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Barbara O’Brien: Playing Politics With Our Lives

How George W. Bush Is Playing Politics With Our Lives

By Barbara O'Brien

Creation of the Homeland Security Department will be the biggest reorganization of government since the Defense Department was established in 1947. The new department will combine the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, among other agencies.

Theoretically, this reorganization will enable agencies to work together to better protect America from terrorism. Or, it may just amount to moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Either way, implementation of the act will take several years, meaning that passage on Monday wont make you any safer on Tuesday.

"Washington realists acknowledge that little has been done to prevent a terrorist attack in two weeks or two months or two years. The changes now transforming government will improve its efficiency in three, four or five years at best; for the near term, feeling nervous is perfectly justified." [David Firestone, Are You Safer Today Than a Year Ago? The New York Times, November 17, 2002]

The fact is, the Bush Administration has done next to nothing to make the United States safer from terrorists than it was on September 10, 2001.

Wait a minute, you say. What about Afghanistan? Well, sure, we kicked the Taliban out of Afghanistan. But the Taliban, as nasty as they were, were not a threat to the United States. It was Al Qaeda that perpetrated the September 11 attacks, and 80 percent of al Qaeda got away because the U.S. and Pakistan didn't move fast enough to secure the borders.

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And while Bush and Karl Rove have been distracting our attention with Iraq -- and theres no evidence that ties Iraq to September 11 -- al Qaeda has been free to regroup and begin another campaign of terror. This past Thursday, the FBI warned that al Qaeda is planning another spectacular terrorist attack in the United States.

(As I keyboard, the Sunday morning television talking heads are discussing weapons inspections in Iraq and saying nothing about al Qaeda. They are also tut-tutting about how Tom Daschle obstructed the passage of the Homeland Security Act, when in fact it was Bush who obstructed it, as discussed in The Mahablog this past week.)

Let's look at some of the things the Bush Regime is not doing to make America safer from terrorism.

Stuff the War Machine; Starve Domestic Security

1. For several months, administration critics have pointed out that little effort is being made to secure U.S. seaports. While tweezers are confiscated at airports, only 2 percent of cargo entering the country by ship is inspected at all. Over the objections of Democrats, Congress provided only $250 million to secure the ports, 35 percent less than originally authorized.

2. In August, Bush vetoed a bill that would have placed U.S. Customs officials in foreign ports to check the cargo being shipped to the U.S.

3. $800 million was promised for bioterrorism prevention immediately after September 11. Fourteen months later, this money has not been spent. Republicans in Congress have held the money in "continuing resolution," which means it exists in the budget but is not allocated.

4. Congress authorized funding for 200 additional Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors and 200 new INS investigators. However, the White House has blocked funding.

5. Recently the government acknowledged that it will not be able to meet the December 31 deadline for checking all luggage for bombs.

6. The entire budget for radiological detection in the region from New York to Boston totals $400,000.

7. Republicans in Congress also have held up $3.5 billion for emergency rescue teams and other first responders. This money was promised after September 11, but it has not been spent.

David Firestone writes in the New York Times, "'Cities have borne the lion's share of responsibility for protecting citizens for 14 months now with virtually no support from the federal government,' said John DeStefano Jr., the Democratic mayor of New Haven and a vice president of the National League of Cities. 'As each day goes by, our sense of urgency grows as our needs for help with planning, training, staffing and equipment go unmet.'"

The President's war on terrorism increasingly has focused on Saddam Hussein in Iraq, even though the White House has presented no evidence that Saddam Hussein was connected to September 11 or is capable of a strike on the United States. In the meantime, domestic security measures go unfunded and al Qaeda has been free to reorganize and begin new campaigns of terror.

The President has also made much political hay out of the Homeland Security Act, even while he and Karl Rove conspired to make sure it was hung up in the Senate during the recent midterm election campaign. Jonathan Alter writes on MSNBC, "Bush preferred to use the issue politically (to devastating effect in Georgia, where Sen. Max Cleland, who lost his re-election bid, was accused of delaying the department) rather than get the thing done. After delaying for months, he had the nerve to attack Democrats like Cleland for delaying. And it worked." [Jonathan Alter, " A False Sense of Security, MSNBC, November 15, 2002]

A few days after September 11, 2001, President Bush visited Ground Zero. He grabbed a bullhorn and pranced about on the smoking ruins -- on the remains of nearly 3,000 dead -- bragging about how he was gonna git ol' Osama. And he's done a bang-up job of using those dead to give himself more power. But in reality his agenda has little to do with making America safer.

- Barbara O'Brien, creator of The Mahablog! a.k.a., is a New York resident and a freelance writer. She previously provided a regular column for Scoop on the US Elections. Readers are encouraged to visit The Mahaweb!! and see the Timeline of Terror! and much, much more.

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