Cynical Synapse

Sat, 08 Oct 2011

Saudi Attempt to Enter Cockpit is Ok; Everyone Else Gets Patdowns

Filed under: Civil liberties, Flying, Government, Hypocrits, Paradoxes, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 3:46 pm

typical flight deck door

A 20-year-old Saudi Arabian, Abdulaziz Mubarak al-Shammari, twice tried to enter the cockpit of American Airlines flight 1936 from New York’s JFK to Indianapolis On 05 October. On the second attempt, fellow passenger Rodney Bailey intervened. He asked al-Shammari if he was looking for the bathroom which evoked a head shaking no. Bailey said he has traveled “all over the world. I’m not going to die over a cornfield in Indiana.”

Operated by American Eagle, the flight landed safely in Indianapolis and al-Shammari was detained by airport police. American Eagle spokesman Ed Martelle said, “He might have briefly touched it [the cockpit door], but there is no indication that he was headed there. Those doors don’t open.” Seriously? What’s the purpose of the door, then? And al-Shammari went to the door, not once, but twice. Martelle, you weren’t there, but Capt. James K. Kolostyak told police he heard someone trying to open the cabin door and saw the interior door light come on. So, yeah, al-Shammari was trying to get in.

American Eagle aircraft

Claiming he’s a student at University of Indianapolis, al-Shammari was on the third leg of a flight from Saudi Arabia. Except the University of Indianapolis has no record of al-Shammari as registered there. Does al-Shmmari have a student visa? Were his tickets one-way? Authorities said al-Shammari is not on any terrorist watch list. Neither were the 15 young Saudi Muslim males who participated in the attacks on 9/11.

Despite a thousand holes in his story, al-Shammari was released without charges! And here’s the kicker: “The police report stated: ‘T.S.A. would not respond to the scene.’” According to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesman Jim Fotenos:

‘The flight landed safely and local law enforcement responded. TSA monitored the situation and was satisfied with the actions taken by local and federal law enforcement.

TSA patting down a toddler at Denver International

Obviously, TSA is too busy treating US citizens like criminals to be even the least bit interested in al-Shammari’s highly suspicious airborne activities. Never mind his story is flimsy at best and totally fabricated at worst. It’s not likely al-Shammari went through any serious security check in Riyadh. As recent as May 2011, a traveler said he found Riyadh’s “security screening laughable.”. According to TSA, Saudi Arabia has no restrictions on bringing liquids on board aircraft.

Once you’re through the security checkpoint, you have access to most of the rest of the air travel network, with exceptions, without having to go through re-screening. So, was al-Shammari confused, the excuse people are trying to make for him? Or was he making a dry run or collecting intelligence for some future jihadist act? Is anyone checking out the giant chasms of his story?

HT: Small dead animals


Sun, 18 Sep 2011

Constitution Day—Our Way of Life is At Risk

Filed under: Citizen rights, Civil liberties, Congress, Customer service, Government, Legal, Life, People, Politics, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 10:02 am

US Constitution

Yesterday, 17 September, marked the 224th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. Of late, it seems our Constitution is under attack and the federal government wants to expand its reach beyond Constitutional authority.

As a case in point, from my perspective, the government has no authority to require me to buy health insurance. Or anything else, for that matter. Requiring the purchase of health insurance does not fall under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. The Constitution is as the center of the political debate:

The struggle over the holiday is yet another proxy in the fight over the proper role of government. On one side are those who embrace an “originalist” view of the Constitution, where New Deal judicial activism started the country down the path to ruin. On the other are those who say that its language — allowing Congress to levy taxes to provide “for the general welfare,” to regulate commerce, and to do what is “necessary and proper” to carry out its role—affirms the broad role of the federal government that has developed over the last 100 years.

TSA montage

The fear induced by the attacks of 9/11 led to the USA PATRIOT act and subsequent losses or restrictions of civil liberties and freedoms. The most apparent aggregiousness is with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and their seemingly arbitrary and inefective rules for airport checkpoint screening.

Not satisfied with just cowing ordinary citizens, the today’s government seeks to silence internal dissenters and whistleblowers. The federal hegemonic conspiracy is no longer a Republican or Democratic construct. Rather, it is the result of the government seeking to ensure its own continued survival despite its citizens.

