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Should Christians Think Less About Safety?

John Backman   |   April 7, 2016   11:05 AM ET

Does God want you to keep yourself safe? The answer, from a Christian viewpoint, may be less obvious--and much less reassuring--than you might think.

Like everyone else, of course, Christians want to be safe. Like everyone else, we get rattled when fearsome things happen. We yearn to draw a ring of security around ourselves, our loved ones, our "tribe." It's why many Christians have applauded measures put forth to enhance security: gun ownership, airport luggage searches, a moratorium on welcoming Syrian refugees, the push to "make America great again."

Christians also seek to live according to God's will, as expressed in sources like the Bible. Here's where it gets unnerving. Those sources suggest that self-protection is low on God's priority list. Worse, self-defense can interfere with beliefs and behaviors that are close to God's heart.

It's true that God is concerned about our safety per se (again using the Bible and related sources as guides). Passages that concern our safety, threats to our safety, and deliverance from those threats are scattered throughout the Bible. The Psalms in particular overflow with appeals to God for safety and deliverance.

But these passages are all about how God delivers us. Few, if any, talk about how we might deliver ourselves. Quite the opposite, in fact: we're warned against seeking deliverance from creatures. God "is not impressed by the might of a horse; he has no pleasure in the strength of a man" (Psalm 147:11).

Moreover, a preoccupation with safety can get in the way of other things, about which God cares a great deal--like compassion for every human being, especially the marginalized. The biblical commandment about people beyond our own borders--"you shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21)--stands against the anti-Muslim measures promoted by Donald Trump and his supporters. The Jesus of the gospels promised the kingdom of heaven to people of whom he could say, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me...I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35).

Think about that a bit. Strangers are, by definition, unknown. We have no idea if they're safe. We do know that many prisoners are not safe--not by any standard.

And we are asked to care for them.

Now consider some of the heroes of the Christian faith. Mother Teresa went into India's most wretched slums to care for people forgotten by the world. St. Francis of Assisi crossed enemy lines to bridge divides with the Sultan of Egypt in the heat of the Fifth Crusade. Dorothy Day, a journalist by trade, did not just write about the poor and homeless; she lived among them.

Why do we admire them so? Why do we use their stories, virtues, and character as examples to live by? Partly because nothing--not even a healthy sense of self-preservation--prevented them from going where, in their understanding, God asked them to go.

Now some Bible students have made thoughtful cases in favor of self-defense for Christians. And few people of faith would condemn taking some well-considered steps to keep oneself and one's loved ones safe. Does anyone really want to argue against smoke alarms, seat belts, or martial arts training? After a great deal of reflection, I'm coming to believe that thoughtful gun ownership can be justified too.

The problem does not lie in these "well-considered steps." The problem comes when the steps are not well-considered: when we overreact, when we take steps and pass legislation purely out of fear, when we make safety a life pursuit. For people of faith, the challenge comes when we hear the call of God and, concerned for our own safety, refuse to respond.

As people of faith, then, we are often asked to act contrary to our first instincts and self-interest. God's call may take us into dangerous territory, and that may cost us. But a central message of the Christian faith is that even our death, the ultimate defeat of our attempts at self-protection, is not the end: we live on with God as the fruit of our good deeds lives on in the world. That is a fulfillment devoutly to be wished.

10 Things You Should Know When Traveling With a Wheelchair

Jay Smith   |   April 5, 2016    1:32 PM ET

One of the most common questions I get from my readers is about travel. How do I do it with ALS? How do I travel if I can't walk, eat, or talk? First, I should say I love traveling and everything that goes along with it - from the feeling I get in my gut during takeoff to the tiny shampoo bottles that inevitably end up in my luggage. I feel most alive when I'm on the move. My kids are six and eight and have been on airplanes since they were just a few months old. My traveling adventures have taken me all over the world and while my disease has slowed me down, it has not stopped me from sipping ginger ale through tiny straws at 30,000 feet.

Traveling with a paralyzing, terminal illness is not for the faint of heart. Here are 10 things you should know if you want to defy (or just completely ignore) the limitations of your disability.

1. Don't be afraid. If you think you can't do it, have someone take your non-working arm and slap you in the face. I wrote this entire piece on a flight from DC to Austin in mild turbulence using only my eyes. If you set your mind to it, anything is possible...well anything besides more leg room.

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2. Have a rock star companion. I can't stress this enough. I'm not talking about someone who is willing to get drunk with you on mini-bottles of wine in row 12, I'm talking about someone who can make you laugh while wiping your ass in the middle of the night. My wife is that rock star. Not only does she take care of all my needs, she makes it all look so easy and never complains (at least not to me). As I write this she is adjusting my headphones for the 5th time and we're not even through the first beverage service.

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3. Flying with a wheelchair is not your problem. Airlines are required to accommodate you and your wheelchair, no matter the size. I have the Hummer of wheelchairs, a 450 lb. Quantum Edge that does everything but make coffee. Just let the airline know you have a wheelchair and they will take care of the rest. If you're worried about damage don't be - anything that breaks on their watch is covered. Just be sure you check for damage and report it before leaving the airport.

4. Don't worry about getting to your seat. You will have to leave your wheelchair on the jet bridge. And then you can look forward a couple of sweaty dudes, with the fragrance of BO and exotic food truck cuisine, strapping you into an aisle chair and whisking you into whatever seat you want. You'll be the first one on and the last one off but you won't be stuck sitting in between the lady who thinks it's okay to eat a rack of homemade ribs and the guy who is pretending to sleep but really farts the whole flight. Trust me, I've been that guy before, something about air travel brings out the gas in me.

5. The TSA is suddenly your friend. Maybe it's pity or fear of a lawsuit, but the agents who make Paul Bart look like the Secret Service go out of their way to accommodate you. Don't worry about your liquid feeding tube formula, bag limits, or taking your shoes off, you'll be treated to a private "massage" ( as my eight year old calls them) in the comfort of your own chair. And if you're in a rush, nothing will get you through faster than a full catheter bag and a puddle of drool on your shirt.

6. Piss in your pants. Sorry ladies, this one is for the guys only. A condom catheter will let you pee comfortably over the Grand Canyon, which if you look now is just over the left side of the plane.

7. Make a city your destination.
The most challenging part of traveling disabled is getting a wheelchair accessible van once you get to your destination. Most major cities will have wheelchair cabs. You should call ahead to reserve and check availability. You may have to wait, and sometimes for hours, but you should be able to get where you need to go. Make sure to tip your driver generously to help create a direct line to the driver for the remainder of your stay.

8. Pick someplace new. Older cities can be hard to navigate. Cities like Boston and DC were fully built out before ADA regulations. Newer cities like Denver and Orlando are easier to get around. I even found a whole list of accessible hiking trails in Denver last fall.

9. Stay at nicer hotels. All hotels are required to have accessible rooms but aren't required to hold them, even if you have a reservation. I found this out the hard way. Last year we reserved a room at the Comfort Inn near Red Rocks in Colorado only to find out upon arrival they gave our room away to a non-disabled guest. Even if you call ahead you can't be sure. Skip the crappy continental breakfast and stay in a hotel that will save your room.

10. Fly direct. Before ALS I was a budget traveler. I would drive hours out of my way for a deal and endure grueling layovers to save a buck. Now I can't afford to lose my medical devices or risk my wheelchair not making the connection. Don't be tempted by cheap fares. Make sure you stick to direct flights, preferably on Southwest. They are by far the most handicap-friendly airline. Or is it disabled? I can never get that right.

And, finally, be patient and flexible. From weather conditions to backed-up toilets, you can't plan for everything. Remember, you're traveling in a seat going 500 miles per hour for a few hundred bucks - that fact alone should amaze you. If you're gate isn't ready when you arrive, don't be the guy that moans and groans about it. Instead be thankful to be alive and enjoy the adventure of life.

Why It's Not Worth It to Redeem Alaska Miles for TSA Precheck

Map Happy   |   March 23, 2016   12:58 PM ET

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Recently, Alaska Airline announced that it will now allow Mileage Plan members to redeem mileage for TSA PreCheck.

This post originally appeared on Map Happy.

Until April 30, 2016, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can redeem 10,000 miles to receive an authorization code to cover the cost of a TSA PreCheck application fee for one applicant. Each Mileage Plan member can redeem up to seven codes, and the codes won't expire until November 30, 2016. So even if most members aren't planning on going through with the application process right away, the codes will still be valid for a good chunk of time.

Of course, Alaska Airlines doesn't guarantee TSA PreCheck acceptance and no refunds or mile redeposits will be offered, even if the code isn't used. More deets below:

How to redeem:



  1. 1. Email TSAredemption@alaskaair.com by April 30, 2016 with your name and Mileage Plan number.

  2. 2. Within 72 hours, Alaska will deduct 10,000 miles from your account and send you an email with your authorization code.

  3. 3. Apply for TSA Precheck and schedule your screening appointment. Customers applying are responsible for ensuring they are Precheck-eligible.




Is this deal worth doing?



Look, if you're not going to spend the 10,000 miles elsewhere--lets face it, most of us are hoarders--then spending 10,000 miles on the PreCheck application isn't a bad way to go. BUT, if you actually value miles for redeeming flights, then it might be worth reconsidering. If each mile is valued at about 1.4 cents, the rough value of a mile, 10,000 miles equates to $140. That's $55 more than the $85 standard fee it costs otherwise to pay out of pocket.

Global Entry has always been a far better deal than PreCheck, because it includes the latter. But the best deal is NEXUS.

Read More:

Suzy Strutner   |   March 21, 2016    1:56 PM ET

Few travelers enjoy going through airpot security -- long lines, grumpy passengers, having to unpack belongings you finally got to fit in your carry-on. 

While it may seem like a drag, Transportation Security Administration officials are there not to hinder, but to help you get through security as quickly as possible. And we'd bet they wish you knew these oft-forgotten secrets that would make their job -- and your airport experience -- so much smoother. 

1. There's an app that tells you what you can and can't bring on board.

Quit the guessing games, and get the My TSA app, travel nerds! This handy tool -- which is also available on the TSA website -- lets you search for your items to find out if they're approved. (Spoiler alert: Fishing rods and human remains are a go, but knife-filled enchiladas are not.)

2. You can bring only ONE bag of liquids... and take it out first, please.

Are agents always rifling through your stuff, even after it's gone through the conveyor belt? That's probably because you're not following the 3-1-1 rule properly. Liquid and gel containers must be 3.4 ounces or less and stowed in a single one-quart sized plastic bag. Take the bag, put it in a bin, and you'll fly through the checkpoint without a problem. 

3. TSA agents don't always want to take your stuff away.

Former agent Jason Edward Harrington recently wrote about his time in the TSA for Politico. He revealed that sometimes, TSA agents realize confiscating your items doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but they have to follow the rules anyway. 

"I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots," Harrington wrote, "the implied logic being that the pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying." Even when the rules sound silly to you, there are other reasons for their existence and no exceptions.

4. ...and they'll let you run back to put it in your car.

If you're stuck at security with an item that's not approved, TSA agents will gladly let you run back to your car to drop it off, or outside to give it to a non-traveling friend or family member. The problem, of course, is that you may not have time to make your flight after doing this... but it's nice to know the option exists and is encouraged.

