MAKING FRIENDLY SKIES FRIENDLIER

Many airline passengers are rebelling at the alternatives that have been presented to them by the Transport Safety Administration. Either they have to undergo a full body scan which yields an image oddly detailed, or submit to body search (similar to the one being undergone by actress Kate Beckinscale, left.). Certainly each has its icky aspects, but there are steps that can be taken to make passengers more amenable to the process.

Dimmer lighting in the checkpoint area.

Offer passengers a glass of chardonnay as they pass through line.

Pipe in a selection of Johnny Mathis records.

Help the passengers feel more at ease by complimenting them: The TSA agent might say “Your carry one suitcase really brings out the color in your eyes,” for example.

Stop using terms like “pat down” or “body search.” Refer to the procedure as “a security massage.”

Instruct the agents in the use of scented oils.

Allow those passengers who are so inclined to give their TSA agents “security massages” as well.

Agents could slip dollar bills into waistbands of travelers’ briefs.

“THE MOST ODIOUS MAN IN POLITICS” GOES DOWN

Here, as reported in The New York Times, is a reason to be thankful: `Tom DeLay, one of the most powerful and divisive Republican lawmakers ever to come out of Texas, was convicted Wednesday of money-laundering charges in a state trial, five years after his indictment here forced him to resign as majority leader in the House of Representatives. After 19 hours of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women decided that Mr. DeLay was guilty of conspiring with two associates in 2002 to circumvent a state law against corporate contributions to political campaigns. He was convicted of one charge of money laundering and one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. As the verdict was read, Mr. DeLay, 63, sat stone-faced at the defense table. Then he rose, turned, smiled and hugged his wife and then his weeping daughter in the first row of spectators. He faces between 5 and 99 years in prison, though the judge may choose probation. A few minutes later, Mr. DeLay said outside the courtroom that he would appeal the decision. He called the prosecution a political vendetta by Democrats in the local district attorney’s office, and revenge for his role in orchestrating the 2003 redrawing of Congressional districts to elect more Republicans. “This is an abuse of power,” he said. “It’s a miscarriage of justice. I still maintain my innocence. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system.” Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat and Travis County district attorney, said the decision to pursue charges had nothing to do with partisan politics. “This was about holding public officials accountable, that no one is above the law,” she said. DeLay could get as much as 99 years in prison, or as little as probation.”

TAKE IT AWAY!

I had the pleasure of appearing this morning on the National Public Radio program The Takeaway to talk about the Disunion blog I’m doing for The New York Times. The hosts were John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee. The most highly motivated among you may feel free to listen.

THE MYTHS OF THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of editing an article written by the investigative reporter Jefferson Morley for playboy.com that had to do with strange CIA connections to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which happened, of course, 47 years ago today. I enjoyed working with Jeff; he was a patient, meticulous sifter of the numberless loose ends that have attached themselves to that fateful event. Today Jeff has an excellent piece on theatlantic.com which succinctly debunks five significant myths of the assassination. His findings:

The belief that secret plotters killed Kennedy was first made popular by Oliver Stone’s 1992 movie, JFK.

False. Popular belief in a conspiracy was widespread within a week of Kennedy’s murder. Between November 25 and 29, 1963, University of Chicago pollsters asked more than 1,000 Americans whom they thought was responsible for the president’s death. . . .62 percent of respondents said they believed that more than one person was involved in the assassination. Only 24 percent thought Oswald had acted alone. Another poll taken in Dallas during the same week found 66 percent of respondents believing that there had been a plot.

All serious historians believe that Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy, alone and unaided.
Since 2000, five tenured academic historians have published books on JFK’s assassination. Four of the five concluded that a conspiracy was behind the 35th president’s murder. David Kaiser of the Naval War College, author of The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (2008), concluded that Kennedy was killed in plot involving disgruntled CIA operatives and organized crime figures. Michael Kurtz of Southeastern Louisiana University came to the same conclusion in his 2006 book, The JFK Assassination Debates: Lone Gunman Versus Conspiracy. In Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why (2005), Gerald McKnight of Hood College suggested that a high-level plot involving senior U.S. intelligence officials was probably responsible for the president’s death. In his 2003 book about photographic evidence, The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK’s Assassination, David Wrone of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point argued that the famous amateur film footage of the assassination proves that Kennedy was hit by gunfire from two different directions. Wrone did not advocate a theory of who was responsible.

