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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

"Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday. it’s essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production." — Ayn Rand

I awoke on this Thanksgiving morning with thoughts of Thanksgivings past. As a child growing up in a large extended family Thanksgiving was always a family event with dinners rotating between our house and those of my aunts and uncle’s

The dinners were traditional events with the servings of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, string beans, rutabagas, and of course pumpkin pie. At some point during the meal there was always the fight over how one of the dishes was prepared and some feelings were always hurt. I guess this happens in most large families.

After the dinner there was always the adjourning to the living rooms where the men engaged in deep discussions over politics, sports and the economy. The women busied themselves with cleanup tasks and dividing the leftovers for the following day.

As I grew older and TV began to influence the day we would watch the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers (1951-1963). Who can forget Max McGee catching passes on the snow-covered field at Lambeau Stadium and sliding into the end zone for a touchdown? While watching Jeopardy the other night there was a question about the traditional Thanksgiving football game and the correct answer was the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers. I wanted to jump through the TV set and scream at Alex Trebek that he was wrong. While today’s Thanksgiving Day Classic involves the Cowboys and Packers it was not always that way. The Cowboys did not enter the picture until 1970.

As time progressed we had another Thanksgiving classic — The Macy’s Christmas Parade. The parade began in 1924, but it wasn’t until the mid 1950s when we began to see it on television. The Macy’s Parade always marked the beginning of the Christmas season with its big balloons, marching bands and of course the appearance of Santa Claus.

By 1960 the family schedule for Thanksgiving was; the Macy’s Parade, the football game and then the big dinner. I guess this is what we all had to be thankful for. Today we still have the football, but have added another pair of teams and the parade is nothing but one giant advertisement for TV shows and celebrities with hardly a marching band to be seen — at least on TV.

Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. I loved the time with family and the felling of fall in the air. There is something special about the harvest time of the year, a time to reflect on the bountifulness of this land. It was a time for families to gather and spend time with one another, even with the fights and gossip.

Today my feelings for Thanksgiving are wearing thin. The holiday has become the day before “Black Friday” when people will flock to the stores and run roughshod over each other to grab the latest fad from Mattel, Apple or Sony.

While browsing my news sites I came upon an opinion piece by John Stosell that is worth sharing. Stossel writes about the beginnings of Thanksgiving and how he Plymouth settlers almost starved to death because of their adherence to the “Communal Pot” and how Gov William Bradford saw what was happening and forced the settlers to fend for themselves, thus bring plenty to the colony.

Bradford wrote in his diary’ “"began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, (I) (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land." In other words, the people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.

“This had very good success," Bradford wrote, "for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many." Because of the change, the first Thanksgiving could be held in November 1623.

What Plymouth suffered under communalism was what economists today call the tragedy of the commons. The problem has been known since ancient Greece. As Aristotle noted, "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."

If individuals can take from a common pot regardless of how much they put in it, each person has an incentive to be a free-rider, to do as little as possible and take as much as possible because what one fails to take will be taken by someone else. Soon, the pot is empty. Click here for Stolssel’s opinion piece.

Today we will celebrate the holiday with our family. We will have the tradition dinner, including my favorite — rutabagas. We will no doubt watch the parade while we make breakfast and have the football games on the TV. My grandchildren will be here and I will ponder on what memories they will have of Thanksgiving.

Perhaps my cousin john and his wife Kim know the real meaning of the day. They will be financing, cooking and serving a Thanksgiving dinner at a halfway house in Cleveland, Ohio. This is not only giving thanks, it is sharing of your bountiful fruits with others without the dictates of the government.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Airport Security-Part Two

"We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force." — Ayn Rand

In my previous posts regarding the issue of TSA and airport security I focused on the role played by certain government lobbyists, contractors and congressional representatives. Finally Fox News has picked up on this story. Today they reported; “Despite the firestorm of controversy over the use of high-tech body scanners at airports, the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Transportation Security Administration is spending or looking to spend on them makes it unlikely that they'll be getting shelved anytime soon.”

“Each scanner costs about $130,000 to $170,000, the agency said, and President Obama's budget request for this year calls for $88 million to buy and install 500 new scanners.”

“The TSA already has already spent $80 million on body scanners, including $73 million received in stimulus funds.”

While perhaps the major part of the story  involves the marriage of lobbyists, defense contractors and politicians it is not the full story behind TSA and our security. The other part is the push by the American Federation of Government Employees –AFL-CIO (AFGE) to capture all of the 50,000 TSA employees under their collective bargaining umbrella.

In a significant victory for federal employee unions, the Federal Labor Relations Authority decided on November 12th that Transportation Security Administration staffers will be allowed to vote on union representation.

The decision clears the way for a campaign by the government’s two largest labor organizations, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, to represent some 50,000 transportation security officers.

The Labor Relations Council Report of November 16, 2010 reports; “In a bizarre and convoluted decision issued by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees will be permitted to vote for union representation, even though the union, if elected, will not have the power to bargain collectively with the agency. The FLRA’s move will, in theory, allow a union to be in place should Congress or the TSA permit officers to one day engage in collective bargaining. Although this decision will impact TSA employees only, it is further evidence of the administration’s overall concerted effort to advance union interests through administrative actions. Moreover, as discussed in a well-reasoned dissent, the FLRA’s logic in this decision is deeply flawed.”

“Enacted in 2001, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) provides that the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security has the power to, among other things, determine the compensation, terms and conditions of employment for employees who carry out security screening functions. Accordingly, in a 2003 memorandum, the Under Secretary declared that TSA officers, “in light of their critical national security responsibilities, shall not, as a term or condition of their employment, be entitled to engage in collective bargaining or be represented for the purpose of engaging in such bargaining by any representative or organization.”

"Despite this prohibition on collective bargaining, two public sector unions filed petitions under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations statute requesting that a representation election be held. The FLRA’s decision ultimately grants this request on the theory that since exclusive representation has rights independent of the right to negotiate collective bargaining agreements:"

“[t]he existence of these rights supports a conclusion that the Statute does not preclude the Authority from processing AFGE’s and NTEU’s election petitions merely because the Under Secretary exercised his statutory discretion to decline to accord exclusive representatives the right to engage in collective bargaining. Thus, we find no statutory basis for declining to process the petitions in this case.”

“As FLRA member Thomas Beck points out in his dissent, however, this conclusion is based on flawed logic. According to Beck:”

“The crucial question presented by AFGE's and NTEU’s petitions here is strictly a legal question: Does our Statute authorize the Authority to conduct an election through which employees may select an exclusive representative that is prohibited from engaging in any collective bargaining on their behalf? I conclude that it does not”. You can read the full report from the Council by clicking here.

There are two government employee unions courting the TSA, AFGE and the National Treasury Employees Union (NETU) for the $30 million dollar prize of annual union dues. Of the two AFGE is the larger with over 600,000 members while NETU claims to represent 150,000 federal employees.. 

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, sent TSA Director Pistole a letter urging him to immediately issue a directive granting screeners the right to bargain. AFGE expects the election to be conducted electronically in early 2011.

The potential of adding 50,000 employees to their union roles represents quite a plum to these two unions. Of the two competing unions AFGE is no doubt the most politically active as it is associated with Richard Trumka’s AFL-CIO. Trumka, a self proclaimed socialist, has been in the news lately with his total support for left-wing Democrat party causes and candidates. Right now the big issue for AFGE is the opposition to proposed legislayion that would reduce federal pensions. 

Right now there are 16 airports that have opted out of using TSA screeners for their security needs including San Francisco International and Sioux Falls, South Dakota airports. Of course the private screeners at these airports would be under pressure from organizations like SEIU to organize with them. The competing union for the private screeners is The Federal Contract Guards of America FCGOA.

