Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Impossible Task

Because people want the illusion of safety, not actual safety.

Because people want convenience, but blame others when something goes wrong.

Because other people are terrorists, not me, and the security people should know that just by looking at me.

That's why the terrorists got their box cutters onto the planes on September 11, and did what they did. Our system, at that time, was accomodating to encourage travel.

That's why afterwards, many Americans wanted to create a government agency to provide perfect security on airplanes. Even as perfect security is impossible. Every lapse in security since then has been made into a political circus and a media emergency.

That's why we have a color coded system of terrorism warning.

That's why, during these 9 years, Americans have complained loudly about participating in providing security on airplanes. And that's why, after 9 years, many Americans are losing their minds about the TSA.

Because they were not able to carry out the impossible task we asked them to do without our cooperation. Do this, we tell them, without our help or patience while we complain about it when they succeed and when they don't.

The government cannot handle everything, neither can businesses, so our expectations need to be reasonable. Political leaders and the media, instead of promising the impossible, need to assist in tempering expectations with reality. And Americans need to realize that, while they have the right to travel, when they get into a vehicle of any kind that can be turned into a speeding implement of death, they have to abide by whatever rules and regulations they demanded the government set for travelers in the first place.

So, what's it going to be, America? Essential freedom or temporary security?



Mavric said...

I have never been subjected to anything more than "Did you remeber the change in your pockets? Please walk through again sir." I think that a lot of the raw anger comes from the impression that eveyone has to either go through these scanners or get groped when in reality, if you just plan ahead, the chances of setting off a metal detector are very manageable.

Over all, I have a neutral opinion on the enhanced security proceedures. I'm not worried with the policies themselves, but I am not always confident in the calibur of employee that I've seen manning the security checkpoints. Employees that look bored and uninterested are not the ones I would trust my safety to. Likewise, I'm not very confident in their concern for proper pat down guidelines or nekkid picture desposal.

Finally, there is the raw numbers of the situation. We are trying to create an inpenaterable defense where terrorist never sneak in and blow us up.

That will never happen. There will always be a new idea that hasn't been accounted for designed to reak havoc on us and make us feel vulnerable.

The above idea isn't an excuse for not taking reasonable precautions, but at what point do we draw the line and say this policy is far too close to treating everyone as guilty? For the record, I don't think the new scanners are over that line, but I can't say I'm up for some of the TSA agents I've seen touching my junk as a preventative measure.

alli said...

My vote is for essential freedom. Terrorism is a law enforcement issue, and TSA "security" is just theater. And I've been pissed about it for nine years.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Hell, this is one of the reasons I just don't travel by air. If I can't stand waiting for my drink behind a bar that's three-deep, dealing with the nonsense at airports will just drive me to bad behavior.

Besides, based on what friends and family who do fly have told me about the experience, the entire method of travel is overwrought with problems. If Amtrak could be a little bit more prompt, I'd not travel any other way.

As for the TSA, full disclosure requires me to state that I applied for employment back in 2002, but was not offered a job.

But while this is a law enforcement issue, it is also a government/business relations issue. Airlines, like gasoline prices, are one of many places where I do think the government does too much to assist the private enterprises involved.

By creating the TSA to both "ensure" security and to be the "bad guy," airlines are able to avoid accountability for security lapses and demonstrate a "big government, nanny state" situation at which to direct unhappy customers' ire.

Leave most airline security to the airlines and airports, with the understanding that, if any terrorists get through and hurt anyone, the airline and airports are responsible, financially and criminally, for the lapse.

Suddenly, we'd see the real cost of air travel, and people will demonstrate their priorities by making decisions based on cost and convenience.

Mavric said...

With the equivalant of giant supesonic exploding battering rams at stake, I do not think that "let the private sector handle it" is a good solution. Corporate priorities are rarely alinged with public interests and the stakes are just too high. That being said, I felt a lot more secure flying into Rome, where Carabinieri walk around the airport with submachine guns on open display.

In that scenario, the passengers, and perhaps more importantly, the individuals manning the checkpoints knew who was in charge. In Heartsfield Jackson, if I do something to annoy a TSA agent, he has all sorts of ways to bend policy, provoke me, and make my day rougher. if things get out of hand, the TSA supervisor walks out and tlls me to calm down, then denies me access to the planes.

If I annoy a screener in Rome, he may make life harder, but he may not because the folks that come settle things are not in his chain of command and THEY HAVE BIG GUNS. Its an escallation of a whole different calibur and helps keep stupid things from happening on both sides.

Looking back at both scenarios, TSA empowers bueaucrats, a horrible idea because bureaucrats live for opportunities to prove that they have a purpose. Italian security empowers the Carabinieri, a branch of the military with all of the training and discipline that goes along with it. I know who I feel safer traveling with.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

So you feel safer entrusting your safety to the Italian military than to American private industry? Insert TEH SOCIALIZMS joke here.

On a more serious note, I'm not sure the guys with the guns are going to side with the customer against the airlines every time.

Corporate priorities are rarely alinged with public interests and the stakes are just too high.

While this is true, and I think it is the exact reason the September 11 attacks happened (business catering to convenience instead of security), the fact is that our nation is not prepared to hold private industry accountable for security lapses. Our nation is also not prepared to accept the real cost of flying. We may sacrifice essential freedoms for temporary security, but we will never sacrifice our subsidized convenience of cheap air travel.

