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Journal Journal: Who Should Pay For TSA-style Security, Fliers or Taxpayers?

It turns out that TSA-style security is not just invasive, it's expensive. The $2.50 security fee air passengers in the US pay for every flight covers less than half of TSA's aviation security costs. So far the government has been paying the difference, but that may not continue much longer. The White House is proposing a plan to double the security fee immediately, then add $0.50 per year from 2013 to 2017. Ultimately fliers will pay $15 extra per round trip. The Feds will pocket any excess revenue generated by the fees.

The Air Transport Association is not happy about the proposal and is campaigning to stop it. They argue that a typical flier in the US already pays over 20% of their ticket cost to Federal taxes and fees, and that the proposed fee increases will ultimately cost the economy 329,000 jobs. In other words, if the true costs of security are passed on to fliers, many of them will stop flying. Are American travelers really more likely to protect their pocketbooks than their dignity or their health?


Journal Journal: What Public Comment on Body Scanners Might Accomplish

Last month I noticed that the lawsuit by EPIC to suspend scanner use at airports might be finished for good. If so, that would mean TSA must hold a public comment period on its rules, even while they are in force. What good would that do? It's interesting to look at the plight of non-airline aircraft owners, who have been facing draconian TSA security requirements for any airplane over 12,500 pounds since 2008. The TSA program, known as LASP (Large Aircraft Security Program), threatened to ensnare owners of aircraft 10% of the size of a Boeing 737 airliner, which is actually quite small. In the case of LASP, TSA followed the public comment requirement rigorously and met strong, organized opposition. Several years and many public hearings later, LASP is still not in force and TSA is in the process of revising their proposed rules. A new version is expected to emerge soon, it will be the subject of public comment yet again. If TSA's new version is substantially different from the old one, then perhaps a public comment period might actually improve passenger aviation.


Journal Journal: Petition To Abolish TSA Is Among Most Popular, the official Web site for the US executive branch, allows users to create online petitions. One of them, a petition to "Abolish the TSA, and use its monstrous budget to fund more sophisticated, less intrusive counter-terrorism intelligence", has over 23,000 signatures and is the third most popular petition on the site at the time of this writing. A paper from the Cato Institute entitled "Abolish the Department of Homeland Security" explains the merits of this idea. The author is part of a Capitol Hill policy briefing today about abolishing TSA.


Journal Journal: Co-pilot Pushes Wrong Button, Nearly Inverts 747

According to the Wall Street Journal's Japan Realtime blog "all Nippon Airways Co. narrowly escaped a catastrophe earlier this month when its plane almost flipped over after a co-pilot hit the wrong button while trying to open the cockpit door for the [747]'s captain, returning from the restroom." There are two videos referenced in the blog showing simulations of the incident. The first video is a WMV file, and the second is a YouTube video of a Japanese-language newscast. I'm running Linux, so I prefer the latter.


Journal Journal: US House "Creator" of TSA Wants to Kill It

US Representative John Mica (R-Florida), the sponsor of the original House bill that helped create the TSA, has become an outspoken opponent of the agency. In a recent interview "Mica said screeners should be privatized and the agency dismantled." Mica seems to agree with other TSA critics that the agency "failed to actually detect any threat in 10 years." Mica is the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman and receives classified briefings on TSA. Perhaps we should trust him more than most people on this topic.

In an older ABC news article (ignore the unrelated video) Mica describes how he deals with security checkpoints. "He won't go through a full body scanner at an airport because 'I don't want them circulating pictures of my beautiful body' all over. He said he opts for a pat-down, and just 'closes his eyes and imagines a beautiful female.'" From the same article: "Mica said classified briefings he has been given show the failure rate of the body imagers to find potentially-dangerous objects going through airport security is totally unacceptable." I'll end with another Mica quote: "The bad news is I created them after 9/11, the good news is I am now chairman and I will get them."


Journal Journal: ACLU's "Call to Courage" Ignores Transport Security 1

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report recently called "A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties Ten Years After 9/11" that warns that "the United States is at risk of enshrining a permanent state of emergency in which core values must be subordinated to ever-expanding claims of national security." They take issue with a number of post-911 practices including "torture, indefinite detention, targeted killing, trial by military commissions, warrantless surveillance, and racial profiling." It's difficult to disagree with their positions. Many of the practices in question, however, are no longer being used (as even their own full length report (PDF) admits to some degree), so the US government doesn't seem to disagree either.

What fascinates me is that the report seems to ignore the issue of modern transportation security in its entirety. In the US today, air travelers are routinely subjected to body scans that are equivalent to strip searches. Patdown searches that are physically indistinguishable from acts of sexual molestation are also routine. These practices apply to travelers of any age, gender, or race. Warrants and probable cause are not a requirement, despite the Fourth Amendment. Neither is air travel. Will the ACLU ever decide to get involved in this issue, which directly affects so many millions of Americans daily, or will it stick to criticizing history?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Climate Change Caused by Cosmic Rays?

When journalists talk about climate change, they are usually talking about the man-made kind. There may be more important contributors, however, like cosmic radiation and solar output variations possibly affecting the rate of cloud formation on Earth. If you've ever seen a cloud chamber, you might get the idea. Physicists at CERN have been doing experiments to test this hypothesis. The Wall Street Journal has an unpaywalled opinion piece summarizing this research. As usual, more research is needed, but the results so far are interesting.


Journal Journal: The Year of Netflix Streaming on Linux?

In yesterday's story C++ 2011 and the Return of Native Code, TFA contains a link to a story about an app for ChromeOS that enables Netflix streaming. At this moment there appears to be a way to stream Netflix on a single Linux distro via Google Chrome and its new native client. This kind of solution may become available for other distros in the near future. I'm sure Richard Stallman would prefer a more open solution, as would I. Still, it's a step in the right direction for Netflix.

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