This site has many discussions about the ability and willingness of Americans to regain control of our nation and our fate. Central to that project is the American spirit. We see the state of the American spirit tested at our Airports, indoctrination centers for a serfs. They accustom us to accept arbitrary authority, applied with no rational purpose. Our passive acceptance of this — it is not even a minor issue in the election — suggests that we may no longer be a free people in our hearts.
We can tell a thousand stories about airport security, the pointless indignities and violations of our civil liberties. Here are two to start the conversation, about laptops and nipple rings. This is the first in a series giving a different perspective on what we have become.
1. Protecting your right to have no secrets from the government
“U.S. defends laptop searches at the border”, US News and World Report, 10 July 2008 — “Courts have upheld routine checks of Americans’ hard drives at the border. Critics say they’re anything but routine.” Excerpt:
The Department of Homeland Security contends these searches and seizures of electronic files are vital to detecting terrorists and child pornographers. It also says it has the constitutional authority to do them without a warrant or probable cause.
Looks like our liberals were correct: the American Constitution is a “living document”, re-shaped to meet the needs of each new generation. The new version just lacks some of the civil liberties in the old version.
Subsequent new reports have provided more details.
“Travelers’ Laptops May Be Detained At Border“, Washington Post, 1 August 2008 — “No Suspicion Required Under DHS Policies” — Opening:
Federal agents may take a traveler’s laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.
Also, officials may share copies of the laptop’s contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
2. Protecting your right to feel — to be — helpless before government agents
“TSA Forces Woman To Remove Nipple Rings For Flight“, AP, 27 March 2008
Statement posted at the website of the Transportation Safety Administration on 28 March 2008 (bold emphasis added):
TSA has reviewed the circumstances related to the screening of a passenger with body piercings that occurred recently in Lubbock, Texas. It appears that the Transportation Security Officers involved properly followed procedures in that incident. They rightly insisted that the alarm that was raised be resolved. TSA supports the thoroughness of the Officers involved as they were acting to protect the passengers and crews of the flights departing Lubbock that day.
TSA has reviewed the procedures themselves and agrees that they need to be changed. In the future TSA will inform passengers that they have the option to resolve the alarm through a visual inspection of the article in lieu of removing the item in question. TSA acknowledges that our procedures caused difficulty for the passenger involved and regrets the situation in which she found herself. We appreciate her raising awareness on this issue and we are changing the procedures to ensure that this does not happen again.
Yes, the officers were thorough beyond the call of duty.
Another point about how we got here
This is more evidence that of my belief that 9/11 was the most effective single military operation in the history of the world.
With a single strike al Qaeda changed the course of the world’s hegemonic state, by many measures the most powerful nation (relative to its time) that the world has ever seen. They did this at a negligible cost in money and manpower — never have so few changed so many with so little effort. Our counter-strikes have damaged or crippled al Qaeda, but its leaders may see al Qaeda as the vanguard of their movement, not its body — and hence expendable.
9/11 changed the course of America in terms of both internal and external policy, changing both in ways almost certainly inimical to our long-term strength and prosperity. Al Qaeda manipulated America as a matador does with a bull, waving a cape to so that the bull charges into position for the thrust of the sword.
… This is not a decisive battle, where thousands fight to determine the fate of nations. This is a dozen guys with box cutters deliberately setting out to change the course of a nation – and succeeding. The multiple of force to effect is astonishing, beyond anything I can think of in history. These were “super-empowered individuals” not because of what they did — planes crash, buildings burn, life goes on — but because of what we did afterwards. The leverage came not from their actions but through our reaction.
As RJH said in the comments: “The purpose of an action is the reaction.”
However, let us be clear on the two key points. First, we did this to ourselves. Ours is the responsibility. Second, we can still get America back on track. There are elections in November. Make your voice heard by campaigning (donating time and money) and raising your voice (with friends and via the various media).
