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Monday, May 9, 2011

Nixon asks USDA to Assess Farm Damage Due to Storms and Flooding, Gasconade and Franklin Counties Included

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Nixon asks USDA to assess farm damage

Monday, May 9, 2011

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Gov. Jay Nixon announced in a news release today that he has asked the USDA's Farm Service Agency to start damage assessments "as soon as possible" for 56 Missouri counties hit by storms and severe flooding.
The request is the first step in declaring the counties as primary disaster areas -- those where at least 30 percent of the estimated yield of a crop will be lost or where individual farmers suffer production losses of more than 30 percent. A disaster declaration would allow eligible farmers to be considered for USDA assistance.
Nixon's request includes the following counties: Barry, Barton, Bollinger, Butler, Camden, Cape Girardeau, Carter, Cedar, Christian, Crawford, Dade, Dallas, Dent, Douglas, Dunklin, Franklin, Gasconade, Greene, Hickory, Howell, Iron, Jasper, Jefferson, Laclede, Lawrence, Madison, Maries, McDonald, Miller, Mississippi, New Madrid, Newton, Oregon, Osage, Ozark, Pemiscot, Perry, Phelps, Polk, Pulaski, Reynolds, Ripley, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, St. Louis, Scott, Shannon, Stoddard, Stone, Taney, Texas, Vernon, Washington, Wayne, Webster and Wright.

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Government Paid Millions to Vaccine-Injured Children

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Probe to Reveal Link Between Vaccine Settlements and Autism

May 9, 2011

Exclusive: Government paid multi-million dollar settlements to dozens of families whose kids suffered brain damage
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Weather Balloon Lands Near Hermann Missouri: MU students launched the experiment


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MU students launch balloon experiment

www.columbiatribune.com
May 9, 2011
By Janese Silvey
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Six ambitious University of Missouri freshmen spent the semester creating a plan to send a weather balloon up to capture images of Missouri from thousands of feet in the air.

The students’ weather balloon captured images of the Missouri landscape on its journey east.
Mission accomplished.
On Tuesday, their balloon traveled 45 miles, capturing hundreds of breathtaking views of Missouri before landing in the river bottoms near Hermann. Images from a camera attached to the balloon captured scenes of quilted farmland, clear blue skies, the sun and, in a couple of cases, the strings holding the whole thing together.
With the exception of one, Columbia native Andrew Perry, all of the students are engineering majors. Perry, Timothy Hezel, Andrew Kitson, Pedro Ruiz Fabian, Mark Hansen and Logan Forsythe live in Wolpers Hall, linked by a common freshman interest group.
The hall is undergoing renovations after this year to become coed, and to commemorate its days of housing engineering students, the staff there posed a competition to residents. Only the six students were interested, though, so they decided to make it a team project instead.
Late in the afternoon Tuesday, after an earlier failed attempt, the young men filled their latex balloon with helium and sent it on its way. Attached was a Styrofoam package that carried the camera and a cellphone for GPS tracking.
Oh, and at the last minute, Forsythe had the foresight to attach some glow sticks in case they had to go searching for the dropped package in the night — which they did.
Figuring out how to solve basic problems while working as a team gives the students an edge as they advance in their college careers, said Richard Whelove, a resident instructor who served as a mentor to the team.
“I think the thing that really surprised me, No. 1, is that the origin of their group came from a desire to do this,” he said. “They’re really motivated students, and they really found out what teamwork takes. … They’ve experienced success in the form of a team, and that’s really crucial to engineers. Engineers don’t know everything, so they have to rely on team members who have other expertise.”
There were plenty of challenges, with perhaps the steepest hurdle being how to get the lightweight Canon camera to automatically snap pictures every 15 seconds. Kitson was the brains behind that: He figured out how to format the memory card, writing a unique script so it knew when to take photos and where to store them.
About five hours after they launched the balloon, the students drove to the GPS coordinates in Hermann to retrieve the package. Waiting to get home to see the photos on a laptop was the hardest part, they agreed.
“It was really exciting to get the pictures back,” Kitson said. “It was really cool to see some of them. Some looked really professional. It was a lot of fun, to say the least.”

