have covered the aftermath of a tragedy have long found to be true- people want to talk.

As John walked through the heart of the devastation that evening, he heard many stories, some of which are included in this volume.

When we decided to write this book, it did not take long to come up with a title. As we wrote our stories and had others sent to us for inclusion in the book, for some reason I thought about the tag line in Naked City, a black-and-white television series from the early ‘60s, about police work in New York City. Each episode ended with the narrator saying, “There are eight million stories in the naked city- this was one of them.”

When the series ended after a four-year run, there were still more than seven million stories waiting to be told.

This collection of stories from the Joplin Tornado is far from comprehensive. If there were 50,000 people in the city May 22, there are 50,000 stories, all centering around what happened at 5:41. We hope the few dozen stories and photographs in this book will serve as a representative sampling of an evening Joplin will never forget.

Included in the book are the following:

-John Hacker's reporting from the scene just a few moments after the tornado

-Kelly Maddy's powerful "45 seconds" detailing his experience with the tornado.

-The story of a St. John's ER doctor

-John's profile of Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles

-Kristin Huke's account of the tornado at Freeman Hospital

-Death at the Full Gospel Church

-Code Black at Wal-Mart, with two stories

-My former Diamond Middle School student Gary Harrall talks about how the tornado leveled his home and made him decide it was time to move back to the country.

-Melissa Rainey Campbell tells a tale of survival entitled "I Know God Was With Me."

-Former Carthage Press and Joplin Daily reporter Kaylea Hutson tells the story of one of my favorite former students, JHS sophomore Laela Zaidi, who lost her home, as did all of the members of her extended family who live in Joplin.

-John writes about a Sarcoxie soldier who saved lives at Wal-Mart

-Rhonda Hatfield offers "A Survivor's Story."

-The Joplin hospitals weren't the only ones that dealt with tornado victims May 22. John writes about the activity at McCune-Brooks.

-My former colleague at East Middle School Andrea Thomas tells a harrowing story of riding out the tornado in a bathtub as their house was blown away around them.

-John offers an insightful story on how Missouri Southern State University was used during the aftermath of the tornado.

-Another former student of mine, Lacy Heiskell writes about "A Graduation Day I Will Never Forget."

-Iris Fountain says it all when she writes "In an instant, everything was gone."

-Shanti Navarre writes about "The Story That Affected Me for Life."

-I write about the glue that held the city of Joplin together during and after the tornado, the folks at KZRG and the Zimmer Group.

-My first story from the day after the tornado, "Death, Destruction, Hit Joplin

-Ninth grader Denton Williams, (another former student) writes "Lucky to Have a Home."

-Believe it or not, yet another one of my favorite former students, Shaney Delzell, writes about "The Day That Changed Everything."

-A Freeman maintenance worker offers a first hand account of the tornado and its aftermath.

-The young man who sadly became the face of the Joplin Tornado, but also one of its victims, 2011 JHS graduate Will Norton, is the focus of three stories, two written by me, and one by Rose Fogarty from St. Louis, who writes about Will Norton brought her St. Lou Crew to Joplin, where it has been doing a wonderful job helping with the recovery effort.

-I have some school-related tornado stories.

-John's interview with the folks at Samaritan's Purse, who not only offer their own stories, but also tell some heartwarming and heartbreaking stories told to them by others.

-Michael R. Sharp writes about "Hell's Half Hour."

-Tanya Sneddon writes about "Joplin Forever Changed."

-Even more stories.

-Color photos on the front and back covers and page after page of black-and-white photos, mostly taken by John Hacker, on the inside pages.

-The complete text of the speeches given by President Obama, Gov. Nixon, Aaron Brown and Randy Gariss at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service, with photos.

-The final National Weather Service report on the tornado.

-Complete obituaries of those who died.

The book will be well over 200 pages.

I will be publishing more information about the book's availability soon.

Joplin Expats raise money for Joplin Boys and Girls Club

Complete text of CDC report on Joplin tornado fungal infections provided

On Friday, the Center for Disease Control issued its report on the fungal infection that affected many of those who were in the Joplin Tornado May 22.

On May 22, 2011, at 5:34 p.m. a tornado with winds >200 mph struck Joplin, Missouri, injuring approximately 1,000 persons and causing 159 deaths. On June 3, a local physician notified the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MODHSS) of two patients hospitalized with tornado injuries who had suspected necrotizing fungal soft-tissue infections. MODHSS initiated active surveillance for such infections at hospitals and laboratories serving patients injured in the tornado, and CDC began assisting MODHSS with identification of fungal isolates. By June 10, eight patients with necrotizing fungal soft-tissue wound infections caused by Mucormycetes (formerly Zygomycetes) were identified. On June 14, a CDC field team arrived in Missouri to assist with the onsite investigation.

As of July 19, a total of 18 suspected cases of cutaneous mucormycosis had been identified, of which 13 were confirmed. A confirmed case was defined as 1) necrotizing soft-tissue infection requiring antifungal treatment or surgical debridement in a person injured in the tornado, 2) with illness onset on or after May 22, and 3) positive fungal culture or histopathology and genetic sequencing consistent with a Mucormycete. No additional cases have been reported since June 17.

The field team reviewed medical charts to describe the 13 confirmed cases. The median age of the patients was 48 years (range: 13–76 years); seven were female, and all were white. Injuries sustained during the tornado included lacerations (12 patients), fractures (11), and blunt trauma (nine). The 13 patients had an average of four wounds documented in the medical chart when they were examined at the emergency department. Post-trauma wound management included surgical debridement for all 13 patients and removal of a foreign body from six. Wooden splinters were the most common foreign body, found in the wounds of four patients. Two patients had diabetes, and none were immunocompromised. Ten patients required admission to an intensive-care unit, and five died.

CDC received 48 clinical specimens, including 32 fungal isolates and 16 tissue blocks collected from wounds for microscopic evaluation, immunohistochemical staining, and DNA sequencing; specimens from all 13 patients yielded the Mucormycete Apophysomyces trapeziformis. Further laboratory and epidemiologic studies are ongoing, including case-control studies to evaluate risk factors for infection.

Cutaneous mucormycosis is a rare infection caused by fungi of the order Mucorales, which typically are found in soil and decaying wood and other organic matter. Although cutaneous mucormycosis often is opportunistic, affecting patients with diabetes, hematologic malignancy or solid organ transplant (1), A. trapeziformis often is associated with immunocompetent hosts after traumatic implantation of fungal spores (2). The case-fatality rate for cutaneous mucormycosis has ranged from 29% to 83%, depending on severity of disease and underlying medical condition of the patient (1). Early diagnosis, aggressive surgical debridement, and administration of systemic antifungals have been associated with improved outcomes (1).
Cutaneous mucormycosis has been reported after previous natural disasters (3,4); however, this is the first known cluster occurring after a tornado. None of the infections were found in persons cleaning up debris. Health-care providers should consider environmental fungi as potential causes of necrotizing soft-tissue infections in patients injured during tornados and initiate early treatment for suspected infections. Additional information is available at

Coming next month, our book about the Joplin tornado- 5:41- Stories from the Joplin Tornado. Find out more about the book, the stories and photos that are included, and see the photo that was selected for the cover at this link.

Center for Disease Control continuing to study fungus that surfaced during Joplin Tornado

Today's Springfield News-Leader offers an update on the fungal infection that hit many of those who were in the Joplin Tornado May 22:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Friday that says health care workers should consider a rare fungus a possible risk in future tornadoes.

Five people died after contracting cutaneous mucormycosis during the tornado, and there were 13 confirmed cases overall. The last was reported June 17.

None of those people was a rescue worker, the report said.

Heat warning extended through Wednesday

(From the National Weather Service)










Friday, July 29, 2011

Korean War veteran J. T. Strickland 160th victim of Joplin Tornado

(The following obituary comes from the Simpson Funeral Home website.)

Mr. J.T. Strickland, age 85, of Joplin passed away Friday, July 8, 2011 at the Benchmark Health Care in Monett, from injuries sustained in the May 22nd Joplin tornado. Mr. Strickland was born on September 11, 1925 in Hoyt, OK.

