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TSA Watch List/Airport Security, bank regulation, relative poverty, illegal immigration & employers and much more   (week of January 28, 2008)

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When a person lifts himself into the lower middle class from poverty it's great.

From middle class to upper middle class is OK.

Then on to rich! is frequently disappointing.

The elite uber-wealthy are secretly miserable.

Why? Anyone (like myself) who has lived many years with barely enough money w/out running water or flushing crappers is thrilled! to have hot running water and a functional toilet (and some cash). Not to mention an insulated roof from the heat and cold. But by the time one has central air conditioning, four bathrooms, three fine cars, etc, the thrill is gone and thankfullness evaporates, to be replaced with a mortal dread of losing it all....

There seems to be a social baseline of basic middle class "place" of decent housing (500 sq ft per person is plenty), potable running water, decent work, decent schools, adequate safety and access to medical needs. Beyond these basics, the goal should be to move ahead w/out indebtedness. To wait to buy, like our thrifty grandparents.

A thankful heart, friends and family is greater than any amount of stuff. I'm the wealthiest man on earth. I have a wife of 34 years, two wonderful sons, creative work, health and good friends. I'd give up hot running water in a second (and any other thing) if it meant hanging on to these precious "jewels."

John Kelly

Yes, the employer does decide who works and who doesn't, but, theoretically, within the confines of the law. Laws are on the books that make it illegal to hire undocumented workers. As you know, those laws are seldom enforced and hence almost always flouted. You're absolutely right that those who hire illegals put those who don't at a competitive disadvantage - and eventually out of business. Not only do those business who hire the illegal labor pay less wages without benefits, they usually don't pay proper business insurance or workman's comp.

I have a good friend from Portugal who's a naturalized citizen. He told me about his uncle who owns a used car lot back in Portugal. His uncle hired two Polish men to clean cars. Both worked in Portugal under a six month visa. When it expired, they were supposed to go back home and re-apply. Well, the visas expired and both men begged to allow their employer to let them keep working. He wouldn't , he couldn't, because the law there is enforced. For every infraction, the employer gets fined 10,000 euro.

As far as work ethic goes, I believe it's a learned trait. When the time comes, when it's again necessary, it will be re-learned. Work ethic changes with circumstance and necessity. My work ethic has certainly fluctuated over the years. You worked like a dog in those pineapple fields when you were a kid. Today, would you? I would bet not, because you don't need to.

I suspect many Americans rediscovered the work ethic in the Great Depression and probably will again when times get tough.

Michael Goodfellow

Although I agree that the TSA watch lists are useless and a pain to ordinary travelers, I don't agree with your opening remarks:

Does the U.S. need to harden its transportation, infrastructure and border security? No reasonable person would answer "no."

Guess I'm unreasonable then!

If someone is going to propose a change related to security, that person should at least give a reasonable scenario and show how his change would help the situation. In the case of flying, the scenario was a repeat of the 9/11 hijackings. None of the TSA changes (or the existence of the TSA itself) would prevent that from happening again.

As long as the country is going to let people fly on planes without a security check on each and every one of them, it's going to be vulnerable to hijackings. The 9/11 hijackers didn't need to fool security -- many of them were flying in their own names and had no criminal or terrorist records. They didn't need to smuggle guns on board the planes -- according to Wikipedia, they used (probably fake) bomb threats, pepper spray and "box-cutter" style utility knives. None of the stricter inspections of passengers would stop any of that. The only new measure I've read about that sounds even remotely effective is stronger doors dividing the cockpit and passenger areas. Even that would only work if the pilots had the nerve to just lock the door and ignore all threats to passengers and crew. The doors would also have to be strong enough to stop any attempt to enter even during the half hour or more it would take to land in an emergency. From what I read, some of the doors have been kicked open by disgruntled passengers. Another useless security measure, in other words!

It's the same with the other items you mention -- infrastructure and border security. There are tens of thousands of points in the U.S. that are important infrastructure. Hassling vacationers who take pictures of Hoover Dam or something like that is a miserable CYA measure for politicians, not real security. You simply can't protect everything. The same is true of the border. Hundreds of thousands of people still walk across the southern border. The Canadian border is apparently even easier to get across. As long as this is true, asking for more ID at the official border crossings is pointless. All it does is discourage shopping, trade and tourism. It hurts the U.S, Mexico and Canada and gets nothing in return.

In all of these cases, we're paying through the nose for a fancy lock (that doesn't even work) on a door that can be kicked in anyway, on a house where we leave all the windows open. I don't think it's an exaggeration to call this insane.

Some people think the country is basically 50% secure, and if we just spent a lot of money and threw away those inconvenient civil liberties, we could be 80% secure. The fact is we aren't even 1% secure, and you can spend all you like and not even hit 5%.

