Published: Sun, 23 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2017 13:46:38 -0400
Mon, 17 Apr 2017 19:30:00 -0400
The best way to solve the problem of too many people on an airplane is to "offer a price to get people to voluntarily give up a seat," says Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty. "But it only works really well if they keep raising the price until they get the volunteer."
On today's podcast, Doherty joins Nick Gillespie and Katherine Mangu-Ward to talk about why busting heads and not overbooking was to blame for last week's United Airlines crisis, the libertarian case for free trade and immigration, how to convince non-libertarians that one person's gain isn't necessarily another person's loss, Arkansas' legal fight to execute eight men, filing taxes, and the virtues of recreational testosterone.
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Thu, 13 Apr 2017 10:20:00 -0400As Brian Doherty observed here yesterday, the United Airlines outrage does not require new laws, though that is certainly news to microphone-hogging pols like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In fact, let's round up some of the opportunistic political responses, shall we? * Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois): her bill "will end the practice of involuntarily 'bumping' passengers from oversold aircrafts once and for all. If an airline chooses to oversell a flight, or has to accommodate their crew on a fully booked flight, it is their responsibility to keep raising their offer until a customer chooses to give up their seat." Schakowsky said her legislation also will require that any dickering over how much a passenger will get for voluntarily relinquishing a seat is "carried out before they board the aircraft. These fixes would prevent the situation we saw on video from ever happening again." * Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland): he is readying legislation to prohibit airlines from forcibly removing passengers due to overbooking or to free up seats for crew. The Maryland Democrat released a letter to colleagues seeking sponsors for what he has called the "Customers Not Cargo Act." There is another way, I argue in today's L.A. Times. If lawmakers really want United to feel the lash, they should remove the politically motivated protectionism that blocks foreign competitors from driving customer-unfriendly American airline behemoths out of business. Excerpt: Foreign companies and individuals—think Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic Airways—are forbidden by U.S. law from owning more than 25% of a domestic airline. That's why Virgin America could be sold last year to Alaska Airlines over the express wishes of Virgin's famous founder: He just didn't have enough votes. The differently headquartered are banned outright from servicing routes between two American cities, a practice with the sinister-sounding name of cabotage. And carriers from Singapore to the Gulf States are not only barred from competition, but subject to sneering taunts by American legacies from behind the protectionist firewall, such as when United CEO Oscar Munoz this March said that companies including the well-regarded Emirates "aren't real airlines." What on Earth justifies such pre-Trump xenophobic mercantilism in our increasingly globalized world? According to North America's Air Line Pilots Assn.: "These regulations ensure the national security of our country and the integrity of our airline industry." Or translated into honest-ese, "These regulations ensure the job security of unionized U.S. nationals and the continued existence of poorly run U.S. airlines." Read the whole thing here.[...]
Wed, 12 Apr 2017 13:45:00 -0400Predictably, America's least popular governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey, approaches the national conversation generated by Chicago aviation police beating up and dragging Dr. David Dao off a United Airlines flight on Sunday by demanding more legal action. Christie, a Republican, is calling for quick federal action to ban the process of "overbooking," that is, selling more seats on an airplane than there are physically available. As a post here explained the other day, a libertarian-leaning economist, the late Julian Simon, invented and policy-entrepreneured into existence a wonderful price-system, free-market model for solving the problem of overbooking. Here's how it usually works: the airline starts offering monetary incentives (could be flight vouchers or cash or other considerations) to get enough customers to voluntarily give up their seat, increasing the offered price until the market for seats has cleared, that is, you've found enough people to give up the seat they paid for. That way everyone is happy, either with their seat or with payment that the person considers sufficient to make up for losing the seat. My criticisms of United and the police in this incident are not based on general hostility to overbooking, which both makes great economic sense for the airlines, almost certainly makes ticket prices less than they otherwise would be for customers, and creates win-win scenarios for airlines and passengers when the airline is smart enough to actually carry through the Simon policy to a market-clearing result. In the case of this United flight from which Dao was violently ejected, by all accounts United tried two rounds of offers, and after $800 decided to start busting heads. There is zero reason to believe that quick increases in the price offered to voluntarily abandon your seat would not have resolved this situation far more quickly and justly than calling the cops on Dao. (And, almost certainly after all the dings in the market and possibly the courts ahead for United, it all would have been far less costly for United as well.) Free market types are understandably attracted to explanations for seemingly idiotic or perverse behavior on the part of companies that blame government. In the conversation surrounding this United debacle, I've seen many people excited about a Department of Transportation regulation that sets a cap on the airlines legal obligation to pay off those bumped from an overbooked flight: Compensation shall be 400% of the fare to the passenger's destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $1,350, if the carrier does not offer alternate transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger's first stopover, or if none, the airport of the passenger's final destination less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger's original flight. But that has no application to United's bad decisions in the case of Dao's abuse. (Remember, the police's equally bad decisions were triggered by United's bad decision; while the cops should have been more curious about why they were asked to commit violence against Dao, they did so because the airline decided to treat him as an intruder on their property for no good reason, when what he was was a paying customer.) First, by all reports United didn't even reach their regulatory obligation to offer as much as $1,350 as an incentive. (I am discounting as extremely unlikely any possibility that no one on that plane paid more than $200 for a seat, though if that were so they would have met the obligation by offering 400 percent of that.) Second, despite how some want to interpret it, nothing in that regulation says it is illegal to offer more as compensation. It is not written as a price ceiling. It merely says the airlines' legally ordered obligation to the bumped will thus be met. Nor have I seen anyone point to any case law that seems to complicate my read of what the regulation actually says. So, contra Christie, United [...]