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Columbia, Missouri Boomtown Grew By 28 Percent Last Decade

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Quiet college town? More like boomtown

BY TODD C. FRANKEL
post-dispatch.com
May 9, 2011
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COLUMBIA, Mo. • One sign of this city's population boom wore a bright red dress and wireless headset. She was working an afternoon shift at Dunn Bros. coffee shop.
This is Aimee Swift. She works here part time. She is 24 years old. She is from St. Charles. And like so many others in this mid-Missouri town, she first came here to attend the University of Missouri.
But then something happened that illustrates how Columbia grew by 28 percent in a decade, why it so handily punched through the 100,000-population barrier with the 2010 census, becoming only the fifth city in Missouri to reach that lofty level.
What happened was Swift graduated from Mizzou ... and stayed. So did her husband, Chris Swift. He hails from Springfield, Mo. The couple have no plans to move back to St. Charles or Springfield. They might move out-of-state one day. But they like Columbia.
"If we're going to stay in Missouri," said Swift between coffee orders, "we'll stay here."
Columbia is still very much a college town. About 33,000 college students attend the three schools located in the city, most of them at Mizzou. Students have fueled the city's growth. Over the past decade, enrollment at Mizzou has shot up 31 percent, even faster than the city's population, adding 7,100 more students for the census to count.
"And, of course, that has multiplier effects in other parts of the community," said Bill Elder, director of Mizzou's Office of Social and Economic Data.
More students mean more restaurants, more rental housing, more teachers.
But the city has gained a reputation as being more than a college town, too, allowing it to appeal to recent graduates.
"They are finding they can stay here," said Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
Keeping graduates means having enough jobs.
Mizzou remains the biggest employer, providing more than 12,000 jobs when you also count staff at the University Hospital system.
Boone Hospital Center, run by BJC, supplies 1,600 jobs. The city's public school system, where Swift student-teaches when she's not at the coffee shop, employs 2,140. The insurance industry — with headquarters for Shelter Insurance and a regional office for State Farm — kicks in more than 2,500 jobs. Columbia also is close enough to Jefferson City that state capital workers can commute.
With relatively stable big employers, Columbia boasted a 5.7 percent unemployment rate last year, the envy of a state with a 9.6 percent rate.
And more jobs are coming: Late last year, IBM announced plans for 800 jobs at a new service center.
The "college town" label also has attracted new residents — like Mike Brooks, a former Indianapolis resident. He turned down job offers in two other communities in 2009 to become president of Columbia's Regional Economic Development Inc.
"The university community really does provide those quality-of-life attributes," Brooks said.
The university's presence is an element often cited in the "best places to live" surveys that have developed a fondness for Columbia. Late last year, the city was named No. 8 on the Forbes' "best small places for business and careers" list. (Down from a high of No. 3 in 2007, but still a good showing.)

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River Rising in Memphis, but Mississippi River Flood will miss music landmarks





