Category Archives: Congress

Just a Nut Job

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief coming from the right when accused Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner was revealed to be just another disturbed young man, clearly suffering from untreated mental illness. After all, conservative commentators leaped to point out, if the guy is a nut job, then all the right-wing political attacks on Democratic party office holders and candidates for office didn’t have any or much effect on the shooting.

That interpretation of events seems to have taken hold in the public mind. Most people don’t think there is any connection between the Tuscon shooting and what the pollsters call “political discourse,” according to the new ABC-Washington Post poll released Tuesday morning.

The public overwhelmingly sees the country’s political discourse as negative in tone – 82 percent say so, including three in 10 who say it’s “angry.” Still there’s a division, 49-49 percent, on whether it’s created a climate that could encourage political violence.

On the Tucson shootings specifically, 54 percent of Americans do not think the political discourse contributed to the incident, while 40 percent think it did. Those who do see a connection divide on whether it was a strong factor, or not strong.

The survey more generally finds blame for the political tone spread across a variety of groups. Half the public says the Tea Party political movement and its supporters, as well as political commentators on both side of the ideological divide, have “crossed the line” in terms of attacking the other side. Forty-five percent say the Republican Party and its supporters have done the same; fewer, 39 percent, say so about the Democratic Party.

Now, this doesn’t make much sense to me. Jared Loughner may be mad, but there’s clearly a method to his madness. He may be psychotic, but his psychosis manifested itself in a particular way. After all, Loughner didn’t attack members of his family. He didn’t go postal at the workplace. He didn’t shoot up the military recruiters or the college that rejected him. No. When he picked up his legally obtained assault weapon, he chose to try and assasinate a member of the United States Congress. And not just any old member, but one who had been targeted, singled out for political attack, reviled by the right wing. And this amidst a call by several right-wing figures for their followers to become “armed and dangerous” to defend their liberties against such Democratic party usurpers as Gabrielle Giffords. How can you say this attack is unrelated to the current American political culture?

As Lynn Parramore, editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s blog New Deal 2.0, puts it, one must  ignore that political culture, right-wing ideology, and Sarah Palin. Otherwise, one  will be taking advantage of the botched murder, and thereby contributing to a witch hunt. To avoid such accusations, the majority of the populace are willing to deny the following facts, as outlined by Parramore:

  • That a disturbed young man allegedly went on a killing rampage. That his rage did not manifest in an attack on a neighbor. Or a family member. Or a police officer. It manifested in the attempt to assassinate a member of the United States Congress.
  • That the disturbed young man recorded his ramblings on YouTube prior to the rampage. That his disturbance did not take the form of claims that he was pursued by aliens. Or expressions of a belief that he was Messiah. His ravings concerned the illegitimacy of the U.S. government and its currency.
  • That obsessions with the legitimacy of the U.S. government and its currency are not associated at this moment in history with liberals. Or centrists. Or members of the Flat Earth Society. They are the pet concerns of right wing ideologues.
  • That the target of the assassination attempt, Congresswoman Giffords, had been the object of threats, violent rhetoric and the witness to alarming incidents in public venues, including the sight of a gun dropping out of the clothing of a man holding an anti-government placard at a recent gathering. That she publicly expressed her fear of the escalation by naming a public figure, whose use of violent imagery was directed at her. The person named was not Howard Dean. Or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Or President Obama. The person named was Sarah Palin.
  • That Sarah Palin, the person Giffords publicly named as a spreader of dangerous rhetoric, is a political figure. That she is not associated with progressives. Or centrists. Or moderate Republicans. She is associated with the Tea Party.
  • That over the last two years, the Tea Party has been associated with the expression of dissatisfaction towards the current state of the nation. That this dissatisfaction has not expressed itself in demands for a renewal of the brotherhood of mankind. Or a focus on peaceful protest. It has been expressed in slogans like “Don’t retreat, RELOAD” (Sarah Palin); a call for “Second Amendment remedies” (Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate); and “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” (Congresswoman and Tea Partier Michelle Bachman).
  • That the very forces in our society that might have prevented the massacre — namely strong gun laws and adequate services for the mentally ill — are precisely the forces that a certain section of the American political spectrum seeks to undermine. That this section is not the far left. Or the U.S. Pacifist Party. Or the Green Party. Those that most loudly advocate weak gun laws and austerity measures that cut off health care are typically right wing conservatives.
  • That the person who has had the task of maintaining law and order in Tucson, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, expressed his deep concern about the community just after the shooting. That the thing most troubling to him was not the real estate crisis in Tucson. Or unemployment. Or the need for looser gun laws. He specifically named violent political rhetoric as the thing that kept him up at night.

