Our Post 9/11 Priorities

Tony Palmeri's Media Rants.

From the October, 2003 issue of The Valley Scene

In the days immediately following September 11, 2001 at least two things became painfully clear. First, the warnings of airline watchdogs and congressional investigators over many years that our airline safety practices were a disaster waiting to happen turned out to be true. Second, our so-called first responders (i.e. police, fire, etc.) to emergencies are under funded and lack the necessary training and technologies.

Two years ago I honestly believed there was a possibility that addressing airline safety and the needs of first responders would be at the top of the public policy priority list. Okay, I plead guilty to being naïve and little stupid sometimes. But could anyone have predicted that the government's major anti-terror initiatives in the last two years would have been these:

*The creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Had a president Al Gore asked Congress for a massive, big government behemoth that would have made the federal government larger than it had ever been in history, the Republicans would have protested that he was proposing a Washington solution to what was a state and local problem of emergency protection. And you know something? The Republican criticism would have been correct.

So far, DHS accomplishments include the creation of a terror warning color code and a ready.gov website that looks like a Comedy Central production. In May, when Democrats in the Texas legislature literally fled the state to prevent a Republican attempt to undo the 2001 redistricting arrangement, high level Republicans attempted to use DHS to round up the runaway reps. I'll bet Osama Bin Laden had a hearty cave dweller chuckle over that one.

*The USA PATRIOT ACT. When Russ Feingold acted as the swing vote enabling John Ashcroft to become Attorney General early in 2001, he couldn't have imagined later in that year the nation's commitment to civil liberties protection would be tested like never before. For Mr. Ashcroft the war on terror is a religious test. According to the New York Times, "The attorney general made clear that he believes the Justice Department's antiterrorism initiatives are fully in sync with the moral imperatives of God and country and that those who disagree may have failed to absorb the lessons of Sept. 11."
No evidence exists to indicate any of the USA PATRIOT "(Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorists") Act provisions, had they been in place before 9/11, would have prevented those terrible acts. Nor is it clear that the Act is doing more than contributing to an atmosphere of harassment for librarians, university international students, and other law abiding citizens.

*The Invasion of two Muslim countries. Two years ago, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his right hand man Paul Wolfowitz warned us that we were now in a "new" kind of war, one in which conventional military operations play only a minor part. Since then, the administration's foreign policy successes have been the quick and conventional military strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Post major military operations, both countries are mired in social, economic, and political crises that will cost American taxpayers billions and billions of dollars without any assurances of greater stability in the region or more safety here at home. As regards the major media's role in this travesty, history will show newspaper editors and network executives engaged in a shameful and destructive pattern of cheerleading that enhanced the administration's ability to proceed without providing sufficient evidence of threat or of having in place sound reconstruction plans.

So what about airline safety? To cite only the most recent abomination, a man was able to evade security and travel from New York to Dallas stowed away in a crate. More troubling, airline industry lobbyists were able to get the Federal Aviation Administration to make anti-terrorist safety training for flight attendants voluntary instead of mandatory.

And our first responders? A Rand Corporation study interviewed a representative sample of emergency workers and concluded, "Men and women who choose to risk their lives to save the lives of others are telling us they need better protection, better safety training equipment and better coordination to do their jobs." Meanwhile, most states face budget crises that are placing the first responders' needs even further down the priority list and, in many cases, even forcing layoffs. Talk about allowing the terrorists to win!

I hope nothing I've said to this point is interpreted as a partisan attack against the Republicans. On homeland security, the PATRIOT Act, and the military invasions, the Democrats with only a few notable exceptions have facilitated the Bush Administration's every move. Listening to Democratic senators and presidential candidates John Kerry, John Edwards, and Joe Lieberman condemn the administration's actions in these areas is nothing short of hilarious when you consider the fact that they enthusiastically voted for the very things they are now suspicious of.

Want to learn more about these issues? Come to the UW Oshkosh Earth Charter Summit this month and listen to award winning authors Jonathan Schell and Sheldon Rampton talk about power politics, the press, and "weapons of mass deception." Dates and times for these and other events can be found at the Earth Charter website http://www.uwosh.edu/earthcharter/summit2003.php or you can just call me at 424-7045.

Tony Palmeri is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh

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