Adventures in Bureaucracy
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Among the search engine strings that have pulled up this website:

"don't like Rick Steves" and "annoying"+"rick steves".

Right with you there, buddy.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Freedom Tower in New York redesigned. Again. Actually it looks more like a minor tweak than a total redesign, which is good, considering the cornerstone was laid two years ago and construction started earlier this year.
Sad, but it sounds like the same thing I hear any time I talk to my old acquaintances who are now in Customs and Border Protection:

Colleen M. Kelly: As I travel around the country and talk to employees at our ports of entry, most employees tell me we are not any safer as a nation due to the consolidation of agencies into CBP. Two issues are always identified, CBP's "one face at the border" initiative, and staffing.
"One face at the border" put legacy Customs and Immigration and Agriculture officers in the same uniform with a goal to cross train everyone. Employees see this as a dilution of the expertise they bring to the job, and that the alleged cross training does not give them the skills or knowledge they need to feel they are doing the job they need to and want to do. CBP sees this initiative as a "force multiplier". That's what they call it. Employees see it as an abysmal failure on the part of CBP and that it causes them to not be able to do their jobs effectively. I have repeatedly raised this with DHS and CBP and will do so once again with the new CBP Commissioner and ask him to take a new look at this. Again, a perfect example of where the department and CBP are not listening to employees and their representatives.
And CBP needs staffing at most ports of entry. CBP is not asking for the money. NTEU is.

There was an article about the training issue in Federal Times a few months ago. It sounds like the officers are expected to do more with less academy training. The complaint I hear is that it's the immigration enforcement aspects that lose out, because cargo doesn't write complaint letters if it's delayed at entry, and cargo almost never attacks. Then again, I may hear this because most of the people I know in CBP are crusty old immigration people.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Tokyo on less than $1000 a week. Apparently it IS possible, but only if you skip the Hello Kitty tour.
Weirdness in New Orleans. Maybe the city is getting back to normal after all.
Monday, June 12, 2006
More bad news for DHS:

The Department of Homeland Security allowed a man to enter its headquarters last week using a fake Matricula Consular card as identification, despite federal rules that say the Mexican-issued card is not valid ID at government buildings.
Blackout in New Zealand today. This probably means a shortage of virgin wool tomorrow.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Why I enjoy reading Andrea Harris at "A Crafty Madness" (for this year anyway):

"I think that the “I should be able to dress however I want in public” attitude is one of the worst things to come out of the Sixties. The naive young creatures who came up with that notion were influenced, whether they liked it or not, by the more rigid fashions of their forebearers; it never occurred to them that their revival of the flowing gowns, long locks, and bright colors of the Renaissance era (which is what the best of the Sixties style resembled, except for the mini skirt — and even the short skirts and dresses often resembled the short tunics that Medieval and Elizabethan men wore) would be replaced in later years by thug wear, adults dressed like the Garbage Pail kids, and teenage girls dressing like crackwhores."
Anyone above a certain level in DHS seems to have a BlackBerry, which should be enough to squelch the ambitions of just about anyone thinking about making that jump to headquarters. Is a grade increase really worth being always on call and always expected to respond to your e-mails? I've been to meetings with people who would be tapping away, seemingly oblivious to the topic of the day while responding to another no-doubt-critical message.

But it looks like there may be a temporary escape for some at a hotel in Chicago, where they promise to lock the offensive things up for your stay.

As a service to BlackBerry slaves, here is the contact information for that hotel. Happy travels!
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Just to drive home the point on identity documents (and not because I'm blatantly fishing for links, since I just added a SiteMeter counter to see who's been wandering around here), here's a round-up of recent fraud news:

Trial begins in Sanaa for 23 people accused of forging Yemeni identity cards to get fighters into Iraq

Swedish man with false visa on trial for smuggling Iraqis into Sweden

Swiss Embassy in Islamabad replaces its entire staff -- local hires and Swiss nationals -- over fears of improper visa issuances (no doubt a nightmare scenario for Diplodocus or FSO Globetrotter)

Diversity Visa fraud ring busted in Nairobi

Woman from Ghana on trial for using a false Botswana passport to try to get a German visa in Gaborone

Nigerian tries to escape Malta with false passport

Georgian crime boss caught with Ukrainian passport

Mexican convicted of selling fake green cards in Massachusetts

Identity theft in Arizona

It's definitely a large scale problem, and it's not just for working in the United States.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
The Post has an article on something REALLY important: the eco-friendly toilet. Why does being eco-friendly always seem to mean abandoning all the comforts that humanity has spent the last six thousand years developing? Just because these environmentally correct crappers exist doesn't mean that they should be considered morally superior to the toilets we've got now. I mean, I've seen these composting things in restrooms in parks, but that's not a smell I want wafting around my office building.

