More Blackout Danger

This blog has discussed, on many occasions, the danger of losing the electrical power grid through major solar storm or electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. I believe the cumulative threat is higher than airline highjacking for which we spend tens of billions on the TSA. 

Here is a story from today’s Wall Street Journal on that topic: 

The director of the National Security Agency has warned that the hacking group Anonymous could have the ability within the next year or two to bring about a limited power outage through a cyberattack.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the director, provided his assessment in meetings at the White House and in other private sessions, according to people familiar with the gatherings. While he hasn’t publicly expressed his concerns about the potential for Anonymous to disrupt power supplies, he has warned publicly about an emerging ability by cyberattackers to disable or even damage computer networks.

Gen. Alexander’s warning signals a growing federal concern over the capabilities of Anonymous, a loose affiliation of so-called hacktivist computer programmers who have launched a raft of high-profile cyberassaults against U.S. government and corporate targets such as Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc. and eBayInc.’s PayPal serviceSo far, the attacks have primarily served to embarrass companies and organizations, and cybersecurity experts differ on the extent of the threat posed by Anonymous.The group has never listed a power blackout as a goal, but some federal officials believe Anonymous is headed in a more disruptive direction. An attack on a network would be consistent with recent public claims and threats by the group. Last week, for instance, Anonymous announced a plan to shut down the Internet on March 31, which it calls Operation Global Blackout

Think about it: We would, literally, be back to 1880 but without the 1880′s infrastructure. Your car would not run after an EMP attack. Do you own a horse? Is there a grain mill run on water flow nearby? How would insulin and other critical medicines be kept cool without electricity? 

It is long-past time stop pouring money into the TSA (including a new TSA tax) and start focusing on these more serious threats. 

Oh Boy: A ‘Grope’ Fee

There is a new tax with the money earmarked for the TSA. The insiders in Washington say, “nothing succeeds like failure.” More money for the TSA is the epitome of that truism. Professor Reynolds and I are in complete agreement:

Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and TSA critic who blogs at Instapundit.com, slammed the fee as good money after bad — the TSA has been widely criticized for incompetence and abusive searches.

“I’m not against user fees,” Reynolds said. “But this is not a user fee. This is a fee for being used. I don’t think the TSA does any good at all. Every dollar that goes to them is a waste. More dollars is more waste. I think the TSA should be abolished.”

Couldn’t agree more.

"I’m Dreaming of Homeland Security Snow Cones"

Speaking of frozen water (see snow post immediately below): Every time you think the whole homeland “security” realm cannot get more bizarre, someone ups the ante. When most people are thinking about a White Christmas, Michigan homeland security is thinking of — yes — snow cones.

The Daily News was able to confirm that the the snow-cone machines were funded by a grant from the Michigan Homeland Security Program, but nobody seems to have had a good answer for the “appropriate use” question, surprisingly enough. 


So, with the U.S.’s terrible budget deficit, we learn that this was an essential expenditure because of this essential use of the snow cone machines:

According to the report, “Feldpausch [also] said the machine could be useful at the scene of a large fire.”

I can just see the courageous firefighters lobbing snow cones into the large fire.

If you want more chilling details, click here.

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December issue of "Trains"

The December issue of Trains will be out next week. I have an advance copy because AccuWeather’s Steve Pryor and I helped them put together their “Map of the Month.” This map shows the areas where the weather is typically worst on U.S. railroads.

If you pick up the magazine, don’t miss Don Philips’ column on DHS and its ridiculous crusade against photography on page 9. Yes, even I have been approached and questioned by a policeman while taking train pictures.

You might also have heard the news that the TSA is expanding its program of stopping vehicles on the nation’s highways. You used to be able to avoid the TSA by not flying. That is no longer the case.

As much as I’d like to say it is just the TSA doing this it is not: get a load of this quote from Long Beach, California:

Captain Steven M. Roller of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has told Long Beach Post that it is standard practice to detain and pat down photographers for “potential terrorist” activity such as photographing a courthouse.

How long are we going to continue to put up with these threats to our liberties?!

