Archive for the ‘TSA’ Category

The Transportation Security Administration has become infamous over the years for things that it doesn’t allow on planes.

Consider these examples of the Keystone Cops in action.

Confiscating a plastic hammer from a mentally retarded man.

Detaining a woman for carrying breast milk.

Hassling a woman for the unexplained red flag of having sequentially numbered checks.

Demanding that a handicapped 4-year old boy walk through a metal detector without his leg braces.

Putting an 8-year old cub scout on the no-fly list.

o Stopping a teenager from flying because her purse had an image of a gun.

o Seizing raygun belt buckles and Kitty Cat keychains.

Though, to be fair, other governments are similarly brainless.

I was quite amused by this bit of news from Ireland.

When passing through security at the airport, a Minion fart gun…was seized from a young toddler and taken away. The security officers claimed it was a ‘threat’ and took the toy gun away from the child.

Just in case you think a “fart gun” is too realistic and that a potential terrorist might grab it from the child and use it to take over the plane, here’s a picture to put your mind at ease.

And let’s not forget that airport bureaucrats all over the planet are on guard against criminal toiletries. I’ve had obviously dangerous toothpaste and deodorant confiscated not only in the United States, but also at airports in seemingly sensible places such as Australia and Cayman.

But let’s be fair. The TSA gets a lot of attention for things it doesn’t allow on planes, so perhaps it is time to give the bureaucrats some attention for the things it does allow.

Unfortunately, as reported by Politico, the TSA apparently is better at blocking fake weapons rather than real weapons.

…news that the Transportation Security Administration failed to detect 67 of 70 mock weapons in a secret test shook the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees it, and led to renewed calls for the TSA to clean up its act. …Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican who used to chair the transportation committee, said the 95 percent failure rate is evidence of a sweeping conceptual failure. …“They’re spending billions of dollars on a huge screening bureaucracy,” he added. …the TSA also cannot publicly point to many significant attacks thwarted at airport gates, leading experts to insist that its protocols should be considered largely ineffective. Rafi Sela, president of international transportation security consultancy AR Challenges, said the agency’s nearly $8 billion budget is largely being misspent on a misguided model.

Great, we’re flushing $8 billion down the toilet on a system that does a bad job based on a bad methodology.

Heck, the bureaucrats can’t even stop the wrong people from getting through security.

A man with a stolen boarding pass got through airport security in Salt Lake City and checked in at a gate for a flight to California… Salata, who is on the sex offender registry in Utah, grabbed a boarding pass that a woman accidently left at a check-in kiosk and used it to get through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, said Craig Vargo, chief of airport police.

He was only stopped because the woman obtained another boarding pass.

Salata was detained when the woman who had left the pass checked in using a replacement ticket that had been uploaded to her phone.

The TSA tried to rationalize this goof by stating that at least he wasn’t able to smuggle any guns or bombs past security.

TSA spokeswoman Lori Dankers said an agent made a mistake in identifying Salata, but the man was properly screened to determine if he was carrying anything dangerous.

Gee, how reassuring.

Now that we’ve mocked the TSA for stopping harmless items and allowing potentially dangerous items (or people), let’s contemplate some actual solutions.

In previous columns, I’ve argued that it’s time to put the private sector in charge, citing the good work of Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz. And as Steve Chapman has explained, there were lots of benefits to the pre-TSA system.

Let’s now add to that list.

We’ll start with some passages from Jeff Jacoby’s column in the Boston Globe.

He starts by beating up on the TSA.

Fourteen years after the creation of the TSA, there is still no indication that the agency has ever caught a terrorist, or foiled a 9/11-type plot in the offing. Conversely, there are reams of reports documenting the inability of TSA screeners to spot hidden guns, knives, bomb components, and other dangerous contraband as they pass through airport checkpoints. It’s doubtful that anyone is still capable of being surprised by a fresh confirmation of the TSA’s incompetence… The Transportation Security Administration, which annually costs taxpayers more than $7 billion, should never have been created. The responsibility for airport security should never have been federalized, let alone entrusted to a bloated, inflexible workforce.

He then points out that there’s a better approach.

