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How prepared is the United States for another terrorist attack?

Don't Panic!...Your war questions answered

Based on the information I've read at the Department of Homeland Security's www.ready.gov website, I'm pretty much ready for whatever nastiness the evildoers try. I've got everything the government says I need for my emergency supply kit, including "garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation." I'm only missing two items from my government-suggested survival kit.

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First of all, I don't have any potassium iodide. The government says to take potassium iodide to protect your thyroid gland "as soon as the radioactive cloud containing iodine from the explosion is close by." Unfortunately, logic says that by the time I determine whether a "close by" radioactive cloud has iodine in it, the radiation will have either killed me or unlocked any latent superpowers I might have. Either way, I'm resigned to my fate.

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The other government-recommended item missing from my survival kit is petroleum jelly. For a variety of reasons that I won't go into here, I'm sticking with water-based.

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Based on my checklist, I'm sad to report that the government isn't nearly as ready for a terrorist strike as I am. For example, when Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Chief Robert Mueller held a press conference a couple of weeks ago to discuss al-Qaeda's "90 percent" complete plans to hit America "hard" over the summer, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge acted completely clueless. Ridge not only kept the threat alert level at piss-yellow instead of raising it to puke-orange, but he was on TV that day telling us that our job as Americans is to "go out and have some fun."

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In addition, several government officials told the press that Ashcroft's warnings were merely restatements of earlier cautions.

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If the departments of Justice and Homeland Security won't even pretend to coordinate in public, it makes me wonder how willing they are to coordinate in private, where it truly matters.

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Poor communication between and within government agencies was one of the major security weaknesses that allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen. The whole point of forming the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 was to create one agency to coordinate the multiagency anti-terrorism effort. That's clearly not happening.

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Our poor preparation isn't limited to poor law enforcement. We have yet to sufficiently harden a variety of crucial and vulnerable potential targets. The federal government didn't issue any safety directives to municipal railway and subway authorities until May 21, 2004. Allow me to restate that indignantly — MAY 21! It took the federal government two-and-a-half years from the time of 9/11 to send out a piddly little 10-page memo telling your local subway system to install bomb-proof trash cans and explaining how to deal with unattended bags.

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Speaking of railways, did you know that some members of Congress have worked in concert with the rail industry to stop legislation that would have added post-9/11 safety regulations concerning how and where poisonous and explosive chemicals can be shipped and stored? Now you do.

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Wanna be more alarmed? OK, let's talk radiation! Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham didn't get around to the government's six-year, $450 million plan to recover spent radioactive materials worldwide to keep them out of the hands of "dirty bomb" makers until May 26, 2004. One more time, with feeling, MAY 26! Never mind that it was way back in 2001 when we discovered documents in an al-Qaeda hideout in Afghanistan that detailed plans to attack us with a radioactive "dirty bomb."

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If evildoers have gotten their hands on a radiological weapon, dirty or otherwise, the government still isn't doing enough to keep such a weapon out of the United States. The CIA believes that a radiological explosive is far more likely to be delivered to the U.S. via sea than it is via missile. Nevertheless, we're pumping billions more into a Swiss-cheese missile defense system.

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I could go on, but I'm gonna stop because I'm starting to scare myself. Before I crawl into my bathtub, curl up in a fetal position and start weeping, though, I want to point out one more thing. In response to criticisms similar to those above, the Bush re-election campaign boasts that the Department of Homeland Security has sent $11 billion to states and cities since 9/11 to improve their security. If that sounds like a lot, remember that we've already spent $200 billion in Iraq.

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andisheh@creativeloafing.com



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