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I'm the author of The Liberty Pole. I dabble a bit in blogging and have a fascination with early American history (late 18th century) as well as WWII. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest Post: Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld

Many around the country heard about the explosion at the West, Texas plant in April of this year. The following is a guest-post by author C.E. Thornton on the progress - or lack there of - of the availability of funds that the people most affected by this tragedy have seen. Please read the following and spread the word. I've linked to the original article above (her name). Please spread the word so that West does not fall through the cracks.

Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld
I have been unable to get anyone to publish this article so I’m posting it here. The following is extremely important information, everyone. It not only reveals the plight of the citizens of West, but also what many others who have lost their homes in fires and floods this summer potentially face. This is not a one-time phenomenon. Please take the time to read the article, or at the very least scroll to the bottom to see how you can help.
Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld:
For most of the world, the tragedy in West, Texas that began with the explosion of the fertilizer plant, ended with a remarkable outpouring of support from fellow Texans and friends far away, raising money and sending more supplies than the town could handle. With over $3 million funds donated, everything seemed on track for a fast recovery and rebuild.
But nearly half a year on, for residents from Zone 3, the area decimated by the explosion, life is still surreal, the newly vacant landscape unrecognizable and bizarre. And the funds meant to help restore their world to some sense of normality are nowhere to be found.
“I don’t know where that money is, but it’s not where it needs to be,” West resident Rachel Matus said. Matus, who works as a schoolteacher in nearby Bellmead, lost her home in the blast, and to date has received no money from the fund to help rebuild her home with her husband, James. The lack of aid to those affected, whose experiences range from lost homes to life-altering injuries, outrages citizens of West and donors alike.
“I wrote an email to the ATX Mafia girls asking them what they thought about the $54,000 they had raised still sitting in an account,” Matus said. “They called their contact at State National Bank (in West) because that’s where they brought their check. He told them they needed 5.2+ million to assist everyone who was impacted and since they only had 3.2 million at the time they had to put a plan into place to allocate the funds on a case-by-case basis.”
Calls of inquiry to the Long Term Recovery Center, the group in charge of rebuilding West, went unanswered, but the information from State National further stated how the funds would be used to “help those who are in need most.”
“Each individual who lost their homes would provide the committee with their FEMA and insurance allocation in order to determine the amount they would receive from the raised funds,” Matus said. “The thing that bothers me about that is we don’t have to disclose how much we got from our insurance company. That should have nothing to do with the amount we get from the donations.”
Matus attends the town meetings regularly to keep up with any developments. So far, the only development is the increasing frustration and lack of proper information.
“We were told it’s actually a national law that if you get more than $31,900 from your insurance, you aren’t eligible for any help at all from FEMA, which is fine because most people in West didn’t want anything from FEMA,” Matus said. “Basically at the meeting they told us if you got this $31,900 and you still need help for unmet needs, they kept using that phrase, you have to go through this whole long list (of organizations), and everyone is supposed to meet with their case worker every week to go over these needs. This list included FEMA, SBA, Salvation Army, and on a lot of this stuff, most of us in zone 3 don’t qualify for any of that because we had good insurance and we have good jobs.”
For example, if your income reaches a certain amount you’re not eligible for the SBA (Small Business Administration) loan. Matus and her husband didn’t qualify for aid through the organizations on the list and received no financial relief outside of their own insurance.
