Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

9-11 Have Our Lives Changed?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- As we observe this fifth anniversary of 9-11, let's consider how it has changed our lives -- or hasn't.
Immediately after 9-11, we were told not to let it affect our lives -- or else the terrorists have won.
But soon we were told we would have to give up some freedoms in order to gain more security. Most Americans seemed willing to make that trade, and thus, the Patriot Act passed with little fuss.
Then we were told we must fight a war on terror. The first battle was in Afghanistan, the prime sanctuary for terrorists. Then came Iraq, which wasn't as easy.
Current congressional races depend on President Bush and incumbent Republicans being able to tie the war on terror to the war in Iraq and convincing Americans that we are safer now than we were five years ago, despite warnings that we should be afraid and assurances that the government is taking ever more steps to protect us.
Are we safer today? Certainly our actions in Iraq have created many more insurgents. The Bush administration says by staying in Iraq, we will keep insurgents over there. The question is debatable.
For most of us, airports are the only place where life has really changed. The terminal has become a theater of the absurd, where passengers line up halfway back to town and little old ladies are patted down.
All this is justified by what is called the one-percent doctrine, advanced by Vice President Dick Cheney, who contends that if there is a one percent chance of a terrorist act, we must respond as if there is a 100 percent chance.
Actually, a one percent chance of a terrorist act does require some response. But I contend that the odds of a little old lady getting on a plane from Albuquerque to Phoenix with a bomb is about equal to the chance of hitting a Powerball lottery.
My advice: don't buy lottery tickets and don't make me wait in line an hour while you're hassling people who there's not a chance in a million are terrorists. Let's get smart about risk assessment, here, folks.
But if we can be convinced there is a one percent chance some little old lady is planning our demise, we'll be fearful enough to give up rights and vote for the candidates who assure us they will do more to protect us.
Lest you think I'm overly fixated on treatment of little old ladies, my 91-year-old mother-in-law was taken behind a curtain and strip searched in a major airport not too long ago. They didn't find any bombs, Mr. Cheney.
Americans must learn to accept as a fact of life that there is a very slight chance they will die of a terrorist act. But it is so small that they needn't get battlefield fatigue worrying about it.
My wife and I take more trips by car than plane now. But that is to avoid airport hassles. I've read that terrorists would have to blow up 50 planes a year before flying would be more dangerous than driving an equal distance.
Insurance companies now exclude terrorist acts. But one of them is bound to wise up soon and start selling terrorism insurance. Many people would pay a great sum for coverage even though the risk is infinitesimal.
We're scared about what might be in the mind of a suicide bomber because it is difficult to deal rationally with an unpredictable person. A baseball pitcher who fires the ball across the plate at 100 miles an hour has the utmost respect from hitters.
But a pitcher who throws a few warm up balls 10 feet over the catcher's head at 90 miles an hour strikes utter fear in the batters coming to the plate. And that's what we're dealing with here.
The terrorists -- and some politicians -- have us more scared than we should be.
MON, 9-11-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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