The Corner

Re: TSA and Nude Scanners


I remember once listening in on a debate between two Hindu friends about whether there was a plausibly monotheistic interpretation of their shared religion. Their arguments made me acutely aware that I was, at least on that subject, completely outside their intellectual universe, their thoughts and passions entirely alien to me. I might as well have been from Mars.

I have to admit having a similar feeling when reading the admirable Wesley J. Smith’s post below. How in the thousand names of Vishnu can anybody believe that TSA is not invasive enough? How is it possible to believe that these groping, thieving, smack-smuggling connoisseurs of child pornography make the country safer? (Obligatory plug: For more on why I believe the TSA is more like a crime syndicate than a security agency, see my upcoming book: The End Is Near and It’s Going To Be Awesome.)

At the risk of sounding like one of those awful soy-latte liberals who think everything is better in Europe, air travel in these United States is an embarrassment. Flying from Schiphol to JFK will make you momentarily ashamed to be an American; it’s like landing in a Third World country. I’ve traveled to some pretty dodgy places, but I’ve never seen an airport as bad as Miami’s. Clearing immigration in Madrid takes about six minutes; clearing immigration in New York — which is handily located in the very country from which my passport was issued — took about an hour last time. (I can only imagine how much worse it is for foreigners.) Flight delays in the United States have become so common and so systemic that airlines simply started advertising longer flight durations in 2008, padding the schedules to improve “on-time” performance. But they couldn’t even get it right when faking it — they somehow managed to trip over the very bar they were lowering — and so have recently reversed themselves.

But for all the incompetence of the airlines and the brooding hostility at the immigration desk, TSA is the worst part of flying, unless your idea of a good time is getting felt up by a guy with a neck tattoo reading “GANGSTA” as foreplay to larceny.

TSA agents are prodigious thieves. One TSA goon recently busted in a Port Authority sting operation stole two iPads on a single shift. When he was arrested, he was also found with two stolen MacBooks and a pair of Beats headphones still in the box. A raft of Apple products in his possession were “taken for further investigation.” (See the excellent Nightline report on TSA thievery here.) TSA agent Pythias Brown, the apparent record-setting thief who estimates that he looted some $800,000 worth of property from travelers, says that oversight is so lax that he walked out of his security checkpoint with a Nintendo Wii carried openly in his hands. His supervisors’ response: “Don’t get caught.”

Republicans looking for a solid middle-class issue might give some thought to the frequent flyer. Step one would be disbanding the TSA and putting security directly in the hands of the airlines themselves, accompanied by whatever expansion of liability is appropriate.

Step two would be to allow foreign carriers to operate domestic routes in the United States. Yes, that probably would put some domestic airlines out of business. Good riddance. They’re awful.  Lewis Grizzard’s advice to unhappily transplanted northerners residing in the south — “Delta is ready when you are” — would require a footnote, and “Singapore Airlines is ready when you are” doesn’t have quite the same poetry. But I’ll take that tradeoff. Competition is good.

Step three would be to encourage airports to get rid of their current model of scheduling takeoffs and landings and to institute a slot-auction system, which would create real economic incentives for on-time operations. (See Cato’s paper on the subject here.)

But in the name of all that is good and decent, don’t listen to Wesley Smith on this issue. Listen to him on health care, listen to him on abortion, but not on this. TSA is a threat to our security, not a guarantor of it. We need to be scanning these miscreants, not the other way around.


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