5. You can bring wine (and whiskey) onboard, FYI.

As long as your alcohol is in a 3.4-ounce container, like those cute mini wine bottles, bring it on (but don't sip, as the FAA only permits passengers to drink alcohol the airline provides). Everything else needs to be checked: Make sure you comply with the TSA's (generous) alcohol proof requirements before packing. 

6. ...and cake too.

One of the TSA's favorite things to stress during the holidays is that pies and cakes are, in fact, allowed through security. Yum

7. You can also knit on a plane. 

Because you totally wanted to make that pillowcase for granny during your flight to Florida... right?

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post suggested that plane passengers could drink alcohol they've carried onboard. However, the FAA only permits passengers to drink alcohol the airline provides.

Politically Incorrect Reflections: Obama at the Mosque

Arnold Steinberg   |   February 4, 2016   12:00 AM ET

Tilting toward Mecca.

REALITY TV
"Thou doth protest too much." That's my reaction to President Barack Obama's visit to a mosque yesterday.

There is no national attack on Muslims that requires Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and major Democrats in Congress and in state legislatures, and Democrat governors and mayors, universities, mainstream media, to dignify a problem that doesn't exist. They are projecting Obama's enthusiasm for Islam.

Let's stop demonizing Donald Trump as an excuse in order to accelerate the Islamization of America. One friend, a former Soviet dissident living in the United States, just wrote me: "All Obama's doing is just an imitation of Europeans. I lived in Europe when it started. America is just ten to twenty years behind and catching up very rapidly." Trump deserves credit for his blunt denunciation of political correctness, for example, where a San Bernardino County resident did not report suspicious activity among the terrorists because of Obama's chilling environment of political correctness.

Nearly a decade ago, a high-ranking German military officer predicted to me, when I was speaking with him at German's OCS school, that there would be more Muslims coming into Germany because, he said, Germans felt guilt and remorse about the Holocaust, so the government would go overboard with Muslims to show religious tolerance. He spoke to me about a specific case where three Muslim brothers killed their sister for losing her virginity, and a prosecutor was in negotiation to plea-bargain the case for the sake of harmony. It is not an accident that one of the 9/11 terror cell was in Hamburg Germany.

Now Angela Merkel. who presided over a preposterous massive open-borders policy, is trying to save face. She is walking the policy back a bit, but she won't repudiate her misguided fiasco of mass importation of Muslims. No doubt she must privately regret the disruption of Germany. The ultimate hypocrisy of the so-called women's movement (in Germany and here) is its refusal to confront, for example, the attacks on women in Cologne, indicating that in Germany and (sadly) here in the U.S., "multiculturalism" takes precedence over women's rights.

Why don't we have a president who says that today's Muslim immigrants are not generally the same as past Muslim immigrants, instead of his inaccurate portrayal of Muslim immigration as entirely benign and wonderfully beneficial? Many Muslims came here -- and to Europe -- a generation or two ago for a better life, not for welfare. Many who came to the U.S. were pro-American, not anti-American. They knew they wanted to assimilate, and they did assimilate. Many were educated and skilled and family oriented and came here to work hard. Some have left their faith, others practice it in varying degree.

The immigrant demographics are different today. In Michigan, for example, welfare forms are also printed in Arabic. We have people coming to this country not for freedom or opportunity but for government aid -- that's certainly what we see in Germany, a magnet for many seeking the highest welfare benefits within the European Union. Unlike the many Jewish immigrants who came with enthusiasm and gratitude to the U.S.three quarters of a century ago or longer, many of the Muslims coming to Europe have a sense of entitlement. They want immediate benefits. They complain, they have hunger strikes. They demonstrate.

They don't want to blend in. They expect change to accommodate them. This certainly is true of many of the many single men who would make Bill Cosby look docile. I must add there are many needy and grateful Muslim families who feel disgraced and hurt by the predatory sexual behavior of the young, aggressive males. But does anyone believe that respect toward women in the Muslim world is remotely on a par with respect toward women in the West?

Just like Obama wants to make African Americans or women or homosexuals or Native Americans or Latinos into victims, his strategy of division is to make Muslims into victims. Newborn Muslim immigrants are treated more favorably than needy Americans -- white, African-American or others -- who have been left impoverished over time, for sure, but especially by the failed Obama economic policies. In Europe many Muslims are put up in hotels, in a few cases, even luxury hotels when others are full.

Already Muslims are a privileged group. Just as the Obama administration interprets freedom of religion selectively as it wants to force a Christian baker who finds a gay wedding immoral to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding, or a Christian florist to provide the wedding flowers, the same Obama lawyers favor Muslims. The government seems to believe that a Muslim truck driver must be "accommodated" if he doesn't want to transport alcohol, or a Muslim airline steward must be "accommodated" if he doesn't want to serve alcohol. Abercrombie and Fitch, a clothing chain that was selling clothes via sexual appeal, was told it had to hire a Muslim who didn't fit the A-F image. We are seeing government financial settlements for aggrieved Muslims. If you can't do the job or don't want to, don't apply or quit. Will be next have a Burka for a waitress at Hooters?

Now Muslim employees at American factories are suing to get five breaks for prayer. This is not a Muslim country. If Muslim immigrants want to be called to prayer five times a day, perhaps they would be happier in an Arab nation. There are many Arab countries. In fact, each one has a vote at the United Nations, one reason why U.N. votes are so skewed. Most of them reject Arab and Muslim refugees for two reasons: (1) they are selfish and uncaring, even for their brothers and sisters, and (2) they want to spread Muslims into the West. Both reasons are unacceptable. President Obama should be confronting those two reasons.

America used to be a country where the main religion, though not an official state religion, was Christianity. As a Jew, I appreciated our nation's Judeo-Christian heritage, and I never felt threatened that the overwhelming share of the population here was Christian. Often at public functions a Protestant, Catholic or Jew made a prayer, all three -- for example, at past presidential swearing-ins. Will we now add a Muslim? A Buddhist? A Scientologist? A humanist? How many other religions or movements for political correctness? Now, the Christmas season is a farce, and it's politically incorrect to say Merry Christmas. We project not fairness or tolerance but a sense of shame and embarrassment at who we are. is celebrating Christmas immoral?

Can't these Muslims pray in the morning coffee break, lunchtime, and the afternoon break, and pray at home in the morning and in the evening? Or if that doesn't work for the five prayers, perhaps they should find a different job. I respect that praying five times is part of their religion; but as an employer, I don't have to "accommodate" it; and as a consumer, I don't want to, however indirectly, pay for it because the business incurs extra cost.

Muslims observe the formal prayers as follows: Fajr (pre-dawn), Dhuhr (noon), 'Asr (afternoon) In the late afternoon. Maghrib (sunset). 'Isha (evening): Before retiring for the night. Why can't these Muslim employees follow their religion without hassling their employers and without litigation? Why are they into suing their employer? Or getting the Federal government involved? We already have too much intrusion into the employer-employee relationship. Do we need this, too? All this is part of an entitlement ideology, enabled by President Obama's spreading victimhood gospel. Could you imagine a Christian or Jew suing in a Muslim country, and for what reason? Of course, those countries in many cases don't allow a church or a synagogue. And a non-Muslim may not even have standing to sue.

In this country, each company is not an agent of the government And each company certainly ought not to be an enforcer of President Obama's vision of political correctness. It is remarkable how much he has changed this nation in seven years. Somehow our whole country is mobilized to prove to the world that we want more Muslims here, as soon as possible, and we want to change our ethos and our culture. Why this hysteria that has turned reality on its head?

My orthodox Jewish grandparents prayed three times a day, but not on their employer's time. And they did not work on Saturday. If that didn't mesh with their job, they found another job. All this was not the employer's concern or problem, nor a matter for the government. My grandparents and parents came to the United States because the government here was not run by Jew-haters. That did not mean that people here were not entitled to all sorts of views, even religious prejudice. Obama's comparison of the current wave of Muslim refugees to those Jews is full of historical accuracies and offensive.

My Jewish immigrant ancestors did not want to impose their religious faith on others, and certainly not through government. Indeed, when I went to Jewish services as a boy, there was -- in every synagogue in the United States -- an explicit prayer for our government, for the United States of America. It wasn't equivocal, it wasn't conditional. We didn't have all the contemporary Muslim "ifs" - if the U.S. provides Muslims with prayers five times a day, movies or television don't offend Muslims, if American foreign policy is changed. It was patriotism, pure and simple. And there was a belief in majority rule, within constitutional parameters and safeguards. It was considered presumptuous that others should change to accommodate the Jewish immigrants. The historical record is quite clear.

In many mosques, perhaps most mosques, there is no preaching to subvert the United States. But we know that some mosques are centers for agitation and, in effect, safe houses for potential terrorists. We know there are mosques where hate is taught. This is not unique to the United States, but a problem throughout the world, including London, Paris, Berlin. How many churches or synagogues are under F.B.I. surveillance?

We know what it's like in Muslim nations. There are no "accommodations" there for Christians or Jews. There are no Jews there, and now the few Christians there are being driven out. Instead of backing Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's legislation to prioritize asylum for persecuted Christians feeling Muslim persecution, President Obama's priority is mass Muslim migration into the United States. Obama relies for refugee flow on the United Nations camps that discriminate against Christians.

What is President Obama most noted for, in his comments about Christianity? Instead of taking a bold and persistent stand against the persecution of Christians, the violent attacks, the killing -- President Obama made a fool of himself by talking about the Crusades, in an effort to establish moral equivalency between Christian violence and Muslim violence. Yeah, sure, we have Presbyterians waging war against Episcopalians. It's all over the news. The evangelical Christians are kidnapping mainstream Christians. When is the last time Reform Jews launched a holy war against Orthodox Jews and killed tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands?

We live in a world where Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims continue to massacre each other. Why pretend otherwise? Muslim-on-Muslim violence and warfare is so common, it is not even news. If Israel ever disappeared, the internecine Muslim warfare would grow. it is hatred of Israel that holds some of the disparate Muslims together in a tenuous truce, to the extent there is one, sometimes, somewhere.

Our Founders did not want the kind of society where the government imposes a state religion. They did not want the government to interfere in the free exercise of religion. They never envisioned government telling employers who to hire or fire, in general, especially relating to any sort of religious practice, or how to go about their business, to "accommodate" the religious beliefs of employees. Moreover, Obama is selective, government can make Christians can go against their beliefs, but government must force businesses to "accommodate" the religious beliefs of Muslims.

Make no mistake. Obama has many like-thinking allies among progressives, women's groups, the LGBT leaders from central casting, and secular Christians, and secular Jews like Bernie Sanders who is not remotely a practicing or observant Jew. Sander's "spirituality" justifies not personal charity but stealing (i.e. socialism). Bernie was born Jewish but feels more comfortable with Palestinian victimhood than Zionist destiny. It's part of the whole anti-colonialist shtick. No wonder Bernie keeps harping on the need to bring more MOOSE-LUM refugees here.

Ask yourself whether their pro-Muslim approach is simple political correctness or moral depravity. Obama and his groupies charge the Republicans with a "War on Women" and an assault on "gay rights." But the Muslim nations continue aggression against women and homosexuals, ranging from sexual mutilation, assault, and rape, to stoning and death. Contrary to the mainstream media, these practices are not confined to ISIS, but prevail in varying degree throughout the Muslim world, including countries that gave the Clinton Foundation big money and speaking fees to the Clintons.

