Saturday, June 14, 2008



(June 14, Hills, IA) There is often a disorienting incongruity associated with catastrophe. One of the most vivid recent examples was September 11, 2001 in New York City. It was a gorgeous day and the weather remained magnificent as the daunting tasks of the recovery got under way. It was hard to believe while standing in those 16 acres of heaping, smoldering destruction and death that the weather was perfect.

Here, in this small community south of Iowa City the incongruity is similar. The skies are clear with an occasionally wispy, cotton white cloud drifting by. The sun shines, the humidity is low, and the winds are minimal. Yet, activity abounds and it is not recreational. The whine and growl of various types of heavy equipment is ubiquitous and, from any point in this town a tractor pulling a small trailer loaded with sandbags can be seen. From a high enough altitude it probably appears to be an ant colony dutifully performing their tasks. But, from the ground, no such benign metaphor is apt. There is an ocean of water north of here and soon – nobody can say how soon – it is expected to be here. So, on this gorgeous Saturday in June the folks here and in hundreds of similar communities in the region are diligently engaged in fortifying their town, their homes and lives against the continually rising waters that have inundated the big towns to the north, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

Resources appear to be plentiful; manpower is clearly not an issue. Somehow without a hierarchical authoritarian influence, organization has emerged. This is the textbook manifestation of Chaos Theory: out of chaos, order has emerged. Certainly, there are folks in charge but the operation has taken on a rhythm of its own. Residents and volunteers from neighboring communities just seem to find what needs to be done without asking.

There is a very practical sense to the efforts. Sandbags are filled, loaded onto small trailers, pick up trucks and every other type of vehicle that can be found in a rural farming community. They are hauled out to the dyke that is being constructed and, ever so slowly, the dyke rises. A trench, actually it is more akin to a moat, has been bulldozed north of the dyke which, from that side, gives it the appearance of a primitive, relatively imposing structure. This is it; this is what the folks here will be depending on to deflect what could be a tidal wave of fast moving water as it rushes south. If it doesn’t hold, if the moat fails to shunt enough of the floodwaters east towards the Iowa River, it will certainly not be due to lack of effort.

The one item most notably absent in Hills is information; reliable, valid, practical information. There are just too many variables and no past experiences with a 500 year flood. There was a meeting held in the Hills Community Center last evening and attendance was impressive. The scant factual information provided by the Mayor left most as uncertain afterwards as they were prior to then meeting. “The only reason I went was because I thought there would be someone from the sate or FEMA, somebody who knew what the hell they were talking about”, said one disgusted resident as he climbed back into his sparkling new Ford F-250.

Others expressed the same sentiment. They left the Community Center as the sun began its gentle arc into the west. They were all heading back out to the dyke or to their own places to continue the sandbagging effort. The only information anyone here knows for sure is that water, a good deal of water is poised just to the north and soon will be coming this way.

Special contributor, Gino Fannucci, providing exclusive flood coverage, writing for TBC.

Copyright TBC 2008 © All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 13, 2008


It’s Not The River, It’s The Creek

(June 12, Hills, IA) In a matter of hours the threat to this small town south of Iowa City had changed. It had changed dramatically. This unremarkable residential community, probably no larger in area than 3 square New York City blocks, was in peril. The 700 or so residents of this enclave found themselves in the line of fire - the line of water - actually. Hills had not flooded in 1993. However, as a comforting point of reference, that was of no use. The water is going to come. Perhaps it will not be tonight or tomorrow but, surely, it will arrive.

With the Iowa River approximately one quarter of a mile from the center of this burg without a traffic light, municipal water or anything that would give it an identity beyond it’s designated exit off US Highway 218, the river was not the imminent threat. The threat was from the north and west; a creek, a waterway that some of the locals refer to as “the old riverbed”, “a tributary” or simply “the creek”, that was going to be the path of least resistance for the unprecedented waters rapidly moving south. Cedar Rapids, north by 20 miles or so was taking a beating, the water was rising and there was no end in sight. It, “The Flood of 2008” was coming this way.