Don ends his column by quoting Benjamin Franklin, Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Agree 100%! Thanks, Don.

This Needs More Attention

I’ve been a supporter of the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which will be tasked with keeping agriculture safe from terrorism and other perils, replacing an older facility in New York to a to-be-constructed location near Manhattan, Kansas. It is being chartered by the Department of Homeland Security. Given the interest and expertise we have in the central U.S., it makes sense to have it here.

In the last two days, several newspapers in the region (here is one) have run stories about the facility being “hardened” to withstand 230 mph winds from a tornado.  Given the virulent pathogens that will be kept there, 230 mph is too low, in my opinion. We know that winds in some rare tornadoes can top that figure by a significant margin.

Meteorologist and tornado researcher Dr. John Snow agrees:

“It sounds to me like they (the DHS) are a little low on their wind speeds,” said John T. Snow, [former] dean of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences at the University of Oklahoma.


I hope the operators of the facility will listen to these concerns.

Killer Cream Cheese!!

The TSA is at it again.  This time, cuffing and arresting a man for — get this — having a bagel and cream cheese in a bag on a plane. Here are the details from two different sources.

When the TSA confronted him onboard he became “agitated” (wouldn’t you?), so they cuffed him and led him off the plane.

I guess since the TSA is never wrong, it never occurred to them to apologize and let him go on his way.

Killer Salad Bars

From CBS News:

(CBS)  In this exclusive story, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports the latest terror attack to America involves the possible use of poisons – simultaneous attacks targeting hotels and restaurants at many locations over a single weekend. 

The plot uncovered earlier this year is said to involve the use of two poisons – ricin and cyanide – slipped into salad bars and buffets. 


“We operate under the premise that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist acts are in this country,” said Dec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Dec. 6, 2010.

What next, grope searching garbanzo beans?

I don’t, for one moment, discount the threat that the U.S. faces. But, maybe if DHS focused our (yes, it is our money) resources on finding the specific individuals who might carry out a threat, as opposed to grope searching and nude-viewing of 70-year old grandmothers and the “homeland security threat” of ‘climate change,’ I could take them seriously.

UPDATE:  Now we are evacuating airports because of stuffed chickens.

TSA Followups

I’ve received a number of emails pertaining to the posting below about airport security.  The first includes this photo from NYC’s Penn Station at 7 o’clock this morning:

It depicts four of the TSA’s (TSA = thousands standing around) finest, well, standing around. My friend asks,
What can they do that dozens of NYC police and National Guard in battle attire can’t do?
He then answers his question with: mission creep. Exactly!
Another friend emailed me a link to several TSA-themed Christmas songs. This is my favorite:
and, there is another good one here, titled “Grandma Got Molested at the Airport” that does contain a couple of “adult” terms.

I appreciate the feedback!  Happy, and safe, holiday travels!

Finally, An Intelligent Article About Airport Security

In my “day job” as CEO of WeatherData Services, Inc., my speciality is mitigating the risks posted by extreme weather and environmental conditions. The same risk mitigation strategies apply to just about any hazard, including those that are man-made.

As a frequent business flier, I have written about the TSA’s “security theatre” on a number of occasions (for example, here and here) and on the TSA’s outrageous violation of our privacy rights with its new grope searches and nude machines (examples here and here). In spite of all of the theatre and inconvenience, security is markedly ineffective. Just yesterday, ABC News reported that a loaded gun a passenger forgot was in his carryon bag got through security in Houston (an airport with nude machines)!

Unfortunately, up until now, most media articles on the subject have been little more than rewrites of the TSA’s “talking points” for reporters. At last, The Washington Post has written a comprehensive article that looks at both sides of the issue. Some excerpts:

Nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks and decades after hijackers first began to target passenger airliners, the United States has invested billions of dollars in an airport system that makes technology the last line of defense to intercept terrorists.

It has yet to catch one.