Previously on the Constitution and rights erosion:

Fri, 02 Sep 2011

Islamophobia Unchecked Equals Freedom Unprotected

Filed under: Behavior, Citizen rights, Civil liberties, Government, Legal, Life, Oppression, Society — cynicalsynapse @ 1:00 pm

Anti-Islamic grafitti

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks draws near, coming on the heals of the end of Ramadan and releases of a couple reports on Muslims in America, it’s easy for conversations to turn to jihadists—Muslim extremists. The truth is extremists of any kind are dangerous. It’s also true the majority of terrorist activities in the past decade were carried out by people hiding behind the Islamic religion. This does not make them Islamists, although some may have been. The Ayatollahs in Iran are real Islamists. Still, the end result is a very real and deliberate undertone of Islamohobia—the fear of Muslims.

A Center for American Progrss report released 26 August describes the funding and efforts fueling Islamophobia. Despite their loyalties, good work ethic, civic-mindedness, and being law-abiding, in general, there is a lot of mistrust of Muslims in the population at large.

Muslim-Americans are, generally, satisfied with current conditions “despite a feeling [Muslims] are being targeted by anti-terrorism government programs.” While we want feel and be secure, we value our rights more. Consider the Old Man’s post about concerns with the hijab:

There’s been a lot of flack over Muslim women wearing their traditional head dress out in the public here in America. One of the latest was at Rye Playland in New York where a group of Muslim women were barred from certain rides because of their headscarves. Do we, the other public, know what banning the religious head dress for a particular religious culture could lead to?

Yeah, yeah! The Old Man is fully aware of the attacks on America, and Americans abroad, by Muslims. But have we taken our revenge too far? It may be appropriate to check people, and even their clothing, for any weapons or bombs in public gatherings or boarding a public means of transportation. But think about this for a moment. If we are to ban Muslim clothing simply because a certain group of people don’t like it, what are we supposed to do about the other religions??????


Catholic Nums

Latter Day Saints

Orthodox Jew

Tue, 09 Aug 2011

Detroit Loses a Treasure in Focus: HOPE Founder’s Passing

Filed under: Civil liberties, Detroit, Education, Helping others, Heroes — cynicalsynapse @ 8:11 pm

Eleanor Josaitis

It’s no secret Detroit has its problems, but Focus:HOPE is one of its gems. Today we mourn the passing of one of Focus:HOPE’s founders, Eleanor Josaitis. While others fled Detroit following the 1967 riots, Josaitis moved into the city. She co-founded Focus: HOPE with Fr. William Cunnigham in 1968.

For the next 43 years, Josaitis worked to bring social justice, civil rights, and improved job skills to underpriviledged Detroiters. She cared about her community and its residents. Her goal was to overcome racism, poverty, and injustice. Josaitis frequently said:

There’s no greater way to eliminate racism and poverty than to see that people have education, skills, jobs and opportunities in life.

job training at Focus:HOPE

Josaitis’ legacy is an organization that provides an after-school photography program, gives people necessary and relevant job skills, and education, including engineering degrees.

Eleanor Josaitis “believed in Detroit and its people and believed each one of us can make a difference. … Her influence was felt from board rooms to soup kitchens.” Eleanor Josaitis was part of what makes Detroit great.

Previously on Focus: HOPE:

Sat, 25 Dec 2010

Christmas Remembrances 2010

Filed under: Civil liberties, Global War on Terror, Heroes, holidays, Military — cynicalsynapse @ 11:36 am

Merry Christmas to all and may you enjoy every blessing.

Please remember our military personnel who have and are serving in harm’s way, and their families as well. Their selfless service is why we all are free to celebrate (on not) Christmas and the holidays according to the religious traditions of our choice. These freedoms are not free so I offer a Christmas blessing for the fallen warriors.

HT: Dewey From Detroit and theblogprof.

Fri, 12 Nov 2010

School Denies Flag Rights During Veterans Week

Filed under: Citizen rights, Civil liberties, Government, Hypocrits, Justice, Legal, Life, Paradoxes, Politics, Racism, Schools — cynicalsynapse @ 9:21 pm

Cody Alicea rides bike with a US flag

On Monday, 08 November, Denair Middle School told a student to stop displaying the US flag on school grounds. According to Superintendent Edward Parraz, officials were concerned about racial tensions. Excuse me? The US flag causes racial tensions? I thought that was the Stars and Bars.

Mr. Parraz said the Campus Supervisor told Cody Alecia he couldn’t fly the US flag out of concern for Cody’s safety. Parraz blamed the matter on Cinco de Mayo which, by the way, is not a US holiday like Veterans Day.

Our Hispanic, you know, kids will, you know, bring their Mexican flags and they’ll display it, and then of course the kids would do the American flag situation, and it does cause kind of a racial tension which we don’t really want.