In the face of this preponderance of fact, the right has once again managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and sieze hold of the political rhetoric. That they did so in the current circumstances–while a judge and a young child lie dead, and a member of Congress struggles to recover from bullet through her brain–seems nothing short of astonishing. But then, one has to remember how completely the right has ruled the political discourse in this country for at least 30 years. 

Since the birth of the New Right  back during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the right has ceaselessly steeped its political program  in an  ideology of “principle,”  as opposed to wishy-washy Democratic pragmatism. Principle, drawn from the study of the literal Bible text and the Constitution, was to be the foundation of rightward change, from the Reagan Revolution through Bush II. The Democrats largely ignored the ideological attack, laughing it off as the work of a bunch of crackpots. They also offered no competing ideology, having denounced liberalism and abandoned traditional  Democratic principles. 

The result was the repeated loss of the presidency, of the Congress, of any control over the economy and of foreign policy. Through sheer ignorance and arrogance, plus a dose of ideological bankruptcy, the Democrats willed themselves out of power. And when they managed to get some back, with the election of Obama in 2008, they had nothing in their arsenal with which to meet the right-wing ideological onslaught that followed.

Beyond the mainstream tenets of conservative principal, the further shores of the right fired up a fresh hodgepodge of nativist politics that spurred on the revival of  new militant white power groups, the rise of the militia movement, then the Minutemen, and then the more militant members of the Tea Parties. These days, it’s hard to tell the fringe from the center right, and what we used to call “extremist” views are expressed on the campaign trail and sometimes on the floor of the Congress.

But none of this, of course, has anything to do with the shooting in Tucson.

Share

Congresswoman Giffords’s Office Was Vandalized on Orders from Former Militia Leader

Mike Vanderboegh, a former 1990s militia leader from Alabama, enouraged readers of his blog to throw bricks through the doors of members of Congress who had supported President Obama’s health care bill last spring. One of the doors broken was that of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot at a rally in a Tuscon supermarket earlier today.

Police have said the unidentified gunman, who shot Giffords at point blank range in the head along with several other members of her staff, is in custody. He has not been identified or linked to any movement or group, and there is nothing to suggest at this time that his motives were political.

The Washington Post reported on the vandalism at Giffords’s office, and on its subsequent interview with Vanderboegh, on March 25, 2010:

“To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW.”

These were the words of Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who took to his blog urging people who opposed the historic health-care reform legislation — he calls it “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act” — to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide.

“So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party [that they] cannot fail to hear, break their windows,” Vanderboegh wrote on the blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars. “Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM.”

In the days that followed, glass windows and doors were shattered at local Democratic Party offices and the district offices of House Democrats from Arizona to Kansas to New York. At least 10 Democratic lawmakers reported death threats, incidents of harassment or vandalism at their offices over the past week, and the FBI and Capitol Police are offering lawmakers increased protection.

Local Democratic Party officials in New York have called for Vanderboegh’s arrest, believing he is implicated in the vandalism in Rochester, but Vanderboegh said he has not yet been questioned by any law enforcement authorities.

Vanderboegh was unapologetic in a 45-minute telephone interview with The Washington Post early Thursday. He said he believes throwing bricks through windows sends a warning to Democratic lawmakers that the health-care reform legislation they passed Sunday has caused so much unrest that it could result in a civil war.

“The federal government should not have the ability to command us to buy something that it decides we should buy,” Vanderboegh said. The government, he added, has “absolutely no idea the number of alienated who feel that their backs are to the wall are out here . . . who are not only willing to resist this law to the very end of their lives, but are armed and are capable of making such resistance possible and perhaps even initiating a civil war.”…

Vanderboegh said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats should beware “unintended consequences of their actions.” Vanderboegh outlined a complicated theory that IRS agents will go after people who refuse to buy insurance or pay the fines, ultimately resulting in “civil war.”

