29 November 2010


TSA EXCESS. By now anyone who hasn't been living under a rock has heard echoes of the public outcry over the introduction of intrusive search techniques by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), including radiation scanning which visually strips a traveler to virtual nudity, and full-body manual pat-downs normally found only in prisons. In The Real Threat to America, Roger Cohen succinctly places the controversy in perspective by noting that the actual failed attempts which have prompted escalations in TSA procedures are so few in number, and so inept in their execution, that purported "security" scans in airports amount to using a howitzer to kill a mosquito. In Cohen's words --

"Anyone who has watched TSA agents spending 10 minutes patting down 80-year old grandmothers, or seen dismayed youths being ordered back into the scanner booth by agents connected wirelessly to other invisible agents gazing at images of these people in a state of near-nakedness, has to ask: What form of group madness is it that forsakes judgment and discernment for process run amok?

"I don't doubt the patriotism of the Americans involved in keeping the country safe, nor do I discount the threat, but I am sure of this: The unfettered growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA represent a greater long-term threat to the prosperity, character and wellbeing of the United States than a few madmen in the valleys of Waziristan or the voids of Yemen."

I couldn't agree more. DHS and TSA are out of control. Benjamin Franklin is credited with the observation that anyone who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserves neither liberty nor safety. I doubt that Ben would recognize the mutation that today passes for a democratic federation. If you would like to weigh in on this (in addition to posting comments to this blog), here are links to contacting Congress and contacting the White House.

Two by two, hands of blue --

A DIFFERENT APPROACH. In welcome contrast, Bob Herbert notes in A Gift From Long Ago that it has been fully 50 years since John F. Kennedy won the presidency. For three short years our nation was inspired, challenged and uplifted by the rhetoric and the example of a man who believed in public service, as well as the protection of our freedoms. Herbert notes, "We've become so used to aiming low that mediocrity is seen as a step up. We need to be reminded of what is possible .... What Kennedy hoped to foster was a renewed sense of national purpose in which shared values were reinforced in an atmosphere of heightened civic participation and mutual sacrifice. His voice was in sync with the spirit of the times. Americans were fired with the idea that they could improve their circumstances, right wrongs and do good. The Interstate Highway System, an Eisenhower initiative, was under way. The civil rights movement was in flower. And soon Kennedy would literaly be reaching for the moon. Self-interest and the bottom line had not yet become the be-all and end-all. Kennedy the cold warrior was also the President who created the Peace Corps."

In times when moderates are a minority, when extremists threaten to torpedo what few shreds remain of our collective common sense, and when the legislative branch (the best Congress that money can buy -- see Paul Krugman's There Will Be Blood) is in deadlock, we desperately need another inspired leader to challenge our better selves. Ironically, Barack Obama could be that leader, if he weren't so timid about taking bold action, for fear of alienating the conservative establishment. Where is our national vision?

(Here is a map of the countries in which the Peace Corps currently works. Click to enlarge.)

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