Tag Archives: decline and fall of american empire

Congressman: Secret Report On TSA Pat Downs, Body Scanner Failures Will “Knock Your Socks Off

Congressman: Secret Report On TSA Pat Downs, Body Scanner Failures Will “Knock Your Socks Off

Steve Watson


“Off the charts”
failure rate “sort of like the record of the Marx Brothers”

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the TSA, has asserted that the release of a classified report on TSA security failures will renew calls for the replacement of the agency with private airport security personnel.

The failure rate (for body scanning equipment) is classified but it would absolutely knock your socks off,” Florida Republican, Rep. John L. Mica told reporters during a briefing Monday.

Mica also asserted that recorded instances of pat downs failing to detect contraband are “off the charts.” This information is also currently still classified, but is due to be released within weeks as part of an upcoming committee report on the TSA’s first decade.

Mica suggested that the TSA’s performance report would read “sort of like the record of the Marx Brothers”.

The TSA has withheld results of its official security tests, despite repeated requests to release the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Department of Homeland Security has classified the results of the most recent random, covert “red team tests,” where undercover agents try to see what they can get past airport security. The reason they have done so, according to MIca, is because the results have been so shockingly and consistently bad for the past nine years.

Mica further slammed the TSA Monday, ripping into the agency’s latest experimental security “chat down” procedure.

The chairman referred to the pilot program of “behaviour detection” being tested at Boston Logan airport as an “idiotic mess”.

Describing the program as a poor man’s version of Israeli interrogation security techniques, Mica noted that that the pilot is merely an extension of an already existing program that the Government Accountability Office concluded had little scientific credibility and had cost “a quarter billion” in hiring additional TSA officers.

“This is no joke,” Mica told reporters at the briefing, adding that he had personally visited Logan airport and witnessed first hand the failures of the program.

“I put my ear up and listened to some idiotic questions,” Mica said of the “chat down” procedure, also noting that TSA officers expressed a lack of understanding of the program they had supposedly been trained to engage in.

“I talked to them about their training, which was minimal,” Mica said, adding “It’s almost idiotic… It’s still not a risk-based system. It’s not a thinking system.”

The program is set to be beta tested in Detroit next, before being rolled out nationwide.

Mica repeatedly argued that the TSA’s role at airports could be undertaken in a more efficient and less costly manner by private companies, albeit ultimately still under the supervision of the federal government.

Back in March, the Congressman charged that the TSA intentionally fixed data to ensure that federal workers were employed to screen airport passengers, rather than private contractors.

“TSA cooked the books to try to eliminate the federal-private screening program,” said Mica at the time.

The Congressman was referring to revelations from federal auditors that cost differentials between federal employees and private contractors were overstated by the TSA.

Though the agency contends it was an “error”, The TSA made it appear that it was more cost effective for airports to use federal government workers for security “by increasing the costs for private-contractor screeners relative to federal screeners,” government auditors wrote.

The 2001 Aviation Transportation Security Act, which created the TSA, contained an option written in by Congress allowing airports to choose between using TSA workers and private screeners. It is known as the Security Partnership Program (SPP).

Currently, sixteen airports throughout the country use private contractors under the SPP, however, the TSA has since actively prevented other airports from joining the program, as more and more express an interest in dropping the federal workforce in wake of an epidemic of TSA scandals and failures.

Mica, who helped create the TSA after 9/11, has repeatedly stated that he believes the agency is now completely out of control and believes it should be radically reformed.

SOURCE

Decline and fall of the American empire


Decline and fall of the American empire

The economic powerhouse of the 20th century emerged stronger from the Depression. But faced with cultural decay, structural weaknesses and reliance on finance, can the US do it again?

Larry Elliott
Larry Elliott, Economics editor
The Guardian, Monday 6 June 2011

America clocked up a record last week. The latest drop in house prices meant that the cost of real estate has fallen by 33% since the peak – even bigger than the 31% slide seen when John Steinbeck was writing The Grapes of Wrath.

Unemployment has not returned to Great Depression levels but at 9.1% of the workforce it is still at levels that will have nerves jangling in the White House. The last president to be re-elected with unemployment above 7.2% was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The US is a country with serious problems. Getting on for one in six depend on government food stamps to ensure they have enough to eat. The budget, which was in surplus little more than a decade ago, now has a deficit of Greek-style proportions. There is policy paralysis in Washington.

The assumption is that the problems can be easily solved because the US is the biggest economy on the planet, the only country with global military reach, the lucky possessor of the world’s reserve currency, and a nation with a proud record of re-inventing itself once in every generation or so.

