Reuters blog archive
from Photographers' Blog:
By Lucas Jackson
Minutes, sometimes seconds, is all the time people get to shelter from a tornado. Rarely with that much time is it possible to feel safe, especially as one of the rare category EF5 storms that bore down on Moore, Oklahoma rages overhead. It is overwhelming to see what wind can do when it unleashes an unfathomable amount of energy on structures that we humans believe are solid and safe. Full sized trucks wrapped around trees, suburbans turned into an unrecognizable mass of metal void of any identifying features, and blocks of neighborhoods laid flat, down to the foundations. Seeing this almost complete destruction - for blocks and blocks - makes it hard to comprehend how anyone could live through something like this. My own difficulty in matching what I was seeing with the reality that hundreds of people had managed to survive this event led me to start recording the stories of survivors and taking portraits of where they took shelter.
I felt it was important to record these stories as they could help future tornado victims prepare a location inside of their home to better withstand a storm like this. The voices of Robert, Scott, Matt, Corey and Donna capture this experience that most of us can not even imagine and I thank everyone who was kind enough to share their memories. Almost every person I spoke with was watching the news to see where the tornado was heading as they sought shelter somewhere in their home. As the reality of the storm bearing down on them became clear and they ran for shelter in their homes, almost all of them remember hearing the phrase "If you are not underground, you will not survive this storm. You have run out of time," said by Gary England, a meteorologist for News Channel 9 in Oklahoma City as the world began to rumble around them. These are their stories.
"We were in the living room and all of us was in there, watching Channel 9. And he said that we needed to take cover immediately and also stated that it needed to be underground because it probably wasn't going to be good if we took it on top of ground.
I took shelter in my linen closet with my mother, and my 21-year-old daughter, our five dogs. And we survived the tornado and walked out to the house gone and just the closet there, with the towels still folded. Light bulbs still good.
from Photographers' Blog:
By Rick Wilking
My wife and I were just about to open some little gifts celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary on May 20th when my cellphone rang.
I said “that’s going to be the Oklahoma call” without even seeing it was Bob Strong, North America Editor in Charge, on the other end. The presents went on hold and the packing began.
Two weeks ago I wrote about what seemed to be a smear campaign against Steven Dow, a forceful commissioner in the Oklahoma Department of Human Services who agitated for investigations into a series of deaths of children who were wards of the state and under DHS supervision. Dow was issued a public reprimand by the state's Ethics Commission for alleged conflicts of interests related to his position as the unpaid director of a social service agency while he was simultaneously serving as a commissioner at DHS. His agency's contracts with the DHS were tiny, and when they were brought up at the department, he recused himself from those discussions. Last Friday, in the state's first-ever reversal, the Ethics Commission withdrew its public reprimand of Dow, citing newly discovered evidence that the alleged ethics violation was “inadvertent.”
As I wrote previously, the initial Ethics Commission action looked bogus because it was hard to see Dow's motive:
Voters and legislators in two very red states, Oklahoma and North Dakota, have recently defeated conservative initiatives to eliminate important taxes. Among some Republicans, there seems to be a realization of the need to pay taxes to fund essential services like schools and police and firemen, and of the need to find other sources of revenue once a given tax is repealed.
North Dakota has become the first state in the nation to propose and subsequently defeat a constitutional amendment banning property taxes. The proposal, Measure 2, would have given all local revenue decisions to the state legislature without detailing how the process would work. It was overwhelmingly rejected – by 77 percent of voters. This comment in the Bismark Tribune seems to capture the reasoning of voters on the issue:
Last September I wrote about Steven Dow, an outspoken commissioner in the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Dow, the only social service professional on the commission, was agitating for investigations into a series of deaths of children who were wards of the state and under DHS supervision. He was basically being stonewalled by both his fellow commissioners and the head of the agency. I hadn't revisited the issue until I saw this tweet and wondered if it was about Dow:
Public reprimand issued against Oklahoma Department of Human Services commissioner bit.ly/NcrLOt
Conservatives are working in legislatures across the country to eliminate or reduce state and local tax rates with the stated purpose of promoting job creation. These legislative efforts have received support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an ultra-conservative lobbying group. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is the latest beau ideal for ALEC's fiscal austerity drive as she leads the charge to eliminate her state's income tax. She writes in the introduction to ALEC's latest edition of "Rich States, Poor States":
I have been committed to these fundamental principles for years, and we are seeing incredible results because our legislators have had the courage to stand with me in support of conservative governance. Oklahoma’s economy is outperforming the national economy, and our success stands in stark contrast to the record of dysfunction, failed policies, and outrageous spending that occurs in Washington, D.C. Oklahoma could teach Washington a lesson or two about fiscal policy and the proper size and role of government – and so could the tax and fiscal policy reforms espoused by ALEC.
Of the $763 billion in tax revenues that states collected in 2011, only $14.6 billion – less than 2 percent – came from severance taxes on coal, gas and oil. Energy production is very concentrated in the United States: Just nine states receive over 5 percent of their tax revenues from energy producers. Currently, the bulk of severance revenues comes from oil production. Alaska, a state floating on an ocean of oil, gets 76 percent of its revenues from a handful of big oil companies that have drilling rights on the North Slope of the state.
Although there has always been natural gas production in America, hydraulic fracking has given rise to substantial drilling activity in several Northeastern states along the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio have substantial reservoirs of natural gas, but the impact this boom will have on state finances is not yet known. These new supplies have come to market when demand is down and have swamped the nation's usage and storage capacity, driving gas prices down to record lows. States that rely on, or plan for, revenues from energy severance taxes will face a lot of volatility from demand and price changes. Natalie Cohen, head of municipal research at Wells Fargo, sketched it out in a recent report:
from Tax Break:
* Payroll tax negotiations heat up again. Rosalind Helderman - The Washington Post.
from Tax Break:
Oklahoma wants to abolish its state income tax. The plan, according to Governor Mary Fallin, is to achieve one of the lowest income tax rates in the country by eliminating some tax credits and closing loopholes in the tax code. Other taxes would not be increased, according to The Oklahoman.
“Our goal is to transform Oklahoma into the best place to do business, the best place to live, find a quality job, raise a family and retire in all of the United States. Not just better than average, but the very best," state Representative Leslie Osborn said. (Cue Rodgers and Hammerstein music)