James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘space junk’

Homeland Insecurity: Need a passport quickly? Get a fake one

Posted by James McPherson on March 14, 2009

More than seven years after 9/11 introduced most Americans to Osama bin Laden, it apparently is still fairly easy to get a fake passport in this country. (By the way, news this week prompts the question of why is it that we can track thousands of pieces of  space junk, but apparently remain clueless about the whereabouts of “Osama bin Hidin,” who celebrated his 52nd birthday on Tuesday.) 

Unfortunately those of us who have spent much time dealing with bureaucrats are unlikely to be overly surprised by the fake passport findings, considering how many government employees are lackadaisical, incompetent or overworked.

What is surprising, however, is the speed with which a Government Accountability Office investigator was able to get fake passports in the latter months of the Bush administration–the same day that he presented phony supporting documents, in one case, and in all four cases less than nine days. Even the government website says you should expect to wait four weeks for “routine service” and two to three weeks for expedited service. It took months for my passport to arrive (a couple of years ago), and my situation seems to be all too common.

Also somewhat surprising about the fake passport investigation were these lines in the Associated Press story: “The State Department has known about this vulnerability for years. On February 26, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of passport services issued a memo to Passport Services directors across the country stating that the agency is reviewing its processes for issuing passports because of ‘recent events regarding several passport applications that were approved and issued in error.'”

Interestingly, the media seem to be in no rush to give us all of the details, perhaps because the government followed the time-honored tradition of releasing bad news on a Friday. The CNN story linked above doesn’t mention how quickly the passports were issued (less time than it takes to purchase a handgun, in some cases), and neither the New York Times nor Fox News–which devotes an entire web section to “Homeland Security“–seemed to have the story at all this morning (perhaps Fox is trying to figure out a way to retroactively blame the Obama administration).

The lead story of Fox’s Homeland Security section is more than two years old, and ironically is titled “High Tech Passports Arrive.” The third story on the list, from about a year ago, underscores my comment about bureaucratic issues: “Homeland Security Employees are Unhappy with their Jobs, Survey Shows.”

Hey, with this latest news appearing just days after a U.S. Senate committee concluded that the threat of domestic terrorism is increasing, I have something in common with those Homeland Security folks: I’m pretty unhappy with the job they’re doing, too.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Asteroid nearly wipes out Earth, international space station threatened, San Diego nearly destroyed in nuclear meltdown

Posted by James McPherson on March 12, 2009

In a “rare close call,” the crew of the international space station was forced to take cover today because space junk “about the size of a bullet” passed within three miles of the station.

Three miles? Excuse me, but if a tiny object three miles away forces astronauts to hide out in their spaceship, those folks better avoid driving in Los Angeles where real bullets might be flying within three miles at any time of day or night.

Assuming Los Angeles is still there when they get back, of course: Another story recently ominously warned about a helicopter that crashed near a California nuclear plant, leaving us to conclude that perhaps the state narrowly avoided being wiped out in a catastrophic crash-caused meltdown (not to mention the possible energy ramifications, since the plant apparently provides power for 1.5 million homes).

Both cases illustrate that “close” is a relative thing, but that the extra emotion inherent in a supposed “near miss” provides more drama and therefore makes something more “newsworthy.” Another example came just over a week ago, when an asteroid passed “close to Earth.” Close in that case meant 38,000 miles, “less than twice the height of the geostationary satellites we depend on for communications.”

With “communications” like these stories, perhaps it wouldn’t be entirely a bad thing if a meteor wiped out a satellite or two. In yet another example, a year ago, other space junk “narrowly missed–by five miles–an airliner flying over the Pacific. Maybe that’s how the people on “Lost” ended up on that island.

Note: I’ve updated my post of a couple of days ago, adding a video.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Science | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »