The Campaign Against 'Naked' TSA Scans

When TSA introduced full-body scans of passengers back in 2007 as an alternative to pat-downs, privacy advocates cried foul. Two years later, there are 19 airports with body scanners and the possibility that these machines (which reveal every fold of your body) will become mandatory instead of optional. Today, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says it will launch a national campaign against the TSA's scanning machines, gathering signatures in hopes of creating a "viral" consumer movement.

Having followed these machines for some time, I agree with EPIC's concerns. I do give the TSA props for improving their "privacy algorithm": Though nicknamed "the Peeper," millimeter wave scanners are definitely less graphic than the backscatter machines previously used by the TSA. But as you can see on the agency's site by the one, small picture of a scan they provide, the millimeter wave machines still reveal clear outlines of breasts and genetalia. And despite what's shown on the TSA's brief informational videos, not all travelers are 40-something men. The bodies of children and women and the elderly are also being scanned. I think if a news channel showed a child in the scanning machine, it would increase public concern about the machines. Few parents, I would wager, are happy to have a total stranger see a scan of their child's naked body. That said, it's a hard choice between having your daughter patted down in front of you, or having her nude image seen by some random person 100 yards away.

Although a TSA spokeswoman told CNN that staffers viewing images "aren't allowed to bring cameras, cell phones, or any recording device into the room," I just don't trust that an image won't be recorded or leaked. After all, the TSA is not particularly known for its respect for passenger privacy. (Remember that 2005 data dump lawsuit?) In fact, as the GAO found out in an investigation, TSA staffers will hassle you over your prescription shampoo, but totally miss the bomb parts you just brought through security in your carry-on. All the technology in the world ain't gonna fix human error. For my tax-payer dollar, I'd prefer that the government spend less on expensive technology that treats all passengers, even infants, as possible terrorists, and spend more on intelligence-gathering that prevents the real terrorists from making it to the airport in the first place.

(p.s. For an informative 60 Minutes look inside the TSA, click here.)

 

Good News on CAFE

Some good news on mileage standards:

President Obama will announce as early as Tuesday that he will combine California’s tough new auto-emissions rules with the existing corporate average fuel economy standard to create a single new national standard, the officials said....Under the new standard, the national fleet mileage rule for cars would be roughly 42 miles a gallon in 2016. Light trucks would have to meet a fleet average of slightly more than 26.2 miles a gallon by 2016.

....The current standards are 27.5 miles a gallon for cars and about 24 miles a gallon for trucks. The new mileage and emissions rules will gradually tighten, beginning with 2011 models, until they reach the 2016 standards.

The auto industry is not expected to challenge the rule, which provides two things they have long asked for: certainty on a timetable and a single national standard.

This is really important stuff.  Cap-and-trade is the centerpiece of the Waxman-Markey energy bill, and it's a critical part of any global warming plan.  (Krugman's column today strikes the right tone on Waxman-Markey, by the way.)  As important as it is, though, I think of it as sort of like a headwind, something that helps get all the ships moving in the right direction.  But that's not enough.  There are plenty of other currents and eddies and storm systems that, individually, aren't as important as pricing carbon, but put together are actually far more important.  Mileage standards for cars are one of them: pricing carbon can help motivate people to drive less and buy stingier cars, but federal CAFE standards can do it a lot faster and a lot more efficiently.  Cap-and-trade is no substitute.

This, of course, is why Waxman-Markey itself is about a lot more than just cap-and-trade.  Over at Climate Progress, Daniel Weiss has a guest post that explains.

The PowerPoint and the Glory

GQ has gotten its manicured hands on the top sheets from the top-secret intel briefings Donald Rumseld delivered to the White House in early 2003, and—holy hand grenades! Each one is adorned with a biblical verse and a thematically appropriate photo. For example, an American tank under a verse referring to "the full armor of God," or an image of Saddam under 1 Peter 2:15: "It is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." Now if only someone had put an eye-catching verse on that August 2001 daily briefing given to George W. Bush in Crawford...

The Obama administration infuriated liberals and civil libertarians last Friday by extending the Bush administration's military commissions for terrorism suspects. But on Monday, when top officials from human rights organizations met with the Obama administration task force charged with rethinking detainee treatment, they heard a different message about the administration's ultimate plans for the tribunals.

