Risking Your Safety And Wasting Your Time.

The growing threat of terrorism, increased air travel and a shortage of security agents have led to long lines and growing frustration at airport security checks. As a result, it’s fashionable to blame the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the problem. Indeed, Republicans would have you believe that the problem is just another example of an incompetent and inefficient federal government. That would seem to be a good explanation. It’s just not true.

Certainly, the problem is the fault of government. But the real culprit is the GOP-controlled Congress.

To get a clear picture of the problem, you must first understand that TSA agents have a difficult, almost impossible, job. They are expected to keep a watchful eye through grueling work shifts while dealing with long lines of frustrated, disrespectful and often clueless people; people who are laden down with a growing list of “necessities” as carry-on baggage; people who try to sneak any number of prohibited items through the screening process; people who fail to follow instructions then defiantly protest when they are confronted for their stupidity – all the while delaying those in line behind them. Yet those same people expect the agents to keep them safe. There is no margin for error.

Such stressful, yet monotonous work and low pay have led to an exceptionally high turnover of TSA agents – more than 20 percent annually.

In an attempt to alleviate the problem, TSA management offered a pre-clearance program that was expected to reduce the number of agents required while, at the same time, improving the flow of passengers through security. It was a good idea. But, unfortunately, significantly fewer passengers than expected signed up for the program. That forced TSA to increase its workforce. But given the low starting salary, the extensive background checks needed for such a sensitive position, and the training required, TSA has been unable to react quickly.

All of that set the stage for Republican congressional representatives to really screw things up. Despite fomenting fear by pointing to the threat of ISIS and claiming that immigrants could likely be terrorists, they swept money from TSA’s budget in an attempt to further cut the deficit. Then they pointed fingers at TSA for the resulting lines. The hope is that a backlash from passengers will help Republicans attain one of their ideological goals – to privatize airport security and most other functions of government.

Just what we need – to turn our security over to a corporation that got the contract as the lowest bidder, then competes with fast food companies to hire a bunch of underpaid, under qualified and disgruntled workers in order to meet its CEO’s profit goals. Or maybe congressional Republicans could give another no-bid contract to Halliburton – the oily company once run by Richard “The Dick” Cheney that wasted hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conservative author and humorist P. J. O’Rourke described it best by writing, “Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”

GOP Put “Obamacare” Tantrum Above Infrastructure And Jobs.

In March of this year, President Obama called for Congress to approve a $21 billion package designed to update our crumbling infrastructure and create jobs. “Let’s get this done. Let’s rebuild this country we love. Let’s make sure we’re staying on the cutting edge,” Obama said, calling for a “partnership to rebuild America.”

As part of the package, Obama proposed creating an infrastructure bank to help seed major projects. In addition, his proposal would invest $4 billion to support the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) designed to leverage private and non-federal funding for projects of regional or national significance through loans, loan guarantees and lines of credit. The proposal also called for tax incentives meant to support state and municipal bonds for infrastructure modernization projects. The president noted that both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions back infrastructure spending.

It was met with indifference by Republicans in Congress.

Speaker John Boehner questioned how such projects would be funded. “It’s easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all the things you want to give away, but at some point somebody has to pay the bill,” he said.

Keep in mind the cost of the package was $21 billion…$3 billion less than Republicans and their Tea Party parasites squandered by shutting down the government for 16 days! Who’s going to pay that bill?

Wait! I already know the answer. If the GOP follows it’s usual protocol, the money will be taken from food stamps, kids and the working poor.

When US Jobs Are Shipped Offshore, It’s In A Shipping Container.

Since Malcom McClean invented the modern shipping container in the late sixties, no individual item has had a greater impact on the US and world economies.  These large, steel and aluminum boxes can be filled with products, carried by truck to the nearest port, and loaded by crane onto a ship specifically designed to carry them.  Then, upon reaching the next port, the containers are stacked onto a rail car and carried across country, loaded onto another truck and hauled to a warehouse before being unloaded and the products distributed to stores.

Shipping containers have not only revolutionized shipping.  They have revolutionized manufacturing and distribution.  More than any other single factor, they have enabled and defined globalization.

In the process, they have eliminated jobs of dock workers and merchant mariners.  They nearly destroyed our railroads.  And they have allowed manufacturers to export jobs to countries with the lowest salaries and least regulations.  Indeed, the equipment from manufacturing plants in the US was likely shipped to new manufacturing plants in China and other parts of Asia in shipping containers.

True, these containers also bring us cheaper products.  But, following the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs, an increasingly smaller percentage of Americans are able to afford them.

During a recent interview on National Public Radio, Rose George, author of Ninety Percent Of Everything; Inside Shipping, The Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes On Your Back, Gas In Your Car, Food On Your Plate, explained that the efficiency of the shipping container has impacted virtually every industry on every part of the planet.  For example, she noted it is now cheaper for Scotland’s fishing industry to load fish caught in the North Atlantic into containers and ship them to China to be filleted then shipped back than to have workers fillet them in Scotland!

This is good for the companies, good for China, and good for the consumer.  It’s bad for Scottish workers and bad for the environment.  For even though maritime shipping is, in itself, fuel efficient, such unnecessary shipping adds to the carbon emissions that accelerate climate change.  Ships and their sonar also create noise that disrupts communications of sea life, such as dolphins and whales.  And there is the inevitable pollution of waste from the ships.

There are other negative aspects of shipping containers.  Since they have overwhelmed ports around the world, there are far too many to be checked by customs and law enforcement, making it easier for smuggling rings to operate.  They have even been used to smuggle humans into the US.  The increased maritime traffic has also rejuvenated the once-dying pirate trade.  And increased shipping has accelerated the transfer of invasive species.

Often the shipping containers used to bring finished products to the US are filled with our toxic e-waste and shipped to countries that have few environmental regulations for the heavy metals to be reclaimed, damaging the environment and risking the health of low-paid workers in the process.

George’s book and another, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller, by Marc Levinson examine the scope of the container shipping industry and all of its impacts, both positive and negative, on our society.

Both books are fascinating reads.  But they could just as well have been titled How the Shipping Container Destroyed the American Middle Class.