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
Other posts in this series about America, how we got here and how we can recover it
- Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
- A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 3 July 2008
- Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
- A soft despotism for America?, 22 July 2008
- The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
- We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
- Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
- Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
- Fixing America: elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
- Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
- Fixing America: solutions — elections, revolt, passivity, 18 August 2008
- The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008
For all posts on this subject see America – how can we reform it?.
21 thoughts on “The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa””
Have we not been guaranteed freedom from fear since FDR?
C Smith: The problem, exploiting fear is so useful for those currently in power as a way of maintaining power.
If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend reading “Beyond Fear” by Schneier.
The national security state is the opposite of the “freedom from fear” FDR proposed. From his speech:
An America which surveills its citizens, forces them to submit to arbitrary searches, and which presents itself to the rest of the world behind a bristling wall of weaponry is not a nation that guarantees freedom from fear. It is a nation that breeds fear, both within and without.
I think the most amazing thing that DHS overlooks is that the American public does want security, we all want to be assured that air travel is safe and secure. However, using a sledgehammer to get that security instead of a scapel is where DHS goes bad. It’s bad enough that airlines create an uncomfortable journey, reducing the size of our seats, taking drinks and snacks off the menu, jamming us into overflowing flights. But when DHS strips us of all liquids and gels because of a failed terrorist incident, takes our shoes because of another failed terrorist incident, takes our electronics in this day and age of electronic communication, do they not see the impact is worse than the act of terrorism?
Not saying that DHS is worse than terrorists, but the cumulative effect of its policies are not only draining the public’s confidence and attitude, it’s turning the world’s travelers and business people against the United States. DHS desperately needs a new way of doing business that doesn’t result in treating everyone as guilty before being screened and locked into cramped chairs.
I am just old enough to remember the bad old times when it was not possible to travel to Warsaw Pact countries with the wrong book in one`s bagage (“The Gulag Archipelago” wd be a good example today).
How the contents (data, not physical contents like plastic explosive instead of a 2nd harddrive) of a laptop can be searched and even copied on the justification of airport or flight safety is beyond me.
On the other hand the contents of a businessman`s, doctor´s or lawyer`s (not just defence lawyer`s, mind, just any lawyer`s) laptop cd be intersting cd they not? Honni soit qui mal y pense as the Brits used to say.
On the whole I fear you are right. Just one addtional point:of course, the surveillance is extended all countries in the US sphere of influence – directly or via those countries`intel communities.
Historic farm buildings are security threat to airport! Another example to add to the Homeland Insecurity file. This country has gone off it’s rocker!
“Historic buildings near Hagerstown Regional Airport could be moved“, Herald-Mail, 5 August 2008 — Excerpt:
“A cluster of historic farm buildings near Hagerstown Regional Airport could be moved with the help of federal grant money. Airport officials and the Airport Advisory Commission have asked the county to use some of the federal funding from the runway extension project to move the structures, known as the Brumbaugh-Kendle-Grove farmstead.
“… The vacant buildings, which are less than 500 feet from the airport’s new 7,000-foot runway, pose a threat to airport security, federal officials have said. ”
I can’t see TSA confiscating the laptop of a Fortune 500 CEO. Will be interesting to see what happens if they do.
As for me, I’m not willing to risk the loss of my laptop. Fortunately, Apple is getting its cloud computing act (me.com) in order, so there’s no real need for me to lug a laptop around. For that matter, there’s no real need for a terrorist or pornographer to trundle one through the airport, either.
Reminds me a lot of going into Saudi Arabia in the ’80s.
Fabius Maximus replies: You need not worry. I suspect many Fortune 500 CEO’s use private airplanes, not the prole’s airlines. And those that do travel with the public probably receive, like Congresscritters, special VIP treatment.
The TSA placing two year olds on the no fly list also does not do much to inspire ones confidence in government. The TSA and DHS could use a dose of common sense.