“The central fact of the health-care bill is this, and we find it tyrannical and unconstitutional on its face,” Vanderboegh said. “The federal government now demands all Americans to pay and play in this system, and if we refuse, we will be fined, and if we refuse to pay the fine, they will come to arrest us, and if we resist arrest . . . then we will be killed. The bill certainly doesn’t say that, but that’s exactly and precisely what is behind every bill like this.”

He said his call for people to throw bricks is “both good manners and it’s also a moral duty to try to warn people.”

In 2006, Vanderboegh advocated hurling bricks through the windows of members of Congress who supported giving illegal immigrants the same rights as U.S. citizens, according to news reports at the time. He said those bricks should be used to build a wall sealing off the United States from Mexico…

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist and hate groups, has been following Vanderboegh since the mid-1990s, when he first surfaced in Alabama militia groups, said Heidi Beirich, the center’s research director.

“He has been on our radar forever,” she said. “He hasn’t been involved in any kind of violence that we know of ourselves, but these causes that he’s involved in led to a lot of violence. The ideas that Vanderboegh’s militia groups were pushing were the same extreme anti-government ideas that inspired [Timothy] McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.”

Vanderboegh, who lives in the Birmingham suburb of Pinson, described himself as a “Christian libertarian” and said he has long been a gun rights advocate. He said he joined a clandestine militia group called the “Sons of Liberty” and later became a public leader of the First Alabama Cavalry, Constitutional Militia.

Share

Obama’s Tax Deal and the Future of Social Security

It’s worth pointing out once again that  last week’s  tax deal is hardly the victory for the American people it is made out to be. One of the biggest chunks —thirteen percent of the total monies — come from Social Security and Medicare in the form of a one-year cut in payroll taxes. The government promises to pay back what it is taking from the Social Security trust fund by borrowing the money, then floating bonds to guarantee  repayment.

This one year abeyance might not seem like much. But with the coming of a right-wing  Republican House, under pressure from the further fringes in the Tea Party, it does not augur well for the future of the program. From its inception under FDR, the Republicans have dreamed of getting rid of Social Security, along with such other things as the Federal Reserve, the income tax, the Department of Education and the UN.

“Social Security’s dedicated funding base is jeopardized by this deal in an unprecedented way and there is a grave risk now that the retirement benefits of America’s workers will have to compete with our other priorities for a share of the general budget,” said Texas Congressman Loyd Doggett at a press conference cheld by the National Committee to preserve Social Security and Medicare. “It would result in Social Security being as dependent on annual Congressional action as public television or our National parks.”

“If the recent debate on the Bush tax cuts has taught us anything, it is that taxes are easy to cut but hard to restore, said Florida Congressman Ted Deutch at the same press conference. “If this provision is made permanent, it will double Social Security’s long term funding gap and open a door that Democrats have long fought to keep closed – budgetary attacks on Social Security.’’ 

Cutting social welfare programs will be very much in vogue with the new Congress, especially as it ramps up for a showdown on raising debt limits this coming spring. Because the right wingers are out to get social programs and because all spending measures must start in the House, it is highly likely that Social Security and Medicare will occupy center stage in this debate, and that the proposals of various fiscal commissions will come into play. First, the suspension of a cost of living increase for Social Security recipients could well be extended. Second, the age at which one can begin to collect Social Security will most likely be raised from 67 to 69. And finally, the Bush tax cut deal digging into the Social Security trust fund certainly will be an opening for the right to further a  borrowing spree–ironically, all in the name of reducing the deficit.

However, there is a potential remedy. In 2012, the economy should be stronger than it is today, argues Robert Greenstein, executive director of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

 In addition, Congress likely will have enacted some significant budget cuts, and the nation likely will be debating the sort of further cuts that various commissions have recently proposed, including cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for elderly widows and seriously disabled people with incomes as low as $20,000. At that point, the President will need to make clear that he will veto any legislation extending the high-end tax cuts or the weakening of the estate tax beyond its 2009 parameters, and he should use the bully pulpit to take this case to the country.

If only we could count on our president to do something like this at all, much less in an election year.