Mr. Strickland served his country for 10 years in the U.S. Navy during WW II and the Korean War. He worked as a motel manager for many years. He was a member of the Peace Lutheran Church of Joplin.

He is survived by his wife Betty Strickland of the home, and a daughter Chrys Corcoran of Joplin, 5 Grandchildren and 10 Great Grand Children, and a sister Zula Dean Lake of Ocean Pines, Maryland.

Memorial services were on Sunday, July 17, 2011 at 2 PM at the Bethany Presbyterian Church of Joplin.

Latest tornado update from City of Joplin

(From the City of Joplin)

On Thursday, July 28, City Manager Mark Rohr addressed the news media regarding the City’s work in the recovery efforts following the EF-5 tornado that tore through nearly 30% of Joplin. The tornado traveled roughly 13 miles and was one-half to three-quarters mile in width at times as it moved through Joplin, the City of Duquesne and both Jasper and Newton Counties.

Rohr addressed the initial phases of search and rescue and search and recovery, noting the efficiencies and expertise exhibited by the Joplin Fire Department and Police Department, as well as the hundreds of agencies who provided support in these efforts. He also noted that the fatality count has moved to 160, as JT Strickland passed away recently due to injuries caused by the tornado.

Clean-up of the damage began quickly with the City working with its federal and state partners. FEMA brought their expertise and introduced the Expedited Debris Removal (EDR) initiative to City officials. This initiative allows government-funded contractors the ability to remove loose tornado debris from private property, and offers a 90 percent federal match to a 10 percent local and state match for costs incurred.

Rohr noted that the work has progressed quickly, and recognized that between this program and the work of the volunteers, the lots are getting cleared. He estimated that 80 percent of the debris has been removed from the residential lots. Commercial properties are reminded that their debris should be fully cleared of loose tornado debris by August 8 or the property owner needs to present a signed, valid contract for debris removal to the City showing that a contractor has committed to removing the debris. After August 8, the City will begin a process to declare uncleared properties as a public nuisance.

Volunteers have provided a tremendous amount of assistance in cleaning up the City. As of July 26, there have been 69,088 registered volunteers who have provided 337,627 hours of service.

Housing for displaced citizens is another important area being addressed. The City provided land for two group sites for FEMA’s temporary housing units. The sites, Hope Haven Village and Officer Jeff Taylor Memorial Acres, will accommodate 481 units. Currently, 90 units are placed on the Memorial Acres site, with more being placed daily as the work is completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Occupancy of these units will begin once FEMA storm shelters are installed for the residents. The sites are located in northern Joplin, and the City is working with the Missouri Department of Transportation on traffic issues, such as placing signals at key intersections in the area.

In addition to the group site location, 121 units have already been placed in commercial lots within the Joplin area, with 120 of these now occupied by displaced families. Other housing statistics note that FEMA has provided 3,391 applicants with rental assistance, and 636 applicants have been identified with a need for temporary housing.

“It has been a priority to get our families into their temporary housing sites,” said Rohr. “As we understand, this process is moving very quickly in comparison to other disasters. Of course, if affected by the tornado, housing cannot come quickly enough, but our residents should know that we are committed to helping them, and are working with FEMA so that housing needs can be appropriately addressed.”

As the EDR program continued, the City began work on the thousands of damaged trees in the disaster area. Several messages have been sent to residents discussing the process of tree evaluation by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Generally, insurance policies do not cover the removal of vegetation, and the City has contacted those property owners who have been identified with hazardous tornado-damaged trees, root balls or stumps to provide information on the various options in getting them removed. Citizens with questions about their trees should contact the City at 417-624-0820, ext. 539.

The City is developing a comprehensive plan for replanting trees in Joplin. Designated with the Tree City USA status, Rohr noted that the City is strongly committed in working with its Tree Board and the residents to develop the urban forest that Joplin once had throughout this area.

Another area of interest for residents is the guidelines for demolition. During the press conference, Rohr announced that the City will provide more details on a comprehensive plan about demolition and its various stages and options in the near future. Residents are encouraged to watch for this information, as this area has many facets, as did the debris removal process. He also noted that any demolition project needs to have a demolition permit completed, and this permit fee has been waived through December 31, 2011. The City’s expectation will include removal of walls, footings, foundations, basements, crawl spaces, steps, pools and other related appurtenances, if a property owner is not planning to rebuild on the lot.

Property owners looking to rebuild on their lots were given a green light when the City Manager announced that all of the tornado-damaged area is now open for new residential construction. “Although we put a pause on new construction earlier, we made a commitment at that time to lift it in phases, as parts of the City were cleaned,” he said. “We have done that with other area opening up several weeks ago. This is the 38th day since that action was taken, and I’m happy to say that the entire City is now reopened for building.”

The City continues working with its state and federal agencies in developing various resources and aids for residents to use in the rebuilding process. As these items are finalized, the City will provide more details about the various assistance programs. Residents are encouraged to watch for announcements in the near future.

The Citizens Advisory Recovery Team (CART) has published a 42 page booklet listing all of the citizens’ comments gathered at the public input sessions on July 12. Booklets will be available next week in various locations. An electronic version can be found on the City’s website at . According to Jane Cage, CART Chair, the group is continuing to seek input from citizens and will be hosting more meetings and provide opportunities to post comments electronically on the organization’s website. Citizens are again encouraged to watch for announcements about this important opportunity in moving Joplin forward in the recovery and rebuilding phase.

Little Elm, Texas, High School Band in Joplin this weekend to give band camp

View more videos at:

Pizza by Stout not likely to reopen

Bad news for fans of great pizza and a restaurant with a great atmosphere.

An AP story indicates Pizza by Stout, which was destroyed by the May 22 tornado, will not be rebuilding. The business employed many of my former Diamond Middle School students, one of whom, Anthony Shipman, is featured in the article:

Shipman also worked part-time as a bartender at a Pizza by Stout, a popular local restaurant that was destroyed by the tornado. Shipman ran the pizza joint's Facebook site, which has been inundated with comments from loyal customers pleading for the business to reopen. But that appears unlikely to occur.

Casey Cusick, who managed the restaurant with his aunt and uncle, said they have decided not to reopen Pizza by Stout. Cusick said the restaurant had about 30 employees, and he is among those who have filed for unemployment benefits as a result of the tornado. Cusick, 31, said he is planning a career change and taking courses at Missouri Southern State University.

The article also notes that 1,200 Joplin residents have filed for unemployment benefits since the tornado.

Coming in September, our book about the Joplin tornado- 5:41- Stories from the Joplin Tornado. Find out more about the book, the stories and photos that are included, and see the photo that was selected for the cover at this link.

Businessman buys $10,000 glass of lemonade for Joplin schools

Hartzler: We need the Balanced Budget Amendment

In a news release issued moments ago, Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler praises the Budget Control Act of 2011, which the House of Representatives approved earlier today.

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-4) has voted to enact real spending cuts while laying the foundation for further spending reductions down the road, voting for the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Act is a two-step approach that prevents our country from defaulting on its loans, controls reckless government spending, and requires passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment before the debt ceiling could be raised again. Hartzler worked with House leaders to strengthen the bill by fighting for the Balanced Budget Amendment provision, believing the Balanced Budget Amendment is the only way to permanently rein in Washington’s spending.

”Families have to balance their budgets and live within their means,” Hartzler said. “Washington should, too. Today is Day One to change the way Washington works - changing the broken system of spending. Passage of this bill allows America to avoid default caused by President Obama’s credit card spending spree. Today we cut up the credit cards and demand Washington live within its means.”

“The measure we approved provides an immediate increase in the debt ceiling and sets guidelines for a second increase in a few months, but the debt will not be increased at that time unless the House and Senate do the responsible thing by passing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and sending it to the states for ratification,” continued Hartzler. “This is a historic opportunity. We have passed a realistic approach to spending that will establish permanent accountability in Washington. American families must tighten their belts and learn to do more with less. So should Washington.”

“The American people have had enough! This legislation will keep America from defaulting and take away President Obama’s credit card,” added Hartzler. “The simple truth is that the ultimate answer to our debt crisis is a Balanced Budget Amendment, which I now believe we are on the path to securing. What we have accomplished today is an essential step to spending discipline. We need a balanced budget.”

