Monthly Archives: September 2011

On Security and Liberty: Radio Essay for October 1, 2011

My first airplane ride was unforgettable. I was a 14 year old Boy Scout en route to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. The Boeing 727 was a passenger/cargo configuration that left LaGuardia airport on an evening flight making stops in Nashville and Memphis before heading west to Colorado Springs. Who could sleep? The choreographed hum on the tarmac; boarding not through a jetway but from stairs; the roar of a JT9 engine on takeoff and the ear splitting whine at altitude; the reds and blues and whites of the taxiways and runways at night. It was easily 3 AM before I fell asleep.
Air travel was alluring and exotic then. The Mutual of Omaha insurance kiosks reminded us that the dangers of flying were generally limited to full blown disaster and the occasional hijacking to Cuba. I cannot recall much in the way of airport security and visitors were free to come and go to meet and greet you as your flight landed.

Fast forwarding some 42 years to my experiences this week provides quite a contrast. You know all-to-well the drill. First one shows ID at check-in and shows it again for the privilege of going through security. The latest indignity begins at that moment when one has to empty the computer into a separate bin and place shoes, belt, pocket contents, and all liquids into another before going into the screening booth that reveals more about your anatomy to a stranger than you are probably willing to disclose to your physician. You can be swabbed for nitrates and patted down for who-knows-what. Long gone is the innocence of that classically romantic airport farewell between Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund in the movie Casablanca. The intrigue of flight and flying that captured the imagination of so many youngsters who, like me, used to hang out at the end of runways watching airport traffic has been traded for some sense of security that comes from proscription.
I’ve been traveling like mad since the mid 70’s. Airplanes and airports have been the target of choice for would-be villains of the skies for nearly half a century. I recall receiving some counsel back in the 80’s from a CIA agent who suggested carrying a Sunday New York Times in my briefcase in order to shield my body in the event of gunfire as I traveled through European airports. I wonder if a Kindle would do the trick.

All of this caution and willing dilutions of personal liberty are appropriate responses to the threat of terror and the responsible thing to do aren’t they? If our security consciousness were contained to airports I might be able to compartmentalize the experience as a focus of security necessity.

Here is where I get skittish. Scott Pelly recently interviewed NYPD Chief Raymond Kelly on 60 Minutes. Kelly runs a police department that is larger than either the United States Coast Guard or the FBI. It has its own navy, including submersibles and surface craft equipped with nuclear detection equipment that is sensitive enough to sense yachtsmen who have had recent radiation therapy. It is an army of 45,000 police augmented by 10,000 more civilians and its air force has the capability to shoot down aircraft, presumably civilian airliners turned into missiles.

All of this manpower is fed by sophisticated intelligence on the ground in all corners of the globe. The NYPD has officers in Riyadh, Baghdad, Singapore, London, Belfast and Islamabad, just to name a few cities. All of this feeds the intel beast. And here is where the slippery slope grows more so.
There is an underground bunker in New York City at a secret location. I’m not making this up. CBS took us there on a tour during the Kelly interview. The intelligence center processes all of the information collected from its myriad of sources. Those sources include some 2000 video cameras, soon to number 3000 cameras, spread across the city streets. They have the ability to automatically track left baggage and dispatch bomb squads to locations across the city.
Impressive capabilities, to be sure, but this is where chills went down my spine. The camera system has the ability to find and track a suspect by description. They demonstrated how a suspect in a red shirt could be culled out from a crowd and tracked across the city. Immediately, anyone wearing a red shirt in range of 2000 cameras became a suspect worth following. That might or might not include the person of interest but it would certainly include hundreds or perhaps thousands of innocent and unsuspecting citizens.

My law professor at Kings Point, Captain Laurence Jarrett, once said, “The right to swing your arm ends at my nose.” I know that the days of unfettered access to airports and airplanes is not going to return in my lifetime. That has been ceded to the War on Terror. And who would argue that pursuing the criminal terrorist is wrong? I am all in favor of pursuing the jihadist bent on terrorism.