“We were responsible and paid to have our house insured,” Matus said. “We went to college and got degrees and now have good jobs. So basically we were told we were out of luck, because those donated funds are now the last resort instead of what we understood it, as a first resort.”
The town meetings only added insult to injury. Matus quoted the case manager’s response to questions at the town meetings.
“She said, ‘If FEMA rebuilds your home it’ll be a $40,000 home. It won’t be brick, and it won’t have your pretty wrap-around porch and it won’t have your pool or you 3-car garage.’ Well that’s fine and dandy but a lot of subdivisions in west have their own rules. Almost every subdivision on that side of town you have to have a brick home! Therefore a FEMA house isn’t doing anyone any good.
“She went into this whole spiel about as long as your living is safe, sanitary and secure, the three S’s, then you are taken care of. Your needs are met. So that was the thing is that ok, well if I build a house that’s safe, sanitary and secure, then you’re not going to help me when I want more than a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house, which is their other stipulation. What about people who have families?
“Most people over there were retired, had raised their kids and built a beautiful home for themselves. Their homes were worth $160,000 and not you’re telling them ‘well you can still be safe sanitary and secure and not need all that stuff.’ That’s not fair to tell anybody. When we told them that they said ‘well it’s not fair that this happened at all.’”
Citizens of West aren’t looking for replaced pools and three-car garages. The money was raised to rebuild homes akin to the ones lost, and to cover the mounting medical bills many injured residents now face. As donors learn their money never made it to those who needed it most, some attempted to retrieve the donations to redistribute through more reliable organizations, like the First United Methodist Church of West. So far no one has succeeded.
“(The donors) didn’t know that there were going to be all these stipulations and all that money was going to be caught in banks for years,” Matus said. “Then they (the LTRC spokespeople) said, said for the first time that the money couldn’t be dispersed because of rules the IRS put into place, that the IRS says you can’t just give out that money, you can’t split it evenly. That was the first time any of them said anything about the IRS. So that’s when everyone started asking, ‘So why aren’t all these donors warned of that fact when they donated? They didn’t know!’
The disbursement board, made up of West residents, but only one affected by the blast, claimed it was too soon to get frustrated, and that the system would work if people appealed their cases to FEMA multiple times if they were rejected, before requesting money from the relief funds for unmet needs. But there simply isn’t time for the people of West to wait for a miracle.
“What is considered to be an unmet need?” Matus said. “We’re rebuilding. We had good insurance, but that went to pay off our mortgage, and then we’re supposed to buy and furnish an entire house? We can’t! We had to take out a loan. We’re going to be ok, but there are so many people who aren’t going to be able to qualify for a loan like we are.”
Like Matus, most of the families in West are struggling to find ways to move forward entirely on their own, taking out loans when they can, and working longer hours and odd jobs to raise a little extra money.
“Basically, that money is going to sit there until the city eventually ‘inherits’ it,” Matus said. “They’ll do what they need to do with it so it won’t reach the citizens in a timely fashion.”
1. Reblog this post. Don’t just reblog it; link to it on your twitter, facebook and forums. Spread it and get your friends to spread it. The more people who share the more people are aware, and the more people who can help us act on this. Someone out there will know what to do.
2. Reach out to your news sources. City papers, online news sources, anything. I’ve been dropping tips but if we send in an overwhelming number of requests to get this covered on local and national media, we’ll have a better chance. If they want a person of contact send them my way and I can get them where they need to be.
3. If you have any funds to donate, send them here, where they will definitely go to help people:
First United Methodist Church
411 W. Pine
West, Texas 76691.
If you run a newspaper and want to run this story, feel free; just put my name on it!
-Caera Thornton