If you're truly pro-women and pro-gay, stop admitting as immigrants a demographic group in which many of the immigrants, according to polls, believe in violence against women and gays and even believe someone who leaves the Muslim faith deserves the punishment of death. Is this just a different culture, or a threat to Western civilization and what this country is about?

Hollywood is all for "Syrian refugees." Many Syrians are wonderful people. I have friends here from Syria who are intelligent professionals working hard. I don't know their religion. If they are Muslim, they surely are not extreme. But to bring in tens of thousands of Syrians -- rather than have them absorbed by nearby Arab countries -- is utterly preposterous. Show compassion for these people, even offer humanitarian aid -- but not for them to come across the ocean to the United States, when so many Arab nations can host them. Offer help if you want, so they can resettle in Arab countries "close to home."

Some of these people sided with the tyrant Assad who gassed his own men, women and children. Others sided with the ISIS barbarians. Still others were caught in the crossfire, but many of these are old-school Muslims, meaning traditional. So gay-rights- and-womens rights Hollywood is endorsing a policy of bringing in tens of thousands -- even more if Barack Obama and John Kerry have their way -- hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees, many of whom are against the most basic rights of women and homosexuals that the liberal Hollywood elites patronize.

Under President Obama, there is this irrational annual allocation of slots for Muslims, as if there is an affirmative action diversity program to change the demographics of the U.S. as quickly as possible. In all my life, I never heard Americans say, "We need to find a way to persuade more Muslims to come to the United States. We need diversity!"

Yes, President Obama, there is strength in diversity, but it depends on the diversity. The Left has this problem: diversity is an end in itself. Do you believe that an honor killing of a young girl by her father, or uncles or brothers, is simply diversity? Is there anything to be said for Western values, or do we buy into the progressive nonsense that diversity is wonderful and all cultures are unique and equal? That's B.S.

Coming into the United States is not a right, but a privilege. This country is under no obligation to move at an accelerated rate toward where Europe is, subject to literally an invasion of Muslims. These folks are not escaping religious persecution, the Christian are! And if it's a war the Muslims are escaping, it is an internecine war among Muslims. President Obama may have made mistakes in his Syrian policy, but whatever he has done pales in comparison to the years, decades, centuries of Muslims killing Muslims. But don't go back in history, as Obama has done to condemn Christians. Just look at recent years -- Muslims are killing other Muslims, big time. Why don't we help them with counsel and negotiations, perhaps some assistance, and form a coalition with Arab countries to help their brothers and sisters? We don't need to change what America is all about, because President Obama is having an identity crisis, linked to his troubled non-relationship with his Muslim father. Psychiatrists deal with that sort of thing.

Let the Saudis and others who spend their money subsidizing foreign mosques to spread their Islamist iextremism -- let them use this money to help Muslim refugees, to resettle them in Arab nations, at least until those who are from Syria can down the line return to Syria.

Obama and the Democrats are obsessed about "Islamophobia" and "homophobia." News bulletin: Muslims are not concerned about homophobia. The big phobia in American today is Christianphobia, part of a secular movement to marginalize Christianity in America. Evangelical Christians are politically incorrect; they are ridiculed and marginalized -- right here in the United States. If they are anti-abortion, they are depicted as anti-women. If they oppose same sex marriage, they are anti-gay.

Hillary Clinton cannot be fighting against the supposed "War on Women" and fighting to defend "LGBT rights" and still endorse massive Muslim immigration. This is more than inconsistency. It is intellectual fraud. Many of these folks coming in are virulently opposed to basic rights for women and basic rights for gays.

Obama's mosque visit is a gratuitous affront to the tens of thousands of Americans who have been maimed, and the memory of those killed, in confronting an Islamist revolution launched by President Jimmy Carter a generation ago when Carter maneuvered to overthrow the pro-Western, pro-reform Shah of Iran, and replace him with the Ayatollah. The religious fundamentalists were in Iran, but Carter fostered them and enabled them to take power. More than a generation later, Obama is providing a nuclear weapons scenario for Iran.. Wahhabi extremists have thrived in Saudi Arabia; our task was to inhibit them by discouraging the Saudi royal family from supporting Wahhabis. The Bush presidents failed at this, and so did Obama, though things are finally improving a bit, not because of, but in spite of, Obama's support for, say, the radical Muslim brotherhood. Even this mosque that Obama picked -- it is not a mosque known as a center of moderation.

Everyone knows that America has patriotic and decent Muslims, including many who loyally serve in the military and law enforcement. And surely we need Muslim allies throughout the world to help against radical Muslim, Islamists, Jihadists, or whatever term you use, that Obama will not. You don't reach these good Muslims by patronizing them.

The Muslim leadership around the world and in this country is reluctant, at best, to take on the Islamist thugs that they say "hijacked their religion." Surely many Muslims left the keys in the pickup truck for the Islamist hijackers, or the house door unlocked for the Islamist home invasion. Why can't we allow some "good" (as Donald Trump might say) Muslims to come here and reject those who reject us? Why doesn't Obama and his Administration insist that moderate Muslims assert leadership and enable and incentivize moderation, rather than ally with CAIR?

On a good day, we are told by the Council on American Relations (CAIR) that Israel is the reason that Muslim terrorists, in the name of their religion, are attacking innocents in countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America. Or we are told the United States is at fault because of something we did, like supporting the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. Can you imagine Christians or Jews justifying Christian or Jewish terrorism by citing some sort of grievance?

Ours is a country where people can peacefully pursue their religious faith. It is not a laboratory or staging area for people of one religion to come with the expectation of making this a theocracy in their favor. Generally, no Christian preacher, no Catholic priest, no Jewish rabbi --tells the congregation to disobey civil law in favor of a heavy-handed religious law. Even the most orthodox Jews who follow Jewish courts on, say, divorce, still pursue a civil divorce in a secular court. This is the same, for example, with my Catholic friends. We would never accept religion as a justification for, let's say, wife beating or child abuse. That's what is happening now, in Europe. Why doesn't President Obama speak out about these issues, instead of trying to make us like Europe, sooner than later?

Yesterday at the mosque President Obama did not send a message of religious pluralism, but of religious preference. Pluralism is what we had in this country before the Islamic invasion that is part of Obama's legacy. If he wants to stop the alleged American bigotry against Muslims, perhaps it's time for a moratorium until, as the politically incorrect Donald Trump said, "...until we can figure out what the hell is going on." But are we not permitted to inquire of prospective Muslim immigrants their views on the West and Western values, America and the U.S. Constitution, Sharia and radical Islam? Why not?

Obama lectures Americans on how they should respect and revere Islam. Would it be appropriate to inquire of prospective Muslim immigrants their opinion of Jews and Judaism and of Christians and Christianity? Can we ask if they believe they would be bound by laws here, rather than by Sharia? Why doesn't Obama talk about any of this?

My mother came to this country in 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression. She worked as a maid and in the garment district. After work, she took the subway to go to night school to get a high school degree and also to study to become a citizen. She took U.S. history. She learned about the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and the Bill of RIghts. This is the stuff of coming into the United States and becoming a citizen, not being a prop for "diversity."

You, Mr. President, are comparing refugees, some of whom have contempt for the West and for our freedom of religion, and who have no innate love for America, with my mother?

Advocates of increased Muslim immigration raise the straw man of a religious test. But religion is already written into immigration law. And we know that religion is a legitimate proxy at this time, because a significant percentage of Muslims, according to assorted polls, believe in Sharia law, not Western law, and want to impose their religion on everyone else. Japan does not accept Muslim immigrants. Why not? Are they bigoted? Are they under some obligation to do so? Are we?

Perhaps it is inelegant to mention religion rather than some proxy criterion. But for years we've seen the incredibly costly Transportation Security Administration (TSA) body search bible-carrying Christian grandmothers rather than profile (what a terrible word) young men from the Middle East. No doubt we can elegantly move beyond religion, but we must disown this toxic goal of maximizing the influx of Muslims.

The mistake of Trump and the other Republican candidates and even Republican leaders in Congress is their myopic focus on national security, rather than being candid about the cultural disintegration of the West and the U.S. We keep hearing "if only one" Syrian refugee were a terrorist. We might have a white European tourist here who is a terrorist. We already have homegrown Muslim terrorists. We have people here who overstay visas who are a threat.

The real issue is importing Muslims with no commitment to America or no goal of assimilation, and they want to transform (a word favored by Obama, and now Bernie Sanders) America, into a Muslim-tolerant and then Muslim-dominated nation. And Jew haters and self-hating secular Jews are delighted at this influx because if we keep importing Muslims at Obama's rate, they will outnumber the Jewish population and become a potent lobby against Israel.

We need a positive approach. If there is a massive Syrian refugee problem, then for the short term let Arab nations help them. They will be more at home, from a religious and cultural standpoint. And if peace is restored in Syria, let them return. Certainly some of the men should be fighting for their beliefs in their own country. Obama's policy to transport these people across the ocean and make these people permanent residents and then citizens of the United States is absurd and reflects what he wants, and what he wants us to think are American values of "democracy" and "compassion."

President Obama has, one expert on Europe and Islam told me, a messianic complex. As for Jews, Obama called himself an "honorary member of the tribe." Further, he has said, "I am the closest thing to a Jew" to sit in the Oval Office. What an insult to those Jews who recognize Obama's hostility toward Israel. Among Christians, he is somehow one of them. But recall that his spiritual mentor was America-hating, Jew-hating Rev. Jeremiah Wright, with whom he spent two decades. And that brings us to Islam, within which Obama has a comfort level. His father was a Muslim. He says "the sweetest sound I know is the Muslim call to prayer... one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset." Well, I've heard the Muslim call to prayer, when I was in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. I didn't find it sweet or pretty. But who cares about my opinion? What's important is that Muslims deserve to hear this sound, but not here. In most cities in this country, it would probably violate zoning laws and noise abatement. But maybe Obama's attorney general will file suit against cities that limit noise.

Historians can find ample evidence of the Judeo-Christian roots of America. Several of our founders knew Hebrew and studied the Bible in Hebrew. None of them knew Arabic or studied the Koran. That's not a criticism of Islam, it's just a fact. There are plenty of countries in the world in which Jews had no significant role. That's not a criticism of Judaism, it's just a fact. But Obama keeps talking about Muslim roots and Muslim traditions in America. Why patronize Muslims and spread historical revisionism, unless Obama has another agenda of increasing the number of Muslims in America and the Muslim impact on our nation? To say that Obama is a Muslim seems overdrawn. The bulk of Americans give him the benefit of the doubt and accept his self-description as a Christian, though his theological godfather Jeremiah Wright's black liberation theology seems curious, at best. To say that Obama wants to increase the number of Muslims here dramatically, and the stature and standing of Islam in the U.S. is, if anything, an understated observation. We are entitled to inquire why?

Europe is already pursuing Islamization. Imagine if Mitt Romney were elected in 2012. Would he, as Barack Obama did, have made his first trip abroad to a Muslim nation and have done a mea culpa speech about American guilt? Would he have encouraged and accelerated the Islamization of America? All this is part of Obama's transformation of America into a secular, socialist Europe. But what the secular progressives and agnostic-atheist liberals don't get is this: after the Islamists deal with the Jews, and then deal with the Christians, they will go after the ultimate non-believers, the secular-progressives, especially liberated women and identified homosexuals. Do the leaders of the "womens movement" and "gay rights movement" believe they will get some special dispensation for their stupidity in admitting staggering numbers of people who militantly oppose rights for women and gays? People who believe as they do are imprisoned in many Arab countries, or worse. Remember when Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union, it wasn't enough to be a socialist; Stalin liquidated even freethinking and independent socialists.