Tue, 11 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400You would think that an elderly doctor (69 years old!) being filmed getting dragged by police off a United airplane in order to make room for the airline employees would be immune to the "He's no angel" defense of government violence. You would be wrong, though, and underestimating the willingness of media outlets to publish anything that has the potential to get them attention, even negative attention. Everybody's got a past that can be used against them. It has become a common practice that when a citizen has a very public, highly publicized encounter with law enforcement, his or her criminal background very quickly ends up in the hands of local media outlets. Sometimes it's relevant. If a criminal suspect gets wounded or killed in a confrontation with police, a history of convictions for violent crimes helps put it in context. It doesn't inherently mean the police's behavior was justified in any particular instance, but it is important information. And the public should know. But sometimes it's clearly an attempt to make the person subjected to police aggression look guilty in the eyes of the public and shield the authorities from criticism for bad behavior. All of that is to say the Courier-Journal in Kentucky got its hands on the criminal and licensing background of the guy that got forcibly yanked (and injured) by Chicago police off that United flight, and it turns out this David Dao fellow did some bad things, more than a decade ago. But they've decided to dredge it up anyway: Dao, who went to medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the U.S., was working as a pulmonologist in Elizabethtown when he was arrested in 2003 and eventually convicted of drug-related offenses after an undercover investigation, according to documents filed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure last June. The documents allege that he was involved in fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances and was sexually involved with a patient who used to work for his practice and assisted police in building a case against him. Dao was convicted of multiple felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit in November 2004 and was placed on five years of supervised probation in January 2005. He surrendered his medical license the next month. The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure permitted Dao to resume practicing medicine in 2015 under certain conditions. None of this provides any contextual information useful to understanding Dao's refusal to comply with United. It's a smear. There's no reason to believe any of it is not true, but it is not journalism that provides any actually useful context about Dao. They can't even say he was misleading the airline when he said he had patients to treat as an explanation for his refusal to disembark "voluntarily." The newspaper is being absolutely blasted on both their website and on Twitter for running with this story. There are maybe one or two people who defend the publishing and the idea that Dao should have complied and think his criminal background is in any way related. A poll asking whether the Courier-Journal should have published this story would likely lead to a very lopsided result telling the paper they made the wrong choice here. I did not see anywhere in these tweets or comments anybody saying the newspaper shouldn't be allowed to have published this information, which is good. This is a perfect example of using "more speech" to counter "bad speech." The media outlet arguably made a poor choice in what information to publish and is being publicly criticized for doing so. It would not surprise me if the editor there was being inundated with angry phone calls. Nevertheless, though there is no call for formal government censorship, it's worth looking at this story about Dao's checkered past and thinking about the development of "right to be forgotten" orders and regulations in the European Union. This is a "right" used to force censorship of the internet, requiring search engines like Go[...]