Here are some informal statistics for you:
  • Number of TSA employees eligible for unionization: 50,000
  • TSA budget for FY 2010: $7.8 billion
  • Estimated Union Dues TSA unionization will provide union bosses at $50 per month: $2,500,000 per month or $30,000,000 per year.
  • Number of Americans whose Fourth Amendment rights have allegedly been violated: Thousands and still counting.
“Associated Press reports on November 23; “Cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.”

“Aviation security officials would not name those who can skip the controversial screening, but other officials said those VIPs range from top officials like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FBI Director Robert Mueller to congressional leaders like incoming House Speaker John Boehner, who avoided security before a recent flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport.”

“The heightened new security procedures by the Transportation Security Administration, which involve either a scan by a full-body detector or an intimate personal pat-down, have spurred passenger outrage in the lead-up to the Thanksgiving holiday airport crush.”

“But while passengers have no choice but to submit to either the detector or what some complain is an intrusive pat-down, senior government officials can opt out if they fly accompanied by government security guards approved by the TSA.”

“Government officials traveling with approved federal law enforcement security details are not required to undergo security screening,” TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball said, speaking about checkpoint security at airports. “TSA follows a specialized screening protocol for federal law enforcement officers and those under their control, which includes identity verification.”

“The TSA would not explain why it makes these exceptions. But many of the exempted government officials have gone through several levels of security clearances, including FBI background checks, and travel with armed law enforcement, eliminating the need for an additional layer of security at airports.”

This part of the story has not played out to its conclusion yet and the American people are mere pawns in the game of government and government union power. We are quickly evolving into a state where the apparatchik has the power and people are the peasants to be governed. The vehicle to carry us to this condition is Airport Security, America's Reichstag Fire. To quote Benjamin Franklyn; “"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." We should focus on looking for the bomber, not the bomb.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Airport Security?

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” — Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Thomas Sowell writes in; “No country has better airport security than Israel-- and no country needs it more, since Israel is the most hated target of Islamic extremist terrorists. Yet, somehow, Israeli airport security people don't have to strip passengers naked electronically or have strangers feeling their private parts.”

“Does anyone seriously believe that we have better airport security than Israel? Is our security record better than theirs?”

"Security" may be the excuse being offered for the outrageous things being done to American air travelers, but the heavy-handed arrogance and contempt for ordinary people that is the hallmark of this administration in other areas is all too painfully apparent in these new and invasive airport procedures.”

“Can you remember a time when a Cabinet member in a free America boasted of having his "foot on the neck" of some business or when the President of the United States threatened on television to put his foot on another part of some citizens' anatomy?”

What other administration has had an Attorney General call the American People "cowards"? And refuse to call terrorists Islamic? What other administration has had a Secretary of Homeland Security warn law enforcement officials across the country of security threats from people who are anti-abortion, for federalism or are returning military veterans?

As for the excuse of "security," this is one of the least security-minded administrations we have had. When hundreds of illegal immigrants from terrorist-sponsoring countries were captured crossing the border from Mexico-- and then released on their own recognizance within the United States, that tells you all you need to know about this administration's concern for security.

When captured terrorists who are not covered by either the Geneva Convention or the Constitution of the United States are nevertheless put on trial in American civilian courts by the Obama Justice Department, that too tells you all you need to know about how concerned they are about national security.

The rules of criminal justice in American courts were not designed for trying terrorists. For one thing, revealing the evidence against them can reveal how our intelligence services got wind of them in the first place, and thereby endanger the lives of people who helped us nab them.

What do the Israeli airport security people do that American airport security does not do? They profile. They question some individuals for more than half an hour, open up all of their luggage and spread the contents on the counter — and they let others go through with scarcely a word. And it works. I know, I have experienced this process.

Meanwhile, this administration is so hung up on political correctness that they have turned "profiling" into a bugaboo. They would rather have electronic scanners look under the clothes of nuns than to detain a Jihadist imam for some questioning.

George Will writes in Jewish World Review; “Fifty years ago, William F. Buckley wrote a memorable complaint about the fact that Americans do not complain enough. His point, like most of the points he made during his well-lived life, is, unfortunately, more pertinent than ever. Were he still with us, he would favor awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he received in 1991, to John Tyner, who, when attempting to board a plane in San Diego, was provoked by some Transportation Security Administration personnel.

“Government is instituted to protect preexisting natural rights essential to the pursuit of happiness. Today, that pursuit often requires flying, which sometimes involves the wanding of 3-year-olds and their equally suspect teddy bears.

What the TSA is doing is mostly Security Theater, a pageant to reassure passengers that flying is safe. Reassurance is necessary if commerce is going to flourish and if we are going to get to grandma's house on Thursday to give thanks for the Pilgrims and for freedom. If grandma is coming to our house, she may be wanded while barefoot at the airport because democracy — or the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; anyway, something — requires the amiable nonsense of pretending that no one has the foggiest idea what an actual potential terrorist might look like.”

Will continues; “But enough, already. Enough trivializing important values — e.g., air safety - by monomaniacal attempts to maximize them. Disproportion is the common denominator of almost all of life's absurdities. Automobile safety is important. But attempting to maximize it would begin (but by no means end) with forbidding left turns.”

“Bureaucracies try to maximize their missions. They can't help themselves. Adult supervision is required to stand athwart this tendency, yelling "Stop!"

“Again, Buckley: "Every year, whether the Republican or the Democratic Party is in office, more and more power drains away from the individual to feed vast reservoirs in far-off places; and we have less and less say about the shape of events which shape our future."

When TSA was established there were those in Congress and the White House that implored Congress not to bring the TSA employees into the federal civil service system. One of the most outspoken senators against federalizing the TSA employees was Zell Miller (D-GA). Miller foresaw a great bureaucracy on the horizon if TSA screeners were made a part of the civil service system. He said they would not be accountable to the public and would not be liable for their actions. Miller was right. Today there are reported to be over 66,000 TSA employees including 3,500 administrative personnel.

While some airports have eschewed the use of TSA screeners for private contractors they still need to follow the rules, regulations and procedures dictated by the TSA. They also need to accept the scanners forced upon them from Washington.

The Hill Newspaper reports; “Companies manufacturing the airport body scanners at the center of a national controversy are well-armed on K Street to battle legislative restrictions on their technologies.”

“The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has received more than 600 complaints about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) pat-downs and scanners, which were deemed “a virtual strip search” by Laura W. Murphy, the director of the group’s Washington legislative office.”

“People are concerned about the radiation, the abuse and the lack of training,” said Murphy, who wants Congress to “engage in aggressive oversight.”

“The ACLU is supporting legislation proposed in April 2009 by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that would limit the use of the body scanners while banning storage of images they take. Murphy said the ACLU is also considering litigation against the new screening procedures.”

“Lobbyists for the body-scanner companies are also keeping an eye on a bill introduced last week by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) that could stop the new screening procedures.”

“Companies like L-3 Communications, the defense contractor, are providing several of the scanners under a nearly $165 million TSA contract won earlier this year, are well-prepared for the fight.”

“Linda Hall Daschle, a former administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration and wife of ex-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), is one of L-3’s best-connected lobbyists.”

“The president of LHD Associates, Daschle has earned $100,000 in lobbying fees so far this year working on “matters related to advanced imaging technology” — body scanners — among other air-travel issues, according to lobbying disclosure documents.”  See my blog post Scan or Scam for more information on these companies.

Overall, L-3 has spent more than $1.4 million on lobbying since 2004, according to disclosure records. It also has a large political action committee, which made more than $460,000 in political contributions to candidates and other committees during the 2010 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.

The Hill report continues; “TSA’s other body-scanner contractor is Rapiscan Systems Inc. In 2009, the company was awarded an agreement that could be worth up to $173 million. And like L-3, Rapiscan has a notable K Street presence.”

“Holland & Knight, Rapiscan’s outside lobbying firm, has earned $480,000 in fees from the company since May 2008, according to lobbying disclosure records. David Whitestone, a former aide to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), and John Bucher, once the chief lobbyist for United Airlines, are lobbying for the company. Overall, Rapiscan has spent close to $3.6 million on lobbying since 2007, according to records.”

