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The Gross National Debt

Friday, September 08, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos, ePluribus Media and My Left Wing.)

The 5-year anniversary of 9/11 looms large for me.  I'm certain it looms large for everyone.  My thoughts about 9/11 are not restricted to annual anniversaries, though.  I don't really think a day passes where I don't think about it and in a very persosnal context.

There is fear that is invoked and then there is fear that is real.  Follow me after the fold as I try to sort through all of this.

I was reminiscing with my parents on Monday about 9/11.  They retired to South Carolina in 2000, after 40+ in the Washington DC area, where I still reside.  They were in town visiting for a few days before heading to the Amalfi Coast of Italy (more on that later) with friends for a 2 1/2 week vacation.  They had missed Bill Maher the previous Friday, so we watched it together when it replayed on Monday.  The anniversary of 9/11 was a subject on the show, and it turned into a subject for discussion post-show.

I work with the Federal Government - not for them - with them.  I'n a technology hack.  First it was software, and now it's services.  I have made my career on this since coming out of graduate school.  My mother blazed the trail - a high-powered and highly successful technology hack who built her career on doing business with the Federal government.  My father was a career civil servant with the Federal government.  You get the picture.

I was on my way downtown that morning.  I had a pretty critical presentation to give at a pretty high level in the US Department of the Treasury, whose headquarter offices are next to the White House.  Because I live in Northern Virginia along the Dulles corridor, I was inbound on Rt. 66 East when my husband called.  He was watching the Today show.  They were covering what looked to be a small plane that had crashed into one of the towers.  As he watched, with his toothbrush in his mouth, brushing away, another plane crashed into the second tower.

My cell phone rings - Mr. RenaRF: "I was watching Today about a small plane crash and the weirdest thing happened.  Another plane crashed into the Towers in New York."

Me (confused - I didn't know about the first plane and I was highly distracted trying to mentally prepare for the meeting):  "Weird.  I have to go.  Love you."  Click.

I didn't turn the news on or anything.  I was seriously thinking through each aspect of my upcoming presentation.  As I was on the highway driving through Arlington, my phone rang again.  This time the Caller ID indicated it was my office, also in Arlington.  It was a friend and co-worker.  I answered.

Friend: "I don't know where you're going, but if it's anywhere downtown, turn around and get out.  New York is being attacked.  The Pentagon has been attacked.  A bomb went off at the State Department and they say there are bombs at other buildings.  Do not go downtonw."

Me (still confused): "What the fuck is going on?"

Friend: "I don't really know, but whatever it is is bad.  Get out.  Call me tonight."  Click.

For those unfamiliar with the I-66 corridor heading into DC, there are several exits for Arlington and Rosslyn before you get to the exit for 110 (on which the Pentagon sits) and, beyond that, the Teddy Roosevelt (TR) Bridge to spill directly onto either E Street or Constititution Ave. in DC.  As my friend called, I was just coming up on the Rosslyn/Key Bridge (which takes you into Georgetown) exit.  I remember that as she said the word "Pentagon" I looked to the horizon and I saw smoke.  In that instant as well I remembered hearing a loud BOOOM some exits (5 min.) earlier ande thinking it was like the BOOOM you hear when builders are clearing large lots for construction with dynamite.  I figured in that moment that I had heard the plane hit.

I took the Rosslyn/Key Bridge exit and, because of how impossibly jammed traffic was going into Virginia, I headed towards DC on Key Bridge with the idea that I would turn away from downtown onto Canal Road and travel back into Northern Virginia via the Chain Bridge.  

As I'm on Key Bridge, I look to my right.  Smoke.  Fire.  Below and slightly behind me on GW Parkway, countless emergency vehicles are speeding towards the Pentagon.  I can hear them behind me in Rosslyn also.  I almost had to stop the car to throw up.

I managed to get on Canal Road, which was totally jammed.  I surely had the radio on to the local news channel by that point, but I had it slightly turned down.  I was trying to contact Mr. RenaRF.  I was trying to call the high school where my stepson was in class, because it was less than a mile from the CIA and the rumors were rife that other potential targets were being secured.  I was trying to call my parents, who I knew would be frantically freaked because they knew I had been sweating that pending presentation so they knew I was slated to be downtown.

All circuits are busy.

I did get through.  Mr. RenaRF fine.  Staying in the burbs.  Stepson fine - school has released him on my call and he is headed home.  Parents fine - relieved that I was heading out of the city.

Here's where my parents' story overlaps.  They had been playing tennis that morning down in South Carolina.  They hadn't heard a thing and they were listening to CDs in their car.  They retired young (at 55) and were living off of their investments, many of which were tied to the stock market.  The stock market had been struggling... When they got home, they turned on the TV to check the market and saw that it was closed.  They couldn't imagine why it would be closed - so they switched to CNN minutes before the first tower fell.

