Thursday, July 12, 2012
After the Storm
How Joplin, Missouri, rebuilt following a devastating tornado by circumventing bureaucracy
On May 22, 2011, a tornado ripped through the town of Joplin, Missouri. The multi-vortex storm cut an eerily straight west-east line through Joplin’s downtown street grid, growing to three quarters of a mile wide at its peak. In the end, the Category 5 twister physically picked up and slammed down about one-quarter of the town, creating 3 million cubic yards of debris. It flattened big-box stores such as Home Depot and Walmart and left a desert of concrete foundation slabs covering a six-mile stretch of destruction. The storm killed 161 people, displaced 9,000 more, and completely wiped out more than 4,000 structures while damaging another 3,000. It was the deadliest tornado since modern recordkeeping began in 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But as the one-year anniversary of the storm approached, Joplin found itself in startlingly good shape. Local officials estimate that insurance claims will total $2 billion, yet the town’s business tax revenues are actually up for the year. School enrollment is 95 percent of what it was before the tornado, and the vast majority of displaced residents have secured lodging in or near the area.
Joplin’s recovery contrasts with the fitful, fraught response to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, 700 miles to the south, in 2005. The two storms, like the two cities, were different in nature and scale. But there were also disparities in the official and unofficial responses after the initial damage. While the people of Joplin largely took matters into their own hands, pushing aside burdensome rules and refusing help when it came with too many strings attached, New Orleans and the surrounding area to this day remains hamstrung by federal, state, and local bureaucracy. Joplin’s experience offers a powerful lesson in self-sufficiency and knowing when to say “no thanks” to government.
‘This Isn’t the FEMA of Katrina’
When I flew to Joplin in the fall of 2011 on one of the two daily flights serving the city, residents were still struggling to fathom their losses. But they were certain about one thing. Over and over, locals told me, “This isn’t the FEMA of Katrina.” Which was good, because after Hurricane Katrina the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stalled the recovery and rebuilding for millions of Gulf Coast residents. In the months and years after the hurricane and resulting floods, media outlets, congressional investigations, and government reports excoriated the agency for its inept response. Indecision at local, state, and federal levels of government, as well as rigid regulations concerning everything from occupational licensing to debris removal, delayed or hindered Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts. FEMA’s own internal investigation admitted that the “widespread criticism for a slow and ineffective response” was well deserved.
One reason the FEMA of 2011 did not perform like the FEMA of 2005 was that Joplin residents were determined not to let that happen. Founded by lead and zinc miners in the 19th century, this small southwestern Missouri town has a long history of self-reliance in a state that ranks fifth in overall freedom from burdensome government regulations, according to a 2011 study by the free market Mercatus Center (which sponsored my trip to Joplin as part of a broader tornado recovery research project for which I handled logistics). The community has the close-knit feel you’d expect of a small Midwestern town, with a network of active voluntary organizations and church groups that collaborate regularly. And as Beloit College economist Emily Chamlee-Wright concluded after leading more than 400 interviews with Katrina survivors, the best approach once emergency gives way to recovery is to reduce government involvement and devolve power to disaster victims, who know their own situations best. “In order to minimize signal noise that inhibits the response from markets and civil society,” Chamlee-Wright writes in her 2010 book The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery, “government at all levels should scale back its efforts as soon as possible to make room for markets and voluntary organizations to provide basic supplies, food, clean-up, and construction services.”
Despite its small size, Joplin, home of St. John’s Regional Medical Center and battery manufacturer EaglePicher, is a regional hub for commerce, providing jobs and connections to residents of nearby Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. “Joplin’s a town of 50,000 people at night but a city of a quarter-million during the day,” goes the local refrain. The recovery benefited from these trade routes. After the tornado, emergency response teams from around the state streamed into town. Four hundred and thirty police, fire, and public works departments helped with search and rescue, cleanup, and debris removal. Doctors and nurses, many of whom worked at one of Joplin’s two hospitals or in the medical services sector clustered around them, came from around the four-state area. A handful of warehouses around the city are full to this day with donated material such as tarps, clothing, and food.
Most displaced people found refuge with nearby family or friends; the city estimates that 95 percent of people displaced by the storm stayed within 25 miles of town. “A lot of the residents are staying here,” Assistant City Manager Sam Anselm tells me. It’s “a testament to the spirit, the way the community responded to this.”
