Are you and your federal disaster assistance being held hostage?

Residents of the east coast hit hard by flooding and wind damage from hurricanes Irene and Lee might be forgiven for their frustration. Reeling from damage – or in some cases, total loss – to their homes, they had been hoping for prompt federal disaster assistance. Instead they have picked up their newspapers and watched the news on television only to learn that any prospect for such relief at best will be delayed.

The reason? Republicans and Democrats have held that $3-4B of aid hostage to make a larger political point…namely that the other party is gang of unfeeling, insensitive thugs. Thus the headline on the Washington Post website: Stopgap bill to keep government running fails in House; shutdown looms.

Bored with the prospect of waiting until the holiday season for the next federal government shutdown, the 423 members of Congress not on the select committee of 12 have found a way to engineer a similar crisis in the nearer term, and elbow their way back into the headlines. Such is the state of governance in the United States today.

Imagine yourself temporarily homeless, literally and/or figuratively standing in some line for FEMA help, looking at a mountain of red tape. Picture the spouse and the children looking to you hopefully to provide some escape from this Kafka-esque landscape they’ve been in for weeks. And you’re seeing that the obstacle course is a little longer and tougher than you’d hoped. How do you face them? How do you keep up your own flagging spirits?

But there’s another perspective.

And just what might that be?

That you and your hoped-for federal disaster assistance are hostages worth taking.

Let’s go back in time to the Crusades and the story of Richard the 1st of England, more familiar to us as Richard the Lion-hearted. In 1190, he led the Third Crusade, but despite several military successes along the way, in 1192 finally had to quit the Holy Land. While attempting to return home, he was captured by Leopold V, the duke of Austria, a long-time enemy. He was turned over to Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, who demanded 65,000 pounds of silver as ransom. Meanwhile Henry’s own brother John (he of Robin Hood legend and Magna Carta fame), enjoying running things during Richard’s absence, and hoping to extend that run a bit longer, was offering that same emperor half that sum to delay his release. King Richard didn’t gain his freedom until early in 1194.

Why go into all this? The point is that Richard had these adventures because he was literally worth a king’s ransom. Lesser adventurers finding themselves in the same position? Killed outright or left to rot in prison without compunction.

So, if you and your family are attempting to put your lives back together after that terrible flooding, take comfort in the fact that your elected officials are treating you – and your current issue, disaster assistance – like kings. And not just any king! Richard the Lionhearted himself. They’re not asking the American people for 65,000 pounds of silver for your release. But they are seeking our votes come next year.

And they somehow think this is the way to do it.

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