No one high-up in the U.S. government ever thought there was a conspiracy behind JFK’s murder.
In fact, many senior U.S. officials concluded that there had been a plot but rarely talked about it openly. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson told many people that he did not believe the lone-gunman explanation. The president’s brother Robert and widow Jacqueline also believed that he had been killed by domestic political enemies. Senators Richard Russell of Georgia and Russell Long of Louisiana both rejected official accounts of the assassination. Other skeptics include Joseph Califano, the Secretary of Army in 1963; H.R. Haldeman, the chief of staff to President Richard Nixon; Col. L. Fletcher Prouty, chief of Pentagon special operations in 1963; and Winston Scott, chief of the CIA’s station in Mexico City. Scott concluded in an unpublished memoir that Oswald had, indeed, been just a patsy.

Former Los Angeles County prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi refuted all JFK conspiracy theories in Reclaiming History.
In the course of 1,600 pages Bugliosi effectively refuted many unfounded conspiracy scenarios and reasserted the lone gunman conclusions of the Warren Commission. But he has never engaged the extensive scholarship of Commission skeptics such as journalist David Talbot, historian Kaiser, historian John Newman, or biographer Anthony Summers, or analyzed the innovative research of attorney William Simpich.

All the CIA’s records related to the Kennedy assassination have been made public.
In a sworn affidavit, Delores Nelson, the CIA’s chief information officer, stated that the Agency has approximately 1,100 assassination-related documents that it plans to keep under wraps until 2017, if not longer. These files — containing more than 2,000 pages of material — cannot be made public for reasons, Nelson says, of national security. In other words, somewhere in the Washington metropolitan area there is a collection of CIA documents related to JFK’s murder that, if collated, would stand about ten inches tall.

As Jeff writes, “That’s not a conspiracy theory or a myth. It’s a fact.” I suppose I know where he’s going to be seven years from now. I’m looking forward to hearing what he’s learned.

A BATTLEFIELD ORDEAL

I recently discovered the excellent and informative blog Georgian London by Lucy Inglis, and am enjoying it enormously. She recently posted this brief memoir of one man’s Battle of Waterloo, that of Colonel Frederick Ponsonby, a 32 year-old career cavalry officer, and the brother of Lady Caroline Lamb. He was part of the charge of the Light Company that overshot its point of attack. This is his account of what followed:

In the melee I was almost instantly disabled in both arms, losing first my sword, and then my reins; and followed by a few men, who were presently cut down, no quarter being allowed, asked, or given, I was carried along by my horse, till, receiving a blow from a sabre, I fell senseless on my face to the ground.

Recovering, I raised myself a little to look around, being at that time, I believe, in a condition to get up and run away; when a lancer, passing by, cried out, ‘Tu, n’es pas mort, coquin!’ and struck his lance through my back. My head dropped, the blood gushed into my mouth, a difficulty of breathing came on, and I thought all was over.

Not long afterwards (it was impossible to measure time, but I must have fallen in less than ten minutes after the onset) a tirailleur stopped to plunder me, threatening my life. I directed him to a small side pocket, in which he found three dollars, all I had; but he continued to threaten, and I said he might search me: this he did immediately, unloosing my stock and tearing open my waist coat, and leaving me in a very uneasy posture.

But he was no sooner gone than an officer bringing up some troops, to which probably the tirailleur belonged, and happening to halt where I lay, stooped down and addressed me, saying he feared I was badly wounded; I said that I was, and expressed a wish to be removed to the rear. He said it was against their orders to remove even their own men; but that if they gained the day… every attention in his power would be shown me. I complained of thirst, and he held his brandy-bottle to my lips, directing one of the soldiers to lay me straight on my side and place a knapsack under my head. He then passed on into action…Of what rank he was, I cannot say: he wore a great-coat. By and by another tirailleur came up, a fine young man, full of ardor. He knelt down and fired over me, loading and firing many times, and conversing with me all the while. At last he ran off, exclaiming, ‘You will probably not be sorry to hear that we are going to retreat. Good day, my friend.’ It was dusk when two squadrons of Prussian cavalry, each of them two deep, came across the valley and passed over me in full trot, lifting me from the ground and tumbling me about cruelly.

The battle was now at an end, or removed to a distance. The shouts, the imprecations, the outcries of ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ the discharge of musketry and cannon, were over; and the groans of the wounded all around me became every moment more and more audible. I thought the night would never end. Much about this time I found a soldier of the Royals lying across my legs—he had probably crawled thither in his agony; and his weight, his convulsive motions, and the air issuing through a wound in his side, distressed me greatly; the last circumstance most of all, as I had a wound of the same nature myself.