The result is an emerging consensus among experts and lawmakers that the checkpoint-heavy approach – searching nearly every passenger – may not be the most effective…

Some critics have given the labyrinthine airport security system the nickname “security theater,” saying it is riddled with loopholes. Airport workers are not screened daily, making them capable of passing into secure areas with weapons. Lines inside the terminal are vulnerable to a would-be suicide bomber. Packages sent as cargo go through a comparatively light screening process – one that is being tightened but was exploited by al-Qaeda operatives in October when they sent bombs hidden in printer cartridges.


“After 9/11, the attacks failed because of the poor skills of the terrorists rather than anything we’ve done,” said Rafi Ron, former security director at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. “In every one of these later attacks, the security checkpoint was overcome by terrorists who took advantage of the loopholes.”


If the sentiments expressed in the Post’s article seem familiar, they are exactly what I, and many other experts, have contended for years. As the article points out, the terrorists have “won” — we are curtailing our freedoms and spending hundreds of billions for little or no gain.

The article points out that the British are going to relax the silly liquids ban but the U.S. thinks it is “too soon.” That’s absurd. Either the chemistry exists to make liquid bombs on board an airplane or it does not (I’m in the latter camp). Timing ( = political theatre) has nothing to do with it.

I have written my congressional delegation as well as key congresspeople in other states. I have also written the airlines. Have you? I believe that it is only through sustained pressure from voters and airline customers that we will get intelligent and effective airport security.

"Gentlemen, We’ve Got to Protect Our Phony Baloney Jobs!"

C. Northcote Parkinson, in 1958, published “Parkinson’s Law,” based on his experiences with British Civil Service. His writing explains how a bureaucracy’s primary aim is to grow itself. Here are a few details from Wikipedia:
[Parkinson] assigns to the term a mathematical equation describing the rate at which bureaucracies expand over time. Much of the essay is dedicated to a summary of purportedly scientific observations supporting his law, such as the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office while Great Britain‘s overseas empire declined (indeed, he shows that the Colonial Office had its greatest number of staff at the point when it was folded into the Foreign Office because of a lack of colonies to administer). He explains this growth by two forces: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.”  
“Gentlemen, we’ve got to protect our phony baloney jobs!”

That immortal line from Blazing Saddles along with Parkinson’s Law came to mind when I read that DHS’s Janet Napolitano believes we need to extend the nude machines and grope searches. According to The Hill, she said,

“I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”

I thought America was supposed to be a free country?

A number of people have justified the TSA’s destruction of our rights with, “If you don’t like it, don’t fly.” Once they take over buses, trains, and ships how are we supposed to get there? Is that the America in which you want to live?

The TSA says that they had to increase scrutiny of passengers November 1 because of the toner cartridge threat (of course, that overseas, and was air cargo). Hmmm.

Last Sunday’s The Simpsons had a scene where news media executives in New York conspire to create a phony crisis. More and more the DHS/TSA ratcheting up security far out of proportion to the threat has the feel of a power grab completely unjustified by any real-world analysis of the risks.  Phony baloney jobs, anyone?

If you haven’t already, please contact your congressional delegation, the White House, and the airlines and register your displeasure.

UPDATE,  Saturday morning: Strategypage comes to the same conclusions.

But politicians get little praise for intel efforts, while airport security is very visible. The biggest problem is that airline security is more of a political than security issue. The U.S. is willing to cut intelligence agencies in order to provide more “security theater” for passenger screening. For a politician, it’s better for their careers, even if it puts the passengers at more risk.

Translation: Even though it violates our privacy rights and is less effective security, the politicians believe they are protecting their phony baloney jobs!

UPDATE 2, Saturday Afternoon: The New York Times comes to the same conclusion:

Whether or not these explosive devices [the toner cartridges] were ever actually operable remains a matter of dispute, just as it remains a mystery that the enemy — if as powerful as portrayed — has not contrived a single terrorist act on U.S. soil since 9/11. What is not in doubt is an old rule: Give a bureaucrat a big stick and a big budget, allow said bureaucrat to trade in the limitless currency of human anxiety, and the masses will soon be intimidated by the Department of Fear.

Last Minute Security Travel Trip

UPDATE FRIDAY: Doctors are agreeing. The TSA gloves are real health hazard.

