FEMA Ignoring Small Town Ravaged by Tornadoes?

In April of 2011 tornadoes struck Cordova, Alabama killing 250 people while destroying thousands of homes and businesses. A year and a half later the town still looks like the disaster happened yesterday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency promised the small town, which has a population of just over 2,000, that it would provide the monies needed to demolish the damaged buildings, but after waiting for a year and a half, city residents are growing increasingly frustrated with the broken glass littering the streets, roofless buildings barely still standing, and the downtown area sealed off by a chain-link fence because it is considered unsafe. The tornadoes left behind $1 billion in damages.

FEMA has made numerous requests for documentation of the damage, but has still not provided the necessary funds. Cordova officials are asking for an estimated $933,000 to demolish the structures.

It’s very frustrating,” Mayor Drew Gilbert told the Associated Press. “You would think it’s been touched and seen now by everyone who needs to touch and seen it.”

Elizabeth Brown, preservation officer for the Alabama Historical Commission, said FEMA has never provided information as to when they would begin the much-needed demolition process of the ruined buildings.

FEMA officials told the AP that they are still gathering details about the damage before providing the money, which is a time-consuming process.

“This project involves demolition of multiple historically significant structures and requires that FEMA consider all pertinent environmental and historic preservation laws before funding the project,” the agency said.

FEMA’s procrastination has taken a huge toll on the local economy and employment opportunities. The damage wiped out businesses, leaving few available jobs for residents. Only schools, one bank, a pharmacy and a health clinic are open for employment. The town’s only grocery store was destroyed by the twisters, but unless the skeleton buildings are demolished, no new structures can replace them.

FEMA recently told city officials that their review of the city will be finished by Jan. 4, according to Cordova Fire Chief Dean Harbison, but funding for the demolition likely won’t be granted until the two-year anniversary of the tornado strike passes.

Our entire economy is gone, and it’s like they’re just doing nothing,” Mayor Gilbert said.

Meanwhile, FEMA announced Monday that it has provided $500 million to disaster areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, 10 percent of which went to individuals and families in Staten Island. The death toll due to the Alabama tornadoes was more than twice the death toll due to Sandy, but residents in this small town said they felt forgotten just a few weeks after the disaster. Cordova officials have asked for less than $1 million, but it may take them many more months before FEMA hands it over.

Engineers Warned of North East Storm Surge Dangers in 2009

At a 2009 seminar in New York City convened by the American Society of Civil Engineers, corporate, academic and government engineers warned that a devastating storm surge in the North Eastern region of the country was inevitable and presented detailed measures to counter it.

Participants in the seminar urged officials to install surge barriers or tide gates in the New York Harbor to protect the city. Their views are contained in 300 pages of technical papers, historical studies and engineering designs, copies of which the society provided to The New York Times. Installing such barriers would be costly and take years to build, so it’s likely that they would not have been in place in time to prevent destruction from Tropical Storm Irene last year or Hurricane Sandy more recently.

“Scientists and engineers were saying years before Katrina happened, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen, folks. Stop putting your head in the sand,’ ” said Malcolm Bowman, a professor of oceanography at the State University at Stony Brook who spoke at the conference and is an editor of the proceedings.

“The same thing’s now happened here,” Professor Bowman said.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has expressed doubt about such barriers and whether the benefits would outweigh the costs which some estimates put at over $10 billion.

“I don’t think there’s any practical way to build barriers in the oceans,” he said on Thursday. “Even if you spent a fortune, it’s not clear to me that you would get much value for it.”

According to Professor Brown the most workable plan would involve a roughly five-mile barrier from Sandy Hook, N.J., to the Rockaway Peninsula while a smaller barrier would stretch across the top of the East River to protect against surges from Long Island Sound. East River barriers might rise from the ocean floor using hydraulics as a threat approached, and the larger barrier would require locks and sluiceways to allow ships and water to pass during ordinary times.

The technology is already being used around the world, including in the Netherlands and on the Thames in London. Several American cities have versions of the structures, and a barrier surrounds St. Petersburg, Russia.

 

Looters Target Superstorm Sandy Victims

Victims of superstorm Sandy are facing a new threat as looting is being reported across the New York New Jersey areas.

Queens residents told 1010 WINS reporter Gary Baumgarten that looting has become a serious problem and that taking up arms or leaving town are the two best options for staying safe.

