Common Sense & An Open Mind

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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Archive for November, 2010

Happy Holiday Pat Down!

Posted by Free to Think on November 23, 2010

Planning to fly this holiday week? Then get ready for the Transportation Security Administration’s new world of invasive pat down procedures and/or backscatter X-ray machines that will produce nude images of your body in fine detail.

Besides being a disturbing invasion of privacy, the health risks of the backscatter x-ray image technology are a concern as well. Though the TSA assures us that the security x-ray machines are safe, some scientists with expertise in imaging, biochemistry and cancer have raised concerns in a letter to the White House.

Should we trust the government’s statement? Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, wrote an article for USA Today claiming that scanners protect passenger privacy…The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images.” Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, we now know that particular claim to be false. EPIC obtained acknowledgment that a single machine has stored approximately 35,314 images.

Captain Dave Bates, the president of APA, the airline pilots union, issued a letter to pilots urging them to avoid the new security scanners due to potential health hazards. Regarding the option of a TSA pat-down instead, Bates writes, “There is absolutely no denying that the enhanced pat-down is a demeaning experience. In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot.”

Hmm, what about the rest of us? Last week at San Diego International, John Tyner recorded on his cellphone a TSA official telling him, “By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights.” Tyner was simultaneously thrown out of the airport for refusing to submit to an “enhanced” pat down, while also threatened with a lawsuit and a $10,000 fine if he left.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. Have we crossed the line of “unreasonable” when TSA officials are free to touch the genital areas of citizens simply because they purchased an airplane ticket?

But don’t we need these extreme measures to protect us from terrorism?

Not according to Israel, the biggest terrorism target in the world. Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, security at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. Security is relatively quick, streamlined, passengers are not groped, nor are they subject to uncompromising photos or x-rays. How do they manage that?

Beginning with roadside checks at parking entrances, passengers and their companions are interviewed multiple times by security personnel, who are trained in “behavioral profiling.” At check-in the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive, and is equipped with ‘bomb boxes.’ If a screener thinks a bag is suspect, it’s quickly placed in the blast proof box. A bomb squad then wheels the box away for further investigation.

The body and hand-luggage check is quick. “They’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you,” explains Israeli Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He chastises the U.S. where “they will check your items to death. But they will never look at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes.”

At Ben Gurion airport, the goal is to move passengers from the parking lot to the gate of their flight in under 25 minutes. Meanwhile, the most important part of security goes on behind the scenes: a coordinated intelligence gathering operation generates a constantly evolving series of threat analyses and vulnerability studies.

In contrast, rather than being proactive, in the United States TSA security is often rather inefficiently reactive. The “underwear bomber” incident last year prompted billions of dollars to be spent on the controversial x-ray scanners. But a Government Accountability Office study has determined that it’s inconclusive whether these scanners would have detected the underwear bomber’s explosive material. After British authorities discovered a bomb hidden in a printer cartridge last week, Homeland Security has issued a ban on toner and ink printer cartridges in luggage on any flight bound for a U.S. destination, as if terrorists couldn’t easily switch to another type of container in future attempts.

Common sense about effective security measures

By the standards set in the Constitution, the government should have no right to submit air travelers to health risks and humiliation. Says Israel’s Rafi Sela, “You can easily do what we do. You don’t have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit — technology, training. But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept.”

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Why We Won’t Pick the Best Candidate Today.

Posted by Free to Think on November 2, 2010

We would all like to be proud of voting today. We would all like to vote wisely.

I don’t think that’s possible.

We’ve been warned that the future of our democracy will be shaped by whichever party we elect to office.

I disagree.

I believe that in today’s climate it’s impossible to make a truly informed decision about candidates. But I also believe it matters less where a representative stands personally on particular issues than how much they respect the Constitution and the rights of the individual.

 

Why can’t we make a well-informed decision?

