- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, June 24, 2014

Homeland Security expands role

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002, a little more than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks shook the country. Except for a few isolated incidents - Boston Marathon bombing, Fort Hood attack, etc. - the nation has not had a repeat of the organized terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people on 9/11.

Not everyone was in agreement that an entirely new Cabinet-level department needed to be created from scratch. In order to get most members of Congress to support the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, all 50 states and the District of Columbia got something, even if they didn’t have a significant threat of terrorism. The strategy worked because the bill to create the agency passed the U.S. Senate on a 90-9 vote and 295-132 in the House.

South Dakota, like other states, got its slice of the DHS pie, too. Since 2003, about $100 million in homeland security grants have been directed to a state that has little or no threats of terrorism.

Because of the states’ low population, the amount of its DHS grants ranks South Dakota sixth in the nation on homeland security spending on a per-capita basis.

When asked by the Journal, the South Dakota Office of Homeland Security deflected questions about its anti-terrorism efforts in a Sunday, June 8, front-page story.

What did South Dakota get for the money? The Journal’s analysis notes that many small towns have received funding for fire trucks and ambulances; schools and local and county buildings got surveillance cameras; local and county law enforcement got state-of-the-art communications equipment; bomb-disposal capabilities; electronic fingerprinting technology; and cyber-attack security systems.

It’s hard to argue that the money was wasted. The enhanced security systems and first-responder equipment upgrades improve public safety. Public schools and buildings are safer - even though there has never been a mass shooting in a South Dakota school - and emergency equipment is newer and fitted with the latest in life-saving gear.

It’s just that the original purpose of the Department of Homeland Security was to protect citizens from terrorist attacks, and while buying a new fire truck for a small town in South Dakota is nice, it’s not why the department was created.

Like many government agencies, the Homeland Security expanded its role to find ways to spend money and justify ever larger budgets. Public safety and natural disaster response are now part of its mission - along with combating terrorism and securing the borders.

We hope that in expanding its mission to find useful purposes for its budget, the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t overlook its primary function to prevent terrorism here at home.

___

Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, June 23, 2014

Iraq and the tide of angry?history

Like a very bad dream, Iraq is a nervous, gnawing specter that America simply cannot shake.

And now - three years after we left the combat phase of that episode behind us - Iraq is haunting our headlines yet again as the extremist Muslim group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has taken control of broad swaths of Iraq, as well as Syria.

This brings to bear the ancient sectarian divides that have existed in and torn apart this region for centuries. America’s excursion into Iraq, which began in 2003, did not change this. It was never going to change this. To have believed otherwise was to conveniently overlook that angry past.

And yet, as Iraq boils anew, we’re hearing a chorus criticizing President Obama for fumbling away the gains that were made with American blood and sacrifices. We are again hearing from familiar voices who want us to march back to Iraq and bolster the current regime in Baghdad.

But the overriding question is: To what end?

What we’re seeing is not a collapse caused by our withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, but rather a return to form that was briefly and nominally interrupted by America’s entrance into that nation.

Consider the ideological quagmire that encompasses this region by imagining what would happen if the U.S. did return to Iraq in force.

In so doing, we would be bolstering the regime of Nouri al-Maliki, described by Middle East analyst Marc Lynch of George Washington University as “an Iranian-backed sectarian despot.” According to the Christian Science Monitor, Lynch says the current Iraq crisis is equated by some in the Arab world to the Syrian revolt, in Iraq’s case being a “Sunni revolution against a Shiite tyrant.”

If the U.S. were to re-enter Iraq, it would find itself allied to a great extent with our constant nemesis, Iran, which is also backing the al-Maliki government. In addition, it would place Washington somewhat in league with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who is also dealing with ISIS among many other rebel groups. And it would put the U.S. at odds with otherwise allied nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are backing ISIS.

In other words, this is a convoluted mess that defies black-and-white political or military answers. That has always been the case, and the results of eight years of U.S. combat in Iraq could not alter that gravity.

In announcing his decision to send in military advisers - but not combat troops - to assist Baghdad, Obama pointed out, “Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by Iraqis.”

But still the critics - the champions of the 2003 unleashing of the Iraq War - persist. They bellow with a lording “I told you so” attitude that serves more their distorted world view than the actual facts of the region’s history.

Some liberal media, such as MSNBC and the Huffington Post, bitterly decry giving those critics any forum to pontificate, questioning why the architects who led us into war under dubious pretenses years ago should be given a soapbox now.

But in fact, these people should be allowed to make their declarations and rattle their sabers yet again. With each syllable uttered, they remind us of the logic that swept us into war in Iraq, to pursue results that were largely unrealistic and contrary to the tide of the region.

What have we learned from this? As the crisis unfolds in the days to come, we shall surely find out.

___

Aberdeen American News, Aberdeen, June 25, 2014

Danger of fireworks evident over time

Common sense, respect and fireworks should go together.

All it takes is a look back into the American News archives to realize that fireworks can be dangerous:

- On July 5, 2012, the Aberdeen Rural Fire Department put out four separate grass fires, all started by fireworks and dry grass.

- Here are four headlines in 2011 issues: “Fireworks cause blaze.” ”Fireworks fans leave mess behind.” ”Fireworks crew member injured.” ”Westport: Fireworks cause blaze.”

- The Aberdeen Police Department received 17 reports of fireworks illegally being shot off on July 4, 2006.

- In the U.S. in 2008, fireworks caused an estimated 22,500 fires, resulting in one death, 40 injuries and $42 million in direct property damage.

- Fireworks started a fire near Richmond Lake State Recreation Area in rural Aberdeen. Officials said two park rangers were able to control the fire before it got out of hand, which it very well could have if some nearby pine trees had caught fire.

- In 2006, Prevent Blindness America reported that nearly 9,300 victims of fireworks - 40 percent of whom are bystanders and 50 percent whom are children - keep hospitals busy every year.

- Several injuries were reported during a fireworks show in Mobridge in 1998.

- In 1996 in Ohio, at least eight were killed and 12 injured when a person was charged with setting off fireworks in a fireworks store.

- In 1991 on a small lagoon on land owned by Brown County, fireworks, straw and manure started a fire that officials were unable to respond to with their trucks because they could not see well enough to drive. Fire officials put out the blaze by using five-gallon buckets of lagoon water, but they had to return the next day when the fire reignited.

- Fire officials found used fireworks at the sites of five fires in and around Aberdeen during the July Fourth weekend in 1982.

- The 1962 American News editorial board calls for the ban of fireworks in South Dakota: “Aberdeen’s children would be safer, the community would be happier, and the policemen could devote their time to other important duties if the Legislature would outlaw fireworks in the entire state.”

The Department of Public Safety says state law allows the purchase and discharge of fireworks from June 27 until the Sunday after July 4. That means this year it’s legal to discharge fireworks through July 6.

Fire Marshal Paul Merriman says common sense goes a long way toward being safe during Fourth of July celebrations. Merriman is urging South Dakotans to follow the instructions on the fireworks they buy, avoid using them in places where a fire could start and keep some water handy.

Wise words for all of us to follow.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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