After 9-11, we saw an understandable movement in public schools and colleges to teach more about Islam and the Mideast. But we have now moved effectively to advocacy. There is a politically correct force-feeding of Islamic values and beliefs, without critical evaluation or thinking. School curriculums pretend there is no conflict between Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of Muslims around the world, and Western values, American culture, and U.S. laws.

Ever since the late 1960s, Muslim terrorism has been a growing part of the international mosaic. Remember all the airplane hijacks four decades ago that spawned the intrusive international airport security and screening? What about Munich? The bombing of Pan Am flight 103? The Achille Lauro? The first World Trade Center attack? 9-11? Indonesian bombings in Bali and Jakarta?? Boston? San Bernardino? These are only the more prominent of thousands of terrorist attacks mounted not, as liberal Bill Maher has reminded us, by blond Swedish women, but by Muslims.

Ever since he became president Obama has been quite literally obsessed with Islam. To a certain extent, a Muslim outreach makes sense. We need Muslims aboard to ally with us, against ISIS, but also against radical Islam, words that Obama will not speak. We have in the United States many patriotic Muslims who are assimilated into Western values and America. But these Muslims generally are not recent immigrants but have been here for a while. In some cases, we're talking about a generation ago or even two generations.

In contrast, Barack Obama has increased immigration of a variety of Muslims who are far different from Muslims who came here years ago to be part of America, they did not question its very foundations and seek to change it into their own image. Many of the recent immigrants are not as educated and open-minded as the Muslims from years or decades ago. Back then, Muslims were more likely to accept the United States as it is, rather than change it to their image. Ours is not a country "up for grabs"; we are, as Ronald Reagan said, that "shining city on the hill" to which freedom-loving people should aspire. Those are the people we want here.

I've met and known Muslims for decades. Not many, to be sure. But I don't recall their talk of Sharia law. In all this time, through my considerable professional work and substantial professional travel throughout the United States, I don't recall seeing Muslim women in hijabs. This is just in the last decade, especially the last few years.

President Obama and his administration have made it a matter of U.S. policy to import as many Muslims as he can, as if there is some urgency to increase the Muslim share of the U.S. population. It's a sort of affirmative action for Muslims. At the same time, we know that the persecution and killing of Christians within the Mideast has increased geometrically. Under Obama, the immigration ratio into the U.S. of Syrian Muslims to Syrian Christians is 97%/3%.

Obama and his allies in Congress and the media have compared the plight of Muslim refugees in general, and Syrian refugees in particular, to the suffering of Jewish refugees in the 1930s and early 1940s who had nowhere to go. Jews who came to the U.S. then had Jewish sponsors here, and they went to work and resisted government help. They were pro-American and wanted to assimilate. They had no desire for special privilege or to impose their religious values on others. But Muslims are not being persecuted for their religion; the Jews were then, and the Christians are now. Christians are the "new" Jews, and they have nowhere to go.

Let's remember that anyone reading this, regardless of your religion, or even if you are an agnostic or atheist, could go into any Protestant church, Catholic parish or Jewish synagogue in any city or community in the United States. That's not true about your typical mosque. That's the way it goes, it's their prerogative. President Obama gets through the door. Can you?

Is there a serious need for the FBI to monitor incitement to violence in synagogues and churches in the United States? I've never been to a church or synagogue and heard words of hate, and I've walked in to houses of worship entirely unannounced and sponteaneously. I've seen hateful excerpts from sermons by Obama's spiritual mentor who claims to be a Christian. President Obama keeps talking about "hate crimes" directed against Muslims. A so-called hate crime is an Orwellian expression. Remember George Orwell's 1984, where the state orchestrates "two minutes of hate" against an enemy of the state. We need to prosecute people who initiate violence against others, and not get into "thought crimes."

Obama said yesterday "an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths." Go on American campuses. Muslims are not under siege. Jews are. And look through the Mideast: Muslims are ridding their countries of the few remaining Christians, and are persecuting, assaulting, and killing Christians. That's what Obama should be addressing, instead of visiting a mosque. I was in Saudi Arabia a generation ago. My gracious hosts made it clear they did not respect the Jewish religion or the Christian religion, and they favored an entirely Islamic world, and that was their goal Obama urges Americans to respect, even admire Islam. I don't expect Muslims to admire Judaism or Christianity. But our religious pluralism and religious freedom are based on a respect for the religious rights of others. Many Muslims I know here do respect the faith of others. They are peaceful. But that simply is not true among many more recent Muslim arrivals; more recently, they want -- ultimately through force -- to create an Islamic nation here, as part of an Islamic world.

The Arab world must wonder what kind of jerk our president is -- he projects a lack of concern for Christians. He telegraphs, at best, apathy; at worst, he sides with Islam. Is it a war against the Muslim world for this nation to prioritize helping Christians who are being persecuted solely because of the faith -- and persecuted by Muslims? Why are we instead taking in Muslim refugees when most Arab nations will not? Where is Obama's leadership to express our concern for these refugees and to encourage Arab nations (other than mainly Jordan) to step up to the plate for the Muslim refugees? That would be presidential leadership.

Meanwhile Obama at the mosque injected partisan politics with an attack on Donald Trump: "We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion." In reporting on Obama's mosque visit, the New York Times noted that a poll just a few months ago showed that 29 percent of Americans think he is a Muslim. All things considered, that's pretty low. I guess the others think he's a Jeremiah Wright Christian.

Obama insists Islam is a religion of peace. But even if we forget about the Muslim focus on destroying Israel, or radical Islam's celebration of terrorism: How is it that through centuries, up until right now, Muslims are killing each other on a grand scale, in the name of Islam? Are there any current wars of Jews killing Jews, or Christians killing Christians?"

Years ago I worked with Soviet dissenters. They said in their darkest hours the U.S. Voice of America and Radio Liberty let them know, they were not alone. There was support for them in the U.S., in other nations, and there were dissenters just like them in other parts of the Soviet Union. For years, Muslims in some Arab nations in the name of Islam have been persecuting Christians, exiling them, taxing them an extra amount, assaulting them, raping them, maiming them, putting them in prison, killing them. And we're not just talking about ISIS.

These Christians look for a voice of moral clarity, and "moral clarity" is what President Obama said he brought to the mosque. But instead of a consistent Administration policy of supporting these Christians, Obama has effectively sided with their Muslim oppressors. What must these desperate Christians think when they read that Barack Obama went to a mosque. He spoke but a few words about their plight. What message has he sent to the world?

In his talk yesterday Obama added, almost parenthetically, that persecution of Christians in the Mideast and anti-Semitism are not good things. The applause among the Muslims was muted.

An earlier shorter version:
http://spectator.org/articles/65386/reality-tv-obama-mosque

A Bunch Of Jerks On A Plane

Wendy E. Simmons   |   February 1, 2016   10:14 PM ET

I don't know what it is, but something about flying seems to turn otherwise genteel, intelligent, sentient beings into thoughtless bullies and boors.

Whether it's the woman in front of you who fully reclines her seat during the meal service, or the man behind you who keeps jabbing the touch screen like it's done him wrong, a ticket to fly does not grant one license to jettison manners.

To paraphrase Neville Flynn (a.k.a. Samuel Jackson in "Snakes on a Plane"), "Enough is enough! I have had it with these m@$%& jerks on this m@$%& plane!"

But fear not fellow flyers; all hope is not lost. If we join together and promise not to be jerks, I'm confident we can make the skies friendly again.

Before leaving terra firma, let's first tackle airport security where TSA torpor often overtakes the weakest. If you've NEVER EVER flown AND have never seen OR read anything about airport security procedures, or you are aged or a toddler, or are in some way challenged, you're excused. Otherwise, there is no excuse for holding up the line.

- Wear shoes that are easily removed, or if not, start preparing to remove your shoes before you reach the conveyor belt.
- Be ready to remove metal items from your person and pockets, and liquids and laptop from your carry-on bag. Perhaps even do so while waiting in line. Standing there confoundedly searching your bags and yourself for offending contraband on my time is aggranoing (aggravating and annoying) and makes me feel like a bad person for feeling aggranoid.

I liken the airplane boarding process -- particularly when boarding a flight from anywhere in the world to New York City -- as a cross between the gladiatorial games played during the Roman Empire, and class warfare. Only your class is arbitrary and impermanent. It's the only time I ever meditate: patience is a virtue; patience is a virtue.

- Board when it's your turn. Would you cut into the front of a long line at Starbucks or Trader Joe's? No you would not. If you would, you are a terribly rude person and I am happy you are reading this article. Please, learn something. If you don't like your low boarding class, earn a better one: fly more or spend more.

- Keep your boarding pass out to show the flight attendant at the cabin door. How do you not know this? I am trying to hard to be patient.

- Heed thy flight attendants and step out of the aisle so other passengers can pass by you. Of course you need to stand in the aisle while you're placing your luggage in the overhead compartment, but not while you are taking your jacket off, or getting yourself situated, or figuring out who sits with mom.

- Airline aisles are narrow. Carry-on bags are not. Before you pass down the aisle, take your bag down from your shoulder, or your backpack off your back, and hold it in front of you so as to not clock in the face anyone around you.

-If someone walks all the way to the back of the plane to use the bathroom during the boarding process, knowing they'll have to fight like a salmon to make it back to their seat, they really have to go. They aren't trying to get ahead of you; they are trying to get by you. So move over and let them.

Nary a cabin door closes before one of the lowest-common denominators of decent behavior are violated. And if you're on any flight longer than say, takeoff, you can count on it.

- It's not okay to just sit there passing gas. We all smell it and it's disgusting. It worse than disgusting. You need to excuse yourself for the loo, think ahead and bring Gas-X or the like, or HOLD IT IN.

- If you've chosen to sit in the aisle seat, then no attitude is allowed when the middle- or window-seat person wants out. And unless (like me) you are tiny enough to curl up in your seat, then get up. Do not make other people climb over you like a goat, or squeeze past you like a pervert.

- If you've chosen the window seat, or are stuck in the middle seat, we'll graciously stand up to let you out (see above) whenever you want, but please don't ask to get out right after we've just sat back down from getting up. That's just testing us for the hell of it.

- The armrests form an invisible line that no part of you or your belongings may cross. And enough already, the middle seat gets both middle armrests. You can use them too, but politely and out of the middle-person's way.

- There is no reason to ever push or pull the seat in front of you. If you must use the seat in front of you to stand up or sit down, then do so gingerly and be careful not to pull anyone's hair. The same goes for those who use passenger seats when walking the aisle.

- Seats are made to recline. Recline away I say! But warn the person behind you you're coming back, or do so slowly so you don't knock their computer over, for example. And pull your chair forward during meal service (overnight and "sleeping" flights are excused). The food is bad enough as it is.

- I love the personal the entertainment screens. But I can do without all the TAPPING. Use the remote to control. Or, tap lightly. Otherwise, you are literally torturing the person seated in front of you.

- When seated, do not touch the seat in front of you. Meaning, do not touch any part of the seat with any part of your body (the tip of a pointing finger is excepted). With this one act, you are already a better person.

- If someone is bothering you in any way, use patient and kind words to explain rather than assail them with mean stares, grunts, and groans. If he or she reacts poorly or refuses to comply, call the flight attendant. What you don't want to do is start fighting like six-year-olds. Sky Law is hilarious-sounding, but no joke.

