Tuesday, December 06, 2005

More On Homeland Insecurity.....Brought to you by BUSH and Cheney

December 5, 2005
Op-Ed Contributors
A Formula for Disaster
SINCE the passage of the USA Patriot Act of 2001, the federal government has distributed more than $8 billion to help local police departments, firefighters and emergency medical technicians pay for equipment and training to prepare for terrorist attacks, including nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological strikes. In our report, the 9/11 commission recommended that this assistance "be based strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities." It seemed obvious to us that national security resources should be deployed where the threat is greatest.

Unfortunately, the original Patriot Act did not require these funds to be allocated on the basis of risk. Billions have been distributed with virtually no risk assessment, and little planning. Nor has the federal government set preparedness standards to help state and local governments use the money wisely. The District of Columbia used part of its grant to buy leather jackets and to send sanitation workers to self-improvement seminars. Newark bought air-conditioned garbage trucks. Columbus, Ohio, bought body armor for fire department dogs. These are not the priorities of a nation under threat.

The result of this disarray is that taxpayers have no guarantee that these billions have increased our overall level of national preparedness. The response to Hurricane Katrina suggests that we have not come far.

Congress has a golden opportunity to repair this program before the end of the year. A House-Senate conference committee is negotiating a compromise bill to reauthorize the Patriot Act. The House-passed version included an excellent bipartisan formula for first responder grants, which would distribute money strictly based on risks and vulnerabilities.

States would have to submit a detailed security plan to the Department of Homeland Security, and a board drawing on top officials from the department and from the Department of Agriculture (a critical agency for responding to threats to the food supply) would review applications for grants and set priorities. These and other provisions in the House formula would ensure that the grants actually improve national security.

Unfortunately, this provision will not become part of the final Patriot Act bill - it will not become law-unless six senators in the conference committee support it. So far, only five do. We hope that the remaining five senators will join in supporting the House provision.

Small states and rural areas have little reason to fear the House formula. The House approach does not favor urban areas or large states based on preconceived notions of threat. Rather, it creates an objective process to assess risk, vulnerability and the consequences of an attack.

House members from states large and small, districts urban and rural, recognized this when they approved the risk-based formula 409-10, an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Risk assessment is not a competition between states - its goal is to ensure that all of our nation is protected.

This reform is too important to fail by one vote. We are a nation under threat, and these funds are a critical element in our defense. Our elected representatives need to demonstrate leadership and act to increase the safety of the American people.

Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton are, respectively, the former chairmanand vice chairman of the 9/11 commission.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

If I'm Feeling Good About the Economy, Why Aren't You????

December 5, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
The Joyless Economy
Falling gasoline prices have led to some improvement in consumer confidence over the past few weeks. But the public remains deeply unhappy about the state of the economy. According to the latest Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans rate the economy as only fair or poor, and by 58 to 36 percent people say economic conditions are getting worse, not better.

Yet by some measures, the economy is doing reasonably well. In particular, gross domestic product is rising at a pretty fast clip. So why aren't people pleased with the economy's performance?

Like everything these days, this is a political as well as factual question. The Bush administration seems genuinely puzzled that it isn't getting more credit for what it thinks is a booming economy. So let me be helpful here and explain what's going on.

I could point out that the economic numbers, especially the job numbers, aren't as good as the Bush people imagine. President Bush made an appearance in the Rose Garden to hail the latest jobs report, yet a gain of 215,000 jobs would have been considered nothing special - in fact, a bit subpar - during the Clinton years. And because the average workweek shrank a bit, the total number of hours worked actually fell last month.

But the main explanation for economic discontent is that it's hard to convince people that the economy is booming when they themselves have yet to see any benefits from the supposed boom. Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans.

Back in August the Census bureau released family income data for 2004. The report, which was overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina, showed a remarkable disconnect between overall economic growth and the economic fortunes of most American families.

It should have been a good year for American families: the economy grew 4.2 percent, its best performance since 1999. Yet most families actually lost economic ground. Real median household income - the income of households in the middle of the income distribution, adjusted for inflation - fell for the fifth year in a row. And one key source of economic insecurity got worse, as the number of Americans without health insurance continued to rise.

We don't have comparable data for 2005 yet, but it's pretty clear that the results will be similar. G.D.P. growth has remained solid, but most families are probably losing ground as their earnings fail to keep up with inflation.

Behind the disconnect between economic growth and family incomes lies the extremely lopsided nature of the economic recovery that officially began in late 2001. The growth in corporate profits has, as I said, been spectacular. Even after adjusting for inflation, profits have risen more than 50 percent since the last quarter of 2001. But real wage and salary income is up less than 7 percent.

