Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, December 31, 2009 12:36 am

Your tax dollars at work. Sigh.

As previously noted, for all that $8 billion a year we’re spending on the Transportation Security Administration, the only two things we’ve done since 9/11 that have made flying markedly safer from hijacking are securing cockpit doors and instructing passengers to fight back. Everything else is just shoveling tax money out the back door to about three private-sector companies.

Which, naturally, didn’t stop the TSA from coming with a whole new top-secret list of super-duper security procedures, which a couple of travel bloggers, Steven Frischling and Christopher Elliott, immediately published.

Now, I suppose one can argue that the bloggers shouldn’t have done it, and I will.

But the TSA’s first response — subpoenaing the bloggers to try to find their source — suggests that the TSA is far more about protecting somebody’s federally financed joyride than it is about balancing the complex issues involved with protecting air travelers in a free country from hijackers.

And that, my friends, is a part of the larger issue of classified records that has cropped up as the president has pledged to accelerate declassification of a lot of government records that either should have been declassified a long time ago or else never should have been classified in the first place. (Coincidentally, I got into an argument tonight on this very subject on Facebook.)

It is hard for people who don’t work a lot with public records to grasp just how widespread is the practice of withholding records from the public just because making them public would embarrass one or more government officials. (Dick Cheney, I’m talking to your Daily-Show-defense-offering self.) I did this stuff day in and day out for 25 years with records from all levels of government, from the city of Greensboro right on up to the Army, FAA and FBI. It was staggering 1) how many government officials don’t even know the open-records laws that are supposed to guide their work (I should’ve moonlighted as a compliance consultant for the governments I covered; I could’ve gotten rich. Kidding.); 2) how many of those who do know just don’t give a damn; and 3) how many of the illegally withheld records we eventually got, only to find that there clearly was no justification, from a national security standpoint or otherwise, for their having been withheld in the first place.

What’s even more entertaining is that classifying a federal document to try to cover up evidence of a crime is itself a crime. Despite the long litany of crimes committed by the government over the past decade, many involving records that were at one point classified [**COUGH** John Yoo **COUGH**], when’s the last time you heard of anyone being prosecuted for that? Yeah, I thought so.

Because here’s the thing. In a free country, the people, not the government, need to be the ones to decide what stays secret. And in this country’s history, the people have actually done a pretty good job.

Even journalists, whom the Rush Limbaughs of the world like to portray as unpatriotic, don’t want U.S. service members to get hurt unnecessarily. Toward that end, they sit on sensitive information all the time, and not just at the national level or in other countries, either. For example, here in Greensboro during the first Gulf War, the N&R learned that a key component of the Patriot anti-missile system was being manufactured by a local company but did not publish that information until being assured that publication would not jeopardize anyone.

I hope the ACLU takes the bloggers’ case, countersues the crap out of the TSA for abuse of process and wins a ton of money, because, dammit, somebody, somewhere has to stand up for common sense and I’m not going to be the one stupid enough to argue that a pair of bloggers have more of an obligation in this regard than does the federal government.

UPDATE: The TSA subpoenas have been dropped, although a number of other troubling questions about the agency’s behavior toward the two bloggers remain. Quasi-relatedly, Republican congresscritters need to remember that the biggest threat to national security isn’t journalists. Sometimes it’s … Republican congresscritters. Republican congresscritters who are the senior Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, in fact.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 11:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/29

Gettin’ back at ‘em: Wall Street’s 10 Greatest Lies of 2009 and 10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who’ve Been Screwing You. For informational purposes only; no endorsement implied. IANAL. Void where prohibited. Etc.

Waykewl pitchers: Time’s “The Year in Pictures 2009,” National Geographic’s “Top Ten Space Pictures of 2009.”

Denzel in the house: Denzel Washington came to the Davidson-Penn game last night to watch his son’s team lose to the Wildcats. (Malcolm Washington converted a 3-point play for the Quakers’ final points of the game.)

Connecting the dots: Fecund Stench does an excellent, if scary, job of it.

