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Thinking Outside The In-box


The Right Divine of Kings to govern wrong – Alexander Pope, The Dunciad

Every so often Mr. Bush and his friends offer up little surprises that are amusing when not alarming. That’s what makes it so much fun to have George Bush in the White House. The week of May 28 was an every so often event.

The first surprise came from the pages of USA Today, a paper once scorned as nothing more than a tabloid with little hard news. Its disclosure was that Al Gonzales, (who has more fun being attorney general of the United States more than just about anything he’s ever done) held a meeting in mid-May with senior executives from Internet companies to explore the possibility of fighting terrorism by having companies keep records of everything everyone does on the web. Here is an example of why that would be useful in fighting terrorism.

If five people with funny sounding names all went to Mapquest to see how to locate the Empire State Building within a matter of a few minutes of each other, that would be brought to Mr. Gonzales’ attention and he would stop whatever it was he was doing and begin checking other email those people might have written. He would, in short order, discover that those people were not tourists but terrorists planning to blow up the Empire State building. He would immediately spring into action and the plot would be foiled.

Talk of the Empire State Building – once again the tallest building in New York City – brings us to another bit of news generated that same week. It pertains to funds allocated for anti-terrorism.

Aware that terrorists strike where least expected, Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, has outsmarted them by, like them, doing the completely unexpected. New York, thought by those of even a little sophistication a likely terrorist target, has had its 2006 anti-terrorism allocation cut from $207.6 million to $124.45 million. Washington D.C.’s funds have been cut from $77.5 million to $46.5 million. Chertoff and Co. have concluded that being likely targets they are no longer likely targets and have instead provided increased funding to places like Louisville, KY, Charlotte, N.C., and Omaha, Neb., being unlikely targets have become likely targets.

In addition to New York City and Washington, New Orleans was another beneficiary of Homeland Security’s rercent decision to doing the unexpected. Its allocation went from $9.3 million to $4.6 million. Although the allocated funds are supposed to be for catastrophic disasters whether inspired by Mother Nature or Father Terror, the department concluded that given the devastation of New Orleans last year there is little a terrorist could do to improve on nature’s handiwork. As far as another attack by mother nature is concerned, the brilliant minds in the Department of Homeland Security focused on the age old bromide about lightening never strikes twice in the same place and they’ve applied it to hurricanes. Mr. Bush’s promise (made shortly after Katrina’s visit to New Orleans) that the U.S. would do whatever it took to protect New Orleans from visits from Katrina’s relatives – this week The Big Easy just missed an uneasy visit from Katrina’s cousin named, interestingly enough, Alberto – was made before his aides told him the story about lightening.

I am, of course, being somewhat hard on the Department. The fact that New York has, in Mr. Chertoff’s words, “zero” monuments or icons and only four major financial institutions and is, therefore, an unlikely target, is not the only reason for its reduced allocation. Another, as explained by a spokesperson for the Department, is that New York did not follow instructions in filling out its application for funds.

According to this unnamed source, New York City faxed its request for funds instead of sending it by e-mail. Requesting money to protect oneself from terrorists is one thing-learning to follow instructions is quite another. The city says it did follow instructions. It is unlikely we will ever know whether failure to follow instructions played a role in the Department’s allocation. It would come as no surprise, however, to learn that a government peopled by simple people places more importance on an applicant’s ability to follow instructions than on the perceived consequence of reducing a city’s ability to protect itself from terrorists.

If terrorists do indeed, strike Omaha and Louisville and devastation is limited because of the intelligent use of funds by those cities, we will marvel at Mr. Chertoff’s prescience. If, on the other hand, a terror attack in New York could have been thwarted with additional funding or resources, an investigation by the federal government will follow and we will learn whether a failure to follow instructions played a role in the reduction of its allocation. Here’s hoping we never find out.

Share  Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 10:48 PM | Permalink

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