It was not a dark night, and the Prussians were wandering about to plunder…though no women appeared. Several stragglers looked at me, as they passed by, one after another, and at last one of them stopped to examine me. I told him as well as I could, for I spoke German very imperfectly, that I was a British officer, and had been plundered already; he did not desist, however, and pulled me about roughly. An hour before midnight I saw a man in an English uniform walking towards me. He was, I suspect, on the same errand, and he came and looked in my face. I spoke instantly, telling him who I was, and assuring him of a reward if he would remain by me. He said he belonged to the 40th, and had missed his regiment; he released me from the dying soldier, and, being unarmed, took up a sword from the ground and stood over me, pacing backward and forward. Day broke; and at six o’clock in the morning some English were seen at a distance, and he ran to them. A messenger being sent off to Hervey, a cart came for me, and I was placed in it, and carried to the village of Waterloo…

Ms. Inglis reports that Frederick survived his seven wounds, married, fathered six children and went on to a successful career in the Army.

COMPLAINING AND BLAMING

In his column in The Washington Post, George Will takes on the TSA inspections by citing an unimpeachable source. “Fifty years ago,” he writes, “William F. Buckley wrote a memorable complaint about the fact that Americans do not complain enough. His point, like most of the points he made during his well-lived life, is, unfortunately, more pertinent than ever. Were he still with us, he would favor awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to John Tyner, who, when attempting to board a plane in San Diego, was provoked by some Transportation Security Administration personnel.” (See Tyner’s encounter above; I love when Tyner says “I don’t understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying.”)

Like Buckley, Will wants more Americans to stand up and “rectify irrational vexations.” Will believes that this latest airport inspection regimen is one such a vexation, brought on by excessive political correctness: forcing all passengers to submit to inspection “because democracy – or the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; anyway, something – requires the amiable nonsense of pretending that no one has the foggiest idea what an actual potential terrorist might look like.”

True enough: as best as we can recall, the terrorists of 9/11 and those who came after them have all been Arabs, and certainly we could just isolate Arab fliers for inspection and allow everyone else to go their merry way. But surely even Will can see how easily this precaution could be circumvented. And surely even Will recalls that many of these security measures were introduced in the late seventies and eighties, when air hijacking first came into vogue and its practitioners were a veritable Rainbow Coalition of perpetrators who would defy profiling.

Will should keep in mind that while Americans may not complain enough, they blame excessively, and particularly the government. Americans do not want to pay for safety and regulation and they hate submitting to it, but when tragedy strikes, they demand to know why the government didn’t prevent it. It is among our more childish features.

I remember visiting London in August 2005, just three weeks after the transportation bombings that killed approximately 60 people. I expected to see a police and military presence in all public areas, like that which I had become accustomed to see in Grand Central Station and in Rockefeller Center in the four years since 9/11. But there wasn’t an obvious presence, just what one would consider the normal retinue of bobbies. Atop the London Eye, I struck up a conversation with a Londoner, and remarked upon this observation. She had no expectation of extra police, but thought that these attacks were just something that happened, and that after what Londoners had gone through during the blitz and during years of IRA terrorist combings, she thought it was incumbent upon her to just carry on. And that is what most people were doing–without blaming the government.

Tucker Carlson once offered the view that he would happily take his chances and fly an airline that got rid of all forms of security inspection. That might be the best solution. Give people a choice. Carlson and Will can fly Casino Air, enjoying freedom, saving time, and probably paying more (I think their share of the insurance costs would be enormous); I’ll probably be over in the line waiting to board Play It Safe Airlines, removing my shoes and getting scanned and throwing away perfectly good shampoo. But hopefully all of us would be out the complaining and blaming business.

INSIDE JOB

After reading Michael Perino‘s The Hellhound of Wall Street, I was wondering if we would ever see the likes of a Ferdinand Pecora who would explicate the figures and practices behind the financial crisis of 2008 as well as Pecora, the Manhattan prosecutor, did during the Depression for the Crash of 1929. Well, opportunities for a Congressional hearing may have come and gone; private lawsuits and actions by the attorneys-general of the various states may or may not bear fruit. Thank goodness we have Inside Job, the excellent documentary film by director Charles Ferguson (just short-listed for an Oscar). Clearly, succinctly, and pointedly, Ferguson shows how peeling away years of banking regulation left the financial system defenseless against people manipulating the mortgage lending process, twisting the securitization process, dealing in new and complicated financial products they only dimly understood, and generally accepting a ludicrous amount of risk. Among those most responsible are the government officials and regulators who moved as though in a revolving door between Wall Street and the government. Ferguson shows us that there was a terrible failure of common sense regulation complemented by a terrible explosion of greed. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; it wasn’t new. All the chicanery that Pecora uncovered returned to be uncovered once again by Ferguson. One of the points made most clearly by Ferguson is that all the investment banks have been guilty of major transgressions in recent years. They have all paid major fines, and gone on their way. Only a few, mostly if not exclusively involved in prosecutions by Eliot Spitzer when he was the Attorney General of New York, paid criminal penalties. It’s high time white collar crime should lead to people serving orange jumpsuit time. Three cheers for Ferguson, for so clearly describing how we got where we are, identifying the malefactors, and exposing the fatal flaws in the pro-market ideology promulgated these last three decades by Ronald Reagan and his followers.

