Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 5:45 pm

Odds and Ends for Oct. 6

First things first: Here in Greensboro, the polls are open until 7:30 p.m. If you haven’t already voted, vote! It annoys the bastards.™

So did the Lions lose to the Seahawks last night because the officials knew the rule but made the wrong call? Or did they lose because the officials didn’t know the rule?

No one ever has paid me to be a campaign manager, but I cannot see any upside for Hillary Clinton to pulling out of New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders may lead her there now, but it’s months until the primary. The state awards delegates proportionately, so a loss could be almost as good as a win. The Clintons have a lot of history there; indeed, Hillary won there in 2008 after being left for dead. And is anyone seriously arguing that a campaign that took in $32 million in the third quarter can’t campaign there and on more promising turf? I think this is just a case of Politico doing what it does best, which is to let any old fool say any damnfool thing that comes to mind and treating it like a story.

So 87% of frequent flyers are annoyed by the TSA. The good news is, those 87% are at least 153% annoyed.

I don’t know why the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, got bombed by U.S. planes. All I know is that it did and that the organization is pulling out of the area, taking northern Afghanistan’s last trauma-care hospital with it. This needs investigating. If it was an accident, the U.S. government needs to be issuing abject apologies and paying reparations. If it was intentional, some people need to be charged with war crimes. Either way, some heads need to roll — and I mean commanders and civilian bureaucrats, not pilots.

An EU court has ruled that EU-based companies that store their data in U.S. servers are illegally exposing their customers’ data to snooping by the U.S. government. So not only is that snooping unconstitutional, it’s also bad for business. Maybe that will get the Republicans’ attention.

So once upon a time, South Carolina’s five Republican representatives and two Republican senators voted against federal disaster relief for the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy. Now, with all the flooding in South Carolina, they’re all, including presidential contender Lindsey Graham, seeking federal disaster relief for South Carolina. This is hypocrisy, but it’s more than that: It’s a bone-crushing level of stupid. Because when they were extending the middle finger to New Jersey and New York, did these intellectual ceiling tiles not think that tropical weather — or ice storms, for that matter — could make a huge mess of South Carolina?

Charlie Pierce has more:

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of the destruction, certainly. (To paraphrase Will McEvoy, nobody’s thoughts and prayers are with the flood.) But my memories go back to 2013, when a survey warned us that the country is chockfull of aging, obsolete dams, many of them of the earthen variety, like the ones that gave way in South Carolina today. That same survey found South Carolina’s performance on dam safety as leaky and unsafe as the dams themselves. I mean, 4.3 fulltime employees to monitor and inspect 550 dams, 162 of which were classified as “high-hazard.”

Talking fence post Ben Carson thinks the Oregon community-college shooting was as bad as it was because not enough people attacked the attacker and assures us he would have behaved differently. By his logic, not enough cavalrymen shot at Injuns at Little Big Horn and we must not have shot back at Pearl Harbor. His candidacy poses an interesting question: How dumb can a presidential candidate be before Republican voters notice?

Florida Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus once sacrificed a goat and drank its blood, which I not only am OK with, I also find it one helluva lot less bizarre than believing in supply-side economics.

A TV reporter asked a Dothan (Ala.) city commissioner a question and got hit twice in the face for his trouble. Commissioner Amos Newsome faces assault charges and is lucky not to have a high-def video camera stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.

 

 

 

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Friday, April 10, 2015 9:24 pm

I’ll just let the TSA rock you to sleep tonight; or, One random business traveller sees how it could happen

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 9:24 pm
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I recently went on a business trip, which, unfortunately, involved interaction with the U.S. commercial aviation system. If you fly, I don’t have to tell you how pure-T miserable the experience has become. But this trip included a lagniappe.