Rapiscan attracted attention earlier this year when it was revealed that former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a vocal proponent of body scanners, had consulted for the company. Peter Kant, Rapsican’s executive vice president, said Chertoff was no longer working for the company.

Rapiscan’s parent company, OSI Systems Inc., has an active political action committee. During the 2010 campaign, it made more than $60,000 in campaign contributions to candidates and committees, according to FEC records. It should be noted that Rapiscan is located in Torrance, California in Democrat Congresswoman Jane Harman’s District (CA-36). It should be noted that Harman chairs the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment of the Homeland Security Committee.

What we now have is a cabal of “K” Street lobbyists, defense contractors, ex government official consultants and money hungry politicians in charge of our security. At least when it was only the “Military-Industrial Complex” we got some Good planes, warships and weapons systems and our rights were not violated. Now we are getting junk and a bureaucracy that thinks nothing of violating our civil rights.

More than two centuries ago, Edmund Burke warned about the dangers of new people with new power. This administration, only halfway through its term, has demonstrated that in many ways.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Day America Changed

“The human race's prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenseless against tigers than they are today when we have become defenseless against ourselves.” — Arnold J. Toynbee

On this day in 1963, 47 years ago, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated while traveling through Dallas, Texas, in an open-top convertible. It was also the day America changed from a nation of optimism and opportunity to one of cynicism and divineness

First lady Jacqueline Kennedy rarely accompanied her husband on political outings, but she was beside him, along with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, for a 10-mile motorcade through the streets of downtown Dallas on November 22. Sitting in a Lincoln convertible, the Kennedys and Connallys waved at the large and enthusiastic crowds gathered along the parade route. As their vehicle passed the Texas School Book Depository Building at 12:30 p.m., Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired three shots from the sixth floor, fatally wounding President Kennedy and seriously injuring Governor Connally. Kennedy was pronounced dead 30 minutes later at Dallas' Parkland Hospital. He was 46.

Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who was three cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States at 2:39 p.m. He took the presidential oath of office aboard Air Force One as it sat on the runway at Dallas Love Field airport. The swearing in was witnessed by some 30 people, including Jacqueline Kennedy, who was still wearing clothes stained with her husband's blood. Seven minutes later, the presidential jet took off for Washington.

The next day, November 23, President Johnson issued his first proclamation, declaring November 25 to be a day of national mourning for the slain president. On that Monday, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Washington to watch a horse-drawn caisson bear Kennedy's body from the Capitol Rotunda to St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral for a requiem Mass. The solemn procession then continued on to Arlington National Cemetery, where leaders of 99 nations gathered for the state funeral. Kennedy was buried with full military honors on a slope below Arlington House, where an eternal flame was lit by his widow to forever mark the grave.

Lee Harvey Oswald, born in New Orleans in 1939, joined the U.S. Marines in 1956. He was discharged in 1959 and nine days later left for the Soviet Union, where he tried unsuccessfully to become a citizen. He worked in Minsk and married a Soviet woman and in 1962 was allowed to return to the United States with his wife and infant daughter. In early 1963, he bought a .38 caliber revolver and rifle with a telescopic sight by mail order, and on April 10 in Dallas he allegedly shot at and missed former U.S. Army general Edwin Walker, a figure known for his extreme right-wing views. Later that month, Oswald went to New Orleans and founded a branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization. In September 1963, he went to Mexico City, where investigators allege that he attempted to secure a visa to travel to Cuba or return to the USSR. In October, he returned to Dallas and took a job at the Texas School Book Depository Building.

Less than an hour after Kennedy was shot, Oswald killed a policeman who questioned him on the street near his rooming house in Dallas. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater by police responding to reports of a suspect. He was formally arraigned on November 23 for the murders of President Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit.

On November 24, Oswald was brought to the basement of the Dallas police headquarters on his way to a more secure county jail. A crowd of police and press with live television cameras rolling gathered to witness his departure. As Oswald came into the room, Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fatally wounded him with a single shot from a concealed .38 revolver. Ruby, who was immediately detained, claimed that rage at Kennedy's murder was the motive for his action. Some called him a hero, but he was nonetheless charged with first-degree murder.

Jack Ruby, originally known as Jacob Rubenstein, operated strip joints and dance halls in Dallas and had minor connections to organized crime. He features prominently in Kennedy-assassination theories, and many believe he killed Oswald to keep him from revealing a larger conspiracy. In his trial, Ruby denied the allegation and pleaded innocent on the grounds that his great grief over Kennedy's murder had caused him to suffer "psychomotor epilepsy" and shoot Oswald unconsciously. The jury found Ruby guilty of "murder with malice" and sentenced him to die.

In October 1966, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the decision on the grounds of improper admission of testimony and the fact that Ruby could not have received a fair trial in Dallas at the time. In January 1967, while awaiting a new trial, to be held in Wichita Falls, Ruby died of lung cancer in a Dallas hospital.

The official Warren Commission report of 1964 concluded that neither Oswald nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy, either domestic or international, to assassinate President Kennedy. Despite its seemingly firm conclusions, the report failed to silence conspiracy theories surrounding the event, and in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in a preliminary report that Kennedy was "probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy" that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The committee's findings, as with those of the Warren Commission, continue to be widely disputed.

Everyone over the age fifty remembers where they were and what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on Friday, November 22, 1963 at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time (10:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time). I was with a survey crew staking out the bridge for the Santa Monica Freeway over La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. When we broke for lunch we were playing our usual game of double deck pinochle when one to the guys looked out of the window and noticed that the flags on the distant office buildings were at half mast. We wondered why, but since we had no radio we didn’t know what had happened.

After lunch, we packed up and moved to another site to do some work. This is when a contractor’s employee came by and told us the President had been shot. We didn’t know whether to believe him or not so we continued with the task at hand. It wasn’t long after that our supervisor came by and gave us the official news and told us that the Governor, Edmund Pat Brown, had ordered all State offices closed at noon and for us to go home. It took another thirty minutes or so for us to pack up all the equipment and leave the site. The Governor had also ordered all State offices closed on Monday for a Day of Morning and to watch the funeral on television that same day.

By the time I arrived at home Kathy was already there with the TV going. We watched all the news we could handle that night and went to bed. When we awoke on Saturday and turned the TV on news reports were broadcasting conflicting reports all day long. Sunday was the same with the exception that we witnessed Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being transported from the Dallas Police Station. That Monday Kennedy was buried and we watched the funeral all day. Shortly after the funeral President Johnson empanelled the Warren Commission to review the assassination and publish its findings. In late September 1964, after a 10-month investigation, the Warren Commission Report was published. The Commission concluded that it could not find any persuasive evidence of a domestic or foreign conspiracy involving any other persons, groups, or countries. The Commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the murder of Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby acted alone in the murder of Oswald.

Sometime in the 1960’s the country I grew up in began to change. Most people accredit this change to the Vietnam War; I think it was before that. I believe it was during the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy when the first conspiracy theory books began to appear. Authors, like Mark Lane with his book “Rush to Judgment”, were taking liberty with the facts and publishing books full of half truths based on comments taken out of context to advance their political agenda and themselves. This is the same Mark Lane who represented James Jones, of the Peoples Temple, and blamed the United States Government and CIA for the mass suicide of Jones’ 900 followers in Guyana.

With the popularity of these books, the American public, unable to accept that a lone gunman could assassinate the President of the United States, needed someone to blame, anyone would do even the Government. This is what is happening today with the 9/11 truthers and their conspiracy theories.