Denair Middle School

Denair Middle School is in mid-central California, southeast of Modesto. I realize all of California has a large Hispanic population, but it’s not like Denair is a border or urbanized region. Thus, it doesn’t follow that Cody’s display of the US flag could be seen as anti-Hispanic or even counter to celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Alecia had been displaying the US flag on his bike since the beginning of the school year, so this is not a new issue.

Today, 12 November, the school district decided Cody Alecia could display the US flag. This was in the face of nationwide outrage and a community march on the school. As a side note, perhaps Fox 40 personnel should undertake some remedial spelling and grammar classes. In any case, Supt. Parraz said:

[The] First Amendment is important. We want the kids to respect it, understand it, and with that comes a responsibility.

Burning constitution

Besides dissing veterans in this week that includes Veterans Day, Denair fails to address the underlying issues. Does anyone doubt this could have longer term impact on society at large?

As a result of the nationwide controversy, Cody Alecia is flying the US flag from his bike once again. Score one for correct over political correctness.

Previously on the US Flag:

Fri, 29 Oct 2010

Europeans Call for Curtain on Security Theater

department of security theater

Earlier this week, European airline and airport executives decried the burdonsome security requirements, labeling them “unnecessary and overly intrusive”. British Airways’ chairman started the furor in remarks he made before the UK Airport Operators Association.

Martin Broughton complained specifically about separate checks of laptop computers and forcing people to take off their shoes for checking, saying that such measures are “completely redundant,” the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

UK pilots, Heathrow airport’s operator, several European airlines, and even security experts welcomed Broughton’s observations.

“We need to keep passengers safe, but there’s also a whole bunch of security rules that could be eased out,” said Chris Yates, an aviation security analyst in London.

The requirement to remove shoes for screening, for example, was “the knee-jerk reaction after Richard Reid.” The newest metal detectors would sense any metal such as wiring in shoes, he contended.

tsa frisks terror suspect

Much of the security charades are simply feel-good measures with no significant security value. There are substantial costs in time, productivity, real estate, equipment, and manpower. Some have even referred to TSA—Transportation Security Administration—as Thousands Standing Around. Removing shoes was a knee-jerk reaction to the lone shoe bomber, Richard Reid. The plastic baggies and liquids limits resulted from the liquid explosives plot in the UK. Emphasis and speed-up on installing full-body scanners is because TSA knew they couldn’t demand we take our underwear off so they settled for a virtual strip search. The problem is these approaches are not effective.

However, all that “security” is not all that secure. According to articles by the BBC, Time, and Discover Magazine, pat-downs do not detect devices stowed in bodily orifices and invasive body scanners do not detect liquid, the most common form of explosives used by airborne terrorists. The Wall Street Journal notes that hardened cockpit doors and a trend of terror threats coming from coach class hint that deterrence may not be the main reason that federal marshals fly first class.

Are you kidding me? Air Marshals fly first class? If Osama Bin Laden himself was sitting in the window seat in row 38, what do you think the chances are of stopping him from blowing up the plane with his “netbook”? Netbooks don’t go through separately like laptops. An Air Marshal in first class would have had zero chance to stop the underwear bomber.

security screening

All the so-called security measures seem to address a real and reasonable threat. They should be reassuring. Instead, the process is dehumanizing and conducted with much the same compassion as sending cattle down the chute to the truck for the slaughterhouse. It feeds on and expands the irrationality of fear that is all around us.

Nevertheless, we should be thankful TSA is working so diligently to save rule-following, law-abiding citizens in close coordination with other countries around the world. In response to Broughton’s comments, a TSA statement said the US:

works closely with our international partners to ensure the best possible security. We constantly review and evolve our security measures based on the latest intelligence.

Previously on security theater:

Mon, 25 Oct 2010

WOA Says Woah! to Charitable Gesture

Filed under: Behavior, Civil liberties, Helping others, Paradoxes, Politics, Society, Sports — cynicalsynapse @ 6:54 am

Football refs with pink whistles

Pacific Northwest Football Officials Association (PNFOA) referees used pink whistles and donated their checks for last Thursday’s game to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The 140 referees all agreed to raise breast cancer awareness and donate their pay for the game to breast cancer research. In an era of few suitable role models, the officials’ public statement and act of charity seems noble.

Not so fast. It seems the pink whistles violate Washington Officials Association (WOA) rules. The WOA provides oversight and direction for officiating in all interscholastic sports. According to WOA’s chairman, Todd Stordahl:

Todd Stordahl

They chose not to ask for permission, not to go the right route. It sends the wrong message to kids that are playing the game. ‘If they broke the rules why can’t I do the same.’