Sara Norton: Vote for Cunningham Park to receive funds from Coke

In the accompanying video, Sara Norton, whose brother Will, was one of the victims of the May 22 Joplin tornado, asks viewers to vote for Cunningham Park in a Coca-Cola promotion. Cunningham Park was destroyed by the tornado and will receive $100,000 if it receives enough votes.

All areas of Joplin now eligible for building permits

(From the City of Joplin)

As the City opens up building in all areas of the tornado-damage area, residents and volunteers are reminded to include only appropriate items when moving items to the public rights-of-way and curbsides for debris removal. Items remaining from new construction or repair projects are NOT allowed to be placed on the right-of-way.

Yesterday, the City announced that all areas of the City are now eligible to obtain building permits for new construction, lifting the ban in the final area including properties east of Main. Building permits were opened for areas west of Picher Avenue on July 8, and on July 22, the area from Picher Avenue to Main was opened for permits.

In addition, general household items from the interior of the home that were not damaged during the tornado should NOT be moved to the curbside for removal. Property owners who have household items they want to dispose of, should contact the City’s residential trash contractor Allied Waste Services to learn about their bulky item disposal policy. They can be reached at 800-431-1507.

City officials noted that many of the debris piles have been cleared, but some of those remaining, or possibly even new piles being established, have construction items. These materials will not be picked up during the debris removal process, nor will non-related tornado-damaged household items disposed of by residents, such as items typically in garage sales, or neglected closets.

“We appreciate residents wanting to make a clean start, but this is not the appropriate time or place to rid your household goods you may no longer want,” said Lynn Onstot, Public Information Officer. “We encourage residents to use the City’s trash service for these purposes, if appropriate.”

Reconstruction waste is defined as anything that results from repairing, rebuilding or building anew such as: pieces of drywall, structural materials like wood or metal 2x4s, carpet or vinyl flooring scraps, fixture remnants, etc. Most importantly, shingles resulting from a roof repair or tear-off must be hauled away to a proper landfill.

These remaining items from reconstruction, as well as the non-related tornado damaged household objects, are not eligible for pickup by government-funded contractors because the costs associated with that removal are not eligible costs for debris removal under Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines.

Typically, hauling off your leftover reconstruction materials is included in rebuilding costs so it’s important for property owners to ensure that their contractor or builder takes care of the disposal of these items. The same is true for home, property or business owners who are making their own repairs. Reconstruction debris on commercial properties also must be hauled to a proper landfill.

The City’s contract with Allied Waste for residential trash service does include bulky item pick-up, but residents must call 1-800-431-1507 to schedule a pick-up time.

Steelman pitch for money: McCaskill is reckless

In her latest pitch for contributions, U. S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman defends her dedication to smaller government and accuses her potential general election opponent next year Claire McCaskell of reckless actions.

Claire McCaskill and the Senate’s Democrat majority have repeatedly rejected solutions to our debt problems. The spokesperson for Missouri’s Democrat party labeled my commitment to fiscal discipline "recklessness." I am, and will remain, dedicated to a constitutional amendment that limits the government’s ability to take away your money and our freedom. We will not see American jobs return until political leaders understand that government spending does NOT create jobs — people do. My dedication to smaller government is responsible. This is what I consider reckless:

A concerned Missourian recently shared the contents of Senator McCaskill’s response to his encouragement of fiscal discipline. Here is what McCaskill said:

“Americans have made it clear that they want the federal government to reduce spending. I agree and have made fiscal responsibility a centerpiece of my Senate service since the day I arrived.”

Really? The truth is McCaskill’s actions are much different than her rhetoric:
•She voted for Obamacare which raises taxes by $569.2 billion and increases the deficit by $1 trillion.
•She voted for an $830 Billion failed stimulus.
•Since McCaskill took office she has voted for runaway government spending raising the deficit from $342 billion in 2007 to $1.6 TRILLION in 2011.
•McCaskill has voted to raise the debt ceiling five times in the five years that she has been in office.
McCaskill’s actions are, in one word — RECKLESS.

Please work with me to return real fiscal responsibility to Congress, responsibility supported by action, not hollow words. I can’t do this alone; I need your votes and support. You can help America get back on track; call your friends and discuss my positions with them. Every vote matters! Every donation brings us closer to our shared goal of returning fiscal discipline to D.C., and you can help me get to Washington by clicking here to donate $25 today.

Thank you for joining our Fight for Freedom!

Cleaver: Democracy demands compromise

In his weekly EC from DC report, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-MO, expresses the need for a compromise on the debt ceiling situation.

Yesterday, I held a conference call with business executives from the Fifth District of Missouri. In a wide-ranging discussion, we talked about what a default would mean for them—their businesses, their consumers, and the economy. They were unanimous. If Congress fails to raise the borrowing limit and the government defaults on its debt, it will hurt the global economy, cut government programs, reverse our recovery, slash your retirement, damage America’s credit, and punish businesses and consumers.

Democracy demands compromise. We need a bipartisan, balanced agreement, with both spending cuts and revenue increases to reduce the deficit and rebuild our economy. The real question is, where do we make changes? I believe the burden should not be borne by those least able to bear it, as vulnerable communities, seniors, and children depend on vital programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The budget of the United States is a moral document; it should reflect our commitment to protect the poor and the middle-class, defend our commitments to seniors, and make wise investments to create good jobs and strengthen our economy.

Until we can come to this agreement, I have decided to support H.R. 2663, the America Pays Its Bills Act of 2011, which simply allows America to avoid default and continue to pay its bills. These are bills we have already incurred—even the Ryan Plan, which many of my colleagues supported, would have necessitated an increase in the debt ceiling. I have heard many of my colleagues compare our current budget and debt ceiling situation to a family as it faces its finances. It is more akin to family dining out at a restaurant, receiving the bill, and skipping out on the check.

As negotiations continue, I thank you for your hundreds of calls, e-mails, letters, faxes, and messages. I will continue to do everything in my power to reach a compromise that will strengthen the economy, create jobs, preserve the solvency of our nation, and protect those who depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Akin favors new Boehner proposal

In a news release issued moments ago, Congressman Todd Akin, R-Mo, announced his support for Speaker of the House John Boehner's latest debt ceiling proposal.

Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO), a known fiscal conservative, who has negotiated
for a balanced budget amendment to be part of the debt ceiling vote in order to address structural fiscal problems with the nation’s economy released the following statement regarding the new proposal from Speaker Boehner that would require the passage of a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution:

“Conservatives have stood their ground which has produced a new proposal that will now address the fundamental problem facing our nation. Reckless deficit spending is putting us on a path to ruin. A balanced budget amendment to our Constitution is the only proposal I have seen that would fix that fundamental problem. I believe that the new proposal, which requires the passage of a balanced budget amendment by the House and the Senate, is a victory for conservatives. I thank Speaker Boehner for his continued faithful efforts, and intend to vote yes on the new proposal.”

Missouri GOP director charges Nixon with cronyism over hiring of former MSU president

In a news release issued today, Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith ripped Gov. Jay Nixon for his hiring this week of former Missouri State University President Mike Nietzel as senior policy advisor at a salary of $100,000 a year:

“More than 53,000 Missourians have lost their jobs on Jay Nixon’s watch. While ordinary Missourians struggle to find work, Nixon continues doling out taxpayer-funded jobs with six-figure salaries to his friends. This cronyism is why Nixon has the highest paid staff of any governor in history—and it’s part of a pattern of reckless spending on the state plane and questionable hiring from Jay Nixon.”

Empire District Electric outlines losses from Joplin Tornado

In a news release issued Thursday, Joplin-based Empire District Electric Company explained the effects the tornado has has on the business:

On May 22, 2011, the Joplin, Missouri area suffered significant damage from a powerful EF-5 tornado. As a result, approximately 4,200 residential, commercial and industrial customers remain unable to return to service due to damaged or destroyed structures. Storm restoration costs are estimated at $20 million to $30 million, of which $18 million has been incurred to date. The majority of these costs have been capitalized. The immediate loss of revenue associated with the tornado was offset by rate increases that became effective during 2010 and early 2011, increased usage due to storm recovery efforts and near-record hot weather during the month of June. The Company however expects a continuing loss of electric load and corresponding revenues over the next several months as customers rebuild.