The airlines themselves should bear the chief responsibility for protecting planes and passengers at airports. After all, they have powerful financial incentives to ensure that flights are free of danger, while at the same time minimizing the indignities to which customers are subjected. Their bottom line would be at stake. The TSA feels no such spur. Effective defense against airline terrorism doesn’t require patting down grandmothers or confiscating eyedrops. It requires sophisticated counterterror intelligence (which is what stopped the 2006 liquid bomb plot), and it calls for passengers to be vigilant (which is what ultimately foiled the underwear and shoe bombers). The TSA supplies neither.

A column by Adam Summers in the Orange County Register reaches the same conclusion.

He starts with the indictment of the current system.

TSA’s performance has steadily declined. A 2002 USA Today report revealed that undercover agents got bombs and weapons through security about a quarter of the time. By 2007, the failure rate had increased to 75 percent. Since then, the TSA has increased the number of screeners from 30,000 to 46,000 and spent $550 million on new screening equipment and agent training, yet somehow it continues to get worse. …The TSA has also perpetuated – and even expanded – failed and unproven programs, such as the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program, which seeks to weed out evildoers by looking for certain behavioral cues among passengers. The GAO…recommended shuttering the program. Nonetheless, the agency has spent roughly $1 billion on SPOT since 2007 and is defiantly moving forward to “enhance” the program.

And then points to a sensible solution.

The TSA has proven to be abusive, unaccountable and totally ineffective. To restore some sense of competency and accountability, the agency should simply be abolished, and security should be made the responsibility of private airlines and airports, which have a strong incentive to prevent their customers from being killed. Competition among private providers would also lead to adoption of the most efficient and effective security measures while still respecting travelers’ rights.

Wow, what a shocking conclusion. The private sector is more competent than the government. Knock me over with a  feather!

Let’s close with some humor (though the joke is on us). The column by Adam Summers mentioned TSA’s SPOT program, which even the Government Accountability Office has recognized as a wasteful failure.

Well, the folks at Reason have a very amusing video on the characteristics that might lead SPOT bureaucrats to identify you as a potential terrorist.

P.S. Check out this amazing picto-graph if you want more information about the failures of the TSA.

P.P.S. For more TSA humor, see this, this, this, this, this, and this.

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Shortly after Obamacare was enacted, I began to maintain a list of groups that were victimized by the law. But after listing kids, low-income workers, and retirees, I quickly realized this was a senseless exercise because virtually everyone in the country was going to be hurt by this expansion of government power and control.

So I then began to put together a different type of list. I call it the “least sympathetic victims” of Obamacare. These are groups that are being hurt by the law, but I think you’ll agree with me that they don’t deserve tears of support. At least not real ones.

Some politicians and staffers of Capitol Hill are very upset about the prospect of being subjected to the law that they inflicted on the rest of the country.

The bureaucrats at the IRS are agitated about the possibility of living under Obamacare, even though the IRS got new powers as a result of the law.

We now have a new group to add to the list. It appears that the faculty of Harvard University aren’t happy about some of the changes imposed by Obamacare. Even though many Harvard professors helped Obama design and promote the law!

Here are some passages from a New York Times report.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed. …“Harvard is a microcosm of what’s happening in health care in the country,” said David M. Cutler, a health economist at the university who was an adviser to President Obama’s 2008 campaign. …In Harvard’s health care enrollment guide for 2015, the university said it “must respond to the national trend of rising health care costs, including some driven by health care reform,” in the form of the Affordable Care Act. …Mary D. Lewis, a professor who specializes in the history of modern France and has led opposition to the benefit changes, said they were tantamount to a pay cut. …The president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, acknowledged in a letter to the faculty that the changes in health benefits — though based on recommendations from some of the university’s own health policy experts — were “causing distress” and had “generated anxiety” on campus.

Distress and anxiety on campus? Oh, the horrors.

I guess it’s perfectly acceptable to impose harm on the peasants in flyover country, but these Harvard elitists obviously don’t want to live under the policies that they recommend for the rest of us.

P.S. I gather Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology view each other as rivals. Well, since Jonathan Gruber (the guy who was caught on tape admitting that Obamacare was based on lies) is a professor at M.I.T. and Harvard professors are the ones getting very agitated, maybe we should simply view Obamacare as a really clever school-against-school prank? It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the country is suffering collateral damage.

P.P.S. By the way, one of the reasons that Harvard professors are unhappy is because of the so-called Cadillac tax, which actually is one of the few parts of Obamacare that may have some positive effect since it’s designed to reduce over-insurance and mitigate the third-party payer problem.

