Inside the Capitol

Thursday, May 19, 2005

5-27 America the Scared

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE � How many ways can you name in which 9/11 has changed our lives? Keep thinking, because the list is long.
We were immediately told by our leaders that we should go on with our lives as if nothing had happened, because doing anything else would mean the terrorists won.
It sounded logical, so my wife and I went to New Orleans three days later and enjoyed a week of having the city almost to ourselves. A nearly-deserted French Quarter was a scary signal that things would change.
So why didn't we heed our president's request to go on about our business? The change partly was due to the initial trauma it caused in some lives. But much more was due to the government changing the way it went about its business.
We expected the attack to produce the biggest manhunt the world had ever seen. Many of us didn't expect it would mean wars. But the biggest change has been in the way our government treats 280 million of us in order to catch a handful of terrorists that sneak into our country.
We are told to be afraid. We are asked to report any suspicious activity. We are told it is necessary to give up some rights because we are at war. We are urged to vote for those who will protect us best, because we need the government to protect us. And we are harassed.
An entire new federal Department of Homeland Security was created to protect us. From time to time, to be sure we know it is still on the job, the level of threat we are supposed to feel is raised to a scarier color.
Under the category of reporting suspicious activity, we had traffic stopped on the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend because some poor slob's truck broke down and he went to get help.
And we had the giant Clovis burrito scare, when a junior high kid was spotted carrying a rolled up 30-inch burrito to school for extra credit in a class project.
And who are our national leaders worried most about getting hurt? Themselves, of course. Two weeks ago, a lost Cessna pilot and student strayed three miles from the White House and caused panicked evacuations all the way to the Capitol.
But it doesn't take a plane to send shock waves through our leaders. A flock of birds has done it. And a few weeks ago, it was clouds -- angry clouds, I'm sure.
A new agency, the Transportation Security Administration, was established to make travel more difficult, not just for suspected terrorists, but for every single American.
A report by government auditors last week told us what we all knew. The $4.5 billion spent on screening devices to monitor airports, seaports, mail and the air we breathe has not increased the likelihood of catching a terrorist.
For this, we are charged a tax on every airline ticket bought and forced to endure the screening of toddlers and body searches of 90-year-old widows.
Even conservative columnist Cal Thomas, who could be expected to be a supporter of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, can't stomach the Transportation Security Administration after getting his name on a no-fly list and failing in all efforts to get it off despite repeatedly proving he's not the guy.
This column has criticized the long waits in security lines, especially at the Albuquerque airport. Recent experiences indicate the problem is easing. The lines are shorter, and even long lines now are moving much more quickly.
But I preferred the days when America wasn't afraid of anything. The world War II reading I'm doing shows American troops going to battle underfed, under-armed, tremendously outmanned and still positive they were going to lick the enemy.
We're still the strongest country in the world, stronger than we've ever been in most ways. But we're becoming psychological weaklings.
FRI, 5-27-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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