The only way to solve these problems is to go after the source -- monitor the organizations that sponsor terrorist attacks, and deal with the governments and institutions that provide funding. And of course, strike back in a way that makes it clear that terrorism is pointless (in my opinion, that is all that has kept a repeat of 9/11 from happening.)

My own view of this is that the country can't deal emotionally with the fact that we were attacked by a group of 19 amateurs operating on their own. We are the greatest military power in the world, and can't accept that it's possible to attack us on the cheap. We want our opponent to be another government, with an expensive military, attacking us on a battlefield. That's what we expect, and what we're prepared for. Too bad our opponents won't play by the rules!

This shock over 9/11 is the only thing that explains to me why so many Americans think that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. Or why there is a "9/11 Truth Movement" which thinks it was all an inside job. We just can't accept the obvious -- that we're not safe, no matter how much money we spend on defense.

Get over it.

Tree Hugger

No Charles- You are THE ONE! I read one page of your writing and added your name to MY list! Welcome back you radical intellectual type. You are being watched for good reason too. be proud of those reasons.

Brian H.

You know what TSA stands for right?
Thousands Standing Around.

TSA is almost the definition of a police state. Forcing the sheeple into pens and claiming to accomplish something while truly accomplishing absolutely nothing except forcing people to obey. Would we really be any less safe if TSA was totally disbanded?

Of course not.


Yep, I'm on the watch list too, and I'm a State Trooper. I called TSA in Boise, Idaho, and discovered that the gentleman in charge of TSA security at the Boise Airport, IS ALSO ON THE WATCH LIST!! It makes me wonder, maybe we are all on the watch list, as our own government cannot trust us....

Reader J.

As I watch the sheeple undress in front of the TSA when I travel, I always find it very amusing. Many times I travel one way since I do not know when or where I will be going after I complete what I have to do. One way tickets are always identified with what I call the "Mark of the Beast" which flags me for a hand check. Of the humility of it all. We are talking about a white, 52 year old slightly over weight guy who has spent half of his like on airplanes over the last 30 years. Now, I will admit I have been accused of being a nihlist and an anarchist (I have no love for our over bloated government if you can not tell).

Before 9/11 I always carried a pocket knife and use to chuckle to myself when airport security would wave it on. Then many times I carried a pair of scissors that had about 10 inch blades (you do know that CPA means cut, paste and assembler). No problem.

The thing that gets me is the liquid thing. It is my understanding that any explosive in liquid form is so unstable it would be near impossible to get onto an airplane without exploding but becasue some guy was "thinking" of such a thing, it is now banned. Just think if someone "thinks" of exploding clothes we would all have to fly naked.

I drive when ever I can!

Fabius Maximus

Framing current events about the global economic and geopolitical system


"No Fly Lists" and "Watch Lists" are antithetical to liberty and democracy. If someone has committed a crime then let them be apprehended and tried in accordance with established law. To deny services or freedom to someone based on mere opinion rather than objective facts goes against the very core of the Constitution. Has fear caused us to abandon reason and principles? Why are my fellow Americans tolerating this?


Does the U.S. need to harden its transportation, infrastructure and border security? No reasonable person would answer "no."

I'm answering "no" and asking another question.

Is the US physically and administratively able to "harden" its borders in a meaningful and not-merely-boondoggle way?

Again, I'm answering "no" to that (my own) question too.

The example of the War on Drugs is instructive here. The WoD is an expensive boondoggle accounting for millions of now permanent jobs. Widely recognized as law-enforcement welfare that does more harm than good, it now appears to be a permanent part of the landscape, nay, it serves as an exemplar, a template if you will, for plenty of further goverment activity.

The "War on the Border" will be much the same, i.e. fantastic sums spent for no real effect, except employment of hundreds of thousands of TV-gelled mouth breathers.

Have a nice boondoggle!

Don E.

Excerpted from State of the Union II

(this starts out with me, at seventeen, new to the Navy, on a work detail at the great lakes naval training station in 1961)

So, the work-detail went fine. We didn't have to work too hard and I shared the tasks with some pleasant guys. The only one I recall was a big black kid from Chicago named Austin. One day after I had been at this duty for a couple of weeks I was called into an office and questioned about a wallet missing from a locker that was in use; we had been working in occupied barracks. I told them I didn't know anything about it, and that seemed to be that. A day or two later two Shore Patrolmen came to the barracks and took me outside. I was told to get into a jeep and we drove to a nearby Army Camp named Fort Sheridan. I was shown into an office in the basement of the Provost Marshall's building and introduced to a man in his forties in civilian dress. His name was Kaiser. He looked like a banker, suit and tie and buzzed.