The city registered 130,000 volunteers from around the country and estimates that at least that many helped and weren’t counted. One even came from Japan and stayed two weeks, citing the way Americans donated to his country after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. (Someone found the Japanese volunteer a bicycle that he rode 12 miles each day to and from his cleanup site.) In October, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition rolled into town and built seven homes in seven days. Habitat for Humanity built 10 the next month.
The tornado sucked nine-story St. John’s a few inches off its foundation before setting it back down. The medical center erected temporary structures in open space next door, complete with an emergency room, and managed to keep nearly all of its 2,200 employees on payroll. Along with medical jobs, Joplin is home to a handful of big businesses, such as building materials company TAMKO, a PotashCorp animal feed plant, and a General Mills factory.
Joplin Schools Superintendent C.J. Huff didn’t want what he dubbed the “Hurricane Katrina effect” of people fleeing the area permanently, so the school district established a program for volunteers to “adopt” students and provide them with school supplies. Private donations poured in; the United Arab Emirates gave $1 million, enough to issue a MacBook to every high school student. TAMKO donated $500,000. Other sources, from Lions Club International to singer Sheryl Crow (who auctioned off a Mercedes) to a 9-year-old Nevadan who raised $360 with a car wash, combined to contribute $3.5 million of private money to the district by September 2011.
‘Better to Ask Forgiveness Than Permission’
Two days after the tornado, when 4,200 kids had nowhere to go to school, Superintendent Huff stood up at a staff meeting and said, “We’re going to start school in 84 days.” On August 17, they did just that. The tornado had destroyed the town’s only public high school and 50 percent of the school district’s property, inflicting $150 million worth of damage. When school re-opened as scheduled in the fall, enrollment hit 95 percent.
How did they do it? “Sometimes,” Huff explains, “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” A day after the storm, once Huff had canceled the remainder of the school year, the Joplin school board granted him emergency authority to circumvent usual bureaucratic procedures in order to deal directly with the disaster. “We knew that to keep things moving at a rapid pace, we needed to give our superintendent authority to make decisions as quickly as possible,” says Joplin Board of Education President Ashley Micklethwaite. “The worst thing we can do as a board is get down into the weeds and worry about minute details. We had to look at the big picture, and the big picture was getting our schools back up and running.”
Huff’s new powers included the ability to make emergency procurement decisions instead of, for example, adhering to a mandatory two-week minimum for posting bids. The superintendent also successfully lobbied Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who signed a handful of executive orders granting the district emergency permission to speed up the contracting process faster than state regulations usually allow. Huff gathered a team of architects and contractors he had used for previous district jobs and began planning temporary construction for the approaching school year. Within a few days, he says, they were able to choose which subcontractors and building materials to use, a process that would normally take up to one month. City Hall also responded to the needs of the school district and its builders, agreeing to receive and approve plans and blueprints piecemeal rather than requiring the usual single master set. A process that would typically take months took only a few weeks.
Social engineering 'could lead to class war' the British Government's social mobility tsar admits
The Coalition is in danger of creating a class war with middle-income families pitted against the poorest, the Government’s social mobility tsar admitted yesterday.
Alan Milburn warned that moves to give priority to working-class university applicants and create an array of social mobility targets risked alienating the better off.
Giving evidence to MPs, he appeared to admit that so-called ‘social engineering’ policies are in danger of backfiring. ‘If we’re not very careful, we will end up in a position where we’re pitting the interests of kids at the very bottom against the kids in the middle,’ he said.
Surveys show that while the public felt a ‘high degree of empathy for children in poverty’, there was ‘not a high degree of sympathy for their parents’, he said.
‘And there is less and less sympathy over time for efforts to ameliorate on the part of Government the financial position of those at the bottom end.’
‘If we end up in a situation where working-class families are pitted against middle-class families, I think that’s a really big public policy and political problem because in the end you need public permission from the majority to be able to address some of these issues.’ He added that ‘some of our indicators don’t help that.’
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is using 17 social ‘trackers’ to assess the success of Government policies aimed at boosting social mobility.
The Coalition is also backing the use of so-called ‘contextual data’ - information on applicants’ school, family background and postcode - to help universities decide who to admit and which entry grades to set them.
Mr Milburn said it was ‘correct’ that the problem of class tensions most commonly arose in debates about university admissions.
Arguments about the merits of handing out benefits or helping the jobless back into work - instead of doing together - were also to blame, he suggested.
Mr Milburn, a former Labour Cabinet minister, was being quizzed by MPs prior to his appointment as head of a new social mobility commission being set up by the Coalition.
He went on to call for every child to be labelled according to their parents’ social class and tracked from nursery to employment as part of moves to close the gap between rich and poor. They should be divided into ten groups based on their parents’ wealth and monitored throughout their education.