To this day after numerous hearings, investigations and forensic tests no factual evidence has ever been found or put forth to dispute the lone gunman theory. While the Warren Commission was flawed and the initial investigations were botched nothing has been presented to overturn the ultimate findings of the Warren Commission that Oswald was the lone assassin

Many books have been written and millions have been made from the promotion of the two or three gunman theory. Like the theories surrounding the Lincoln assassination these theories will also fade way into the dark recesses of history. There will always be those individuals who will not accept the facts and will look beyond them for the sinister hands of a conspiracy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Scan or Scam

"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." — Benjamin Franklin

In today’s USA Today Janet Napolitano, the Director of Homeland Security, has an Op-Ed piece titled Scanners are safe, pat-downs discreet. In her column Ms. Napolitano states; “As part of our layered approach, we have expedited the deployment of new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units to help detect concealed metallic and non-metallic threats on passengers. These machines are now in use at airports nationwide, and the vast majority of travelers say they prefer this technology to alternative screening measures.”

“AIT machines are safe, efficient, and protect passenger privacy. They have been independently evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who have all affirmed their safety. And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we've found during AIT screenings have illustrated their security value time and again.”

“Rigorous privacy safeguards are also in place to protect the traveling public. All images generated by imaging technology are viewed in a walled-off location not visible to the public. The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger. The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images.”

Unfortunately, the good secretary failed to point out that "those who seek to do us harm" are almost exclusively young Muslim males, and, logically, they should be the first ones profiled for additional screening.

Instead, the TSA pretends that we're all potential threats and, therefore, we all get to enjoy either the mechanized body scans or the groping — or, as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) dismissively calls the latter, the "love pats." If you think the TSA scanners now being deployed around the nation — thanks to $73 million in Obama money — are not invasive, you might reconsider after viewing this virtual strip search, which is a low resolution reproduction of a typical high resolution TSA scan.

There are three primary manufacturers of body scanners purchased by the TSA: one made by L-3 Communications, one from American Science and Engineering and one from Rapiscan. The scanner manufacturers are all located in leftist congressional districts in Massachusetts and California, those represented by Democratic House Members; Ed Markey, Niki Tsongas and Jane Harman. Perhaps this is mere coincidence, but we doubt it.

So what about these AIT scanners? Who makes them and what profits are to be had? Let’s begin with Rapiscan the recipient of $173 million in Obama stimulus dollars. Rapiscan is located in California's 36th congressional district (Dem. Rep. Jane Harman — an outspoken advocate of the technology.).

Rapiscan’s parent company is OSI Systems, a vertically integrated designer and manufacturer of specialized electronic systems and components for critical applications. They sell their products in diversified markets, including homeland security, healthcare, defense and aerospace.

Former Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff touted the use of the full body scanners for everyone, not just selected flyers. In a Washington Post Op-Ed Chertoff stated; “Opposition to whole-body imagers essentially relies on three arguments. First, the American Civil Liberties Union and privacy advocates have complained that the machines subject passengers to a "virtual strip search." Second, they claim that the machines are unsafe because they expose passengers to dangerous amounts of radiation in screening. Third, some critics argue that the only correct approach to airline security lies in better intelligence.”

“All of these objections lack merit. The "safety" concern is particularly specious, because the technologies expose people to no more radiation than is experienced in daily life.”

It should be noted that Chertoff was the secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009 and is co-founder of the Chertoff Group, a security and risk-management firm whose clients include a Rapiscan — Jane Harman’s pet firm.

The CEO and Chairman is the well known feel good guru and supporter of the Democrat Party Deepak Chopra. If you have ever seen Chopra on Sean Hannity’s show promoting peace in the world the will know what I am talking about.

Another investor in OSI was George Soros, or as Glenn beck calls him. “spooky dude”. Soros had 11,300 shares of OSI up to November 17th when Beck brought his ownership to light. The next day he unloaded all of his shares at about a $14/share profit ($158,200 —a mere pittance for Soros.)

Now we can move on to Massachusetts where we have two firms receiving Obama stimulus dollars for their AIT scanners:

L-3 Communications ($165 million contract) is in Massachusetts congressional district 7 (Dem. Rep. Ed Markey) and American Science and Engineering (AS&E) is in Massachusetts congressional district 5 (Dem Rep. Niki Tsongas — the widow of U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas and failed Presidential candidate).

Is there a privacy issue here? Want your wives and daughters scanned or searched using the "enhanced pat down procedure" if a woman refuses to subject herself to the scan? Did you know that TSA employees have cached these images? Reuters reports that thousands of them have been posted on the Web. Further, there are also health related concerns about scanner radiation, especially for recovering cancer patients.

When it comes to airport security matters, we should put some stock into what the Israelis have to say. In April of this year, former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority, Rafi Sela, who has been an expert in security and defense technology for 30 years, said of the body scanners: "I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. That's why we haven't put them in [Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport]." (Obviously Sela's security decisions are not directed by politicians with stimulus money to burn.) See my blog post on November 16 to read about my experience in Ben Gurion Airport.

Sela believes a "trusted traveler" network would be better because pre-approved low-risk passengers would be subject only to expedited screening and higher risk individuals could then be subject to much more proven technology like automatic sniffers now used to detect explosive residue on airline baggage.

As for the "random search" procedures in effect at U.S. airports, Sela says, "Random searches are like Russian roulette." He is an advocate of behavioral profiling, but that would offend the sensibilities of travelers who actually fit the profile of a terrorist.

Obviously, airline security is an important issue, but there are better ways to achieve it without trampling the Fourth Amendment or encouraging uniformed personnel to commit what in any other circumstance would be prosecuted as felonious assault. The Israelis, for many years the prime targets of jihadi terrorism, have one of the best airline security records in the world, but they don't resort to wide-scale screening. Using intelligence analysis and common sense, they profile people, not things, allowing them to focus on the most probable threats with minimal disturbance of those who aren't likely to be terrorists. While that might offend the sensibilities of travelers who fit the terrorist profile, at least grandma and the grand kids would be free from abusive TSA gropers.

So what do we have when all of the dust clears? Do we have a more efficient technology for air travel security or a very expensive scam pushed on us by Democrat politicians and supporters? You be the judge, for me it’s a scam.

The Greatest Speech Ever Given

“..and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1863

On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivers one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In just 271 words, Lincoln brilliantly and movingly reminded a war-weary public why the Union had to fight, and win, the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought some four months earlier, was the single bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Over the course of three days, more than 45,000 men were killed, injured, captured or went missing.  The battle also proved to be the turning point of the war: General Robert E. Lee's defeat and retreat from Gettysburg marked the last Confederate invasion of Northern territory and the beginning of the Southern army's ultimate decline.

Charged by Pennsylvania's governor, Andrew Curtin, to care for the Gettysburg dead, an attorney named David Wills bought 17 acres of pasture to turn into a cemetery for the more than 7,500 who fell in battle. Wills invited Edward Everett, one of the most famous orators of the day, to deliver a speech at the cemetery's dedication. Almost as an afterthought, Wills also sent a letter to Lincoln—just two weeks before the ceremony—requesting "a few appropriate remarks" to consecrate the grounds.

At the dedication, the crowd listened for two hours to Everett before Lincoln spoke. Lincoln's address lasted just two or three minutes. The speech reflected his redefined belief that the Civil War was not just a fight to save the Union, but a struggle for freedom and equality for all, an idea Lincoln had not championed in the years leading up to the war. This was his stirring conclusion: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Reception of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was initially mixed, divided strictly along partisan lines. Nevertheless, the "little speech," as he later called it, is thought by many today to be the most eloquent articulation of the democratic vision ever written.

The five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address are each named for the associated person who received it from Lincoln. Lincoln gave a copy to each of his private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay.  Both of these drafts were written around the time of his November 19 address, while the other three copies of the address, the Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss copies, were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes well after November 19. In part because Lincoln provided a title and signed and dated the Bliss Copy, it has become the standard text of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

The two earliest drafts of the Address are associated with some confusion and controversy regarding their existence and provenance. Nicolay and Hay were appointed custodians of Lincoln's papers by Lincoln's son Robert Todd Lincoln in 1874. After appearing in facsimile in an article written by John Nicolay in 1894, the Nicolay Copy was presumably among the papers passed to Hay by Nicolay's daughter Helen upon Nicolay's death in 1901. Robert Lincoln began a search for the original copy in 1908, which resulted in the discovery of a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address among the bound papers of John Hay—a copy now known as the "Hay Draft."

