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Archive for November 2010

Your guide to the TSA, the protesters, and the other travelers on Thanksgiving Day Eve

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Today is Thanksgiving Day Eve, one of the busiest travel days of the year. Today is also the National Opt-Out Day — the proposed boycott of the new TSA standards where people are only given two options: exposure and X-rays vs. being fondled by complete strangers.

There are a lot of sides to this battle, and the good news is that we have advice for all of them:

For those who are participating in the demonstration, do so in a straightforward manner. You are there to make a point and you are also there to get somewhere. The more concise you are, the more powerful the message you will send.

For an extra push to your point, request a private pat-down since they take longer.

For those who are traveling through and not participating in the boycott, what the boycotters are doing is fighting for your rights. You will get to your destination. Appreciate what they are doing in the name of democracy and the Constitution. What they are doing is also within the guidelines of the TSA — they are allowed to refuse the scanner — so you should accept their behavior on those grounds.

The TSA system is set up to work efficiently ONLY if people refuse the pat-down. This system wasn’t thought out well by TSA, and the need for “safety” trumps everything, including getting you to your plane on time.

Some have speculated that the pat-down was introduced as an extreme to make us accept the scanners.

If you feel that your desire to get to your destination is being infringed, by all means, go for the scanner. And don’t get caught up in that pesky private pat-down. That only prolongs your wait.

For those traveling with children, do what you can to preserve their dignity, even if no option available allows their dignity to remain intact. Even those children under 12 aren’t getting the regular pat-down, every pat-down will involve some touching, regardless of age.

For those running the TSA and doing the searches, understand that you can scare us short term. But if we become blas√© because we think the government is lying to us in the name of safety, we won’t truly be safe, even with cavity searches.

For those in Congress, the Cabinet, and maybe even the Supreme Court, look around you as you are being exempt from this humiliation, and try desperately to put yourself in their socks. Of course, you can’t put yourself in their shoes since they aren’t wearing any shoes during this ordeal.

For the media figures who will be covering this story, especially on television, resist the temptation to scorn the boycott. Don’t give us pseudo-anecdotal stories and present them as fact over a broader scheme. Don’t underestimate the numbers. Treat those who participate with dignity; they aren’t in your way.

Journalists talk about getting “both sides of the story” as if there are only two possibilities. So far, the MSM coverage has been along the lines of “roll over, take it, who cares — all in the name of safety.”

Whether you agree with the protesters, consider that they may have a point. Someone has to fight for democracy and our rights; the MSM sure as hell isn’t doing so.

Good luck to all the parties and Happy Thanksgiving!!

picture credit: The Washington Post — picture was added on November 25.

Written by democracysoup

November 24, 2010 at 7:19 am

New airline scanners/pat-downs prove Fourth Amendment is only as strong as we make it

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Would you rather be seen naked or get touched in ‘bad’ places?

There is a lovely choice you don’t normally get these days, but if you are flying out of the wrong airport, you can get those options.

Airport security in the United States has been reduced to someone getting to see the distinct details of what you have underneath your clothes or someone you don’t know gets to touch those areas.

We teach our children that it’s a bad thing for a stranger to touch you in certain places, but your children may get to see you being touched in those same places. Children 12 and under are spared from this ordeal, but as teenagers bodies are changing and they are at their most vulnerable situation, they are subjected to the options listed above.

Imagine the joy of turning 12, thinking you are closer to adulthood, yet subject to this horribly invasive process. Makes you want to go back to sucking your thumb again.

And this isn’t like trying to lie about your kid’s age to get them into a movie for a cheaper price. Your child’s exact age is on required documents. 12 means 12.

If you are the parent of a 14-year-old child traveling through, are you going to let TSA take the examination to a private place (an option for those 12 and older) to get a pat-down? Probably not, but the alternative is having them do it in front of you and complete strangers. Even if you don’t have kids, that sounds frightening.

Then there is the same-gender issue. TSA will assign a same-gender person to do the pat-down, but that opens another can of ethical worms. Can a male adult request a female TSA agent?

There may be a taboo in bringing this element of the discussion, but American citizens are getting felt up in public, so the barriers are gone.

You can certainly have a debate as to whether a male not wanting to be touched by another male is homophobic, but there could be issues of being molested by a same-gender person. Do you then disclose this to get someone of a different gender to conduct the search? How difficult would that be to relive that incident every time you fly?