My proposal is a workable solution, but one that is not politically viable. Despite all the anti-govenment rhetoric, the private industry that runs the airlines will never, ever, evereverever accept responsibility and declare themselves accountable for passenger safety - and the safety of those threatened by the supersonic exploding flying battering rams - on this scale.

That is because the folks making decisions for the billion dollar airline industry know that perfect safety is impossible to acheive, even as they will spend their dollars convincing the American citizens that it can through a plodding and invasive bureaucracy run by the government.

Mavric said...

To the point of teh socializms, government has a traditional place in providing safety and security to its citizens. That's why we let it organize police and military to begin with. I just think we all wish that they would organize a little better than TSA.

To the point of guys with guns not always siding with passengers, I hope they don't. How much of the media firestorm has come from people picking fights to "accidentally record on their cellphone" TSA looking bad? I grant you that it isn't hard, but proving points (aka: Keeping It Real) is how things get out of hand. Knowing that the consequences of acting the fool (from either side) are much more serious than laughing with your coworkers on breaktime or a million hits on the TSASUX section of youtube reduces the likelyhood of someone catching the stupids from either end.

Finally, to the real cost issue: the government makes stupid decisions. They subsidize corn and tons of other food, cars, student loans, insurance, and lots of others that don't fall nearly as closely to accepted government rolls as this. You are right that private security could do the job, but we disagree on whether it should do the job.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Oh, I'm all about the government doing the job, but not if that job is security theatre.

And that's what this is.

Again, this system is only nominally set up to protect passenger safety. If it was proactive, we'd have law enforcement outside the airports, tracking down and verifying who the terrorists are before they get to the planes. The single fact that there is "no-fly/suspicious-fly list" confusion that can't be remedied to this day is a testament to this failure.

Instead, we have an entire bureaucracy grabbin' up on people in the airports so people will continue to feel safe and patronize airlines in numbers to which we are accustomed. Hell, "FEEL SAFE" should be the slogan!

Why does the show have to be so big? Because the possible panic of unsafe travel is so overblown in our society, we have to spend billions to allay peoples' fear.

You know what would make airlines really, really safe? Expensive ticket prices. The only reason folks use airlines is because they have to get from point A to point B quicker than they can by ground or boat. That should come at a premium, and I'm tired of subsidizing others' luxury at the current cost structure.

Because if the airlines had to pay for the TSA, tickets would be much more expensive. More expensive tickets = less air travelers. Less air travelers = more likely to catch folks looking to smuggle contraband or blow up planes. One in 100 odds are better than 1 in 1000 odds, after all.

Instead, subsidized flying is so much more convenient and so cost effective*, that people will willingly subject themselves to invasive privacy violations just to make use of it.

* Compared only to other current options of transportation.

alli said...

What other forms of inter-city transportation aren't subsidized? Last time I checked, I haven't paid a dime to travel along the vast majority of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. (Apart from the gas tax, of course, which hasn't increased since I was eight years old.)

The problem with invasive security and intense subsidization of airport infrastructure at the expense of alternatives is that there are so few alternatives! Normally, there is a substitution effect towards other transportation modes. For some distances, driving is feasible - but for others, flying is the only option that does not incur a significant time-cost. If the US had invested in intercity rail fifty, forty, twenty, hell TEN years ago, we would be seeing a much more significant substitution effect from gas price increases, invasive security measures, airline ticket costs and baggage feeds, etc.

alli said...

Ugh, baggage FEES, obviously, not "feeds"

Mavric said...

To paT's point on subsidising security: in fy09, TSA spent 6 billion dollars. 2.2 was from fees on passengers & airlines, 3.8 was from the government. So in order for passengers of airlines to pay for their security, the fee should be raised to about 7.50 per ticket.

Now the way TSA is handling security is leaving us all feeling a little violated.

My suggestion is militerize it.

paT is of the opinion that we shold privatize it.

Alli is of the pursuasion we should slap some competition into the mix.

Am I missing anything?

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

DADvocate looks at the politics of the situation.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

in fy09, TSA spent 6 billion dollars. 2.2 was from fees on passengers & airlines, 3.8 was from the government.

I'm glad 63%+ of the money our government spends protecting the airline industry from litigation comes out of my tax dollars. Three-point-eight Billion is one hell of a subsidy.

It only makes me angrier if your math is correct, and the costs could be offset by a mere $7.50 markup on tickets and fees. Charge the people traveling by airplane that extra $7.50.

And it doesn't matter if I think we should privatize it. (Since it was privatization that catastrophically failed on September 11.)

What makes me angry is that the government is involved not to provide security, but the illusion of security so the airline industry doesn't go bankrupt overnight.

What makes me angry is that the government is involved because private businesses fear being held accountable through litigation; they fear looking like the boogeymen if they had to provide impossibly perfect security on their own.

So they pawn the responsibility off on "Big Government," which removes responsibility from the billionaires, makes the government the bad guys, and sticks the taxpayers-even those who don't fly with the bill.

And despite knowing exactly those facts, pundits get to blame "Big Government, Tax and Spend Liberals" for this government program that benefits mainly a heavily subsidized private industry run by billionaires. And since so many Democrats are beholden to airline industry unions donating to their political campaigns, they'll say not one word in their own defense. Because hurting the airline industry is bad for their fundraising considerations.