Obama’s Fiscal Commission Prepares to Carve Its Turkey

The dread report of the White House’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is due out this week.  One of the Commission’s co-chairs, the putative Democrat and consummate wheeler-dealer Erskine Bowles, has been up on the Hill flogging their plan to reduce the debt by cutting the country’s already skimpy programs for the old, the sick, and the poor. His partner, motor-mouth Republican Alan Simpson, continues his ranting and ravings against the greedy geezers who want to sink the entitlement-cutting ship before it’s launched. Both of them have taken to boo-hooing because no one appreciates all the work they are doing to save the nation from certain fiscal doom, and nobody is willing to pitch in to meet this noble goal.

Fiscal Commission's Plan: Starve the Old to Stuff the Rich

Personally, I’m still waiting to hear how Wall Street is going to pitch in and do its part–or the people with high six-figure incomes who claim they still aren’t rich enough to give up their tax cuts. Or, for that matter, Bowles and Simpson themselves, who retired on fat  pensions and don’t have a financial care in the world.  Since none of this is likely to happen any time soon, we’d better take a good hard look at what these sanctimonious old coots have come up with.

We already know a lot about what to expect from the Fiscal Commission Plan, since the co-chairs released their own preliminary proposals (as yet unapproved by the 18-member Commission) earlier this month. According to people with access to the Commission’s thinking, they seem to think their best bet is to achieve consensus on a proposal to change the way Social Security’s annual cost of living increases (COLAs) are calculated. What seems like a mere accounting adjustment would, in reality, severely affect benefits over time. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare explains the impact of this scheme:

This proposal will affect current and future beneficiaries uniformly.  The impact would occur after benefits are initiated, with each COLA, as the yearly increase in benefits would be slightly lower than would have been the case without the change.  The impact would be greater with each successive COLA.  For example, the Social Security benefits paid to someone collecting benefits for 10 years would be about 3 percent lower, on average, if the chained-CPI was used for the COLA instead of the current CPI-W.  After 20 years this reduction would reach 6 percent and 9 percent after 30 years.

This is is bad enough–especially since old people’s cost of living increases faster than the national average because of exploding health care costs. But of course, there’s more, in the form of a plan that would raise the retirement age to 67 and eventually 69. Working until you drop dead or  literally are forced out of the labor market is utilitarian nineteenth-century thinking. But at that time, at least there was an expanding need for workers in a burgeoning industrial capitalist economy. The one big profitable industry surviving in America today is so-called financial services, which consists of a small number of overpaid people passing money back and forth amongst themselves. They certainly don’t need any more workers, and if they do, they’ll get them in India. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said of the idea that it was not only “reprehensible,” but “also totally impractical. As they compete for jobs with 25-year-olds, many older workers will go unemployed and have virtually no income.”

There was no such ringing takedown of the plan, of course, from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose mealy-mouthed statement tells us what we can expect from our Democratic Senate. “I thank the leaders of the bipartisan debt commission for their work,” Reid said. “While I don’t agree with every one of their recommendations, what they have provided is a starting point for this important discussion. I look forward to the full commission’s recommendations and to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address this important issue.”

Nancy Pelosi had somewhat stronger words, calling the preliminary proposals “simply unacceptable”–but then, she’s nothing but the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker of the House. In fact, co-chair Simpson has been predicting, with something close to glee, the “bloodbath” that’s likely to ensue next spring, when the new Republican House refuses to extend the debt limit and threatens to send the nation into default “unless we give ’em a piece of meat, real meat, off of this package.”

When all is said and done, there’s pretty much no way this so-called debate will end up without most of us, old and young alike, getting screwed. An already stingy program that ought to be expanded to cover elders as their numbers grow instead  is going  to be reduced, and the only question is how and by how much. It makes no sense, but it may well have political traction because the pols can sell it as an attack on rich grannies–“the greediest generation” as Simpson calls the old–while the young are hoodwinked into thinking it’s good for them. And since its full effect will take  years to be felt, the current crop of opportunistic politicians will be long gone into splendid retirement by the time these young people realize how wrong they are. Alan Simpson was frank about this fact in the Washington Post on Friday, using another one of his nauseatingly folksy metaphors:

 It takes six to eight years to pass a major piece of legislation. . . . On a piece of legislation that you know is going to go somewhere someday, you want to get a horse on the track. That might be not much. Then the next session you want to put a blanket on the horse. Nobody’s paying attention then. Then you put some silks on the horse. Then you clean the outfield and the infield. And then you put a jockey on the horse in the sixth year, and you can win it. Because the toughest part is to do the initial thing, and so it’s usually so watered down, it’s just gum, you could gum it. Then you begin to build it the next year, the next year and then you get it done. That’s what I see.