It doesn't look like the things are exactly all that cost-effective:
"When the foundation built its headquarters five years ago, it installed 12 Swedish compost toilets that cost $30,000 more to install than conventional toilets but save $2,100 a year on water and sewage. The compost enriches the building's natural landscaping."
So the things pay for themselves in fourteen years! But that's fourteen years you can lord your environmental cred over everyone else, and how do you put a price on that?

It's funny that they call out the Germans to justify the non-flush toilets, as I know I've written about this before. Aha, yes, there it is: November 14, 2004. Suffice it to say that German privy habits are nothing we want to emulate here. No, we should be more like the Japanese, whose toilets are at the apex of lavatorial technology. They're described rather clinically here, but the enviros don't seem to put a premium on hygiene, for which the Japanese johns are simply without peer. Maybe if they were solar-powered and used rainwater, but even then, there's too much technology for your average greenie to tolerate. I don't know whether your average Toto will handle wood chips yet, but I have no doubt that Japanese engineers are up to that particular challenge.

I don't care what's environmentally correct. I am not one to let yellow mellow.
One of the things that always gets me with talk of "comprehensive immigration reform" is the talk about creating "tamper-proof" identity documents. There's no such thing as a tamper-proof document. In my airport years I probably saw thousands of counterfeits of every identity document known to man: birth certificates, Social Security cards, driver's licenses, green cards, visas, passports. You name it, and someone is probably manufacturing a fake version somewhere.

It looks like I'm not the only one who doesn't believe in a tamper-proof document:

"One way or another, we'll always find a way," said Hernandez, 35, a sidewalk operator who is part of a complex counterfeiting network around MacArthur Park, where authentic-looking IDs are available for as little as $150.

Not to question Mr. Hernandez' product line, but unless things have changed since I've been out in the field, most of the counterfeits sold to illegal aliens are horrible and not "authentic-looking" at all to anyone who has to look at the things day in and day out. But they work, since all the employer has to do is check a box saying he checked for documents.

Two ideas keep coming up for tamper-proofing the system, and both come down to registration. One is employer verification of the documents people present to get jobs. The argument is that if credit card companies can do it millions of times every day, the federal government should be able to do the same thing to verify work eligibility. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a program for this along the lines of instant verification of a credit card number.

And as we all know, there's absolutely no fraud with credit cards! The problem here is that this doesn't require making a better green card; it just means that the people who make the fake ones will no longer be able to make up Social Security numbers out of thin air like they do now. Instead they'll have to use the identities of real people with work eligibility.

The second idea for tamper-proofing identity documents is biometrics. The idea here is to link an identity to some physical characteristic of the person, so that it can be matched up when the person is encountered again. State Department does a fingerprint scan when people apply for visas. Customs and Border Protection checks fingerprints for a lot of people entering the country. These are checked against databases, but now the biometric information is being stored in the documents themselves. The new "e-passports" have biometrics stored in chips.

The fakes used for entry have to be a lot better than the stuff Mr. Hernandez sells in MacArthur Park, and I don't see how he's going to be able to duplicate a chip, at least in the short term. Then again, he probably doesn't have to. How many employers within the United States are going to have the equipment to read a biometric passport?

Things could get a lot more interesting in the long term. The market for counterfeit documents isn't going to go away, and counterfeiters have always been a resourceful bunch. What are they going to do next? I remember getting totally grossed out by the back-alley eye transplant to avoid detection via an iris scan in "Minority Report", but are people willing to surgically alter their fingerprints? Skin grafts are done now, and we live in a time where face transplants have become a reality. How far will people go to get around biometric documents?

Although if people tamper with their own bodies but not the identity documents, will that be considered a success?

Not really on point, but I did like this exchange:
[Dr. Solomon is about to transplant new eyes into Anderton]
John Anderton: I'd like to keep the old ones.
Dr. Solomon: Why?
John Anderton: Because my mother gave them to me.
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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