Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Monday, November 22, 2010

TSA, Students, and the Fourth Amendment

Whenever possible, I weave in contemporary issues to exemplify concepts I’m responsible to teach in my 20th century US History course. Recent furor over full-body scans and pat-downs at airports is one issue likely to be decided in light of the Fourth Amendment. When asked if they’d personally gone through airport screening, about 80% of my students indicated they had.“Take out your laptops,” I told them, “and go to ‘Google Images.’ Then type in ‘19 highjackers.’” They did and the familiar lineup of Arab Muslim men showed up. “These men hijacked four planes on September 11th and flew three of them into buildings. They had put small knives to the throats of stewardesses and took over control of the planes. Ever since, small knives - even nail clippers - have been seized from airline passengers.

“Now type in ‘Richard Reid.’” They did and various images of the shoe bomber’s face showed up. “This guy joined al Qaeda and tried to blow up a plane over the Atlantic by lighting a bomb made with plastic explosive hidden in his shoe. Ever since, airline passengers have been forced to remove their shoes for inspection.

“Now type in ‘Mohammed Gulzar & Umar Islam.’ In 2006, these two and six other British/Arab/Muslim terrorists plotted to blow up seven US-bound planes over the Atlantic with liquid explosives hidden in soft-drink bottles. Ever since, airline passengers have been forbidden to carry on containers of liquids with more than 3.4 ounces. “Now type in ‘Christmas panty bomber,’ I instructed. “This guy tried to set off a bomb in his underwear on a flight from London to Detroit. As a result, airline passengers have been subject to pat-downs, and now to full-body scans which produce an X-ray image of passengers revealing all their intimate body parts, as you can see in those images near the ‘panty bomber’s’ picture.

“Turn to page 884 in your textbook,” I told them, “and read along as I recite the Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights: ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’ What part of this Amendment applies to the full-body scans and pat-downs?” I asked.

“Where it says ‘right to be secure in their persons,” suggested a girl.

“That’s right,” I said, “against ‘unreasonable’ searches. Given how these security procedures have evolved, are they ‘unreasonable’? Who thinks they are?

Only three or four raised their hands in each class.

“Who thinks they’re reasonable?”

All the others raised their hands.

“Why are they reasonable?” I asked.

“Because we want the planes to be safe,” said another girl.

“If you don’t want to let them search you, you don’t have to fly,” suggested a boy.

“So, it sounds like most of you believe what the TSA, or “Transportation Safety Authority” does to search people is reasonable, right?” I asked.

Most of them raised their hands.

“Okay,” I said. “Now consider this case. A guy named John Tyner got tickets from someone who invited him to go on a hunting trip. He went online to check out security procedures at the airport in San Diego where he lives. He didn’t want to go through the full-body scan because of radiation and embarrassment, and the airport web site indicated it didn’t use them. But when he got there, some passengers were randomly picked for full-body scans and he was one. Most of the passengers just had to take off their shoes, etc. and go through the metal detector like most of you have. He said he was willing to do all that, but he was unwilling to have a full-body scan or an ‘enhanced” pat-down.’ When a TSA person tried to pat him down, he said, ‘Don’t touch my junk or I’ll have you arrested.’ ‘Junk’ is a slang word for his private parts - a new one to me.”From their reaction, I got the impression they knew the term already.
“The TSA person then reported Tyner to his supervisor. Tyner decided he didn’t want to go on his trip if he had to go through all that and just wanted to leave the airport. TSA, however, is filing charges against him and he’s subject to a $10,000 fine.”

I waited for all that to sink in and asked: “So, is Tyner’s experience with TSA reasonable?”

“TSA should have just let him go through the metal detector like the rest of the passengers,” said a girl.

“He shouldn’t be charged with anything if he just wanted to go home,” said another girl.

“TSA claims that if he went into the security area, he has to complete the process,” I explained.

“That’s ridiculous,” said a boy.

“Well,” I said. “We’ll have to see how a judge thinks the Fourth Amendment applies here and what he or she thinks is reasonable. That’s how our system works and the US Supreme Court would be the final judge of whether Mr. Tyner’s and other people’s rights are being violated or not.”

"Looking at pictures of the hijackers, what did you notice they had in common?" I asked.

"They all had dark complexions," said a boy.

"Anything else?"