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River rising in Memphis, but music landmarks dry
May 9, 2011
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- The Mississippi crept toward the highest level ever in the river city, flooding pockets of low-lying neighborhoods and forcing hundreds from their homes, though the water was not threatening the music heartland's most recognizable landmarks, from Graceland to Beale Street.
As residents waited for the river to reach its peak as early as Monday night - several inches short of the record mark set in 1937 - those downstream in Mississippi and Louisiana evacuated prisoners and diverted water from the river in an attempt to stave off catastrophic flooding in a region prone to such disasters.
In Memphis, emergency officials warned the river was still dangerous and unpredictable, but they were confident the levees would hold and there were no plans for more evacuations. Sandbags were put up in front of the 32-story tall Pyramid Arena, but the former home of college and professional basketball teams was believed to be safe. Also out of the way were Stax Records, which launched the careers of Otis Redding and the Staple Singers, and Sun Studio, which helped make Elvis the king of rock `n' roll.
Sun Studio still does some recording, but Stax is now a museum and tourist attraction. Graceland, which is several miles south of downtown, was also spared.
"I want to say this: Graceland is safe. And we would charge hell with a water pistol to keep it that way and I'd be willing to lead the charge," said Bob Nations Jr., director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency.
Authorities spent the weekend knocking on doors to tell a couple hundred more people that they should abandon their homes before they are swamped by waters. More than 300 people were staying in shelters, and officials said they had stepped up patrols in evacuated areas to prevent looting.
Aurelio Flores, 36, his pregnant wife and their three children have been living at a shelter for 11 days. His mobile home had about four feet of water when he last visited the trailer park Wednesday.
"I imagine that my trailer, if it's not covered, it's close," said Flores, an out-of-work construction worker. "If I think about it too much, and get angry about it, it will mean the end of me."
He was one of 175 people staying in a gymnasium at the Hope Presbyterian Church in east Shelby County. He said morale was good at the shelter, mostly because there were friends and neighbors staying there, too.
"The main thing is that all left that trailer park with our lives," Flores said. "God will help us find a new place to live."
Forecasters said it looks like the river was starting to level out and could crest as soon as Monday night, at or near 48 feet, just shy of the 48.7-foot mark set in 1937. Forecasters had previously predicted the crest would come as late as Wednesday. On the horizon, however, rain was forecast for later in the week, which could bring the danger of flash flooding.
Kevin Kane, president and chief executive of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he believed the media had overblown the flooding.
"The country thinks were in lifeboats and we are underwater," Kane said. "For visitors, its business as usual."
Col. Vernie Reichling, Army Corps of Engineers commander for the Memphis district, said the homes in most danger of flooding are in areas not protected by levees or floodwalls, including near Nonconnah Creek and the Wolf and Loosahatchie rivers.
About 150 Corps workers were walking along levees and monitoring performance of pump stations.
"There should be no concern for any levees to fail," he said in a downtown park on a bluff overlooking the river.
While some evacuated, others came as spectators. At Beale Street, the famous thoroughfare known for blues music, people gawked and snapped photos as water pooled at the end of the road. Flood waters were about a half-mile from the Beale Street's world-famous nightspots, which are on higher ground.
The river already reached record levels in some areas upstream, thanks to heavy rains and snowmelt. It spared Kentucky and northwest Tennessee any catastrophic flooding and no deaths have been reported there, but some low lying towns and farmland along the banks of the river have been inundated.
There's so much water in the Mississippi that the tributaries that feed into it are also backed up, creating some of the worst flood problems so far.
Farther south in Louisiana, the corps partially opened a spillway that diverts the Mississippi into a lake to ease pressure on the levee system in greater New Orleans. As workers used cranes to remove some of the Bonnet Carre Spillway's wooden barriers, which serve as a dam against the high water, several hundred curiosity-seekers watched from the riverbank.
The spillway, which the Corps built about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans in response to the great flood of 1927, last opened during the spring 2008. Monday marked the 10th time it has been opened since the structure was completed in 1931.
Rufus Harris Jr., 87, said his family moved to New Orleans in 1927 only months after the flood killed hundreds. He was too young to remember those days, but the stories he heard gave him respect for the river.
"People have a right to be concerned in this area because there's always a possibility of a levee having a defective spot," Harris said as he watched water rush out.
The corps also has asked for permission to open the Morganza spillway north of Baton Rouge, which diverts river water into the Atchafalaya Basin. It hasn't been opened since 1973.
Officials warned residents that even if it were opened, they could expect water 5 to 25 feet (1.5 to 7.5 meters) deep over parts of seven parishes. Some of Louisiana's most valuable farmland is expected to be inundated.
At the home of the state's death row in Angola north of Baton Rouge, state officials started moving prisoners with medical problems as backwaters began to rise. Eight buses and several vans escorted by police moved less than 200 inmates, though more could be taken out later. Inside the prison, some inmates were being moved to less vulnerable buildings.
The prison has not been flooded since 1927, although prisoners have been evacuated at other times when high water threatened, most recently in 1997. The 18,000-acre prison holds more 5,000 inmates and is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River.
Engineers say it is unlikely any major metropolitan areas will be inundated as the water pushes downstream over the next week or two. Nonetheless, they are cautious.
Since the flood of 1927, a disaster that killed hundreds, Congress has made protecting the cities on the lower Mississippi a priority, spending billions to fortify cities with floodwalls and carve out overflow basins and ponds - a departure from the "levees-only" strategy that led to the 1927 disaster.
Floodwaters have inundated much of east Arkansas for more than a week, and the river has several more days before an expected crest at Arkansas City, in the state's southeast.
Some roads in the northeast part of the state reopened as floodwaters drained a bit, but Interstate 40 remained closed at the White River, which was over its banks. The highway could be closed until Wednesday.
In Missouri, at least one flood expert said he was hopeful that the damage from intentionally blowing up part of the levee wouldn't do as much damage as many feared. The southeastern part of the state is home to some of the richest farmland in the Midwest.
"I'm hopeful the land will not be damaged as much as we've seen in other floodplains where the levee is breached," said Bob Holmes, national flood specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey.
The Army Corps of Engineers used explosives May 2 to blast a massive hole in the levee near the town of Wyatt, allowing the Mississippi River to engulf 130,000 acres of land that produces wheat, corn and soybeans.
The expected bumper wheat crop nearing harvest was lost. Corn and soybeans won't be planted this year. State and federal agriculture leaders have promised that the incident will be treated like a national disaster to aid home and land owners.
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Associated Press writers Michael Kunzelman in Norco, La.; Mary Foster in Angola, La.; Jim Salter in St. Louis and Chuck Bartels in Little Rock contributed to this report.

