- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2010

MOSQUE MOXIE

It has become a parlor game among pundits and press: Who supports the “ground zero mosque” and who doesn’t? As evidence that our beauty queens grow all the more politically precocious, the Beltway tour bus slows down long enough for all our passengers to gape in wonder at Miss USA Rima Fakih - all of 24 and a Muslim born in Lebanon and raised in Dearborn, Mich.

She dons her glittering crown to compete with 82 comely rivals at the Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas on Monday night before a panel of judges that includes MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall. But Miss Fakih has also joined the ranks of those who praise or condemn the proposed $100 million community center and prayer site in Lower Manhattan - which should make her big question-and-answer session with the judges interesting.

“I totally agree with President Obama with the statement on constitutional rights of freedom of religion. I also agree that it shouldnt be so close to the World Trade Center. We should be more concerned with the tragedy than religion,” Miss Fakih told “Inside Edition.”

Incidentally, Mitt Romney has also weighed in on the mosque matter. The potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate opposes the project in deference to “the wishes of the families of the deceased and the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda,” says Mr. Romney’s spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom.

LOOKING VERY RED

Tweet, baby tweet. A new George Washington University and New York University analysis finds Republican senators have sharper social-media skills than Democrats. Researchers evaluated and ranked the “online competence” of 100 senators based on their websites, Facebook presence and Twitter followings to find that Republicans rank an average 5.5 points higher on the Web applause meter than their colleagues across the aisle.

Seven out of 100 senators ranked “genius,” the highest level of digital competence; out of those, seven are Republican. Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, has the greatest “digital velocity” - acquiring the approval and allegiance of many followers - of any senator.

“Social media gives voice to peoples preferences and intentions, demonstrating the affinity for candidates and ideas. As a forward-looking indicator, social-media following may be a crystal ball for what will happen in the voting booth this November, and its looking very red,” says Scott Galloway, a marketing professor on the New York campus who led the study.

CHEERS

“Thank you for your service, Senator McCain. Welcome home to a well-deserved retirement.”

- Conservative U.S. Senate hopeful J.D. Hayworth in a toast to his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, before a weekend “tea party” crowd in Scottsdale, Ariz.

FLYING COLORS

Those tasked with the hair-raising challenge of actually defending the nation’s capital in the event of an attack are, well, the best in the nation. The Air National Guard’s 113th Wing, which flies out of Andrews Air Force Base, has been named the Guard’s “top flying unit” according to the National Guard Association of the United States, which on Monday presents the wing with the 2009 Spaatz Award - named for Gen. Carl A. “Tooey Spaatz, a World War I ace and the first Air Force chief of staff.

Operated by the District of Columbia Air National Guard, the 113th Wing is known as the “Capital Guardians” and boasts 22 F-16s, among other aircraft. More than two-thirds of the wing’s ratings on operational readiness, combat skill, safety and other factors were “outstanding” or “excellent” during a very busy year, says Maj. Gen. Errol Schwartz, commander of the D.C. National Guard.

Along with preparing for a three-month deployment to Iraq, the wing responded to 300 - yes, 300 - “air sovereignty alert events” in the skies above the Beltway last year. Way to go. And thanks.

“I’m proud to serve with them,” says the wing commander, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson.

DOGGED DETERMINATION

An unlikely new alliance has leaped up between, yes, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk has persuaded DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to adopt dogs from animal shelters and breed rescue groups to accommodate the planned increase in the DHS’ canine force of bomb/drug-sniffing and search-and-rescue dogs.

“This is a breakthrough in the campaign to help homeless dogs who would otherwise be euthanized,” a PETA spokeswoman says, noting that the leading canine candidates are Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, Dutch shepherds and Belgian Malinois.

They also sound like they might make good politicians..

“Dogs must be alert, active, outgoing and confident, and they should be able to withstand a series of tests for courage and toughness, including the ability to disregard blows from a stick,” she adds.

POLL DU JOUR

- 81 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Democrats say Iraqis are better off now than they were before the Iraq war.

- 67 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats say the war was not a mistake.

- 65 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Democrats say U.S. troops should remain in Iraq beyond 2011 if Iraqi forces fail to keep order.

- 60 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Democrats say the Iraq war will ultimately be judged “successful.”

- 29 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of Democrats say Iraqis will be able to maintain order on their own.

Source: A Gallup Poll of 1,013 adults conducted Aug. 5-6 and released Friday.

Comments, asides and murmurs to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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