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Don't Fear the TSA Cutting Airport Security. Be Glad That They're Talking about It.

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Last week, CNN reported that the Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating security at U.S. airports that fly only smaller planes -- 60 seats or fewer. Passengers connecting to larger planes would clear security at their destinations.

To be clear, the TSA has put forth no concrete proposal. The internal agency working group's report obtained by CNN contains no recommendations. It's nothing more than 20 people examining the potential security risks of the policy change. It's not even new: The TSA considered this back in 2011, and the agency reviews its security policies every year. But commentary around the news has been strongly negative. Regardless of the idea's merit, it will almost certainly not happen. That's the result of politics, not security: Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of numerous outraged lawmakers, has already penned a letter to the agency saying that "TSA documents proposing to scrap critical passenger security screenings, without so much as a metal detector in place in some airports, would effectively clear the runway for potential terrorist attacks." He continued, "It simply boggles the mind to even think that the TSA has plans like this on paper in the first place."

We don't know enough to conclude whether this is a good idea, but it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. We need to evaluate airport security based on concrete costs and benefits, and not continue to implement security theater based on fear. And we should applaud the agency's willingness to explore changes in the screening process.

There is already a tiered system for airport security, varying for both airports and passengers. Many people are enrolled in TSA PreCheck, allowing them to go through checkpoints faster and with less screening. Smaller airports don't have modern screening equipment like full-body scanners or CT baggage screeners, making it impossible for them to detect some plastic explosives. Any would-be terrorist is already able to pick and choose his flight conditions to suit his plot.

Over the years, I have written many essays critical of the TSA and airport security, in general. Most of it is security theater -- measures that make us feel safer without improving security. For example, the liquids ban makes no sense as implemented, because there's no penalty for repeatedly trying to evade the scanners. The full-body scanners are terrible at detecting the explosive material PETN if it is well concealed -- which is their whole point.

There are two basic kinds of terrorists. The amateurs will be deterred or detected by even basic security measures. The professionals will figure out how to evade even the most stringent measures. I've repeatedly said that the two things that have made flying safer since 9/11 are reinforcing the cockpit doors and persuading passengers that they need to fight back. Everything beyond that isn't worth it.

It's always possible to increase security by adding more onerous -- and expensive -- procedures. If that were the only concern, we would all be strip-searched and prohibited from traveling with luggage. Realistically, we need to analyze whether the increased security of any measure is worth the cost, in money, time and convenience. We spend $8 billion a year on the TSA, and we'd like to get the most security possible for that money.

This is exactly what that TSA working group was doing. CNN reported that the group specifically evaluated the costs and benefits of eliminating security at minor airports, saving $115 million a year with a "small (nonzero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity." That money could be used to bolster security at larger airports or to reduce threats totally removed from airports.

We need more of this kind of thinking, not less. In 2017, political scientists Mark Stewart and John Mueller published a detailed evaluation of airport security measures based on the cost to implement and the benefit in terms of lives saved. They concluded that most of what our government does either isn't effective at preventing terrorism or is simply too expensive to justify the security it does provide. Others might disagree with their conclusions, but their analysis provides enough detailed information to have a meaningful argument.

The more we politicize security, the worse we are. People are generally terrible judges of risk. We fear threats in the news out of proportion with the actual dangers. We overestimate rare and spectacular risks, and underestimate commonplace ones. We fear specific "movie-plot threats" that we can bring to mind. That's why we fear flying over driving, even though the latter kills about 35,000 people each year -- about a 9/11's worth of deaths each month. And it's why the idea of the TSA eliminating security at minor airports fills us with fear. We can imagine the plot unfolding, only without Bruce Willis saving the day.

Very little today is immune to politics, including the TSA. It drove most of the agency's decisions in the early years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That the TSA is willing to consider politically unpopular ideas is a credit to the organization. Let's let them perform their analyses in peace.

This essay originally appeared in the Washington Post.

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dougsmith
6 days ago
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aprillikesthings: The USPS is the fastest, cheapest, and most...

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aprillikesthings:

The USPS is the fastest, cheapest, and most accurate mail service on the planet last I heard, and is the biggest employer of veterans in the entire country. 

On top of that, mail carriers: 
-have wages that top out at over $30 an hour (and their wages go up in predictable steps based on how long they’ve been with the USPS)
-have excellent benefits, including a shit-ton of vacation time, plus a pension, and they can retire after thirty years

But they also have one of the oldest, biggest, strongest unions in the country. That must piss off Republicans so much

Also, side note: they take zero taxpayer dollars. They’re entirely funded by postage. 

