- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2010

The people speak

The Obama administration was “distracted” from terrorism by myriad domestic challenges, some say. Not so the American people, who appear in touch with their inner mettle, and in a distinctly warlike footing.

Seven out of 10 likely voters say the Underwear Bomber’s failed attempt to take down an airliner on Christmas Day should be investigated by military authorities as a “terrorist act.” One-fifth say civilian authorities should deal with it as a criminal matter.

The bomber has not generated sympathy: 58 percent say “waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques” should be used on him, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted after the incident.

Americans also appear coldly realistic about the state of things: Slightly more than one-quarter say it’s “likely” we will win the war on terrorism, another one-quarter are undecided and 46 percent say it’s “unlikely” the U.S. will prevail, according to Harris Polls, which polled over 6,000 people in five countries throughout December.

Is the proverbial Yankee spirit intact? Could be. U.S. respondents are more optimistic than those in Britain, France, Germany and Spain — where the percentages of those who believe terrorism can be defeated ranged from 8 percent to 20 percent.

Bumper patrol

“Liberals: More mad at Bush than terrorists.”

— Bumper sticker spotted in Warrenton, Va.

Rush to judgment

He was transparent about his personal emergency and offered sound health advice and a reasonable accolade for American health care.

Still, cheeky journalists bashed Rush Limbaugh, already vexed by heart pains and a ruined Hawaiian vacation, inquiring whether he was still on “painkillers” at the close of a Friday press conference.

Later swipes from ABC News anchor Terry Moran and Los Angeles Times reporter Ron Brownstein were “snide,” says Brent Baker of the Media Research Center. And they got political, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, which suggested Mr. Limbaugh used his appearance to tell a “healthcare fib.”

But wait. Will CBS late night host and heart patient David Letterman offer a kindly pat on the back to a fellow sufferer? A few months ago, Mr. Letterman referred to Mr. Limbaugh as a “bonehead” who resembled a “East European gangster.”

Stay tuned.

Panning the scan

To scan or not to scan? That is the question.

The press billed full-body scanners as both ultimate solution and imminent failure in preventing airborne terrorism — even as stock jumped at OSI Systems Inc., which manufactures the industry’s best-selling “Rapiscan” device.

Researchers at Florida International University, meanwhile, urged federal officials to trust the nation’s fate to bomb-detector dogs.

And while MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and The Washington Post’s David Broder defended Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano’s leadership following the foiled attack, her predecessor Michael Chertoff is facing the X-ray vision of critics after he lauded the devices — then admitted to CNN that his own security consulting firm included a scanner manufacturer as a client.

“Michael Chertoff has marginalized himself in the worst way possible by ‘selling’ the flying public on claims that these Rapiscan full-body scanners are a panacea,” says Kate Hanni of Flyers Rights, a passenger rights advocacy group.

“While these body scanners detect ‘anomalies’ that are between the skin and clothing, they will not detect anything in a body cavity that is deeper than 1/10th of an inch, which experts warn will likely be a part of future attacks. This just adds insult to injury, as Mr. Chertoff shamelessly peddles his wares using the nation’s airwaves.”

The Transportation Security Administration could ultimately spend $76 million on the units, Ms. Hanni says, adding, “It’s time to hit the pause button.”

Come to terms

Deft crisis management calls for strategic language — a reality made clear to President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary JanetNapolitano as they publicly struggled to frame the Underwear Bomber’s near-attack last week. They have one good weapon in their arsenal, however: English.

“There is perhaps no finer pleasure to be had than in an act of precise expression, and there’s no better language to be doing that good work in than our own English,” says Jerry Herron, a wordsmith with Wayne State University.

He’s demanding we revisit old, bold words for a new, confusing world.

“The English language is a spectacularly supple and precise, rich and capacious means of expressing ourselves. But those words are only as good as our ability to use them,” Mr. Herron says.

He’s made a list of top “useful” words for 2010. Among them: Mendacity (untruthfulness), quixotic (visionary but unrealistic), insouciance (lack of concern), bamboozle (to cheat), numinous (awe-inspiring), bloviate (pompous speech), charlatan (imposter), mercurial (fickle) and concupiscence (sexual desire).

“Too many political figures, drunk on power and the heady liquor of self-esteem, let concupiscence get the best of them,” Mr. Herron says, supplying a handy example.

Poll du jour

• 76 percent of Americans say September 11 was the last decade’s most defining event.

• 91 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats agree.

• 21 percent of Americans overall say “terror” is the defining word of the last decade.

• 33 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of Democrats agree.

• 15 percent of Americans overall said “decline” was the second most defining term.

• 13 percent cited “loss of personal freedom/civil liberties.”

Source: A Zogby International survey of 2,841 adults conducted Dec. 28-30.

Fancy press kits, numinous asides, revelations to [email protected]

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