Despite it’s name, there is not a hill in Hills Iowa. Some points are higher than others, but, relatively speaking, given the present circumstances, that does not amount to much. A stranger arriving in this insulated town is as noticeable as a skinhead in Harlem. Blending in is simply not possible. Everyone here knows everyone else as well as their second and third cousins. Many of the residents are related by blood, marriage or taboo. This is a tight community and, by gosh, they are not going to wash away in the torrents without a fight.

The media does not often, if ever, come to Hills. Usually, if a local affiliate or newspaper dispatches a reporter here, it is not good news. The last time Hills saw a “media blitz’ was when perchlorate was discovered as a contaminant in their drinking water. The EPA set up shop, drilled a bunch of holes and came to an ambiguous conclusion. Most residents place the blame for the groundwater contaminant on the doorstep of Stutsman, Inc. Stutsman, Inc is a large agribusiness with a long history in this town. Folks here either love them or hate them: most seem to hate them.

In any event, approaching the ‘Hills City Garage’ or City Hall or whatever they call it, the dozens of people milling around in front of the 3 bay, gray sided, pole building, are idle. They say they have run out of sand. Sand, to fill bags, certainly is a premium commodity presently throughout Iowa and the Midwest. They have already accomplished a great deal. Their plan is to construct a plastic and sandbag dike along the northern and eastern border of town. Somebody, apparently, has specifications for this dike from some local, state or federal agency.

Once up on the sandbag line, the rain increases from a mere drizzle to a downpour. Clusters of people mill around, those groups that still have sandbags on hand continue to build what they hope will be , a protective structure.

It is hot and humid. The rain feels hot. Some folks appear as if they have been at this arduous, somewhat desperate task for many hours. Others seem to have just showed up to watch and ‘visit’. If any of those present experience a sense of futility in their efforts, they don’t reveal it. Especially not to an outsider.

Young and old take part in the effort. The mood is oddly serene. The only individuals who appear to be excited, if not actually enjoying themselves, are the members of the Hills Volunteer Fire Department. Apparently, and according to some of the more vocal sandbaggers, these guys live for this crap. They thrive on other folks misery. Indeed, local First Responders across the nation play a pivotal, a vital role in their communities. But, in a place like Hills all they do is meet, train, drill, drink beer and wait...oh how they will wait...for some mission. The bulk of these volunteers are solid citizens truly committed to serving their community. A small group of them, some, grossly obese and boisterous, have found a void-filling activity. These are the guys strutting around in HFD t-shirts; driving around rapidly in HFD vehicles. They have assumed some measure of authority by virtue of their membership; they have found a way to be a bit “above’ the average Hills-ite. Despite the fact that the potential for massive destruction here is real, they are having a blast.

As the darkness deepens from heavy, moisture laden low clouds to actual night time, the thunderstorms roll in. The rainfall is impressive as is the electrical display provided by malicious lightning. The sandbaggers, bag fillers, observers, tractor drivers and all the rest head for home. The morning will either valid or mock their efforts.

Farley Marsden writing a subjective, observation-based commentary from Hills, Iowa for TBC
Copyright TBC 2008 © All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 12, 2008


What’s In A Name?

TBC will be providing on the ground coverage from our Cynyx in Iowa and surrounding states. As some of you may recall, we had several Cynyx covering the Iowa caucus. One actually lives in Iowa. Another, we sent there for the Caucus and he remained. He had been incarcerated, recently released, so he’s good to go. Of course other Cynyx will be contributing their reporting, perspective and opinion as usual.

(June 12, Cosgrove, IA)

The last 500 year flood was followed by the last 100 year flood which actually occurred 15 years ago. So what, a flood is a flood: 500 years, 100 years, last year. It really does not matter when what was once dry land surrounding you now is an endless expanse of rippling water. Actually the 500 and 100 year terms are often mistaken. They do not represent the frequency of the flood rather what the probability is, the likelihood that such a flood occur within those periods of time. So, according to NOAA and others, the present conditions here, and other parts of Iowa, conspire as such only one time every 500 years. Ergo, once and only once, per 500 years, will these particular variables coalesce to produce a flood of this particular scale and scope. It’s about the magnitude of the event, not the interval between occurrences. Of course, so it is for the 100 year variant.