- Latrines are filthy even when clean. So put paper in the toilet. Flush the toilet. Drain the sink. Don't pee on the toilet seat. If you do, wipe it. Don't pee on the floor. How is this ever okay? If you can manage to get your pee into the toilet at home, surely you can on a plane too? It's the same size.

Contrary to all my grievances, I LOVE TO FLY. I'm still amazed a plane can get off the ground! I still feel a thrill every time we take off or land, and will never tire of looking out the window (I'm an aisle person on flights over three hours). And I truly believe that most people on planes are well-mannered people on the ground. That's why I know we can do better in the air(port)! So let's do this! Let's get those m@$%& jerks off the m@$%& plane!

What drives you crazy on planes? Comment below or find/follow me on Facebook.

For information about my work, and to sign up for my newsletter, visit wendysimmons.com.

Also on HuffPost:

Christopher Elliott   |   January 31, 2016    6:13 PM ET

Read More: tsa, airline, travel

These are confusing times for airline passengers.

In recent weeks, the government has made two surprising policy changes: First, the Transportation Security Administration announced that screening with a full-body scanner would no longer be optional for some passengers, and then the Department of Homeland Security said that soon your state-issued driver’s license might not be sufficient ID for you to pass through the airport screening area.

The result? Travelers are less certain about the airport screening experience than they’ve been in years.

Despite scattered reports of travelers being required to pass through the TSA’s scanners, the agency insists that there’s only a small chance you’ll be screened by the controversial machines if you don’t want to be. In other words, you can generally still “opt out” and receive what the agency refers to as an enhanced pat-down from an agent. And your state-issued ID will continue to work until 2018, and probably long after that, even if it doesn’t comply with the new federal standards.

The full-body scanners represent the most high-profile public concern. Since the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems implemented its new no-opt-out policy Dec. 18, there have been a few media reports of agents insisting that passengers use the scanners.

A passenger with the TSA’s PreCheck designation in Akron, Ohio, complained in a comment on a civil rights blog that she’d been selected for a mandatory scanning. PreCheck is an expedited-screening program that costs $85 for a five-year membership and allows you to bypass the full-body scanners.

“The agent handed me a laminated green sheet and told me I was randomly selected for additional screening and needed to go through the full-body screening machine,” said Tara MacLaren, a marketing consultant who works for a Houston-based software company. “When I tried to opt out, I was told that was no longer an option for those with TSA PreCheck.”

MacLaren reports that she “pushed back,” telling the agents she was pregnant. Only then did the agents relent, allowing her to be screened with a metal detector.

“I was not given any assurance that my pregnancy will be sufficient opt-out justification in the future, just told that the rules had changed and those with TSA PreCheck are not eligible for opting out,” she said.

Ann Hobbs, a retired lawyer from Silver Spring, Md., also had a PreCheck notation on her boarding pass when she flew out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport in late December. Initially, she walked through a metal detector. “I was then told to go through the full-body scanner, having been randomly selected,” she says. “This seemed rather odd to me. Why wouldn’t the selection have been made before I went through the metal detector?”

Hobbs says she’s worried about the long-term health effects of the scanners, a technology that she believes has not been adequately tested. “We are the guinea pigs,” she says.

In another incident, a TSA agent in Seattle told a London-based privacy advocate named Sai that he would be required to go through the scanner. A lengthy argument, captured on video and uploaded to YouTube, ensued. Eventually, a manager overruled a supervisor, allowing Sai to undergo a pat-down instead.

The TSA refused to comment on the incidents. A representative said that “generally,” passengers undergoing screening will have the opportunity to decline being screened by a full-body scanner. “However, some passengers will be required to undergo screening [with a scanner] if their boarding pass indicates that they have been selected for enhanced screening,” said Bruce Anderson, a TSA spokesman.

It remains unclear how someone might be selected for mandatory full-body screening. When I flew from San Antonio to Orlando recently, an agent told me that only travelers in the Terrorist Screening Database, a registry of more than 1 million names, would be required to go through the machine. But other passengers are also being randomly sent through the scanners, notably air travelers with PreCheck privileges.

The random selection process can work both ways. In Orlando on a busy Monday, I witnessed an agent allowing four passengers at a time to skip the full-body scanners and get screened by a metal detector, an apparent effort to reduce wait times.

Passenger advocates don’t like the scanners because they say they were deployed without giving the public a chance to comment, a process required by federal law. They claim the devices violate the Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. And they believe the scanners have not been adequately tested and may present health risks.

Adding to the uncertainty is the possibility that Congress could act soon to rein in the TSA. An influential coalition of civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Consumer Federation of America and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recently sent a letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asking him to take immediate action to stop the scans. They demanded that the government suspend funding for full-body scanners until a public rulemaking process has been completed and that the TSA evaluate the cost, including lost time to passengers, of screening procedures using full-body scanners.

As if that’s not enough, the DHS on Jan. 8 also announced the “final” implementation of the REAL ID Act. The law established minimum security standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses, and prohibited federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver’s licenses and ID cards from states not meeting the act’s minimum standards.

Soon, air travelers with a driver’s license or ID card issued by a state that doesn’t meet the requirements of the act will have to present an alternative form of identification, such as a passport, to board a domestic commercial flight.

Although the deadline isn’t for another two years — Jan. 22, 2018, to be exact — travelers are nervous about their IDs not working. Only 23 states (including the District and Maryland) are compliant or certified as making progress toward being compliant with the REAL ID Act. Another 27 states and territories (including Virginia) have been granted extensions. Six states and territories — Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington and American Samoa — are noncompliant and do not currently have extensions.

“It gives the states that want to be compliant — and there are only a few that aren’t — time to either adopt or figure out an alternative before the deadline,” says Jeffrey Price, author of “Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats.”

The actual deadline for REAL ID won’t come until at least Oct. 1, 2020, when every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license or another acceptable form of identification for domestic air travel.

But that is by no means a hard deadline, according to author and consumer advocate Edward Hasbrouck. He says the ambiguous scanning rules and the national ID requirements amount to an overreach of the TSA’s authority. The government’s recent actions are not only baffling to air travelers, he says, but they also violate an American legal right to freedom of transit through the navigable airspace.

“If the government tries to carry out its latest threats to harass, delay or prevent people without an ID it deems acceptable from flying, those actions are certain to be challenged in court and likely to be overturned as unconstitutional,” Hasbrouck says.

In other words, air travel may be about to get even more confusing.

After you've left a comment here, let's continue the discussion on my consumer advocacy site or on Twitter, Facebook and Google. I also have a newsletter and you'll definitely want to order my new, amazingly helpful and subversive book called How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle). Photo: Shutterstock.

The Big Problem With "See Something, Say Something"

Anu Joshi   |   January 25, 2016    4:06 PM ET

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Slate's Alvaro Bedoya published an article chronicling how the civil rights leader had been systematically surveilled, harassed and threatened by the United States government:

Even though [King's] an American citizen, he's placed on a watchlist to be summarily detained in the event of a national emergency. Of all similar suspects, the head of FBI domestic intelligence thinks he's "the most dangerous," at least "from the standpoint of ... national security."

Bedoya goes on to list the other leaders of color in the United States who have been subject to surveillance and suspicion at the hands of U.S. government agencies over the last 60 years, including American Muslims, especially since September 11. Bedoya reaches a disturbing, if not surprising, conclusion about the state of this country's surveillance program:

If you name a prominent civil rights leader of the 20th or 21st centuries, chances are strong that he or she was surveilled in the name of national security... Across our history and to this day, people of color have been the disproportionate victims of unjust surveillance.

Unfortunately, the federal government has doubled down on broad surveillance (and harassment) of marginalized communities in the wake of 9/11. Most notably, the government has deputized untrained civilians to further their surveillance reach through the now ubiquitous "See Something, Say Something" ad campaign. This desire by the government to cast a wider net to identify and respond to "suspicious behavior" has only heightened the risk of unfair and unjust targeting of marginalized individuals.

Started in 2003, as a campaign by the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority costing around $2-3 million per year (mostly paid for through federal government grants), the patented slogan "See Something, Say Something" has now been used by more than 50 agencies in the United States, and is even in use in Canada and Australia.

Apparently the task of identifying national security threats now falls on all of our shoulders. Unfortunately, we don't seem to be very good at it. Experience has shown that this crowd-sourcing of surveillance ensures that it is not behavior or activity that is identified as suspicious, but rather skin color, religious markers, language, and other signs of difference. Individuals and families are coded as suspicious regardless of their activity. It's stereotypes passing as national security policy.

In the same vein, Think Progress' Jack Jenkins examines how "anti-Muslim profiling at airports goes beyond TSA." Jenkins provides some recent examples of air travelers acting as extensions of the government's surveillance programs by alerting authorities to individuals who made them "uneasy" or were "acting suspicious."

But the truth is, not all "suspicious" activity is created equal. And in the calculus of protecting national security, the costs of following up on these alleged threats must be included as a part of the overall equation. Unfortunately, that cost is rarely, if ever, factored into the decision-making, as Jenkins points out, "many airline protocols appear oriented toward responding to passengers who complain -- not those affected by the complaints."

This is a country that struggles with its racist history and the continued impact of racism on policies and culture today. The very idea of asking people explicitly and implicitly impacted by those racist and bigoted norms to be the country's first defense system is alarming. "Suspicious activity" becomes a code word for anything outside the accepted norm, and by participating in this charade of "addressing security threats," the U.S. government further perpetrates the cycle of oppression of those outside the dominant [read: white] culture.

As Bedoya notes, "the color of surveillance" cannot be ignored.

Friday Talking Points -- Conservatives Are Revolting!

Chris Weigant   |   January 22, 2016    8:54 PM ET

Honestly, how often is it that you get to write such a great headline? In a week that also included a Sarah Palin speech that dominated the news cycle (to say nothing of the late-night comic cycle), writing such snarky headlines is just icing on the cake, really. Good times... yes, good times indeed for Democrats watching the horrorshow that is the Republican presidential nomination process.

Where to begin?

The big news today from Republicanland was the broadside fired by the National Review towards Donald Trump. A full 22 conservative thinkers (although, with the likes of Glenn Beck and William Kristol in the mix, we do of necessity use that term quite broadly) all weighed in on why Donald Trump is a terrible candidate for Republicans to consider making their presidential nominee, and why Trump is an all-around terrible human being. With a little over a week to go before voting begins in Iowa, the phrase "a day late and a dollar short" immediately springs to mind.

The essays were contradictory in their reasons for loathing Trump, and the editor himself was writing supportive words about Trump earlier this year, but never mind. Consistency is the hobgoblin of sane non-conservative pundits, after all.

But wait! Just as this intraparty candidate assassination was being attempted comes news that the Republican establishment is basically decamping from Jeb! Bush and Marco Rubio's campaigns and moving reluctantly over to Trump. The big money men and party regulars, you see, want someone with the best chance of actually winning, and the only real alternative at this point is a man pretty much everyone in Washington hates with a seething passion: Ted Cruz. Rudy Giuliani helpfully explains: "If it came down to Trump or Cruz, there is no question I'd vote for Trump. As a party, we'd have a better chance of winning with him, and I think a lot of Republicans look at it that way." The big GOP donors have also reportedly been trying to suck up to Trump behind the scenes.