The Hay Draft differed from the version of the Gettysburg Address published by John Nicolay in 1894 in a number of significant ways: it was written on a different type of paper, had a different number of words per line and number of lines, and contained editorial revisions in Lincoln's hand.

Both the Hay and Nicolay copies of the Address are within the Library of Congress, encased in specially designed, temperature-controlled, sealed containers with argon gas in order to protect the documents from oxidation and continued deterioration.

Discovering that his fourth written copy could not be used, Lincoln then wrote a fifth draft, which was accepted for the purpose requested. The Bliss Copy,[e]  named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, Bancroft's stepson and publisher of Autograph Leaves, is the only draft to which Lincoln affixed his signature. Lincoln is not known to have made any further copies of the Gettysburg Address. Because of the apparent care in its preparation, and in part because Lincoln provided a title and signed and dated this copy, it has become the standard version of the address and the source for most facsimile reproductions of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

This draft now hangs in the Lincoln Room of the White House, a gift of Oscar B. Cintas, former Cuban Ambassador to the United States. Cintas, a wealthy collector of art and manuscripts, purchased the Bliss Copy at a public auction in 1949 for $54,000, at that time the highest price ever paid for a document at public auction. Cintas' properties were claimed by the Castro government after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, but Cintas, who died in 1957, willed the Gettysburg Address to the American people, provided it would be kept at the White House, where it was transferred in 1959.

On a personal note I write about the Gettysburg Address in my book “Footsteps on the Land” in Chapter 4. While in the seventh grade in Catholic school a school mate and I were caught in a mischievous act during a recess period. Sister Mary Joseph was quick to apprehend us and for our crime we were required to remain after school each day for thirty minutes. At the end of the thirty minute period she would call us to her desk where we were required to flawlessly recite the Gettysburg Address. Upon the first mistake we made she would inform us that she would see us the next day at the same time and place to try again. It took about a week to get it right, but we finally managed to flawlessly recite Lincoln’s famous address.

When we had completed our “punishment” the nun asked us what we had learned from our experience. I can’t recall what my answer to her question was, but I can surely remember the experience and Lincoln’s words some sixty years later. I am sure this would not be permitted in our schools today as some ACLU lawyer would be all over the school administration claiming some sort of abuse.

The Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The entire address is only 271 words and it is used by English teachers as an example of efficiency in writing. Even Microsoft Word uses the Address as a measure to test your proficiency in grammar and writing. And remember, Lincoln gave this address without a teleprompter.

Gun Owners Take Heed

A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks. — Thomas Jefferson

With all that has been being reported the past few days it is difficult to keep abreast of all that is occurring around is. With numerous reports of TSA’s abuses of the new pat down procedures, the machinations of the lame duck Congress and the engagement of Prince William a little reported event is slipping under the door of our civil liberties.

President Obama is about to appoint one of his Chicago cronies as the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BTAFE). A committed advocate of the Bradys , Andrew Traver is President Obama's choice to be the BATFE's next Supreme Leader. The New York Times reported on Monday; “Nearly two years into his term, President Obama on Monday finally chose a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Mr. Obama will submit the name of Andrew Taver [sic], the special agent in charge of the bureau’s Chicago field division, to the Senate for consideration, the White House said.”

This, no doubt, will immensely please the Brady Campaign, who will probably try to imply that it was their complaining that inspired this action.  But there is more to Traver than selfless service to his community. He is an anti-firearm rights zealot. He is on record as opposing so-called "assault rifles" in the hands of citizens. Worse, he is a prominent member of the virulently anti-firearm International Association of Chiefs of Police. Traver has gone so far as to call semi automatic rifles “weapons of mass destruction” and his is strongly opposed by gun rights groups like the NRA and other civil libertarians.

In a statement issued by Chris Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Actions (NRA-ILA) Cox said: “The National Rifle Association of America strongly opposes President Obama's nomination of Andrew Traver as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). Traver has been deeply aligned with gun control advocates and anti-gun activities. This makes him the wrong choice to lead an enforcement agency that has almost exclusive oversight and control over the firearms industry, its retailers and consumers. Further, an important nomination such as BATFE director should not be made as a "recess appointment," in order to circumvent consent by the American people through their duly-elected U.S. Senators.

Traver served as an advisor to the International Association for Chiefs of Police's (IACP) "Gun Violence Reduction Project," a "partnership" with the Joyce Foundation. Both IACP and the Joyce Foundation are names synonymous with promoting a variety of gun control schemes at the federal and state levels. Most of the individuals involved in this project were prominent gun control activists and lobbyists.

The IACP report, generated with Traver's help, called on Congress to ban thousands of commonly owned firearms by misrepresenting them as “assault weapons,” as well as calling for bans on .50 caliber rifles and widely used types of ammunition. The report also suggests that Congress should regulate gun shows out of existence and should repeal the privacy protections of the Tiahrt Amendment -- all efforts strongly opposed by the NRA and its members.

Traver also participated in an extremely deceptive NBC Chicago report in which he referred to "the growing frequency of gang members and drug dealers using heavy caliber military-type weapons" and described them as if they were machine guns: "Pull the trigger and you can mow people down." Traver and his agents provided the reporter with a fully automatic AK-47, with which she was unable to hit the target. He then said that stray bullets are "one of the main problems with having stuff like this available to the gangs."

As the Agent-in-Charge of Chicago’s BATFE office, Traver knows that fully automatic firearms are not available through normal retail channels -- the opposite of what was implied in the report.

An agency involved in the regulation of a fundamental, individual right guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution should not be led by an individual with a demonstrated hostility to that freedom. For that reason, the NRA strongly opposes Andrew Traver to head the BATFE and urges President Obama to withdraw this ill-advised nomination.

It's hard to know when the confirmation fight will commence. Will Obama try to ram it through the Senate during the lame duck session, before the Democrat majority shrinks considerably, or does he think it can happen even in the face of a considerably more Republican Senate next year? Perhaps Traver will be a recess appointment, and thus become Acting Director through late 2012.  That, actually, might be the biggest threat. This route would be attractive to the DoJ, since it would avoid the problem with confirmation hearings — and those inconvenient questions under oath. This is how Obama got his health care czar Donald Berwick appointed.

There has been very little reporting of this story outside of the gun community. This is just another example of Obama living up to his “clinging to their guns and bibles’ comment. There is very little the public can do about a recess appointment until 2012 and much mischief could be done during Traver’s tenure. All you can really do is keep the story alive and hope the Senate changes in 2012.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why We Should Cut Foreign Aid

“AIDS is big business, maybe Africa's biggest business. There's nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be very skeptical.” — James Shikwati

The US spends more than other countries in total dollars, as a percentage of its total annual budget it gives 25 billion dollars away a year — mostly to countries who don’t need it, and or hate the USA.

While this is a mere pittance of our annual budget foreign aid is one of those budget items that seem to come under criticism each year, criticism that is well deserved.

Foreign aid or (development assistance) is often regarded as being too much, or wasted on corrupt recipient governments despite any good intentions from donor countries. In reality, both the quantity and quality of aid have been poor and donor nations have not been held to account.

In 1970, the world’s rich countries agreed to annually give 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) as official international development aid. Since that time, despite billions given each year, rich nations have rarely met their actual promised targets. For example, the US is often the largest donor in dollar terms, but ranks amongst the lowest in terms of meeting the stated 0.7% target.