There are some wealthy Americans who derive a large share of their income from dividends and capital gains on stocks, and therefore benefit more or less directly from soaring profits. But these people constitute a small minority. For everyone else the sluggish growth in wages is the real story. And much of the wage and salary growth that did take place happened at the high end, in the form of rising payments to executives and other elite employees. Average hourly earnings of nonsupervisory workers, adjusted for inflation, are lower now than when the recovery began.

So there you have it. Americans don't feel good about the economy because it hasn't been good for them. Never mind the G.D.P. numbers: most people are falling behind.

It's much harder to explain why. The disconnect between G.D.P. growth and the economic fortunes of most American families can't be dismissed as a normal occurrence. Wages and median family income often lag behind profits in the early stages of an economic expansion, but not this far behind, and not for so long. Nor, I should say, is there any easy way to place more than a small fraction of the blame on Bush administration policies. At this point the joylessness of the economic expansion for most Americans is a mystery.

What's clear, however, is that advisers who believe that Mr. Bush can repair his political standing by making speeches telling the public how well the economy is doing have misunderstood the situation. The problem isn't that people don't understand how good things are. It's that they know, from personal experience, that things really aren't that good.

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Losing Our Children

December 5, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
A Black Hole
The news last week that 10 marines had been killed in Falluja in yet another improvised bomb attack sent a familiar feeling of dread surging through Paul Shroeder.

Every morning, when Mr. Shroeder awakens, he feels normal for the first 5 or 10 seconds. And then it dawns on him that his son, Augie - Lance Cpl. Edward August Shroeder II - is no longer around. Then an awful sadness descends, like a black curtain, over the rest of the day.

Corporal Shroeder, 23, was one of 14 marines killed last August in a roadside explosion in Haditha, in western Iraq. Just two days earlier, six marines from the same reserve unit - the Ohio-based Third Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment - had been killed in an ambush.

"When you have one or two guys get killed, it's back by the truss ads," said Mr. Shroeder. "It's not on the front page. But when you have 20 killed from the same unit in the space of 48 hours, that's big news."

The deaths of the 10 marines last week generated big headlines. But there was considerably less coverage the day before, when the Defense Department announced that four other servicemen had been killed in separate incidents in Iraq. The coverage fluctuates, but the suffering and dying of young American troops in this hellish meat grinder of a war goes on day by day, without end.

(Two more soldiers were reported killed yesterday in a roadside bomb attack in southeast Baghdad.)

Mr. Shroeder (pronounced SHRAE-der) and his wife, Rosemary Palmer, who live in Cleveland, and who are facing the Christmas season with eyes swollen and raw from crying, believe enough is enough. They have gone public with their view that the war has been wasteful and foolish and not worth the lives lost.

"We have to come up with a plan to get us out of there," said Mr. Shroeder. "What we're saying is that we need a serious debate about all options to end this. We cannot have the open-ended, ongoing, stay-the-course thing, because it's killing people."

Mr. Shroeder said he and his wife are not calling for an immediate withdrawal, "just willy-nilly," of American troops. But they believe it is essential that a workable plan for an orderly withdrawal be developed - and developed quickly - because the present policy, reaffirmed by President Bush in his speech at Annapolis last week, "is not working."

In Mr. Shroeder's view, President Bush's war policies have been both tragic and futile. "Staying the course," he said, is like continuing to pour water into a hole in the sand at the beach, "a process that gets you nowhere."

"My son told us two weeks before he died that he felt the war was not worth it," Mr. Shroeder said. "His complaint was about having to go back repeatedly into the same towns, to sweep the same insurgents, or other insurgents, out of these same towns without being able to hold them, secure them. It just was not working, and that's what he wanted to get across."

Mr. Shroeder dismissed the idea that criticism of the administration and the war was evidence of a lack of support for the men and women fighting in Iraq. "You can support the troops and be critical of the policy that put them there," he said.

He took issue with the public officials who insist that his son died for a "noble cause," however comforting that might be to believe. On the contrary, he feels that Augie's life "was wasted."

Recalling his last conversation with his son, Mr. Schroeder said, "I asked him, 'Do you feel like you're protecting your family and other Americans back here?' And he said, 'No. Not at all.' "

He said Augie felt that he was not accomplishing anything. "He thought it was a waste."

Mr. Shroeder, 56, is a partner in a trading company. His wife, 58, is a high school Spanish teacher. They've started a small nonprofit organization called Families of the Fallen for Change (fofchange.org) that they hope will help push Congress to take steps to bring the U.S. involvement in the war to an end.

I asked Mr. Shroeder how life has been for him and his wife since Augie's death. He paused for a long time, then said:

"Life is not the same. The holidays are not good. We both are church people and we sing in the choir, and this is the Christmas season. So normally it's a time of great music and wonderful singing. But I can't participate this year because - well, because he's just not here."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company