Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Putting patriotism to the torch this Fourth

As I troll through the long, dismal piece in a past Times-Picayune on the state of our sewerage and water system, I hear again the ugly refrain: "the Stafford Act does not allow...under the Stafford Act FEMA cannot....the Stafford Act generally requires..."

The Stafford Act for those of you who have not lived for a year or more in a disaster area is the Federal's law that governs how the central government doles out emergency assistance in the case of a Presidential emergency declaration. It places close limits on how money may be spent in disaster recovery, and empowers legions of unambitious accountants in the government's employ to pick over every bill before it is paid, and even to deny payment for work previously authorized, leaving local government in the lurch.

If the logic of the Stafford Act were applied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, every National Guardsman would be required to demonstrate that every gallon of fuel consumed and every round fired was directed at a card carrying member of al-Queda, or else the state from which he was called might be required to pay the cost. Very little shooting would occur, however, as the accountants would need to vet every operation in advance to determine if it in fact was part of the war on terror, and would reserve the right to change their nasty little bean-counter minds after the fact.

People like to think that New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It was not. The storm struck the city only a glancing blow, and I will remind you how the mildly disappointed crews from the Weather Channel stood in the foyers of their downtown hotels and put the best possible face on it: the city had dodged the bullet. What happened to the city was the failure of the federally engineered and built levee system, through clearly demonstrated negligence of both the engineers and their political masters.

For this, we feel entitled (as we would be if the levees were a private concern) to fair compensation for our losses. Flood control, alas, is not a private concern but one of the federal government ever since the middle 20th Century. And our government (like those everywhere) cloaks itself in "sovereign immunity" against any lawsuit, and for good measure tosses in our own unique separation of powers. In the end we turned hat in hand, like petitioners before a throne, and like every farmer who loses a cow to a snowstorm, to the federal government and to FEMA for help. It seemed reasonable, since our loss (unlike that of the tornado blasted Kansan or the blizzard-buried North Dakotan) was not a caprice of nature, but a failure of the government.

That is what might ultimately destroy this great city: the flinty hearts of bureaucratic Federal accountants. Their's is the miserliness of the fellow who demands an exact accounting of the shared bill at lunch down to the last pat of butter. It is the driving principal of the Stafford Act, the product of a stony Vermonter who wanted to bring order to therough-and-tumble way Congress sought to shower their constituents with disaster aid at every sight of a funnel cloud or every instance of a snowbound cow not getting its feed.

We are bleeding to death from a thousand paper cuts inflicted by the Byzantine origami beast of the federal bureaucracy, as carefully folded by the hands of Robert T. Stafford.

Most Americans will never recognize this, unless some great disaster should befall them. I think we have a civic obligation to help them understand this. I also think we should do this in the way that is guaranteed to attract the greatest amount of attention: by throwing a big party.

In England, there is a long-standing civic celebration called Guy Fawkes Night. Briefly, Mr. Fawkes and some co-conspirators attempted to decapitate the ruling regime by blowing up the House of Lords during its opening ceremony. This early terrorist was caught in the act of putting the torch to the fuse, tortured until he confessed, and executed along with his fellow travelers.

The date of the plot and its failure are celebrated to this date in boisterous celebrations by bonfires and fireworks. There is eating and I am fairly certain there is some drinking, based on what we know of pub and football (that's soccer to youse guys) culture.

The main part of the celebration is the humiliation of straw figures of Guy Fawkes, which were paraded through the streets by small boys and humiliated. There were poems and songs and in the old days young boys would often shake people down for "a penny for the Guy". Mr. Fawkes is then tossed on the bonfire with much hooting and shooting off of fireworks.

So far, we have a parade, eating and drinking, and a bonfire with fireworks. That's starting to sound like something we understand how to do.

I think it's time we embraced our new relationship with the central government, and gave that relationship a real New Orleans twist. I think we need our own Guy Fawkes celebration, and I propose that we center this one on the people who are out to destroy us. Now, burning President Bush might not sit well with some people. I don't want to offend any of the people who've actuallly come to help. So I suggest that we make the center of our festival Mr. Stafford. I would not, however, find any objection to the odd effigy of the Micheals Brown and Chertoff or penny-pincher-in-chief Donald Powell.

We'll need a date for this bonfire, something symbolic of our increasingly edgy relationship with the central government. We need a day charged with political significance and one in which people are off work so we can hope for a good turnout.

