Weathering Storms vs. Hunting for Terrorists

News of tornadoes striking across the Midwest this weekend got Ohio native Brian Unger thinking about the relationship between the nation's response to bad weather and the Bush Administration's pursuit of terrorist suspects both here and abroad.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And finally on the show today, the Unger Report. Reports of tornadoes across the Midwest this weekend got Brian Unger, a native of Ohio, thinking about the relationship between bad weather and terrorism. With a Buckeye perspective, here is Brian.

BRIAN UNGER reporting:

In Ohio, during the dog days of summer, the air is so ripe with humidity and stillness, even the cicadas sound bored and miserable. Every allergen known to man is flying up your nose, and the forecast begins with, And you thought today was hot. That's when people know the tranquil air can change from languid to furious in an Ohio minute.

It starts like this. The sky changes to a color you can't find in a crayon box; hazy yellow to a blackish-green. It gets quiet, real quiet; the cicadas fall silent. Dogs quit their barking. Children stop their racket, and from out of the tedium comes a violence beyond comprehension; Mother Nature's finger, the tornado.

Ohioans instinctively recognized these environmental queues. They gather the kids, lock down the carport and head for the basement and pray their house will be spared; even more that the dang wailing of the tornado siren will stop. It's terrifying when the only thing you can hear over a siren is the pounding of your heart. Such is life for America in the post-9/11 world, where every day is tornado season in Ohio. The sky is constantly painted dark, and from it, terror can come unexpectedly.

Lock down your house, put the dog in the garage, hide the kids; we're all at risk. The powers that be tell us be mindful of terror. Those who aren't, well, they're either stupid or Democrats. In a post-9/11 world, the tornado siren is always wailing. We're all huddled in the basement, wondering when it's safe to come upstairs.

What a political irony we find ourselves in. Those who try to impress us with their competence and optimism do so by reminding us how lousy a world it is. Yes, we've heard: it's terrifying. Worse, the post-9/11 world is just unpleasant. Traveling anywhere on an airplane is a nightmare. We eat with plastic knives while cargo containers go uninspected. We're addicted to oil, when before we merely had a dependency. We're at war at home over moral issues that once seemed settled, and war abroad in a hard lesson once seemed learned.

Our wires are tapped, our Internet searches mapped, and the only affordable preventive medicine is praying you don't get sick. I hate the post-9/11 world. I want a pre-9/11 world; just one with better doors on cockpits. Pretty sure that was a mission accomplished. Otherwise, being afraid all the time when nothing happens makes you afraid of something and nothing, all at the same time. America is confused, numb and exhausted, like we've swallowed a giant Ambien. As an Ohioan, I know this: we're a lot better at predicting tornadoes than we are terror.

What's really scary: The candidates who are planning to run in '08. You can see them gathering on the horizon, Ohio. They're coming for your hearts and minds, because without you terrified, Ohio, they can't win.

And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

BRAND: And a reminder that the Unger Report is just one of many NPR features that are now available as podcasts. Just visit our web site, NPR.org, to find out more.

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