“Is this the face of a terrorist?”, Star Tribune, 5 August 2008 — Excerpt:
“A St. Paul mom was told that her 2-year-old son, Jack, couldn’t fly because he was on a terror watch list. Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants to keep that from happening to other innocent travelers.”
Fabius Maximus replies: you assume that treating us like serfs, so that we become accustomed to being treated like serfs, is considered a bad thing by government leaders. Perhaps not.
Yah, the airports have become Re-education Centers. You know why I fly: because I can’t walk on water. (If there’s a road to it, I will drive instead.) And if you work for the Government, here’s something to make you sleep better: a six inch tempered glass nail file kept next to a cheap plastic pen always flies in my vest pocket. Take cap off pen, stuff bottom of file into cap…presto! Improvised dagger, with cheap plastic handle. It’s not much, but I do what I can.
One of the great mysteries (or rather points of contention) for future historians will be whether Bush, the networks and media, and finally the American people, took the bait offered by Al Q’aeda and wildly over-reacted (taking 9-11 as an existential threat to our survival), or whether the administration cooly reacted in a pre-planned way, as Weaver implies above, in order to manipulate public opinion behind a reckless military agenda.
The lack of common sense is ALWAYS an issue with gov’t “service” — which is why nobody should be supporting the Dem Party program for ‘health care’. The lousy US education system is precisely because of too much gov’t, rather than clear vouchers for the parents to choose a school they feel most like supporting.
The elites, who like the low taxes of Reps but especially like the freedom from responsibility of the Dems, always enjoy petty power. Look at US University faculty meetings. Listen to how so many anti-Rep elites talk about ‘the trouble in Kansas’, etc.
The general problem of crowded seats on airlines is because everybody “wants” comfort, but so few are willing to pay for it. Consistently folk look for the cheapest, i.e. most crowded, way to get from point A to point B. There is probably a niche for a “fewer frills, but more comfort” airline that is somewhat lower cost; possibly not.
Oh, I’ve often tried to make fun of the Dems’ discussion of most current problems:
Bad Bush, Baaa, baaa, baaad Bush.
I greatly appreciate this blog’s higher level criticisms of the Bush / neo-con / debt today is better than recession today strategies.
If Bush haters are able to mindlessly transfer their hatred onto McCain, less like Bush than almost any Rep, that will be another data point to show the increased “sheepification” of the US. (Ron Paul is one who is even less like Bush — I supported him in 1988 against Bush I as a Libertarian.)
FM speaks well when he invokes the herding instinct as a major factor here, and notes that the populace is behaving as peasantry… as if ‘owned.’ There is, in addition, a structural problem, in that government has overreached in some areas and underreached in others, and the corporation as a concept has become too entrenched in all aspects of our legal and legislative systems.
The cure for this is to educate the people about group behaviors and psychologies, at as early an age as possible. The materials exist in standard, well-respected books such as Cialdini’s ‘Influence.’ The problem is that the entities that control education in this country… corporations, the government, organized religions… all use mass-manipulation techniques that are easily identified, and hence do not want them exposed. The general view is that such manipulation is good when it agrees with their ideology, and bad when it does not. However it remains manipulation nonetheless. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that this approach is less exciting and entertaining, less reducible to simplistic slogans and emotional appeals, than allowing things to essentially continue as they are. Indeed it would undermine not just the status quo but also the modus operandi of those who rule us with our uninformed ‘consent.’ Remember you read it here first;-).
FM, anent our earlier discussion of the impacts of various technologies… I think we were talking cross-dimensionally. The Bat Masterson era changes were certainly wider… those since WWII, I contend, are deeper… and the effects on humanity are like the area thereof, the product of the depth times the width, so to speak. I’d assert the Certs formula, both candy mint and breath mint;-).