In a conference call with reporters following the sit-down, Gabor Rona, the international legal director of Human Rights First, said that officials from the Special Interagency Task Force on Detainee Disposition told him that the administration's announcement on Friday was only prompted by the fact that it was bumping up against the 120-day suspension of the commissions that Obama ordered in January. According to Rona, administration officials worried that if they didn't act before the deadline passed, they could lose the option to use the commissions. To prevent that from happening, Rona explained, the White House will notify Congress of its proposed changes and seek another four-month delay in the proceedings that are already underway. Later, Rona told Mother Jones that he doubted the task force officials would have sought the input of the human rights groups—or tried to feed them the deadline excuse—if revised commissions were already "a fait accompli." "The administration was testing the water" on Friday, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who also attended the meeting. "I don't know how surprised it was by the outrage that resulted."

The Special Interagency Task Force on Detainee Disposition was created by executive order in January. Its report, which will "identify options" for changing detainee treatment, is due in late July. Roth said the task force seemed to be weighing whether to "stick with ordinary courts or move towards commissions. A "national security court," proposed by some law professors, "didn't seem to be the direction things were going," he said. According to Roth, the task force worries that trying terrorism suspects in ordinary courts might allow suspects to claim that they had Miranda rights that had been violated or to demand access to classified information used by the prosecution.

It's possible that the human rights officials are engaging in wishful thinking, hoping that Obama's decision on military tribunals is not as firm as it seems. In a statement on Friday, Obama said that (reformed) commissions are "the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values." That doesn't leave the White House much wiggle room.

Until last Friday, press secretary Robert Gibbs countered questions about detainee treatment by claiming that he didn't want to prejudge the reports of various commissions and task forces, including the interagency group. "I think what's best is to let that happen and see what happens when they come back," Gibbs said on January 22. On February 23, Gibbs deflected a question by referring to the "ongoing" process of "evaluating the detainees" at Guantanamo Bay. On May 5, he said it "wouldn't be wise to prejudge the review [of military tribunals] the president laid out." But on Friday, Obama announced his decision. The deadline for the completion of the review that was once so crucial was still more than two months away. So far, the White House has not publicly explained why it rendered a decision before the task force finished its work.

When it's not Dick Cheney in the media defending Dick Cheney and the Bush administration, it's Liz Cheney.

The elder daughter of Dick Cheney, who was a State Department deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in the Bush-Cheney years, appeared on ABC News' This Week on Sunday and, no surprise, repeatedly justified her father's actions as veep, especially his support of torture--or, as she called it, "these policies." Liz Cheney also called President Barack Obama "un-American" for even considering the prosecution of any former Bush administration officials. She claimed her father's recent public interviews have postively influenced public opinion and the Obama White House--and that these media appearances have helped the Republican Party.

Well, every daughter is entitled to her opinion. And every network is entitled to a new talking head. But Cheney's appearance reminded me of a forum she attended a year ago, when she demonstrated what seems to be a family trait: putting belief above facts.

Zombie Corporations

If you're interested in this kind of thing, John Hempton has a post over at his place examining why Korea snapped back from its late-90s banking crisis fairly quickly while Japan's crisis lingered on for over a decade.  It's interesting stuff, but the main reason I recommend reading it is that he debunks the common misconception that Japan suffered from an epidemic of "zombie banks" during the 90s.  For the most part, though, that wasn't the problem.  The problem was that their banks spent the 90s lending to zombie corporations.  Big difference.  Full story here.

The Michael Steele Diaries – Part XLVII

RNC chairman Michael Steele's latest brainstorm is to cast gay marriage not as a moral issue, but as a small business killer: if gays get married, then small businesses will have to provide extra health insurance.  The bottom line?  "You just cost me money," he told an audience a few days ago.  Andrew Tobias brings the snark:

He’s spot on, which is why the GOP should come out against marriage generally, not just same-sex marriage.  Married workers cost more if you provide family health insurance.  So the smart hiring order is: single people first; and then married gay people (who are less likely to have kids needing health insurance and more likely to have working spouse’s with their own health insurance), and then, if you absolutely must, married heterosexual couples.  It’s just good business.

As Steele himself says, he's the gift that keeps on giving.  I'm sort of hoping for a Palin/Steele ticket to go up against Barack Obama in 2012.