ORIGINAL POSTING:

Now that TSA agents are reaching inside underwear , breaking uroscopy bags, and other things we might prefer not to ponder, you might wonder where else the TSA’s gloves have been. This has occurred to readers of Instapundit:

SEVERAL READERS ASK THE SAME QUESTION:
I’d suggest that anyone thinking of opting for the “pat downs” may want to ask the TSA agent when they last changed their gloves. I would worry about just what little “friends” were being carried on the gloves from previous searches.
And reader Benjamin Wang emails:
A disgusting thought, but I’ve never seen a TSA screener change gloves. It would be interesting to send in a HAZMAT team to test several sets of gloves and see what’s on them. And publicize the results.
Remember: The gloves are for their protection. Not yours.



Plus, Dr. Alan Reitz emails on the glove-changing thing: “As a health care provider, I thought of this issue last week while going through the airport. If I did not change gloves between patients even if touching the patient on the arm, the health/infection control department would come down like a ton of bricks.”

The TSA says you have the right to make the security guard change their gloves (click here):

  • You have the right to ask a Security Officer to change her/his gloves during the physical inspection of your accessible property, before performing a physical search (pat-down,) or any time a Security Officer handles your footwear.

I suggest you take advantage of that right and insistent the security guard change gloves before touching you, your children, or your property.

And, more travel advice from The Storm Chasers’ author Jenna Blum ,

 Overheard on plane, mom to kids: “Sit back & enjoy your Benadryl. This isn’t Mommy’s first time at the rodeo.”

Hope your travels go smoothly and you have a great Thanksgiving!!

More on the Unamerican New TSA Procedures

November 1, 2010, the start of “secure flight.” A day that will live in infamy.

If you haven’t flown commercial since November 1, you haven’t experienced the awful new TSA procedures. Those that have aren’t liking them. Here is a superb article from The Chicago Tribune. Some highlights…

When it comes to protecting against terrorism, this is how things usually go: A danger presents itself; the federal government responds with new rules that erode privacy, treat innocent people as suspicious, and blur the distinction between life in a free society and life in a correctional facility; and we all tamely accept the new intrusions, like sheep being shorn…

Americans have long resented the hassles that go with air travel ever since 9/11 — long security lines, limits on liquids, forced removal of footwear and so on. But if the Transportation Security Administration has its way, we will look back to 2009 as the good old days.

The agency is rolling out new full-body scanners, which eventually will replace metal detectors at all checkpoints. These machines replicate the experience of taking off your clothes, but without the fun. They enable agents to get a view of your body that leaves nothing to the imagination.

A lot of people, of course, couldn’t care less if a stranger wants to gaze upon everything God gave them. But some retain a modesty that makes them reluctant to parade naked in front of people they don’t know, even virtually. Henceforth,Jennifer Aniston is going to think twice before flying commercial.

Besides the indignity of having one’s body exposed to an airport screener, there is a danger the images will find a wider audience. The U.S. Marshals Service recently admitted saving some 35,000 images from a machine at a federal courthouse in Florida. TSA says that will never happen. Human experience says, oh, yes, it will.

For the camera-shy, TSA will offer an alternative: “enhanced” pat-downs. This is not the gentle frisking you may have experienced at the airport in the past. It requires agents to probe aggressively in intimate zones — breasts, buttocks, crotches.

If you enjoyed your last mammography or prostate exam, you’ll love the enhanced pat-down. And you’ll get a chance to have an interesting conversation with your children about being touched by strangers.

Reviews of the procedure are coming in, and they are not raves. The Allied Pilots Association calls it a “demeaning experience,” and one pilot complained it amounted to “sexual molestation.” The head of a flight attendants’ union local said that for anyone who has been sexually assaulted, it will “drudge [sic] up some bad memories.”

But the option of the full-body scanner is not so appealing, either, even leaving out privacy concerns. Two pilots’ unions have advised members not to go through the scanners because of the possible risks of being bombarded with low doses of radiation.

“There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations,” a group of scientists from the University of California at San Francisco informed the White House.

Read the whole column, it is excellent.