In response to the expected loss of electric revenues, our current level of retained earnings and other relevant factors, the Company announced shortly after the tornado the suspension of the quarterly dividend for the third and fourth quarters of 2011. Based on current conditions and knowledge, at today’s meeting the Company’s Board of Directors reaffirmed their expectation to re-establish the dividend at an approximate level of $0.25 per quarter after this two quarter suspension.

Second quarter sales up at Leggett & Platt

(News release from Leggett & Platt)

Diversified manufacturer Leggett & Platt reported second quarter earnings per diluted share of $.37, which includes a $.02 per share benefit from an unusual tax item. In the second quarter of 2010, earnings from Continuing Operations were $.34 per share. Excluding the tax item, per share earnings improved $.01 versus the prior year on essentially flat unit volume.

Second quarter 2011 sales were $945 million, an 8% (or $71 million) increase versus the prior year. This sales growth is attributable to items that brought little incremental profit: inflation (from price increases implemented to recover higher costs) and currency exchange rates accounted for 6% growth, and trade sales at the company’s steel mill provided 2% growth. Across the remainder of the company as a whole, unit volume was flat. Volumes declined in several key residential markets as a result of weak consumer demand, but continued to grow in automotive and office components.

Increasing Demand

President and CEO David S. Haffner commented, “Operationally, it was a reasonably good quarter. Gross profit improved by $2 million versus second quarter last year, despite lack of demand growth. EBIT, however, was lower than in 2010 due to unusually high SG&A costs, which included items that will not recur. We continue to strive for annual SG&A costs at or below 10% of sales.

“When demand improves, given our spare production capacity, our sales can rebound to nearly $4.5 billion without the need for significant investment in plant expansion. As a result, we have meaningful operating leverage that should benefit future earnings.

“During the second quarter, as planned, we continued to repurchase our stock and allow net debt to increase slightly. Year-to-date, we have bought back 5% of our outstanding shares of stock while maintaining our strong financial base. We ended the quarter with net debt to net capital below our long-term target range, and over $400 million available under our existing commercial paper program and revolver facility.

“We continue to assess our overall performance by comparing our Total Shareholder Return (TSR1) to that of peer companies on a rolling three-year basis. For the three-year period that began January 1, 2009, we have so far (over the last 31 months) generated TSR of 23% per year on average, while the S&P 500 index generated average TSR of 18% per year. Accordingly, our 2009-2011 TSR ranks among the top half of the companies in the S&P 500 index.”

1 TSR = (Change in Stock Price + Dividends Received) / Beginning Stock Price; assumes dividends are reinvested

Dividends and Stock Repurchases

Leggett & Platt’s Board of Directors declared a $.27 second quarter dividend, one cent higher than last year’s second quarter dividend. Thus, 2011 marks the 40th consecutive annual dividend increase for the company, with a compound annual growth rate of 14%. At yesterday’s closing share price of $22.60, the indicated annual dividend of $1.08 per share generates a dividend yield of 4.8%.

During the second quarter, the company repurchased 2.0 million shares of its stock at an average price of $25.86 per share, and issued 0.9 million shares through employee benefit and stock purchase plans. So far this year, the company has purchased 7.4 million shares of its stock and issued 2.7 million shares; as a result, the number of shares outstanding has decreased to 141.5 million.

For the full year, the company anticipates repurchasing up to a total of 10 million shares of its stock while issuing approximately 4 million shares (primarily in employee benefit plans). The company has standing authorization from the Board of Directors to repurchase up to 10 million shares each year, but has established no specific repurchase commitment or timetable.

2011 Outlook

Leggett & Platt anticipates 2011 sales of approximately $3.5-3.7 billion, an increase of 4% to 10% versus 2010, including expected inflation of approximately 4%. Based upon that sales expectation, the company projects 2011 EPS of $1.25 - 1.40, a reduction from last quarter’s guidance of $1.25 - 1.50 due to lower market growth expectations. The company continues to anticipate an EBIT contribution margin of 25-35% on unit volume growth, all else (e.g. product mix, sales prices) being equal; however, inflation- and currency-related growth will likely generate little or no additional profit.

For each of the last 20 years the company has generated operating cash in excess of the amount needed to fund dividends and capital expenditures. That should again be true this year, as cash from operations is expected to exceed $300 million for 2011. Capital expenditures should be approximately $85 million this year, and dividend payments should approximate $155 million.


All of Leggett’s segments use the FIFO (first-in, first-out) method for valuing inventories. An adjustment is made at the corporate level to convert about 60% of the inventories to the LIFO (last-in, first-out) method. Steel cost increases contributed to a LIFO expense of $15 million for the full year 2010 (for Continuing Operations). For 2011, the company expects LIFO expense of $18 million.

SEGMENT RESULTS – Second Quarter 2011 (versus 2Q 2010)

Residential Furnishings – Total sales increased $10 million, or 2%; unit volume declined 4%, but was more than offset by inflation. EBIT (earnings before interest and income taxes) decreased $4 million due to lower unit volume.

Commercial Fixturing & Components – Total sales decreased $3 million, or 2%; unit volume declined 4%. EBIT decreased $1 million as a result of lower sales.

Industrial Materials – Total sales increased $34 million, or 18%; unit volume grew 6% and inflation added 12% to sales. EBIT declined $3 million, with the impact of higher trade sales at the steel mill more than offset by lower unit volumes of wire and tubing, and increased raw material and transportation costs.

Specialized Products – Total sales increased $31 million, or 20%, from unit volume growth in all three sectors of the segment. EBIT increased $3 million due to higher volumes, and was partially offset by higher raw material costs and currency impacts.

GateHouse report: More losses, more savings expected from centralization, outsourcing

(News release from GateHouse Media)

GateHouse Media, Inc. (the “Company” or “GateHouse Media”) (GHSE) today reported financial results for the second quarter ended June 26, 2011.

Total revenues were $134.4 million for the quarter, a decline of 6.4% from the prior year on a same store basis. This was an improvement from the first quarter which declined 10.0% versus prior year. Excluding the loss of four business days in the first quarter due to a reporting change in 2011 from a calendar year to a 52 week operating year, first quarter revenues were down 8.5% versus prior year (same store basis). Online revenue grew 17.4% in the second quarter while total advertising revenue declined 7.5%, classified revenue declined 6.4% and local advertising declined 9.8% versus the prior year. The decline in classified revenue was much improved from the first quarter same store decline of 13.1%. This was driven by improvement in real estate trends, foreclosure revenues and an 8.6% gain over prior year in print employment advertising. These three classified categories were partially offset by softer auto trends in the second quarter which we believe to be more temporary in nature. Local advertising trends improved slightly in the second quarter from the first quarter same store decline of 11.1%. Circulation revenue declined 2.9% in the second quarter improving from a same store decline of 5.0% in the first quarter.

Total operating and SG&A expenses in the quarter were $110.8 million, down 6.0% versus prior year. The expense declines were driven by lower compensation, distribution and newsprint costs. As Adjusted

EBITDA was $25.2 million for the quarter, declining 8.3% from the prior year. This is a significant improvement from the 27.2% decline in the first quarter.

Commenting on GateHouse’s results, Michael E. Reed, Chief Executive Officer of GateHouse Media, said “While overall the revenue environment and small market economic conditions remain soft, we were encouraged by the relative improvement in nearly every category versus the first quarter. Obviously, we are not satisfied with our current revenue performance, but there are pockets of optimism resulting from progress we are making within our sales processes, our product improvements and extensions, and our subscriber retention, marketing and pricing efforts. We are particularly excited about additional initiatives, focused on each of these important areas of our business, that we have underway for the remainder of 2011.

“We continue to do an excellent job in permanently removing legacy costs from our business. Expenses were down 6.0% or $7.1 million in the second quarter. We feel confident that we can continue to accomplish more on this front. The expense reductions have come from, and will continue to come from, efficiencies garnered from process improvements, regionalization and centralization of processes as well as outsourcing of non-revenue producing functions.