P.P.P.S. Let’s close with some political humor.

This Michael Ramirez cartoon captures President Obama as a precocious school kid.

You can see why readers voted Ramirez as the best political cartoonist.

P.P.P.P.S. And here’s a very clever video about terrorists and the Transportation Security Administration.

For more TSA humor, see this, this, this, this, and this. And if you want more terrorist humor, click here, herehere, and here (at the end of the post).

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I’m wondering whether the Transportation Security Administration is a valuable part of government.

Not because the bureaucracy does a good job, but instead because it does so many foolish things that it helps convince more people to become libertarians.

Consider these horror stories.

Confiscating a plastic hammer from a mentally retarded man.

Detaining a woman for carrying breast milk.

Hassling a woman for the unexplained red flag of having sequentially numbered checks.

Demanding that a handicapped 4-year old boy walk through a metal detector without his leg braces.

Putting an 8-year old cub scout on the no-fly list.

o Stopping a teenager from flying because her purse had an image of a gun.

Let’s add a few more examples to this list.

Here’s a story from Reason about the Keystone Cops of the TSA, as they deal with the horrific threat of a belt buckle shaped like…(gasp)…a ray gun.

Award-winning videographer Sean Malone had a raygun belt buckle confiscated recently by the good folks at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)….Malone emails that the pinch happened at LAX: …They called it a “replica” of a weapon…. the guy said, “Yeah, there’s something in there that’s kind of shaped like a gun,” to which I replied, “Yeah. It’s a belt buckle.”… He pulled it out of the bag and looked at it. Yep. Belt buckle….he called his supervisor over, who…said, “Listen, you can either go back out of security and put this in your check luggage (which I don’t have), or we’ll confiscate it.” …I looked at her and said, “You understand that this is a belt buckle, right? It is not a danger to the safety of anyone nor is it against the law to carry….At this point, she got red in the face and loudly declared that she wasn’t going to argue with me or “have a debate about this”.

Reminds me of the time I was given a bottle of 100 percent maple syrup as my honorarium for giving a speech in New Hampshire, yet was forced to leave it at the airport because the TSA bureaucrats said my only other choice was to check my bag (which would have cost $25).

If a raygun belt buckle is scary to the TSA, you won’t be surprised to learn that kitty cat key chains also are very frightening.

Even when in the hands of famous people.

This time the victim was HBO star Lena Dunham. She was carrying a Super Scary Terroristy Kitty Cat Keychain. The TSA, ever-vigilant, pounced. But it wasn’t enough that they found the Terrorist Keychain; no, they also detained her. And called the police. Yes…, they summoned the police because of a keychain.

I’ve never understood why Lena Dunham is a star, but I certainly can sympathize with her frustration about mindless government stupidity.

Most people will agree that TSA bureaucrats can behave like empty-headed drones on occasion, but some of them simply shrug their shoulders and say that’s an inevitable part of government. In other words, we need airport security, so accept that it will be done foolishly.

That’s a semi-reasonable attitude. After all, I accept that the defense department will waste a lot of money, yet still want there to be national defense.

I only reach that conclusion, though, because even a wild-eyed libertarian like myself can’t quite see how the private sector can defend the country. But why does government need to be involved with airport security?

Let’s put the private sector in charge, as Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz have argued. And as Steve Chapman explains, there were lots of benefits to the pre-TSA system.

Check out this amazing picto-graph if you want more information.

P.S. I am willing to praise the TSA when it does something sensible.

P.P.S. And I’m even willing to criticize unfair government intervention at airports when I’m the beneficiary!

P.P.P.S. On a totally unrelated topic, give me some congratulations. My beautiful daughter is getting married this weekend.

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I know there are stereotypes about libertarians being a bunch of dorks.

Conservatives think we’re potheads. Liberals think we’re heartless.

And many other people simply think we’re a bit weird.

These stereotypes can be amusing, but I also think they’re wrong.

And regardless, I think there’s much to admire in the libertarian ideals of small government, personal liberty, free markets, non-intervention, and individual responsibility

Moreover, we have other redeeming features.

For instance, we’re actually the last of the great romantics.

Don’t believe me? Well, check out this collection of libertarian valentines.