Fabius Maximus replies: While it is common today to conside “education” as the swiss army knife of social problems, color me sceptical. The schools are not doing too great a job of educating children in the three “r’s”, let alone all the psychological manipulation (removing gender and racial prejudice, ending most gender roles, replacing competitivenss with teamwork/sharing, sex ed, etc). I very much doubt adding another large task to the list will produce much.
Tom: ‘health care’. I have been accused, rightly for being to simplistic at times …. people and the World are incredibly complex. And, as a Skeptic, if would identify with any ‘idiology’ at all it would be Libertarianism, though I detest any ‘isms’.
But, the real World is the real World. Facts are right whetever your beliefs. This means that in some areas ‘reasonable’ Govt Works.
Health care is one of these areas. The bottom line is that ‘socialised’ health care (that means a National Health System (or some sort of centrally State directed and centralised system) works. The alternatives dont. Basically every OECD country has a National Health System and, for a fraction of what the US spends per person on health care, we all are, on average, healthier and live longer that people in the US. There are many reasons for this which I can go into (I do a lot of work analysing our system) at another point.
In every measurable statistic, we in Australia have far better health outcomes than the US .. at a fraction of the cost. Heck, Cuba, with, what?, a hundreth of the cost equals, in some areas betters, US health statistics.
The World is more complex than idiologies. And why the US doesn’t have a decent health system is a mystery.
Fabius Maximus replies: I have no expert knowledge on this, but I do not believe that the US has poorer medical outcomes that most OECD nations. “Health and long life” are driven primarily by non-medical factors (i.e., mostly behavioral), and attributing these primarily to the medical system is without much justification.
Also, I doubt that US health is significantly different from the OECD averages adjusted for ethnicity (the same is true for crime and education). The reasons for this are complex, but the results are imo unlikely to change after any likely nationalization of the health care system — just as these differences remain despite government operation of the criminal justice and education systems.
No it isn’t. The US health system makes some people a lot of money. And the US political system prioritizes the concerns of people with a lot of money over the concerns of people who don’t. Mystery solved.
There’s no need to guess at this, the World Health Organization has detailed statistics on all sorts of medical outcomes available through its WHOSIS database.
I just ran a query to compare the 2006 statistics for the US & Canada to various Western European countries (Austria, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK) and found that the US has significantly higher rates of both infant and adult mortality than any other country in the query.
Fabius Maximus replies: That is my point. First, to what extent is mortality related to behavior — not the medical system? Quite high, I suspect. For example, drugs, smoking, diet, and drinking. Many of these are correlated with ethnicity, hence my point about not comparing national numbers without controlling for this factor.
Second, to what degree is the data comparable? Esp regarding inflant mortality, where US numbers are affected by our hospitals attempting to save babies that would be considered stillborn else.
As I said, I am not an expert. But MIO much of the national health care advocacy looks like propaganda, promising outcomes that have little basis in fact. That is not to deny that our present system, a government-private hybrid, is bizarre and unsustainable.
Thanks to Old Skeptic and Jason Lefkowitz for cutting through the cant about national health care (and the doleful effect of big government.) Can the believers in individual liberty and responsibility, as opposed to shared community resources and responsibilities, point to any advanced country comparable to ours in size and wealth where “small” government has produced comparable results? Why should government of any size, that claims to be democratic, support the needs of its large wealthholders but not those of its majority citizens?
Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand what you are saying. Is there another “advanced country comparable to ours in size and wealth”? Comparing small nations with our is absurd; they should be compared to states of similar size and income. A comparison with the EU seems reasonable, but that is the only other candidate. The others are either much poorer and/or smaller (often ethnically homogeneous, which seems to be an advantage).
WHO provides extensive information on each indicator, how its data is gathered, and how they control for various unavoidable differences from one country to another (like the quality of its census/national registration system). As an example, here is the reference for their infant mortality measurement.
Fabius Maximus replies: That might answer the question for an expert, but it tells me zip about this issue.