It's no wonder they're bailing on Jeb!, when you consider his PAC has such a big bundle of cash left to spend that they are reportedly attacking their cash mountain with flamethrowers -- by spending money to send out (apparently at random) little video players pre-loaded with "The Jeb Story," a 15-minute bio explaining why Jeb is going to be our nation's next president (or something -- we admit that our mini video player has not yet arrived in the mail, so we really can't be sure). One paragraph really leaps out at you, in respect to Jeb! trying to portray himself as the hero of the Common Man:

The PAC declined to say on Monday how much money they were spending to buy the video players and mail them, nor exactly how many people would be receiving copies. One person familiar with the group's plans, who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about the strategy, said that buying and preloading the video players is "amazingly cheap" with the cost per player "far less than a good bottle of Scotch."

You know, sometimes you don't even need to provide a punchline, because it would truly be superfluous... "far less than a good bottle of Scotch"... yes, this is indeed one of those times.

Which brings up the other big Republican news of the week. Sarah Palin, who doesn't just utter classic punchlines but has actually become a walkin', talkin' punchline in the flesh, treated us all to a 20-minute ramble through the poppy fields of her mind. Late-night comedians all but sank to their knees in prayerful thanks for Palin's re-entry to the political scene. In fact, so many others have been taking gleeful shots at Palin's speech (you can read the whole thing here, if you really want to) that we're just going to mention it in passing.

Palin being Palin, her own family undermined her political return, as back in Alaska her son Track -- at almost the same time Sarah appeared on stage -- reportedly hit his girlfriend in the face and then threatened to commit suicide with one of the numerous firearms lying about the Palin residence (he lives with his mom). Palin responded in true pitbull fashion, and blamed Track's troubles on (you betcha!) President Obama. Her reasoning, as always, was insane. Even though the Palin family is wildly wealthy from successfully grifting the rubes for eight solid years, Track's mental problems must be Obama's fault, for not "supporting the veterans" with post-traumatic stress disorder. So Palin is arguing for more government spending for a family that could easily have paid for mental health treatment on its own, but chose not to. Track's 0.189 blood alcohol level wasn't mentioned by mom, of course. Ah, the Palins! How we've all missed you!

We personally have long been predicting a Republican Party major freakout when they all woke up to the fact that Donald Trump has been their party's frontrunner all along. So we have to say that in the past few weeks (since this freakout has begun in earnest), we have been enjoying the fray from the sidelines. We have to confess to feeling almost sorry for Republicans who can still recognize reality when it is repeatedly hitting them in the face, such as Lindsey Graham, who recently summed up his party's chances for victory:

The only way we lose this election is to nominate somebody who cannot grow this party's vote among minorities, young women, and the coalitions we need to win. If you nominate Trump and Cruz I think you'd get the same outcome. Whether it's death by being shot or poisoning, does it really matter? I don't think the outcome will be substantially different.

Wow -- tell us how you really feel, Lindsey. I mean, is there any hope at all the Republican Party could take a different path this year?

So let's just pick somebody out of the phone book if we have to. We can win this election unless we lose it.

That's some top-shelf schadenfreude right there, wouldn't you say? Need another taste of the Republican freakout currently underway? How about this, from an anonymous "somebody" contemplating a race between Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton:

In a contest against Trump, the [establishment Republican] thinking goes, it might be best for Cruz to win the nomination, only to suffer a lopsided general election defeat, proving once and for all the true limits of his appeal. It is taken for granted that the party under Cruz cannot win. And, in Washington, life will go on.

"I'm rooting for Hillary," said one half-joking somebody in the GOP establishment. "She can't win a mandate, so we hold the House and don't get slaughtered in the Senate. We will have a great midterm in 2018 running against her," he said, requesting anonymity for obvious reasons. "We are a great opposition party."

The original story was corrected later (you just can't make this stuff up, folks!) by striking out the term "half-joking" and adding at the bottom of the paragraph: "The somebody in question wanted to clarify that he is not at all joking, not even halfway, and is indeed fully rooting for Hillary Clinton."

With quotes like these from fellow Republicans, Democrats don't even have to lift a finger to showcase the absolute revolt taking place among the Republican Party. For those of you enjoying all of this, here's a fun prediction: Things are going to get even crazier in the next few weeks, as Trump and Cruz obliterate all other GOP candidates in the actual voting. So we've all got that to look forward to.

Let's see, what else? Martin Luther King Day was this week, which uncovered a few folks who still haven't quite wrapped their minds around this whole equality thing. First there was the Air Force holding a Martin Luther King Day "Fun Shoot" where you got served lunch -- and also got to shoot off a few rounds, maybe using the flyer handed out as your target? Whoops! Not exactly an appropriate activity for the day honoring a man who was shot down in cold blood.

Then there was a children's book that had to get pulled off the shelves because of all the drawings of happy, smiling slaves baking a birthday cake for George Washington. Seriously? What century do these people think we're living in? We thought that sort of thing had gone out of style by now, but we guess we were wrong.

And finally (whew!) some news to actually bring a smile to your face. First, for those who are interested in history, the Library of Congress has a collection of historical campaign posters that are worth a look (some are downright beautiful). And an even better item to end on: Congress actually got something positive done! They passed a law which overturned -- just in time for a mondo winter snowstorm in Washington -- the ban on sledding on Capitol Hill. Free the toboggans! Have fun, kids of all ages! Yes, anyone who loves a good time can now quite literally (and legally) slide down a slippery slope, just outside the U.S. Capitol.

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

This week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week goes to Senator Barbara Boxer, who showed why she will be so missed when she retires at the end of the year.

Boxer helpfully points out, in a Huffington Post blog, the difference between how Democrats see government's responsibility to clean water and the environment differs from Republicans -- who see clean water as one of those pesky "regulations" that are holding the private sector back from glory. The juxtaposition was missed by pretty much the entire media, leaving it to Boxer to shine some light on. From her article:

After seeing news reports over the past several weeks concerning the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, I was shocked and dismayed at a meeting yesterday of the Environment and Public Works Committee (E.P.W.) to consider S. 659, the so-called "Bipartisan Sportsmen Act," which included an unrelated amendment that weakens our nation's drinking water protections.

We have all seen disturbing reports of children being poisoned by lead in Flint's drinking water supplies. And what message do you think Republicans have taken from these upsetting news stories? At a time when Congress should be doing more to protect the American people from contaminated or polluted water, the Republican majority on the E.P.W. Committee did the exact opposite. They chose to vote for legislation to undermine the federal government's ability to protect drinking water supplies.

Specifically, the legislation as approved by the Republican majority takes away the right of the Environmental Protection Agency to issue permits when pesticides are sprayed over a body of water.

The difference in attitude of the two parties is indeed stark on the issue of clean water. But it took Boxer to point it out in all its ugly detail.

For showing the deep divide in priorities between Democrats and Republicans in such damning and poignant fashion, Senator Barbara Boxer is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Congratulate Senator Barbara Boxer on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

Hillary Clinton, far more than Bernie Sanders, has a lot of surrogates who can go out and make her case to various audiences. They can benefit her by improving her image, but they can also attack competitors (so that the candidate herself doesn't have to).

Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is Clinton ally David Brock, for his recent criticisms of Bernie Sanders's new "America" ad. The ad was shot at Bernie rallies for a state that is over 90 percent white. The images used reflected this reality. Brock called the ad "bizarre" and a "significant slight to the Democratic base." He piled on with the supposedly-damning: "From this ad it seems black lives don't matter much to Bernie Sanders."

A Sanders spokesman shot back, saying the Clinton campaign should be "ashamed" of its surrogate. "Twenty-five years ago it was Brock -- a mud-slinging, right-wing extremist -- who tried to destroy Anita Hill, a distinguished African-American law professor. He later was forced to apologize for his lies about her. Today, he is lying about Senator Sanders."

We couldn't have put it better ourselves. Brock is, easily, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[David Brock is a private citizen, and our policy is never to provide contact information for candidate web pages, so you'll have to search out the Clinton campaign info on your own to express your disappointment, sorry.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 375 (1/22/16)

Our third talking point this week is really non-partisan, because any citizen who understands the Bill of Rights should be outraged by it.

But, other than that one, the whole rest of this section is nothing short of an anti-Republican snarkfest this week, just because things have heated up so much out on the campaign trail. So sit back, pop some corn, and enjoy watching them all tear each other apart. This is so much fun, it really should be illegal (on humanitarian reasons alone).

 

1
   No, it certainly cannot be that the other side is right....

This first talking point comes from a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. Matt Latimer was even a speechwriter for George W. Bush -- probably one of those who truly believed in the concept of "compassionate conservatism." It's always sad when the notions we subscribe to as teenagers get shattered, isn't it? Latimer begins his opinion piece for the New York Times with: "I became a conservative as a teenager growing up in the city of Flint," complete with a firm belief that conservatives actually did care (all evidence to the contrary) about minorities and the poor. His essay is extraordinary, mostly because he correctly points out that the Flint situation is being almost completely ignored by all Republican presidential candidates. He calls it a chance for conservatives to prove their ideas for urban poverty work -- but he also identifies the fact that nobody is taking this chance. But, in the end, he refuses to see the plain truth in front of his face. Give him a few more years, and some more scales might fall from his eyes, we suppose. In any case, here's just part of his extraordinary op-ed:

This is the Republicans' chance to show their worth -- the chance our leaders have said they always wanted. Why haven't they been here over the decades, running serious candidates, supporting federal aid for the city, championing pilot projects that might show what a conservative approach to urban areas might do? Why aren't they in Flint today, shipping in water bottles and holding fund-raisers for kids now condemned to lowered expectations because their brains were poisoned by lead?

It cannot be, as the left would tell us, because Flint has a large African-American population.

 

2
   The others are not worthy

Nice to know some people in Flint are worthy of Republican attention.

"Ted Cruz has, to date, been just about the only Republican to even utter the name 'Flint,' but one really has to wonder at his priorities. The Cruz campaign is helping to send water bottles only to so-called 'crisis pregnancy centers' -- people who browbeat young women into not having an abortion -- but not to anyone else in Flint. The message is clear: if you are a pregnant woman who chooses not to abort an unwanted baby, you are deserving of clean water. If not, well then, you can just drink the toxic waste coming from the tap because you are simply not worthy enough as a human being to drink uncontaminated water. Just goes to show how Republicans would run the whole country, if they could. If you agree with their agenda, you can live. Otherwise, you're on your own."

 

3
   Highway robbery, plain and simple

This should transcend party lines, really, because it is so outrageous an abuse of government power.

"The Drug Enforcement Agency and the Transportation Security Administration have teamed up to institutionalize what used to be called 'highway robbery.' Think that's too strong a term? I don't. The Justice Department Inspector General just reported that the D.E.A. violated its own policy by recruiting a T.S.A. agent to help it violate the Bill of Rights on an ongoing basis. The scheme was for the T.S.A. agent to search travelers' bags for cash. Then the D.E.A. would swoop in, confiscate the money, and kick back some of the cash to the T.S.A. agent for his or her help. Anyone whose cash was stolen in such a fashion had to file a federal lawsuit to get it back and prove that the money wasn't related to drugs at all. This stands the Fourth and Fifth Amendments on their heads, and is downright un-American. How is shaking down train and airplane passengers for their cash in any way legal under the Bill of Rights? How is this in any way shape or form different than pure highway robbery? Congress needs to pass a law eliminating the concept of 'civil asset forfeiture' for all federal agents, period."