Furthermore, aid has often come with a price of its own for the developing nations:
  • Aid is often wasted on conditions that the recipient must use overpriced goods and services from donor countries
  • Most aid does not actually go to the poorest who would need it the most
  • Aid amounts are dwarfed by rich country protectionism that denies market access for poor country products, while rich nations use aid as a lever to open poor country markets to their products
  • Large projects or massive grand strategies often fail to help the vulnerable; money can and often is embezzled away.
Some interesting observations can be made about the amount of aid. For example:
  • USA’s aid, in terms of percentage of their GNP has almost always been lower than any other industrialized nation in the world, though paradoxically since 2000, their dollar amount has been the highest.
  • Between 1992 and 2000, Japan had been the largest donor of aid, in terms of raw dollars. From 2001 the United States claimed that position, a year that also saw Japan’s amount of aid drop by nearly 4 billion dollars.
In a 2005 interview with Der Spiegel Magazine the Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati, says that aid to Africa does more harm than good. The avid proponent of globalization spoke with SPIEGEL about the disastrous effects of Western development policy in Africa, corrupt rulers, and the tendency to overstate the AIDS problem.

When the proposition that the industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty was put forth by Der Spiegel Shikwati responded; “Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.”

Shikwati continued’ “Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. This is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.”

Shikwati’s response to the interviewer’s comment “that even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them”, was “But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousand tons of corn are shipped to Africa.” You can read all of Shikwati’s comments by clicking here.

Several years ago I was in Bangkok, Thailand visiting the US Trade and Development Agency for the purpose of exploring opportunities in the region. While the TDA reprehensive and I were driving next to the construction of a new viaduct through Bangkok he mentioned that the Japanese had done all of the planning and design of the viaduct with Japanese grant funds. It was obvious why they did this. The viaduct was being built with steel girders, not with concrete. The Japanese export steel, not concrete.

There are several reasons we give foreign aid: 1) promote the sale of US goods and services, 2) humanitarian and feel good projects and programs, 3) disaster relief, and 4) military assistance.

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s mission is to provide funds to a host nation so they can hire the services of a U.S company to prepare a study that will eventually lead to the export of U.S. goods or services to that nation. Once the study is completed the host nation is supposed to obtain financing for the project from the U.S. Export Bank or World Bank to fund the project. In essence the U.S. taxpayer is financing the marketing efforts of a U.S. company. Sometimes this is called corporate welfare by the detractors of the agency. All industrial nations do this, some on a much larger scale than the United States. The amount of money the federal government puts forth for this program is miniscule in comparison with other aid programs, about $5 million dollars each year. The return on the investment is difficult to calculate and the ultimate goal of the program is to create exports for American firms.

The big cahoona when it comes to foreign aid is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Formed in 1961 USAID’s mission is:
  • Disaster relief
  • Poverty relief
  • Technical cooperation on global issues
  • U.S. bilateral interests
  • Socio-economic development
This is undoubtedly the most overblown, bureaucratic agency of the United States Government. As an agency within the US State Department there is a USAID representative in each of our embassies and consulates around the world. USAID gives billions of dollars way each year with little accountability for the results. Most of the money goes to projects that are carried out by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have a cadre of lobbyists on K Street. It is not only the NGOs that get the money, but other government agencies get funds from USID to carry out projects. As an example after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras in 1998 The National Geodetic Survey was given almost a million dollars from USIAD to conduct surveys of the damaged areas. This is like using money from one government pot to fill the pot of another government agency without Congressional oversight.

Another example of the inefficiency of USAID was a $30 million dollar sewer project in Gaza. The project was given to a church to provide the design and construction management. When I asked the USAID representative why it was given to a church and not a qualified civil engineering firm his response was that the church had a retired civil engineer that would be responsible for the project.

USAID also pours millions into so called Socio-economic development programs around the globe. These are the types of projects James Shikwati talks about. No one really knows the value of the project or what the expected results should be. They are just feel good projects for the USAID manager. If any agency of the federal government needs a complete overhaul its USAID with its cadre of glassy-eyed liberals who want to change the world with your money.

Disaster relief is another form of foreign aid. No one really knows what the true cost of this aid is. When an earthquake or tsunami hits some third world country or Pacific island we rush in with billions in aid. The aid is not coordinated or accounted for; it is just dumped on the ground. USAID was bringing in their field managers right after the earthquake struck Haiti last year. They were passing out food and clothing with no idea as to where it was going. Most was ending up in the hands of the war lords who were controlling the villages while the people were going thirsty and hungry. They just are not accountable for the money they spend. Also, the cost to our military for providing transport and medical assistance is not taken into account.

Military assistance might be the largest boondoggle of them all. There is no accurate accounting for the cost of military assistance we provide around the world. As an example the off the shelf price for an F-16A is said to be about $25 million dollars. When the price for spares and weapons systems is thrown in the price jumps up to about $80 million. Say, for example, we “sell’ six F-16As to Saudi Arabia for $500 million dollars, including training and maintenance. How does Saudi Arabia pay for these planes? Do they write us a check, give us oil, or do they allow us to base our troops there?

Deals like this go on all the time. In addition to selling military hardware we also give nations like Turkey license to manufacture F-16s and sell them on the open market. We also furnish millions in military training to our allies and “friends”.

So what do we get in return for all of this money? Are we liked any better around the globe for our largess? During the Bush administration we gave more money to Africa to combat AIDS than all of the nations of the world combined. The rock star Bono, a big proponent of fighting AIDS, goes around the world bad mouthing the United States. When we poured more money into Haiti for earthquake relief we were condemned for raising our flag over the relief stations with the piles of water and food stuffs.

While foreign aid is less than 1% of our GDP I still believe we should begin to curtail it. Like earmarks, it may be purely symbolic, but unlike earmarks we don’t get any bridges or post offices for the money.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Fallacy of Earmarks

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” — James Madison

Today Fox News reports; “Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Kentucky), stunned the political world when he announced Monday afternoon that he would support a two-year moratorium on earmarks when it is presented in his closed door conference meeting Tuesday. But don't look for the same from his Democratic counterpart.”

“Jim Manley, spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nevada), released a statement saying, "It is up to each Senator whether or not they will support Congressionally directed funding to their state. From delivering $100 million in military projects for Nevada to funding education and public transportation projects in the state, Sen. Reid makes no apologies for delivering for the people of Nevada. He will always fight to ensure the state's needs are met."

Reid and McConnell are both long time Appropriations Committee members, and until Monday, McConnell had adamantly defended the practice. The Republican leader said he was listening to the voters, though, as he reversed his position.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vermont), a senior member of the spending panel indicated Monday he would not support the ban, saying, "I notice the ones who call for the earmarks are the first ones who call over (to a Cabinet Secy) and say, ‘I want this particular project approved before you get confirmation of your nominee'."

Sen. Claire McCaskill D-Missouri), clearly fighting an uphill battle, was the lone Democrat to issue a statement of support for the ban on Monday, saying, "I welcome Senator McConnell to the fight to ban earmarks. Tax dollars are always best distributed based on merit. I'm glad that Republican leadership is coming around to this idea; now it's my Democratic colleagues turn to get on board. In her four year career in the Senate, McCaskill has not requested an earmark.”

Some pundits claim this is merely a symbolic gesture, which to some extent is true. However, the country needs a demonstration of some fiscal responsibility right now and earmarks are the quickest way to show the public that the Republicans are listening to the folks that elected them, mainly those who sympathize with the Tea Party.

McConnell was a big advocate of earmarks. His argument was that without Congress making the decision as to who gets the money for special programs and projects the executive office and the bureaucrats would be making them. To some extent this is true.