"They all had dark hair," said a girl. "They looked Muslim."

"You mean they looked Arabic," I suggested.

"Yeah."

"Jews in Israel are more frequent targets of attack by Radical Muslims, but when I flew there and back three years ago, I didn't have to go through security procedures US airports require," I told them. "Israelis profile terrorists and give passengers who fit the profile extra scrutiny. Should US airports do that too instead of treating all passengers as if they could be terrorists?"

"No," said a girl.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because if they weren't terrorists, they might feel bad that they were singled out," she said.

"Okay," I said. "In September of last year, an al Qaeda terrorist tried to assassinate a Saudi Arabian prince with a bomb hidden up his rear end and set off by remote control. The prince was only slightly injured and the bomber was blown apart. One report I read indicated that rectum bomb could have blown up the fuselage of a passenger jet causing it to crash. Will all American airline passengers be required to submit to body cavity searches next?"

"Ee-yoo," said the girl.

"At that point, maybe profiling wouldn't sound like a bad idea."

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deficits in Dublin

There are lots of beggars on the streets of Dublin, but only a few are the obvious drunks I’m used to seeing in American cities. Most look in the 20-40 range and many are women. They put a cushion on the sidewalk and sit with their backs against the wall and a blanket over their knees holding out a paper cup. They sit silently or they ask passers-by for change, but they don’t have the ravaged faces, haunted eyes and slept-in clothes of street drunks. They’re dressed decently and look well-nourished. I didn’t give them anything, but some say “thank you anyway” as I walk away.I’d eat breakfast in buffet-style restaurants, sit down next to someone and mention how cold and windy it was. Without my prompting, the conversation would turn to Ireland’s economy. Once people realized I was American, they’d ask about the Tea Party and whether I belonged to it. I explained that there were no forms to fill out, and that people belonged if they worked to shrink government. When visiting Ireland in the spring of 2009, they all asked me if Obama was going to straighten things out, but neither Americans nor Irish put hope in him anymore.On light poles in front of Trinity College were posters calling for violent revolution, and put up by the Socialist Workers Party. If the SWP were anything like I remembered it in Massachusetts during the 1970s, they weren’t much of a threat to civil order. A look at their web site indicated they hadn’t changed much.

A British newspaper, The Observer, said last week about Irish economist Morgan Kelly of University College Dublin: “Kelly . . . was laughed at, scorned and even threatened when he correctly predicted, as long ago as 2007, that Ireland's property bubble was heading for a spectacular explosion. Now he is forecasting mass mortgage defaults and an ugly popular uprising. The first stirrings are already visible, he says, with ‘anxiety giving way to the first upwellings of an inchoate rage and despair that will transform Irish politics . . .’”

“People are angry,” said a middle-aged custom-guitar maker I met in an O’Connell Street pub, “very angry - and they can’t express that directly at the ballot box the way Americans did last week. They vote directly on government only every seven years, and the last election was two years ago.”

“There could be a vote of ‘no confidence’ though, right?” I suggested. “That would bring elections sooner, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, but it would require a vote by the MPs, not ordinary people.” He seemed to be suggesting that another kind of protests might occur in the interim, but he had to go meet someone at that point, and I couldn’t ask him.Irish government employees are accepting pay cuts. People on the dole are accepting cuts in benefits and in medical services. At another pub in the government district called “Doheny & Nesbitt’s” I spoke at length to a just-retired, big-government liberal. He was critical of bankers for over-extending as they rode the real estate bubble, but he could not conceive of government leaving them alone to fail. When I suggested his government could have refused a bailout he was incredulous, looking at me like I had two heads. “Well, then the banks would just collapse,” he said.

“Uh-huh. But then taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for banker foolishness. Investors and depositors would - but they’re the ones who chose to put their money into those particular banks, right? So, oh well.”

He paused and looked as if he were just considering that option for the first time. “Yes, that might have been possible,” he said, “but government did step in - as it had to - and here we are.”

I snapped a photo of patrons on the sidewalk as I was leaving. One government type turned his head around and said, “Come over here, will you?” He seemed much like politicians in America: dark suit, sharply-creased pants, long black or navy blue long woolen coat, hair spray, and an arrogant manner. “I own that image,” he said.“Is that so?” I answered. “But it’s in my camera. How do you propose we resolve this?” I stared at him defiantly. The men around him went silent for a second or two, until one of them said: “He’s American. He’s not a journalist,” and he held his hand out to me. I shook it. “We’re pretty tense lately,” he said. “It’s that bitch in Germany.”