“Our online advertising revenues in the quarter were $7.7 million. This represented 8.1% of total advertising revenues. Online revenue was up from $6.8 million in the first quarter and up 17.4% over prior year. We expect to continue to rapidly grow digital revenues through improvements to our sales processes, including compensation, new product roll outs, better company-wide penetration of existing best practices and a rapidly growing presence in our markets in the mobile space.

“Our cash position continues to improve and with no short term debt obligations, we feel good about the resources we have available to us to continue with our plans to transform our business from one that was print advertising dominated to one that enjoys strong consumer revenues and digital advertising revenues as well as print advertising revenue, and a much lower cost structure.

“On another note, I want to give credit to the tremendous job our GateHouse employees in Missouri did covering the devastating tornado that passed through the area last month. The storms ravaged much of the City of Joplin and completely destroyed our building there. Despite the tragedy and the personal situations they all had to deal with, our staff provided extensive coverage and assistance to the community without missing a beat. We are very proud of what they accomplished given the obstacles they faced.”

Operating income for the quarter was $9.8 million, a decrease of $3.0 million as compared to the prior year. As Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter was $25.2 million, a decrease of $2.3 million or 8.3% from the prior year.

Levered Free Cash Flow for the quarter decreased 18.6% to $9.7 million as compared to $11.9 million for the prior year.

Non-cash compensation expense for Restricted Stock Grants in the fourth quarter was $0.2 million. One-time costs incurred and other non-cash expenses in the quarter were $2.4 million, and related primarily to reorganization efforts and initiatives introduced to realize permanent expense reductions.

GateHouse CEO praises tornado coverage of Carthage, Neosho papers

In a news release filed Thursday with the SEC, GateHouse Media CEO Michael Reed praised the work done by The Carthage Press and Neosho Daily News following the May 22 Joplin Tornado:

I want to give credit to the tremendous job our GateHouse employees in Missouri did covering the devastating tornado that passed through the area last month. The storms ravaged much of the City of Joplin and completely destroyed our building there. Despite the tragedy and the personal situations they all had to deal with, our staff provided extensive coverage and assistance to the community without missing a beat. We are very proud of what they accomplished given the obstacles they faced.”

The building Reed was referring to was the office of the Big Nickel, which is now being operated of the Neosho Daily News facility.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Skilled volunteers needed as post-tornado work moves from cleanup to rebuilding

Joplin R-8 administrators move into new building

Stouffer: Top issue is jobs

(In his latest report, Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, says the legislature worked on getting more jobs for Missourians but ran out of time. He doesn't mention that if he and his fellow legislators had spent more time on issues that actually related to jobs, they might have actually accomplished something.)

The top issue for most of us in the Missouri Legislature this year is more jobs for Missourians. We spent the regular session working toward this goal, but some believe the job is not fully complete. Now, we will come back in September and discuss further ideas for putting Missourians back to work.

As I have said in the past, I believe it is the private sector — not government — that makes jobs happen. The best thing that government can provide is the infrastructure to incubate economic growth and to get out of the way.

The main point of this year’s special session will be to address tax credit reform. During the regular session, time ran out on House Bill 116. This measure focused on tax credits, and also dealt with what has named “Aerotropolis,” a cargo hub proposal for Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. The idea is to make Missouri a major trading hub for the entire world; a move that supporters say would benefit all of Missouri, including those wanting to feed a hungry world with our farm products.

Tax credit reform could include the end of some tax credits and an expansion of others. There are several different ideas that have been floated, and I am sure there will be others by this fall’s special session. The biggest complaint about tax credits is that they are not subject to appropriations. In 1999, approximately $143 million in tax credits were redeemed. In 2010, that number jumped to approximately $521 million. Lawmakers have no control over this. Ironically, our budget gap for both Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012 totaled around $500 million. If tax credits were not around, maybe our budget would be easier to deal with.

Aerotropolis has both supporters and opponents. Those in favor say the plan would boost the state’s economy and add jobs just about everywhere in Missouri. Those who are against say it would be a major expense that would cost more than it is worth. They make the argument, “If it is such a good idea, then investors would have already fronted the money for it.” We will see how the debate goes in September.

Currently, the plan is to hold the special session in conjunction with the annual veto session, since lawmakers will be in Jefferson City anyway. The special session, likely, could start the first week of September and continue for a second week. This would provide plenty of time to introduce a bill, hold hearings, debate it on the floor and have something delivered to the governor for his signature.

No matter what, we need to get folks back to work in Missouri. The recession and slow economy have gone on for too long. We were able to get a lot accomplished, in terms of providing for job creation and economic development, during the regular session. Now, we will be returning to continue to stay on this focus.

Pittsburg State University donates to Joplin tornado relief effort

Thief steals donations for Joplin Tornado victims

City of Joplin breaks ground on Fire Station 6

(From the City of Joplin)

City officials joined with members of the Joplin Fire Department and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce to officially break ground on the new fire station in the southwest part of Joplin. Fire Station #6 will be located at 5302 West 32nd Street.

The Joplin Fire Department currently provides emergency services to the community’s 45 square miles from the five fire stations. With the City’s growth, the past several years, it had become evident that some areas of the community were extending beyond recommended distances from the existing five stations. Emergency response times were becoming long and service demand was growing. As a component of the Public Safety needs analysis in 2006, a study recommended the addition of a station on the City’s far west side to service existing residents and future development.

“The southwest portion of Joplin has experienced much growth in the last few years,” said Fire Chief Mitch Randles. “This station is strategically located to address that growth and the future development of the area.”

The Fire Station is a 9,600 square foot facility and includes a safe room for the on-duty crew. It has six bedrooms, an exercise room and a decontamination room. The facility will have three double depth drive-thru bays. The Station is also being built to meet the LEEDS Silver requirements for energy efficiency and sustainability, and is also being built with expansion considerations, if that is warranted in the future. Fifteen firefighters will be assigned to Station #6, and work 24-hour shifts as crews of four. This brings the total of Fire Department personnel to 95, after the additional 15 firefighters are added

Other building details include:

·Digital temperature controls within heating and cooling system;

·Increased insulation values;

·Low-flow plumbing systems and low consumption fixtures;

·Electrical system featuring energy efficient fixtures with occupancy sensors;

·Architectural features of metal roof, minimal paving, natural landscaping, low maintenance building materials, and recycled building

Construction of Fire Station #6 is anticipated to be completed in Spring 2012. The architect for the project is CR Architecture & Design. Construction cost is $1,860,000, and Branco Enterprises Inc. is the contractor for the project. This project and the staffing for Station #6 are funded by the Public Safety Tax initiative that was approved by voters in November 2006 election.

New Mexico TV station- Joplin police turn over bones uncovered by tornado to investigators in West Mesa murder case

New lead in West Mesa Murders:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A tour of the new Joplin High School (Shopko campus)

Coming in September, our book about the Joplin tornado- 5:41- Stories from the Joplin Tornado. Find out more about the book, the stories and photos that are included, and see the photo that was selected for the cover at this link.

Flashback: Previous Turner Report coverage of ALEC's effect on Missouri legislation

As I noted in the previous post, the spotlight is finally beginning to be focused on the dealings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded by numerous special interests which provides so-called model legislation to its members, primarily Republican. The Turner Report has written about ALEC over the years, including the posts I am reprinting below:

Legislators' vacation in the sun receives no traction from Missouri media

(From Oct. 15, 2010)
I can't say I was surprised when my posts about Missouri Republican legislators vacationing in sunny San Diego at the taxpayers' expense picked up no traction from the traditional media (or the blogosphere either, for that matter).

At a time when Missourians were losing jobs right and left, about a dozen GOP legislators were attending the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in San Diego. While lobbyists paid for Speaker of the House Ron Richard, his wife Patty, and other legislators and their spouses to participate in wine tasting and covered the costs of their meals, you and I took care of their lodging and travel costs, all at a time when millions have been cut from our state budget.

ALEC, as I noted in the earlier posts, is a right-wing organization that has pushed, and in most cases written, the bills that come before state lawmakers, including the so-called Health Care Freedom Act, pushed one of ALEC's disciples, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield.