Kaiser just had a few questions about the missing wallet. Theft among shipmates was a serious affair given the level of trust needed in such close quarters. I couldn't have agreed more and was as helpful as I could be. I really hadn't seen anything and had no idea who might have taken it. He was such a nice guy, and I really wanted to help him out.

Like an explosion Kaiser slammed his fist down on his desk and became a roaring monster. He shrieked. He foamed. He pounded his desk violently. I was not prepared. Any kid undergoing this today would quickly recognize good cop/bad cop, even when done singlehandedly, because television cop shows have laid interrogation out bare. "Hey, dude, I saw that on Law and Order' Cool." I had no idea.

I will admit, even if I had known I would not have been ready. Interrogation in the abstract is not interrogation in your face. From the abstract to the actual was a huge leap. As he was to point out time and time again in the coming days he had the full weight of military law behind him: the much-dreaded UCMJ, Universal Code of Military Justice. Yes, it is a system of law, but one under which no rights are really accorded to the accused, and the punishments meted out could be as arbitrary as a case of indigestion, or a heart attack. There was no way out for me, he would assure me over and over, and I believed him with complete acceptance.

Kaiser opened a folder, my file, and began to read to me. I was a thief. It was a documented fact that I was a suck-ass thief. Only tools, and I had stopped that, I pled. His voice went on and on, dancing from point to point. We established the fact that I was a virgin. A virgin at 17: ergo, I was queer. Did I want to go into the head with him and we could jack off? I was thereafter referred to as 'pogey bait'. He could change personnas the way most of us change socks, only more quickly. I was never, ever able to establish just who I was dealing with. The man was an absolute master at what he did, and a fearful 17 year old with all the secrets of dysfunctional puberty was a perfect target.

We never really got past anything. My felonies would seem to fade only to return in another context. The same with my lack of sexual experience. I would seem to gain some period of grace during which I was not either hammered with my obvious queerness or reviled as a thief; I was treated with tender respect as a misunderstood lad, and then it would all return like a blood-soaked wheel. I was in shambles internally, soon reduced to a very tight defense of simple answers of 'yes' and 'no'. I had gone into a very small, tight place inside and I was holding out the best I could.

His office was decorated with large blowups of finger prints, framed as if they were art. I had asked something about them and had my head bitten off. I sank further into despair. Kaiser offered me a way out, a polygraph test, which he would personally administer, and this would surely prove my innocence. I accepted eagerly. We went through the process with the blood pressure cuff and the scrolling paper with its tell-tale needle tracks and the questions, and he sadly informed me that it showed that I was truly guilty. I cannot begin to tell you the ups and downs this man took me through without ever laying a hand on me. He was anyone and everyone and no one, and I bought into every whim of his with an appalling eagerness.

This went on for about 8 hours a day for three consecutive days. I was taken back to my barracks after each session and told to be ready for pickup the next morning. The release, the wait, the expectation were excruciating.

The third day we got deeper into my file and my brain damage was addressed. Kaiser was kind and considerate. He had made a terrible error and was contrite. He now saw that due to my brain damage I was a pathological thief and liar, but I didn't even know it! I did these things without conscious knowledge. I was trapped in my illness. He could help. Kaiser described with such clarity the absolute quiet of the hospital I could go to. The clean sheets. The fine people who would look after me. It was too much. I was willing to go there. I wanted desperately to go there and be fixed and be normal and be myself again. Oh, god, how I wanted this!

All I had to do was sign the confession. Then I could go to the hospital. The confession had been around from day one. A yellow legal pad. Since I would not write one out specifying my crimes Kaiser had written one for me. All I had to do was sign it. It was so easy. I longed for the succor of this hospital, and I told him 'no.' I had not taken a wallet, and I would not sign a confession. He exploded. I was too exhausted to care.

My Shore Patrol escort came into the room and took me out. They went back in to talk to Kaiser. I knew I was to go to prison now. The cool, calm hospital would not be mine, because I was not able to sign the false confession. I wept. They came back out and bundled me into the jeep. I asked where we were going. Back to your barracks, they said. What time will you pick me up tomorrow? I asked. They laughed and said they wouldn't.

I knew this was a trick. I knew it. What happens then? I asked cautiously. Nothing, they replied. Kaiser is fed up with you. Nobody lasts 3 days with him, especially some snot-nosed kid fresh from mama's side. Jeez, was he pissed! they told me. He had been an army interrogator for many, many years, and he liked to keep in practice with this kind of stuff. Was he ever upset that he couldn't get you to confess; he threw everything in the book at you.

That weekend I went to Milwaukee and got so drunk I couldn't walk. I got drunk on several succeeding weekends, too. Whatever doubts I had come out of boot camp with, about the power of this beast that I had engaged myself too, I now understood that it, the military, was my undying, implacable enemy. I had over 2 years left to serve

Thank you, readers, for such thoughtful contributions.

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