“Angela Merkel?” I said.

“Yeah, her, if she is a woman a’tall. We thought you were a journalist.” I thought it prudent not to mention that I was a columnist in America.

“No worries,” I said, and he patted my shoulder. His arrogant friend walked back inside without speaking. We chatted like old buddies for a while until I went on my way.

In the hotel bar where I was staying, I had a brief conversation with the hotel-owner’s son and I made the same suggestion: that the Irish government should have just let the banks fail and refuse to bail them out. “But then a lot of ordinary people would lose their money,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” I said, and he looked at me like I was Ebenezer Scrooge. “What’s the unemployment rate in Ireland?” I asked him.

“Somewhere around 13% I think,” he said.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s higher than the official rate in America. If people are laid off, does government provide them with assistance?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” he said. “Of course.”

“Well,” I said, “In our country someone ‘collects unemployment checks’ as we put it, but those checks run out after 99 weeks.”

He looked appalled. “But what will people do then?” he asked.

“Scrounge around for work,” I said. “Rely on family - on the kindness of strangers - whatever they can,” I said.

“But how will they make their mortgage payments?” he asked.

“Any way they can, or face foreclosure.”The EU is about to step in and impose reforms as they did in Greece. Will the Irish riot as the Greeks did? They have a long history of armed rebellion - much of it quite recent. That was against Great Britain which they perceived as a foreign invader, though it had ruled Ireland for centuries. Will they revolt against their own, democratically-elected government? I doubt it, but we’ll see.

The custom-guitar maker said, “With this crisis, we Irish are only proving we’re incapable of governing ourselves. There are tough times ahead.”

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mountains and Monasteries in Wicklow

Been talking politics and economics in Dublin. I sit next to people in breakfast shops and in pubs and strike up conversations. I don't have to bring it around to the above subjects because they do. It's depressing. It's also been cold and windy for a few days, so when sun was forecast for Saturday I took a bus into the Wicklow Mountains. Trouble is, it started raining as soon as I got there.Took all these photos at the extensive Glendalough Monastery ruins in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains. I went around by myself, but I overheard a tour guide tell his group that Jesus was Irish. “How do I know that?” he asked. “He had eleven drinking buddies and lived with his mother until he was thirty-three.” Sacrilegious? Maybe, but funny.

The sensor on my Nikon D-60 is sensitive enough to pick up plenty of light on overcast, rainy days, and for that I’m grateful. I knew I was framing some beautiful scenes while resting my umbrella on my head as I adjusted my lens, but I wasn’t sure how they’d come out. I’m very pleased. The sun emerged as the sun was setting and offered some mist to hang over the mountains on one side of the long valley.Vikings had raided this monastery every 20-30 years for centuries before Brian Boru defeated them. I wondered how many slaughtered monks lay under these stones.The wind-twisted cedar struck me. It's not hard to see where the prevailing wind comes from as all the trees - and even the gravestones - seem to lean north. This tree symbolized the Viking violence monks endured for so long. The Vikings would wait long enough between raids to let the monks rebuild and accumulate more things to steal.St. Kevin liked to get out of the city too and he went to Glendalough sometime after 500 AD to find refuge from the outside world. These stones on a mountainside overlooking Glendalough's upper lake (or "loch" as they say here) are all that remain of his "cell." It's assumed that he had a stone beehive structure on the site similar to the ones found in Dingle and dating from about the same time.Always been drawn to ancient trees, especially those with the general signs of age like moss and curiously-shaped limbs. There were several on the so-called "Green Road" to the upper lake at Glendalough. Some seemed like characters out of the Wizard of Oz.It's an enchanting place, as so much of Ireland is to me. This is my third trip and I don't think it's the last. If Ireland's economy continues to tank, perhaps it'll get even cheaper to travel here. That assumes the US economy doesn't collapse along with it though.After a few centuries and half-a-dozen raids, monks built this round tower to hide in when the Vikings came by. Guess it worked because it's still there.As these pictures attest, Ireland has survived travails for a long time and it will get past the one looming now as well. Can't be any worse than a Viking raid, can it?