My two favorites include this one mocking Obamacare.

And I also think the valentine mocking the National Security Agency is in the running to be my favorite.

But they’re all good and worth sharing.

So remember that libertarians are cuddly and loving!

P.S. There’s no policy angle in this postscript, but I feel compelled to offer a public service announcement for any men in the audience.

If your significant other tells you she doesn’t want you to do anything for Valentine’s Day, don’t believe her.

Sort of reminds me of the famous Dave Barry column about men and women that I linked at the end of this post.

P.P.S. Let’s close with a serious point about public policy.

I’ve mocked the Transportation Security Agency for its empty “security theater.”

And I’ve shared horror stories of utterly pointless harassment of travelers.

But nothing will be more compelling and convincing than this article by a former TSA bureaucrat. Here’s an excerpt, but you really need to read the whole article.

It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying. Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.

And here’s another example of the TSA in action.

A bureaucrat confiscated a tiny toy gun that was part of a sock monkey’s outfit.

I’m not kidding. Here are some passages from a news report on the incident.

May and her husband were going through the screening process when she noticed that one of her bags was missing. “And the (TSA agent) held it up and said ‘whose is this?’” she said. “I realized oh, my God this is my bag.” May said the TSA agent went through the bag, through the sewing supplies and found the two-inch long pistol. “She said ‘this is a gun,’” said May. “I said no, it’s not a gun it’s a prop for my monkey.” “She said ‘If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not,’ and I said ‘really?’” said May. The TSA agent told May she would have to confiscate the tiny gun and was supposed to call the police. “I said well go ahead,” said May. “And I said really? You’re kidding me right, and she said no it looks like a gun.” “She took my monkey’s gun,” said May, who has retained her sense of humor. “Rooster Monkburn has been disarmed so I’m sure everyone on the plane was safe,” she said.

Let’s end with some humor about the Keystone Cops of airport security. If you want some TSA laughs, see this, this, and this.

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This may be a sign of the apocalypse, but I’m going to praise a government agency.

In the past, I’ve scorched the Transportation Security Administration for pointless and foolish “security theater.”

  1. I’ve commented on the TSA’s incompetence.
  2. I’ve shared some horror stories about TSA abuse.
  3. And I’ve posted many jokes about the Keystone Cops of airport security (for more laughs, see this, this, this, and this).

But I’m willing to admit when the government makes a wise decision (even if all they’re doing is reversing a previous dumb decision), and the TSA’s policy on pocket knives deserves some applause.

Here are some details from a CNN report.

The nation’s aviation security chief on Thursday defended his recent decision to again permit knives aboard commercial flights, despite concerns from major airlines and their flight crews, and sharp criticism from some members of Congress. …He said small knives no longer pose a threat to aircraft security, which now emphasizes bomb detection. “A small pocket knife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft and an improvised explosive device will,” he said. “And we know, from internal covert testing, searching for these items, which will not blow up an aircraft, can distract our officers from focusing on the components of an improvised explosive device.” Small knives were banned along with a host of other undersized sharp objects like nail clippers, screwdrivers and cosmetic scissors, following the 9/11 al Qaeda hijack attacks on the United States.

I’ll be particularly happy if the new policy allows softball bats, since I sometimes have to fly to out-of-town tournaments with my over-50 team.

The rules also allow passengers to carry up to two golf clubs, certain toy bats or other sports sticks — such as ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and pool cues — aboard in carry-on luggage.

For skeptics out there, here’s the simple reality. In the post-9/11 worlds, passengers will not allow dirtbags to take over a plane with small knives, golf clubs, or any of the items being allowed on planes.

Chill, folks, this is not a threat

The TSA is correct to focus on things that represent bigger real-world threats.

P.S. I should also applaud the TSA’s “pre-check” program. I’m actually at Dulles Airport right now, having breezed through the new screening process that allowed me to keep on my shoes and jacket and to keep my laptop in its bag.

P.P.S. To show that I’m not getting too soft in my old age, I still think the TSA is inefficient and incompetent, and I invite everyone to peruse this remarkable info-graphic.

P.P.P.S. And because I don’t think the government should discriminate (even when it’s discriminating in my favor), I still object to special checkpoint lines for frequent flyers and first class passengers.

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Another good job by Remy and the folks at Reason TV.