Mon, 10 Apr 2017 14:15:00 -0400The world is rightly abuzz over an awful incident yesterday in which a man was beaten and dragged off a plane by police at Chicago's O'Hare airport for the crime of wanting to use the seat he's paid for on a United Airline flight getting ready to leave for Louisville. The man claimed to be a doctor who had patients to see the next morning, explaining why he neither took an initial offer made to everyone on the plane to accept $400 and a hotel room for the night in exchange for voluntarily giving up his seat nor wanted to obey a straight-up order to leave, in an attempt on United's part to clear four seats for its own employees on the full flight. No one considered even the $800 that was offered after everyone had boarded enough for the inconvenience, so United picked four seats and just ordered those in them to vacate. But the one man in question was not interested in obeying. (Buzzfeed reports, based on tweets from other passengers, that the bloodied man did eventually return to the plane.) While United's customer service policies in this case are clearly heinous and absurd, let's not forget to also cast blame on the police officers who actually committed the brutality on United's behalf. NPR reports that the cops attacking the man "appear to be wearing the uniforms of Chicago aviation police." While there may be something to be said for the ability for private businesses to summon the help of the police to remove people from their premises if they refuse to leave peacefully and their presence is unwanted, there is no excuse for the police to cooperate when the reason their presence is unwanted is not "causing a disturbance" or being violent or threatening to other customers, or stealing goods or services, or doing anything wrong at all, but rather wanting to peacefully use the service they legitimately paid for. Shame on both United for calling the cops on a passenger to make the lives of their employees and business easier, and shame on the police for having any part of it. [UPDATE: According to A.P., others may agree with the above; "Chicago aviation department says officer involved in dragging man off United flight placed on leave," A.P. tweets.] Buzzfeed News reports an interesting tag team of evaded responsibility as they tried to report on whether this was standard operating procedure. When asked why the airline had the man forcibly removed, and whether that was standard procedure in cases of overbooked flights, United refused to comment. Instead they told BuzzFeed News all further questions should be referred to Chicago Police. BuzzFeed News contacted Chicago Police and were told to contact the Chicago Department of Aviation. When BuzzFeed News contacted the Chicago Department of Aviation they were transferred to a TSA message bank. A TSA spokesperson later told BuzzFeed News they were not involved and to contact Chicago Police. It is not surprising that the wonderful and, if the price offered goes high enough always effective, voluntary means to get passengers to surrender an overbooked flight was developed by a fascinating economist from the libertarian movement thoughtworld, Julian Simon, whose role in the wonderful, rights-respecting, and economically efficient policy is detailed in this 2009 story from the Illinois News Bureau: Thirty years ago, U.S. airlines stopped arbitrarily grounding passengers on overbooked flights, instead offering rewards if travelers give up seats to make room for hurried fliers who need to touch down on time. Economist James Heins says the seemingly subtle switch has provided a $100 billion jolt to the U.S. economy over the last three decades - allowing airlines to run fuller, more profitable flights that in turn has trimmed air fares and increased tax revenue. Now, he hopes the milestone anniversary finally yields much-due credit for the late Julian Simon, a fellow economist well known for slaying gloom-and-doom population growth forecasts but overlooked for the semin[...]
Fri, 07 Apr 2017 04:00:00 -0400
(image) Evelyn Harris, 65, had just gone through the security scanner at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport when a Transportation Security Administration agent pulled her out of line, grabbed her by the throat, and groped her underneath her bra and inside her underwear. She later called the TSA to complain but was told the search was proper because she was wearing a pantyliner. The agent she spoke to said that since a 2009 incident in which someone tried to ignite a bomb in his underwear they have been vigilant about people hiding stuff in their crotch.
Wed, 29 Mar 2017 11:16:00 -0400
(image) Suppose you forget to remove your laptop from your carry-on bag while passing through security at a U.S. airport. How should the TSA "resolve" that issue?
You might think the resolution would involve sending the laptop through the scanner again, this time in its very own bin. It might also include swabbing the laptop to see if it tests positive for explosive residue, based on the dubious supposition that a terrorist with a bomb in his laptop would invite such scrutiny by flouting the well-known rule regarding portable computers. But even that extra measure seems downright sensible compared to what a TSA agent at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport did on Sunday after a 13-year-old boy mistakenly left his laptop in his backback: He repeatedly patted the boy down, paying extra attention to his thighs, buttocks, and waistband, even though the kid had passed through the body scanner without setting off any alarms.