 

4
   Thanks, Dad

This one's gotta hurt. Admittedly, his remark wasn't all that bad, but even so....

"I see that Rand Paul's father Ron seems to be considering giving up on his son's chances to become the Republican nominee. Maybe it's because Ron Paul personally knows a thing or two about losing a Republican nomination fight, but this week in an interview he said 'it certainly is realistic' that Donald Trump was going to be the GOP nominee. You can just picture the awkward phone call after that news broke: 'Aw, c'mon, Dad!' 'Sorry, Son, but I gotta call them like I see them.' It's bad enough to have others toss your chances of winning under a bus, but when it comes from dear old Dad, it's really got to hurt."

 

5
   Who is worthy and who is not

When purity counts, it limits your choices.

"The Republican National Committee had already kicked out NBC from its upcoming debate, because the nasty people at CNBC asked mean questions the Republican candidates didn't want to answer, and now comes news that they've also kicked out the National Review from the debate as well, because they had the temerity to criticize Donald Trump. Boy, if they're insisting on such purity in their debate sponsors, pretty soon they'll be down to having all their candidates appear on an otherwise-empty stage, and just debate each other, freestyle. It's going to be seriously amusing when the primaries are done and the 'kid gloves' Republican debates are over, because sooner or later they're going to have to answer some questions from outside the right-wing echo chamber. For now, they're still able to wrap their debates in cotton batting so nobody gets their feelings hurt, but that won't happen in the general election."

 

6
   Might want to rethink that destination, Bill

Always fun when people don't check their facts. As Salon amusingly pointed out this week.

"Bill O'Reilly has stated that if a Bernie Sanders wins the presidency this November, he's going to move to Ireland rather than pay his taxes to President Sanders. Putting aside the fact that nobody actually pays their taxes to the president himself, I think O'Reilly's in for a shock. Ireland is fairly conservative on some things, like abortion, but it also has higher taxes than America (over fifty percent for the top bracket), extremely strict gun control laws (most police aren't even armed), and -- horror of horrors -- single-payer socialized medicine! So O'Reilly would be escaping from a phantom socialist America for a very real socialist Ireland. Maybe he might want to rethink his post-election travel plans?"

 

7
   Conservatives are revolting

And finally, we end exactly where we began.

"Boy, it's tough to keep track of the revolts going on in the Republican Party these days. Donald Trump is leading a revolt against the establishment Republicans. The National Review is leading a counterrevolt against Trump. The establishment Republicans are actually waving a big white flag and are now revolting against the National Review and sucking up to Trump. Ted Cruz is leading a revolt against pretty much every other Republican in existence, who are quite willing to badmouth Cruz in return. The party's voters are leading a revolt against the big money donors. Pretty much anywhere you look within the Republican Party, things are downright revolting."

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:
ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank

 

Nick Wing   |   January 20, 2016    9:46 AM ET


A Department of Justice watchdog officially condemned the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this month, following a report that the agency had recruited a Transportation Security Administration security screener to search bags for cash that the DEA could confiscate.


The very existence of such a partnership highlights much broader concerns about the controversial legal practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which critics say contorts law enforcement priorities and props up a system of policing for profit.


In a summary of its investigation, the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General concluded that the agreement "violated DEA policy" on a number of levels. While the OIG determined that the TSA informant never provided any actionable information to the DEA, it concluded that the plans to pay the agent out of the cash he or she helped seize "could have violated individuals’ protection against unreasonable searches and seizures if it led to a subsequent DEA enforcement action."


In effect, the OIG was questioning the propriety of an arrangement in which a TSA agent would use his or her power to tip off the DEA to the presence of cash in travelers' luggage, and then receive compensation based on how profitable that information was to the agency.


Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney for the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice, says the same criticism could be made about the entire practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement officials to seize a person's property -- including cash, cars, jewelry and houses -- without obtaining a conviction or even charging the owner with a crime.


"This really is what we see every day around the country -- when law enforcement takes property using civil forfeiture, law enforcement is able to keep that property and use it to fund their budgets and in many cases even to pay the salaries of people who are overseeing the forfeitures," said Johnson.


"That creates an obvious financial incentive to take property from people who haven't done anything or haven't been proven to have done anything wrong. It creates an incentive for all kinds of abuse," he added.





Civil forfeiture has become a critical source of revenue for law enforcement over the past decade, with state and federal agencies now taking in hundreds of millions of dollars in property, and likely more, each year. Cash has meanwhile emerged as a favorite target for police, even if it's just hundreds or thousands of dollars.


Transportation hubs are a particular point of focus for the DEA. A 2015 OIG report found that from 2009 to 2013, the DEA seized $163 million in 4,138 individual cash seizures, many of which were contested and later overturned. The agency has also come under fire in recent cases that involved agents seizing cash from airline and train passengers, and in some cases, allegedly shaking them down.


In the Justice Department report this month, the OIG also called out the DEA for paying an Amtrak informant nearly $1 million over two decades to provide them with passenger information that was already available to the agency.


Law enforcement officials regularly tout civil asset forfeiture as an important tool for fighting the drug trade, because it allows them to go after property directly, without any evidence of criminal behavior on the part of its owner. Drug traffickers, they say, are smart enough not to carry cash and contraband at the same time.


Of course, it's not actually illegal to put a few thousands dollars into a checked bag -- but in the mind of some drug warriors, any individual carrying a large amount of cash must have obtained it illegally, even if the authorities can't prove it. 


Officers will often seize cash based solely upon this presumption, and then work to build a case for permanent forfeiture. Under federal guidelines and many state laws, however, law enforcement can win cases based on very weak evidence, which often has the effect of leaving property owners with the burden of proving that their property isn't related to criminal activity.



The DEA has also come under fire in recent cases that involved agents seizing cash from airline and train passengers, and in some cases, allegedly shaking them down.

Critics say this process inverts the American legal principle that suspects are innocent until proven guilty, and takes a particularly harsh toll on people who are already disadvantaged and may not have the resources to fight a prolonged legal battle.

Beyond the legal objections, opponents of civil asset forfeiture maintain that such a cash-focused approach to policing can fundamentally change the purpose of law enforcement, leading officers to prioritize activities that bring in more money, rather than those that focus on public safety.

Johnson said the TSA case highlights these concerns, and demonstrates that the DEA is willing to go to great lengths to expand its ability to make profitable seizures. 

"That's really what the OIG is saying: The TSA agents should be focused on doing their job the way the TSA wants them to be doing their job, not what they're getting paid to do by the DEA," Johnson said. "It just warps the TSA agents' priorities."

And while the Justice Department's investigation reveals exactly the sort of shady behavior that a system of policing for profit rewards, critics like Johnson say it's time for federal authorities to take a harder look at the tool that enables this system to thrive in the first place.

"If this is so problematic that it merits condemnation by the OIG, then I hope the OIG will be putting out their next report on why civil forfeiture should be abolished as well," Johnson said.

Also on HuffPost:

TSA To Stop Accepting Driver's Licenses From 9 U.S. States

Conde Nast Traveler   |   January 11, 2016   12:44 PM ET

by Katherine LaGrave, Condé Nast Traveler

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Alamy

States refusing to comply with the Real ID Act may finally pay the price--but travelers are in the clear for two more years.

In September, we heard the Department of Homeland Security would begin to enforce the Real ID Act for air travel in 2016, which would require secondary identification for licenses issued by four U.S. states. Now, the DHS has upped the number of licenses that don't meet their standards, which means that if you're carrying one from Alaska, California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Washington state, Puerto Rico, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you might find yourself turned away if you're not prepared.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

In 2005, following the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, the Real ID Act was passed by Congress with the end goal of making fake IDs harder to obtain. U.S. states and territories were to enforce stricter requirements when issuing IDs, including demanding more proof of identity. Several states, however, refused to comply because of privacy concerns, and it's catching up to them: Extensions to Real ID requirements are slated to expire on January 10, 2016. The DHS has already denied further extensions for Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington state, and has reputedly said they will not extend deadlines for other states.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Don't break out that passport just yet. Despite the looming deadline, the DHS has been vague about actually implementing the law. In the most recent update, the DHS said travelers could keep using their current licenses for two more years; states that don't comply with the Real ID Act have until January 22, 2018 to issue better IDs, but as of October 1, 2020, all travelers will need a Real ID-compliant license (or passport) to fly.

Under current guidelines, all state-issued licenses and identification cards (see full list at TSA.gov) are accepted at airport checkpoints.

See the Best U.S. Airlines on CNTravler.com

More from Condé Nast Traveler:

20 Places That Are Straight Out of Fairy Tales

The Friendliest and Unfriendliest Cities in the World

The Most Beautiful Island in the World

25 Things You Absolutely, Positively Have to Do in New York City

50 Things to Do in America Before You Die

Also on HuffPost:

Ed Mazza   |   January 7, 2016   12:17 AM ET

An angry California dad posted a YouTube video of a TSA agent thoroughly patting down his 10-year-old daughter at a North Carolina airport.

"10 Year Old Girl Aggressively Patted Down by TSA," the father, Kevin Payne, wrote in the title. "Does this look right to You?"

The video shows a female TSA agent at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Dec. 30 running gloved hands along the outside of the girl's clothes, covering much of her body and appearing to check some areas multiple times. 

Payne told the San Diego Union-Tribune that his daughter, Vendela, was given the extra screening when TSA agents discovered a Capri Sun juice pouch in her bag.  

He said he tried to keep his daughter calm by making funny faces at her. 

"My dad was making funny faces silly faces in the mirror and I felt like screaming the whole time," Vendela told NBC San Diego. "I know it's to keep everybody on the plane safe, but she kept patting me down. Pat down, pat down. It was like, over and over."

A TSA representative told the Washington Post that an alarm on the girl's cellphone triggered additional screening measures, and the video shows it was within agency guidelines.

"TSA screening procedures allow for the pat down of a child under certain circumstances," the spokesman told the newspaper. "The process by which the child was patted down followed approved procedures."

Payne disagrees. 

"I thought it was incredibly inappropriate, very invasive and it really violated my daughter," he said on "Good Morning America."

He said he plans to file a complaint. 

 

Also on HuffPost:

50 Countries and Counting: A Naturalista's Travel Adventures -- Number Two -- Honeymoon In the Bahamas

Patti R. Rose   |   January 6, 2016   10:01 AM ET

When I was a young girl, I decided that I would get married in the Triangle Church, which was actually entitled, St. Albans Congregational Church, in St. Albans, Queens.

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I was not a member of this church nor was my family but I just thought it was so beautiful that someday, I would have my wedding there. I have always been big on deciding what I want to happen, seeing it in my minds eye and then manifesting it through repeating my desires and visualizing. It sounds hokey but I later put this into action through vision boards and I find it amazing that this process truly works. I also decided that I wanted to honeymoon in the Poconos. When I reflect back on the latter choice, it makes me smile because my dreams were not solidified in terms of international travel. I had been to Canada and Aruba but my travel ideas were still small.

When it was time for me to marry, after meeting my wonderful husband while we were both students at Yale University, soon after we graduated, I fulfilled my dream of having a beautiful wedding in the Triangle Church.