Perhaps you are a dude who doesn’t want another dude “touching your junk.” There is an argument to be made that a female TSA agent will do only what is necessary and not one bit more, something you may not get with a male TSA agent. Then again, a male TSA agent might not be as rough, but you won’t know until they buy you a drink first (kidding).

As for the exhibitionist element, we are told that TSA blocks the face, the person seeing it is in a different room, and they don’t save the photos. Until they do.

When these new rules were announced, the usual liberal “troublemakers” made some points about “Haven’t we gone too far” and “What about the Fourth Amendment.” They were summarily dismissed by the powers that be with phrases like “Security is most important” and “If you don’t like it, you can leave.” But apparently not by plane.

Now that “real” Americans have experienced this in practice, suddenly concerns about the Fourth Amendment are relevant. The better time to complain is before your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated but why get technical?

We pride ourselves on being a free country and having a Constitution that our Founding Fathers wrote. The sad reality is that they are words on paper unless we, as a country, prove that they are true.

People who wouldn’t consider themselves “liberal treehuggers” are quite upset over this new policy. And suddenly, because these people are objecting, there is a new awareness that the Fourth Amendment is further depleted of its effectiveness.

Maybe we could try listening to the first defense of a violation of an amendment to the Constitution, especially one such as beat up as the Fourth.

The cliche “If we do x, the terrorists win” no longer applies to this situation. The terrorists won this battle a long time ago. They are getting tired of all the victory dances they are doing in their equivalent of the end zone. Not even the terrorists could have imagined the long-term damage made to the United States: economic, insecurity. And they haven’t even had to attack us in the subsequent time to make this large of an impact.

For those who thought the TSA under a Democratic president was going to be better, well, we did get rid of the lame color-coding system. But as we have learned in recent history, Democratic politicians will work harder to prove they are as macho and stupid as Republican politicians.

We can be safe and retain our dignity. Other countries do this: Canadians don’t have to even take off their shoes when they fly to another Canadian city, just the United States. The body parts of Canadians are free from humiliation.

Maybe we could have a security policy that says, “Would the terrorists want us to do this?” If the answer is yes, we don’t do it. If the answer is no, we go for it. That would certainly be better than what we have now, Fourth Amendment be damned.

Written by democracysoup

November 19, 2010 at 7:25 am

United States and Canada need to find balance between security and tourism

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Janet Napolitano and myself were both in Canada at the same time. I’m willing to bet she had a much easier time at customs than I did.

If you have crossed the U.S.-Canadian border in the last few years, you know the border crossing is a much more intense experience. And we all know the moment things changed was 9/11. There were erroneous reports that Al-Qaeda operatives had come into the United States via Canada, all of which were absolutely untrue.

We were told at the time, and since, that this is for the security of the country, and we should just roll with it. But many are choosing not to roll with it, and just staying home.

Now, Napolitano had a much easier time crossing the border and back than an average person such as me for a number of reasons. Her picture is up on the wall of customs offices, being the Secretary of Homeland Security. She is their boss. And she had a verifiable reason to go: a conference of defense and security people in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In other words, a business trip.

My reasons were not as exciting: I attended the Windsor International Film Festival, seeing 7 films in 3 days. I had my suitcase and bags opened and searched completely.

I have been to the festival before and have not received this type of response. The officer seemed concerned that I had made my third trip to Canada in a year. He asked if I had trouble getting into Canada before; I answered no.

Was the office referring to the secondary inspection in Toronto in September? Is this why I had my suitcase searched in Detroit? I asked in Toronto if I was in trouble; they told me I wasn’t — people get selected at random. I didn’t think I was in trouble and after a few simple questions, I was on my way.

There is even a sign in the U.S. customs office in Detroit that says when in doubt, go to secondary. I doubt seriously that Napolitano went to secondary.

That being said, the customs officials aren’t bad people. Actually, the guy who went through my luggage was a nice guy; I would have a beer with him. But they are stuck in a bad situation.

But part of why I was considered suspicious was that I was a tourist. Normally, in these situations, the customs officers ask you questions to prove your story is valid. What movies did you see? Can you describe them? Do you have the tickets as proof?

None of those questions were offered up this time around. But this isn’t about one anecdotal moment. There are plenty of anecdotal moments experienced by Americans and Canadians to fill thousands of notebooks in the last 10 years.