Even though we have a perfect right to “opt-out” of the nude-o-scopes, the head of the TSA says it is “irresponsible” for travelers to do so,

“It is irresponsible for a group to suggest travelers opt out of the very screening that could prevent an attack using non-metallic explosives,” TSA Administrator John S. Pistole said. “This technology is not only safe, it’s vital to aviation security and a critical measure to thwart potential terrorist attacks.”

To which Wonkette replies,

Really? It’s irresponsible to refuse to be groped and irradiated and photographed naked by the low-IQ goons of an inept federal bureaucracy? That’s irresponsible? It’s irresponsible to refuse to allow halfwit security guards to fondle the genitals of our children and grandparents? It’s irresponsible for people to finally say they’ve had it with the idiot kabuki theater of TSA security checkpoints?

Read more at Wonkette: TSA Says It’s ‘Irresponsible’ To Legally Opt-Out of Porno-Cancer Scanners 

Lest you think Wonkette is being too hard on the TSA employees here is this example of two of the TSA’s finest in Miami getting into a fight because one tired of jokes about his, err, “manhood” size as revealed by the nude-o-scope,

A Miami International Airport federal security screener has been arrested for allegedly using an expandable police baton to beat up a co-worker.


The source of their conflict, police say: daily ribbing about the size of the screener’s genitalia.
Screener Rolando Negrin’s private body parts were observed by his Transportation Security Administration colleagues conducting training on the airport’s full-body imaging machines.
Months of joking culminated on Tuesday night, when Negrin attacked co-worker Hugo Osorno in an employee parking lot, according to an arrest report.

and from today’s newspaper, this story about six TSA workers being fired for planting a fake bomb! Note: In TSA-speak “device”= bomb.

I wasn’t intending to write about this again so soon, but there is a Senate hearing on this subject Wednesday, the 17th. Use the information at this link to contact the members of the committee. It is the only chance of getting this stopped.

And, by the way, because I want this to be a family-friendly blog, I have not posted nude-o-scope images because they are too graphic. If you wish to see one, click here.

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More on Nude Machines and Grope Searches

Now that the new procedures are ten days old, more and more travelers are noticing and protesting. USA Today has an article here, the pilots union is protesting, and the flight attendants union is protesting. The issues are privacy, sexual assault to board an aircraft, and the cumulative effects of high doses of radiation from the scanners. 
It is distressing to read in the USA Today article that some say, “anything for security.” So, lets get down to the bottom line: Are the nude-o-scopes and grope searches necessary for security? My answer is no and here is why:
From September 12, 2001 to October 31, 2010, there wasn’t a single hijacking or similar event on any flight originating in the United States. While I continue to believe we need to strengthen the scrutiny of cargo carried on passenger jets and of those that service the jets, the system was working. 
But, you might ask, what about the “underwear bomber,” the “shoe bomber,” and the liquids plot? All of those were on flights to the United States.
Now, let us assume a bad guy got through security. Things are much different than on September 11th the cockpit door is reinforced, there is a significant chance there are air marshalls on the plane, and the passengers would challenge and fight (as they did with the shoe bomber and underwear bomber).
Ben Franklin said, “those who would give up their liberty for security deserve neither.” While I would not go that far, the nude-o-scopes and grope searches are completely unnecesary to prevent hijackings and they take violations of our human and legal rights to a whole new level.
What is next? The TSA requiring you to touch your nose with your finger while standing on one leg and singing the Star Spangled Banner? When are the citizens of the “land of the free and the home of the brave” going to demand this stop?
I continue to urge you to contact your elected representatives as that will be the only way this will end. 
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We Get Results II

The post below says, “The Op-Ed pages are silent.” No longer! From The Denver Post:



GUEST COMMENTARY






NO: They are both an intrusion and a health risk

By Becky Akers

The Transportation Security Administration will install five of its “whole-body imagers” at Denver International Airport this fall. It’s similarly outfitting terminals nationwide. Eventually, the TSA will scan every passenger on every flight.
The gizmos do exactly what the name implies, peering through clothing so that we appear naked on the monitors. Should these X-rays be rated X, as critics claim?
Not if you listen to the TSA. It uses two technologies to scan us through our jeans; it says one “produces an image that resembles a fuzzy photo negative” while the other’s just “a chalk etching.”
But can we trust the TSA? The agency has already misrepresented another aspect of these scanners: their ability to retain the naughty negatives. “[Whole-body technologies] cannot store, print, transmit or save the image,” asserts the TSA’s website. Yet CNN reported earlier this year that a Freedom of Information Act suit had “obtained the technical specifications and vendor contracts” for the scanners — and those specs show that the TSA required “image storage and sending abilities . . . .”
In addition, one of the two technologies, backscatter X-ray, may be carcinogenic. But again, the TSA says otherwise: “Advanced imaging technology is safe and meets national health and safety standards.”
Currently, the TSA pretends that submitting to the scan is voluntary. But the agency threatens those who refuse to pose naked with a groping. And even this charade of a choice may disappear in 2013: the Senate introduced legislation in June requiring the TSA to replace metal detectors with these contraptions at all checkpoints by then.
Fortunately, there’s a third option: abolish the TSA. Let airlines provide their own security, as other industries do. Why should aviation alone stick taxpayers with its costs? For eight years, the TSA has bullied, abused, humiliated and delayed passengers. What it hasn’t done is find a single terrorist.




I’ll add another reason to abolish the TSA: The more money they spend on the expensive nude-o-scopes, the more difficult they will be to ever get rid off. If there is a “war on terror,” one presumes that, at some point, there will be a “victory.” But, even if victorious and the terrorism threat virtually eliminated, once the tens of billions are spent on these machines, we’ll never be rid of them.

Please read the commentary from the airline pilot I linked to below. Hijackings are not common. With the reinforced cockpit doors plus passengers willing to fight on-board terrorists completely changes the equation. The TSA is fighting “the last war.” I’m not saying we don’t need some security. I suggest we go back to pre-September 11 security except that all checked bags get scanned for bombs and we have much better screening of the people who service the planes. Most of the rest is “security theatre.”

If you would like to read more, please go to my December posting on the topic where I ask the question, “What ever happened to the ‘home of brave, land of the free’?”

Superb Essay on the Insanity of Airport Security

A superb essay, by an airline pilot, on airport security. To me, this is the most important contention:

In the end, I’m not sure which is more troubling, the inanity of the existing regulations or the average American’s acceptance of them. These ineffective protocols have solidified into what appears to be indefinite policy, part and parcel of a greater security-industrial complex, with little or no opposition. There ought to be a tide of opposition rising up against this mania. Where is it? At its loudest, the voice of the traveling public is one of grumbly resignation. The op-ed pages are silent, the pundits have nothing meaningful to say.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. 

Thank You!

Thank you, everyone, from both Kim and me, for the biggest week of traffic in the history of the Meteorological Musings blog.  We have had visitors from all over the world:

I also want to thank blog reader John for adapting one of our posts about the importance of weather safety to outdoor entertainment events at his blog.

More Thoughts on Airline Security

There is an interesting column about airline security by Bruce Schneier at CNN’s web site today. Because of my interest in “low probability/high impact” events, I have had his web site bookmarked for a long time.  He coined the phrase “security theatre” to describe much of that is done by the TSA. While I don’t agree with everything in today’s column, I certainly agree with this:


Security is both a feeling and a reality. The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders.

When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn’t make any sense.

Often, this “something” is directly related to the details of a recent event. We confiscate liquids, screen shoes, and ban box cutters on airplanes. We tell people they can’t use an airplane restroom in the last 90 minutes of an international flight. But it’s not the target and tactics of the last attack that are important, but the next attack. 



Now, after we have spent tens of millions on “puffers” to detect bombs only to have them disengaged at many airports, we are now hearing we need to spend many more tens of millions on the “nude machine” also known as “fully body scanners.”  Of course, those do not detect items hidden in body cavities, so I can hardly imagine what comes after the nude machine.


I’d like to suggest a different approach.