Minutes after that I got through to them:

Me: "Mom.  I'm ok.  Everyone here is OK.  I'm stuck in traffic but I'm headed home."

Mom: "We just got home and I tried to call you a few minutes ago.  I can't believe this."

Me: "Mom, I saw the Pentagon.  It was awful.  I heard about the World Trade Centers.  Maybe the only good thing was that the planes hit kind of high and they have a chance to save the people below the crash.  I hope they can get them out."

Mom: "Rena... One of the towers just collapsed.  It's gone."

Me: [Bursts into tears]  Click.

I was completely... I don't know if there's a word for it... But I was so devastated by that news.  I cried.  Hard.  And for a while.  My head hurt.  I had to pee.  I was inching forward in traffic.

I came upon Fletcher's Boat House - a nice area along the C&O Canal that rents boats and bikes and has beautiful walking paths.  And a public restroom.  I had to stop - I made the left and pulled in.  The restrooms were mercifully open (they aren't always) and I used them.

So here I am.  I'm in a business suit.  My eyes are puffy.  I come out of the restrooms and notice how quiet it is around me.  It took me a moment - but then it hits me.  There's no air traffic.  Huh.  As I stand there, I see other people in shorts and walking shoes coming to the main section of the park, smiling - laughing - talking with each other.  They don't know.  All I can think is: "Should I break their hearts?"  I don't.  Let them have their peace.

That day is really personal to me by virtue of proximity.    I think no matter where you are, 9/11 was personal for each person in their own way and experience.

And that's what bugs me about the fear.

Real Fear vs. Manufactured Fear

What would you think of a person who has a child, and that child is desperately afraid of the water.  When the child acts up or won't behave (in other words, when the child's being a child), the parent threatens to hold them under water.  Pretty bad, I think.  It's totally manipulative and preys on the fears, rational or not, that the child holds.  It's really despicable.

Can you say that the fear manufactured by those in power is any different?  I can't.

I'm already fearful with good reason - and it's real fear.  I live in Washington DC.  I spend a lot of time there in high profile places with high value (from a terrorist's perspective) Federal agencies.  When I'm able, I take the Metro (those familiar with the DC Metro know that it's not exactly accessible to large portions of the burbs).  I watch people swipe their SmartTrip cards and get on the Metro with suitcases (it goes to National Airport) and briefcases and backpacks.  There are no metal detectors.  When I board the Metro, I do so with the full knowledge that this might be my unlucky day.  There's really nothing that has been done (or even proposed) to help make the DC Metro safer.  And let's face it: Washington DC is and will remain a high value symbolic target for terrorists.

That's real fear.  It's real fear when you immediately notify authorities (whoever is closest) when a bag is abandoned on the Metro or in front of a building or in the Dulles Airport.  It's ever-present.  It's livable, but it's always there and it's tied to real-life concerns.

So it really fucking pisses me off when the terror alert level is raised, right before and election, based on information that is four years old.

It really fucking pisses me off to hear George W. Bush break his radio silence on the subject of Bin Laden when he's done nothing to apprehend him.

It really fucking pises me off to have Bin Laden shoved at me solely for the purpose of trying to maintain political control 60 days before another election.

It really fucking pisses me off to hear speech after speech that talks simultaneously about "winning the war on terror" while also saying "they want to kill us".  I know they want to kill us.

It really fucking pisses me off when a POTUS says stupid shit like "bring it on" when he was IN A FUCKING SCHOOL in Florida when all hell broke loose around me.

It really fucking pisses me off when the administration has SO little depth such that they allow prisoners to be tortured and further allow that torture and its images to become public, further inflaming extremists who already want to kill me.

It really fucking pisses me off when I hear that container security isn't going anywhere.  And when I hear that border security (from the perspective of terrorists slipping through, having nothing to do with immigration) has gotten worse.  And when I hear an exhausted TSA screener at LAX tell me that they are woefully understaffed and overworked.  And when I hear that politics are still the driving factor around information sharing in the intelligence community, meaning information isn't shared.

It really fucking pisses me off that Bush had to be totally pressured to form the 9/11 commission and pisses me off even more that not very many of his stupporters thought badly of him for his resistance.

And it really fucking pisses me off that one of the last thing I said to my parents before they left for the airport to go to Italy was "Pretend you're Canadian".  And I meant it.

I could add to this list ad infinitum, but this diary is already too long (if you made it this far, thanks for reading).

I don't need the manufactured fear, Mr. Bush.  Because every time you try to manufacture it, I can only think about the real and valid fear that lives with me every day and that you haven't succeeded in removing either through policy or interdiction.  And just like the parent who cocntrols the child by exacerbating their worst fears, you are a heartless bully with absolutely no conscience in your willingness to try to scare me further.

posted by RenaRF at 12:28 PM 2 comments links to this post


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9:54 PM  
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10:33 PM  

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