I was flying back from … well, I won’t say, because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. The important thing is that I had in my suitcase a box of the small Flip brand video cameras that we use in our work. The TSA at airports usually gets very interested in them, because on X-ray they and their accessories look like, well, a bunch of small, rectangular things with wires and batteries. In other words, awfully like a bomb.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised when they opened up my suitcase and took out the box, and then opened the box and emptied it completely. That had happened before. They emptied my suitcase completely, too, and checked everything for explosive residue. Finding none, they repacked it all (or so I thought), and my flight went on uncomfortably but uneventfully.

Only when I got home did I discover that one of the cameras was missing. I had counted them before we left the client’s offices, and they had all been there. I called the client to be sure; no camera there. But I was definitely one short. The only thing I could figure was that when TSA tossed my suitcase, they’d taken out all the cameras and somehow failed to put one back in the box.

TSA actually has a lost-and-found page you can check for numbers to call if you’ve lost something, so I called. After a bit of phone tag, I got a supervisor who asked about my flight, date, time, airport, and so forth, and said he could pull the video of the search and also check with that airport’s TSA folks to see if the camera had turned up. When he called me back, long story short, neither his colleagues nor the video had had any useful info. In fact, he said, the video appeared to show that everything taken out of that box had, indeed, been put back in.

“Did you gate-check your bag?” he asked me.

Well, yes, I did. Because on most domestic flights, the overhead bins fill up well before the seats do, so I pretty much had to. I suppose I could check my bag, but, particularly on a flight with connections, as surely as I do, my luggage will get lost (with the cameras in the suitcase) and I’ll arrive at a client’s unable to do what we’re being paid to do. So if I don’t want to check my bag, principles of Newtonian physics dictate that I inevitably have to gate-check it.

And that’s the thing, the supervisor said. There was a time there after you gate-checked your bag where your bag was unattended. Maybe, he said, that’s when the camera disappeared.

Never mind the implausibility of someone opening the suitcase AND opening the box inside and just taking one camera, rather than simply snatching the whole box (smaller than a shoebox, though much heavier).

“So you’re saying that my bag was unattended during gate-check and so somebody opened it up and stole the camera then?” I said. “Does it bother you at all that if someone could have done that, they also could have put an explosive device in the bag and blown the plane out of the sky?”

“I know,” was all he said. “I know.” Over and over. “I know.”

Wow.

We as a nation have spent an ungodly amount of money since 9/11 on making sure American commercial aviation is as safe as it can be — or so we’re told. But apparently it’s still possible for someone to steal a camera from — or place explosives within — a bag that has been checked and is supposedly being supervised. And I got that straight from a TSA supervisor.

Enjoy your next flight. I know I will.

 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 7:06 pm

When you create a monster, you can’t act surprised when it behaves monstrously

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea — Lex @ 7:06 pm
Tags: ,

Esquire’s Charlie Pierce was, as it happens, in Terminal 7 at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday when a guy came in and shot a TSA agent, although that incident happened four terminals down from his.

His reflection on the event, written while he was still stuck in Terminal 7 awaiting a flight, bears repeating:

There already is some talk about this event being a “random” one. But it is not. These things are becoming as regular as rain, as predictable as the summer heat. The only thing “random” about it is the shooter. He could be anyone, and that’s the point. There are people who spend money making sure that he could be anyone, and there’s nothing “random” about how they do that. There is nothing “random” about this country’s ludicrous disinclination to regulate its firearms. There is nothing “random” about the millions of dollars that the NRA spends to convince people that they should have the right to carry their assault weapon anywhere they want to carry it, including into an airport terminal, if they so desire. There is nothing “random” about the politicians who truckle and bow to this lucrative monetization of bloody mayhem. These are all deliberate acts with predictable consequences. There is nothing “random” about how we have armed ourselves, and there is nothing “random” about the filigree of high-flown rhetoric with which we justify arming ourselves, and there is nothing “random” about how we learn nothing every time someone who could be anyone decides to exercise his Second Amendment rights by opening fire. There is nothing random about how we got where we are today, here in Terminal 7, where people have sought refuge from the bloodshed, four terminals over. There is nothing “random” at all. We have chosen insanity over reason. We have done it with our eyes open.

