Earmark Flip Flops and TSA Pat Downs
November 18, 2010 | 03:28 PMEarmark Their Words
What's the difference between wasteful government spending and a vital infrastructure project? For members of Congress, it usually hinges on whether the project in question is in their district - and that includes members of the newly minted Republican majority who rode back to power on a wave of fiscal discontent and now must face their base not as candidates (who can promise anything) but as policy makers.
And so it was that GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reversed course on earmarks this week, backing a plan to ban a practice he has repeatedly defended in the past. "I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state," said McConnell, who has single-handedly requested more than 150 earmarks worth nearly $1 billion since 2008, according to Congressional records. "But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight."
In a statement, President Obama said he was glad McConnell had decided "to join me and members of both parties who support cracking down on wasteful earmark spending, which we can't afford during these tough economic times." But not everyone was thrilled. Senator Dan Inouye, who heads up the powerful Appropriations Committee and always brings home the bacon (or pork, as it were) to Hawaii, pointed out that earmarks account for less than 1 percent of total discretionary spending and, in a statement quoted by Politico, said eliminating them would be "ceding Congressional authority over important spending priorities to the executive branch of government."
Those arguments have been made in the past--by McConnell and other pro-earmark Republicans. Of course, that was before Rand Paul and Sarah Palin and the Tea Party machine grabbed the reins, pulling the old guard along for a bumpy, uncertain ride.
TSA: Going Too Far?
As rallying cries go, "Don't touch my junk" isn't the most elegant. But, for millions of travelers fed up with invasive airport security measures, it seems to be resonating.
The line is paraphrased from a cell phone video shot by a California man named John Tyner, who refused to go through an "advanced imaging" scanner at an airport in San Diego. When told he would have to submit to a thorough frisking, Tyner informed TSA agents, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." He was escorted from the airport and, he says, told he could be hit with heavy fines. The video, meanwhile, went viral, and suddenly an issue that was essentially taboo after 9/11 was all over the news.
"I don't want to be a hero," Tyner wrote in a November 14 blog post. "I simply want to draw attention to what is going on and give people a sense that they're not alone in the fight against the ever expanding erosion of liberty."
Since the advanced imaging machines went into use, TSA has promised the nude, full-body pictures they produce aren't saved or disseminated. On its Web site, TSA points to a CBS poll that claims 81 percent of Americans approve of the machines.
That doesn't include Brian Sodegren, who's started a Web site, optoutday.com, encouraging people to make November 24 "National Opt Out Day," meaning everyone who flies says no to the scans and forces TSA agents to pat them down instead (Sodegren, apparently, has fewer junk-touching issues). "Many people only fly around the holidays and may not be aware of the security changes, which is why November 24 was chosen," reads a statement on the site. "Once people are made aware of what is happening, they may have reservations about the new virtual strip searches."
Surely there is a point at which people's desire for privacy outpaces their desire for security. Have we reached it? Hard to say; Tyner and Sodegren may be enjoying their 15 minutes, or they may be at the forefront of something significant. At the very least, they've helped jump start a long-overdue discussion.
Maui County Wants You
If you've ever yearned to serve on a County board or commission--and really, who hasn't?--here's your chance. Through December 15, applications are being accepted for 60 vacant seats on everything from the Board of Ethics to the Traffic Safety Council to your favorite and ours, the Liquor Control Commission and Adjudication Board (among many others).
Positions are filled by the Mayor, contingent on Council approval. Terms vary from two to five years and it's all volunteer, so make sure you're serious before you apply.
Applications and more info can be found on the County Web site, www.mauicounty.gov
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