Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » September 2005 » What happens when you even “try” to verify where that Homeland Security money got spent…

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09/16/2005: What happens when you even “try” to verify where that Homeland Security money got spent…

Reason to be insecure over how your security dollars are being spent by Jim Slusher (Editor Daily Herald):

”Trust but verify.

The centuries-old Russian maxim was fitting enough for President Reagan to quote during arms negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s. For American citizens and taxpayers wondering about their safety 20 years later, the federal, state and local governments have, in many cases, condensed the phrase significantly. To them as it relates to Homeland Security spending, the operative phrase is simply: “Trust.”

This lesson is one of the alarming findings of our series this week on Homeland Security spending in the suburbs and state. Yes, there’s room to question whether T-shirts and lunches are justified security expenses. But there is even greater cause for concern in the fact that some governments won’t supply the least information about their Homeland Security spending, and many others drag their feet so long in responding to questions that it can require months of persistence to get simple answers that even Illinois’ lenient freedom of information laws require to be given in at most a couple of weeks.

The city of Chicago, that bastion of honesty and integrity in the stewardship of public money, has received nearly $66 million in Homeland Security money over the past two years and won’t detail how it spent a dime of it. Disclosure of even general expenses, the city says, would jeopardize the effectiveness of the programs on which the money is being spent. The bottom line to the city’s position? “Trust us. We’ll do what’s best for you.”

Have you stopped laughing yet?

If not, perhaps you should look south to the Gulf Coast for an example of how well government unchecked prepares for disasters — terrorist or otherwise. Beyond response problems everyone acknowledges regarding Hurricane Katrina, the Scripps Howard News Service this week cited a federal audit as recent as last November questioning millions of dollars in Louisiana expenses on disaster preparedness — including $15 million distributed to contractors with almost no accounting for where the money went.

Nor must you leave the suburbs for a sobering look at the disdain, if not contempt, in which some officeholders hold those seeking to know how they spend the public’s money. Consider the words of Paul Maplethorpe, fire chief of the Greater Round Lake Fire Protection District. “I don’t have to … and I really don’t want to,” Maplethorpe told our reporters after they persisted in trying to get him to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request he had ignored for months. Then, he hung up the phone.

Not all governments were so uncooperative. A few replied promptly to our requests for information on security spending, and some diligently pored over complex budgets and funding records to sort out their security expenses.

But among the many lessons of our research — including the federal government’s pork-prone method of allocating hundreds of millions of dollars and such dubious expenses as the state’s $19 million Emergency Operations Center in Springfield or the duplicative $200,000-a-year hotline for reporting possible animal poisoning — the most frightening is not what you can find out when you investigate the handling of Homeland Security money; it’s what you can’t.

This lesson in open government is conveniently timed for Illinois students. A new federal law requires public schools to teach the U.S. Constitution on Friday — the closest weekday to “Constitution Day” on Sept. 17. As part of our Newspaper In Education effort, the Daily Herald has been contributing to that effort with a monthlong series of mini-reports and activities in our Neighbor section that teachers can use to build and reinforce understanding of the Constitution. Check out what they are learning by jumping on the Web site nie.dailyherald.com.

Perhaps you’ll agree many of our public officials should be sent back to school for a little constitutional review.”

Karen on 09.16.05 @ 06:59 AM CST

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