ALEC's role is spelled out in an article published this week in the Washington Examiner:

But was Proposition C a spontaneous show of grassroots discontent or a carefully orchestrated political ploy? Clouding the picture is the close involvement of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative 501(c)(3) nonprofit that brings together state legislators and representatives of major industries to craft “model legislation,” including an item called the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, upon which Proposition C was based. Missouri state Sen. Jane Cunningham, who sponsored the legislation to refer Proposition C to the ballot, serves as an ALEC board member, and state legislatures in Arizona and Oklahoma, which have referred similar bills to the ballot for November, also enjoyed the support of ALEC-affiliated state representatives.

“What ALEC does is they’ll get members to simply announce they’ll introduce the legislation and then claim they have a national grassroots movement of 40 states opposing health care reform,” said Charles Monaco of the Progressive States Network, which works on progressive legislation at the state level. “Industry groups saw early on that the mandate would be the place to hit comprehensive reform because it was one of the least popular aspects of the law to voters, even though it’s one of the provisions that will benefit [industry] the most.”
The Golfer's Guide to the Missouri House of Representatives

(Oct. 10, 2010)
It was the scene of one of the most memorable tournaments in U. S. Open history.

Playing with an injured knee that would require surgery shortly after the tournament, Tiger Woods staged a comeback over the last nine holes, recording a birdie on the 18th hole that forced a playoff.

On the 19th hole, Woods beat the previously unknown Rocco Mediate and captured yet another major championship.

That classic battle took place at Torrey Pines, described on its website as being "situated atop cliffs, towering above the Pacific Ocean in San Diego." It is described as "a golfer's paradise."

On Aug. 4, a Missourian walked that same golfer's paradise, playing the same holes that Tiger Woods had immortalized two years earlier. History won't record what Tim Jones scored, either on that day, or on the following day when Jones, a Republican Missouri state representative from Eureka, played the course, courtesy of the same lobbyists who always show a keen understanding of the pressures that face elected officials and their need for exercise and recreation.

On Aug. 4, Jones, who was attending the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting, played a round of golf and a meal, courtesy of AT&T lobbyist John Sondag to the tune of $224.65. The following day, Jones hit the links once more, with lobbyist Travis Brown paying $115.55 for what was termed as "entertainment" with location listed as "Torrey Pines" on documents filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

While lobbyists took care of Tim Jones' golf and meals during the ALEC convention and have paid for at least seven other golfing ventures for Jones during the first eight months of 2010, the other costs for Jones and several of his GOP colleagues to attend the two-day convention were borne by the taxpayers.

Having taxpayers and lobbyists foot the bill for Jones' fun-and-sun trip is particularly galling when you consider the message sent by Jones and his colleagues after they passed a budget that cost thousands of Missourians their jobs and forced others to live on less money than they had made previously.

In a video, Jones addressed the work done by the Republican majority in the Missouri House on the state budget. "We are in difficult financial times," he said. "Like every American family, we felt government should have to tighten its belt."

Apparently, that belt tightening did not cover unnecessary out-of-state trips.

While Jones was golfing, as I noted in an October 2 post on The Turner Report, other Republican legislators, including Speaker of the House Ron Richard, and their wives, were participating in wine tasting, courtesy of lobbyists, and were having family vacations paid for by hard working Missourians.

While they were at the ALEC conference, they were able to listen to speakers telling them how to stop the federal government from encroaching on the states and taking more money from state budgets. One of those speakers was Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who has filed a lawsuit against the federal health care program, an action he took because of the concern he had about extra costs being forced on the states and freedoms being taken away from his constituents.

This overwhelming concern for Missouri taxpayers does not appear to extend to attending a conference put on by the very organization that has been writing word for word many of the bills that have become legislative priorities across the nation.

A cached page from the ALEC website indicated that the cost of attending the session for legislators was $710, while the cost for spouses and children was $150 apiece.

ALEC convention guests were able to get the discounted rate of $219 a night for single rooms, $239 for double rooms, and $259 for triple and above at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, which boasts in its advertising of its "spectacular waterfront location" and "lavish amenities."

What a hypocritical message these legislators are sending to Missourians. The rules that apply to all of us, the economic situation that has forced many to live from paycheck to paycheck, if they are even receiving paychecks, do not apply to those few who are representing the public trust.

It is the kind of mixed message that deserves considerable thought. Perhaps Rep. Jones and his colleagues can talk it over during a round of golf.

Taxpayers, lobbyists foot the bill for Speaker Richard, legislators to sample wine, vacation in the sun

(Oct. 2, 2010)
" With his days as the self-proclaimed "most powerful man in the state of Missouri" now firmly esconced in the past, it is sad the depths to which Speaker of the House Ron Richard, R-Joplin, has fallen.

Far from having legislators at his beck and call, Richard now has others pay wine-tasting fees for him and his wife Patty.

At a time when hundreds of millions of dollars have been cut from the state budget, jobs hvae been lost, programs cut, and Missourians wonder if better times are ever going to arrive, Richard and several of his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate, spent at least three days in sunny San Diego, California, in August, attending the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting.

Documents posted Thursday on the Missouri Ethics Commission website indicate Richard, as well as fellow representatives Darrell Pollock, R-Lebanon, John Diehl, R-Town and Country; Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peter's; Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis; Sue Allen, R-St. Louis; Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston; Cole McNary, R-Chesterfield; Jason Smith, R-Salem; Ed Emery, R-Lamar; and Timothy Jones, R-Eureka.

Senators attending included Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield; John Griesheimer, R-Washington; and Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville.

While the Missouri contingent was at the ALEC Conference it had the opportunity to listen to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who during one of the panels related his role in a lawsuit against the federal health care program.

What is amazing is how little money lobbyists spent on the Missourians despite the lavish surroundings. Ethics Commission records indicate Charles Simino, representing the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association, paid for $9.62 lunches, $2.70 beverages, $8.77 dinners, and $11.33 wine tasting fees for Richard, Pollock, Funderburk, Griesheimer and their spouses, plus McNary and Ms. Ridgeway, as well as meals for the abovementioned, Kinder, and Gatschenberger.

Mary Scruggs, lobbyist for Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives bought $46 meals for Richard, Mrs. Richard, and Rep. Jason Smith. She also reported spending $173.17 Aug. 5 and $600 Aug. 6 for the "entire General Assembly" at San Diego, though only a small number of Republican legislators were at the conference.

Former Rep. Carl Bearden, representing United for Missouri, bought $51.08 meals Aug. 6 for Ms. Allen, Ms. Brandom, Mrs. Cunningham, Gatschenberger, Emery, Funderburk, Pollock, Griesheimer, Richard, Smith and the spouses of Richard, Pollock, Gatschenberger, and Funderburk.

Another former legislator, Michael Gibbons bought meals and paid for travel for the legislators, their spouses, and even some of their children, according to the Ethics Commission records.

AT&T lobbyists Travis Brown and John Sondag took good care of Timothy Jones, with Brown paying for $115 worth of "entertainment" and Sondag footing the bill for a round of golf for Jones to the tune of $203, on Aug. 4, the day before the conference started.

Brown also paid $115.55 for entertainment for Diehl, and representing Pelopidas, bought a $71 meal for Ms. Ridgeway.

What is missing from the lobbyists' reports are any listings for lodging, or travel, indicating that Missouri taxpayers, like those in several other states bore the cost for the legislators' vacation in the sun.

A cached page from the ALEC website indicated that the cost of attending the session for legislators was $710, while the cost for spouses and children was $150 apiece.

ALEC convention guests were able to get the discounted rate of $219 a night for single rooms, $239 for double rooms, and $259 for triple and above at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, which boasts in its advertising of its "spectacular waterfront location" and "lavish amenities."

For those who are unaware of ALEC, it is a right-wing organization financed by major corporate and special interest groups, including Phillip Morris, Amway, the National Rifle Association, R. J. Reynolds, American Petroleum Institute, Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufactuers of Americas, and Coors.