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Franklin County Turkey Harvest Tops in Missouri Again This Year UPDATE: Franklin County Turkey Harvest Tops in Missouri First Week of Hunt, April 2011

May 9, 2011

Franklin county tops area counties in turkey harvest numbers again this year.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the official numbers are in. Franklin county's Harvest numbers were down only five from last year, with 840 turkeys caught this season.

Texas county came second in harvests with 699 turkeys, and Bollinger county finished third with 675 turkeys.

There were no accidents reported in Franklin County this year, however two non-fatal injuries were reported during the youth season in Crawford and Washington counties.
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Spring Turkey Harvest Video MISSOURI APRIL 2011

Part 1: A great turkey hunt caught on camera in North Missouri

Part 2: monster gobbler attacks decoy and gets hung up
A monster gobbler, hot off the roost come in full sprint. He doesn't like the decoy on his turf. That turns out to be a mistake. Gobblers foot gets hung up in the decoy then comes right up to the pit and gets the hammer dropped.
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Hunters check 18,788 turkeys during first week of season

Apr. 25, 2011

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JEFFERSON CITY–Rain and severe weather complicated hunting during the first week of Missouri’s 21-day spring turkey season, leading to a 10-percent drop in the first-week harvest.
Missouri hunters checked 18,788 turkeys April 18 through 24, a decrease of 2,233 compared to last year. Top counties during the first week of Missouri’s regular spring turkey season were Franklin with 427 birds checked, Bollinger with 332 and Callaway with 329.
Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s lead turkey biologist. He predicted a slight decrease in this year’s turkey harvest, because turkey numbers are down slightly statewide. The 10.6-percent drop in first-week harvest is more than he expected, but Isabelle said it is not surprising.
“Weather is always the wild card in trying to predict turkey harvest,” said Isabelle. “Rain and wind make hunting more of a challenge, so you can count on the harvest going down during stormy weather. Having violent thunderstorms, tornadoes and intermittent rain during the first weekend of the season made the effect of weather especially important this year.”
Although he predicted a dip in the spring turkey harvest, Isabelle also predicted that hunters would have more mature gobblers to hunt this year. That also is coming true. First-week harvest figures show that mature gobblers accounted for 80 percent of the birds checked, up from 77.6 percent last year.
“We saw a slight improvement in the hatch two years ago,” said Isabelle. “That means we have more 2-year-old gobblers in the woods this year.”
Isabelle said this is good news for two reasons. First, two-year-old birds generally gobble more than any other age class, and that makes for more exciting hunting. Second, because mature gobblers are bearing more of the harvest this year, that means more 1-year-old gobblers are going to make it through the hunting season and live to be 2-year-olds next spring.
Isabelle noted that turkey season continues through May 8, giving hunters ample opportunity to make up for lost time. If the weather cooperates, particularly on weekends, this year’s harvest could still be close to last year’s number.
The Conservation Department recorded two firearms-related hunting incidents during the first week of turkey season. Both occurred April 23, the first Saturday of the season.
One incident involved a 16-year-old hunter who died of a self-inflicted gunshot. His shotgun discharged as he was gathering up his gear with the shotgun leaning against his body. The trigger apparently caught on something and discharged, striking him in the head.
In the other incident, a 22-year-old victim suffered minor injuries when an 18-year-old hunter mistook him for a turkey. The incident occurred near a property line. The victim–wearing full camouflage clothing–stood up to make the other hunter aware of his presence and the shooter fired at him. MDC officials said this incident illustrates the importance of announcing your presence to approaching hunters by calling out to them before moving.
The Conservation Department also recorded two nonfatal hunting incidents during the youth turkey season April 9 and 10. One of those involved one hunter mistaking another hunter for game. The other involved a hunter caught in the line of fire.
Details about Missouri’s spring turkey season are found in the “2011 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklet, which is available from permit vendors statewide or at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/4066. Information about turkey hunting safety is available at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/4122.