“The Queens District Attorney’s Office, the New York City Police Department, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have zero tolerance for looters who would exploit a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy for their own personal gain,” said District Attorney Richard Brown last week. “Having personally viewed yesterday the devastation that encompasses the Rockaway peninsula and other areas of Queens, I want to make it clear that such lawlessness will be vigorously prosecuted by my office and that we will seek appropriate punishment.”

13 people have been arrested in Staten Island for looting according to the D.A.”s office, residents say the looting started almost immediately after the storm. Alfonso Manzo of the island’s Tottenville neighborhood was arrested for impersonating a Red Cross worker while looking into people’s windows.

Four men were arrested and charged with planning to loot a business on Long Island, eight suspects were arrested in Coney Island, Brooklyn and a woman, also from Coney Island, was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a firearm when the safe she was carrying from a store was found to contain a firearm.

The New York Daily News spoke with an alleged looter, who defended his actions, saying, “Look, they’ve been looting our wallets for too long,”as he took a TV from a Rent-A-Center in Coney Island. “It’s about time we start taking this sh—back,”.

 

Red Cross Says They Regret Not Helping Victims of Sandy Sooner

The American Red Cross has admitted that it did not respond fast enough to some of the hardest hit areas by superstorm Sandy on the U.S. East Coast, expressing regret. The organization  blamed flooding and other infrastructure problems for its slow response and says they are currently working aggressively to distribute food, water and other supplies to victims across New York and New Jersey.

Borough President, James Molinaro, criticized the Red Cross and asked residents not to donate to them.

“Do we wish we could have been there sooner? You bet,” said Roger Lowe, a spokesman for the American Red Cross. “When you have 8 million people in need, with roads that are damaged, infrastructure broken down, flooding everywhere, we can’t be there that fast. And we feel bad about that.”

Most supplies were stored in five staging areas just out of Sandy’s path. Getting it to the hardest hit areas, many located along the waterfront, proved difficult in the days after Sandy, Lowe said.

“You don’t want to put your relief workers or your relief supplies in these areas that are about to be hit by the hurricane,” he said.

All of the group’s 320 emergency response vehicles across the United States are now at Sandy recovery sites distributing food and water, or are on their way. Eight large kitchens in New York and New Jersey are making meals that the emergency vehicles pick up and distribute to victims, Lowe said.

Staten Island The Forgotten Borough?

Anger and frustration has continued to grow over the response to superstorm Sandy which brought a record storm surge to U.S. North east coastal areas and left many people with no power, no gasoline and in many cases no homes. There were about 41 deaths in New York City, about half of which were in Staten Island.

“They forgot about us,” said Theresa Connor, 42, describing her Staten Island neighborhood as having been “annihilated.” “And Bloomberg said New York is fine. The marathon is on,” she said, referring to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“I just walked past four huge generators. Those could be put to use for people who need them,” said Marjorie Dial, a tourist from Oregon who was shocked to see the generators in Central Park, where the marathon finishes. “What they’ve discovered on Staten Island should have been the tipping point – the bodies.” . The mayor has since announced that the marathon is being cancelled.

Some have praised President Obama’s handling of storm relief but scenes of angry victims could have a negative affect on the president’s campaign with the election only four days away. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Administrator Richard Serino planned to visit Staten Island on Friday amid angry claims that the borough has largely been ignored.

 

President Obama’s 27 Point Economic Plan

The Obama campaign has released a 27 point plan, just in time for the election, chock full of ideas that the president failed to get done in his first term. Entitled The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan For Jobs & Middle-Class Security the plan covers everything from manufacturing and energy to small businesses, education and taxes.

 

Lower the corporate tax rate

Obama Jobs Plan

In the plan, Obama says that his new goal is to add one million new manufacturing jobs by 2016. The first point of his five point plan on manufacturing is to lower the corporate tax rate — which now stands at a maximum of 35 percent — by a quarter for domestic manufacturers:

Reform the corporate tax code to bring down tax rates — cutting tax rates on domestic manufacturers by nearly a quarter — while closing tax preferences and loopholes to pay for it.

This would bring the tax rate for manufacturers down to 26.25 percent.

 

End deductions for outsourcing companies

Right now companies can claim a deduction on their taxes for a portion of the cost of exporting operations abroad, as the move offshore is considered a business expense.

Obama wants to end that deduction:

End tax deductions for companies shipping jobs overseas, and using the savings to create a new tax credit for companies that bring jobs home.

The new tax credit, according to the White House website, would be for 20 percent of the cost of moving business operations back to the States.

 

Fight China’ s unfair trade practices

For the third point of his manufacturing plan, Obama wants to create a new enforcement force devoted exclusively to Chinese trade by 2016.

