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Archive for November 2010

TSA pat downs and a Royal Wedding

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TSA is doing its job. Scanners, pat downs a necessary inconvenience

As the media jumps all over the  proposed Wednesday boycott at TSA screening sights on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the busiest travel days of the year, it is somewhat reassuring to note that fully 64 percent of those surveyed in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll accept that such measures are needed. We’ve just been lucky, so far.

Hey, I’m from Detroit. We were the target of last year’s planned Christmas attack by the so-called underpants bomber. Only his incompetence and the fast actions of passengers in subduing him and putting out the fire that would have triggered an explosion saved the plane and its passengers.

Only one of these increasingly innovative suicide bombers needs to make it past security for a whole lot of folks to end up murdered. If that means a little inconvenience to me heading to my flight, so be it. I will willingly be screened or patted down.

Then there were those recent printers being shipped cargo with their explosive printer cartridges. Thank goodness for Saudi intelligence which uncovered the Yemeni based plot. Now FedEx, UPS and other carriers simply are not accepting packages from Yemen.  Good start, but will the terrorists not simply shift their mailing addresses to Oman or Saudi Arabia, two countries bordering Yemen?

The fact is, we are spoiled and have little tolerance for any procedure that may inconvenience us as we scurry off to a flight, either business or pleasure.

TSA should be just one of  multiple layers of methods that the U.S Government, airports and the airlines themselves employ to keep passengers and crews safe.

Profiling is a good idea, though the civil libertarians certainly voiced, loudly, their opposition to it after 9/11 when the first round of enhanced security measures arrived. Trained security personnel way above the level of TSA should be routinely asking question of travelers and carefully considering their answers.

The banal process of checking a photo ID with a ticket and asking is you’ve packed your own bags and had them under your control is hardly effective. And now, because it’s more convenient for us and the airlines, we now check-in before going to the airport and even pay for our checked bags in advance, as well. Some airlines charge additional fees if you do it at the airport.

Anyone who has been to college knows there are one or more enterprising students willing to sell you a fake ID to get you into the bar. Ask any under 21-year-old college student to tell you how it’s done.

And this is security?

Having trained bomb sniffing dogs in airports is another step that should be taken. Every piece of luggage should be screened, and heresy though it may be, all carry-ons except for purses, diaper bags, small day packs and briefcases should be banned and checked as luggage that is thoroughly screened. Anything carried on should be hand searched.

We grumble when the security lines are long, when our shoes, belts and pocket change must be removed. Silly us.  There is not one widow or widower or person who lost a son or daughter or child or sister or brother or mother or father or friend on the four flights on 9-11 who would not have chosen tougher more rigorous more lengthy security if it would have stopped the suicide bombers with their box cutters .

The U.S. Government and every airline should start take notes on El Al, the Israeli airlines security measures. Israel has been in the cross hairs since its founding. Check out the nine-year old article from Israel Insider posted just days after 9-11. Ideas there are worth following.

Flying in our out of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or other Israeli cities? Plan on spending the better part of a day going through security.

Wills and Kate–Good show!!

What’s with the orgy of coverage with the announcement of Prince Williams engagement to his longtime girlfriend and housemate, Kate Middleton? You’d think we didn’t fight a war almost 250 years ago to get the royalty out of our business. Yet, news of the royal nuptials dominated news coverage and headlines. ABC< NBC, CBS all were positively giddy in their coverage. Nightline, Dateline, 20-20, it’s like we could not get enough information when very little of it actually was announced. It’s certainly a good thing those two went to a friend’s wedding together rather than arriving separately, what would the networks have done for footage otherwise. And really, trekking off to the primitive cabin where Wills popped the question. Come on.

George Washington had the wisdom to decline the title of king after the Revolutionary War. He did us a favor. So why does this melting pot of a country has such royal fever? Could it be, in part, that with all the bad news we’ve been experiencing, the economy, the unemployment, the TSA pat downs that this little bit of happy news made us all feel better.

I am sure some psychologist have it all figured out. But, for me, it’s simply cheers to the happy couple. We could use some good news.

 

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Written by jrnjbb

November 22, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Debt Commision Co-Chairs Report a Good and Necessary Beginning

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The release of a 50 page list of recommendations to cut and resolve the nation’s $13,734,742,311,540.10  debt (today’s tally according to the deficit clock tomorrow you can add another $4.15 billion or so) is generating tons of outcry and outrage on both sides of the political aisle. (Including from deposed Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is as shrill and as empty of ideas, as ever).

Cut through the media reported hysteria and the reality is the proposal is merely a strategic shout-out by the Debt and Deficit Commissions’ bipartisan co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson. It is NOT the final report, though it has a lot of smart ideas.

Despite the gutsy move by the two men, one a Dem, the other a retired GOP Senator (they’ve joked they may need to go into a witness protection program), this is just the opening salvo (or grenade launch) and an obvious attempt to force, prod and bludgeon the Commission’s other 16 members into agreeing on some tough measures and getting some of the more controversial ideas out to the public in advance to reduce the shock factor when the final report is issued.

The 18 member Commission still has three weeks before making a final recommendation to President Obama. He created the commission nine months ago when the effort to create a similar group died in the Senate. You remember that branch of government–the one that is supposed to legislate and approve things like budgets and be, well responsible, to the people of this country, the ones they were elected to serve.