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Cutting The Fat: Lawmaker Proposes Federal hiring freeze

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Lawmaker proposes federal hiring freeze




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A House lawmaker is seeking a freeze on federal hiring until the government eliminates its deficit.
Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., on Thursday introduced legislation that would prohibit agencies from hiring new employees until the deficit is resolved. The bill does allow "common-sense" exceptions for national security and law enforcement, however.
The U.S. Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission also would be exempt from the freeze, along with reassignments within the same agency, short-term, seasonal hiring and transitional positions involving a new presidential administration.
"We must stick to the trifecta of downsizing Washington, cutting spending and keeping taxes low," he said. "We cannot allow the federal government to grow at record levels while we ask our business owners and families to be more frugal and to get by with a lot less."
The legislation also would increase accountability by requiring the president to report quarterly on new appointments made, according to Marino.
The proposal is not the first to limit government hiring, however. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., in February reintroduced the Federal Workforce Reduction Act, which would reduce the size of the federal workforce by attrition by hiring only one employee for every two who retire or leave service. It also would require agencies to justify their new hires and the administration to disclose all new employees by agency. Under the bill, the freeze would stay in effect until the deficit is eliminated.

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Fake Osama Bin Laden Photo: Pakistan's scepticism over videos

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Osama Bin Laden: Pakistan's scepticism over videos




The release of video footage seized from Osama bin Laden's compound in northern Pakistan was part of the continuing effort by the US to convince doubters that the al-Qaeda leader was killed in last Monday's raid.
But people in Abbottabad seem sceptical about the authenticity of the films, as Orla Guerin discovered when she took to the streets of the town where bin Laden was said to have been hiding.
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Missouri Lawmakers Do Little to Improve State Economy: Senators Stage Filibuster Against Stimulus Funding

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Missouri legislators have one week to act on a variety of issues
By Jo Mannies, Beacon political reporter, and Jason Rosenbaum  
May 9, 2011
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With the Missouri General Assembly finished with this session's two mandatory tasks -- the state budget and congressional redistricting -- legislators are heading into the final week with the future of a lot of optional legislation hanging in the balance.
Among them are bills that would:
-- Move Missouri's 2012 presidential primary to a month later, into March;
-- Ask voters in 2012 to allow the General Assembly to require voters to show photo identification before being allowing to cast a ballot;
-- Give the city of St. Louis local control of its police department, which has been under state control for 150 years;
-- Change the state’s workers’ compensation system;
-- Set up $360 million in tax breaks to encourage China to locate a cargo hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
-- Require individuals receiving welfare benefits to take drug tests;
-- Allow utilities to charge customers ahead of time for some of the costs for a nuclear power plant before it's built and in operation. Missouri law now bars such charges.
The nuclear-power plant proposal had been considered dead, but was resurrected last week when the Missouri House voted to add the provision to another bill. However, some consumer-protection groups oppose the provision, as does some members of the state Senate who earlier blocked the idea.
St. Louis' local-control effort, long a dream of city mayors, also appears stalled in the Senate. The proposal won approval of the Missouri House months ago. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and the St. Louis Police Officers Association -- the chief opponent -- recently announced an agreement aimed at resolving some of the Senate's concerns.
But that deal's chief provision holds off local control until the police group has a collective bargaining agreement with the St. Louis Police Board. And some Republican state senators are not fans of collective bargaining for public employees, in general, and have indicated they may not make an exception for St. Louis' police.
The workers' compensation battle involves a number of elements, and it's unclear which -- if any -- will make it through the legislature by Friday. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry reaffirmed last week that it hopes to get such a bill through by adjournment.
Some sort of drug-testing requirement for welfare recipients does appear likely to end up on Gov. Jay Nixon's desk. Both chambers have passed versions of the mandate, and are haggling over the differences in the House and Senate versions.
The cargo-hub provision is part of a larger development bill. Disagreements between the House and Senate must be resolved ths week. (Click here for the Beacon's broader overview of the issue.)
The photo-identification requirement for voters is in a similar situation, with House and Senate conferees attempting to resolve differences. The mandate actually involves two bills; one would put the proposed constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot, and the other would lay out how such a requirement would be implemented. (Click here for the Beacon's latest coverage of the issue.)
The state Senate also is expected to consider by today the measure seeking to move Missouri's primary. At issue are a number of provisions added by the state House.
The House version includes the so-called "birther amendment'' that would require that presidential candidates prove that they had been born in the United States before they can be placed on the state's primary ballot.The candidates would have to submit birth certificates to the Missouri secretary of state.
State Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, is part of the conference committee. He said that there are about 25 "small bills" tacked onto the primary bill. "We're going to determine to the (Senate) membership here what issues are really going to cause problems and take those off," Engler said.
Asked if the birth certificate requirement was one the measures that might be removed, Engler said it was "highly unlikely to make it through the process."
"I think that's what you would consider controversial," Engler said. "And it may kill (the bill) by not having it on there because we have, I guess, some 'birthers' or whatever."
Still, Engler said he hoped the chief purpose of bill - moving the state's primary to March - would make it through the legislature. Both national political parties are imposing requirements that allow only four states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- to hold their primaries in February. Those states that violate the rules would face penalties, including the possibility that their delegates wouldn't be seated for the presidential conventions.
At the moment, Missouri's presidential primary is still set for February 2012.
"It would be a shame for our people in Missouri to be taken out of the election process," Engler said. "Because in fact, if the parties do not seat our delegates and we do not have voting delegates...then we've been effectively been taken out of the electoral process. You can go vote all you want, but if your delegates can't vote at the convention, it wouldn't do any good."
Because presidential-candidate filing is to begin late this year, advocates say action must be taken this week.