ALEC not only has pushed pro-business legislation, but has written many of the laws passed in all 50 states, including the anti-federal health care initiative passed by Missouri voters in August. ALEC has been a leading proponent of removing all government restrictuions from businesses, privatizing government, and has been a leader in the pro-voucher movement in education.

Attack on public education has begun

(Jan. 1, 2006)

Anyone who thinks that public education hasn't been targeted in Missouri is living in a fool's paradise.

The signs are all there. One of them is the 65 percent plan that Governor Matt Blunt supports and plans to submit to Missouri voters. The plan has come under attack, naturally, by school superintendents, and it has been easy for Governor Blunt's supporters to claim the school officials are simply protecting their high pay, but there is a lot more to it than that.

Supporters of the proposal say that it will put more money into the classrooms by having 65 percent of school budgets directly geared to the classroom and that, of course, would include the classroom teachers.

But even they would not be safe from the Machiavellian tendencies of GOP leaders like Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield,chairman of the House Education Committee. Ms. Cunningham is a top official in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and at one of that organization's meetings in August in Grapevine, Texas, she criticized benefit packages for teachers, including pensions. At the meeting, she led a discussion over the 65 percent proposal and how it might be impacted by teacher benefits, according to the Hernando, Fla., Classroom Teachers Association website.

"Chair Jane Cunningham seized on this, suggesting that legislators could 'define it (65 percent solution) a little tighter' to exclude pensions or other benefits from spending on classrooms - in other words: driving down spending for teachers and staff."

That representation of the way Rep. Cunningham feels about public schoolteachers comes from what appears to be what some of our GOP legislators would refer to as a liberal website.

However, an even more illuminating picture of Rep. Cunningham's true views about public education comes from an Oct. 1, 2003, article in the conservative School Reform News.

Under the headline, "Trying to Make a Difference in the Show-Me State," the article tells the story of how Ms. Cunningham came to favor vouchers following her experiences as a school board member. When she tried to do something about parents taking their children out of public school and placing them in private school, she said, she ran into a lack of interest. "We have fewer children to educate and we still get their taxes," she says her fellow board members told her. She said that with her background in economics she could see the harm this education "monopoly" was causing.

The point was further driven home, she said, after she took one of her sons out of public school (the article does not say why) and put him in a Catholic school. Her son, who had been receiving A's and B's in math in public school, did poorly in the private school.

"The staff at the Catholic school thought he must have a learning disability, because they could not imagine his local school had done such a poor job," Rep. Cunningham said.

The article goes on to say that "after intensive personal attention by his teacher, her son rose to the 90th percentile in math."

Rep. Cunningham makes no bones about her efforts to move Missouri toward a voucher system. The School Reform News article says, "In 2003, Cunningham sponsored two school choice bills, both designed 'to get folks comfortable with the concept.' One bill addressed the issue of access to programs in public schools denied to non-public schoolchildren whose families were residing in and paying taxes to the public schools. The other, HB 345, would have given school choice to at-risk children in low-income families and in families where a parent is a prison inmate. Although neither bill passed, she was happy to be able to bring some Black Caucus members on board with HB 345." The magazine article was written by Laura J. Swartley, communications director for the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, Indianapolis, Ind. The Friedman Foundation began the school voucher movement in 1955.

Rep. Cunningham is serving as chairman of the ALEC Education Task Force. Her co-chairman is Robert Enlow of the same Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation. The Friedman Foundation recently hired a lobbyist to represent its interests in Missouri...Andrew Blunt, the governor's brother.

And let us not forget that Rep. Cunningham created quite a stir last year in a multi-page letter she wrote asking to be reappointed chairman of the House Education Committee. One of her selling points was the amount of money she had brought into the state from All Children Matter, another pro-voucher group.

An Aug. 7, 2005, Associated Press article explored the connection between Governor Blunt and All Children Matter. The pro-voucher group spent $196,252 on radio advertising blasting Blunt's opponent, State Auditor Claire McCaskill during the final days of the 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

The AP article noted that Blunt served as keynote dinner speaker for "an invitation-only conference of about 150 leaders and activists for All Children Matter, hosted in Siverthorne, Colo. The group was picking up the tab for his trip, said Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson."

The attack on public education has begun and some of those bills have already been pre-filed in the Missouri House and Senate.

Organization funded by powerful special interests writing legislation for Missouri Republicans

For the last few years, The Turner Report has written about ALEC and its insidious influence on Missouri legislation. Missouri legislators, and as far as I have been able to tell nearly all of them involved with the organization are Republicans, have been spoon fed so-called model legislation, which benefits the special interests that fund ALEC.

In recent years, such legislation has included the health care bill submitted last year by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield.

The spotlight has been turning on ALEC. The following news release comes from Progress Missouri:

Earlier this month, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) made available over 800 model bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporate and legislative members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to The Nation, which recently published an in depth review of the documents

ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals…making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces. The task forces cover issues from education to health policy. ALEC’s priorities for the 2011 session included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more.

Until now, it has been difficult to trace the origins of controversial bills popping up in legislatures across the country with curiously similar language. But with the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed website, Missourians can see exactly how secret corporate working groups are writing our laws.

A Progress Missouri investigation of the previously secret documents at finds that conservative legislators in Missouri were more than happy to turn over their legislating powers to these unaccountable corporate interests. Sen. Luann Ridgeway’s right-to-work-for-less law (SB1), championed by Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, is a carbon copy of ALEC’s model, written behind closed doors as part of a national campaign to attack working families. ALEC takes full credit for 2010’s Proposition C, allegedly written by Sen. Jane Cunningham. Additionally, legislation ostensibly authored by House Leader Tim Jones and Rep. Scott Dieckhaus to privatize schools is actually taken directly from ALEC.

“Missouri’s laws should be written by Missourians -- not in secret by Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries and other corporations, in board rooms thousands of miles away,” said Sean Soendker Nicholson, executive director of Progress Missouri. “Representatives and Senators who have used our public funds to schmooze with corporate lobbyists and pocketed gifts on ALEC junkets to come clean on who has really written the legislation they’ve put forward as their own.”

For more on ALEC corporations’ direct access to Missouri’s laws, please visit and

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

St. Lou Crew brings music back to Joplin Schools

Olbermann names Billy Long "Worst Person in the World"

Current TV's Keith Olbermann put Seventh District Congressman Billy Long at the top of his list of  his Worst Persons of the World for today.

Long edged Rush Limbaugh for the honor.

Olbermann reminded viewers that Long had mocked tornado drills before the Joplin tornado. This time, his tweet comparing Amy Winehouse to Congress drew Olbermann's wrath.

Cleaning up Joplin with Americorps

Restored Sunny Jim Park brings hope to Joplin Little Leaguers

New Crossroads GPS ad: Sen. McCaskill- No more blank checks

This is the latest in Crossroads GPS attack ads against Sen. Claire McCaskill. Different actors speak the same words in numerous ads targeting Democrats across the U. S.

Schoeller: Use of Rainy Day Fund for disasters like Joplin Tornado to be brought before legislature during special session

In the accompanying video, Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Springfield, chairman of the House Interim Committee on Disaster Recovery, talks about that committees' recommendation of the use of the state's Rainy Day Fund to cover disasters such as the May 22 Joplin Tornado.

Audio: Billy Long talks about Amy Winehouse on KZRG

Billy Long on delay in issuing Amy Winehouse "apology"- Nobody asked me

Seventh District Congressman Billy Long told KZRG this morning that his staffers told him shortly after his infamous Amy Winehouse tweet that there was trouble and explained the reaction to what some thought were insensitive comments.

Long said he didn't think what he said was insensitive compared to other comments that had been tweeted about Ms. Winehouse's death. Long said he had seen tweets that said, " 'Who wouldn't have seen this coming?' Now that's brutal."

After he became aware that the tweet had received a negative reaction, Long said he wrote out an apology and gave it to his staffers. "I typed it out during conference yesterday." Instead of immediately issuing the apology, he waited for hours to someone to call and ask him for a comment. (Hadn't he already made his comment?) The Springfield News-Leader called late Monday evening and was given the "apology."