To this I would add that there is nothing random about making government, all government, out to be the enemy. As history has shown time and time again, when you scapegoat someone or something long and loudly enough, either a group or a free agent gets exercised sufficiently to act, usually illegally, against that someone or something. And so it has come to pass:

The 23-year-old man who allegedly killed a TSA official at Los Angeles International Airport yesterday was carrying a one-page “manifesto” that included references to the “New World Order,” the Federal Reserve and “fiat currency,” according to a knowledgeable source with ranking law enforcement contacts.

Paul Anthony Ciancia, who allegedly wounded three other TSA workers before being shot and critically wounded himself, also expressed antagonism toward the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its chief until she resigned in August, Janet Napolitano, the source said. Ciancia’s note called former Secretary Napolitano a “bull dyke” and contained the phrase “FU Janet Napolitano,” the source said.

Ciancia’s language and references seemed to put him squarely in the conspiracy-minded world of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. The New World Order refers to a longstanding conspiracy theory that today, in its most popular iteration, claims that global elites are plotting to form a socialistic “one-world government” that would crush American freedoms. Often, the root of the alleged conspiracy is traced to the 1913 creation of the Federal Reserve and the adoption of fiat currency — paper money that is not backed by gold, as it was once was in the U.S.

So-called Patriots also increasingly see the DHS, which produces intelligence assessments of extremists that are distributed to other law enforcement agencies, as an enemy and even a collaborator in the New World Order conspiracy. Many believe DHS has targeted their movement and is somehow connected to the alleged construction of concentration camps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The purported camps are thought to be meant for those Americans who resist a coming national seizure of all weapons from U.S. citizens.

Yes, the TSA was a horribly expensive overreaction to 9/11 in the first place, it has been too often staffed by morons, and its habit of confiscating our penknives and making us take off our shoes is annoying as all hell. But there are people in the world who actually need killin’, and to my knowledge, no one at the TSA is one of them.

Friday, November 26, 2010 2:56 pm

Slap one on the scanner next time you fly

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 2:56 pm
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(Sent by my friend Valerie; if anyone knows the creator, I’ll be happy to credit him/her.)

 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 12:45 am

“TSA: keeping America safe from menstruating women and incontinent senior citizens.”

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 12:45 am
Tags: ,

My mother sent this letter to the editor of The Charlotte Observer earlier tonight. Since I think there’s roughly zero chance it will see print in any traditional daily newspaper in its original form, I asked her if I could publish it here, and she graciously consented.

I’m a frequent flyer, a consultant living in Davidson with clients all over the US and in Europe. I’m also a senior citizen with 11 grandchildren and two hip replacements. Since 9/11 I’ve had to undergo hundreds of manual screenings by TSA. On November 15 my husband and I flew to Austin, Texas, on a business trip. Even though I’m a news junkie, I had heard nothing of the new so-called “enhanced pat down” procedures until I was subjected to them at the Charlotte airport. (When I got a copy of USA Today that morning inside security, I read the first story on it.) So I was shocked when the agent began, without warning, aggressively rubbing my body with the front and back of her hands – breasts, waist, buttocks, and legs with 4 firm touches to the genital area (once sliding up each leg from the back, once on each leg from the front). When I protested, I was told these new procedures were put in place October 25. I asked about the wand which I was accustomed to. No more wanding, I was told. Either this “pat down” (the media need to make it clear, there is no patting – never has been – only rubbing, only now much more aggressively) or the body scanner, which was not at my security station. When I said there is a question of risk with the scanners, the male supervisor who had joined us told me I could “choose another means of travel.” Obviously since I live in Charlotte and my clients are so far away, that’s not an option – I would have to close my business if I could not fly.

