In the year 2004, there is no more vital issue facing this country than homeland security. It is terrible that this is so, but there’s no denying it. The fight against terrorists intent on murder and mayhem requires a high level of competence, wisdom and plain common sense. What a shame that the man in charge of homeland security, Tom Ridge, seems to possess none of those qualities.
For reasons that go beyond inexplicable, Mr. Ridge, with the complicity of Congress, has turned homeland security into just another government entitlement program. Rather than acknowledge that some places-like, say, New York City-are in greater danger than others-Butte, Mont., comes to mind-the Homeland Security secretary and the grasping hacks on Capitol Hill are spreading money around the country to no great purpose other than to make heroes of local Congressmen. The result is that while New York has received $300 million in homeland-security money since 9/11, it gets less per capita than other states and local jurisdictions.
Congress and Mr. Ridge have taken great pains to make sure that homeland-security money is spread evenly-and, worse, they apparently think this is a good and fair way to operate. In fact, it is absurd. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed out, the threat level is not spread evenly, so why should the money be?
The answer to that question involves the politics of pork-barrel spending. All 435 members of the House of Representatives want to get their pictures taken with the newest bit of homeland-security hardware in their districts. So everybody is screaming for a piece of the homeland-security pie. And their screams are being answered with dollars that could be better spent elsewhere.
Like here. Is there any doubt that New York remains a high-priority target, along with Washington, D.C.? Does anyone think that the good citizens of Wyoming are as threatened as those of the Upper East Side, or of Brooklyn? In terrorists’ minds, New York isn’t just target No. 1; it’s also targets Nos. 2 and 3. Another strike here would generate enormous casualties and immeasurable media attention.
Leadership is about setting priorities. Tom Ridge has failed to provide that kind of leadership, and Congress has walked all over him. New York and other high-profile targets deserve not just a fair share of
homeland-security money-they deserve most of it. Here is where the threats are. Here is where the battle will be won. But only if Tom Ridge discovers a courage that may not be there.
Sam Heyman and The Partnership for Public Service
The decline of the great empires throughout history can be attributed in part to the waning interest in public service by the best and brightest of the population. Just look at the United States today: Rather than being imbued with dignity and wisdom, the White House and Congress are ruled for the most part by craven, short-sighted individuals who try to pass arrogance off as courage. This didn’t happen just by accident or because of some nefarious Republican plot; for the past few decades, the public-service sector has come to be seen as a shabby career route, and has failed to magnetize the most talented college graduates. For a country to move forward and avoid decline, for its government and military to be in safe hands, it is essential that a sense of the nobility and urgency of public service be instilled in its young people. Toward this end, Sam Heyman created the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, bipartisan organization that works through educational outreach, research and legislative advocacy to revitalize public service and encourage the rising generation of Americans to see the virtues of a public-service career.
Recently, the partnership has been a key player in several promising reforms. For example, almost one-half of the entire government work force is about to enact a new pay-for-performance compensation system, bringing a long-overdue taste of private-sector competitiveness into government. The partnership has also helped form the Public Service Caucus, in which 40 members of Congress are coordinating legislation on civil-service reform issues. A new Call to Serve program at over 500 colleges and universities, in which federal agencies reach out to let college students know about public-service jobs, was co-sponsored by the partnership.
Even if one chooses to pursue a private-sector job, the chances for a full life are greatly increased if one devotes a portion of that life to public service. Whether being elected to office, or working for a civic agency or nonprofit advocacy group, the genuine value in public service-both to society and to those who perform it-cannot be overstated. Nothing is more important than assuring the continued flow of smart, innovative people into public service, especially in New York, where the public sector plays such a central role in the day-to-day lives of New Yorkers.
The Partnership for Public Service is an example of what needs to be done, and how to do it right. The partnership may be reached at 202-775-9111.
No Thanks For The Memories
Do you have a friend who’s in a bad mood? Before you attempt to cheer him or her up by reminding them of a happy memory, ask yourself first if your friend is prone to dysphoria-chronic low-level depression. New research indicates that dysphoric people get little help from happy memories, whereas those of a sunnier disposition can use a happy memory to boost themselves out of the blues.
As reported in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor , two researchers-Jutta Joormann, a visiting psychology professor at Stanford University, and Matthias Siemer, a psychology professor at Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University in Germany-showed college students a melancholic film clip from Dead Poet’s Society , and then asked the students to recall a happy memory. The non-dysphoric undergrads came up with a positive memory in 2.6 seconds, while their dysphoric classmates took 3.25 seconds. The professors concluded that this may be one reason bad moods tend to linger for depressed people. They then asked the students to write down details of either a happy high-school memory, or their local grocery store. The non-dysphoric subjects brightened up at both tasks, while the dysphoric bunch only found relief in writing about the grocery store.
The conclusion: Next time your dysphoric friend gets moody, send him or her shopping.