Billy Long to KZRG: Amy Winehouse had an addition; politicians have an addiction

In Seventh District Congressman Billy Long's first interview following his tweet comparing Congress to the late Amy Winehouse, he revealed the following:

-He didn't mean it as a slight.

-He is shocked that anyone took it that way.

-He personally wrote the "apology" during conference yesterday shortly after it became obvious that there was a negative reaction, but he didn't issue it for hours because "nobody asked for it."

-He only meant to say that Amy Winehouse had an addiction problem and Congress has an addiction problem (to spending).

Long told Chad Elliott and Josh Marsh of KZRG, the reaction to the Amy Winehouse tweet took him totally by surprise. "I am upset anyone took it as a slight," he said. "I didn't dream that would be their take or I never would have said it."

Long tweeted, "No one could reach before it was too late. Can anyone reach Washington before it's too late? Both addicted - same fate???"

Long said he was not trying to politicize Ms. Winehouse's death. "If it was in poor taste, I apologize. She was one of the few true artists to come out in several years."

The "true artist" reference was also included in the non-apology apology Long issued Monday night:

"Although I do believe spending 42 percent more than we take in is an addiction, I certainly meant no disrespect to Amy, her family or her fans. She was one of the few true artists to come along in a long time. What happened to her was a senseless tragedy and drawing an analogy wasn't meant to minimize the loss of life. If anyone took offense, I sincerely apologize."
Long said his mention of Ms. Winehouse was inspired by news programs he had seen featuring her family and friends talking about their efforts to get help for the troubled singer and he wondered if Congress would get help for its addiction problem before it's too late.

Rove group to launch new ad against Claire McCaskill

Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS group has issued a news release saying it is hitting Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. with another attack ad. The news release is printed below:

Today, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (Crossroads GPS) launched a new issue advocacy TV spot in Missouri focusing on Sen. Claire McCaskill over the issue of excessive government spending and debt. The effort is part of a nationwide effort begun in June by Crossroads GPS to frame the national issues debate as Congress prepares to vote on raising the debt limit.

The ad, entitled “Change,” features interviews with some of the senator’s local Missouri constituents, and will run on broadcast TV stations and with targeted internet advertising through August 6. Total spending on the Missouri effort is more than $240,000. The spot can be viewed here.

“President Obama has made it clear that he wants to raise taxes in these debt negotiations, which will cost jobs and send the economy further into a tailspin,” said Crossroads GPS communications director Jonathan Collegio. “Claire McCaskill has a record of zealously supporting the president’s failed policies, all while she talks like a fiscal conservative when she tours the state. The senator needs to hear from Missourians that handing over a blank check to Barack Obama is not a responsible way to fix the country’s fiscal problems.”

The new Missouri spot is part of a $20 million advocacy campaign begun in June by Crossroads GPS to frame the national issues debate on the economy and national debt, as Congress negotiates a deal with President Obama. New spots with more than $1.6 million in advertising buys and production begin running today in five states.

Crossroads GPS is a policy and grassroots advocacy organization that is committed to educating, equipping and mobilizing millions of American citizens to take action on the critical economic and legislative issues that will shape our nation’s future in the years ahead.

Commercial tornado debris needs to continue to be removed

(From the City of Joplin)

With residential debris removal well in hand, Joplin City officials are asking commercial property owners to keep pace by clearing business lots throughout the impacted areas or at least have a solid plan to clear those lots no later than August 8.

“We are working hard to turn our debris-filled landscape into clean, buildable lots so that we can redevelop Joplin in the weeks and months ahead,” said City Manager Mark Rohr. “We need our business owners to help that process by getting the debris removed from their properties as soon as possible.”

Since the storm, city, state and federal cleanup efforts have focused largely on residential areas, due to the residential debris removal deadline and because commercial debris is not eligible for pickup by the government-funded contractors.

Many commercial properties have been cleared or are in the process of being cleaned up, but some are lagging behind, a situation that City officials say needs to be addressed. Commercial properties include retail and service businesses, as well as residential rental units such as apartments, condos, four-plexes and others.

“We have tried to give our businesses some extra time to clear their properties, because those cases tend to be more complex situations due to ownership, franchising or sheer size of the structures,” Rohr said. “But now, we need our commercial sector to catch up with the rest of our cleanup efforts to help Joplin continue to move forward.”

Effective immediately, commercial properties either need to be fully cleared of loose, tornado debris by August 8 or the property owner needs to present a signed, valid contract for debris removal to the City showing that a contractor has committed to removing the debris. Commercial debris must be hauled away; it CANNOT be pushed to the public rights-of-way for pickup. Standing, tornado-damaged structures are not required to be demolished by this deadline.

After August 8, the City will begin a process to declare uncleared properties as a public nuisance. This process will closely follow the one used recently for residential properties – meaning that there will be a public notice of a possible nuisance designation, Joplin City Council consideration/determination of nuisances, and a final, published notice of nuisance declarations.

For more information, contact the City’s Public Works Division at 417-624-0820, ext. 539.

Billy Long's apology was not an apology

The big news story in today's Springfield News-Leader was Seventh District Congressman Billy Long's "apology" for remarks he tweeted Monday comparing the U. S. debt situation to the death of singer Amy Winehouse.

The headline reads "Billy Long apologizes for tweet." The article, written by the News-Leader's political reporter Rosann Moring, includes the following statement:

He later apologized to anyone offended by his remarks.

No, he didn't. He used the word apologize (or more likely, one of his staffers used the word), but there is no evidence that there is any sorrow about the statement. He is only sorry that some people were offended by it.

If the apology contained one shred of sincerity, Billy Long would have removed the offending tweet. As of this writing, it is still there, in all of its glory.

Long has had a tendency since his arrival in Washington of dashing off tweets that have not put him in the best light. Many of the ones that have caused the most problem have been when he has tried to be funny. This one lands squarely in that category.

In the tweet, Long wrote, "No one could reach #AmyWinehouse before it was too late. Can anyone reach Washington before it's too late? Both addicted - same fate???"

The "apology," sent to the News-Leader last night, reads as follows:

"Although I do believe spending 42 percent more than we take in is an addiction, I certainly meant no disrespect to Amy, her family or her fans. She was one of the few true artists to come along in a long time. What happened to her was a senseless tragedy and drawing an analogy wasn't meant to minimize the loss of life. If anyone took offense, I sincerely apologize."

The original tweet was in extremely poor taste and the fact that it was published in the first place, indicates that Twitter may not be the best tool for Billy Long to use to get his views across. The ability to say whatever is on your mind and immediately publish it to the world has undoubtedly revolutionized how constituents receive their information from politicians, but at the same time, it opens the door for all kinds of problems when the politician involved does not seem to have any built-in warning system that would tell him when it is best to keep his one-liners to himself.

Reading the comments to the News-Leader's story, it is easy to see why our country is so polarized. Some say Long should not have apologized since he did not say anything wrong. And, of course, the publicity the issue has received is all due to "liberals" and "socialists" and others who don't agree with Billy Long's "fed up" with government stances on issues.

Others said that the News-Leader was showing its "liberal bias" by making the Billy Long controversy its number one story on the same day that the Missouri Republican Party filed an ethics complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Sen. Claire McCaskill. As usual, those who are searching for liberal bias are going to find it whether it is there or not. It is a crutch they use on any occasion when there is no logic that can support what they are saying.

It must have been the News-Leader's liberal bias that led it to endorse Billy Long's candidacy in both the primary and general elections in 2010. As for the McCaskill complaint, it was featured prominently in the newspaper, though not as prominently as the reaction to Long's tweet. The GOP complaint was the latest in a series of continuing developments concerning Claire McCaskill and her finances. The Billy Long story is new, and considering that Amy Winehouse died only three days ago, it is timely.

The readers who do not think Long should have "apologized" for his tweet continually refer to Ms. Winehouse's well-chronicled problems with drugs and alcohol.

Apparently, for those people the difficulties this troubled young woman had during her too-short life are an open invitation that allows any comment to be made about her, no matter how tasteless it may be.

Her troubles were played out on a public stage which makes it easy to overlook what is important about this situation- Amy Winehouse was someone's daughter, someone's friend, someone's loved one.

She should never have been Billy Long's punch line.