When the TSA was first formed in the comparatively innocent times just after September 11, 2001 (yes, you read that right), it was expressly prohibited that the workforce be unionized. Since then, the number of employees has exploded from 16,500 to 62,500. The amount of abuse travelers put up with has risen exponentially, from pat-downs to porno scanners. And the number of terrorists caught by TSA has… Well, that’s still a big, fat zero.
Nonetheless, TSA Administrator John Pistole, who knows which side his bread is buttered on, has allowed the TSA to go forward with an American Federation of Government Employees union contract. And just when you thought the TSA couldn’t get any worse.
While my views on unions are well-known, I think it bears repeating that this can only end in a disaster for both American travel security and Americans’ wallets.
Consider the example of the teachers’ unions. Since 1970, the cost of educating one student from kindergarten through 12th grade has roughly tripled, from $55,000 to $155,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Since 1970, American students have seen no improvement in math and reading, and regression in science scores.
This is because, once unionized, the workforce becomes entirely caught up in labor concerns to the detriment of their actual jobs. Hence, students suffer once the teachers’ unions begin to treat the public school system as nothing more than a jobs bank.
Using the example of history, it is easy to see that unionization of a workforce entrenches the worst elements of that workforce. Efficiency is sacrificed, goals go unmet, poor performers cannot be fired, and consumers bear the brunt of this failure.
Of course, airport security seems important enough that we should want to avoid these things, but no matter. The screeners pressed ahead with their unionization anyway, the public be damned. After all, the attitude of the unions has always been that the public owes them jobs, not that they owe the public a job well done.
Representative Marsha Blackburn has penned a popular piece over at Forbes about her proposed bill, called the STRIP Act, or “Stop TSA’s Reach in Policy” Act.
At a minimum, it would do away with the title Transportation Security “Officer,” and require that TSA agents not wear badges or masquerade as real police officers, which they emphatically are not.
I say this is a good start. TSA has been example one of bureaucratic entrenchment and mission creep over the last decade, and they have made our lives demonstrably worse for it.
While TSA agents’ accomplishments are well-known, like their ability to fail every single audit, and their perfect record of catching zero terrorists, we have to ask – at what cost?
Look, I am all for abolishing the TSA tomorrow, and forgetting about this sorry chapter in American history. (As an aside, can we get rid of the term “post-9/11”? Everything after 9/11 is post-9/11.) But I recognize that getting rid of this wart on society will take measured steps to assuage the fears of the naive and avoid the wrath of the security state and its lobbyists. Rep. Blackburn makes a good point:
Will the STRIP Act solve every problem facing the TSA? Absolutely not. The STRIP Act seeks to expand upon the work of my colleagues by chipping away at an unnoticed yet powerful overreach of our federal government. If Congress cannot swiftly overturn something as simple as this administrative decision there will be little hope that we can take steps to truly rein in the TSA on larger issues of concern.
This is a good start, and I encourage you to write to your Congresscritter to support it.
Don’t know how? Start here: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml
…because they give us the idea that we are safe while providing a far less than adequate level of safety. I found this video, courtesy of http://tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com/, very informative:
Another factoid I found interesting is that no one has brought explosives on an American-originated flight in 40 years. However, if the TSA “officers” and the traveling public are convinced that these machines will help keep that streak alive, and yet they are demonstrably worse than the old-style metal detectors, then it can reasonably be concluded that the machines are actively making us less safe by lulling us into a false sense of security while failing to catch real threats.
Then again, I simply do not accept the idea that an outfit like the TSA has moved the needle higher in security at all. The reason why most planes don’t blow up is because, out of 7 billion people in this world, all but a handful won’t ever blow up a plane. And the ones who might are marginalized otherwise.
The point of diminishing returns has been reached and exceeded long before TSA existed. At this point, TSA’s annual budget of more than $8 billion is worth about as much in actual security as your own vigilance. Possibly less.
The inevitable question that I get from security-statists upon saying that is, “well won’t that make it easier for terrorists?” Sure. But terrorists have an incredibly difficult time of it anyway (and it bears repeating that TSA has never, ever caught a single terrorist). If we spend $8 billion of federal money and have a terrorist attack every decade or two, would that really be any better than spending $0 of federal money and having a terrorist attack every decade or two?
The idea that we can make the threat completely disappear is false. What is left is a balancing act of economic interests, freedom interests, and security interests.