The incremental usurpations in the name of security are transforming our society in ways that we could never have imagined only 10 years ago. These tools are used to close the net on the enemies of the state. The time that I am concerned about is when the NYPD is directed to divert its’ tracking from the suspect in the red shirt in favor of the suspect holding a Gadsden flag. Whom we place at the helm of this ship of state grows increasingly important. The public discussion of what liberties we are willing to cede to the state is needed now lest we incessantly redact portions of the Constitution.

As the novelist Henry Miller reminds us, “The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble.”

Exchanging liberty for security is not an even trade.

Press on.

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On Security and Liberty: Radio Essay for October 1, 2011

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The Tom Wesley and John Weston Review: September 24, 2011

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On Daydreaming About the American Dream: Radio Essay for September 24, 2011

I read a very disturbing article this week about a “Lost Generation” of American children. It sounds quite chilling, as if some macabre science fiction movie were being released about alien abductions and zombies gone wild. The reality is actually much scarier than any Hollywood thriller. Richard Freeman, a Harvard economist, coined this phrase to describe the growing number of recent college graduates who have entered the workforce since this great economic downturn only to find themselves underemployed, unemployed, still at home and more likely to be in poverty than at any time since World War II.

It gets worse. Today’s young people are continuing to delay marriage and purchasing homes, the bedrock of starting a life together. They are more prone to have children out of wedlock for reasons that escape me since fully 20% of them live in poverty. For this ever growing number of 20-somethings, the dream is fast becoming a nightmare. The promise of a meaningful career based upon a college degree has faded but their debt has not. Never before have the cost of education, and the subsequent debt that accrues, been more onerous and the prospect of obtaining relevant employment been more distant. The debt to opportunity ratio is approaching zero as wave after wave of young graduates come ashore each May.

For them, their fortunes have reversed. The stereotypical way of paying for tuition was to get a job as a waitress or barista. Now the young graduate is just as likely to be settling for such a job after graduation in order to pay off the college loan. Employment among those 16-29 is a mere 55.3 percent; teenage employment is only a startling 30 percent.

If this were a short term thing, a normal business downturn, it would be an insignificant blip on the radar. Instead, this protracted poor performing economy is likely to forever alter the job prospects of these graduate classes on the shoreline. Some will settle to be forever underemployed or sidetracked from their careers by their own choice. Others still will find themselves edged out by the fresher graduates several years down the road. Imagine the questions that employers will ask: how did you allow yourself to take your degree in sociology and parlay that into a gig at Starbucks? Hiring managers have short memories and unshared experiences.

Already, the calculus of the hiring equation is askew. The longer this downturn persists, the lower starting salaries will become and the slower will be the accumulation of wealth. It will take longer for couples to scrape together the down payment for their first home. Families will be smaller. Worse yet, expectations will be forever diminished.

In short, those of Generation Y will likely have a better chance of living the American Dream by daydreaming about it in the comfy confines of their parents’ home than by seeking to make their own way in the world.

There is another twist to the equation. The number of immigrants- legal immigrants- in this country continues to increase. So does the number of illegals. In any case, the majority are unskilled. Let’s put aside the debate of whether or not their presence takes jobs away from Americans. The fact is that a bad economy is an equal opportunity squelcher of unrealized expectation. If our native born population cannot find work, those who cross the border in any manner will only add to the misery of those struggling to find meaningful work.

The true irony is that there exist in this country more than 2 million job openings that cannot be filled because of a growing mismatch of skill-sets versus opportunities as our educational system is not producing the correct mix of graduates for the workforce and our immigration policies favor the unskilled over the skilled.

There is work to be done in Washington. Just this week there is news about unscrupulous government spending: $600 million in Social Security paid to dead people; $500 million paid to SOLYDRA even though the Obama administration knew the company was hemorrhaging cash; $107 million in tax credits to a leading Missouri Obama fundraiser; and surely others too heinous to mention.

It is not about Left vs. Right. It is about right vs. wrong. Government can be the solution to our problem only if government stands aside. Please, you’ve done enough to help. In one respect, President Obama was correct in pointing out that many of the proposed remedies in his jobs program have been supported at one time or another by each party but throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks is not a solution.