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Generation of No Consequences and Guarantees

How times have changed....

I was listening to a talk show the other day and caught the tail end of what must have been a young man, perhaps just having finished high school or university. He and the host were discussing that with the economic struggles we face today, the lack of jobs, and all of the challenges of our current world that this generation seems to have a much darker view of the future. The question seemed to be that even if he worked hard, how did he know that he was going to succeed? The talk show host had succeeded, obviously, as he's heard all around the country, but how did this young man know he was going to succeed?

That's when the host made a very valid point. He had not been guaranteed success, and neither was this young man.

The earliest days of this country did not have a guarantee, from those that came over on the Mayflower to those that took a stand against unfair taxes without representation to those that fought to abolish slavery to those that took a stand for equal rights of all Americans. They were fighting against the odds, just like the next generations that would follow them, all the way up to the present.

The American Dream has always been that if we work hard, we will succeed. The Declaration of Independence said that we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This country was set up so that we would not be held down by the station of our birth or, theoretically, by the property/financial state of our families.

Today's generation (my generation) tends to want a guarantee of success, and I fear that the next generation may be in for an even ruder wakening than my own. So handled with kid-gloves are children today that when they grow up receiving an award for participation, a gold star even though they did not win, and credit for at least trying on a math problem, they don't understand understand one of the biggest lessons from life: how to learn from failure. Instead, they learn that they can get away with the barest of effort in the things that matter and often outlandish stunts because their "just kids" and the parents will come up with an excuse for them.

I read a terrifying article a few days ago in the Huffington Post about 300 teenagers who broke into a former NFL player's house - unoccupied and on the market - in Stephentown, NY and threw a party. If breaking and entering didn't blow my mind - maybe we do things differently down here in Texas, because while kids throwing a party when their parents are out of town or somewhere with no supervision isn't that far fetched, I can't imagine three hundred kids breaking into this man's house. It just blows my mind.) Okay, so once  you process the fact that they did this, you think that some sort of repercussion will happen, right? It's not like they kept it a secret. They tweeted about it all night long and poor Brian Holloway had to watch it all happen from his home in Florida. I have to give Mr Holloway credit, because I would be furious, but instead he handled the situation with so much grace. He took those pictures, already put out for the world to see, and put them on a site called www.helpmesave300.com. He did not call for punishment, but rather guidance. This is where we see the problem I was talking about a moment ago (you know, no rules, no responsibility and no consequences?): the parents did not demand an apology from their children to Mr Holloway, but instead threatened Mr Holloway for posting the photos on his site that he pulled from Twitter.

We don't hold kids responsible today, just like we don't hold the adults responsible. Why should we? We've raised at least one generation to think that they deserve kudos for giving it a mediocre effort. They tried, right? Isn't that all that it takes? We live in a world of perpetual toddlers, throwing tantrums when they don't get their way. The scary thing is that the toddlers are not small children waving pudgy arms and stamping tiny feet. They are teenagers that have become so calloused to violence that they think that their classmates had it coming when they bring a gun to school or the adult that steals a car or mugs a person in the street because they want what that person had and they're going to take it.

It starts young. There's a fine line between making sure your child has a healthy sense of self-worth and spoiling them rotten, but here's a news flash: if they are caught breaking and entering into a home and throwing a party, stealing and destroying property, etc etc... You might want to have a sit down moment with them.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sticks and Stones

Bully by trix0r
via Flickr creative commons

Do you remember those little phrases that we were taught as children to remind us that words couldn't hurt us? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. My grandmother used to say that people had to have permission to hurt my feelings. That was a good one too. I'm sure there are many more throughout the country, because bullies are nothing new. Most of the time, in my experience, they are people (children or adults) that feel inadequate in some form or fashion. Maybe they weren't hugged enough as children or maybe they feel themselves slipping in a battle of wits. When you get down to it, it rarely matters when you're at the other end of it.

Bullies are nothing new. Today's children see them, yesterday's children, and so on and so on. Sometimes it's a kid on the playground, a boss, or a dictator. When you narrow it down, they're all bullies. It depends on what level of power they're given on how much destruction they can cause.

I think we can all agree that bullying is wrong. There are campaigns and movements to stop bullying with kids, so why is it that our national government strives to teach it day in and day out? These men and women that we've hired - yes, folks, your tax dollars pays for their lifestyle, so don't think for two seconds that we didn't hire them - to represent us have become little more than tantrum throwing children in some cases. I've seen in happened to others and I've been on the receiving end of it. 

Racist. Bigot. Sexist. Closed-minded. Un-accepting . Hateful. Angry. Stupid. 

I'm a bit of an idealist. I'm okay with admitting that. Being an idealist, whenever someone claims to be open-minded, for years I took them at their word. They wanted to have an adult conversation, a debate of ideals, knowing that we weren't going to change each other's minds, but interested to know what an other intelligent human being thought. Perhaps that's not what they meant by "open-minded." Perhaps I don't understand the meaning.

I have a theory that if you step out and say "I believe in [insert your belief here]" and truly believe in it, you cannot believe that anyone else that differs from that opinion is correct. I don't think this is a negative thing. There is a difference, though, in polite disagreement and arrogance. Polite disagreement is where both parties respect each other (granted, you may find the other person's belief to be so far-fetched that you can't bring yourself to respect that, but you can be gracious about it and respect the individual for their right to believe as they do) and show a certain level of maturity about it, even if neither party will ever be swayed by the other. Guess what? That's okay. This country was built for a variety of different beliefs. It's when we start stifling one or two groups that we start hedging on dangerous territory. 

