GADFLY: New York's Loss is Memphis' Gain 

Well, apparently the folks at the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) think Memphis has more landmarks worthy of protection from terrorism than do either of the cities that were actually attacked on 9/11. Remember DHS? In case you don't, maybe “heckuva job, Brownie,” will refresh your recollection.

In  announcing its allocation of counter-terrorism funds, DHS decided that neither Washington nor New York have any landmarks that could be likely targets for terrorism, so those cities' allocations were cut by 40 percent. I guess they figured that once the World Trade Center towers were taken out, and the terrorists realized that the Pentagon is too well fortified to take down, that didn't leave much in those cities in the way of attractive targets for Al Qaeda. And as for Washington, this decision ought to tell Congressmen and Senators just exactly how valuable a piece of property DHS considers the U.S. Capital (much less the White House) to be.

But hey, New York's loss is Memphis' gain. So, DHS gave Memphis $4.2 million, up from zero last year. Memphis was one of only three cities of the 46 that received grants this year (the others being Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando) which received nothing in 2005, but it still didn't receive as much as the obvious terrorist targets of Omaha (hey, beef's important, even if most terrorists don't eat it), Cleveland (see, I told you the real Rock 'n Roll Museum was a big deal) or Pittsburgh (gotta keep my homies, the Steelers, safe). Memphis should be thrilled that DHS apparently considers Graceland, Mud Island and the Rock and Soul Museum more worthy of an increase in anti-terrorism funds than it considers, oh, say the Statue of Liberty, the New York Stock Exchange or the Brooklyn Bridge. If I were a terrorist, which one would I find a more attractive target, the acknowledged financial center of the world or the home of blues and barbecue?

I've never quite understood the mentality that suggests Memphis as the target of terrorists. If Memphis is on any terrorist's “A” hit list, then I think we're well along the way to winning the “war on terror.” It's a tribute to the Chicken Little mentality that the Bush administration (helped by DHS's policies---remember those bogus color-coded “terror alerts” that seemed, fortuitously, to coincide with the White House's political problems?) has successfully fostered. Oh sure, we've got FedEx (imagine the terror associated with the Rendezvous not being able to deliver its rib orders overnight) and maybe even Millington (imagine all those ships not being able to get out of the only landlocked Naval station in the country), but let's face it: if the terrorists want the biggest bang for their buck, Memphis isn't going to be high on their list, and certainly not higher than, say, the Empire State Building, or CIA headquarters. But, if I'm a terrorist, and I've got some spare time (and money), I might get down to Memphis, but not before I get down to Orlando to take care of Disney World.

If you credit our government's terror-related policies (as I patriotically do), there are tens of millions of potential terrorists lurking all over this country. After all, that's why the NSA has been listening to our phone conversations and reading our phone records, isn't it? If that's so, it's not a stretch to believe that Memphis is teeming with terrorists, just waiting for their instructions from Osama bin Laden to strike our vital infrastructure. In other words, if you have a neighbor who's just a bit too swarthy-complected, be afraid, be very afraid. But the fact is, even our own government acknowledges that there are, at most, only several hundred terrorists lurking in our country. How, for goodness sake, are they going to be able to attack 46 cities, either at once, or even one after another? Remember how hard a time they had attacking two? 

Notwithstanding this bizarre order of priorities, I am delighted Memphis will reportedly be using the DHS money to upgrade its first responder communications capabilities. “Interoperability,” (i.e., the ability of fire, police and other emergency personnel to communicate with each other) has been a major problem for this country's emergency response system for years. It's one the 9/11 Commission, for all the inadequacies of its investigation, pointed to as contributing to the loss of many first responders' lives on 9/11. It amazes me that, in spite of the fact that he had eight years to do something about it (between the first and second attacks on the World Trade Center), Rudy Giuliani (a by-now folkloric hero of that day, and consequently a prominently-mentioned GOP candidate for the presidency) totally dropped the ball on interoperability, and even more so, that he's managed (at least so far) to escape any accountability for dropping that ball. In fact, to this day, New York still doesn’t have vital communications equipment necessary to deal with emergencies in its skyscrapers.

So the good news is that, thanks to DHS' strange assessment of the threat of terrorism, Memphis will get a bunch of money it can use for things other than just dealing with the threat of terrorism. But the bad news is, DHS, which is responsible for keeping our homeland secure, still doesn’t have any better an idea of how to do that than it did during Hurricane Katrina. Now that's something that really ought to make you afraid.

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