Columns » Bob Lancaster


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I thought I’d give you a progress report on my recent proposal to award Arkansas Traveler certificates to all 75,000 of those Hurricane Katrina refugees who have sojourned in our state. This was a simple proposal, hardly more than a gesture, a neighborly way to tell these unfortunate people that we care, maybe give them a much-needed shot of self-esteem. Traveler certificates are suitable for framing, and those refugees with homes to return to could hang that impressive parchment on the wall for all to see. Someday they might be able to point it out proudly to their great-grandchildren as a memento of their troubled time in exile. There’s something Biblical about this, and I had hoped to get the wording of the certificates changed slightly to eliminate some of the whereases and include such Biblical-sounding terms as “diaspora.” A genuine official personalized Arkansas Traveler Certificate for each and every refugee was a win-win proposition all around – it would make our visitors feel appreciated, and their hosts feel like we were contributing in a time of crisis and hardship, and it wouldn’t cost anything. Or anyhow it wouldn’t cost much. Couldn’t we get the prison to run off 75,000 copies? Wouldn’t some of these candidates for governor who are always looking for cheap publicity want to chip in to cover these nominal costs? Wouldn’t some of Asa!’s out-of-state lobbyist pals, or the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, or our resident emperor of Christmas Lights be more than happy to write out such a piddling check? I thought it was a plan, too simple and inconsequential for even the meanest, pettiest politicians to mess up, but the same thing happened to it that happened to all the other Katrina-related relief plans. FEMA heard about it and stomped it like a bug. Here’s what we were told: No Arkansas Traveler certificates, official or unofficial, may be issued to said displaced persons without the expressed written consent of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And even if such expressed written consent were granted, and ha ha ha to that, permission to award said certificates is further denied unless and until such time as an operable tasker number is applied for, approved, authorized and granted. None of us in the Arkansas Traveler certificate presentation project knew what a tasker number was. FEMA didn’t know either. “But you have to have one,” they said, the same thing they told those early truck caravans that tried in vain to deliver bottled water to those dying of thirst. We were agreeable to getting a tasker number and affixing it wherever it wasn’t contraindicated — if we could just get a clue what one was, and how to get hold of the rascal. But that information was classified, we learned — available only to those who already had a tasker number for something else, or who had outed an unfriendly CIA agent. We tried to find a way around the red tape. We didn’t succeed. We wondered if there might be somebody who could help. We were told in reply that if we didn’t know somebody named Rove we were out of luck. We heard later, roundabout, that our modest little project might’ve had smoother sailing if it had scheduled a good presidential photo op at the outset, and then a followup that scripted in the vice president, the Homeland Security czar, the U.S. secretary of state, the embattled House majority leader, and the president’s brother. And it wouldn’t have hurt if we had scheduled one of the aforesaid to present the first Arkansas Traveler Certificate to the first refugee. We might also have got a more sympathetic hearing if our rewording of the certificate text had included a tribute to the president’s and FEMA’s timely leadership during the Katrina crisis, and the disclosure that the president himself, or the vice president, or the president’s brother, or mother, had thought up this idea of presenting certificates to one and all. We didn’t know all of that at the time, though. We thought using common sense to make a small neighborly gesture might get the job done. Stupid us. It was all just too demoralizing, and I thought we might flank the feds by invoking the 10th Amendment and declaring interposition, and go on to Plan B. But the state and local yokelry under Plan B were just as bad as the feds had been under Plan A. Bastards were just determined to rewrite the Arkansas Traveler certificate to get the words “under God” in it, and a denunciation of gays, abortions, evolution, school consolidation, school-library pornography, and illegal aliens, and an affirmation that the boys and girls of the Natural State have a right to pray around a flagpole whenever they want to for as long as they want to. Crap like that. I didn’t think displaced Louisianans would be interested in any of it, so I’ve abandoned this project altogether. The governor can use it to hustle ’08 presidential support if he wants to, but he can include me out.

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