Senators Stage Filibuster Against Stimulus Funding

By Jason Rosenbaum, Missourian Correspondent
May 7, 2011
www.emissourian.com 

Sen. Brain Nieves gave the Missouri Senate a choice on Tuesday: cut money from an appropriations bill reauthorizing projects paid for with federal stimulus money or get ready to listen to a lot of talking.
“Because I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know what’s going to happen with our final outcome of this whole thing. I cannot predict that we’re going to be successful or fail. But I can say with some certainty that we are going to be here a very, very, very, very long, long time talking about House Bill 18,” said Nieves, R-Washington, on the Senate floor. “And there’s a good chance that House Bill 18 will never come up for a vote.”

Key budget writers — Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-ColumbiaSchaefer told the Associated Press that agencies should consider spending all of their stimulus money in the current budget year, which would effectively make the cut moot. He said on the Senate floor that he didn’t agree with the federal government’s financial course.
But he added he was not about to go along with the four senators’ course of action.
“I think you’re trying to solve a problem as a state senator that we cannot control that’s coming out of Washington, D.C.,” Schaefer said in an exchange with Lembke.

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Could Crest Late Monday, Floodgates Opened Near New Orleans!!! UPDATE: Mississippi River Flood Memphis to Crest Wed. May 11 2011 in Tennessee NEAR RECORD LEVEL







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River rise spurs spillway opening near New Orleans
May 9, 2011


