"Osama bin Laden is under your bed. He's alive again, and planning to eat your children. Head for the hills, and never mind your constitutional rights."
-William Rivers Pitt
"No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear."
"How is it that the Bush administration's number one priority has evolved into a plan to create a giant, huge bureaucracy? How is it that the Congress bought into the belief that to take a plethora of federal agencies and departments and shuffle them around would make us safer from future terrorist attacks?"
-Senator Robert C. Byrd
Fear is in the air. Can you feel it? Our national anxiety is palpable. We're warned by our political leaders that terrorists are bound to strike again and soon. Osama bin Laden (or someone who sounds a lot like him) makes his lethal intentions known. Though we've said we'll give peaceful means a chance, the countdown to war in Iraq has begun. You can't pick up a newspaper, read a magazine, listen to the radio or watch the TV news without hearing the drumbeat: imminent danger, inevitable catastrophe, looming peril.
But never fear; the U.S. government is here! This week, after a bit of wrangling and arm-twisting, the Senate passed the Bush administration's Homeland Security bill, legislation merging 22 agencies to form a cabinet-level department designed to protect Americans from terrorism. Oh, and by the way, the original 35-page document somehow was expanded to 484 pages and now includes:
- Liability protection for vaccines made by pharmaceutical companies,
- Liability protection for airport screening companies and
- A measure making it easier for companies that move their headquarters offshore (to avoid taxes) to get federal homeland security contracts.
I feel safer already.
Granted there are terrorists out there with evil objectives. Agreed we took a terrible blow on Sept. 11, 2001. Yes, we must be better prepared for the challenges that we confront. But the last time I looked, we were in much greater peril from internal dangers than from being killed or injured by terrorists.
Therefore I propose that the amendments benefiting the pharmaceutical industry, airport screening companies, offshore corporations and others like them be replaced with the following amendments to promptly and directly improve the safety and well-being of all of the citizens of this nation.
Enact universal health care
We spend more per person on health care than any other country in the world, yet we're still ranked 37th in overall quality of care. According to the Institute of Medicine, at least 18,000 of the 42 million Americans without health insurance died last year due to a lack of preventive services or lack of a timely diagnosis and care. It's time to take the money we dump into our ineffective, inefficient non-system to pay for universal healthcare in this nation.
Mandate energy conservation measures
Over 90 percent of the energy we generate is wasted. More fuel-efficient automobiles, energy efficient buildings and improved manufacturing techniques could reduce overall energy usage in the U.S. by two-thirds over the next 20 years and greatly diminish our dependence on those who would hold us over the proverbial oil barrel.
Reduce pollution from power plants
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 30,000 deaths occur annually in the U.S. due to exposure to fine particles emitted from power plants. The technology exists to clean up our air. All we lack is the will.
U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics for the year 2000 indicate that 10.5 percent of all American households (20 million adults and 13 million children) didn't always have enough food in their homes. Nearly one-third of these households contained adults or children who went hungry. Ensuring proper nutritional health now can save millions of dollars in costs later for mental health, social and education services. Besides that, it's the right thing to do.
Some may say that taking these actions will be too costly, that we don't have the funds available. But we have been told by many of our political leaders recently that no cost is too great for measures that will make us less vulnerable and more safe and secure. Does it not follow, therefore, that Congress should dump the corporate welfare in the Homeland Security bill and approve these proposals immediately?
Readers can contact Bruce Mulkey via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.