Two Overblown Scandals

Many of our friends on the right won’t agree, but I think that two scandals currently in the news are mostly faux. The first is the Transportation Security Administration’s full body scanner/pat-down policy. Large segments of the country are up in arms, but, as one who flies somewhere almost every week, I haven’t seen much of a problem. Relatively few airports have the new scanners; I have gone through a handful of them without incident.
Granted, I am not an attractive woman and therefore am less sensitive to the privacy issues involved in full body scanning. But if I thought the scanners made a meaningful contribution to our security by spotting explosives that don’t show up in a metal detector, I would be OK with the technology even though my wife and daughters are very much in the attractive female category. Whether the scanners work or not is unclear, and has not been the focus of most of the current controversy. As for the pat-downs, they befall travelers who set off a metal detector or refuse the scanner. It has probably been several years, and hundreds of flights, since I have been patted down. If things have gotten materially worse over the last few weeks, I will have more to say in the future. But for now I am not seeing a big problem.
This is not to endorse the TSA; it may well be a good idea to outsource airport security to private contractors, as some airports are now doing. But, based on a great deal of first-hand experience, I don’t think the TSA is contributing greatly to the inconvenience of air travel.
The second scandal with which I am not especially impressed is Charlie Rangel’s ethics conviction. I don’t doubt that Rangel has violated various House ethics rules; he has confessed as much. But those rules actually set a pretty high standard. As a partisan, it would be easy to take pleasure in Rangel’s downfall. But what troubles me about the Rangel story is that it contributes to the popular impression that corruption in Congress is widespread. That simply isn’t true. There are some bad apples on both sides of the aisle like William Jefferson and Duke Cunningham, but actual bribe-taking is rare.
As for Rangel, it has been hard (for me, anyway, having been out of commission for the last month) to figure out whether he is guilty of tax evasion. I think the answer is Yes, but on a small scale, but I am not certain that is correct. If Rangel has indeed evaded taxes he should be prosecuted. But the ethics violations of which he has been found guilty strike me as relatively minor. It would be unfortunate if they fuel a mostly-incorrect perception that Congress is corrupt.
There you have it: now let the brickbats be thrown by our conservative friends.
UPDATE: The Hill records a moment of kindness by Michele Bachmann, an “unlikely friend” to Rangel. No one who knows Michele will find it surprising.

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