For those who have not experienced this procedure, the media should make it clear: If you are anywhere else in the US and a stranger touches you in this fashion, they would be charged with assault. The new procedure is not just a little “enhancement” – this is government Doublespeak – but a major shift to an aggressive body search. Even though the prior procedures were offensive, I and most other passengers submitted to them believing it was the best way to keep us all safe. These new procedures are more than offensive – they are criminal.

Even before the change, a TSA agent in Charlotte in September, after wanding me, asked me to step into a private area. When I asked the purpose, she said she had “felt something unusual” in my bra. (The underwire and metal adjusting clips for the straps always set off the wand.) I protested this additional search, but protesting or questioning TSA always results in a belligerent response – always, in every airport. She insisted that I go to a private area with her and another female agent and lift my shirt so that she could examine the “unusual” something. I continued to object, to no avail. The other agent probed and said she felt nothing unusual, but the first agent would not clear me to fly until I had lifted my shirt so that she could see my bra. The “something unusual” was the end of my bra strap – a 2-inch strip of polyester. America, now don’t you feel safer?

On our return trip from Austin on November 17, I was once again subjected to this assault. Austin has no body scanners. This time I requested that my husband join us so that he could witness what the agent was doing. While her search was just as aggressive and invasive as the one in Charlotte, it was quite different in technique. As I have flown through dozens of airports in the US since 9/11, I continue to find great variation in the manual body search techniques. This time I asked the agent what would happen if they searched a woman passenger and felt a thick sanitary napkin or Depends. She looked uncomfortable with my question, but said, “I’d have to ask her to go back and remove it and come back through security.” I persisted. “So you’d make a woman who was menstruating go take off her bloody napkin and come through security, possibly soiling herself?” “Yes,” she said, “but that hasn’t happened.” I persisted. “And you’d make an elderly woman or man go remove their Depends and come back through security, probably wetting themselves before you’d let them board?” She hesitated, flushed, and said, “Yes.” TSA. Keeping America safe from menstruating women and incontinent senior citizens.

Janet Napolitano tried to reassure us that the aggressive body searches (please don’t call them pat downs any more) are done by a person of the same gender, and that we can always request a private screening. My response is first that assault is assault no matter who does it. Second, I don’t want a private screening unless I’m forced to by a TSA agent because if my human rights are going to be violated, I want as many witnesses as possible. The last thing I want is to be violated in private by a government agent, with no witnesses except another government agent.

To all those who protested “big government run amok” in the last election, this is the worst of big government. It is important to note that these screeners are low-wage, unskilled, poorly trained people who have been given enormous power over the basic human rights of Americans, with no experience, insight, or skill on how to use that power with the great care that it demands. (I have some ability to evaluate the evidence of their training as I have provided training to corporations and governments for over 30 years.) Unlike health care professionals, or even law-enforcement officers, they do not receive years of training and mentoring, and they are not screened for judgment and sensitivity or anything like customer relations skills.

For once I find myself agreeing with Charles Krauthammer (11/18/10):

“We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety – 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling – when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.”

And make a cancer survivor remove her prosthetic breast. And break a man’s colostomy bag. And make a woman remove her skirt. And probe a grandmother’s bra. And make a menstruating woman and incontinent grandpa soil themselves. And traumatize a rape victim by having a uniformed official probe her genitals.

There has to be a better solution. A cleared flier’s list, perhaps. (I once was cleared to work on site at the nuclear facilities at Oak Ridge and Savannah River. But I’m not cleared to board a plane.) Profiling, as Krauthammer suggested. We’ll never make flying 100 percent safe, and we’ll never come up with a perfect screening process, but we have to find a better way. This “enhanced” process is handing the terrorists a great victory – the brutal stripping of our human dignity and human rights.

Emmie Alexander
Davidson

UPDATE: Link to Krauthammer column added.

UPDATE: The Political Carnival picks this up. Thanks, Laffy!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 9:18 pm

Want to know how a country becomes a police state?

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns!,I want my country back. — Lex @ 9:18 pm
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Just like this.

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.

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