Maybe business people get this same kind of treatment, but there is a feeling that their needs are taken more seriously at customs.

When concerns over tourism became a problem after 9/11, we were assured that security was more important. Given the state of the Canadian economy and the U.S. economy, working to reduce travel is a financial detriment. And it’s a detriment to the goodwill between the longest peace border between two countries in the world.

Tourism isn’t all that is suffering. Commerce — especially at the Detroit-Windsor border — has suffered due to increased times at customs.

People of a certain age remember a time when a driver’s license was all that was needed, and a few tough questions were all that were coming. As much fun as it would be to go back to those times, we know that won’t happen.

Those who met in Halifax probably didn’t hear much about tourism. They probably didn’t even walk around downtown, along the boardwalk, visit Pier 21, see the new farmers market building, or go on a whale-watching tour. I know about those sites in Halifax because I went there as a tourist.

They should have had a debate, asking where tourism fits into the security question. Even in the first few years after 9/11, there was an understanding between customs and tourist. One area in that exchange that has changed is the new passport. With the chip in that passport, more information is stored, increasing the concern among customs officials.

If you have a relatively new passport, they know more about you. And this is likely a reason why things are worse for tourists at the border.

But tourism is suffering and this needs to be important to the governments of both countries. As bad as the cliche has become, if these countries kill tourism in the name of security, the terrorists win.

These two countries represent freedom around the world. The problem is right now between the two countries, freedom is the last word you hear.

There are solutions that involve security while protecting tourism. Customs and the governments need to figure out what that is — the sooner, the better.

Written by democracysoup

November 12, 2010 at 8:10 am

Christine O’Donnell ambushed by Canadian TV comedy

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Normally, Friday brings us a fresh new column. But let’s be honest. This week has been exhausting. And we have had several columns this week.

So in a light-hearted moment, here is Mary Walsh of the CBC’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” ambushing Christine O’Donnell. This excerpt is only part of the segment that will air next Tuesday on the CBC in Canada.

“This Hour Has 22 Minutes” is a sketch political comedy show. Walsh has previously ambushed a number of people, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Written by democracysoup

November 5, 2010 at 8:11 am

Economy needs total effort, but won’t come from House-led GOP

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“This is not a charade; we need total concentration.”

You aren’t expected to know this phrase, even if you are a fan of “Kentucky Fried Movie.” But this is the phrase that has been rolling through my head.

With all the effort that was made over the last two years to try and improve the economy — not saying it was enough or well-done — we are now faced with at least two years of much less effort.

There will still be 435 representatives and 100 senators come next January when the new Congress kicks in. And President Barack Obama will still be there.

But the focus on the economy won’t be. The economy — in horrible shape — will not be a priority of the new GOP-led House.

Oh, they will tell you it is, how we need jobs. But the economy isn’t their number one priority.

This isn’t surprising. The economy isn’t something the GOP has been good at doing. They certainly took credit for the late 1990s success of Bill Clinton, even if the Dem-controlled Congress had a lot to do with that. They take no credit for the poor growth between 2001-2008, even though their party was in charge.

You might ask how the GOP thinks it will continue to hold the House if it doesn’t focus on the economy.

First of all, the GOP has no plan for the economy. The teabaggers want to reduce the deficit (nice idea with bad timing), and they don’t have a plan to do that either.

The GOP says cutting taxes will create more jobs. That hasn’t been true in the 30 years they have said that. But cutting taxes is the only solution they have.

They also want to keep the Bush tax cuts for everybody, especially the rich. This won’t help the deficit or the economy.

Even David Stockman thinks the GOP is full of it. To those under a certain age, Stockman was Reagan’s budget director.

So if you are suffering from a lack of a job, or your business is losing money because people don’t have enough to spend, you will have to wait at least another two years for help.

There are two exceptions to this:

— The policies under the first two years of Barack Obama eventually kick in growth and increased jobs down the road.

— Businesses that wouldn’t spend money or hire people to make the Dems look bad will suddenly hire people.

Elections have become a game; but human beings’ lives depend on the success of what Congress can accomplish, especially on the economy.

Extended unemployment benefits? Programs such as Cash for Clunkers? Government infrastructure projects? Sped-up health care relief? None of those things that produced success under President Obama will be a part of the House agenda in 2011.