This would be more finely-grained than simply splitting pupils into those on free school meals and those not, as currently happens for many targets.
‘There are also a bunch of kids in private schools who would be entitled to free school meals because of bursaries and sponsorship etc’ he said.
‘We need a single set of indicators. We need to be able to track in my view an individual pupil from between starting school, getting into school, what happens about their progress in school, where they go to once they leave school, and post-university as well.’
In his current role as social mobility adviser, Mr Milburn will shortly produce a report on universities’ role in boosting social mobility which is expected to call for greater use of contextual data in admissions.
However he is also likely to say that the data on applicants’ social backgrounds made available to universities must become more reliable. Mr Milburn admitted that current data - based on geographical areas - used was ‘imprecise’.
Elsewhere in his evidence, he disclosed that a 2020 target to eradicate child poverty in the UK had no chance of being met. ‘It’s time for all political parties to put up or shut up,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe there’s a snowball’s chance in hell we’ll meet the 2020 target. ‘That’s widely privately acknowledged, and it’s time to publicly acknowledge it.’
Liberal leader's bluff has been called. Now it’s time the Prime Minister put him back in his playpen
That Roman emperor no one liked — the one whose lions dined off Christians in place of Pedigree Chum and who was accused of playing light music while his capital burned down — seems to have been a model of gravitas compared to the Liberal Democrats.
The party of Nick Clegg has an eye for the irrelevant and trivial, an instinct for embracing silliness, a nose for nonsense, which we would all find richly comic but for the fact the Lib Dems are part of Britain’s Coalition Government.
Before the last opening of Parliament, David Cameron asked Clegg if there was anything special he would like put in the Queen’s Speech, outlining forthcoming legislation.
The Lib Dems are men and women of powerful passions and clear priorities. Perhaps they would welcome a Bill to impose quotas for women in TV comedy? Or to outlaw cruelty to moorhens?
No, said little Nick with quiet firmness. All he wanted was House of Lords reform. And thus, this month, the Government put such a measure before Parliament: a Bill to halve the size of the Second Chamber and make it 80 per cent elected.
The outcome is a widely predicted political shambles. Last night, the Government was obliged to cancel a key vote on the Bill, because close to 100 Tory MPs would have refused to support it.
The measure has brought to a head all the bubbling exasperation at Westminster and across the country with the Coalition and the Lib Dems’ role in it.
Now, we are faced with weeks of wrangling and endless discussion in Parliament about the Lords, which will only serve to distract from the business of governing.
At a time when Britain faces some of the most serious peace-time challenges of the past century — reviving the economy and our global competitiveness, redefining our relationship with Europe — Nick Clegg and his MPs have become a drogue anchor on policy-making.
It is true that since 2010 they have supported action to cut the nation’s dreadful budget deficit by reducing public spending. That was right and — for them — courageous. But almost everywhere else, they are a dead weight.
Their obsession with renewable energy is responsible for thousands of grossly subsidised wind turbines, and snail’s progress towards exploiting newly discovered shale gas reserves and building a new generation of nuclear power stations.
They are intractably opposed to curbing the excesses of human rights legislation. They will countenance no reduction in overseas aid spending, even when the British Army is being cut to the bone.
They condemn Michael Gove’s attempts to make exams more rigorous because, like the Labour Party, they think that in the name of social justice everyone must win and be given prizes.
They resist measures to make business more competitive. They will continue to fight revision of our relationship with Europe even when all that is left of the Eurozone are bubbles rising to the surface where it sank.
They cherish a self-image as the nice party in a nasty world, even though in truth their MPs include as many unfaithful spouses as Labour and the Tories, and they have raised funds from just as many crooks.
Not one of their current ministers would occupy a government post if appointments were made on merit, in open competition with Tory MPs rather than by quota.
If David Cameron were being frank, he might say: ‘Even if all that is true, we are stuck with the Lib Dems. We had to join them in coalition because we failed to win an absolute majority at the 2010 election.
‘Coalition means compromise, and if the country doesn’t like it, voters should have given us a clear mandate.’
But the Tory part of the country is weary to death of seeing the Coalition cited as an excuse for not doing so many right things, while doing such wrong ones as introducing Lords reform. This seems, to quote Blackadder, as useful as a catflap in an elephant house.
There is plenty wrong with the House of Lords, packed with superannuated politicians and folk whom the Serious Fraud Squad would like to interview. But no democratic nation’s constitution is working perfectly just now.