In a Facebook post that has elicited considerable outrage, the boy's mother, Jennifer Williamson of Grapevine, Texas, says he has a sensory processing disorder that makes him especially sensitive to being touched. She therefore asked if he could be screened in some other way, which of course was simply not possible. Williamson's video of the pat-down suggests the boy reacted with more equanimity than his mother, who described the experience as "horrifying." It is especially puzzling that the agent seems to have completed the pat-down a couple of times, only to feel the same areas again. The TSA says the examination, which took about two minutes, was witnessed by two police officers "to mitigate the concerns of the mother."
Williamson evidently did not find the cops' presence reassuring. "We had two DFW police officers that were called and flanking him on each side," she says. "Somehow these power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause need to be reined in." Several hours later, she says, her son was still saying, "I don't know what I did. What did I do?"
In addition to the pat-down, the TSA screened "three carry-on items that required further inspection." Williamson says she and her son missed their flight because all the extra attention delayed them for about an hour. The TSA says it was more like 35 minutes. Or maybe 45. According to CBS News, "The TSA said the procedures performed by the officer in the video met new pat-down standards that went into effect earlier this month." The TSA told CNET "all approved procedures were followed to resolve an alarm of the passenger's laptop."
The problem, in other words, is not "power tripping TSA agents" who get their jollies by feeling up boys. The problem is the protocol, which makes no sense and, judging from most of the comments in response to Williamson's post, is not even effective as security theater.
Thu, 23 Feb 2017 20:25:00 -0500
Customs and Border Protection (CPB) agents who claim they were looking for an unnamed person they thought might be aboard a flight who has been "ordered removed by an immigration judge" insisted upon seeing identity documents of every passenger on a fully domestic Delta flight (Flight 1583) from San Francisco to New York's JFK Airport on deplaning yesterday.
Rolling Stone has a report, after some of the victimized citizen passengers tweeted about their bizarre and un-American situation.
Although a CPB spokesman insisted to Rolling Stone that this sort of thing is "nothing new," they were unable to offer any actual statutory authority for these border agents to harass citizens on a purely domestic flight.
What they offered Stone was 19 C.F.R. 162.6, containing the statement that "All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer." and "CBP has the authority to collect passenger name record information on all travelers entering or leaving the United States."
That does not, of course, apply in any way to this unjust and seemingly illegal harassment of American citizens leaving a plane that started in and landed in the United States.
Officious agents blocking the free movement of a free people with requests for "your papers" were understood in the old, somewhat real America as the depth of tyranny. Just another day now in the war against people who crossed a border illegally though. Never forget: a war on undocumented immigrants by necessity is a war on all of our freedoms of association and movement.
Thu, 09 Feb 2017 08:20:00 -0500A dramatic story. A righteous cause. A timely tie-in to the Super Bowl. It's no wonder Shelia Fedrick's tale recently went viral. An Alaska Airlines flight attendant, Fedrick was on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco in 2011 when she spotted an older man with a teen girl whom she suspected of being in trouble. After communicating with the girl through a secret bathroom-note, Fedrick alerted the pilot, who alerted authorities, who were waiting at the gate when the plane arrived, according to what Fedrick told NBC News. The story of this "hero flight attendant" and the group she represented quickly spread from tabloid outlets like the Daily Mail to the pages of The New York Times and BBC News. But each new iteration failed to produce additional facts. There was no follow-up on where the alleged trafficker had come from, what happened to him after the flight—arrest? prosecution? prison?—or data on how often law enforcement responds to in-flight staff tips. (There were also many misreports that Fedrick's tale coincided with last year's Super Bowl in San Francisco, though it happened years earlier.) Most stories mentioned Airline Ambassadors International (AAI), an organization training flight attendants on how to handle suspected human traffickers, but none dug beyond AAI's own statements about intent and impact. If they had, they would've found something far less simple, and darker, than a heartwarming human-interest story. Friends in High Places Fedrick's 2011 experience didn't just happen into the 2017 media by accident. Her story is part of a campaign from Airline Ambassadors International, whose staff was in Houston last week to train flight attendants ahead of the Super Bowl. Like many groups focused on the issue, AAI used the myth of a sports-related sex trafficking boom to permeate the Super Bowl news-cycle. AAI was founded in the 1990s by Nancy Rivard, and the bulk of its efforts long revolved around providing adult escorts to children traveling for medical procedures. But beginning in 2009, the agency began a serious shift toward human-trafficking awareness. These days, AAI gives presentations to airline and airport staff around America and abroad, using a training program approved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the U.S. State Department. Under AAI's "Blue Lightening Protocol," flight attendants who suspect someone of being trafficked are told to radio the upcoming airport and provide info directly to a DHS Tip Line, but not engage with the potential suspect or victim directly, nor "display any unusual concern or alarm." What manners of in-flight behavior might warrant flight attendants taking action? "Children and young women traveling alone" are one sign of sex trafficking, says AAI in a training module. People who seem "nervous," appear "afraid of uniformed security," or wear "inappropriate clothing" should also trigger alarms. Likewise people who claim to be adults but have "adolescent features," and adults claiming to be the relative of a young traveler. "I have personally witnessed how quickly law enforcement responds to the calls by flight attendants," Deborah Sigmund, co-founder and president of anti-human-trafficking group Innocence at Risk, has said. "When reports come in to the hotline, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents come immediately to meet the plane as it reaches the ground." There might be a reason for that: Innocence at Risk's other co-founder, Sandra Fiorini, was married to Alonzo Peña, a former deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and DHS Attaché in Mexico. Peña is credited as the driving force behind Homeland Security's Border Enforcement Task Force (BEST), which brought together state, local, and federal officers to address security on the Southwest border. Innocents at Ris[...]