Last year, they produced this parody about Grandma’s Christmas visit to Gitmo.

Now we see what happens when Santa tries to slip past the Transportation Security Administration.

And if you’ve ever been curious about what a “hooha” is, here are two additional TSA Christmas videos.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for some more holiday humor, we have a couple of videos from Larry the Cable Guy, one featuring slightly modified Christmas carols and the other telling the politically correct version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

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I’ve written about the TSA being a wasteful, stupid, and ineffective bureaucracy, and I’ve also shared some good anti-TSA humor (see the links in this post, which also contains an amazing visual).

Today, let’s focus on the wasteful and ineffective part. It seems that Keystone Cops of airport security have a new “pilot program” that is unpleasantly reminiscent of the old internal passport regime maintained by South Africa in the apartheid era.

Here is some of what one passenger wrote about his experience.

I came face-to-face with Big Brother the other day, and it was a frightening experience. He actually presented himself in the deceptive form of a young, attractive female officer, working for the Transportation Security Administration at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. At first she simply seemed chatty and friendly. She looked at my airline boarding pass and noted that I was coming from Denver. Then she mentioned that I was headed from Detroit to Grand Rapids. “That’s a pretty short flight,” she said. “Talk to my travel agent,” I grumbled. At that point she asked me what my business would be in Grand Rapids. “I’m headed home,” I replied. Then she wanted to know where home was. That’s when the mental alarms went off and I realized I was being interrogated by Big Brother in drag. I asked her why the federal government needed to know where I was going and what I would be doing. She explained that the questions were part of a new security “pilot program.” I then told her I am an American citizen, traveling within my own country, and I wasn’t breaking any laws. That’s all the federal government needed to know, and I wasn’t going to share any more. Not because I had anything to hide. It was because we live in a free country where innocent people are supposedly protected from unwarranted government intrusion and harassment.

Good for Mr. Gunn. Here’s more of his story.

At that point the agent yelled out, “We have another refusal.” One of my bags was seized and I was momentarily detained and given a hand-swab, which I believe was to test for residue from bomb-making materials. I passed the bomb test and was told I could move on, but I hung around a moment and told everyone within listening range what I thought about this terrifying experience. So, this is what we’ve come to. The federal government now has a need to know where citizens are going and what they are doing before they are allowed to peacefully pass. I’m starting to wonder what separates us from Russia or Cuba. …TSA officers, being the brilliant people they are, are given the responsibility of picking out airline passengers “whose facial expressions, body language or other behavior indicate a security risk.” They are then subjected to a “chat down,” where officers interrogate you and decide if you are indeed a terrorist.

I confess I’m not as brave as Mr. Gunn. I wouldn’t want to risk missing a flight because a peevish bureaucrat deliberately delayed me. But I fully agree with his conclusion.

This program is a bizarre and outlandish violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is supposed to protect us from “unreasonable search and seizure” by agents of the government, unless they have probable cause. I doubt any judge would have considered my droopy face as sufficient cause for harassment. I lived through 9/11 and I understand the need for tight security at airports. …The idea is to keep dangerous materials that could be used in a terrorist attack off commercial airliners. Fair enough. But stopping people because they look sort of funny to security agents, and probing into their personal business, is going too far. What’s next? Check lanes on city streets, where jackbooted thugs from Washington, D.C., will stop everyone every morning to ask them where they’re going and what they’re up to? And if our answers are not what the government wants to hear, perhaps we’ll be sent home and put under surveillance, to make sure we’re not involved in anything that Big Brother doesn’t approve of. Our freedom is severely compromised when government is allowed to do this sort of thing. We are supposed to be presumed innocent and able to come and go as we please, as long as we don’t break any laws or give authorities reason to believe we may have. The “chat down” program has been a failure, by the way, at least according to a recent editorial published in USA Today. TSA officials interviewed about 725,000 travelers at Logan International Airport in Boston over the course of one year, and none of them turned out to be terrorists. ..There is no justification for this type of unwarranted harassment in America. Even people who look a little different should be allowed to move about as they please, unless they give authorities a specific reason to stop them.

So what’s all this mean? What’s the answer. Simple. Put the private sector in charge, as Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz have argued. As Steve Chapman explains, there were lots of benefits to the pre-TSA system.

(h/t: J.D. Tuccille)

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