Government must follow requests with action

Everyone has heard it: If we change our lives, the terrorists win. So the government is pushing Americans to continue spending, traveling and receiving mail as though Sept. 11 never happened. A noble goal, if one looks only at the economy. But the government is giving wary Americans assurances unsupported by facts, and until they know more about what is happening, officials should not make promises they can’t back up.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insisted workers in Washington, D.C.’s Brentwood Post Office were not at risk because “anthrax cannot pass through a sealed envelope.” The deaths of two postal workers proved them wrong. CDC officials also originally declared that the spores found on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s letter were “primitive,” only to later declare them advanced and dangerous. The CDC progressively discovers anthrax’s capabilities as each day something formerly thought impossible occurs. Yet they continue asserting their national expertise, telling people only “be wary of white powder and flu-like symptoms.”

In recent anthrax cases, the CDC tested only mailroom equipment. Employees were given doses of Cipro and sent home. Not wishing to compromise the investigation, they said nothing reassuring to workers who might be infected. But Americans cannot blindly trust an organization proven incapable of predicting the risk.

Before the attacks began, Surgeon General David Satcher deemed America safe from anthrax because terrorists “had no effective delivery system.” Days later, the deadly chain of anthrax-laden letters began. The postmaster himself says that he “cannot guarantee mail safety,” and no one knows just how easily anthrax passes from letter to recipient. But we all should continue reading the mail, they say; otherwise, the terrorists win.

President Bush enthusiastically urges Americans to resume normal life and feel safe. Meanwhile he declares the nation “still under attack,” and Congress adjourns for nasal swabs and Cipro. He concerns himself with solidifying consumer confidence, and wants travelers to feel safe on planes. Meanwhile, Congress debates federalizing airline security and more and more box cutters and pocketknives are reported on flights. Each day a new flaw is found in screening airline workers and security personnel. Clearly, the government is not in control of the situation, and this is hardly a reassuring atmosphere, no matter how patriotic the individual.

A renewed economy is advantageous to all Americans, particularly in wartime. But what risk is the government willing to take in the name of the economy? The CDC does not know where the next anthrax letter will surface, or how potent it will be, and President Bush has no idea what terrorists are plotting next. Until the government and CDC have a grasp of what the enemy can do, they should not instill a false sense of security in Americans.