I’m sure the Right-Wing Noise Machine will apologize to the Dixie Chicks right after it excoriates Ted Nugent.

Following in the footsteps of the other death merchants: Like the tobacco industry before them, the health-care industry, not satisfied to mess things up at the national level, is now also messing things up at the state level.

Attention, deficit hawks: Despite what you may have learned in Right-Wing Math Class, a $900 billion health-care program that’s paid for is NOT as big a problem as a $9 trillion unfunded liability.

Chase and Citibank are dropping out of the FDIC 4K program. Uh, what does that mean, you ask? Basically, they’ve found a way to do more gambling with your money.

Two Panthers are going to the Pro Bowl, RB DeAngelo Williams and DE Julius Peppers. RB Jonathan Stewart’s final stats may outshine Williams’s. Peppers, on the other hand, is tied for 305th in the league in tackles through Week 16, with 39; ranks tenth overall, and sixth among defensive ends (fifth among DEs in the NFC), in sacks; tied for 177th in passes defended (eighth among DEs), with five. In his defense, he is tied for third in the league with five forced fumbles and is among only four DEs in the league who have returned an interception for a touchdown.

Carbon gap: All the blather about a carbon/environment/clean-energy bill is overshadowing an ominous fact: China is going to eat our lunch in this arena … if we let it.

Quote of the day, from Bruce Schneier: “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” So let’s 1) stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year on equipment and people that don’t do what they’re supposed to do and 2) stop making flying commercial any more of a miserable experience than it absolutely has to be. Thank you.

Another quote of the day, from Osama bin Laden, which we really ought to look at again before rushing off to start new wars in Yemen and Somalia: “All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”

John Dugan owes us trillions, and if he can’t pay, I say we have the Mafia (who pay sales taxes, if nothing else) break his legs.

Pat Buchanan: Still crazy.

Speaking of crazy: It’s time to stop giving Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., air time. He handles it worse than I handled Jell-O shots, which is pretty bad.

I wouldn’t call it a “fix,” but it’d definitely be an improvement: NYU online-journalism guru Jay Rosen suggests the Sunday talk shows start fact-checking their guests. Unlike Jay, however, I wouldn’t wait ’til Wednesday to post the corrections. That ought to be happening in real time, online and with live screen crawls.

Speaking of fixes, if we want to fix the terrorism problem, we have to start with the engineers. They’re dangerous, I tell you. Including my brother.

Mashup du jour: This is genius.

Attention, police: You can’t Taser people just because they don’t do what you want them to do anymore. Not that all that many of you were doing that to begin with, just as almost none of you hit people over the head with your batons just for the hell of it. But those few of you who have been doing this are now on legal notice that you need to stop.

Elections have consequences, and the biggest consequence of the 2008 election so far is that the people who worked hardest to elect Barack Obama president have been serially and collectively screwed.

Reasons to freak out: Number of Americans who’ve died this year for lack of health insurance: about 45,000. Number who’ve died from salmonella: about 600. Number who’ve died from terrorism, including all those at Fort Hood: 16. Let’s keep this in mind before we soil ourselves, shall we?

Parker Griffith didn’t just take a congressional seat with him, he also took some of the Alabama Democratic Party’s voter-registration data. His primary is June 1, so get your popcorn early.

And I’ll bet you thought the story of Orly Taitz and the birthers couldn’t get any weirder: BZZZT! Wrong!

OK, maybe the world really WILL end in 2012, because it sure can’t keep going like this: DougJ at Balloon Juice for the win: “Let’s be frank: at this point, there is no real difference between Michelle Malkin and the Washington Post editorial page, none between Marc Ambinder and Matt Drudge, none between the Republican Congressional delegation and RedState. We have Jim DeMint holding up the confirmation of the head of the TSA while simultaneously acting as the point man for Republican criticism of the TSA … and he’s getting a lot of traction in the very liberal media. Maybe there is no value in saying this over and over again, but our public dialog really, really sucks.”

And, finally, just because it’s cool and you deserve a reward for reading this far:

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

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