Let’s stop shoveling money at the TSA on the basis of boogeyman stories and start talking tradeoffs like adults.
I will finally get around to posting this article (it’s somewhat late, so I apologize) about their British counterparts. You see, it seems that when Britain’s Border Agency went on strike, the expected hellish lines and hours-long delays at Heathrow not only did not materialize, but conditions actually improved.
Perhaps we only think we need these people. Perhaps the private sector would be doing it anyway – and better. Read all about it at the Daily Mail.
More on China:
A few days back, China cut its reserve requirements for its banks by 50 basis points, injecting extra cash and liquidity into a market already swimming in paper debt. Bloomberg charitably reports that this “might signal a slowdown.”
Socrates reports that this is yet another step towards the inevitable Chinese conflagration. Will it be today? Tomorrow? Five years from now? Whatever the case, a fool for China and his money will soon be parted.
Intellectual Property and the Urge to Regulate the Internet:
Quick, what is the most creative, fastest growing sector of the economy? No, it’s not General Motors. It is, of course, the “internet economy,” or broadly the information technology that has connected the entire world over the past couple of decades.
And get this, the internet revolutionized our entire lives in spite of being completely devoid of regulation! Wait, scratch that, it revolutionized our entire lives because it was completely devoid of regulation.
That is why Google happens to be correct in its excoriation of the new “online piracy” bill, which in reality is just intellectual property on steroids:
Google is exhorting senators to oppose an online piracy bill, arguing it would threaten national security, shackle the Internet with regulations and imperil free speech, according to a document obtained by The Hill.
The memo that is being circulated on Capitol Hill lists five reasons not to co-sponsor the legislation. It argues the bill puts at risk “the ability for free speech and the ability of political parties to spread their message” while creating a “thicket of new Internet regulations similar to the administration’s net-neutrality rules.”
It also calls the legislation “a trial lawyer’s dream” and claims it seeks to “regulate the Internet.”
This thing passes, and the internet as we know it dies.
An Update on the Whereabouts of the Anti-War Left:
A while back, I put out an APB on the anti-war left, which disappeared completely once their pro-war president was elected. Turns out, it is still missing.
Reason has been patrolling the same beat, and Sheldon Richman argues persuasively that “Obama’s War Record Should Appall Progressives.”
Watch as Richman batters the tired arguments of formerly anti-war left, who are now left to rationalize the actions of “their” president, who happens to be ratcheting up all of the failed policies of the former president.
Oh, and if anyone can find where the real anti-war left went, please let me know. Thanks.
The Unintended Consequences of Race-Based Preferences:
The Supreme Court is choosing whether to hear a case on the racial preference system of the University of Texas. George Will, who in the last few years has been razor sharp, argues that the court should hear the case and be confronted with the failed legacy of affirmative action:
The Supreme Court faces a discomfiting decision. If it chooses, as it should, to hear a case concerning racial preferences in admissions at the University of Texas, the court will confront evidence of its complicity in harming the supposed beneficiaries of preferences the court has enabled and encouraged…
For 33 years, the court has been entangled in a thicket of preferences that are not remedial and hence not temporary. Preferences as recompense for past discrimination must eventually become implausible, but the diversity rationale for preferences never expires…
But what if many of the minorities used in this process are injured by it? Abundant research says they are, as two amicus curiae briefs demonstrate in urging the court to take the Texas case…
“Academic mismatch” causes many students who are admitted under a substantial preference based on race, but who possess weaker academic skills, to fall behind. The consequences include especially high attrition rates from the sciences, and self-segregation in less-demanding classes, thereby reducing classroom diversity.
The entire article is well worth a read.
And hey, it’s Saturday. What else are you doing?
Paul Hsieh has pointed out the absurd contrast between the millions of unnecessary x-rays that TSA forces travelers through and the potentially millions of preventive x-rays that our government health czars are now urging us to forego.
I am struck by the blatant display of misplaced priorities. As Hsieh notes:
Screening travelers and screening patients share some common features. In both cases the goal is to sort through a large, mostly-normal population to identify the relatively few problem cases — either an undetected terrorist or a hidden cancer.
…the TSA screeners are of dubious effectiveness. TSA screeners have failed to detect simulated bombs and real guns. The attempted hijacking of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 two years ago was thwarted not by the TSA but by alert passengers.
