Saturday, July 16, 2005

After London, Just As After Madrid, Our Republican Leaders Fail To Take Mass Transit Security Seriously

Republicans clearly don't care about mass transit security.

Senate Republicans twice on July 14 rejected amendments to the Homeland Security appropriations bill —- pressed by senators from states with large urban centers -— to increase money for mass transit protection by as much as $1.4 billion.

First, Republicans failed to restore $50 million in rail and transit security grants to state and local governments, slashed by the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committe in May.

You may recall that in the wake of the London bombings, G. William Hoagland, a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), told CNN that the Senate planned to restore the $50 million cut. But the Senators must have had short memories -- they failed to restore the grant money when passing the appropriations bill.

Democrats -- who saw their plans to add $3 billion in spending to the FY 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations bill nixed by Repubicans, which would have included $350 million for rail security -- were hoping that the London bombings would provide a wake-up call to their Republican colleagues.

Robert Byrd (D-WV) authored the other failed amendment, seeking to increase mass transit security spending by more than $1 billion.

He told his colleagues: "The horrific attacks in London a few days ago were eerily similar to the attacks in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004: targeted, coordinated, and timed bombings. Sadly, crowded subway systems and trains have become inviting targets for terrorists. We have witnessed the hysteria and the chaos that these events can trigger. Could it happen here? Of course."

But the Senate, voting along party lines, nixed Byrd's amendment 55-43-2. Only Kent Conrad (D-ND) crossed party lines.

***

Byrd also reminded colleagues of their failure to support two other mass transit security bills last year: "Last October, the Senate passed two bipartisan rail security authorization bills, S. 2273 and S. 2884, that authorized additional funding for securing mass transit and rail systems, but the bills did not make it to the White House. "

S.2273, authored by John McCain (R-AZ) would have authorized more than $1 billion in rail security improvements and require the Department of Homeland Security to analyze rail vulnerabilities. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the bill in April, 2004, but the bill was never approved by the full Republican-controlled Senate.

S.2884, authored by Richard Shelby (R-AL), sought a three-year, $3.5 billion commitment for mass transit security. It suffered a similar fate.

So, if you are scoring at home, the Republican-controlled Senate has had five chances to increase spending on rail security -- three times after the Madrid train bombing, twice more after the London bombings. And they have failed all five times, even when the legislation was authored by their fellow Republicans.

***

Elsewhere in our Republican government, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff appeared before the House Committee on Homeland Security and was roundly assailed by Democrats who accused him of neglecting mass transit, especially in the wake of the London bombings.

To make matters worse, he explained to the Associated Press on July 14 why mass transit security should take a back seat to aviation security: "A fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people," he said, evoking 9/11 imagery.

Then, he added words that infuriated urban leaders nationwide: "A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people."

Clearly, Chertoff doesn't understand the theory behind "mass transit." It's not one little choo-choo train carrying a handful of passengers. In urban centers across America, it's dozens, if not hundreds of trains, subways and buses, each potentially carrying dozens, if not hundreds of passengers.

And as unconscionable as it is to think that terrorists could use an airplane as a suicide bomber, killing thousands, imagine a bus packed with explosives ramming into a building. Imagine the casualties of a train packed with explosives detonated in New York's Pennsylvania Station, which serves several hundred thousand passengers daily, but also sits below Madison Square Garden, or Grand Central Terminal, which serves several hundred thousand passengers daily, and is connected to a hotel and a retail concourse.

Chertoff's statement doesn't make sense for another reason -- daily usage of mass transit is higher than daily usage of airports in many urban centers.

Let's take a look at the numbers:

New York's bus and subway system, which carries a staggering 7 million riders a day, has been the target over the years of at least two alleged attempted terrorist attacks, both of which were stopped before they could be carried out.

"Michael Chertoff is a very smart guy, but I couldn't disagree more," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, told the AP.

Chicago's transit system is the nation's second-largest, serving 1.5 million riders a day. Chicago Transit Authority President Frank Kruesi told the AP he was "shocked" at Chertoff's comments.

"They're basically telling us what we should be doing, but they're not funding it, even though the threat is from international terrorism," Kruesi said.

In San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesman Linton Johnson told the AP that officials were "very disappointed" and "completely stunned" by Chertoff's comments.