Looking at other sources, the Wikpedia entry dances around the question. But here is something that supports two of my 3 guesses, from the OECD Factbook 2008:
” Numerous studies have taken infant mortality rates as a health outcome to examine the effect of a variety of medical and non-medical determinants of health. The infant mortality rate, the rate at which babies of less than one year of age die, reflects the effect of economic and social conditions on the health of mothers and newborns as well as the effectiveness of health systems. The fact that some countries with a high level of health expenditure do not necessarily exhibit low levels of infant mortality has led to the conclusion that more health spending is not necessarily required to obtain better results. A body of research suggests that many factors beyond the quality and efficiency of the health system, such as income inequality, social environment, and individual lifestyles and attitudes, influence infant mortality rates.
… Some of the international variation in infant and neonatal mortality rates may be due to variations among countries in registering practices of premature infants (whether they are reported as live births or fetal deaths). In several countries, such as in the United States, Canada, Japan and the Nordic countries, very premature babies with relatively low odds of survival are registered as live births, which increases mortality rates compared with other countries that do not register them as live births.”
A comparison of US health stats by ethnicity or national origin would, I suspect, show similar patterns with those of other nations with similar ethnicity. This is true of crime stats. That is, ethnicity might be a major explanitory variable, as or even more powerful than the type and funding of national medical systems, and points to deeper social problems.
Fabius: “Comparing small nations with our is absurd; they should be compared to states of similar size and income. A comparison with the EU seems reasonable. . .”
That was my point: what evidence is there that “small government” (i.e. the “private sector”) can provide adequate health care to a nation of our size? Without evidence or history, the idea of small government in general is merely a utopian wish. Or, as I believe, a disguised way of promoting lower taxes.
Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand. Where is the evidence that size is a relevant variable? Free market systems work better by most metrics in providing many services to large nations. Why is health care different?
Again, as I said above, our health care system is IMO irrational and usustainable. But the near-magical power attributed by many advocates to government-run systems seem to me unsupported by actual operation of these systems in other nations. Some run well, some not so well. Some very poorly (e.g., the UK’s NHS).
>I do not believe that the US has poorer medical outcomes that most OECD nations.
The actual situation has many contrasts. A 2003 comparison of 9 countries (USA, Canada, Switzerland, Hungary, France, Denmark, Germany, Denmark) across several years shows that the USA has 5-year survival rates for various forms of cancer (lung, prostate, colon, cervical, ovarian) largely exceeding those of European countries. The case of breast cancer is illustrative: from 1970 to 1990, the mortality/100000 went from 22.5 to 17.8 (incidence in 1990: 91.1). Compare this to Canada: from 23.8 (incidence 62.4) to 23.9 (incidence 76.8). Denmark: 26.6 (incidence 54.2) to 26.9 (incidence 73.3). The study I saw did not include the details for USA in the case of high-lethality cancers, such as pancreas or liver, but the medical outcome seems generally good for cancers.
Cerebrovascular diseases (i.e. strokes): the USA is number one with a raw male mortality of 44.7/100000 and nr. 3 for females with 40.9 (Denmark: 66.0 and 51.8; Switzerland: 54.3 and 41.3; Hungary: 178.9 and 119.7; France: 48.5 and 34.5). However, taking into account incidence, Denmark and Switzerland have a lower case fatality rate than the USA (reason: these countries have a much higher incidence of cases than in the USA). The UK, whose raw mortality rates are 66.8 and 67.1 ends up with a very high case fatality rate because apparently of poor hospital care.
When it comes to diseases of the circulatory system, the USA ranks worst for mortality (but for Hungary, of course). It is last but one for coronary heart diseases, last but two for myocardial infarctions. France is best, Switzerland second, Canada third. Taking into account incidence, the USA ends up with medium case fatality rates (Canada has the lowest).
For life expectancy, the situation is also mixed: at birth, it is almost the worst of the group (only Hungary is worse). At 65 years, it is average (4th-5th ranking in the group). The big issue: Infant mortality, which is again the worst (but for Hungary; Hungary stands very bad in most statistics).
Switzerland beats every other country in terms of life expectancy, but is third for infant mortality, preceded by France and Germany (best).
“First, to what extent is mortality related to behavior — not the medical system? Quite high, I suspect. For example, drugs, smoking, diet, and drinking.”
Studies show that mortality is very closely correlated to the number of physicians available per 1000 inhabitants (many countries have rationing or limitations of the number of physicians that can practice, so there is a way to study these effects even for individual specialties) and with the health care expenditure (but only up to about 1700-1750 PPP$ per capita; above that amount, the correlation no longer holds). There is agreement in international studies that the health system in the USA is wasteful and geared towards needlessly expensive medical acts by physicians.
When it comes to indicators of life-style, here is some information: Among the countries studied above, the USA has the lowest tobacco consumption (huh, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark for women and Hungary for men vie for the highest), second-lowest for alcohol behind Canada (France has the highest), third for butter (Hungary has the lowest!), and has the highest GDP/capita. However, it is the worst for body weight and obesity, and the worst for income inequality. Since the ground-breaking Whitehall studies conducted by Michael Marmot, it has been reproduceably shown that the latter statistic is a major predictor of poor health in a population, hence its relevance.
“Many of these are correlated with ethnicity”
Ethnicity is strongly correlated with socio-economic status, hence with income (which controls access to care in a largely privatized health system), and with inequality (which, for people at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder means increased morbidity).
“Comparing small nations with our is absurd; they should be compared to states of similar size and income.”
Not at all. We compare states for economic performance, military forces, demographic characteristics, intellectual production, and also health care. Mathematicians have been elaborating the statistical tools to control for variables and size for a long time, and beyond a few millions, sample dimensions are no longer much of an issue. The important thing is to make sure that one can distinguish between the controlling factors that determine differences between population, and this is why…
“A comparison with the EU seems reasonable”
is actually not very useful. The EU is way too heterogenous (in terms of life style habits, health care systems, density of medical services, quality of medical education, health care budgets, economic structures, etc) to make a good reference point. Better to compare with individual countries — at least these factors are distinguished and can serve to identify what drives differences between countries. Lumping them together, one ends up with one coarse factor: these people live in Europe. If you want to coalesce Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Bulgaria, Belgium and all the others, then why not compare them against USA+Mexico+Canada+Brazil? It is possible, just not
Fabius Maximus replies: You obviously know much about this subject. Thank you for sharing with the rest of us, on this hideously complex subject.
The primary thing I got from your material is that my initial point — that sparked this discussion — was correct: simple comparison of national lifespans and such tells us little, as there are too many other factors. You highlighted many of them, and their complex internationships.
I do not know enough to draw more precise (or any) conclusions, and your analysis makes that seem even more sensible!
I think if one concludes that we have adopted security procedures out of all proportion and relation to any threat posed by terrorism, we might look at one aspect of our national culture as a reason for it. Americans seem to be particularly demanding in the area of security, not just national but all over the board. As a result, public servants have developed a counterproductive but understandable habit of feeding the beast with security ritual. Maybe, if the public would stop clamoring for sacrifices and incense everytime someone gets killed we would see bureaucracies be more result oriented.
One more esoteric point on this is that from an administrative perspective most security measures tend to default toward control of an environment. To use a non-political example imagine kids in a school bathroom are turning the lights off and clogging the toilets with paper towels. From a school admin perspective you can spend lots of hours finding the little gremlins who are doing this and punish them or guide them. However, its much easier to spend 50 bucks to cover the switch with a lock box and let them air dry their hands. The problem is you haven’t solved the problem. You just changed it to something else. That point will be obvious in this forum but what might escape notice is that this tendency to address what is really a public order problem with an environmental solution is extremely habit forming. I see it happen all the time.