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Airport scanners funded by stimulus bill sit in mothballs at Transportation Security Administration

Airport scanner at DeGaulle Airport in Paris Feb. 22, 2010
One year ago, President Obama signed a $787-billion spending bill meant to stimulate the nation's economy. As Ticket reported Monday, the White House says it's working, that things would have been worse without it.

But even the administration acknowledges that much of the $787 billion is still in the pipelines of government bureaucracy.

Now Politico is reporting that, in just one example, the bill's $25 million for airport screening machines -- the kind that could detect explosives worn by wannabe Christmas Day bombers -- are sitting in mothballs.

Apparently, it took the Homeland Security Department seven months to order 150 of the scanners. Their California-based manufacturer, Rapiscan, says it has delivered more than 100 of the machines to the Transportation Security Administration, where they sit waiting.

Maybe the delay is good news for privacy advocates, who still don't like those scanners.

Meanwhile, with 15 million Americans out of work, the argument that the economy would have been worse off without the stimulus bill is small comfort for what demographers call "the new poor" and a tough sell for politicians.

Still, the pols are doing their best. Embattled Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, facing a Tea Party revolt in the Republican primary for Senate, said this week that he has no regrets over backing Obama and his bill -- even though the photo of their embrace is one of the key weapons in Marco Rubio's arsenal against him.

"I don't apologize for it at all. We needed the money," Crist said in front of the White House after a governors' meeting with Obama on Monday.

Fresh from Washington, California's lame-duck Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also praised the bill, saying the cash-strapped Golden State has added millions of dollars in highway funding and thousands of new jobs.

"You may have heard critics say that the Recovery Act spending was a waste," he said in remarks Tuesday. "Just tell this to the 150,000 people in California who would be unemployed without it. Tell this to the teachers who would be unemployed, or to the police officers. Tell that to the construction workers who were hired, to the crane operators building our bridges and the bulldozer operators paving our highways. Tell that to them."

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-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: A security official prepares to scan a man during a test of a full-body scanner at Charles-de-Gaulle Airport in Paris on Monday. Credit: Reuters

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Perhaps its because we can do the math, and the fact what has been included
in the stimulus bill is NOT always been about job CREATION, but instead has
to do with helping those in power pay back those who helped them stay in

I'm still waiting for the shared sacrifice among the rank and file of the union
employees of the state and federal governments. They would much rather
lay off a portion of their fellow workers or reduce hours rather than take a
pay cut, help pay for THEIR medical care and THEIR retirement costs.
That's what big part of the health care program is about. The ability to shift
costs from one group to another.

This is like the "job cuts" in the city of LA. A lot of it is simply closing out of
positions that are not filled and transfers of employees from one job to
another with a different form of funding. There are some people let go, but
most of the number batted around are inflated for effect.

At one time there was a social contract with the workers of the state and fed.
In return for a life time of service at below average pay you received job
security and a pension. Now we have employees earning more on average
than the average tax payers as well as better medical. This is because we
have allowed the unions to have an insane amount of influence to the point
where the system is out of balance.

Currently there are TRILLIONS of dollars of unfunded pensions that have
been promised to public employees. Sorry, but the system is broken. It's
time to have them on defined benefits and social security like the rest of
us. Maybe they will be less eager to "borrow" the fund money if it effects
THEIR future security. Right now the unions are looking far more like
Parasites than the Symbiotes they need to be.

The nude-o-scopes were a boondoggle to start with: a $250-million give-away to the usual military-industrial complex suspects. And, as the terrorists already know, they don't detect anything hidden inside body cavities (or even under a breast or roll of fat).

So, these privacy-eroding naked picture machines are just more security theater, designed to make citizens think government is "doing something" when in fact they are wholly ineffective at keeping body-smuggled explosives off planes. But hey, they made a mint for Chertoff's pals at Rapiscan, so it's all good.

Might not the Rapiscans make potential terrorists or criminals think they might get discovered trying to board with a bomb or weapon? Even if the machines have some flaws, aren't we safer with them?

I've been through one of these full body scanners before, but two years ago. They scan your body and then little jets of air shoot at you. What I was concerned about was that the person that operated this picked and choose who went through. My friends and I all had to go through the system, but he let others pass by. I'm not sure if this was a test round, but I definitely saw it as discrimination.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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