All this is true and more. US universities are superb, attracting the best brains from around the world. It is a country that pushes the frontiers of technology. So, it may be that the US is about to emerge stronger than ever from the long nightmare of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The strong financial position of American companies could unleash a wave of new investment over the next couple of years.

Let me put an alternative hypothesis. America in 2011 is Rome in 200AD or Britain on the eve of the first world war: an empire at the zenith of its power but with cracks beginning to show.

The experience of both Rome and Britain suggests that it is hard to stop the rot once it has set in, so here are the a few of the warning signs of trouble ahead: military overstretch, a widening gulf between rich and poor, a hollowed-out economy, citizens using debt to live beyond their means, and once-effective policies no longer working. The high levels of violent crime, epidemic of obesity, addiction to pornography and excessive use of energy may be telling us something: the US is in an advanced state of cultural decadence.

Empires decline for many different reasons but certain factors recur. There is an initial reluctance to admit that there is much to fret about, and there is the arrival of a challenger (or several challengers) to the settled international order. In Spain’s case, the rival was Britain. In Britain’s case, it was America. In America’s case, the threat comes from China.

Britain’s decline was extremely rapid after 1914. By 1945, the UK was a bit player in the bipolar world dominated by the US and the Soviet Union, and sterling – the heart of the 19th-century gold standard – was rapidly losing its lustre as a reserve currency. There had been concerns, voiced as far back as the 1851 Great Exhibition, that the hungrier, more efficient producers in Germany and the US threatened Britain’s industrial hegemony. But no serious policy action was taken. In the second half of the 19th century there was a subtle shift in the economy, from the north of England to the south, from manufacturing to finance, from making things to living off investment income. By 1914, the writing was on the wall.

In two important respects, the US today differs from Britain a century ago. It is much bigger, which means that it benefits from continent-wide economies of scale, and it has a presence in the industries that will be strategically important in the first half of the 21st century. Britain in 1914 was over-reliant on coal and shipbuilding, industries that struggled between the world wars, and had failed to grasp early enough the importance of emerging new technologies.

Even so, there are parallels. There has been a long-term shift of emphasis in the US economy away from manufacturing and towards finance. There is a growing challenge from producers in other parts of the world.
Frenzy

Now consider the stark contrast between this economic recovery and the pattern of previous cycles. Traditionally, a US economic recovery sees unemployment coming down smartly as lower interest rates encourage consumers to spend and the construction industry to build more homes. This time, it has been different. There was a building frenzy during the bubble years, which left an overhang of supply even before plunging prices and rising unemployment led to a blitz of foreclosures.

America has more homes than it knows what to do with, and that state of affairs is not going to change for years.

Over the past couple of months, there has been a steady drip-feed of poor economic news that has dented hopes of a sustained recovery. Optimism has now been replaced by concern that the United States could be heading for the dreaded double-dip recession.

In the real estate market, which is the symptom of America’s deep-seated economic malaise, the double dip has already arrived. Tax breaks to homeowners provided only a temporary respite for a falling market and millions of Americans are living in homes worth less than they paid for them. The latest figures show that more than 28% of homes with a mortgage are in negative equity. Unsurprisingly, that has made Americans far more cautious about spending money. Rising commodity prices exacerbate the problem, since they push up inflation and reduce the spending power of wages and salaries.

Macro-economic policy has proved less effective than normal. That’s not for want of trying, though. The US has had zero short-term interest rates for well over two years. It has had two big doses of quantitative easing, the second of which is now ending. Its budget deficit is so big it has led to warnings from the credit-rating agencies, in spite of the dollar’s reserve currency status. And Washington has adopted a policy of benign neglect towards the currency, despite the strong-dollar rhetoric, in the hope that cheaper exports will make up for the squeeze on consumer spending.

Policy, as ever, is geared towards growth because the great existential fear of the Fed, the Treasury and whoever occupies the White House is a return to the 1930s. Back then, the economic malaise could be largely attributed to deflationary economic policies that deepened the recession caused by the popping of the 1920s stock market bubble. The feeble response to today’s growth medicine suggests that the US is structurally far weaker than it was in the 1930s. Tackling these weaknesses will require breaking finance’s stranglehold over the economy and measures to boost ordinary families’ spending power and so cut their reliance on debt. It will require an amnesty for the housing market. Above all, America must rediscover the qualities that originally made it great. That will not be easy.

SOURCE