In contrast to mandatory screening for terrorists, the government is actively discouraging Americans from regular screening for common forms of cancer…
After years of arguing that regular cancer screening saves lives, the government now warns that such routine screening creates unnecessary emotional distress, leads to further risky invasive tests, and raises overall health costs. Regardless of the scientific merits of these claims, blogger Glenn Reynolds notes that many skeptical Americans fear that the government’s real agenda is to save money at the expense of their health.
Although I have no hard statistics on this, I believe it is safe to say that preventive medicine has saved many lives. Do the lives number in the millions? Thousands? I am not sure, but either way, the number is certainly greater than zero.
By contrast, the TSA has forced millions through medically unnecessary radiation, and managed to catch zero terrorists. Zero.
Let that sink in for a moment. Our wise, benevolent government is spending billions on screening machines that have zero effectiveness in catching terrorists, and at the same time, it is encouraging the underuse of screening machines that have proven effectiveness at catching disease.
It all seems to come down to dollars and cents. The first question is, why spend the money on the failed programs at the expense of the productive ones? The second – and more important – question is, why is the government spending this money anyway?
In a story that will surprise no one who has been paying attention, the TSA ignored radiation concerns raised more than a decade ago about its airport X-Ray scanners. The very real health risks posed by these machines (to say nothing of their privacy concerns and blatant trampling of the fourth amendment) received little to no consideration. According to ProPublica,
One after another, the experts convened by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [in 1998] raised questions about the machine because it violated a longstanding principle in radiation safety — that humans shouldn’t be X-rayed unless there is a medical benefit.
The machine’s inventor, Steven W. Smith, assured the panelists that it was highly unlikely that the device would see widespread use in the near future. At the time, only 20 machines were in operation in the entire country.“The places I think you are not going to see these in the next five years is lower-security facilities, particularly power plants, embassies, courthouses, airports and governments,” Smith said. “I would be extremely surprised in the next five to 10 years if the Secure 1000 is sold to any of these.”
Robin Kane, the TSA’s assistant administrator for security technology, said that no one would get cancer because the amount of radiation the X-ray scanners emit is minute…“It’s a really, really small amount relative to the security benefit you’re going to get,” Kane said.
Cato’s Gene Healy takes to the Washington Examiner to write about the TSA forcing a 95-year-leukemia patient to remove her adult diaper to get through the airport screening process. In pertinent part:
As always when the TSA commits some new atrocity — like last April’s “freedom fondle” of a 6-year-old girl — a designated bureaucratic spokes-unit affirmed that the officers acted “according to proper procedure.”
As my colleague Julian Sanchez observes, it’s bizarre to think we’re supposed to find it comforting “that everything is being done by the book — even if the ‘book’ is horrifying.” Wouldn’t you rather hear that such actions were the work of overzealous line officers, instead of policies vetted and approved at the highest levels of the federal government?
Do I find this personally unsettling, disgusting, and highly unnecessary? Depends.
Apropos of nothing in particular, Reason’s Jacob Sullum reports that the Texas House has passed a bill limiting the TSA. The bill would affect “public servants” who:
“while acting under color of the person’s office or employment, without probable cause to believe the other person committed an offense, performs a search without effective consent for the purpose of granting access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation” and “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly touches the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast of the other person, including touching through the clothing.”
I happen to think this is a step in the right direction, quixotic or not. It brings up questions that we need to be asking, namely about probable cause and unwarranted searches in the first place, and about the limits of federal government overreach in the second place.
I believe that a great many Texans and Americans in general would agree with me that the TSA, which to date has captured zero terrorists, is entirely unnecessary. When the cost benefit ratio divides by zero, you know that something is askew. However, the bill passed over the objections of the House Speaker:
The bill passed despite resistance from House Speaker Joe Straus, who dismissed it as “an ill-advised publicity stunt,” saying he wanted to “send a message without actually harming commercial aviation in Texas” (a reference to U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy’s warning that the TSA might be forced to shut down Texas airports)…
Of course the TSA has threatened to completely shut down Texas airports if they see any resistance to their efforts to fondle six-year-old girls and humiliate your grandmother. Because bureaucracies will do everything in their power, warranted or not, to self-perpetuate. Just remember that every day we do nothing to stop this is another day the TSA will use to entrench itself more and more until transportation is indistinguishable from the Nazi police state.