Sat, 28 Jan 2017 22:08:00 -0500
(image) The American Civil Liberties Union has at least temporarily halted President Donald Trump's attempt to turn away refugees and travelers from a handful of selected Muslim-dominated countries.
As Matt Welch wrote this morning, Trump's order banning travelers and refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen included people who had already been approved to live legally within in the United States and had even been here for years. As a result, immigrants and refugees from these countries who were returning home to the United States were being detained at airports after this order was implemented and were unable to enter the country.
The ACLU quickly sued, representing two Iraqis detained at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. This evening a judge ruled in the ACLU's favor, putting a temporary stay on the president's order.
To be clear, the judge's order specifically covers immigrants and refugees from these countries who have already been approved to travel and live in the United States and only those people. The government cannot simply eject people it has already given green cards and visas to without due process, the ACLU argued. The judge found that argument compelling enough that she concluded that it was likely to win, thus helping convince her to grant the stay.
Read the full three-page ruling here. But the relevant conclusion is right below:
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero responded:
"Clearly the judge understood the possibility for irreparable harm to hundreds of immigrants and lawful visitors to this country. Our courts today worked as they should as bulwarks against government abuse or unconstitutional policies and orders. On week one, Donald Trump suffered his first loss in court."
Fri, 06 Jan 2017 14:45:00 -0500A gunman in Florida's Ft-Lauderdale-Hollywood airport shot and killed many people this morning. While the specifics, as usual in the early reporting on such incidences, are not nailed down, CNN first reported 9 injured and "multiple" dead as of the time of this posting. A suspect is in custody, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief told CNN. There is no reason to believe he did not act alone. That suspect has not yet been identified and no motive yet being reported. The shooting happened near the lower level baggage claim at the airport. The Washington Post is now reporting five dead, eight others injured. UPDATE (3 pm est): Via Kansas City Star, details on incident and shooter, not verified yet by law enforcement: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said on MSNBC that the shooter is named Esteban Santiago and that the man was carrying a military identification... Mark Lea, who said he was a witness to the shootings, told MSNBC that the shooter was a man, wearing a Star Wars T-shirt, and that he walked into the baggage claim area of Terminal 2 and opened fire with a single handgun. Lea said the man said nothing as we he went through three magazines before giving up and sprawling spread-eagle on the flood as a police officer took him into custody. "He had no intention of escaping," Lea told MSNBC. UPDATE II (4 pm est). Via Daily Beast a good summation of what's being reported about arrested suspect Esteban Santiago, including his criminal record: Santiago landed at the airport after a flight. Santiago checked a handgun in his luggage and retrieved it at the Terminal 2 baggage claim, [Broward County Commissioner Chip] LaMaca wrote [on Facebook], adding that he loaded the gun in a bathroom then came out and opened fire. NBC News, citing law enforcement officials, confirmed LaMarca's story... Santiago was born in New Jersey, according to NBC News, and was a member of the U.S. Army National guard. Santiago lived in Anchorage, Alaska from 2014 to 2016. Alaska court records show a criminal record there for minor traffic infractions including operating a vehicle without insurance and a broken taillight. Records also show his landlord evicted him for non-payment of rent in February 2015. In January 2016, Santiago was charged with two misdemeanor crimes: one count of fourth-degree assault and another for damage of property over $50. According to a spokesperson from the Anchorage Police department the incident was related to domestic violence. The case was resolved in March when Santiago entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, an alternative to adjudication where a state prosecutor dismissed the charges in exchange for Esteban's completion of requirements that are unknown. UPDATE III (5:45 pm est) CBS Miami reports Santiago in November "walked into an FBI office in Anchorage claiming that he was being forced to fight for ISIS. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital."[...]