Instead of accolades for their civic mindedness, WOA is considering punishing the referees for being out of uniform. They could be suspended for two playoff games, depriving them of officiating at the premier events of their sport. The officials would also not be paid for those games. In that case, their donation of Thursday’s game check became three times as costly. High school referees don’t do it for the money, but that’s a pretty high price for demonstrating to kids they should be part of something bigger than themselves.

early poll results

According to a poll by TV station KING, 94% support the referees and only 4% think the WOA is in the right. The remaining 1% couldn’t make up their minds. It’s such a complicated issue, afterall.

Public opinion can influence decisions. It seems Stordahl is sorry he came out so strongly against the referees. Apparently, a decision on disciplinary action now won’t be made until after the season. Stordahl said it’s all about following the chain-of-command.

WOA deeply regrets that there’s any perception that we don’t support any breast cancer programs. As someone who follows sports, that’s all that we have are rules, regulations and interpretations.

Sat, 23 Oct 2010

Pilot Says No to Security Theater of the Absurd

Filed under: Behavior, Citizen rights, Civil liberties, Flying, Government, Legal, Oppression, People, Technology, Terrorism — Tags: — cynicalsynapse @ 3:31 pm

ExpressJet pilot Michael Richards

ExpressJet First Officer Michael Richards refused to be abused by airport security screeners at Memphis International Airport on 15 October. This is the same screening point he’d gone through every week for the past 4-1/2 years. The difference? Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials asked Roberts to go through the newly installed full-body scanner. TSA calls this opting out, so Roberts was told he needed to go through the metal detector and undergo a hands-on search, a pat-down. Again Roberts declined, so he was told he could not pass the checkpoint.

Roberts’ fundamental concern, for which he intends to file a lawsuit, is violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. Roberts said:

It’s an outrage. The Fourth Amendment is there for a reason. It’s not dispensable for the sake of security, just to make us feel better or that something’s being done.”

full body scan image

Clearly, Roberts disagrees about the effectiveness of either the scanners or the patdown in ensuring security of the travelling public. Even security experts disagree on the full-body scanner’s effectiveness. Israeli security expert Rafi Sela testified before the Canadian parliament:

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 our airport.

His message to TSA: “No groping me and no naked photos.” Roberts finds TSA’s virtual strip search or fondling options overburdonsome. On top of all this, he still had to take his shoes off. In my mind, that could have been the only benefit of what TSA calls Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT).

security screening leaves little to hide

Ever since shoe-bomber Richard Reid tried to light his foot on fire, TSA makes law-abiding citizens take their shoes off to pass through security screening. Following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up his underwear, TSA has wanted to be able to make passengers take off their underpants. Knowing that would never be tolerated, TSA is implementing virtual strip searches. But Richards is not one of the sheeple.

In addition to their questionable security effectiveness, what are the health implications of full-body scans? There are two types of full-body scanners. One uses millimeter-wave radio frequency energy supposedly 1/10,000th that emitted by a cell phone. The other uses backscatter technology in the form of ionizing radiation at a dosage about equivalent of two minutes on a cross-country flight.

HT: Dewey from Detroit

Previously on security theater:

Mon, 11 Oct 2010

Real Significance of Columbus Day

Statue of Christopher Columbus

Columbus Day has become controversial in recent years. Careful analysis shows much of that controversy is really attributable to those that followed Christopher Columbus, not the explorer himself. Equally as important, however the world today would not be the same without Columbus’ expedition. Would there be a Latin America without Spain having underwritten Columbus’ expedition and then following in droves to colonize South America? What form would the United States take today without Columbus?

Although there is much anti-American sentiment in the world, the most vociferous is Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Chavez blames US imperialism for holding South America down. Chavez has ruled Venezuela for a decade now. During this time, he’s been solidifying his hold on power and establishing a clearly socialist dictatorship. But average Venezuelans still lack services such as electricity. Civil rights have been abridged and the economy ravaged by alienating foreign capital and too much reliance on oil prices.

Hugo Chavez the pirate

Not satisfied there, Chavez continues his saber rattling, even with neighboring Columbia. Perhaps its the name. Why else would Venezuela feel the need to buy state-of-the-art fighter jets and tanks from Russia. Besides stirring the pot in South America, Chavez is blatantly anti-US and blames Columbus for all the ills and injustices of the western hemisphere. Chavez has set himself on an anti-Columbus crusade.

Columbus Day is more than a holiday. It represents the development of the modern world. And, to me, it means the same as Anti Hugo Chavez Day. Here’s a holiday tradition for you: don’t buy Venezuelan-owned Citgo products on Columbus Day.

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