NORCO, La. (AP) -- The rising Mississippi River has prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to begin opening floodgates at a spillway upriver from New Orleans.
Shortly after 8 a.m. CDT, workers pulled restraining devices off the first of 28 gates at the the Bonnet Carre spillway that will be opened. The structure has 350 gates and the corps has said it will monitor Mississippi River levels before deciding whether more will be opened.
Fresh water from the river will be diverted into Lake Pontchartrain and from there into the Gulf of Mexico.
The corps also has asked the Mississippi River Commission for permission to open the Morganza spillway north of Baton Rouge.
Later on Monday, state officials planned to begin moving some prisoners from the Angola state penitentiary north of Baton Rouge, as waters rise.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Forecasters say the Mississippi River could crest late Monday at Memphis - hours sooner than previously predicted - but the mayor says the city's ready for it.
Mayor AC Wharton said that despite the tightened timeframe, he's confident that precautions such as door-to-door warnings have prepared the city.
"We don't have as much time, but fortunately we're ready for it," Wharton told The Early Show on CBS Monday.
Wharton said disasters such as Katrina have shown that you can't simply get the word out by issuing warnings on TV. Authorities spent the weekend knocking on doors to tell a couple hundred people that they should abandon their homes before they are swamped by waters from the rising Mississippi. Wharton said officials are returning to some houses multiple times.
"Door-to-door is a key thing that we're doing," he said, adding there are stepped up patrols to prevent looting in areas where people have left their homes behind.
Forecaster Joe Lowery of the National Weather Service office in Memphis said it looks like the river is starting to level out and could crest as soon as Monday night, at or near 48 feet (14.63 meters). Forecasters had previously predicted the crest would come Tuesday.
Memphis residents have been abandoning low-lying homes for days as the dangerously surging river threatened to crest just shy of the 48.7-foot (14.84-meter) record, set by a devastating 1937 flood.
The swollen river has swamped houses in Memphis and threatens to consume many more, but its rise has been slow enough that some people were clinging to their normal lives just a bit longer.
In all, residents in more than 1,300 homes have been told to go, and some 370 people were staying in shelters.
But while some evacuated, others came as spectators. At Beale Street, the famous thoroughfare known for blues music, dozens gawked and snapped photos as water pooled at the end of the road. Traffic was heavy downtown on a day the streets would normally be quiet.
The river is "probably the biggest tourist attraction in Memphis," said Scott Umstead, who made the half-hour drive from Collierville with his wife and their three children.
Col. Vernie Reichling, Army Corps of Engineers commander for the Memphis district, said the homes in most danger of flooding are in areas not protected by levees or floodwalls, including near Nonconnah Creek and the Wolf and Loosahatchie rivers.
About 150 Corps workers were walking along levees and monitoring performance of pump stations along what Reichling called the "wicked" Mississippi. "There should be no concern for any levees to fail," he said in a downtown park on a bluff overlooking the river.
For Cedric Blue, the flooding in his south Memphis neighborhood near the overflowing Nonconnah Creek is a source of frustration and anger.
Blue, 39, has watched as the water engulfed three homes on his street, including that of an older woman who had to be rescued in a boat because she had refused to leave. Blue fears the rising water will ruin his house and his belongings while washing away a lifetime of memories that were created there.
Sunday afternoon, a garbage can floated in the high water near his house. Some feet away, the water had reached more than halfway up a yellow "No Outlet" street sign.
He became emotional talking about how he has about 7 feet of water in his backyard and less than a foot inside the house, which his mother owns. They were in the middle of a remodeling project when the flood hit.
Blue said he wants the city, county or the federal government to give him a hotel voucher so he does not have to go to a shelter.
"I just want a new life and relocation," Blue said. "I would like the elected officials to come down here to see this with their own eyes and see what we're going through."
Flood waters were about a half-mile (800 meters) from the Beale Street's world-famous nightspots, which are on higher ground.
The river already reached record levels in some areas upstream, thanks to heavy rains and snowmelt. It spared Kentucky and northwest Tennessee any catastrophic flooding and no deaths have been reported there, but some low lying towns and farmland along the banks of the river have been inundated.
And there's tension farther south in the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana, where the river could create a slow-developing disaster.
There's so much water in the Mississippi that the tributaries that feed into it are also backed up, creating some of the worst flood problems so far.
Downriver in Louisiana, officials warned residents that even if a key spillway northwest of Baton Rouge were to be opened, residents could expect water 5 to 25 feet (1.5 to 7.5 meters) deep over parts of seven parishes. Some of Louisiana's most valuable farmland is expected to be inundated.
The Morganza spillway, northwest of Baton Rouge, could be opened as early as Thursday, but a decision has not yet been made.
The corps was going to begin opening some floodgates Monday at the Bonnet Carre spillway about 30 miles northwest of New Orleans, helping ease the pressure on levees in that area. It will be the 10th time the spillway has opened since the structure was completed in 1931.
Engineers say it is unlikely any major metropolitan areas will be inundated as the water pushes downstream over the next week or two. Nonetheless, officials are cautious.
Since the flood of 1927, a disaster that killed hundreds, Congress has made protecting the cities on the lower Mississippi a priority, spending billions to fortify cities with floodwalls and carve out overflow basins and ponds - a departure from the "levees-only" strategy that led to the 1927 disaster.


