Death and honor in a crippled nuke plant (5×8 – 3/16/11)

Small stories in a big disaster, Wisconsin’s controversy that won’t die, living on a welfare card, preparing for floods, and should football be eliminated from high school.


1) THE 50

Fifty people are trying again to keep a nuclear power plant in Japan from melting down. One of them told a CBS News “consultant” that they’re not afraid to die. That’s their job.

“The longer they stay the more dangerous it becomes for them,” said expert Margaret Harding. “I think it is a testament to their guts for them to say, ‘We’ll stay and if that means we go, we go.'”

The New York Times says officials are only partially acknowledging their role here is to sacrifice themselves:


The workers are being asked to make escalating — and perhaps existential — sacrifices that so far are being only implicitly acknowledged: Japan’s Health Ministry said Tuesday it was raising the legal limit on the amount of radiation to which each worker could be exposed, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, five times the maximum exposure permitted for American nuclear plant workers.

In the appropriate rush to describe just how big the disaster is, it’s often easy to ignore these “smaller” stories about the character of people. There are many emerging.

A 24-year old American walked for 20 hours to try to find his girlfriend:

Allison Colby’s North Dakota family has finally heard from her, the Fargo Forum reports.

She teaches English in Japan and the family hadn’t heard from her since about 45 minutes after the earthquake last week. But yesterday she was able to get a text message to her family. Reporters are — reportedly — trying to help her get back home, the paper says.

Scot Eaton, a Duluth native, quit his job the other day. He thought it more important to help crisis teams in Japan than continue to teach English there, the Associated Press says.

2) BACK TO WISCONSIN

The world has mostly moved on from Madison, Wisconsin. But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker held a meeting at a business in Hudson yesterday after his big win over public employee unions. The Uptake shot this video indicating the controversy isn’t over:

Hudson Patch has more images here. Patch also provides the governor’s full remarks:

3) FEEDBACK: LIVING ON A WELFARE CARD

We got several e-mails about Madeleine Baran’s fine story yesterday examining whether it’s true that Minnesota’s welfare cards are used for things they shouldn’t be used for. Most of them were stories like this from a woman in Golden Valley:

I am a single parent of 2 boys, a full time student, and work very few hours this semester and last due to a very demanding internship. My ex-husband’s financial situation has changed and he has been behind on his child support since last September. Prior to this I was a recipient of Food Support and Medical Assistance. Because I stopped receiving the $600 a month we relied on for most of our rent, I had to seek additional assistance. I won’t even get into my frustration with the DWP program and requirements of looking for work 35 hours a week and getting absolutely no credit for college (I graduate in May).

Finally, I am now receiving MFIP-Cash Assistance plus Food Support. I do not receive enough to pay my entire rent and I’ve been on the Section 8 waiting list for 3+ years. There are very few rent assistance programs, mostly emergency type of assistance where an eviction notice is required. This only creates undo stress on an alr eady overly stressed out family.

My frustration with this story is that this Republican did not even do her homework. Majority of Cash Benefit recipients use their Cash to pay their rent. In the latter part of the story you pointed out that it is impossible to purchase alcohol and cigarettes. Is it really worth the time and money to police the very few that ‘abuse’ their benefits? Even by shutting down the ATMs in liquor stores, a person can go to another ATM. This is so not worth the time when the majority of the poor are only trying to SURVIVE..wondering every month if they are going to have a place to live. I think the efforts could be focused in a much more productive way.

I worked for a corporation for 17 years so I have been on the other side with a more comfortable life. This experience has given me more education than any classroom. And I personally know I can have that life again, many of the poor who have always been poor do not know what’s possible. Perhaps money can be focused on posit ivity rather than stereotypes. Thank you for your time.

We’re all appreciative of our News Cut readers who shared their state worker paychecks with us in Monday’s 5×8, as part of the coverage of attempts to have them pay more for their benefits. Find them here.

4) TOUGH TIMES TOUGHER

Thousands of people over the years have found food and housing in Duluth thanks to Loaves and Fishes. “We believe in taking personal responsibility for the needs of the world,” the group’s mission statement on its Web site says. But tough times have hit organizations that help people during tough times. The group is closing one of its three homes, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

5) TIME TO DROP FOOTBALL?

Is it time for high schools to get out of the sports business? NPR commentator Frank Deford argues against the notion, except for one sport: football, the redeeming quality of which is becoming more difficult to find.

Bonus: For those of us planning to cover Minnesota flooding in the next few weeks, it’s hard to know where we should be heading. The Red River is the poster child for spring flooding, but the region has made so many anti-flood improvements in recent years that the effect of flooding may be less severe this year. The Twin Cities, however, isn’t quite as used to this sort of thing. They’re sandbagging in Stillwater in Afton, and the roads are closing in South St. Paul, where the flood wall/levy is being buttressed. In the Zumbro Falls area, they’re still trying to recover from last fall’s flooding. In the southwest metro, the Minnesota River could hit flood stage by this weekend.

We do know the rivers will be much more full this year than last; that’s disconcerting considering this video uploaded in the last week by the Padelford company in St. Paul.

For the record, the Mississippi’s flood stage in St. Paul is 14 feet (even at that level, it doesn’t cause significant problems). This morning, the river is at 4.4 feet. And rising.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Republican legislators want to hold spending to current levels to address Minnesota’s fiscal problems; Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton wants to raise taxes on upper-income Minnesotans. What’s the best way to close Minnesota’s budget deficit?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Japanese officials race the clock to contain radiation, five days after the earthquake damaged some of its nuclear plants. What impact is this having on meeting America’s energy needs and addressing global warming?

Second hour: New York Times columnist David Brooks has long been fascinated with the inner workings of the human mind. He discusses his new book, “The Social Animal,” which explores the interactions of the conscious and subconscious and the role of each in shaping our lives.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Bush Foundation President Peter Hutchinson takes questions about Minnesota’s long-term budget outlook. His foundation recently co-sponsored a series of public meetings on the subject.

Second hour: Historian Jeremi Suri lays out five key events that shaped America’s relationship with the Middle East. He spoke recently in St. Paul.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Sen. Tim Carpenter, one of the Wisconsin Democrats who left the state rather than vote on a bill stripping public employees of most of their bargaining rights. Also, Republican Majority Leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald.

Second hour: TBD (likely the latest from Japan)

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - Many people were surprised to hear Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaking with what sounded like a southern accent last week at an event in Iowa. Some have even criticized him for not being true to himself as he seeks Republican votes. What did he sound like and what does he have to say about it? MPR’s Mark Zdechlik will have the story.

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