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Country Mice and City Mice

Conservatives made gains last week, but there’s pain ahead. Government must be pruned back drastically. I say this not just as a conservative who believes it philosophically; I say it as a rational human being, because it’s mathematically impossible to sustain. What government has promised to do for people it simply cannot do. It cannot pay medical bills for the poor (Medicaid) and for the elderly (Medicare) too much longer. It cannot continue to pay pensions to the elderly and disability payments to whomever at current levels.Via Gateway Pundit

According to one study, “. . . the [Social Security Disability Insurance program] will continue to grow until its rolls include almost seven percent of the non-elderly adult population, a 70 percent increase over today's enrollment rate.” Fourteen percent of Americans get food stamps and that’s rising. States are straining too. California, already going bankrupt, borrows $40 million per day just to pay unemployment. We’ve already gone too long pretending we can do all this indefinitely. It’s past time to admit we cannot. People are going to have to learn how to take care of themselves as they did before progressives created the almost-bankrupt, nanny state we have now.

We have to cut it all back 5-10% per year for the next several. If we look at riots in Greece and France after cutbacks there, the entitlement class will likely push back here too. It's going to be difficult, but not as hard as it would be should it all collapse at once. That's what will happen if we don't start taking incremental steps now.

There are few alive today who remember when people didn’t look to government to take care of them if they were unable or unwilling to take care of themselves. Where did they look back then? To family. To church. To private charity. Not to government. Now government is the first place they look - and for just about every American under the age of 80, it’s always been that way. That has to change, and the change is going to be painful for millions who have become dependent for their living in whole or in part - either temporarily, or for their entire lives - on government.

Last week, for the first time in half a century, Mainers elected a conservative Republican governor and a Republican legislature. According to one analysis in the Portland Press Herald, it was Mainers from rural areas who gave us Governor-elect Paul LaPage: "With the exception of sort of the area right around Portland, LePage got virtually every town with a population under 1,000," said L. Sandy Maisel, professor of government at Colby College. "More than any election that I can recall in Maine, it was a rural-urban split."

Maine had been moving steadily left under liberal Democrats for decades to the point where it had more generous welfare benefits than other states and attracted dependent people from other areas. As a sanctuary state, it attracted illegal aliens from other countries. Democrat Governor Baldacci passed down an executive order preventing any state employee to question anyone’s immigration status when they applied for benefits, or even when they applied for driver’s licenses. That was quite a departure from Maine’s long tradition of self-reliance and last week’s election results can be understood as backlash.

When I moved to rural Maine 33 years ago, I was struck by local people’s pride and self-sufficiency. Very community-minded, they were more than willing to help anyone in need. However, they disdained those who were able-bodied but relied on government, saying they lived “on the town.” That was the ultimate put-down.That city/country split exists for the rest of the United States as well. If we look at the red/blue electoral map for the past three presidential elections, liberal-Democrat/big-government/nanny state support comes from urban areas, especially on the coasts. People in rural America are overwhelmingly conservative and seen as stupid rubes by coastal urban liberals. Country people see urban liberals as pseudo-intellectual elitists. That disdainful divide became clear when the red/blue US map by county was published after the 2000 election. Ten years later, it has grown wider.

While campaigning in the ultra-liberal San Francisco area in 2008, elite, urban, liberal Senator Obama described rural Americans thus: “ . . . they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”New Orleans flood

On conservative blogs that year were many comparisons between how local people reacted to a flood in Iowa and how they had reacted to a previous flood in New Orleans: “We're not seeing hordes of Iowans sitting on their roofs looking stupid and waiting for someone else to come save them,” for example, and “We're not seeing Iowans blaming everyone except themselves while they sit around watching everyone else clean up their neighborhoods,” and “We're not seeing Iowans demand that the rest of us rebuild their old houses for free.”