Well, when the Senate didn’t get the job done, the President stepped in and created the Commission.

Erskine Bowles, commission co-chair, did not exaggerate when he compared the existing and ever-growing deficit to cancer that could kill this country in the future. Chemo is never pleasant, but this time it is a necessary evil that must be endured. Not for my sake or the sake of baby boomers, but for those grandbabies of today and the future.

The recommendations are tough but not Draconian. It takes years for some of the recommendations by the co-chairs to take effect. Looking past the knee jerk reactions of both sides of the political aisle and others singing in harmony in the Greek Chorus of the gutless, pushing back the retirement age to 68 by 2050 and 69 by 2075 is really not so horrifying. Eliminating Social Security cost of living increases and reducing the amount to wealthier taxpayers over time, again, is workable.

Other proposals include redoing the tax code (they’ve got three different ideas there) and anything that would eliminate all the loopholes so everyone pays his/her/their fair share is smart. I’ve favored a flat tax for years (CPAs don’t like it and neither do large businesses that hire CPAs to identify every possible loophole);

Gradually increasing the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon in 2013 is modest–we still have about the lowest gasoline prices in the world. Freezing federal wages for three years (except active military) is much like many state and local public employees have faced with   furloughs, pay cuts and lay offs during the past several years. Federal workers, with among the most generous retirement deals in the country, shouldn’t be immune from the pain the rest of us have been feeling.

Other ideas include reducing the budgets of Congress and the White House by 15% means everyone pays their share of the cost cutting. Ditto for cutting the federal workforce by 10% (state and local governments have already done this).

One of the best proposals and most likely the one least likely to win Congressional approval is the one to eliminate all earmarks. Putting Congress on a pork-free diet is long overdue.

Despite the howls of protest and the pronouncements the plan is already dead on arrival, it is garnering support from folks in sensible places like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Just like the obesity rate in this country, the U.S. has been on a binge of spending and consuming for decades.

The Great Recession (it is really a Depression, folks, don’t let the spin doctors fool you), has cause high employment, record high foreclosures and bankruptcies, and in some ways has fundamentally changed the country.

Change has to come from the top, for frankly, the debt is going to bankrupt all of us unless something is done and soon.

ABC’s Jake Tapper in his blog has done a good job detailing the co-chairs’ proposal if you don’t have the time to read it all.

Remember the final report needs support from at least 14 of the Commission’s members to get it to the floor of the Senate should be in the news in three weeks.

North Dakota’s Democratic Senator Ken Conrad (a Commission member) says the debt is costing us 40 cents of every dollar.

That’s a huge outlay. Just as the U.S. basically helped to bankrupt the Soviet Union with our “Star Wars” plans, we are managing to do this to ourselves, all by ourselves. Talk about suicide.

 

Written by jrnjbb

November 11, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Where is “None of the Above” on my ballot?

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Super column. Ironic, isn’t it, that people are once again mad as hell but instead of a protest they are partying in the streets, listening to the singer who used be called Cat Stevens, a TV star and ad pitchman (Sam Waterston) and two Comedy Central icons. At the local Fed Ex were groups of folks buying poster board and making signs for the rally.

I am out -of-town, so I filed my absentee vote before I left.

I did keep looking for the “None of the Above” box to select. I so often seem to be voting against one individual or another (pick a party or cause, it doesn’t seem to matter), usually the so-called front-runner. But I am rarely wildly enthused about anyone running. Where are the Jeffersons and Madisons and Lincolns of the 21st Century, heck even the second half of the 20th Century, though I had a soft spot in my youth for the Kennedy allure.

I wonder what would happen if there was a choice for voters of “None of the Above.” I suspect that choice would win in a landslide this election year. To elect a live person, there would have to be another election and the losing candidates from the previous election could not run again. At some point, we might actually start electing highly qualified, highly motivated and interest candidates who served the people who elected them and not their own interests.

Meanwhile, down on the Mall in D.C. last Saturday, Comedy Central’s iconic Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert hosted their “Rally to Restore Sanity or Fear.” For an electorate that professes to be mad as hell at Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party folks, Greens, Libertarians, whoever, it was more a tailgate. As my friend Ken Winter noted in a column it was a far cry from the riot geared police on hand with tear gas of 40 years ago. But the similarities are profound, an unpopular war, a President sunk deep into the polls, a feeling of desperation. This era also has record shattering unemployment, massive foreclosures, bank bailouts and despite the assurance of the economist that the recession is over, the Great Depression of the 21st Century continues for millions.

Were there protests in the streets of the nation’s capital? Nope. I saw a lot of very clever hats, many hand written signs and everyone seemed out for a good time.

No matter the bomb threat of the night before or the arrest of a Virginia man for plotting to blow up the Metro a couple of days before that.

Today, we get to the serious business of voting. I just wish I could have located that “None of the Above” box on my ballot. I wouldn’t have used it for every race, but there were certainly some.

Kudos to the Online News Association and its leadership for a terrific, lively, informative, inspiring and useful conference in DC last week. Of particular note were Amy Webb of Webb Media Group, Evan Smith of texastribune.org, Jan Schaffer of J-Lab’s pre-conference sessions, the legal session and the Wikileaks downloaded session among other terrific presentations.

 

Written by jrnjbb

November 2, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized