Blast on the Levee

May 3, 2011

Last night, the Corps of Engineers blew a hole in the Birds Point Levee to allow the Mississippi to discharge into a huge, flat area of farmland.  The outlet is intended to cause the river level to drop, protecting the town of Cairo, IL, and relieving stress on downstream levees during this time of torrential Spring rains.

The image below shows the western levee (yellow line) that forms the boundary of the floodway area which extends eastwards from there to the Mississippi.  The dynamiting of the levee was part of a plan, used once before in the 1930s, after the floodway was constructed in response to the disastrous flood of 1927.

Naturally, the few hundred people who live and work in the floodway were not pleased with the decision of the Corps, and the plan was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.  Ahem…why were they living there?  The government had purchased flood easements from them.  As this blogger notes

… noted that state and local policy in Missouri, which somehow allowed about 100 houses to be built in the floodway, shares blame.  In the 1980’s I worked as a river scientist in Missouri.  I ran into strong Libertarian leanings, and some of the most hard-core of those folks farm land protected by big Federal levees.  Who want government to leave them alone.

Yes, the feds should spend millions to protect the land, pay for easements, but never, ever carry out a plan that is part of the original purpose of the levees in the first place.  Libertarian sentiment dovetails nicely with self-interest.

Photo by Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Tom Paine, Libertarian. NOT!

April 5, 2008

Poor Tom Paine! He was all for the French Revolution, and travelled to Paris to support it, but was nearly guillotined for his trouble! In his own land, with the post-revolution religious revival under way, he was reviled as a free-thinking atheist, though he was a Deist who denouced as wrongheaded those who denied the existence of a Supreme Creator (I beg to differ…) And today? He is the favorite of right wing libertarians, many of which can be found spouting off here and there around the Internet.

When I hear so-called “conservatives” say that they are against people being “forcibly taxed” to support things that some others have decided is a public good, I am reminded of Lenin’s characterization of anarchists as “infantile.” Not that I’m a Leninist, but he had a point – and these libertarians are similarly situated on the maturation-politico spectrum. In other words, like so many of us, they want something for nothing, though they will not admit it.

The excerpt below is from an essay Tom Paine wrote for the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1782. Would that it were read more widely by students of American politics and history (emphasis added):

It is a pity but some other word beside taxation had been devised for so noble and extraordinary an occasion, as the protection of liberty and the establishment of an independent world. We have given to a popular subject an unpopular name, and injured the service by a wrong assemblage of ideas.A man would be ashamed to be told that he signed a petition praying that he might pay less than his share of the public expense, or that those who had trusted the public might never receive their money; yet he does the same thing when petitions against taxation, and the only difference, that by taking shelter under the name, he seems to conceal the meanness he would otherwise blush at.Is it popular to pay our debts, to do justice, to defend an injured and insulted country, to protect the aged and the infant, and to give to Liberty a land to live in? then must taxation, as the means by which those things are to be done, be popular likewise.

…Why has the back country been ravaged by the repeated incursions of the enemy..but from the inability of the revenue to provide means for their protection?And yet the inhabitants of those countries were among the first to petition against taxation.In so doing, they eventually prayed for their own destruction, and, unhappily, for them, their prayer was answered.Their quota of taxes would have been trifling, compared with their losses, and, what is still worse, their domestic sorrows.