And just in case you thought it couldn’t get any worse, consider this warning from Allan Sloan, Fortune’s senior editor, who wrote an op-ed in the the Washington Post on Thanksgiving day:

[P]rivatizing Social Security, slaughtered when George W. Bush proposed it five years ago, seems about to rear its foul head again. You’d think that the stock market’s stomach-churning gyrations – two 50 percent-plus drops in just over a decade – would have shown conclusively the folly of retirees’ having to bet their eating money on the market. But you’d be wrong. Stocks have been rising the past 18 months, and you can bet that we’ll see a privatization push from newly elected congressmen and senators who made it a campaign issue.

Why is privatizing Social Security such a turkey? Because retirees shouldn’t have to depend on the market’s vagaries for survival money. More than half of married couples older than 65 and 72 percent of singles get more than half of their income from Social Security, according to the Social Security Administration. For 20 percent of 65-and-older couples and 41 percent of singles, Social Security is 90 percent or more of their income. That isn’t projected to change.

Arrayed against these grim prospects are a small group in Congress, led in the Senate by Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and in the House by Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. Says Shakowsky

Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. Addressing the Social Security issue as part of the deficit question is like attacking Iraq to retaliate for the 9/11 attacks – there is simply no relationship between the two and attempting to conflate them does a grave disservice to America’s seniors. Taking money from Social Security retirees whose average total income is $18,000 per year and average benefit is $14,000 ($12,000 for women) is simply wrong. It places them at fiscal risk and hurts the economy because they will be unable to purchase the goods they need.  Americans in poll after poll have indicated their opposition to benefit cuts – particularly at a time when Wall Street bankers are making record bonuses.’

Schakwosky has her own plan, which will be an antidote to whatever the Fiscal Commission comes up with. But her ideas are unlikely to make any headway in the lame duck Congress or with the Democratic leadership, as they wait, already on bended knee, for the coming of the Republicans.

Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving Proclamation 1933

With unemployment insurance  about to run out for millions of people and the Congress and the President set to reduce our parsimonious social welfare system in the name of free enterprise, it is well to recall those dark days of the Great Depression when, on Thanksgiving Day 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed the following:

May we recall the courage of those who settled a wilderness, the vision of those who founded the Nation, the steadfastness of those who in every succeeding generation have fought to keep pure the ideal of equality of opportunity and hold clear the goal of mutual help in time of prosperity as in time of adversity.

May we ask guidance in more surely learning the ancient truth that greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness or good to the individual or to his neighbors.

May we be grateful for the passing of dark days; for the new spirit of dependence one on another; for the closer unity of all parts of our wide land; for the greater friendship between employers and those who toil; for a clearer knowledge by all nations that we seek no conquests and ask only honorable engagements by all peoples to respect the lands and rights of their neighbors; for the brighter day to which we can win through by seeking the help of God in a more unselfish striving for the common bettering of mankind.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

This from the President who got us through the Depression and charted a course to ensure safe passage for future generations.  Yet today, Wall Street bankers are richer than ever,the poverty class is growing, the elderly are about to see a reduction in their paltry dole, children starve and are sick, the health system is broken down. In answer to these dark times, the Congress and the President think not of bringing people together, but talk about money as they prepare to further dismantle Roosevelt’s New Deal. All this as  the United States slides into decline and prepares to enter the dark age.

Invasion of the Body Scanners: Airport Security May Not Work, But It Does Cause Cancer

On the eve of some of the busiest travel days of the year, airport scanners are causing hysteria–and with good reason. Never mind the puerile TSA screeners giggling at your naked body. It turns out that the things may pose serious health concerns. In a letter to John Pistole, administrator of TSA, New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt, a scientist and the Chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, raised the possibility that the machines might be carcinogenic.