According to the document, the president is already aggressively pursuing trade litigation against China:

President Obama brought more trade cases against China in four years than the previous president did in eight years and won every one of them that has been decided.

 

Train 2 million new workers through community colleges

One particularly unique strategy that the Obama plan has for improving the economy is to connect community colleges to companies so that the colleges serve as a training space for the employers.

 

Build 15 to 20 “manufacturing innovation institutes”

The President also wants to create a network of “manufacturing innovation institutes,” where businesses and research universities collaborate in order to design new projects.

It’s unclear what sort of model or precedent the President has in mind with this. But one example is the Los Alamos Laboratory during the Second World War, where industry and academia collaborated under the supervision of the University of California to build the atomic bomb. Other models could be any of the universities involved in the DARPA system.

 

Open up more acreage for energy resource development

Obama has opened up tracts of federal or protected land for oil, coal and mineral development over the course of his first term and is on pace to continue that throughout his second.

Point number one of his “all of the above” energy plan is:

[Open] up millions of acres for exploration and development, including undiscovered oil and gas resources in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.

One part of this plan is to increase the domestic workforce in the energy sector. Obama specifically refers to an estimated 600,000 new jobs in the natural gas sector alone.

 

Invest in domestic energy sources

The second point of his energy plan emphasizes developing alternative energy sources, “including wind, solar, clean coal, nuclear, and biofuels. All while increasing our energy efficiency.”

 

Double vehicle fuel economy by 2025

This portion of the plan would double the average fuel economy for cars and light trucks over the next thirteen years.

According to Obama, this would drastically reduce the amount of oil imported and would likewise save the average car owner a substantial amount of money.

 

Get Congress to invest in high-tech batteries

U.S. Department of Energy

According to the plan, Obama wants to calling on “Congress to build on our success in positioning America to be the world’s leading manufacturer in high-tech batteries,” which could be used by the military as well as in civilian transportation.

To accomplish this, Obama wants Congress to extend tax credits that support clean energy manufacturing.

 

Make utility companies shift to 80% clean energy sources by 2035

The Obama administration wants to make the grid green within 23 years. Here’s the fifth and final point of the plan:

[Set] standard for utility companies so that 80% of the nation’s electricity comes from clean sources by 2035. This will help create a market for American manufacturers to make the clean energy technology we need, while improving access to cheaper, more secure energy for U.S. manufacturers.

 

Cut taxes for companies that hire

With his small business plan, Obama is appealing more to a class of entrepreneurs as a whole rather than any specific subset of the economy, so it makes sense that the plan is more a strategy that a point by point goal set.

The first is to create a tax cut for businesses that hire or increase wages, and to allow businesses to continue writing off business expenses.

 

Extend tax cuts for middle class families

Obama’s plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for middle class families is included in the Small Business section of Obama’s second term blueprint, because many small businesses are incorporated as S-corps, which means that the revenue passes through the company to the shareholders without being taxed, and then the shareholders pay taxes on the revenue personally.

In these cases, most small business owners in the middle class would see their taxes remain the same instead of rising with the cuts’ expiration. Here’s the exact phrasing:

Extending the middle-class income tax cuts which would prevent 97% of small business owners from facing a tax increase.

 

Expand the health reform tax credit

The Affordable Care Act includes tax credits for small businesses that offer employer-provided health insurance. Obama wants to expand this tax credit “to cover 50% of small businesses’ health care costs in 2014.” He also wants to provide small businesses access to group rates so they “won’t continue to pay up to 18% more than large firms for health insurance.”

 

Slow the growth rate of rising college tuition

 

One of the stated top priorities for Obama’s next term is to work on the expansive rise in the cost of going to college. The goal is to cut tuition growth in half over ten years.

Via the new plan:

We can make college more affordable by continuing tax credits to help middle-class families afford college tuition, doubling the number of work-study jobs and creating incentives for schools to keep tuition down.

 

Recruit 100,000 STEM teachers

Obama’s second-term blueprint also includes a plan to aggressively seeks to recruit and maintain Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors in the U.S. university system in the hope that many of these students go on to become teachers in the primary and secondary education spheres.

The final goal is to recruit 100,000 math and science teachers. Via the Obama plan:

“We can out-compete China and Germany by out-educating them. The STEM Master Teacher Corps and investments in research and innovation into the best ways to teach math and science will help improve math and science education nationwide.”

 

Expand Race to the Top

The final point of Obama’s new education plan is to invest in primary and secondary education through the Race to the Top initiative.

