Even Tom Ridge has to wait in airport lines

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The struggling Transportation Security Administration has not had an administrator since President Obama took office. The first nominee, Los Angeles airport police executive Erroll Southers, withdrew in January, blaming Republican opposition to collective-bargaining rights for TSA employees. Republicans said he misled Congress about the time he inappropriately accessed a federal database to get info about his estranged wife's new boyfriend.

The second nominee, retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert A. Harding, dropped out Friday after senators questioned his dealings as a military contractor providing Iraq war interrogators, among other things.

Some may wonder: So, who needs a TSA director? Well, the folks who showed up at Orlando's airport at 6 a.m. on Monday sure could have used someone to move the crowd through security. Hundreds and hundreds were waiting at the crack of dawn.

Among those stuck in the super-long lines? One Tom Ridge, the man who arguably helped create them in the first place as the first White House homeland security adviser and later secretary of homeland security. A longtime Loop Fan tells us that Ridge, trying to make a flight to Washington, was good-humored about it all, even if some other passengers were not so sanguine.

"Even you have to wait in line?" someone who recognized him asked.

"Yes. Absolutely," Ridge replied. "Some say it's justifiable punishment."

Sounds about right.

Down under vs. up over

There's still heated debate over how much the just-passed health-care bill will, as they say, bend the curve of projected increased health-care costs -- or whether it will cut costs at all.

But no matter the effect, no one is predicting the legislation will bring down costs to anywhere near the bargain prices of Australia, the Filene's Basement of health care.

The newspaper the Australian recently had its Washington bureau look into the substantial surgical and hospital costs run up recently by the country's ambassador here, Kim Beazley. Seems Beazley, newly arrived in Washington, slipped on the ice in his driveway during the February weather, snapping patellar tendons in both knees.

Beazley's bill, paid for by embassy-provided insurance, came to $35,100 (38,270 Australian dollars), which included tests, surgery, anesthesia, the hospital stay, and follow-up tests and costs.

The paper calculated, based on estimates from surgeons and hospitals in Australia, that, had Mr. B's knees been injured in Australia, "the repair job . . . would have cost about $9,560 [Australian], or about one-fourth of the costs here. Demanding personal attention from the country's top orthopedic surgeons might have upped the total some, but not that much, the paper said.

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