John Edwards was right when he said there were two Americas, but not for the reasons he outlined. Call them red/blue, conservative/liberal, rural/urban, or whatever you want, but the real divide is between the America that wants government to leave it alone, and the America that wants government to take care of it cradle to grave.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Fall Fell

Autumn is just about over. Most of the leaves are down after the heavy rain of the past few days, but I got these shots of a Japanese Maple on one of the properties I manage just before they fell off.Something about that shade of red I like and I try to capture it every November.Took a day to wander over the line in New Hampshire with a friend while there were still some leaves to see. Have always liked this view of Mount Chocorua behind the lake of the same name.The sugar maples hadn't dropped all their yellow leaves yet, as this one displays before a November mist on Kezar Lake back across the line in Maine.There's something about sunlight in November. Can't quite describe it, but it brings similar feelings every year at this time. Here it is coming into my kitchen from the west in late afternoon.This is up on Smart's Hill where my wife and I like to sit as daylight dissipates. The mountains were shrouded as rainclouds broke up after the deluge. It all made for a tranquil blue mood. Seems like the road to winter, but we're not quite there yet.It's not far away though as I see in this early dawn shot of Mount Washington from my back porch.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Dublin's Fair City


All my ancestors come from Ireland, but that doesn’t make me Irish. I’m thoroughly American, but my ancestry has influenced me in many ways. I’ve traveled there twice with my wife to see the farms two of my ancestors left from in County Donegal and County Mayo. Along the way, I’ve had interesting discussions around history and politics at pubs and B&Bs. My wife, though, is apolitical. She’d wait politely for a short while before sending me signals that she wanted us to be on our way. After several such episodes, she said, “Why don’t you come back by yourself sometime when you can talk with whomever you want for as long as you want about whatever you want?”
Well, that time has come. Last spring, an offer came up: ‘round trip airfare and hotel for four nights in Dublin for $500. With taxes and fees, it came to more than advertised, but I booked it anyway. I’d spent a day in Dublin on our first trip and I wanted to go back. My plan was to figure out what pubs political types frequented, then drop by and see what developed. In August, however, I was fortunate enough to meet two political science professors from the University of Notre Dame on their way to their Office of International Studies facility in Dublin. They suggested I visit there when I was in town and told me of three pubs where I should find conversation. I won’t, however, fill my time with only academics and government types. If they’re anything like they are over here, they’ll be somewhat out of touch, so I’ll visit blue-collar pubs as well.Ireland has gone from rags to riches to rags again over just the last twenty-five or thirty years. Their economy was hurting badly when we visited with my elderly mother and uncle in the spring of 2009. Everywhere I looked there were unfinished building projects growing weeds and President Obama had just been inaugurated. Just as in America, many Irish pinned their hopes on him. Eating in pubs from Kerry to Mayo, locals noticed we were Americans and asked if our new president was going to straighten out the economy. Uncle Joe is a retired economics professor and a liberal who reads The Boston Globe every day and believes it. He assured them that Obama would make things right while I shook my head. The Irish hoped a rejuvenated US economy would pull them up but, as we all know, that recovery hasn’t materialized. Now Ireland is in danger of default. Things are very bad there, as they are in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. The EU and the Euro are declining fast while the dollar drags too.

There have been other changes in Ireland as well. The country could be called “post-Catholic” or soon to become so. As Tom Hundley writes in the Chicago Tribune: “As recently as the 1970s, 90 percent of the Irish identified themselves as Catholic and almost the same number went to mass at least once a week; now the figure for mass attendance is closer to 25 percent.” That’s a profound change in a very short time and there are several reasons for it. The Irish church offended people much the way the American church did. As homosexual priests preyed on boys, bishops covered up and transferred them, just as they did in Boston and in other American cities. One Irish priest fathered children and paid hush money to their mother with church funds. Some say their brief affluence steered the Irish away from religious faith as well. Whatever the reasons, shortly after his appointment, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin asked, “Will Ireland be Christian in 2030?”Europe itself is called “post-Christian” as churches are sold to burgeoning Muslim immigrant populations and converted to mosques. Its great cathedrals are virtually empty. Percentage-wise, there are fewer Muslim immigrants in Ireland than in the UK and the rest of Europe, but their numbers are increasing rapidly. Islam is now the third-largest faith in Ireland.

Meanwhile, our State Department has issued warnings to Americans traveling in Europe: “[Radical Muslim] terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons . . . to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” they say.

Hmm.

“Adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves.” That’s funny. I won’t have any weapons, of course - not even my little pocket knife. Guess I could give them dirty looks. If that doesn’t work, I could bite them or hit them with my camera.

Assuming I arrive safely, I’m going to feel the country of my ancestors again, and try to get an idea about where people there think the world is going. It’s good to get out of my own country once in a while and look back at it through other eyes.

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