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Kentucky Residents Return to Homes As Floods Continue Throughout Central U.S.

 May 07, 2011
  Associated Press

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As Memphis readied for the mighty Mississippi River to bring its furor to town, some Kentucky residents upstream returned to their homes Saturday, optimistic the levees would hold and that they had seen the worst of the flooding.
In the small town of Hickman, Kentucky, officials and volunteers spent nearly two weeks piling sandbags on top of each other to shore up the 17-mile levee, preparing for a disaster of historic proportion. About 75 residents were told to flee town and waited anxiously for days to see just how bad the flooding would be.
By Saturday, the levee had held, and officials boasted that only a few houses appeared to be damaged. More importantly, no one was injured or killed.
"We have held back the Mississippi River and that's a feat," Fulton County's emergency management director Hugh Caldwell said. "We didn't beat it, but it didn't beat us. We'll call it a draw."
Downstream, though, there was danger, in places like Memphis, Tennessee, the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana. In Arkansas, authorities recovered the body of a man who drove around barricades earlier in the week and was swept away by floodwaters when he tried to walk out.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton warned residents in low-lying areas to evacuate.
William Owen, 53, didn't heed the call until firefighters began to bang on his door Saturday morning. Owen said when he went to sleep, the water wasn't that high. By midday, it had risen about a foot, and was around the base of his home.
He grabbed his medication and took a city bus, along with his girlfriend and dog, to a shelter. He was told he may have to stay for two weeks.
"It seems like we've had a stroke of bad luck," Owen said. "I'm hoping things will get better, I just don't know what else to do right now."
Record river levels, some dating as far back as the 1920s, were expected to be broken in some parts along the river. In Memphis, the river was expected to crest at 48 feet on Wednesday, just shy of the 48.7-foot record from the devastating flood of 1937.
There was also a chance Memphis residents might see rain Saturday, though forecasters said the small amount moisture wouldn't affect flooding. There was other good news, too: the forecast was dry until Thursday.
Graceland, Elvis Presley's home and one of Memphis' best-known landmarks, is about a 20-minute drive from the river and in no danger of flooding. Water pooled at the lowest end of Beale Street, the thoroughfare synonymous with Mississippi blues, but it was about a half-mile (800 meters) from the street's world-famous nightspots.
About 100 miles to the north, residents in Tiptonville, Tennessee, were hopeful as the river levels started to fall.
Like many other areas along the Mississippi, the town wasn't completely spared. In Tiptonville, an estimated one-fifth of the town has suffered some flooding. All told, 75 homes have been swamped.
About 30 miles of county roads were cut off and impassable, and fields of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton have been drowned.
Most of the Tiptonville homes were inundated with rainwater, not from the Mississippi. Because the levees' gates are closed, the town relied on pumps to move the near constant rain over the past couple of weeks, but they couldn't keep up.
Elsewhere, officials in Louisiana warned residents that even if a key spillway northwest of Baton Rouge was opened, residents should expect floods comparable to those of 1973. Some of Louisiana's most valuable farmland is expected to be inundated with water.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the Morganza spillway could be opened as soon as Thursday, but a decision has not been made. If it is opened, it could stay open for weeks.
A separate spillway northwest of New Orleans was to be opened Monday, helping ease the pressure on levees there.
To the north in Arkansas, a portion of Interstate 40 remained closed.
Because of the billions of dollars spent on levees and other flood defenses built over the years, engineers say it is unlikely any major metropolitan areas will be inundated as the water pushes downstream over the next week or two, but farms, small towns and even some urban areas could see extensive flooding.
Since the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, a disaster that killed hundreds, Congress has made protecting the cities on the lower Mississippi a priority. The Army Corps of Engineers has spent $13 billion to fortify cities with floodwalls and carve out overflow basins and ponds -- a departure from the "levees-only" strategy that led to the 1927 calamity.
The Corps also straightened out sections of the river that used to meander and pool perilously. As a result, the Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico faster, and water presses against the levees for shorter periods.
More than 4 million people live in 63 counties and parishes adjacent to the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers from Cairo, Illinois south to the Gulf of Mexico, down from 4.1 million in 2000, according to a census analysis by The Associated Press.
It's about twice as many people who lived in the region before the 1927 and 1937 floods.


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