In March, the Congressional Biomedical Caucus (of which I am a co-chair) hosted a presentation on this technology by TSA, as well as a briefing by Dr. David Brenner of Columbia University on the potential health effects of “back scatter” x-ray devices. As Dr. Brenner noted in his presentation and in subsequent media interviews, the devices currently in use and proposed for wider deployment this year currently deliver to the scalp “20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry.”

Dr. Brenner has pointed out that the majority of the radiation from X-ray backscatter machines strikes the top of the head, which is where 85 percent of the 800,000 cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed in the United States each year develop. According to Dr. Brenner, excessive x-ray exposure can act as a cancer rate multiplier, which is why our government should investigate thoroughly the potential health risks associated with this technology.V

Various experts have questioned whether older people and children ought to be subjected to scanners, and whether people susceptible to or having melanoma and cataracts should undergo the scan. 

Holt also questioned the efficacy of the body scanners, which would come as no surprise to critics who’ve been lambasting them for years. Last January, when the government’s appetite for body scanners got a big boost from the underwear bomber, there was skepticism about their ability to detect the types of explosives favored by would-be airline bombers. As I wrote at the time:

Known by their opponents as “digital strip search” machines, the full-body scanners use one of two technologies—millimeter wave sensors or backscatter x-rays—to see through clothing, producing ghostly images of naked passengers. Yet critics say that these, too, are highly fallible, and are incapable of revealing explosives hidden in body cavities—an age-old method for smuggling contraband. If that’s the case, a terrorist could hide the entire bomb works within his or her body, and breeze through the virtual strip search undetected. Yesterday, the London Independent reported on “authoritative claims that officials at the [UK] Department for Transport and the Home Office have already tested the scanners and were not persuaded that they would work comprehensively against terrorist threats to aviation.” A British defense-research firm reportedly found the machines unreliable in detecting “low-density” materials like plastics, chemicals, and liquids—precisely what the underwear bomber had stuffed in his briefs.

Just to be sure I am not going off the deep end on this subject, I emailed Steve Elson, the intrepid former Navy Seal who worked on the federal government’s Red Team, which was deployed  in the years before 9/11 to test airport security by infiltrating through check points. This they did with ease; but noone ever paid any attention to their reports. Since 9/11 Elson has worked on and off with television crews, continuing to penetrate airport security carrying with him all manner of guns and IEDs, and for the most part avoiding detection. In a CBC program last year at this time, the Canadians reviewed the air security situation and found it to be wanting. The reporters also got hold of a redacted report from the Canadian transport people which raised questions about the effectiveness of full body scanners, especially when they are used in combination with metal detectors: A person passing through one machine after another would have to place their arms in different positions and the Canadians found the body scanners would fail to detect objects like rings or bracelets on extended arms because the mechanism could not reach high enough to take them in.

This morning’s Washington Post carried a list of people exempt from body scanning, including cops and military in uniform. I asked Elson about this, and he replied:

When I was traveling through Chicago last January on my way to Toronto to do an interview, I had some time between planes. Got a sandwich. No place to sit down so I literally walked into the back of a checkpoint that was enclosed by glass so everyone could see what was going on, sat down on a bench and ate my sandwich, and  watched. Noone touched the pilots. Ergo, all I needed was a pilot’s uniform, bought or stolen, and a photoshop badge. Put explosives on my body, no metal, walk through, pick up my stuff and off to the plane. Likewise, I could do something similar on the ramp. Best time is in cold weather and snow storms. Do it as night approaches. People don’t care about security, just getting the job done and getting out of the weather. Steal a bag tag, make an unauthorized entry (no problem), walk up to a plane and throw it in with 50 lbs explosive.

Elson has always contended that the body scanner couldn’t detect explosives in body cavities. In his email he added this: “The machine can see through a thin layer of clothing and probably detect explosives strapped to the body.” But he pointed out that Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes” worried about exposing private parts, but  noted she could see a woman’s bra. “If she could see the bra, that means she could not see through the bra. A bra bomb or explosives molded to the breast wouldn’t be seen,” he continues. “And a woman, because of her anatomical construction, could easily… bring a several pound IED fully assembled with timer, detonator, power sources right through the checkpoint. If scanned or patted down it would make no difference. Once on the plane she has the option to leave it in  the plane…and get off.” Ellison warns that a well planned Al Qaeda operation, “if they did it right, could knock down 50 planes in 30 minutes. Think about what that would do to US air operations.”