BART carries 310,000 passengers a day, nearly twice as many as the San Francisco Bay area's three major airports combined, Johnson said.

"A terrorist can affect more people on a train," he said. "One fully loaded BART train holds more people than a 747."

Meanwhile, Washington's Metro system has an average daily ridership of 700,000 on the subways and 500,000 on buses serving the District of Columbia and its suburbs.

***

Is it just coincidence that the majority of mass transit systems are located in so-called "Blue States" -- California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, etc.

I know it's cynical and blatantly partisan, but I agree with the urban leaders -- with regard to mass transit security, the actions of our Republican leaders don't make sense.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush promised the american people that he would create more jobs and his Republican Leaders want to help him by not taking Mass Transit Security seriously. Their reasoning is,if the terrorist blow up more buildings, we can hire illegal immigrants to rebuild them, and we all will live happily ever after.

1:11 AM  
Blogger OTTMANN said...

So what is your solution to prevent terrorists' from setting off bombs on all the trains and buses in America on any given day? Turn the country into a pollice state? That's what you'd be whining about then! You want everything both ways, well that just ain't reality.

Since the government took over the airports, there have been numerous failed tests. So that isn't the answer.

The reality is that there isn't a whole helluva lot you can do without spending gargantuan amounts of money or restricting the public to prevent wackos from blowing themselves up.

I'll tell you one thing, If there is another big attack on America (God forbid) it will likely be the last, because Islam will cease to exist soon after that, guaranteed!

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The money would have been provided in the form of grants for states and municipalities. I assume most of it would have been for the same kind of precautionary devices that are currently being used by DHS (via TSA) in airports -- just sub in train stations and bus terminals.

In other words, machines to x-ray baggage, bomb-sniffing dogs, additional police presence, and video cameras.

Not a police state, but a visible deterrent -- just like at your favorite airport.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Ottman, where am I to start? First you mention "gargantuan amounts of money" but I would say that is not the issue here.

America can afford unprecedented tax cuts during wartime (estimated by Bush to cost $1.35 trillion over 10 years). If we only cancel that tax cut for just one year we could immediately hire more public safety officers. How many more? www.costofwar.com calculates we could pay the salaries of 5,069,708 Public Safety Officers for one year. Or how about 3,524,505 Port Container Inspectors? Please don't talk to me about gargantuan amounts of money.

Then you imply that America (a country) should be at war with Islam (a religion). This is so wrong it is breathtaking. But the biggest problem is it would be an answer to Bin Laden's most ambitious prayers. The terrorists who attacked us used Islam as an excuse but that is besides the point. Just as it is irrelevant that when Eric Rudlph was blowing up americans he claimed it was for Christian reasons. Fanatics, zealots and other dumb-asses come in every religious color.

We should be ruthlessly narrowing the scope of our efforts, like a laser, onto the terrorists responsible and their protectors, not widening it to include nearly 1.5 billion Muslims; nearly all of whom are peaceful, abhor murder and are on our side. Declare war on them all and you are saying they should be on Bin Laden's side. How stupid would that be?

5:55 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

FYI: the tax cut vs public safety officers trade-off is actually calculated at the National Priorities Project site.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“In the past four years, the federal government has spent about $9 per flying passenger, but only 1 cent per transit passenger,” Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey said in delivering his Democratic Party’s weekly radio address. “While the money we spend on aviation security is absolutely necessary, we cannot afford to forsake public transportation security.”

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(CNN) -- In the wake of last week's terrorist attacks in London, Democrats are asking the Bush administration to spend more money securing the U.S. public transportation system.

They say White House transportation policies are "putting lives at risk."

"A major attack on a public transportation target in this country would result in a devastating loss of life, and could have economic impacts even greater than September 11," Rep. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, told the nation Saturday in the Democrats' radio address.

"But even in the face of these facts, the Bush administration has largely ignored the security of the 16 million people who use public transportation everyday."

Menendez, who serves as the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said he has been working with fellow Democrat, Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, to introduce legislation that would allocate additional funding for transit agencies across the nation.

The bill, he said, would allow those agencies to hire more police officers, operate more K-9 patrols and invest in other technological security measures, such as cameras and sensors for explosives.

11:46 PM  

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