Here is your solution: reform the tax code, focus regulatory burdens on safety and shared national interest, cut the growth in government spending and borrow less money. The economy will rebound and the revenues will increase to fund whatever society we wish to create.
In the meantime, there is a Lost Generation of Americans depending upon action in Washington, my children included. They are looking for leadership in Washington. Does anybody have the courage to lead?

Press on.

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The Tom Wesley and John Weston Review: September 17, 2011

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On the Rising Tide: Radio Essay for September 17, 2011

A year divisible by four is usually a leap year but is always a Presidential election year. We find ourselves on the cusp of both. It won’t actually be 2012 for a few more months but you could hardly tell given all the rhetoric and the posturing. We are knee deep in the Presidential season now and we cannot pull back from the edge even if we wanted to do so. Correct me if I am wrong but no matter on what side of the political divide you may fall, I bet you cannot wait for November 2012 to come. I do not normally wish away time but this beauty contest is going to go down to the wire and not much is likely to happen in the intervening months to make much of a difference to the average American citizen when it comes to the great economic calamity we face. I believe the Presidential decision in November 2012 will be between a semi-conservative and ultra-liberal. All things considered a pretty clear choice. And given events of recent days, I learn towards the conservative side prevailing.

If you were born in the year 1923, you would be 88 years old. Imagine what you would have experienced: the Roaring 20’s and the boring 50’s; Charles Lindberg in the Spirit of St. Louis and Neil Armstrong at Tranquility Base; the Stock Crash of 1929 and the Stock Crash of 2008; the Dustbowl and the Super Bowl; fascism and feminism; defense war bonds and Gary US Bonds; Jackie Robinson and Mrs. Robinson; Rosa Parks and Rosie O’Donnell; Osama in the dog house and Obama in the White House. There are a lot of unforeseen events that changed our society. But one thing that has not been seen since 1923 is a Republican Representative in what is now the Ninth Congressional District of New York.

Bob Turner is not a household name and may never become one. He is the newest Republican to enter Congress after the Awakening of 2010. If New York hacks have their way, his district will be gerrymandered out of existence before the next election but I think it will not matter.

My children and I used to play a game on the beach we called “castling.” We would build elegant sand castles along the ocean’s edge and attempt to forestall the inevitable rise of the tide with elaborate berms of sand and water diverting channels and even the use of the occasional prone body. The tide always won. And it will continue to win. Mr. Turner’s victory is a harbinger of discontent in the land. Mr. Turner is a retired businessman not a career politician.

Is anybody listening? Special elections are a unique breed of election. They disrupt the natural order of things. Open seats elections are sought after since the power of incumbency is neutralized. Nothing is at stake for a career politician challenger since they do not have to relinquish any seat they may hold. But special elections are often “come-as-you-are” affairs since they are unplanned and provide a chance for opportunistic wannabees. They have the ability to provide a snapshot of the body politic. It does not allow for the machine to fully get into gear. Funding is off cycle. They provide a rare glimpse into “pure” politics.

If we have learned one thing from the New York ninth it is this: stand by for heavy rolls. The electorate is mad-as-hell –and-won’t-take-it-anymore. “Take what,” you say? Business as usual. No one is immune from the wrath of the electorate. The true electorate are the people who vote, by the way. They are not the people who get polled by the New York Times or CNN. They are the people who work and pay taxes and wonder how they are going to meet next month’s bills in the face of declining income, impending unemployment, diminishing savings, and all sorts of uncertainties that the Political Class in Washington have not a clue about. Employment security for incumbent Congressmen is being called into question.

If I have to handicap the election 14 months out, the edge goes to the Republicans, especially those new ones who were elected within this decade. For anyone in their 10th term or beyond, in either party, it is time to justify ones existence. A wave of new citizen legislators is upon us. A careers worth of experience in politics is no longer an asset. It is a liability. Look for “career politicians” to humanize themselves and tell you that they feel your pain.
They don’t. It is your pain. Only someone who has walked a mile in your shoes can understand that. If you have been employed by Uncle Sam in Congress for 20 years, you do not qualify.

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On Remembrance: A Radio Essay for September 10, 2011

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