We can’t point our fingers solely at the lazy voters who don’t take the time to find out more about candidates. Those of us who try to stay informed usually find that it’s nearly impossible to discover hard details about where candidates stand on issues. In a recent Hartford Courant article, columnist Rick Green explains that “voting isn’t necessarily about the issues, it’s about emotions, first impressions and whether the candidate could be a leader you want to follow.” This shouldn’t be the case. But even those who take the time to watch debates or go to candidates’ websites find them filled with fuzzy rhetoric and finger pointing at the other guy.

In today’s day and age, we shouldn’t need to take anyone’s word- each and every claim made by or about sitting politicians, candidates and their opponents can easily be documented by evidence on their website or on media websites.

While there are plenty of lobbyists protecting the interests of big business, us regular citizens don’t have a staff dedicated to keeping the government from encroaching on our liberties or our wages. Maintaining a free republic requires constant vigilance, and we as a society have not been attentive enough. The media should be the natural guardian of the people’s rights, but shallow political scandals have gotten the most readership, and most of the media seems to have little interest in digging into the hard issues of unrestrained government.

 

Why doesn’t it matter which party is in power?

Two years ago the people thought they could vote out the status quo. But their attempt at “change” amounted to deepening the existing problems of our wasteful, bloated, overreaching government. “Throw out the bums!” is a tempting solution, but it won’t help if you just replace them with other bums. Countless political candidates have paid lip service to turning things around, but nearly without fail, they end up perpetuating the system once they are in office.

I don’t really think our representatives in Washington are villains. I think the mess that we’re in has evolved from incremental exacerbation of bad practices, such as sticking earmarks into unrelated bills, and not reading bills thoroughly before passing them into law. The prevailing attitude of the legislative and executive branches has been that they’re our leaders rather than our representatives. This gives them the hubris to believe that their agenda is more important than protecting the integrity of the American government.

The thing is, when you can vote yourself money and power, it’s not too difficult to convince yourself that you’re pet project is worth taking just a few more tax dollars or curtailing some minor individual rights. When you’re a “Leader,” it’s easy to pass bills for a few more programs and a few more laws in order to create whatever utopian situation you happen to see fit. Over time, the causes our “Leaders” want to champion and the money they require to do so overshadows their role as the voice of the American principles of liberty.

We’ve lost sight of the original checks and balances in our Constitution, designed to protect the rights of the people and prevent the expansion of government’s mandates upon us. The role of our representatives is meant to be drastically limited by their constitutional responsibilities.

 

Solutions

It’s in the best interest of candidates to be deliberately vague about their intentions. There’s less for voters to disagree with when a candidate’s platform is simply filled with  hazy promises such as “helping the middle class,”  “cutting waste” and “making responsible fiscal decisions.”  This also gives politicians more leeway to vote however they wish once in office. But if we aren’t completely clear as to what they stand for, why should we voters give them our trust?

Our nation has difficult issues at hand to resolve. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, we all must admit that lowering taxes, expanding programs and reducing the deficit cannot happen simultaneously. We can no longer afford our government, and the people drowning in inefficient government and bloated debt. It’s time to be frank about the hard choices that need to be made.

Republicans have campaigned on pledges to dramatically cut spending, but haven’t offered many details. Are they a better bet than Democrats? Obama has said deficit reduction will be a priority in 2011, but precisely how he intends to succeed at that while continuing to grow federal entitlement programs is pretty baffling to me.

We should be able to get specific details about each candidate’s agendas so we don’t have to guess or hope about their intentions. It doesn’t take a PhD to understand that big government requires big dollars. If you claim that you’re going to protect and grow entitlements, stimulus and services, let us know where you’re going to get the money. How much are you willing to borrow? How do you intend to pay it back? If you need to raise taxes, whose taxes will be raised and by how much? What concrete evidence are you using to back up your numbers?

But if I had a chance to ask every candidate one question, it would be this: do you believe in the constitutional limitations of American government?

You may wonder why candidates would disclose this information, when some of it is sure to alienate voters. But they’d have to do so if the public demanded it. They’d do so if hard-nosed reporters wouldn’t settle for anything less than direct answers to specific questions.

If responsible government became our priority.

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