Tax Payers for Common Sense reports” Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) has been going through the omnibus to pull together a total number of earmarks and dollar amount. TCS found 8,570 disclosed earmarks worth $7.7 billion. When you add the $6.6 billion in disclosed earmarks that were in the three FY09 spending bills that passed in the fall (Defense, DHS, MilCon/VA) you end up with $14.3 billion worth of disclosed earmarks in FY09. The apples-to-apples comparison from 2008 yielded $14.8 billion, so there was a $500 million reduction in disclosed earmarks between FY08 and FY09

Clearly the earmark culture in Washington is as strong as ever. A 2009 TCS study found that 60% of the members of the House Armed Services Committee, who arranged earmarks, also received campaign contributions from the companies that received the funding. Almost all the members of the committee received campaign contributions from companies that got earmarks that year. And yet despite repeated scandals — some resulting in lawmakers being sentenced to prison — the number of annual earmarks continues to increase. Lawmakers have continually rejected even modest proposal to temporarily suspend earmarks until the process can be cleaned up.

In addition to waste and corruption, lawmakers' obsession with pork raises a larger concern about the role of Congress. Members of the U.S. Congress-a national legislature that has historically debated war, Americans' rights, and broad economic policy-have become, in the words of Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), "mere errand boys for local government and constituents.”

The American people elected their federal lawmakers to focus on national priorities like recession, job losses, the financial collapse, and the war on terrorism. And yet these lawmakers failed to pass appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year and instead spent a substantial portion of 2008 securing pork projects such as:
  • $1,049,000 to combat Mormon Crickets in Utah;
  • $332,500 to build a school sidewalk in Franklin, Texas;
  • $225,000 for Everybody Wins!;
  • $200,000 for a tattoo removal program in Mission Hills, California;
  • $190,000 for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming;
  • $237,500 for theater renovation in Merced, California; and
  • $75,000 for the Totally Teen Zone in Albany, Georgia.
Of course, lawmakers say these projects are vital to "bringing home federal dollars." In reality, many earmarks are carved out of funding streams that were already coming back to state and local governments and local organizations anyway. All of the earmarks taken from the $5 billion Community Development Block Grant program for parks, pools, street signs, and community centers just reduce the pot of money left over to distribute to local governments for the projects they would choose. And by diverting transportation dollars into projects that are often frivolous and having nothing to do with reducing congestion or improving mobility, earmarks starve higher-priorities like road maintenance and construction, which in turn forces Congress to increase spending to replenish that funding. But earmarks generate press releases and campaign contributions for lawmakers who have only tied strings to federal money that was already coming home.

It is not only Democrats that are earmark proponents — Republicans are equally guilty. One of the biggest “earmarker” is Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis (CA -41, Redlands). As the current ranking member of the Appropriations Committee Lewis has been able to bring earmarks back to his district for years.

When I was actively lobbying Congress for the National Height Modernization Program in 1996-1998 I received an education in the earmark process. You can read about the program in my book Footsteps on the Land at chapter 36.

Here is how the process works. The first thing you need is a cause, a project or a program. It does not have to be an infrastructure project, although those projects are a little easier to push through. In my case the project was a National Spatial Reference System that was a bit more difficult to describe to the members of Congress.

The next step is to find a government agency that will support your request. As an example if you are going for an earmark for a bridge you will need to find a local transportation agency that would like the money for a new bridge. If it is money for a playground you would need to tie up with an community organization. In my case I was able to partner with the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), a division within the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Once you have the partner agency, community organization or academic institution you will move on to step three.

The third step is to prepare a good narrative of what the money will be used for. The narrative should define the problem from a historic perspective; why it is in the public’s interest to grant the money, i.e. it save lives or eases traffic congestion and reduces green house gases; a cost/benefit analysis; and a proposed timeline and budget for implementation. The narrative must include a two page executive summary with your major talking points. As we know members of Congress do not like to read long papers or bills.

Now you have to wander the halls of Congress to locate a member to sponsor the earmark. You want someone on a committee that oversees the project or program you are touting, preferable from the state or district where the money will be spent. In my case I secured the support of a member from California who sat on the Appropriations Committee.

Once you locate your sponsor you prepare to give testimony before one of the subcommittees within the Appropriations Committee. You will prepare your testimony and submit it to the chair of the subcommittee and receive a date and time to give the oral testimony. In my case on the day I gave testimony there was only one member present. Fortunately he was interested in the program I was selling and invited me to his office the next day.

Now that you have a defined program, a partner agency and Congressional sponsors you need to make the rounds of Congress to visit every member who would vote on the appropriation for your program. For me it took about six months and I visited at least 20 Congressional offices. For the most part you will meet with their staff and not the member. You will also have to visit both of your state Senators to convince then to support the request for the earmark as they will eventually have to sign on a sponsor. For the earmark I was going after I met with Senators Boxer and Feinstein. It was Feinstein who signed on to support the Height Modernization earmark.

The bottom line is that I was able to get $1.4 million dollars for the first year for California and North Carolina to conduct studies and pilot projects. The study was carried out under the supervision of the NGS while the pilot projects were carried out under the direction of state agencies. In North Carolina it was the North Carolina Geodetic Survey and in California the California Spatial Reference Center, a department within he University of California at San Diego.

The study and both projects went well. My firm co-authored the study and did the project in Henderson County, North Carolina.  The study was instrumental in getting earmarks for other states to do projects of a similar nature and the pilot projects allowed the NGS to write the protocols and standards for doing future projects. All of the work was outsourced to the private sector, but administered by the NGS for which they received a 10% administration fee that was added to their annual budget — no additional staff was added. To my knowledge the program is still going on today with annual earmarks to the NGS to fund the state projects.

This was a legitimate program that is brings financial benefit to its users. Yes, it was and is financed through earmarks. To obtain these earmarks we had to jump through many hoops along the way. What will happen to this program with a moratorium on earmarks? Some earmarks are better than other earmarks.

John McCain campaigned on the “No Earmark” issue. It has become a mantra of the left and right without giving much thought to the history or purpose of earmarks. The real issue is Social Security and Medicare and the massive growth of government. The elimination of earmarks will not make a dent in the deficit, but the elimination of 10% of the federal workforce will.

Don’t Touch My Junk

"If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted.” — Noah Webster

By now you should have heard of John Tyner of Oceanside, California, the man who told a TSA security screened. “If you touch my junk I’ll have you arrested.” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on November 14th; “Tyner was simultaneously thrown out of San Diego International Airport on Saturday morning for refusing to submit to a security check and threatened with a lawsuit and a $10,000 fine if he left.” And he got the whole thing on his cell phone. Well, the audio at least.

“The 31-year-old Oceanside software programmer was supposed to leave from Lindbergh Field on Saturday morning and until a TSA agent directed him toward one of the recently installed full-body scanners, Tyner seemed to be on his way. Tyner balked.”

“At first, he balked at submitting to a full-body scan, according to his blog and news reports. He told the newspaper he was surprised to learn the airport had the machines because the airport's website said it did not. He opted for the metal detector and basic pat-down, but refused the latter after learning it involved a "groin check." "I looked him straight in the eye and said, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested," he wrote on his blog.

“He'd been reading about the scanners and didn't like them for a number of reasons, ranging from health concerns to "a huge invasion of privacy." He'd even checked the TSA website which indicated that San Diego did not have the machines, he said in a phone interview Saturday night. "I was surprised to see them," said Tyner.”

“He also did something that may seem odd to some, manipulative to others but fortuitous to plenty of others for whom Tyner is becoming something of a folk hero: Tyner turned on his cell phone's video camera and placed it atop the luggage he sent through the x-ray machine.” Click here for an additional report on AOL News and the video.

For the camera-shy, TSA will offer an alternative: 'enhanced' pat-downs. This is not the gentle frisking you may have experienced at the airport in the past. It requires agents to probe aggressively in intimate zones -- breasts, buttocks, crotches. If you enjoyed your last mammography or prostate exam, you'll love the enhanced pat-down. And you'll get a chance to have an interesting conversation with your children about being touched by strangers.