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As we planned for the wedding, I shared with my best friend at the time, the Poconos honeymoon idea. She laughed and said, "You can't honeymoon in the Poconos. You should go to the Caribbean. You don't have to go far. What about the Bahamas? That will be so romantic." That definitely seemed like a great idea so I shared it with my then fiancé and he loved it. The plan was on. We chose Nassau, as it was a popular spot, and once again I was dreaming of crystal blue water, white sand beaches and the joy of traveling internationally.

Our wedding was beautiful, followed by a lovely reception, which included all of our family and friends, a champagne fountain and other libations, delicious food, a lovely cake and gifts galore. I was now Mrs. Rose, a married woman, and off to my honeymoon with a young man whom I loved with all my heart. We arrived at the airport, with luggage in hand and excitement beyond my imagination, ready to check in and board our plane (there was no TSA then). However, upon proceeding to check in for our flight, we were advised that the rules had changed ten days earlier. We needed a passport, birth certificate or baptismal record, or another form of ID, none of which we had on us. This situation was unbelievable! We called our travel agent (yes, they were very active then -- no online bookings) and he panicked advising that he had forgotten about this change and said he'd re-book us to fly out the next day. Immediately, I began to cry, comforted by my husband and we left the airport. I called my mother and my best friend Valerie, who tried to console me. Valerie rushed to my mother's house and they had all of our wedding gifts on display on my mother's dining room table, for us to open, when I arrived in an effort to try and bring back some joy. My mother had my birth certificate ready for me.

My husband's hometown was in Connecticut, in a small city called Norwich. We would have to drive there (It would take us 2.5 hours). When he called his parents, they told him they could not find his birth certificate in their house. They would have to go to their church (they were Catholic) to get his baptismal certificate. We headed there with earnest. I was a bit calmer because all seemed resolved and my husband assured me that our honeymoon would be just as wonderful, a day later. We arrived at his parent's home and he went to the church with his mother. To make a long story short, they came back about an hour later and Jeff's mother was in tears. My husband had a look of shock on his face. It turns out that there was some confusion in locating his baptismal certificate at the church when the priest couldn't find it. Jeff's mother then recalled that the reason was because the priest should look under a different last name. My husband was surprised and confused and then it happened. They found it and he learned that the man who had raised him for his entire life, was not his natural father. He was his adopted father! This indeed was a shocker and the details of this entire story will be revealed soon, through a video series in progress, but you can imagine the shock that my husband and I were in. Now, not only was our honeymoon delayed by a day but, my husband had to come to terms with the fact that the father who had loved him and raised him, was not his natural father and that everyone in his immediate and extended family knew and never told him out of love for him. His adopted father had been so good to him that my husband never had a hint that he wasn't his natural born son.

So, we went on our honeymoon to the Bahamas, my second and my husband's first international journey, now in a state of quasi-shock and madly in love. It was a wonderful honeymoon! We stayed at the Nassau Beach Hotel, which was lovely.

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We carried a basket with us, that was given to us as a wedding present by one of my husband's many, aunts. In it was a bottle of Dom Perignon (liquids were allowed to be carried on the plane at that time), two crystal champagne glasses, a beautiful and tasteful negligee and a lovely card. We enjoyed every drop of the champagne, in the Bahamas on our first night, and forgot about what we would have to face when we returned home, as I knew that my husband would want to find his real father at some point, which he ultimately did. It turns out that his real father was the first Black President of a college in the Northeast (that's another story, altogether) and they have remained in contact with each other until this day. He's a very nice person and we have all enjoyed getting to know him and his wife over many years.

So once again, another international journey for this naturalista led to an intriguing story that made the experience exceptionally interesting. We remember the Bahamas so fondly because of all it meant to us--the beginning of our life together and a new discovery that would change our lives forever. While in the Bahamas, we went to the straw market, ate delicious food, swam in the crystal blue waters and enjoyed every moment of our beautiful honeymoon in a place that I recommend as a "must do."

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We returned to the Bahamas for our 17th wedding anniversary and stayed at a nearby hotel and we visited the Nassau Beach Hotel which was still as lovely as it was the first time. Recently, we celebrated our 30th anniversary in Paris in November. We made it home just before the tragedy that occurred in Paris on November 13, 2015. But that's another story to be shared in an upcoming post. Stay tuned for that!

Below are some tips on how you can begin your travel journey, if you have not already, which I hope you will find useful. Tips will follow throughout this travel series, with more detail each time.

Travel Tips:

1. Create a Vision Board
Visualize where you would like to travel in the world. Speak this desire to everyone you know, whenever the opportunity arises. Create a vision board which includes a picture of you standing in the place where you want to go. Look at it often. Write on the vision board, "I am happy and grateful that I am now happily in... (the Bahamas as an example). Then believe it and achieve it!


2. Pack your suitcase
Once you decide on the destination that you want to travel, research the weather, pick a date and pack your suitcase with the basic items of clothing that you will need for the trip. Once you pack your suitcase, then your mind knows that you are going and you are on your way to manifestation. Always pack lightly when you actually travel, particularly now, with TSA in place. If you can bring your suitcase as a carryon, that is always better to avoid lost luggage.

3. Prepare to Travel Under TSA Guidelines
First, update yourself on the TSA guidelines as they do change. The basics that I suggest is, naturalistas, where your hair in a simple do. Your hair may be subject to a pat down, which is totally frustrating but it can happen. Where shoes that are simple to take off, avoid wearing a belt and basically -- just keep it simple.

4. Leave a Copy of your Passport behind with Family/Loved Ones
It's always a good idea to make a copy of your passport and leave it behind with family along with your itinerary (address and telephone number of where you will be staying and any other important details), just in case.

5. Change Currency Before you go or Outside of the Airport/Your Hotel
Often times, currency exchange rates are higher at the airport or at your hotel. If possible, acquire your international currency through your bank or at a currency exchange location outside of your hotel once you arrive at your destination. There should be many currency exchange locations, in the country you are visiting, which post the daily rate, which enables you to choose the best possible rate.

I hope you find these tips helpful as there will be plenty more as this series continues. Remember, visualize your dream trips as part of your preparation process. In my next post of this series, I will share my journey with you for some locations that I traveled to in the U.S. and Canada, which was part of my doctoral dissertation research process! I traveled to ten cities in the U.S. and two provinces in Canada in less than 6 months, alone. This was quite a journey for a young, married, mother of 2 toddlers! Until then, believe it and you will achieve it! Manifest your travel dreams!

What TSA's New Scanner Rules Mean For Your Next Flight

Christopher Elliott   |   January 4, 2016   10:20 AM ET

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The Transportation Security Administration's new rules for screening passengers with its controversial full-body scanners -- which were quietly changed just before the busy holiday travel season -- represent a significant policy reversal that could affect your next flight.

Getting checked by the TSA's advanced-imaging technology used to be entirely optional, allowing those who refused a scan to be subjected to a pat-down. In fact, many observers thought the agency installed the 740 body scanners in 160 airports with an understanding that no one would be forced to use them, ever.

But on a Friday in late December, the TSA revised its rules, saying an "opt out" is no longer an option for certain passengers. (The full document can be found on the Department of Homeland Security's website.) The decision drew mixed reaction from experts and raised concerns from passengers. The biggest: Will I get pushed through one of these scanners before I board my next flight?

Related: Frequently asked questions about the TSA.

"Most people will be able to opt out," says Bruce Anderson, a TSA spokesman. "Some passengers will be required to undergo advanced-imaging screening if their boarding pass indicates that they have been selected for enhanced screening, in accordance with TSA regulations, prior to their arrival at the security checkpoint. This will occur in a very limited number of circumstances."

To some, the change appeared to be timed to ensure a muted public response. It escaped the traveling public's notice until almost a week later, which happened to be Christmas Eve. Anderson says the TSA wasn't waiting for a slow news day. "The revision to this policy was designed to provide TSA with the flexibility necessary to address immediate security concerns," he says. Either way, barring a major outcry, the new opt-out rules are likely to stick. But it's still too early to tell how the TSA plans to implement its new protocol or how the vague guidelines could affect your spring break or summer flights. That, say TSA observers, is cause for concern.

Passenger advocates object to the full-body scanners on many levels. The pricey machines, they say, were deployed without giving the public a chance to comment, a process required by federal law. They also say the devices violate the Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. Also, the scanners have not been adequately tested and may present health risks, some claim.

Critics say the technology is easily foiled and ultimately ineffective at identifying threats, citing an audit in which the TSA failed to catch weapons 67 of 70 times. To date, the scanners have not thwarted a single attempted terrorist attack, these agency-watchers correctly point out. What's more, the agency has broken a promise it made to passengers and legislators when it began installing the scanners in 2009.

"The TSA is going back on its word," says Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University and prominent TSA-watcher. "The scanners were sold to Congress and the public on the promise that they were optional, but for at least some people, that is no longer the case."

Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which filed the original lawsuit to suspend deployment of the devices, says the new policy represents an important reversal. In previous court filings, the agency offered written assurance that the scanners were optional. Based on the agency's statements, a federal appeals court affirmed the legality of using the full-body scanners as long as fliers were given a choice.

"The TSA lacks the legal authority to compel travelers to go through the body scanners," Rotenberg says.

Despite the concerns, the new scanning rules may improve security, says Stephen Lloyd, a former safety director for the Federal Aviation Administration who now runs an aerospace consulting firm in the Washington region. "This recent change was implemented, I'm sure, based on security threat assessments and the need to use scanners when security conditions dictate, to protect the public," he says.

Anthony Roman, a counterterrorism expert in Lynbrook, N.Y., concurs. "I believe it is one of the best initiatives taken by TSA in recent memory," Roman says. "Surprise is the key element of this initiative. It creates a randomness and unpredictability regarding who will be scanned and who will not be scanned." That randomness, for fliers screened in the future, can prevent a terrorist attack, he adds.

Some fliers are skeptical and upset about the change. Karen Pliskin, an anthropologist from Oakland, Calif., opts out of the scanners and plans to continue doing so. She objects to the advanced-imaging technology for several reasons, chief among them her fear that they may emit harmful radiation.

"I had a small skin cancer removed, and I don't do anything that could potentially exacerbate a recurrence," she says. "No matter that the TSA says that their scanners are foolproof; only a fool would say that something is foolproof."

Anderson says they are safe: "The radio-frequency emissions from these systems are well below the safety limits established by national health and safety standards for the general public."

Stephen Costanzo, who runs an education company in St. Petersburg, Fla., says he's not bothered by the new rules. He interprets the new guidelines to mean that only passengers with screening anomalies will have to use the scanner. "In other words, when a person, for whatever reason, has already failed multiple checks, a full-body scan can be required in order to identify with more accuracy whether that traveler poses a potential security threat," he says.

"Clearly, there is still room for abuse," he adds. "But there always has been, and these new guidelines do not change that."

For now, the TSA's new rules mean you might not be able to say "no" to its full-body scanners on your next flight. If you do, you won't be allowed into the boarding area. (Time is running out for the TSA; its scanners are expected to start reaching the end of their useful life in two years, and it's unlikely they'll be replaced.) Down the road, it's unclear whether the TSA's rules will change yet again, perhaps mandating that an opt out is no longer an option at all.

But we know when such a policy change is likely to be announced. Look for it on a Friday just before the next major travel holiday.

After you've left a comment here, let's continue the discussion on my consumer advocacy site or on Twitter, Facebook and Google. I also have a newsletter and you'll definitely want to order my new, amazingly helpful and subversive book called How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle). Photo: Shutterstock.

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