Now, that’s out of the way, where have we gotten? There is water here, a lot of water. Water in the fields; water over roads. A whole lot of water. But, you already knew that.

The current video images coming out of the Midwest are certainly dramatic. The flash flood is a dramatic, traumatic, acute destructive force that transforms lives and landscapes quickly. Aerial images show houses washing away empowered by torrents of fast moving muddy waters. Herds of cattle stand tightly packed on a small island of relatively high ground.

Not as dramatic, far more insidious is the flood that’s coming. Initially the only indications that trouble may be pending are visual. Driving to and from work occasionally crossing a bridge spanning a benign rural creek, the creek seems higher, wider. Looking out at the fields the first sign is standing water. Day by day the standing water increases, the creeks swell and the rivers; they change in character. Faster moving currents soon become menacing as the acres of standing water begin to expand until they are contiguous with overflowed creeks and the dangerously swollen river. Something is not right.

More attention is paid to weather reports, forecasts and predictions. Suddenly there are a great deal of numbers involved, unfamiliar numbers; not just temperature, humidity and wind speed. Now it’s all about flood stages, levee heights, and crests. This becomes a flash flood played out in ultra slow motion. Inch by inch, foot by foot the waters expand, the currents become angrier and the landscape is transformed. Normally endless rows of corn and beans would be seen emerging from the dark soil. Now, it is all about water. The questions and concerns shift as well. The issue is no longer ‘when will it recede’ but ‘how high will it get’? Points of reference are consulted, estimations made based on local lore more than science. How deep was it in that field in ’93? When did they open the spillway at the dam back then? Answers are as varied as are memories. Points of reference provide little, if any, comfort.

Practical matters assume an uncommon urgency. Water, food, sandbags…what will need to be done to prepare? Personal possessions are thoughtfully assessed. Would I miss that? What should definitely be protected, removed, taken if evacuation is in order? As the water rises, as the rains continue, things begin to grow ominously to the north: up river, up stream, up above where ever it may be that is yours. Everything runs south and if it’s that bad now ‘up there’; by next week we’ll be in trouble down here.

And so it goes. The weather forecasters become more animated, the predictions more dire, local government agencies begin to mobilize. There is nothing “flash” about this maddening wait for the inevitable. Meanwhile, it the rains continue. Reports from other part from other parts of the state and region tell of other floods, tornados, hail, damaging winds and the sudden, tragic loss of life and property. The power of nature, once full exerted, can do what she will.

World wide, natural disasters occur. Learned experts in a variety of scientific disciplines understand the causes and affects, the events in technical terms. Some events are acute. An earthquake just suddenly happens. Or does it? Do long dormant volcanoes just suddenly blow? Perhaps there is no “acute” weather or seismic event; all either have precursors or are by products of larger systemic disturbances. Everything is connected, right? The famous “Butterfly Effect”, writ large. A distant shudder among tectonic plates far beneath a vast sea and a tsunami is born. A slowly assembling tropical depression merges with high water temperatures, winds and other variables in its evolution towards landfall as a massive hurricane. The rumbling whirling dervish that is a tornadic funnel cloud is spawned by the collision of fronts with input from radiating surface heat and the contours of the topology. Indeed: nothing in nature appears to be acute anywhere.

Meanwhile, sandbags are filled, and more sandbags are filled. Piles of sandbags appear like hoards of bloated locusts in Biblical proportions. Evacuations begin as this roadway or that becomes impassable. Water. Water in amounts, weights, water on a scale and scope in places considered ‘land’ as impressive as it is malignant. It won’t suddenly go away, it will not leave without a fight; it will have its way as sure as the earth turns.

Copyright TBC 2008 © All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 11, 2008



(June 11, Everywhere, USA) During an unusually candid interview with reporters of The Times of London, President George W. Bush admitted to having a “regret”, or maybe, two. Whatever it is that constitutes a ‘regret’ scurrying around the vast openness of Bush’s cranium, they pale in comparison to those of the American people. Some citizens’ regrets are more profound than others. Indeed, they should be. Perhaps those moms and dads who permitted their sons and daughters to fight in a war of choice have a regret or two. How many of their children were killed in Iraq, how many have returned home minus limbs, abilities, and futures? Certainly the Iraqi people may harbor some regrets about our invasion and occupation of their country so our misguided, delusional imbecile in the White House could help “spread democracy.”