Here’s the full quote of the plan:

Because we can’t compete for jobs of the future without educating our children, we must prevent teacher layoffs. We also must expand Race to the Top to additional school districts willing to take on bold reform. The President will offer states committed to reform relief from the worst mandates of No Child Left Behind, like incentives to teach to the test, so they can craft local solutions.

The idea is to defend unions and prevent teacher layoffs. The rollback of the No Child Left Behind program will continue on pace.

 

Cut $2.50 for each $1 in revenue increases

This portion details the ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases in the Obama tax plan.

The idea is to get the right mix of government cuts and tax increases to cut the deficit without cutting essential services to the point that the economy is harmed.

Here’s the policy:

President Obama’s plan reduces the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, including $1 trillion in spending cuts he signed into law last summer, and cutting $2.50 in spending for every $1 in additional revenue from the wealthiest families and closing corporate loopholes.

 

Implement the Buffett Rule

The second point is the boilerplate “make sure millionaires aren’t paying less in taxes than middle class Americans” — the philosophy behind the Buffett Rule.

The Buffett Rule would make the minimum effective tax rate for people who make more than a million dollars per year 30%.

 

Commit money saved from ending wars overseas to repairing infrastructure and paying down the federal debt

A construction worker makes last minute repairs to a pedestrian walkway near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Obama wants to use the money saved from drawing down U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for improving the nation’s roads bridges, airports, and schools. He would use the leftover savings to start paying off the federal deficit.

 

Keep requiring health insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions

While Romney has sworn to gut the healthcare reform bill as soon as he walks into the office, Obama’s new blueprint promises that the law will continue to go into effect during his second term. out what will go into effect over a second term here.

The most popular provision of the law — forcing health insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions — is set to go into effect in 2014.

 

Make health care exchanges operational by 2014.

The state health care exchanges mandated in the Affordable Care Act are also set to become operational in 2014.

According to the plan, this will create “a marketplace that offers group rates and new tax credits so everyone can afford insurance.”

 

Stop health insurance companies from discriminating by gender

Another near-universally approved aspect of the health care legislation is the move to prohibit discrimination on premiums based on gender.

According to Obama’s plan women now spend up to 50% more on the same policy as men. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies will no longer be allowed to discriminate by gender starting in 2014.

Here’s the projected extent of the bill’s effects:

“47 million women will benefit from the health care reform provision that requires health plans to cover lifesaving preventive care that women need without out-of pocket costs.”

 

Work with hospitals to reduce infections

One novel focus that the next Obama administration would “save 60,000 lives and $10 billion for Medicare’s future by partnering with hospitals to reduce inpatient infections and needless re-admissions” of seniors on Medicare.

How Obama plans to accomplish this goal is not specified.

 

Oppose plans to turn Medicare into a voucher system

According to the plan, Obama would also “stop proposals to turn Medicare into a voucher system,” a veiled shot at his opponent’s plans to overhaul the federally-funded retiree healthcare program.

 

Oppose attempts to privatize Social Security

According to the plan, Obama will:

Oppose efforts to gamble Social Security on the stock market. President Obama will fight for balanced deficit reduction, and extend the life of Medicare and Social Security, without ending guaranteed benefits or slashing benefits.

The implication here is that failing to elect Obama would make the privatization of Social Security a possibility.

USDA: Food Prices Will Rise 3 to 4% Next Year

According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture the record drought that half the country suffered through will eventually push food prices up by 3 to 4 percent next year.

Milk, eggs, beef, poultry and pork prices will all be affected due to higher prices for feed. Beef prices are expected to see the biggest jump at 4 percent to 5 percent. Dairy product prices 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent; poultry and egg prices are projected to rise 3 percent to 4 percent; and pork prices are expected to rise 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent in 2013.

“In 2013 as a result of this drought we are looking at above-normal food price inflation. … Consumers are certainly going to feel it,” USDA economist Richard Volpe said.

Normal grocery price inflation is about 2.8 percent.

Volpe said the drought is not expected to affect prices for fruits and vegetables. Most of those crops are irrigated.

“This drought was a surprise for everybody,” he added. “The USDA was forecasting a record year for the corn crop until this drought materialized. Now we’re not going to get that.”

Poultry prices will be the first to rise because of the drought because chickens and turkeys need only a few months to grow to market size, he said. Meat and poultry prices are the most affected because feed prices represent the biggest part of their cost of production. Processed food prices are less affected by changes in commodity prices because ingredients typically make up just a fraction of their production costs.

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