THE MANY LIES OF ROGER AILES

The head of Fox News, the prodigiously jowly former Richard Nixon tub-thumper Roger Ailes, gave an interview to Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast earlier this week. It is instructive to read what Ailes said, because his comments are full of lies of every sort–simple untruths, hyperbolic overstatement, nasty misinterpretation. They show what a low, mean, miserable man he is, and they are indicative of the organization he runs.

Ailes said that President Obama‘s trip to the G20 was a failure. “He had to be told by the French and the Germans that his socialism was too far left for them to deal with.” True, Obama’s trip could be called a failure, but Germany and France’s objections had nothing to do with “socialism”; Germany objected to the Fed’s proposed quantitative easement, which is aimed to lower US unemployment by cheapening the dollar and stimulating US exports, which might very well then cause Germany’s large trade surpluses to diminish.

Ailes says Obama “has a different belief system than most Americans.” Of course, this is part of the right’s ongoing offensive to make it seem as though Obama is suspiciously different from most Americans. This is, of course, a strange thing to say about a man who was the choice of most voters as recently as 2008–the choice of many, many more voters than Fox News has viewers, it should be pointed out. Obama may well have different beliefs and policies and positions than most Americans, but a different belief system? Nonsense. Start with the way he conducts his personal life. Look at this marriage and the way he’s raising his children. That is as sure an indication of his values as anything.

Ailes on the pro-Obama sympathies of the media.: “He’s had 3,000 press secretaries since he got into office.” This whole liberal media line of argument is becoming exhausted. It’s true that a lot of reporters and editors have a liberal bias. But the right wing has been harping on this since Spiro Agnew gave his “nattering nabobs of negativism” speech, and the media has made efforts to address the imbalance. Conservatives are well-represented on the Sunday morning talk shows and on the op-ed pages of the newspapers. There are conservative intellectual publications. CNBC is politically conservative. There is no in-house liberal with his own show on Fox that compares to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. This whole canard about the liberal bias of the media has become part of the right wing plutocrat’s perpetual whine of victimization.

Ailes on George W. Bush: “This poor guy, sitting down on his ranch clearing brush, gained a lot of respect for keeping his mouth shut. I literally never heard an Obama speech that didn’t blame Bush.” Literally? If that’s literally the case, then Ailes did not listen to Obama’s race speech, or to his inaugural address.

Ailes on Fox: “We are interested in the truth. We’re interested in two points of view; most networks aren’t.” Fox is interested in the truth the way the Harlem Globetrotters are interested in getting a good game from the Washington Generals.

Ailes on Jon Stewart: “He hates conservative views. He hates conservative thoughts. He hates conservative verbiage. He hates conservatives.” Hate is kind of a strong word. I bet a lot of them don’t do more than make his skin crawl.

Ailes on NPR: “They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view.” The left wing of Nazism? Roger outdoes himself, managed to get two negative code words into the same phrase. (Ailes soon apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for describing NPR brass as “Nazis.” He wrote: “I was of course ad-libbing and should not have chosen that word but I was angry at the time because of NPR’s willingness to censor Juan Williams for not being liberal enough.” NPR said, “We are disappointed that Mr. Ailes directed his apology only to the ADL.”)

Ironically, in one of his remarks about Stewart, Ailes comes very close to revealing a truth about himself: “He’s crazy. If [the debate] wasn’t polarized, he couldn’t make a living. He makes a living by attacking conservatives and stirring up a liberal base against it. He loves polarization. He depends on it. If liberals and conservatives are all getting along, how good would that show be? It’d be a bomb.”

It’s all just a show. Ailes’ biggest lie is that he calls himself a news executive. He’s really the same guy who once produced The Mike Douglas Show for KYW-TV in Philadelphia back in the sixties, chasing ratings and an audience share.