To those liberal Democrats that truly are open-minded, and I have met some, I want to take a moment to thank you. Thank you for breaking the mold. To those that like to lure idealists such as myself into a conversation and when you find something you disagree with break out the insulting phrases above: just say no. It's rude and it's childish to name-call, not to mention that it greatly takes away from the actual meaning of the phrases you use. A person is not a racist for disagreeing with Barack Obama. He would be a racist if he thought that the only reason that the current president shouldn't hold office was because of the color of his skin. When you throw around terms such as this lightly, it degrades the true meaning. A bit like crying wolf. 

Don't be the bully in the ideological and political playground. If you have a valid point to make, then make it. Name calling is what you do when you lose control. We're all guilty of it at some point, but we have to learn to curb that lash-out mentality and debate openly if we are to fix anything in this country. Bullying people into believing as we do is not the answer. Maybe if we start showing respect amongst ourselves we'll start hiring representatives with some respect of their own. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fighting Against the Odds

Some of my favorite stories are about the underdogs and the lost causes. They are about men and women and groups of people that had no hope of succeeding, but they raced forward anyway. They fought the battles, they ran the races, they stood up and spoke of their dreams, even when it seemed like the whole world was against them.

Our country was founded on men and women willing to sacrifice everything without any promise of success. In fact, I can think of more than a few times that we fought with everything that we had and the outcome looked pretty dim. There was no guarantee of glory or fame, and certainly no riches or wealth dangled in front of us. In fact, those that fought in the American Revolution and those that sat in the newly appointed American government stared the possibility of death in the face on a regular basis, and many lost their lives for it, never seeing the final success of that particular struggle.

Think about it. In 1775, before the Declaration was even written, Dr Joseph Warren of Boston died on Bunker hill to protect his home and win freedom. 1776, a young captain in the United States Army named Nathan Hale was hanged for being a spy, trying to help prepare Washington's troops for what lay ahead. Washington retreated more than he pushed forward in the first year of battle, not winning his first major victory until Christmas of 1776 when he made his famous act of crossing the Delaware.

Anyone from Texas? Sometimes I think that the symbol of the old mission has become so widely known on sight that people forget how the Texans lost that one. It was bloody and it was terrible, but do you know what that thirteen day siege in 1836 gained? The Alamo became a rallying cry. It became a driving point for men to fight for freedom against oppression. Remember the Alamo. Remember Goliad. Texas won at San Jacinto and won freedom.

Our entire country stood divided for the Civil War.

 Time and time again we have fought for what we believe in with no guarantee of victory. We have hope, of course, and a courage that was once unshakable, but now it seems we need assurances for the smallest of things. Battles are not fought with guns and bombs alone. Some battles never shed a drop of blood, but they are just as important as those that we fight to save our fellow countryman from dying by the invading sword, so to speak. They are fought for our future and our freedoms.

We've reached a terrible place in this country. The politicians that we elect to represent us care less for those that they work for and more for the congratulatory pat on the back that they get from their fellow politicians. No conviction grounds them. They would rather take a stab at those that they disagree with by making a few comments to a camera than to openly debate where they might get shown up. Now, that's not everyone of course, but it does seem that there are a few Republicans that are a bit nervous to take on one of their own face-to-face after hours on his feet. It's much easier for them, of course, to try to turn the rest of the senate against him. The Democrats have no problem with this, and kudos to them for having the gumption to speak their own beliefs, but I can only say shame on you Senator McConnell, Senator Cornyn, and Senator McCain for your actions the last couple of days. If you're against Obamacare, then fight it. Fight it until you can't speak any longer. Don't just say that you are and then undermine the men and woman that stand up to do something about it.