Map of the Day

Via Ezra Klein, here's an instructive map that visually makes a point I've brought up a few times in the past: as bad as global warming is in general, one of its worst aspects is that developed countries (like us) are the ones causing the biggest part of the problem, but it's underdeveloped countries that are going to suffer the biggest part of the damage.  In the map on the right, taken from a Lancet study, the top panel shows each country by the size of its carbon emissions, while the bottom map shows each country by the number of deaths its likely to suffer due to global warming.  Long story short, we spit out the carbon, but it's people in Africa and South Asia who are mostly going to die because of it.

This comes from Ezra in his new digs, by the way.  He's at the Washington Post now, and his new URL is:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/

Other miscellaneous info (RSS feed etc.) is here.

Election Day

Tomorrow is special election day here in California and lots of people have been emailing me to ask how I'm going to vote on the miserable collection of propositions on the ballot.  The honest answer is that I don't know.  Staying home seems like the best alternative right now.  It's hard to remember an election in which voters were given quite such a stark choice between bad and worse.

Besides, the polls say almost all the propositions are going to lose.  So it hardly matters.  Still, here's where I am right now:

Prop 1A - Spending Cap: NO.  Lots of other states have spending cap/rainy day fund requirements of various kinds, and their success seems to be fantastically sensitive to the precise wording of the cap and the way different figures are estimated.  That means 1A could be halfway reasonable or it could be a disaster, and there's really no way to tell in advance.  That's not the kind of thing I want enshrined in the constitution.

Prop 1B - More Spending for Teachers: NO.  This is ballot box budgeting of the worst kind and interest group politics at its most blatant.

Prop 1C: Sell Future Lottery Profits: NO.  This raises a fair amount of money, but it's just horrible, horrible policy.  I can't bring myself to support it.

Props 1D and 1E: Raid Money From a Couple of Previous Initiatives: YES.  Ballot box budgeting locked up this money in the first place, so there's no other way to unlock it.  It would be better to get rid of the original initiatives (and all their kin) entirely, but in the meantime this is the only choice the legislature has.

Prop 1F: No Pay Raises Until a Budget is Passed: NO.  This is just stupid.

That's it.  If you vote exactly the opposite way, I understand.  My views on these initiatives are about as firm as jello right now.  Make your case in comments if you think I'm full of it.

Rachel Alexandra, Meet Anna Wintour

So yesterday was awesome. Rachel Alexandra—a name you'd expect maybe out of Gossip Girl—turned out to be a kick-ass racehorse, a filly, who led practically gate to finish (from the outside post, the toughest starting spot) in yesterday's Preakness, becoming the first lady horse to win that Triple Crown race in 85 years. The press is going wild, mostly because fast girls don't come around all that often, and when they do tragedy is too often not far behind (two of the greatest, Ruffian and Go for Wand died on the track after breaking down during big races, and last year, filly Eight Belles had to be put down right after she came in second in the Kentucky Derby).

So are fillies too fragile to compete with the guys in the big races? They are treated that way. An ESPN article late last week warned that the decision to run Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness Stakes was risky and that the world would "be holding its breath until, win or lose, she finishes standing and returns safely.") But horses break down all the time, with horrific consequences, it's just that the male ones don't always make the headlines. Horseracing is a brutal sport, and, like boxing, people get really antsy when they see the ladies in the ring. Another thing about the sport and the mare's role: bloodlines. When you get fast horses you get them together and make babies. There will certainly be the pressure for little Rachel Alexandras prancing around the paddock. But to get there she'll need to make it out of her racing years alive and well. Luckily (for whom, I'm not sure) horses race competitively at such a young age that they can become broodmares at, say age 5, and still have decades of time to establish a lineage. Wherever you end up next, Rachel, you're already a hero for ladykind, showing the ladies can be just as competitive—and fast—as the gents.

Which brings me to another competitive female. On 60 Minutes tonight Morley Safer interviewed Vogue's editor, the legendary Anna Wintour. He starts out by wondering if she's indeed Darth Vader, Nuclear Wintour, or maybe, "just peaches and cream with a touch of arsenic." He then asks her, twice, whether it was fair for people to call her a bitch. Sure, she's the devil who wears Prada, she's hardnosed, ruthless, and the fashion diva extraordinaire, but she's also at the top of her industry. Would Safer dare ask Donald Trump or Richard Branson if they were bitchy because they of their no-smile, hard-nosed business attitudes?