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Organizing for homeland support

03/27/03 12:00AM By Bill Seamans
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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans reflects on domestic wartime issues, including plans for homeland defense against terrorist retaliation.

(Seamans) The line between criticizing our wartime president and complaining legitimately is elusive especially when our casualty toll in the Iraqi desert is rising. The war has muted many of President Bush's critics who don't want to be accused of being unpatriotic or even un-American. But as Congress expressed bi-partisan support for our troops, Democrats voiced concern that important domestic legislation not be shunted aside by the war.

Meanwhile, as we face the threat of an outbreak of Saddam-revenge terrorism here at home our First Responders have been complaining legitimately for months that President Bush has not kept his promise to send money. Our fire fighters, police and emergency medical people need more money for additional training, overtime and special equipment and, yes, more personnel - all needed to meet the additional burden the terrorism threat has imposed on local community budgets already squeezed by our troubled economy.

The New York Times noted that the problem has become intensely political as several Democratic presidential candidates charged that Bush has put lives here at home at risk by not providing the money he promised for state and local counterterrorism activities. But hopefully, the word this week is that Commander in Chief Bush will ask Congress for three billion for our First Responders as part of a $75 billion package to pay for the war. He hopes Congress will send him the bill by April 11 when our lawmakers take off for their Easter recess. Complainers say this should have been done months ago.

Senator John Kerry - addressing the International Association of Fire Fighters before the war broke out - said he thought Bush had not done enough to protect the homeland and had not answered the desire of many Americans not in the military to contribute in some way to homeland defense.

Kerry called for a community defense organization that would enlist thousands of trained volunteers - something like a cross between our World War II civil defense corps and a 21st-century neighborhood watch. Kerry is the first presidential candidate I can recall to suggest a volunteer civil defense effort to back up our first responders.

Meanwhile, Tom Ridge is getting his monolithic Homeland Security Department organized. It is taking time and we hope that it will not take another terrorism tragedy here at home to speed things up. Also, it's hoped that Ridge's counterterrorism fiefdom proves itself to be pro-active, not re-active as are most politicized bureaucracies. Re-active is too late! We are in a national terrorism emergency that should be met with emergency action not just color code warnings.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.
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