In my opinion, the best answer to airport security is the mass deployment of dogs. Give me a friendly German Shepherd, and I’ll gladly submit to being sniffed, rather than patted, wanded, or scanned. But unlike the scanner companies, dogs have no powerful lobbyists, like former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, to advocate on their behalf.

Make room for Fido

Behind the Battle Over Social Security

As the midterm elections near, the future of the Social Security system has become a hot-button issue–and a confusing one. A number of Republican politicians have hit on it as yet another way to undermine Obama and the Democratic leadership, by criticizing their supposed fiscal irresponsibility. Some must also see victory at hand in the conservatives’ longstanding battle to destroy one of the most hated remnants of the New Deal. These include the GOP’s chief architect of change Paul Ryan,who wants to turn Medicare into a voucher program and privatize Social Security. He is backed up by House minority leader John Boehner, who, if the Republicans take the House, could become the next speaker. 

Some Democrats have risen to defend the best–and most solvent–anti-poverty program the nation has ever known. But for other Democrats–including those in the White House–the response is more triangulation. It was Obama who set in motion the Fiscal Commission, supposedly to study the deficit but in fact, as just about everyone in Washington knows, to pare entitlements, cutting Medicare and Social Security. Originally, this commission was thought ready to propose lifting the limit at which one could draw Social Security from 62 to 67. Now scuttlebutt  is that the entry age should be 70. Our supposedly “socialist” president has placed the country’s premier social program in the hands of Alan Simpson, a Republican crank who views old people as the new welfare queens. 

It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of older voters don’t know what to make of it. A piece in Sunday’s New York Times reported on “tales of political burnout and withdrawal among older voters” in one swing county in Colorado. Many in this consituency, which can usually be counted upon to vote in large numbers, seemed to be withdrawing altogether from the fray. Others were preparing to shoot themselves in the foot:

Bill Benton, 79, a lifelong Colorado resident who described himself as an Eisenhower Republican, supports Mr. Buck and believes that his comments suggesting that the private sector could perhaps do a better job with Social Security were “just talk.” Mr. Buck has said that despite his comments, he would not support privatizing the retirement program. “I like him, but he says some dumb things,” Mr. Benton said.

With all the rhetoric flying out of Washington, it’s likely that some older people have come to view the whole topic of Social Security as the centerpiece in a Washington charade of boasts and lies, another turn in the game of smoke and mirrors, much in the manner of the shouting match over health care. It turns the stomach, feeds the hate against Washington, and sends people fleeing to escape a nightmare they can’t understand–sometimes, it appears, right into the arms of the Tea Party.

And in fact, people who suspect a smoke-and-mirrors game are pretty much on the money. Social Security’s elevation to a central political debate is tied to another hot-button issue: The future of the Bush tax cuts. Those tax cuts, which benefit the very rich—the people who pump cash into a candidate’s campaign—are set to expire next year. “In 2010, when all the Bush tax cuts are finally phased in, a staggering 52.5 percent of the benefits will go to the richest 5 percent of taxpayers,” according to Citizens for Tax Justice, the Washington-based  public interest group that follows and analyzes tax policy.

The impact of these cuts on the national treasury–and the deficit–cannot be overestimated: “The tax legislation enacted under President George W. Bush from 2001 through 2006 will cost $2.48 trillion over the 2001-2010 period,” Citizens for Tax Justice reports. “This includes the revenue loss of $2.11 trillion that resultsdirectly from the Bush tax cuts as well as the $379 billion in additional interest.’’

Obama has declared his opposition to extending the tax cuts for the highest income brackets. But some conservative Democrats will have other ideas. And if the White House’s resolve fails, as it often does, there’s another deficit-cutting alternative at hand in Medicare and Social Security. It’s a lot easier for politicians to talk about paring down entitlements than it is to attack the rich on whose largesse they depend.