Ask an American how he feels about the paralysis of Congress. Hear what Australians have got to say about the bunglers running their country. Talk to one of the French fugitives scurrying to get taken off the Channel coast beaches in small boats, to escape the consequences of their recent elections.
Democracy is in trouble, partly because few people whom you would want to see join your parish council are entering politics, and partly because it is hard to reconcile voters with the idea of having fewer of the things than they have had in the past, which is the name of the game in the 21st century for everyone except bankers and Russian oligarchs.
I do not think the Lib Dems’ Lords reform proposals threaten a constitutional disaster.
What is for sure, however, is that it is monumentally frivolous to waste time and energy debating and introducing such a change at this moment in the nation’s fortunes.
It is as if Nick Clegg said to the British people: ‘I haven’t an earthly what to do about the economy or Europe or immigration or bank governance, but instead here’s a little wheeze we think is quite fun.’
Lib Dems are not serious people. They never have been and never will be.
They are a political party for flat earthers, muesli eaters, world peace salesmen, and kindness-to- rats enthusiasts. It is absolutely right that the body politic should offer such a home to voters who shut their eyes and stop their ears whenever hard choices are to be made.
But it becomes Nightmare on Elm Street when these people get anywhere near the levers of power, because they are a chronic impediment to getting things done.
One of David Cameron’s biggest mistakes, acknowledged even by some of those closest to him, is that he has allowed keeping the Coalition afloat to become his principal policy objective, an end in itself.
Well, last night’s government decision to press the panic button and cancel a doomed Commons vote gives a dramatic political message.
The Cleggies’ bluff is being called. It only remains to be seen what happens next.
For weeks, the Lib Dems have been muttering that, if they cannot have Lords reform, they will retaliate by voting against constituency boundary change legislation that might benefit the Tories by as much as 20 seats.
This threat emphasises the Lib Dems’ irresponsibility. But the onus is on them to decide whether to put up or walk out.
If they quit the Coalition and force an election, they will merely transform themselves into political suicide bombers. Opinion polls suggest that, when the votes are counted, it will be hard to identify their remains. And they know it.
Most likely, the Lib Dems will cling to their chauffeurs and red boxes. If they are smart, they will recognise that the Lords reform stunt will not fly, and does not deserve to.
As for David Cameron, nothing will do more to raise respect for the Prime Minister, currently less than stratospheric, than for him to quit stroking the Lib Dems, and instead give them a dose of tough love.
Lords reform has brought to a head popular as well as Tory Party impatience with coalition government.
It is time for the Prime Minister and his closest colleagues to start acting grown up, which includes pushing Clegg back into his playpen.
Australian Mosque in strife with other Muslims after encouraging polygamy
VICTORIA'S largest mosque has been forced into an embarrassing back-down after women were told they must "fulfil the rights" of their husbands and share him with other women.
In a move that has outraged local Muslim women, at least one Preston Mosque committee member authorised a post on its official Facebook page instructing women that polygamy was a better alternative to divorce and husbands were "someone you share".
"It is very important for a wife to fulfil the rights of her husband. Why? Because Allah commanded her to, after marriage Jannah is through her husband, and also the husband is your partner. A partner is someone you share with not someone who does things for you," said the post.
"If a man is saying to his wife I will marry another woman, this is far better than saying you are divorced every time he is upset.
"Now where is the problem. If a man divorces his wife three times he has destroyed his family. They can no longer return to each other. Islam only allows two divorces and returns.
"So if your husband is telling you that he wants to take another wife and you are not doing the right thing by him, then know that he is thinking straight and using a weapon that doesn't have severe consequences."
The advice was pulled down after complaints and the Facebook post has been condemned by community leaders .
"We are deeply concerned by the advice provided by Preston Mosque; it reflects a poor understanding of marital discord in Muslim families," said Joumanah El Matrah, executive director of the Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights.
"Research from the Islamic world unequivocally demonstrates that polygamy contributes to marital discord, it does not resolve it.
"We are further concerned that the mosque is encouraging of polygamous marriages when they have no legal standing in this country - as this is a key requirement of Islam. Muslim marriage is a partnership, it is not a woman serving a man."
A spokesman for Preston Mosque refused to comment, but the secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Sherene Hassan, also condemned the post.
"The comments on the Facebook post are inappropriate and unacceptable," Ms Hassan said. "The fact that the post was removed . . . very shortly after it was posted is encouraging.
"However, this incident further substantiates the community's calls for greater conversations about these issues."
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.