(”But I heard they were doing terribly!” They’re not. Congress saddled them with pre-funding their retirement 75 years out to intentionally put them in the red and make them look bad. I’m not joking or exaggerating. There’s tons of info, but here’s the USPS’s own info: https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/financials/annual-reports/fy2010/ar2010_4_002.htm )

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dougsmith
9 days ago
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emdeesee
8 days ago
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There's a lot of there there.
📌 Lincoln, NE ❤️️ Sherman, TX
tedgould
9 days ago
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Always surprised when people speak poorly of the USPS.
Texas, USA
dukeofwulf
8 days ago
This happened walking distance from my house: http://www.wbrz.com/news/usps-investigating-mail-found-in-storm-drain/ -- Also, we've had issues with the mail delivery coming well after dark, if at all. When we called to complain, they didn't really seem to care.

Eagleton on Rorty: Hoisted from the Archives from 1998

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Eagleton: "[Following Rorty,] I now object to nuclear warfare not because it would blow up some metaphysical abstraction known as the human race, but because it would introduce a degree of unpleasantness into the lives of my Oxford neighbors.... The campaign is no longer the bloodless, cerebral affair it once was, but pragmatic, experiential, lived sensuously on the pulses. If my bit of Oxford survives a nuclear catastrophe, I really couldn't care less about the University of Virginia..."

Hoisted from the Archives: Eagleton on Rorty http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/Politics/Eagleton.html: English literary critic Terry Eagleton has a very nice--a very effective--a very snide--a very sarcastic--demolition of U. Va. philosopher Richard Rorty. From Terry Eagleton (1996), The Illusions of Postmodernism (London: Blackwell: 0631203230):

pp. 85-86: ...postmodernism combines the worst of [liberalism and communitarianism].... It has, to begin with, an embarrassing amount in common with communitarianism.... The self for both doctrines is embedded in a purely parochial history, and moral judgements thus cannot be universal. Moral judgements, for [Richard] Rorty and his ilk, really say "We don't do that kind of thing around here"; whereas... to say "sexual discrimination is wrong" usually means that we do do that kind of thing around here, but we shouldn't...

pp. 114-116: One kind of postmodern skeptic of universality believes in culturalist style that moral values are just embedded in contingent local traditions, and have no more force than that. An egregious example of this case is the American philosopher Richard Rorty, who in an essay entitled "Solidarity" argues that those who helped Jews in the last world war probably did so less because they saw them as fellow human beings but becasue they belonged to the same city, profession, or other social grouping as themselves. He then goes on to ask himself why modern American liberals should help oppressed American blacks. "Do we say that these people must be helped because they are our fellow human beings? We may, but it is much more persuasive, morally as well as politically, to describe them as our fellow Americans--to insist that it is outrageous that an American should live without hope." Morality, in short, is really just a species of patriotism.

Rorty's case, however, strikes me as still too universalist. There are, after all, rather a lot of Americans, of various shapes and sizes, and there is surely something a little abstract in basing one's compassion on such grandiosely general grounds. It is almost as though "American" operates here as some sort of metalanguage or metaphysical essence, collapsing into unity a vast variety of creeds, lifestyles, ethnic groupings, and so on. Would it not be preferable for an authentic critic of universality to base his fellow-feeling on some genuine localism, say the city block? On second thoughts, however, this is still a little on the homogenizing side, since your average city block does of course contain a fair sprinkling of different sorts of people; but it would surely be a more manageable basis for social justice than some universal abstraction like America. One might demonstrate compassion to those in the next apartment, for example, while withholding it from those down the street. Personally, I only ever display sympathy to fellow graduates of the University of Cambridge. It is true that such credentials aren't always easy to establish: I have occasionally tossed a coin towards some tramp whom I thought I recognized as a member of the class of 1964, only to retrieve it furtively again when I realized my mistake. But the alternatives to such a strategy are fairly dire. Once one begins extending compassion to graduates of Oxford too, there seems no reason not to go on to Sheffield, Warwick, and the Lower Bumpstead College of Agricultural Science, and before one knows where one is one is on the slippery slope to universalism, foundationalism, Juergen Habermas, and the rest.