Regrets, Mr. President? There are oceans of them. Oddly, the only regrets Georgie admitted to The Times had to do with how he is viewed by others, by the world and his legacy. It’s all about him; always was, always will be. The Times reporters, Tom Baldwin and Gerard Baker, were able to extract several nuggets of truth from a man more accustomed to lying. All the lies, deceptions and manipulative tactics have, by now, largely been exposed. Some have been revealed a leak, a declassified document, an anonymous source at a time while others have come crashing down on the American public en masse. The landscape of the past seven plus years is a veritable lie and regret strewn wasteland.

Mr. Bush is quoted in The Times saying, “The great thing about the American scene is the president gets to set the tone for foreign policy.” This may be a “great” thing to W, but it has been a tragic, catastrophe for all of us since day one. The “tone” W chose to set was one of unprecedented arrogance, belligerence, and loyalty to single-minded zealots in his administration. The only ‘tone’ W paid heed to was the whispering in his ear of the neo-cons and his boss, Dick Cheney, who came to office with an agenda for ‘foreign policy’ awaiting fulfillment. They clearly got their wish, while we have paid, and will continue to pay, staggering prices. We have paid in blood, life and limbs. We have paid in national treasure, economic stability and global credibility. Perhaps it will be years before we fully recognize what this presidency has cost us.

This administration’s foreign policy has been virtually one-dimensional (“…You’re either with us or against us…”) since Colin Powell left the State Department. Condoleezza Rice has been, perhaps, the most useless of all those ever to be Secretary of State. Devoid of diplomatic efforts on many important fronts, W’s presidency has earned a distinction that will certainly be a prominent feature in his legacy; we have had no foreign policy, no active engagements where they have been desperately needed and no standing or credibility as an “honest broker” on the world stage.

Despite this stark reality and as further proof of his idiocy, (not that any further proof is necessary), George W told The Times, “My focus in the remaining time of my presidency is to leave behind a series of structures that makes it easier for the next president to be able to deal with the problems he is going to face.” Since virtually every problem, foreign as well as domestic, our next president will face is of George’s own making. If the problems do not have the Bush fingerprints all over them, they certainly have thrived under his watch.

Using the question made famous by Ronald Reagan while he was running against Jimmy Carter in 1980, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Most Americans would be likely to answer with a resounding “NO”! Some of our fellow American’s might be inclined to insert several colorful modifiers in front of their emphatic “No” such as the folks who lived in New Orleans as Katrina did her damage while our government’s response was shameful, or a former patient at Walter Reed, or the wife of a serviceman on his fourth deployment who has to collect food stamps to survive in his absence. Probably any parent trying to provide health insurance would be inclined to add a profanity or two and any one buying gasoline today would answer similarly. By every economic indicter, proven in poll after poll after poll, George W. Bush has been a monumental disaster for our country and an absolute failure as a United States President.

Ironically, as The Times reporters were interviewing Mr. Bush, 35 articles for the impeachment of Mr. Bush had been read into the record on the floor of the House of Representatives. Ohio Democratic Congressman, Dennis Kucinich’s resolution to impeach Mr. Bush is highly unlikely to see life beyond its symbolic punch. However, it stands as a stark measure of just how disconnected to reality our current president is. The 35 articles for impeachment, as read by Mr. Kucinich, are largely valid and would, in another time and place in our history be acted upon, the Congress as a whole has been complicit, negligent and cowardly during George W’s entire time in office.

With less than 150 days remaining before Americans elect a new president, Mr. Bush has as much of a chance to do anything beneficial, let alone have a real impact in foreign or domestic policy, as he does for becoming the unified heavyweight champion of the world. Perhaps that is a poor metaphor: W certainly has been a heavyweight in taking us into needless war, running us into debt and so many other infamous precedents. But, the word “unifier” will most certainly not ever be associated with him or his abysmal presidency.

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