This is the worst economic headache in our lifetimes. Given the modern political spectrum, we had as much effort as we could possibly use, and still couldn’t help the economy that much. Now there will be very little done, and more people will suffer as a result.

President Obama isn’t going to be able to convince the GOP to do what is needed to help the American people. He couldn’t pull that off in the last two years. If anything, the situation is much less likely.

There is amazingly one ray of hope, but is as likely as the new speaker giving up tanning.

The teabaggers can ask the GOP for help. After all, the teabaggers have the ear of the GOP (along with business, the Chamber of Commerce, et al.). They can ask the GOP to help them get jobs, since the teabaggers are predominantly poor.

That isn’t going to happen. But if it did, it would be the economy’s only chance.

Written by democracysoup

November 3, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Other reasons why you should vote on Election Day

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You’ve gone through the reasons why you should vote on Election Day, and you might not be that impressed. The good news is that there are very good reasons why you should vote and what you should think about as you go to the voting booth.

— For Obama fans, who gets onto the Supreme Court and other federal judge slots.

If you haven’t been satisfied about Obama’s Supreme Court picks because you think they aren’t liberal enough, and you don’t vote today, you should reconsider based on the courts.

Nominees have generally sailed through, at least Supreme Court picks. Things will get much worse for the Dems if the Senate margin gets narrowed or if the GOP takes control.

Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are both 74 years old. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 77 years old and has had health problems. Stephen Breyer is 72 years old. And if you think Obama is going to get re-elected, that would be six more years, the same length as the Senate seats that could be won by names such as O’Donnell, Angle, Miller, and Paul.

— The redrawing of Congressional districts.

For those who say midterm elections aren’t important, there is a special significance to elections in years that end in 0. The party in charge of the House, Senate, and governor’s chair gets to control (in most states) the redrawing of the Congressional districts based on the 2010 census.

Despite the pleas of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), people filled out the census forms. And the Congressional districts will change based on those results. Look for yet another decade where seats leave the Midwest and go to the Southwest.

— Holding your nose and voting is better than not voting.

The criticism of “both candidates stink” or some other equivalent word rings so hollow. Okay, so the candidates aren’t that exciting. The time to determine the candidates seems like a long time ago. Holding your nose and voting may not sound appealing. But it could be worse.

And if you really feel that way, vote for a third party candidate. People think they are wasting their votes on a third party candidate. But the more people who vote, the more politicians of all stripes will be intimidated by the wrath of the voter. Do you feel like politicians are really scared of you. Voting scares the hell out of them.

— Not voting in all the races on the ballot.

Some people freak out over voting for judges or “lesser” races on the ballot. While the position of this blog is that you should vote in every race where you feel comfortable, it is better to vote in a few races than not vote at all.

A few minutes every two years, not counting local elections, is a very small sacrifice to make for being a citizen.

— People died for the right to vote.

Okay, this might seem like a cliche. But it’s true. Really true. People died so black people can vote. Women. Other minorities. Some people work hard to deny legitimate U.S. citizens of their right to vote — in 2010. Shouldn’t you work just as hard to make sure you vote?

— Fool the pundits as well.

The MSM isn’t afraid of you political power prowess. But it might be if you vote in droves. The pundits always tell us that midterm elections don’t draw nearly as many people as presidential elections. And our turnout for presidential elections stinks.

— One election doesn’t signify “change.”

Seriously, did you think all the problems in Washington would be solved in two years? If you voted for Obama in 2008 because you wanted things to be different, and you don’t vote in 2010, you have yourself to blame. We all can argue that Obama and the Dems haven’t done enough. But the ability to go backward becomes active if the GOP gains the House, the Senate, or both.

And if you didn’t vote for Obama in 2008, and you like what he has done, continue the change.

For those who didn’t vote for Obama, and don’t like what he has done, all I ask is that you vote depends on reality, not made-up stuff from right-wing talk shows. If you work from facts, and still vote against Obama and the Dems, some people will disagree with you, but will respect your position.¬† And besides, you already are going to vote, so you don’t need this brand of help.


The future of nutrition legislation

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As promised, here is part two of the pre-Election coverage from our sister blog, In part two, we look at the future of nutrition legislation, depending on which way today’s results go.

Written by democracysoup

November 2, 2010 at 6:11 am