I have not, incidently, yet resigned from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, merely adjusted my reasons for belonging. I now object to nuclear warfare not because it would blow up some metaphysical abstraction known as the human race, but because it would introduce a degree of unpleasantness into the lives of my Oxford neighbors. The benefit of this adjustment is that my membership of the campaign is no longer the bloodless, cerebral affair it once was, but pragmatic, experiential, lived sensuously on the pulses. If my bit of Oxford survives a nuclear catastrophe, I really couldn't care less about the University of Virginia.

Rorty, commendably enough, really does seem to believe that getting rid of pointless abstractions like "universal humanity" would actually allow us to be more morally and politically effective. He is not so much opposed to them because they are false, a kind of judgement he does not much relish making in the first place, as because they are distractions from the true tasks in hand. He would need, however, to find grounds for distancing himself from the kind of anti-universalist who believed that murder was wrong for everyone except for aristocrats who were above the law, benighted heathen who knew no better, and those whose time-hallowed tradition happened to sanction it. It is this kind of privilege which the Enlightenment was trying to counter, and it is surely a case with strong intuitive force. In theory if not always in practice, it provided you with a powerful counterblast to those paternally-minded colonialists who thought that the natives weren't up to moral virtue or simply had ideas of it which failed to mesh with their own. The idea of human emancipation is part of the progeny of Enlightenment, and those radical postmodernists who mobilize it are inevitably in debt to their antagonists. In a similar way, the Enlightenment itself inherited concepts of universal justice and equality from a Judaeo-Christian tradition which it frequently derided. Universality just means that, when it comes to freedom, justice, and happiness, everyone has to be in on the act...

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dougsmith
22 days ago
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Bloomberg: Taxpayers Should Never Subsidize Stadiums

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Four Reasons Taxpayers Should Never Subsidize Stadiums Elected officials have been played by team owners and sports leagues. Bloomberg, July 16, 2018       What is it about billionaires that they feel compelled to sup at the public trough?  This comes up again and again with the public financing of sports stadiums. As much…

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The post Bloomberg: Taxpayers Should Never Subsidize Stadiums appeared first on The Big Picture.

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dougsmith
30 days ago
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What If Trump Has Been a Russian Asset Since 1987?

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And it would mean the Russia scandal began far earlier than conventionally understood and ended later — indeed, is still happening. As Trump arranges to meet face-to-face and privately with Vladimir Putin later this month, the collusion between the two men metastasizing from a dark accusation into an open alliance, it would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.

It is often said that Donald Trump has had the same nationalistic, zero-sum worldview forever. But that isn’t exactly true. Yes, his racism and mendacity have been evident since his youth, but those who have traced the evolution of his hypernationalism all settle on one year in particular: 1987. Trump “came onto the political stage in 1987 with a full-page ad in the New York Times attacking the Japanese for relying on the United States to defend it militarily,” reported Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The president has believed for 30 years that these alliance commitments are a drain on our finite national treasure,” a White House official told the Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin. Tom Wright, another scholar who has delved into Trump’s history, reached the same conclusion. “1987 is Trump’s breakout year. There are only a couple of examples of him commenting on world politics before then.”

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dougsmith
36 days ago
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37 days ago
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JimB
32 days ago
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This is what I've been thinking for the last year...
awilchak
37 days ago
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good times
Brooklyn, New York
SteveRB511
37 days ago
Based on Trump's behavior I have wondered if he's a real life Manchrian Candidate but sold out to self-interest rather than brain washing.
satadru
37 days ago
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Just... wow.
New York, NY

John Quiggin: Shibboleths: "I was reminded of... 2011, about when the baton was ...

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John Quiggin: Shibboleths: "I was reminded of... 2011, about when the baton was being passed from Palin to Trump...

...There’s very little in Trump’s consistent denial of reality that wasn’t evident back in 2011. Trump’s change has been to make obvious what could previously be ignored. The eagerness with which virtually all Republicans (including Republican-voting “independents”) have embraced Trump refutes my suggestion that they will ultimately be turned off by this stuff. It’s striking that around the same time, Jonathan Haidt was getting lots of praise for The Righteous Mind. By taking conservatives’ self-descriptions as accurate, and ignoring evidence like the prevalence of birtherism, Haidt concluded that liberals had a caricatured view of conservatives, and their values of “Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity”. Now, it’s obvious that, for practical purposes, the caricature is the reality...


#shouldread
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dougsmith
39 days ago
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