Mon, 19 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500
(image) Denise Albert, who is battling breast cancer, says she was humilated by Transportation Security Administration screeners at Los Angeles International Aiport. She said they roughly searched her, including the area around her metal port, then when examing the contents of her bag mocked the false eyelashes she was carrying because the cancer treatment has caused her to lose her natural lashes.
Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:23:00 -0400Last night rumors of an active shooter turned Los Angeles International Airport inside out. According to ABC News, "Passengers breached security doors and spilled out onto the airport tarmac." The airport's official statement describes the crowd's behavior more gingerly, informing us that travelers "self-evacuated onto the tarmac" and "rushed through federal security screening without being properly screened." By the time the lockdown was over, there had been 281 flight delays, 27 flight diversions, two flight cancellations, and at least one injury. The injured person was trampled by the crowd. No one was injured by the gunman, because there was no gunman. The whole episode was a mass delusion, set off by a loud noise and, possibly, by a fellow dressed as Zorro. "Someone yelled that [the Zorro man] had a sword, which turned out to be wooden," ABC says. "Later, reports of an active shooter began to spread throughout the airport, but it remains unclear if those reports were related directly to the man in the costume." This comes two weeks after sounds mistaken for gunfire set off a similar security scare at JFK Airport in New York. Active-shooter false alarms are more common than actual active shooters. This summer alone, we've seen them at a Nevada campus, a North Carolina mall, a Maryland military base, a Florida Chipotle, a New York shopping center, and several other locations; just a few days ago, shoppers fled a mall in Orlando after they thought the sound of balloons popping was the sound of a gun being fired. But the phantom attacks at JFK and LAX stand out, because airports are the most heavily policed places that large crowds of ordinary American civilians pass through every day. Twice in two weeks, we've seen that security apparatus collapse at a sign of trouble. And in at least one of those two collapses, the apparatus wound up actually feeding the fear. At JFK, New York magazine described guards plunging into hysteria, including one in a stairwell "sobbing hysterically and screaming" and another "dismissing anyone who turned to him for help or leadership by yelling that he didn't want to die tonight, either." In Los Angeles, airport police have denied reports that they told travelers to flee. That might be true: If people are relaying rumors of gunshots that didn't really happen, they could certainly also mistake a passenger yelling "Run!" for an officer yelling "Run!" It might also be false. NBC's Lester Holt, for one, says he saw security personnel joining the stampede. There's nothing about a uniform that makes a man immune to alarm.[...]
Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:35:00 -0400TSA agents at Phoenix' Sky Harbor International Airport detained nine-year old Chille Bergstrom and his family for more than an hour on Saturday, causing them to miss their flight, because they suspected the kid was hiding a bomb in his chest. He wasn't, of course. Chille was born with a rare heart condition that requires him to wear a pacemaker. The tiny medical implant literally keeps him alive, but it means that he can't go through the scanning equipment at airport security checkpoints. Instead, he has to ask for the alternative pat-down screening. His family told KMSP in Minneapolis, where they live, that they asked for an alternative screening and presented paperwork detailing Chille's medical condition. When they did, TSA agents said they needed a special exemption they did not have, according to Ali Bergstrom, Chille's mother. That's when things really got out of control. The Bergstroms say they were escorted into a private room with armed police officers and TSA supervisors surrounding them while Chille was subjected to what Ali called a lengthy and demeaning search. Chille, who has been through airport security several times before, even asked why this screening was so different. "One of the TSA agents told me they'd prevented terrorist attacks using nine-year-old boys with pacemakers and children before, so I laughed and said, 'Oh when?' At that point, the TSA agent became very quiet and said, 'Oh we're not at liberty to discuss this,'" Ali told KMSP. The TSA probably doesn't have any record of that, because the TSA has never provided evidence that it stopped even a single terrorist attack in the 15 years since it was created. The Bergstroms say they never got an apology for the way their son was treated, and the TSA told KMSP they are "reviewing" the incident. By the time the TSA determined that Chille wasn't concealing a sophisticated explosive device in his chest, the family had missed their flight and ended up waiting 15 hours for the next one. This isn't the first time Phoenix Sky Harbor has been the scene of TSA hijinks. In May, after a machine that scans checked bags for bombs broke down, agents