I suggest the Fourth of July. Personally, I don't find much to celebrate based on my personal experience of what the United States has become. Should we celebrate the incompetence that flooded the city and then stood by and watched? The miserliness of the compensation we were offered, or the continuing federal sabotage of efforts to rebuild? I am grateful to the American people who continue to come to help us. The depth of ill-will I have for the central government I increasingly regard as a hostile foreign capital can scarcely be expressed, except in terms that would likely bring a visit from homeland security.

I say this Fouth of July we forget the patriotic clap trap, which has just become a tawdry front for something that in no way resembles the governments of Washington or Jefferson or Lincoln, and put Mr. Stafford and the rest to the torch.

Yeah!! Guy Fawkes day - 5th of November - or "bonfire night" - is indeed a most proud and fun British tradition. I don't know why we celebrate it in Scotland as we were yet to be part of the UK at that date - perhaps it is one of the better things we got out of the union....

We have fireworks, burning the "guy" on the bonfire, toffee apples and sparklers. Its not a big drinking day and sadly there is no parade but I miss it terribly - to me fourth of July is odd because to me fireworks means cold November with gloves and hat!!!

I agree burning an effigy is what is needed in this town(counrty). But I don't think the fourth of july will cut it - too many die hard patriots!! However what about August 30th? When New Orleans was flooded by incompetence?

I think you're onto someting here Mark - I'll back you all the way - just name the date and time, I'll be there!!

Another great post!
Best Wishes
July 14. Bastille day.

I say "Rising Tide" needs a military arm.
Good ideas (in this brilliant post, and also in the comments.)
We could do this on the Fourth as a run-up to the Bastille Day protests.

Also, I think that the effigies could be drowned.
i could think of at least a half dozen effigies i'd like to burn and or drown this july, just tell me where.
I think an effigy of former Speaker Hastert would be a good 'un. Build it to scale and the Coach would make a helluva bonfire.

And a new post, yay team Wet....
Great ideas, beautifully expressed. Another fabulous post, Mark. I keep thinking that if everyone keeps banging the drum about the Stafford Act that it will get through to folks. Your idea is much better, much more fun, and, ultimately, much more New Orleanian.
I really like drowning the effigies idea! Very appropriate, very pointed.
Don't forget, the 2-year anniversary will be upon us in no time at all. Dumping moldy furniture on Pennsylvania avenue will surely send a powerful message ...
Wouldn't take a lot of organization! Whereever two New Orleanians gather, one will parade and the other will watch. When is Stafford Day to be celebrated? I'll be there with a choice effigy.
sweet ass idea. please let me know if you do this. my email is rtippie "the a with circle" cox.net

are you old enough to remember a guy from the bahamas who lived in new orleans named exuma? he played tip's pretty often and he had a great song about guy fawkes.

Somehow I knew this military discussion would end up here... hopefully the mooks will know better than to mess with a Rising Tide Brigade armed with Tasers, M-80 gas grenades, etc.

And imagine the looks on their faces when the Hawai'i Foreign Legion sails its voyaging canoe, Moku 'Aiwa (Ninth Island) upriver!

(Note to DHS lurkers: The above is pure fanciful speculation. Besides, the pen, or keyboard, truly is mightier than the sword.)
May Day is a good time for burning effigies.
If your intent is to protest the Stafford Act then here are 3 good suggestions

You can go with August 8th, Robert Stafford's birthday. But you might end up unnecessarily pissing off people from Vermont. But a great date for a parade considering that summer is slow.

Or (as near as I can tell)

November 23rd. The date the original 1988 bill was passed.. (which is very close to Thanksgiving)


October 30. The day the 2000 amended bill was passed. But that is very close to Halloween.

Build the effigies out of things that will dissolve in water. Toss them into the 17th street, London Ave and Industrial Canals and the MRGO.

And I'm not entirely convinced that Ray should escape being effigied with Hastert, Bush Jr., Brownie, Chertoff, Powell and the rest.
Hi, found your site today from the Business Week article.

I agree with you that a remembrance day is critical. While Fourth of July works, I would propose Labor Day, instead. Celebrated in the USA on the first weekend of September, it nearly aligns with the disaster in New Orleans. Plus, it's already a federal holiday, so people are off from work.

It makes sense to me to hold a remembrance day on Labor Day because it was traditionally a holiday to celebrate the "working man" of America. The federal government clearly let the "working man," et al. down by creating the snafu that is currently being faced. Just a thought.

Great blog; I'm subscribing to your feed.
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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