I've heard more than one person ask what the point of Senator Cruz's 21 hour speech was. I think the fact that people (average citizens and other politicians alike) don't understand the point of standing firm in his convictions and his beliefs, even when victory seems impossible, says a lot about the state of things now. Politicians have less of a moral grounding and more of an interest in their own careers. They see no issue with saying one thing and acting in another way. It's become so common place that the average man or woman in America has become accustomed to it. "They're just politicians. Why should we expect better?" When we don't expect better, we will not pressure them to be better. It is our job, the citizens that vote them in and vote to keep them in, and our responsibility to hold them accountable. Not all senators and congressmen will be willing to look their fellow members in the eye and fight until they are shut down due to time limitations. It is our job as the ones that they are meant to represent to make sure that they are, in the end, representing us. If they are not, they're gone, simple as that.

I'm a Texas girl myself and there was a time that I had a bit more respect for John Cornyn. Perhaps it has to do with perspective. Texas has been shown that someone is willing to fight hard to represent us and Americans in general. Ted Cruz will have my vote as long as he runs, though Cornyn has shown himself to be more talk than action this week. It's nice to say things, Mr Cornyn, better to do. No battle is won by merely wishing to so. You've got to have fight in you. If you've lost that, perhaps it's best to step down and let someone else take your place. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

American Exceptionalism: Pomp and Parade

Fourth of July may be my favorite holiday. I know that's a bit odd, perhaps, with all the others, and certain ones have a special place in my heart, but the Fourth is my favorite. Obviously enough to make me come out of the wood-work and blog, right?

Kaboom Town 2013
Addison, Tx
There's just something about the fireworks,  the singing, the love of country... The whole nation comes together and doesn't worry about differences of opinion or politics or social beliefs. All we know is that we are celebrating something beautiful. And for a few moments as the sky explodes in reds and greens and white, everything is okay.

I've discussed and debated for many long years on the belief that America is exceptional. I suppose I feel that way because I don't believe in coincidence and I don't believe in chance, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. That understanding helps to solidify how I view the beginnings of my country. Too many things have come together over our 237 years (really more if you count what led up to it) to dismiss the sacrifice and the very spirit of freedom and endurance that this nation has developed.

Men that were not fond of the idea of leading again led the country to a great victory (no matter how many retreats). Words were written that paved the way to freedoms for all, even if they could not secure them at the time of their writing. People gave their lives, often not having a chance to see what they fought for coming into reality. They did this against all odds and with no guarantee of success. They had commitment to something great.

As Americans, our foundings should tug at our very souls and remind us who we are, and better yet, who we should strive to be. Will we give into the idea that we can't be any better than the lot that we're dealt when we're born, or will we strive to be great, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us? Will we allow the stories of sacrifice and patriotism to lift our spirits and encourage us to follow in their footsteps and learn what it truly means? I believe that we can and I hope that we do.

So happy Independence Day to you all. I hope you can celebrate it with pride in your heart in being part of an exceptional nation, a beautiful nation that has changed the world in so many wonderful ways. My prayer remains that we continue to change the world for the better and that we are a beacon of light in the darkness, much like the lights in the sky last night and the ones that will fly tonight. Happy Fourth and God bless.

"It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever."
                                                              - John Adams, 1776

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Doing It Right

John Noble and Jasika Nicole's
Fringe panel at Dallas Comic-con
This past weekend I attended the Dallas Comic-con. It was a blast and I thoroughly recommend it. It's crowded and it's just short of chaos, but its also a great deal of fun. Really, when you get down to it, most people are nerds about something. I've got quite a few somethings, but we don't need to detail all of that out here.
One that I will mention, only because it's relative, is the Star Trek Next Generation Panel that I listened in on. There was a little girl in the audience that had come the previous day in full costume as the Borg Queen. Very creative, very cool. She asked her question to the panel and when she had finished the actors were talking with her parents about the creativity that went into the costume and cultivating creativity in children. They  said that the parents were "doing it right."

That seems to be a common phrase lately. Doing it right, but what does it mean?

