By now, they are-unbelievably-a common sight: New York City police officers carrying heavy weaponry, patrolling our subways and landmarks, keeping an eye out for all manner of worst-case scenarios.
The beefed-up police presence is part of Operation Atlas, a broad and collaborative plan to better protect the city against a possible terrorist strike. It’s the most visible sign of a Police Department that has had to reinvent itself, at least partially, in light of the attacks of Sept. 11. Under Commissioner Ray Kelly, the NYPD has formed a Counter Terrorism Bureau, reassigned 1,000 officers to anti-terrorism work, and recalibrated its Intelligence Division to deal with the threat of Islamic militancy in New York.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has changed his style somewhat to reflect these terrible times. He has been extremely visible, offering encouragement and consolation, reassurance and realism, making sure that the city does everything it can to protect the people who live and work here. New York’s economy depends on the flow of people in and out of the city, and the higher-profile efforts of the Mayor-riding the subway, strolling through Times Square, attending Broadway theater-should not be underestimated in their effect on those contemplating a visit to New York. Similarly, Governor George Pataki has taken the lead in bringing the tristate region together on matters of collective security. The Governor recently gathered his counterparts from New Jersey and Connecticut for a joint press conference in Grand Central Terminal. There, Mr. Pataki announced that the police departments of all three states not only would increase security on commuter trains, but would allow police to cross state lines on security issues.
Operation Atlas is costing the city $5 million a week. It is money well spent: The impressive display of force in the city, along with increased attempts to locate possible terrorists, should reassure residents and commuters alike that its leaders are doing everything they can to protect them.
Republicans Do The Right Thing
It may be true that most Americans, no matter what their heartfelt position on the war with Iraq, are now united in at least lukewarm support for President George Bush’s goal of a relatively swift U.S. victory. But last week, Mr. Bush suffered a crushing defeat for which all Americans can be glad: The U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a measure that would have included drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of the Senate’s annual budget. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had applied enormous pressure on Senators to vote for the measure. But thanks to the courage of eight Republicans who voted against their President and their party’s leadership, the Senate turned back Mr. Bush’s reckless assault on the environment. The Republican Senators who held their ground were Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois and John McCain of Arizona.
In 2003, protecting the environment should be a top priority in every country. Instead, George Bush is vigorously pursuing a policy that rewards those who stand to profit from plundering America’s environmental heritage. To cite just a few examples, the President has tried to lower standards for arsenic in U.S. drinking water; attempted to open 13,000 acres of New York’s Finger Lakes National Forest to oil and gas drilling; and famously refused to join 15 European nations in signing the Kyoto treaty, which aims to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. A study last year of the environmental health of 142 countries, conducted by Yale and Columbia universities, found that the United States ranked a shocking 51st-behind Cuba and Botswana. With George Bush in the White House, the numbers will only get worse. Indeed, Mr. Bush has chosen to ignore a report from his administration’s own Environmental Protection Agency, which predicted that between 2000 and 2020, U.S. emissions will have increased by 43 percent.
That Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney chose this moment to try to push an Alaskan drilling provision through the Senate was not by chance: They cynically hoped that fears over oil prices because of the Iraq war would convince the Senate to hand Alaska over to Mr. Bush’s pals in the oil industry.
This President will continue trying to auction America’s natural resources to the highest bidder. Thank goodness the Senate Republicans have a cadre of moderates who refuse to take part in George Bush’s war on the environment.
The Tractor Terrorist
No one would have believed it if it didn’t happen: Last week, as the U.S. Army, Marines and Air Force waged a high-tech battle in the skies over Iraq, a yo-yo with a tractor managed to paralyze Washington, D.C., for two days. Dwight Watson was no sophisticated terrorist holding a radioactive “dirty bomb” or a handful of anthrax; he was a loopy tobacco farmer from North Carolina armed with a John Deere tractor. And yet when he drove his tractor into a decorative pond near the National Mall, the nation’s capital went into a tailspin: Three federal office buildings, including the Federal Reserve Board, were shut down for two days; major roads were closed and 700,000 commuters diverted from their usual routes; scores of local and federal cops, as well as agents from the F.B.I., the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, were pulled away from other duties to confront the frazzled farmer and his lethal farm equipment.
All in all, it was hardly a reassuring test of the country’s ability to deal with domestic threats. Where was Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, and why did he let things get so out of hand right outside his own front door? It’s hard to imagine that a few good cops couldn’t have defused the situation in half an hour. Instead, chaos ruled. Are Mr. Ridge’s qualifications suited to the task at hand? Prior to becoming a popular and well-liked Governor of Pennsylvania in 1994, he was a Congressman with an impressive résumé-a scholarship to Harvard University, a Bronze Star in Vietnam, a successful law practice-but no experience in law enforcement or counterterrorism. A significant factor in his appointment to his current post is his long friendship with the Bush family: He worked on the campaign of George Bush père in 1980.
While Mr. Ridge’s political skills will be indispensable as he goes about the task of merging 22 federal agencies under a single roof, one may be forgiven for wishing that the President had chosen someone with an impeccable law-enforcement background to confront the real and imagined dangers that shadow our nation.