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Follow the money

Jack Balshaw 10/17/01

In many criminal cases the perpetrators are found by law enforcement personnel following a money trail back to the criminal. The present WTC tragedy has tied most of the hijackers together and to bin Laden by following the money trail. It might be interesting to project the money trail ahead and think about how it could affect us.

The enormity of the WTC event has caused an immediate public desire to both punish the perpetrators and prevent such an occurrence from happening again. The potential of some other mass killing happening in a different format or manner has spurred us on, I'd almost say stampeded us, to provide a blank check to government.

The public sees this money as being spent to apprehend the people behind the act and to set up processes and procedures to prevent any future mass killings. Not only mass, but any sort of planned violence against this country and its people. Let's speculate some about where the providing of this blank check is leading, what other public programs will be reduced or eliminated, and what the impact on the economy might be.

First a point of reference. We've been conditioned in the last several weeks to accept that airport security has been lax and was a joke. Let's look at the record. There hasn't been a hijacking for over thirteen years under the present system. Knives with up to a four-inch blade were acceptable to pass through the system. Did the system fail or should the criteria for acceptable items have been changed? And, would a new level of security have been accepted by the public without the WTC experience?

Where is the money path heading? We've gone from having a federal budget surplus to having none. Talk of Social Security reform, prescription drug coverage being provided in Medicare, significantly expanded educational funding, etc. are all off the table. I'm not against the money being spent to reduce the potential for terrorism, but what permanent changes are being made in government under this umbrella? Not just the federal government, but also all levels of government.

Security levels everywhere are being stepped up. This will cost governments money that could have been spent on your favorite cause or need. Physical changes are being made to further enhance security. This diverts money from other public needs. Whole new levels of responsibility are being created at all levels of government, which will spawn new payrolls and new expenditures.

But all this is OK if we're aware of these costs and are willing to pay extra, whether it is for an airline ticket or in taxes. How will we measure the success of these new programs and procedures? Wait thirteen years and, if then the system fails once, declare it a failure?

The country is still recovering emotionally from the magnitude of the WTC incident while also cheering a visible reaction, attack, starting the process of eliminating terrorism. Well, perhaps not eliminating it but at least changing it from an organized form of warfare and politics back to the lesser random acts of small groups of angry people. It's still a time for hype and cheering for the home team. But soon it will be business as usual under some modified new rules.

If we are kept aware of who and what we are fighting and why we are fighting, perhaps, when we accomplish our goals, someone will think to call off the war on terrorism.

Once the emotion of this tragedy lessens, we should ask our elected officials to separate the cost of these new measures from the rest of the budget so that we can evaluate whether or not we're getting what we think we're paying for.

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