 I know that I've mentioned, as a writer, that I tend to dwell on words, their meanings, and how their used. Sometimes almost to a paralytic state. I have the personality that when I set out on route to a goal, I want to make sure that I'm doing it right and sometimes that means that I get so bogged down in the idea that I don't move in any direction

It seems like our world is increasingly full of pitfalls and snares that are ready to grab us around the ankles and drag us down. Do my words hold any weight? Have I validated my argument in every way possible? What if I've missed something detrimental because I simply didn't know where to look? How can I do this right?

I'm not sure there's a definite answer for this. (Scary, right?). I may simply be speaking for myself, but I'm not clairvoyant. No matter how many pieces of information I try to gather to make the best decision, there is always the possibility - the probability - that I've missed something. Whether it's research I'm doing for a book, reading up on historical and current news for this blog, trying to figure out the best route for publication, or just conversing with another person: I cannot 100% predict the outcome of an event that has not happened yet. 

So what is doing it right? If we can't pull back the vale of time and peer off into the future for our answers, how do we know? We don't. Sometimes we just have to take a breath, say a little prayer, and not let our fears tie us down. Kristen Lamb says every hard knock is a learning experience

Think about our foundings (you knew it was coming around to this eventually) as Americans. What if Dr Joseph Warren had been unwilling to stand strong while his political mentor Sam Adams was in Philadelphia? What if John Hancock, as a merchant, hadn't been willing to dump the tea? Or if Nathan Hale (and so many others) hadn't been willing to give his life? And what if George Washington had demanded a sure victory in order for him to take command? None of those men knew how it would end. Some didn't even live to see what their sacrifices bought. They had no idea that Americans nearly 240 years later would think they were doing it right. 

So we stand as each generation stands: with fewer answers than we have questions. Those knocks we take, both as individuals and as a nation, make us who we are. Own up to the mistakes and use them to make better choices in the future. Perhaps, God willing, they will look back on us someday and say that we were doing it right.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Free Enough

There's a conversation a little over half way through The Liberty Pole in which one character asks an other "Haven't you ever wanted to be free?" to which the second replies "I'm free enough," and she means it. There is no hesitation, no thought on what that truly means. She is simply free enough.

I've been thinking about that line since jotting it down perhaps three or four years ago. I think the idea originally came from a story my dad used to tell me when I was little about how many people would prefer the promise of one meal a day (or a loaf of bread) than the possibility of more without it being guaranteed. These people preferred dependency, no matter the cost.

So I started thinking: just what does one give up as payment to a government that says "We will cloth you. We will feed you. We will put a roof over your head. We will make sure you are educated in our school systems." The list goes on and on, and if you ask where the money comes from, often there's not a clear understanding of it by the ones taking it. Well, contrary to what some people may think, there's not a stash of money somewhere and a country can't just print new money off any time they please and continue to function. So, if nothing in life is free, as they say, what does one have to give up in order to obtain these things?

It starts out slow, but the more dependent one becomes on the government, the more personal freedoms are ebbed away. All you have to do is look at the tyrannies of the generations before us: freedom of expression is smothered, freedom of belief is hampered, and freedom of choice is eventually taken from you. Once you become dependent on an entity they have the ability to move you in the direction that you wish to go and the chains of oppression weigh you down until they have taken every bit of your will from you. In the end, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to follow in line. One right after another. One step, then two, straight towards the edge of the cliff and on over.

I hold a very firm belief that slavery is not natural. To be oppressed is not a state in which mankind was meant to live upon his creation. Freedom is a worthy goal, and also one of the highest ones we can hope to attain in this life. Those that grab for power at the expense of the people to whom this country belongs would have us believe we are free. They would have us be like Ellie, the woman in the novel that believes she is "free enough," and to go through life with the blinders fixed well so that we might not see what is happening around us and the cotton stuffed deeply in our ears so we might not hear. All the while they promise bigger and better things if we'll just give a little more of that freedom away. If we'll consent that we are free enough, even if we're not free at all. They tell us everything will be alright and they smile while they snap the cuffs on our wrists, hang the weights down on the chains, and march us straight over that cliff.

"When liberty is the prize, who would shun the warfare? Who would stoop to waste a coward thought on life? We esteem no sacrifice too great, no conflict too severe, to redeem our inestimable rights and privileges." 
                                                                         Dr. Joseph Warren, 1774