stop me if you’ve heard this one before

Jun 20, 2008 by

>Yes, please do stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Because the punch line stinks.
Spoiler alert:

(photo by Louis Maistros, copyright 2006)

The italic bits are from the Associated Press, June 14, 2008. Stay with me. I’m trying to sort this out for myself as I go.

“The dark, filthy water that flooded Iowa’s second-largest city finally started to recede Saturday after forcing 24,000 people to flee, but those who remained were urged to cut back on showering and flushing to save the last of their unspoiled drinking water.”

This does sound familiar, but keep going, maybe it’s just kinda-sorta familiar but not really.

“President Bush was briefed on the flooding in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest while he was in Paris, and was assured that federal agencies are making plans to help people affected by the high water…”

Yes, this does ring a bell. Because I remember how it was ok to do very little, way too late, or, really, nothing at all, as long as a person in a position of ultimate authority told us they have been officially assured by some vague figure employed by a vaguely referenced government agency that someone who knows someone is most assuredly (if vaguely) making plans to do something, vaguely, about this currently very specific and not vague-at-all problem that’s destroying lives, homes and families right here in the good old USA even as I type this. It’s like a memory of a dream of a memory of a plan of a dream of plan of a plan. Shit, I’m getting dizzy here. But wait, there’s more…

“He expressed his concern for people who may still be in danger and for those who are hurting from the impact of the storms…”

Yes, I clearly remember a fleeting warm fuzzy feeling that manifested itself in the midst of a traveling nervous breakdown. It hit me fuzzily on the road to God knows where after hearing widespread reports of genuine heartfelt concern from the president – but the feeling came and went so quickly I’m not sure if it was real or a dream now. Keep going, it’s a sort of déjà vu, but I need to be sure…

“The levee broke in two places,” said Keithsburg Alderman George Askew, 76. “We’re getting under water.”

OK, this part I remember.

“Since I’ve been involved in public office we’ve not seen this kind of devastation,” Obama said of the Midwest flooding. He vowed to push the federal and state governments to provide needed aid to the stricken areas.

Oh, Senator Obama; you wound me, sir. You know I love you, baby, but I’m pretty sure you were “involved in public office” in August of 2005. But thank you so much for noticing the Iowa flood, and for vowing to “push” for help there, and I hope you remember this one in three years time. I hear you even filled a few sandbags for the cameras – you’re catching on quick to this campaign trail stuff; good for you. If only you remembered about the 2005 thing, if only anyone “in pubic office” remembered, maybe things would be going a little smoother over in Iowa right now. You know, all that “we must learn from history or be doomed to repeat it” horseshit?

“Things happened really fast,” said Toby Hunvemuller of the Army Corps of Engineers. “We tried to figure out how high the level would go. Not enough time. We lost ground.”

Yes, that I remember as well. These things do happen very fast, don’t they? It’s why all these vague plans and preparations need to be a little less vague. But still, it’s nice to know the folks in charge of this stuff are at least very concerned. Really, all that concern after the fact just fixes everything right up. In fact, all you need is love. This must be true because I heard it in a song once.

And here is that stank-ass punch line that I hoped never to hear again, or, as my friend John Doheny says, the money quote:

“Authorities knew the aging levee near Birdland, a working-class, racially diverse neighborhood, was the weakest link among the city’s levees. A 2003 Corps report called for nearly $10 million in improvements across Des Moines, but there wasn’t enough federal money to do all the work.”

Bada bing, bada bang, bada boom. And there it is. Total recall. Just like here, they knew this was coming and did nothing. Even AFTER what happened here, so freshly in everyone’s minds, knowing full well how bad it can get.

The real kick in the pants is that, according to the “Corps Report” mentioned by AP, all Iowa needed to prevent this heartbreaking disaster was $10 million. Does that seem like a lot of money? Guess what, its’ not. Louisiana needs billions. $10 million is chicken feed. Bill Gates lost $10 million dollars while sneezing this morning and didn’t even miss it. It came right out his left nostril along with a Cheerio or two. This could have been prevented with relative ease.

There was “not enough federal money to do all the work?”

The war in Iraq costs US taxpayers $341.1 million dollars PER DAY.

All Iowa needed was $10 million to prevent catastrophic flooding that the authorities KNEW was bound to happen. 10 million dollars is the equivalent of a 20 minute coffee break in “the war on terror.”

Does widespread devastation at home not count as “terror”? For chrissakes, will someone get a cup of coffee already?

Are we really that much more afraid of a handful of psychopaths armed with box cutters than we are of a potentially endless series of ticking time bombs built by our own government and planted on our own soil?

You know, we in the gulf region like to take a small comfort in believing that what happened here in 2005 might not have been in vain if only those in power were to take the lesson learned, do their goddamn jobs, and try very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again – here or anywhere else.

My heart goes out to the people in Iowa whose lives have been needlessly devastated this past week. I won’t play the “our disaster was bigger than your disaster game” because that game is bullshit. If you lost a loved one, or a home, or a livelihood, then you can give a rat’s ass about the statistics. It’s just a bunch of fucking numbers. The bottom line is this: it happened. And it didn’t have to.

One can only hope that the levees in Iowa are at least not stuffed with old newspaper as they apparently are here.

I hate to say what I feel I must say. Forgive me, but here it is:

For those who lined up to laugh at and mock the people of New Orleans for their “stupidity” in living in a city below sea level, who said shit like, “why don’t they all just get up and move to higher ground?”, that we should move from a place called home, a place we love, a place that existed and thrived a hundred years before America was even born – can you really look at what happened in Iowa and still believe all or any of that heartless bullshit you threw at us? Wouldn’t it be more productive to simply take a massive crap in your own hat?

The common thread here isn’t in the unpredictability of Mother Nature. The common thread is the bad, incomplete, poorly designed, poorly implemented, and badly kept structures brought to you by our own Army Corps of Engineers. And the jackasses in Congress, in the Senate, and in the White House who refuse again and again to give money back to taxpayers in the form they need it most; towards the basic protection of American citizens in their own homes.

This time it was a levee. Last time it was levee. Next time it might be a bridge. Or a highway. Or a damn. I bet you have one of those near you, wherever you are in America.

The Army Corps of Engineers is immune from prosecution for their actions or inactions; even if the damage is ruled malicious, even if they knowingly create faulty structures; lie about it, then actively covers up these facts. There need to be new laws on the books that hold them, and all government agencies, accountable for their actions. Otherwise they can do whatever the hell they want and thumb their noses at us while they snicker behind our backs and tell us how concerned they are about our shattered lives.

You are probably thinking: What can I do except hope it isn’t me next?

If you really believe there’s nothing you can do, the jig is up. The bad guys win. Game over.

Please don’t ask me for instructions. Use your imagination.

(Note: Click here for the full article quoted in this entry)


Cross-posted from These Things May Not Be Right, But They Are True.

The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros is due for publication from The Toby Press in Spring 2009.

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