Homeland security? Priceless | TheUnion.com

Homeland security? Priceless

Jeff Ackerman, Publisher
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

There is good and bad news for the 169,000 or so federal workers now charged with keeping our homeland secure. The good news is, they get to help spend $37 billion on homeland security. The bad news is, the homeland security budget doesn’t include a pay raise.

President Bush last week slashed the pay raises most civilian federal workers were to receive starting in January. He essentially said fighting terrorism is expensive enough without boosting the payroll to do so. His critics say it’s just a first step in the president’s desire to turn homeland security over to private industry.

Homeland security, it seems, has become big business. Malls across America will soon be anchored by “Homeland Security R Us” box stores, where they’ll feature Blue Light specials on personal Geiger counters and other radiation survey meters.

Not wanting to miss the homeland security economic boom, which will most certainly surpass the dot-com bonanza, the Ackerman Family held an emergency session of its own last weekend. I’m wondering how secure we ought to feel with 169,000 disgruntled federal workers watching our homeland.

Item one on our agenda was clearer definition of the term “homeland.”

“You see that boulder over there?” I asked my wife and kids, pointing to the northwest corner of our lot. “That’s part of our homeland. And over there, by the basketball hoop? That’s included, too.”

“What about over there?” asked my little girl, pointing to our neighbor’s truck. “Do we need to worry about that?”

“Nope,” I said. “That’s Gary’s homeland, not ours.”

The next item was inventory. It had been more than a year since the Ackerman Family inventoried its Homeland Security Defense System (otherwise known as HSDS). We’ve moved since then, and we still have lots of stuff in boxes.

“Has anyone seen the flashlights?” I asked the troops.

“No, but we have that candle your sister gave us for Christmas last year,” my wife replied. She would have made a great supply sergeant in the military.

“How about canned food?” I continued. “Do we still have all that tuna?”

“Nope,” the family supply sergeant responded. “I made a tuna casserole last week. Remember?”

How could I forget?

It sounded as if the Ackerman Family needed some serious help, so I went where I always go for help, to the Internet.

Good thing, too.

I had no idea homeland security was so complex. The Internet is filled with security tips for the insecure. There is even a homeland security weekly newsletter I could subscribe to, if my security budget was bigger.

Terrorism has spawned another million government acronyms, such as RERP, which is short for Radiological Emergency Response Programs.

In the National Homeland Security Knowledgebase web site, touted as, “the definitive homeland security information resource,” I found an introduction to biological warfare, a handbook complete with a giant poster of a guy with smallpox. “You see this?” I asked my family, pointing to the guy’s head. “If I start to look like that, take the tuna and run.”

And if you thought traffic signs were complicated, you haven’t seen the latest in homeland security warning symbols. If you ever walk past a road sign depicting a bundle of dynamite with a circle around it, run away as fast as you can. Same goes for a triangle with an exclamation point in the center. That essentially means you missed the dynamite sign a mile ago and it’s too late.

The homeland security risk factor is now colored-coded, recognizing the literacy work that still needs to be done in our homeland. Right now we’re in a code yellow, which means the security risk is “elevated.” At least in Texas.

“Fear of the unknown is still unknown,” the color-coding chart explained. That must have been written by one of the disgruntled federal workers.

“What does that mean?” my son asked.

“I don’t know, son,” I told him. “I guess it means the unknown is still unknown. Or maybe it’s known to some, but unknown to others. Who knows?”

There was a banner ad at the top of the Web site from the Radiation Safety Academy (where tuition is far less than Stanford, by the way). Its slogan is, “When you want the best…”

I don’t know why anyone with radiation wouldn’t “want the best,” but I suppose it might depend upon your HMO provider.

The television ad campaigns will probably begin soon.

“One Geiger counter, $132.95.”

“One chemical warfare suit, $263.50.”

“One smallpox vaccination, $2,625.”

“One day without paranoia, priceless.”

“For everything else there’s Master Card .”

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The Union. His column appears every Tuesday.

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