There is a photo on the front page of the Drudge Report showing a Catholic Nun being patted down by a female TSA screener. It seems as though no one is exempt from these pervasive procedures from the TSA. Either you go through the scanner and receive a dose of radiation or you suffer a “pat down” and have you genitals messaged by a TSA screener — or so you would think

If you are a Muslim there rules do not apply. In February 2010 Susan Jones, writing for CNS News reported; “Airport Body Scanners Violate the Teachings of Islam, Says Muslim Group.” Her report went on to say; “A group of Muslim scholars says it supports airline safety, but it is "deeply concerned" about the use of airport scanners that show nude images of the human body.”

“The Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) emphasizes that a general and public use of such scanners is against the teachings of Islam, natural law and all religions and cultures that stand for decency and modesty,” the group said in a Feb. 10 statement posted at Islam Online.

FCNA is asking for changes in scanner software so the machines will produce only body outlines. In the meantime, the group says Muslim travelers should choose pat-down searches over scanner images – in cases where searches are necessary.

The Fiqh Council of North America is an affiliate of the Islamic Society of North America, which advises and educates its members and officials “on matters related to the application of Shari’ah (Islamic law) in their individual and collective lives in the North American environment.” FCNA is affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which is a Muslim Brotherhood group. The Brotherhood is dedicated in its own words to "eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within."

All of this sounds as though the Islamists want to cooperate with TSA screening, but not so fast. They don’t want pat downs on any part of the body below the neck.

CNS News reported; “The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has issued a travel warning to Muslim airline passengers on U.S. aircraft in response to the Transportation Safety Administration’s “enhanced pat down" policy that went into effect in late October.”

CAIR said Muslims who object to full-body scans for religious reasons should know their rights if they are required to undergo a pat-down, including asking for the procedure to be done in a private place. In addition, CAIR offered a “special recommendation” for Muslim women who wear a hijab, telling them they should tell the TSA officer that they may be searched only around the head and neck.

In the “special recommendations for Muslim women who wear hijab,” it states: “Before you are patted down, you should remind the TSA officer that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They SHOULD NOT subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down.”

It also states: “Instead of the pat-down, you can always request to pat down your own scarf, including head and neck area, and have the officers perform a chemical swipe of your hands.”

And so now these groups say that body scanners are un-Islamic. Very well. There may be plenty of reasons to oppose body scanners, but when they put it this way, they suggest they'd be just fine with some sort of exemption from such scanning for Muslims. That would mean that the one group that would be subjected to lighter airport security checks than any other group would be. Muslims. And that would in turn make things easier than ever for jihad terrorists. Surely that can't be the objective of the FCNA and CAIR, now, can it?

So here we have the very people who have caused all of this turmoil, Muslims, drawing a pass on the tougher security measures while nuns, your wife or your daughter will have the naked image exposed or being felt up by some low level civil service TSA screener at the airport. Muslim women will be exempted from the scanning and full body pat downs. While this may not result in a higher threat it does, however, demonstrate what a select special interest group they have become.

Probably the safest airline to fly is El Al, the national airline of Israel. They don’t use scanners, they use profiling. I have flown out of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and been subjected to their profiling procedures. Once you go through the metal detector you stop at a table where your carry-on luggage is hand checked. While an agent is checking your bags another agent is asking you a series of questions and watching your reactions. They ask questions such as; how long have you been in Israel, where did you come from, what was the reason for you visiting Israel, what is your occupation, and do you have a business card? They will flip through your passport to see where you have been. If you have been to any Middle Eastern or Islamic countries they will ask you what you were doing in those counties and how long did you stay.

This all goes pretty quickly and while they are listening to your answers they are more concerned with your body language and facial expressions. If they see anything of suspect they will pull you out of the line and take you to a private room where you will sit for a few minutes and then be queried by an experienced intelligence operative. Meanwhile you checked baggage will be pulled and searched by hand. There are no exceptions.

Last week to protest the body scanners a group of Germans went through the security check points at a German airport naked. Click here for video. The groups of demonstrators have stripped off at airports in Berlin, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf in reaction to the news that officials are considering installing the scanners during the coming year. Click here for full story.

I propose that the first thing on the chopping block should be an ineffective organization that wastes money, violates our rights, and encourages us to make decisions that imperil our safety. I'm talking about the Transportation Security Administration. Bipartisan support should be immediate. For fiscal conservatives, it's hard to come up with a more wasteful agency than the TSA. For privacy advocates, eliminating an organization that requires you to choose between a nude body scan or genital groping in order to board a plane should be a no-brainer. But won't that compromise safety? I doubt it. The airlines have enormous sums of money riding on passenger safety, and the notion that a government bureaucracy has better incentives to provide safe travels than airlines with billions of dollars worth of capital and goodwill on the line strains credibility. I am sure we can do a better job using a combination of metal detectors and profiling.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How Hollywood Portrays Our Veterans

“Make no mistake: the anti-war voices long for us to lose any war they cannot prevent.” — Col. Ralph Peters

Over the years Hollywood has portrayed our fighting men and women in differing lights ranging from boldly patriotic to downright disgraceful.

As a child growing up during World War Two I saw many movies glorifying our fighting men and women. Studios like Republic, RKO and Paramount turned out these films on almost a monthly basis. Republic Studios was no doubt the most prolific. They could turn out a film in two or three weeks, from treatment to distribution prints.

Our military was shown in a heroic vein in films like; “The Sands of Iwo Jima”, “Flying Tigers”, “Back to Battan”, “Destination Tokyo” and “Objective Burma.” From 1941 to 1950 hundreds of films were produced portraying our servicemen and women in a positive light. After the war Hollywood began producing more serious films, like “The Best Years of Our Lives” addressing the plights of the returning veterans.

During The Korean War, a war not as popular as WWII, the movie-makers began making films, like “Pork Chop Hill”, “The Enemy Below” and “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” with a more anti-war message. While our military were still shown in a positive vein the message of the film was the futility of war.

By the time the Vietnam War rolled around Hollywood’s take was a definite anti-war point of view. Films such as “Platoon”, “Full Metal Jacket” and “Apocalypse Now” not only showed war as horrendous and futile they also depicted the American soldier as brutal, racist and as drug addicts.

These films were made during a period when most of the liberal elite had disdain for the American Military. Who can forget the disrespect shown soldiers and Marines returning from Vietnam? They were greeted by jeering and screaming crowds. They were spat on and called baby killers by the draft dodgers who had avoided military service by a college deferment or fleeing to Canada.

My friend Jimmy, a veteran Navy corpsman and winner of a Navy Cross during the Korean War, related this story to me. While working as a deputy sheriff at the airport when wounded Vietnam veterans were returning he witnessed the following incident. There were reporters surrounding the wounded veterans trying to get them say something. This one particular young reporter approached a veteran being wheeled down the jet way. When he could not get the wounded soldier to say something to he spat in his face. The reporter was immediately escorted from the scene by two airport policemen. Jimmy later learned that the reporter had suffered a fall as he was being escorted out of the area, a fall that caused him a broken nose. Jimmy told me that when the two policemen returned they smiled and gave him the thumbs up sign. This was no doubt an egregious example of police brutality, but to Jimmy’s knowledge no reports were ever filled.

In the past fifteen years film makers have produced epic films and TV series, such as “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”, glorifying the soldiers and Marines of the “Greatest Generation.”  Documentaries covering WWII have been aired on Public Television and cable channels doing the same. Our love affair with the “Greatest Generation” seems to be unending.

The same cannot be said for the Vietnam Veteran. With the exception of the excellent film “We Were Soldiers” no films or TV series have been produced showing the true story and heroism of the Vietnam veteran. All they have is a 75 meter black wall with 58,195 engraved names in Washington, D.C. If there were such a wall in Hanoi it would be 1,417 meters (4,648 feet) long with 1.1 million engraved names.

With our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan creating thousands of returning veteran, many of them crippled for life, how will they be honored by Hollywood. Will they be depicted in a positive light, such as in the film “Hurt Locker” or will they suffer the Oliver Stone treatment as he portrayed the American soldier in “Platoon”?