Thursday, May 12, 2005


When I was a child in school, we used to have Fire Drills. The alarm bell would ring and the students, delighted to be released from "book larnin'" for a short while, would line up in rows near the door. Then we would file quickly down the hall and out the door.

"Walk, don't run!" the teacher admonished. "Stay calm! Just keep walking!"

And we obeyed her, making it outside in a short period of time, never quite sure whether or not there was a real fire until we were summoned back to our classrooms.

Yesterday, there was a false terrorist alarm in Washington, D.C. It was a scene of pandemonium, with frightened people scattering down the street as fast as they could run. If you watched carefully, you could see your Congressman or woman, sprinting along toward safety. And you could see policemen, guns drawn, amidst the crowd.

From news reports, we hear that security officers and policemen raced through the Congressional hallways, shouting, "Get out! This is no joke! Get out now!" And, from news reports, we hear that Nancy Pelosi left in such a hurry that she forgot her shoes.

We have spent billions of dollars on Homeland Security, as the terrorists alerts were issued and we were told to stay on guard. At one time, we all rushed out and bought plastic sheeting and duct tape. I think that was to ward off a killer wind laden with radiation, so those wispy tentacles could not seep through the cracks of doors and windows in our homes! Since the effects of radiation linger for thousands of years (Chernobyl, I believe, is still off limits as a site for a health spa), it is doubtful this duct tape and plastic would have been too helpful. But it did help hardware stores ring up a profit.

Tom Ridge became a familiar face on our television sets. I was always quite fascinated with his looks. He has such a little rosebud mouth in that big robust body, almost a perfect bow. I get carried away like this sometimes. For instance, I never can listen carefully to Condoleeza Rice. My attention is always fastened on her teeth. I know I'm not nice, but I can't help myself.

Now that Tom Ridge is a former director of Homeland Security, the truth emerges. He was not in favor of all those terrorist alerts. He was told to hand them out by the Bush Administration. Now, one can conclude that either the Administration authorities wanted to make sure they were off the hook in case there really was a terrorist attack, since they have certainly proven they were rather lax with all those post 9/11 warnings.....or they were using terror tactics to frighten the American public into submission, perhaps a vote or two, you know the refrain..."One thing about Bush, he's keeping us safe".

Maybe he is and maybe he isn't. But I can tell you one thing. He is not keeping our jobs safe. When a powerhouse like General Motors has financial troubles, you know the heartland of America is having breathing problems. More layoffs are bound to follow, as this company tries to gain back what it has lost.

Nor is Bush keeping our pensions safe! United Airlines just whacked a third off the promised pensions of its employees, a move that was permitted by a judge.....not one of those activist, liberal, "Culture of Death", Pinko fellows Tom Delay complains about, but a judge nonetheless.

I have always been irritated by the admonition during a possible terror attack to "stay alert". What in tarnation are we to look for....turbaned fellows lurking around nuclear plants? Since most of us live miles from a nuclear plant, albeit not far enough, this isn't sensible. If we become too alert, we are apt to become paranoid, and start turning in the neighbor for having a dark complexion.

On the other hand, organized bands of volunteers might not be a bad idea to continue, as with the Minutemen. World War II created a use for many volunteers. People went out to gather milkweed, which was used in parachutes. They collected tin foil. They became the wardens that made sure lights were out in coastal areas.

I have always liked to watch the mock attacks shown on television, where various police departments practice their behavior if a terrorist attack occurs. People have to volunteer to act as victims, and I have always thought that might be fun, an acting role. I could clutch my chest, stagger, howl, fall to the ground, rise again, then go down with a thump. I'm sure the real thing would not be any fun at all, though, so don't get me wrong.

The alert in Washington was not a practice run, but my elementary school teacher could have given them some good advice. "Walk, don't run!", she would have said. "Stay calm!"

We have spent millions, if not billions, in Homeland Security. Wouldn't you think someone would have invested in an alarm bell or siren for our governmental buildings? And would it be too much for the police to quietly and efficiently usher people out, without causing a stampede? It is a wonder someone wasn't trampled in that herd of people running for their lives from the Capitol and White House and a few other places.

Wherever the terrorists are, they undoubtedly were filled with glee at the sight of our Congressional minions scurrying like frightened deer toward safety. And it gives the rest of us some understanding of the risks of a government job at this moment in time. President Bush was not there, but was "bike-riding in Maryland", it was reported. And Dick Cheney was taken to a "safe place". Lucky him! Everyone else just skedaddled.

And when you come right down to it, in the face of a terrorist attack, skedaddling is the best thing to do. Our Congressmen, all those in the Bush Administration, live in a way that most of us cannot afford. They take luxurious vacations to faroff places. They make decisions that affect the country. They make speeches, and battle among themselves. They dress up in suits, carry their briefcases, and pass 900-page laws they haven't bothered to read.

But, when the chips are down, and the terror attack threatens, they are racing for their lives, hearts pounding, gasping for breath and riddled with fear....just as you and me. Terror, like a dread disease, is a great leveler.