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Certainly, one of the terrorists' motivations in planning the attacks of 9/11 was to cripple our economy. In addition to destroying its most prominent symbol, and all the people inside it, they hoped to deal a crushing blow to our finances as a nation.

            According to no less an authority than New York Governor George Pataki, they've succeeded in this regard, big time, and they keep winning battle after battle on this front because "we have no choice" but to lie down and take it.

            In tandem with references to the country's pre-9/11 recession and "the unique difficulties of the financial industry [Wall Street] so critical to New York's economy," Pataki has consistently cited the 9/11 attacks as the trigger that's caused "a fiscal crisis today of a magnitude that we have not faced in our lifetime." Both quotes are from his January 8 State of the State Address.

            But in the same speech, Pataki hammered home the message that Americans --- New Yorkers, in particular --- are a strong people. We're united in opposition to our enemies and determined to see justice prevail. And we're united in support of the victims our enemies have hurt. We will not, we cannot, allow our fellow citizens to suffer by enemy hands.

            "Ultimately, someone will have to make the tough choices that will transform today's fiscal crisis back into even greater economic prosperity than we enjoyed before September 11th," Pataki said during his 2003 State of the State. "As a father of four, I have no intention to bequeath hardship on my sons and daughters --- or anyone else's. And as governor of the state which showed the world that cowardly terrorism is no match for character, courage, unity --- I know we won't have to."

            But, of course, we will. Three weeks later, during his 2003 budget address, Pataki bequeathed hardships by the dozens.

After the 9/11 attacks, donations of both blood and money flooded in for the victims and their families. Their immediate and future needs were addressed by an outpouring of generosity. Funding college scholarships for the children of 9/11 victims is one of the most common forms this charity has taken.

            Yet, according to our governor, as a result of the 9/11 attacks, we have no choice but to raise college tuition at New York's state colleges and universities $1,200, while simultaneously withholding a third of the state-funded tuition assistance enrolled students can receive while they work towards graduation.

            The logic is clear, albeit perverse: Our state government wouldn't have to hike public college tuition and reduce aid to public education and health care for the poor if the terrorists hadn't struck. But they did, and now we're in trouble. And if the critics of Pataki's proposed budget are even half right, the sick and disabled will be worse off, as will the old and the young, high school graduates and prekindergardners alike, because of the 9/11 terrorists.

            Because the terrorists struck, the state now has no better option than to give up billions of dollars in future tobacco-settlement money to stanch the hemorrhage of red ink with a one-time payment of $4 billion. That's another $11 billion to $16 billion in damage they've inflicted on us.

            Among the terrorists' many, lesser triumphs: Librarians say Pataki's proposed $13.3 million cut to the state's library systems will force libraries to cut hours, programs, book orders, and jobs. (Could Osama bin Laden have imagined this arcane facet of his victory?).

I can understand, if not accept, the economic logic of the 9/11 attacks' effects. What I have a harder time understanding or accepting is the sudden disappearance of the strength and compassion politicians of both major parties have been telling us we have every day since 9/11.

            Wouldn't the same New Yorkers who united to ease the suffering of the terrorists' most immediate victims be willing to pitch in to help those who will suffer from it second-hand?

            Are all those individuals and families who ponyed up, say, $20, $50, to help those afflicted by terrorism now adamantly opposed to a percentage hike in the sales tax, or a slightly higher income tax rate (at least, for those making over $100,000; so often the most generous donors, anyway) to prevent the terrorists from causing more pain and poverty?

            I suspect New Yorkers would be more than willing to chip in for such a just cause. But as we face the economic shock waves almost a year and a half into "the wake of the attack," no politician is telling us we're tough and generous enough to avoid the economic fallout.

            Neither are we being asked to spend hundreds of billions of our dollars to depose Saddam Hussein, a man with only a hypothetical connection to the 9/11 terrorists. Massive protests notwithstanding, we're being told we will do so; or rather (and this is less discussed) that our children will do so, destined as they are to inherit a mammoth national debt ballooned by the one-two punch of war and tax cuts on Wall Street dividends.

            And more than being asked to donate a pint of our rejuvenating blood, we are being told to prepare to lose the lives of hundreds or thousands of our friends and neighbors in the military to "change the regime" in Iraq.

New Yorkers are strong, compassionate people. We'll run into a burning building to save a stranger's life. But as human beings, even the weakest and meanest among us perform such acts of heroism when catastrophe strikes, no matter what regime we live under, no matter who or what caused the fire.

            When it comes to inflicting tragedy on the Iraqi people, a tragedy that will likely eclipse 9/11 in size and scope many-fold, we are tough enough to say no, we are generous enough to help them by other means. But, sadly, we are not yet unified against killing more innocents to (somehow) avenge the loss of our own.

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