Wednesday, September 19, 2007

TSA screeners trained to be con artists on your dime

First we discovered that DHS Secretary Chertoff’s guts were the tool of choice to gauge whether or not a terrorist attack is immanent; now an article from the Washington Post, and posted on MSNBC’s website, give us a look at the latest security tactic, cold readings. A cold reading, for those who aren’t familiar with the phrase, is a technique used by con artists, salesmen and psychics as a method to manipulate a person into believing that the cold reader holds a special power. One of the skills involved in cold reading is identifying the meaning behind the body language of their mark.

Our tax dollars are now being spent on training TSA employees in the art of cold reading. At the moment there have been 600 trained in this skill with another 1000 that will be trained by the end of the year. The success rate for their work? An abysmal rate of less than 0.75%. Of the 40,000 travelers detained because a government trained cold reader spotted something, less than 300 were found to be guilty of any crime. I think it’s safe to say that a cop could pull a random sample of folks off the street, frisk them and run a warrant check and get a higher rate of arrests than this program.

What are the TSA employees looking for? Well, that’s a secret (what isn’t a secret these days?) but according to the article former screeners, current screeners and consultants say they are looking for, “people traveling without bags, sweating and constantly checking out every person passing by, especially those with badges and guns. People who avoid eye contact or veer away when police approach also draw their attention.” They just described a large number of folks at an airport on any given day.

Since the airlines started becoming major dicks about carry-on bags, a lot of travelers don’t have bags to carry on unless they have their laptop with them. Sweating? Well since we have to race across the airport in an attempt to make flights because the screening lines take so long to get through and connecting flight times are synchronized far too closely together, of course we are sweaty. Try running from the T concourse in Atlanta all the way over to the B concourse because your plane leaves in 20 minutes and tell me your ass won’t sweat.

Constantly checking out every person passing by. That is one I do all the time. I’m always looking at the women who pass and I always look to see if I see someone of celebrity status or a level of importance. The airport is one of the few places where the unwashed masses like me have a chance of seeing someone big. I once saw former baseball player Rickey Henderson at the Atlanta airport, waiting to get on the same plane as me. Then again, doesn’t our government heavily promote that we civilians “stay vigilant” and watch everyone closely? Don’t they want us to spy on one another? So we are put in a Catch-22 situation. Do we bury our head in the paperback we brought with us or do we people watch for entertainment and “National Security” purposes?

This also leads me to wonder if any of those TSA employees will use the knowledge they gain from the training for purposes outside the workplace. While the training period itself is too short to be of any real value it does give them the foundation to learning the ropes of the con game. OJT is a part of this program, where they can hone their skills and become good at it. Possibly even attaining a degree of skill to actually manipulate the thoughts, beliefs and actions of a person. Will the less than ethical and immoral members of the TSA use these newfound skills to run confidence games?

Once again the disappointment of our government in action is just depressing when you dig deeper into what they are doing. I’m waiting for the President to perform a séance and bring forth the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Knowing these sociopaths it wouldn’t surprise me if they tried.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The hypocracy meter

Click the image below for a full sized .jpg image:

New definition of an escrow account -- A piggy bank begging to be cracked open.

An article posted on the Baltimore Sun website offers a true example of a nightmare for any homeowner. Baltimore City and Baltimore County tax officials are acknowledging that property tax checks from American Home Mortgage that were meant to pay property taxes for their customers, are bouncing. The situation is so serious that Baltimore County is no longer accepting corporate checks written against the bank accounts of American Home Mortgage. All payments from them will have to come in the form of a certified check. Just as troubling in this report is a comment by a senior financial analyst from that property tax checks are not even being sent.

Regardless of the financial situation faced by a homeowner in this day and age one thing any homeowner would expect is for the mortgage company to have maintained the funds necessary in the escrow account for each borrower. It appears that this has not happened. Unless American Home Mortgage has failed to deposit the funds given to them by the buyer into the escrow account, I simply can’t see a reason why these checks would bounce. There has been a suggestion that their escrow bank account has been frozen for protection while it undergoes Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

This also does not ring true with me. Unless the account was frozen out of concern that AHM would dip into this account to keep itself afloat or rob the coffers. So, where does this story stand? Has American Home Mortgage failed to live up to its side of the legal agreement it made with its customers by not depositing funds into their escrow accounts? Have the escrow accounts been frozen because there was withdrawal activity seen which set off red flags? Is it just a simple mistake?

All postulation aside the most troubling story behind this is that if the property taxes are not paid by American Home Mortgage the homeowners will be the fall guys. The taxes will still be due and if they are not paid by AHM the homeowner will be hit with a late payment penalty and if they can’t pay that bill their property can be put up for auction at a tax sale.

Imagine you’ve paid your mortgage payments and you are just holding on and keeping your head above water and this hits you. Or, just as horrible, the mortgage company doesn’t pay your homeowner’s insurance and you suffer a fire or, since the mortgage terms always state that you must maintain insurance, they cancel your insurance for non-payment and order you to pay for insurance on your own?

The scandals involved with the housing conspiracy continue to deepen. Coming up in the mix…insurance companies get shafted and lay off employees, lose their income stream and fail. Also in the pike are stories about the “winners” in this conspiracy, the financial institutions that gain control of large swaths of American property. Just beyond that, homelessness for former homeowners who can not find affordable rental property or cannot find an apartment leasing company that will rent an apartment to them because of their foreclosure. Down the road…vacant homes, American suburbia becomes a ghost town.