As the rivers converge and and the crest moves south, national efforts to shore up our levees ought to look like someone is building the pyramids. They don't, and eight more midwestern levees broke last night. As did the New Orleans levees which brought me back to the Midwest in the first place.
A stepped up levee repair effort, if not from common kindness, should be from fear of a $25 corndog, or soy latte which could also be priced out of the market as soybean fields wash away along with some of the nation's best topsoil. Reuters describes the loss of 5 million acres of farms with no end in sight, so I propose that since, as President, Barack Obama will begin bringing the troops home as soon as the Lame Ducks clear out, why not start now and bring enough enough National Guard brigades home to fortify the levees and keep the nation's food supply viable? Without our wheat fields, there's no crust on anyone's apple pie for the Fourth of July. Right now in small towns across the prairie, prisoners and volunteers are doing much of the work. There can't be too much of a carrot and stick system of rewards for quality sandbagging when you're already in prison.
Central Illinois farmland has been known as Little Egypt since the Dust Bowl when it offered some of the only viable farms still producing food for the nation. Because of this, my hometown newspaper was nicknamed Egypt's Greatest Daily, with a sculpture of the Sphinx on the front of the building. My mother used to describe the days when a hobo (can you still say hobo?) would knock on the door and ask for food. "They always had interesting stories," she said. Then they would be invited to sleep in the barn, warm because of all the dairy cows. Farmers are generous by nature.
And now they need our help. If enough hometown Guard troops are brought back in this emergency, helicopters could drop more sandbags on the levees to save thousands of acres of farmland at risk. They tried helicopter drops in New Orleans but it was too late. Post-Katrina, local National Guardsmen could only come home from Iraq if a family member died in the storm, and Louisiana had the communications brigade which would have been invaluable when cell towers were down and you couldn't get a call out to your family to see if they survived.
Kafkaesque at Best
The insult to injury of Heckofa Job Brownie, the flyover, lighting up downtown for a press conference then unplugging the generators and leaving are what I hope these farmers do not have to go through. FEMA is already giving flood survivors Small Business Administration packets. Post-Katrina, the SBA eventually stated it was not equipped to handle disaster relief, and the system is still Kafkaesque at best.
FEMA called us last month and offered to reimburse moving expenses if we go back to New Orleans by August. My husband pointed out that our moving expenses were not reimbursed from almost three years ago when we loaded our possessions into a truck and left the flooded neighborhood. They told him that program is no longer viable. Then sent a letter saying it was still viable. The letter was dated November. As far as the Road Home Program, The Louisiana Recovery Agency has just announced that in its defense, it was designed to be slow, which the Huffington Post's tireless New Orleans advocate Harry Shearer describes.
There have been bright spots thanks to agencies like the Salvation Army during the long evacuation. They opened their warehouse and we gathered clothes to send home to my in-laws who left New Orleans for a week and were gone for months. Back then, the compromised port, oil spills into the Gulf's Dead Zone, and potential loss of heritage of one of the great American cities led to an immediate response from individuals around the world.
But if this disaster mirrors ours, over time an increasing amount of, "Why did you live in a potential ______ (insert flood plain, tornado, wildfire, drought)?" comments will begin to be posted by psych ops trolls for hire, and farmers whose fields flooded 1000 acres away from the levee will have to read them.
Or not - they have better things to do and their power is out.
The Semantics of Liability
There are already spokespeople whose semantics about placing blame could make a difference in billions of dollars worth of liability. Army Corps spokesman Michael Walsh told the Today show, "We do need to work on our infrastructure in this country and certainly levees as well." He gets the No Shit, Sherlock Award. New Orleans levees were never overtopped.
CNN reports that the Mississippi Valley Army Corps claimed that today's flood surge is from overtopping, but local officials informed CNN that the levee breached in two places. "We were very, very disappointed that this levee broke today," Patti Thompson of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency told CNN. Her words will carry much weight as some of the best topsoil in the nation washes away.
By Saturday the water's crest will pass St. Louis, already in danger of losing its beer.
Perhaps in this latest series of infrastructure failure, the safety nets will be better designed and the nation's sympathy will not turn to resentment so soon. Rural America has always supplied much of our volunteer army. It is long past the time to bring the soldiers home to help save their family farms if, as we say in the heartland, the good lord's willing and the creek don't rise.