moved some 3,000 pieces of luggage into the airport's parking lot before eventually putting them on planes to other airports to be scanned. After that debacle, dozens of agents from Phoenix were reassigned to other airports because that's what passes for accountability inside the TSA. More importantly, that incident caused city and airport officials to discuss booting the TSA out of Sky Harbor. Sal Diciccio, a Phoenix city councilman, says "the long wait lines, people missing flights, lost luggage and hours of waiting in line are not acceptable." Changing to private security would solve some of those problems and would improve customer service, he argues. It's hard to imagine worse customer service than what you get with the TSA. A report from the House Homeland Security Commitee found that nearly half of all TSA agents committed some form of misconduct between 2013 and 2015. Nothing has changed in the last two years. From nine-year old Chille Bergstrom to the 19-year old disabled woman who was bloodied and bruised by TSA agents in Memphis last month to the 90-year old woman who was strip searched last October, the list of humiliating abuses that do nothing to improve security goes on and on. Private security firms might make mistakes too, but at least they can be fired and new, better firms can be hired to replace them. Given his age, Chille doesn't know what it's like to go through an airport without experiencing the TSA's security theater. He should just accept this as the norm, like millions of Americans do every day. Still, Chille told KMSP he had a message fo[...]
Wed, 17 Aug 2016 10:10:00 -0400It seemed like a major story at first, and then it seemed like one of those news-of-the-weird tales that shuttle through Facebook for a day or two and then get forgotten. Sunday night there were reports of gunshots in two terminals at New York's JFK Airport. Fear swept through the crowds, and the areas were evacuated; eventually it turned out that no one had fired any weapons after all. An odd interlude, made odder by the fact that something similar had happened at a mall in North Carolina the day before, but not the sort of news-dominating event that an actual attack with perps and corpses would have been. But it was a big story. It was a burst of hysteria that shows our capacity to generate our own terror even in the absence of actual terrorists, especially when the authorities are actively spreading the flames. I recommend reading David Wallace-Wells' vivid account of that night at JFK, and not just because it's a gripping dispatch from a writer who happened to be there when the fear took hold. Decades of sociological research have shown that, no matter how many Hollywood clichés to the contrary you may have seen, it is rare for a disaster to produce a mass panic; spontaneous cooperation and emergent order are the norm. But there is little spontaneous cooperation or emergent order in Wallace-Wells' story—not until the apparent danger has passed: After that second stampede, out on the tarmac, passengers moved in to comfort and inform each other, as best they could. Those who've lived through real disasters and those who study them often talk about the improvised communities of support that spring up in real time to help. But last night, in a false disaster, it took the complete passing of a threat before that variety of kindness sprang up. Why? We'll need more than one man's account before we can get anything approaching a full answer to that question. But one theme running through Wallace-Wells' report is that the people policing the airport intervened in heavy-handed ways that made the situation much worse. "Not only did police and security fail to prevent the spectacle of mob hysteria," he writes at one point; "on some level, given the way they pressed a hysterical crowd right back into a compressed space, they staged it." There is also this: Some of [the people on the tarmac] had been swept outside by police charging through the terminals with guns drawn, shouting for people to get down, show their hands, and drop their luggage, since nothing was more important than your life. Others had been on lines where TSA agents grabbed their gear and just ran, at least according to reports on Twitter. And this: [A]ll of a sudden, all the guards were urging us back inside, not because they knew of any threat out there, but because they were following another protocol: It's illegal for civilians to be out on the tarmac, so we had to get back inside. Not that anyone bothered to explain that logic, or anything else; the best information anyone could give was "active shooter." Probably ten different guards said that to me, and nothing more. Where were their radios, I kept wondering. Why don't they know what to do with us, or at least what to tell us? Surely an airport like JFK would have a contingency plan for a situation like this, which would call for passengers to be taken to a particular place or dealt with in a particular way. If there is such a plan, I saw no evidence of it last night, nor any sign of meaningful or helpful lines of communication between the various parts of the airport operation or the security forces that flooded in after the first reports of gunfire. And this: Soon [Wallace-Wells' wife] found herself in another stairwell, wher[...]