For some reason, when I was reading about the new security rules last night, I recalled a speech by Winston Churchill:


4 June 1940
“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation.

The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches, 
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender,
and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

Do you believe that if Churchill were President of the U.S. today, he would be putting up with any of this nonsense? President Obama is quite capable of making a speech like this (he is an excellent orator, like Churchill). I’d like to see him deliver it. Its time we stop overreacting to these incidents.

What would I do?

The passengers: Lets dial back airport security to the way it was before 2001 except keep the random bomb detection they do on luggage and carryons. Those on the no-fly list will still not be able to get boarding passes (that is done electronically through computer matching). That’s it. No shoe carnival, no “no going to the bathroom the last 60 minutes,” no “threat level orange,” etc., etc.

Checked bags: The one area where we need improvement is for checked baggage. I am concerned that it is still not sufficiently screened and there have been far too many incidents of TSA people arrested for theft (here  for recent information) from checked bags, that even the TSA acknowledges. If they will steal from the bags, what else might they do?

Otherwise, that’s it. Yes, we need a reasonable level of airport security but we have gone well past that level recently.

Sometimes less is more. This is America, “land of the free, home of the brave.”
 



UPDATE: The New York Times’ David Frum seems to agree.  
UPDATE II:  UCLA law professor Steven Bainbridge comes to the same conclusion in an interesting way.  
UPDATE III:  Fixed some broken links.
UPDATE IV:  Interesting article from Great Britain, illustrating the fallacy of chasing each individual threat after the fact:
But Ben Wallace, the Conservative MP, who was formerly involved in a project by a leading British defence research firm to develop the scanners for airport use, said trials had shown that such low-density materials [in the bomber's underwear] went undetected.

President Obama’s Katrina Moment?


In my forthcoming book, Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather, I write extensively about what went wrong in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I have been thinking about the similarities between President Bush’s handling of Katrina and, so far, President Obama’s handling of the attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
First, some background:  I have spent my entire career researching and implementing appropriate responses to “low probability – high impact” events.  A major tornado is a low probability event at any given location and a terrorist attack is a low probability event for any given flight.  But, both will be catastrophic if the right systems are not in place to mitigate the threat.
Based in media reports that the attack on NWA 253 may be part of a larger problem (see here, here, and  here,   for just three examples), it seems that direct Presidential involvement in this situation is appropriate. Hundreds would have died on the Northwest flight if the bomb had detonated.  Hundreds would have been saved if the Bush Administration and local officials had acted appropriately in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
Given the overwhelmingly negative response to the first President Bush’s handling of Hurricane Andrew and the overwhelmingly negative response to the second President Bush’s handling of Katrina, it would seem politically wise (not to mention consistent with the duties of the office) for President Obama to be personally and publicly involved in his Administration’s response to NWA 253 and the additional threats, if any.
What are the comparisons I spoke of?
Presidential location during Katrina?  Bush was vacationing in Crawford.
Presidential location during NWA 253?  Obama vacationing in Hawaii.
Initial public involvement?  Bush:  None.  Obama:  None.
Administration point person?
Bush:  Michael Brown
Obama:  Janet Napolitano
Inappropriate statements by point person?
Counterproductive official response by point person?
Brown:  Sending rescuers to sexual harassment training rather than to New Orleans, and banning private sector assistance that was on the scene almost immediately.
Napolitano:  Banning using the restroom or reading a magazine 60 minutes before landing (more here) and making passengers (who were the “first responders” in NWA 253) stay in their seats, belts fastened, 60 minutes before landing under threat of arrest.
Just like President Bush was blamed for Michael Brown’s actions, President Obama will be held accountable for the actions of his administration, for better or for worse.
Were I advising President Obama, I would suggest that he make a statement regarding the specific steps his administration is taking to investigate this attack and minimize the likelihood of additional attacks while, at the same time, working to balance the needs of security versus common sense (a grandmother from Grand Forks reading a magazine 30 minutes before landing is a threat?) and re-evaluating the new rules as quickly as possible.
Punishing passengers (who were the heroes, along with the flight attendants) of NWA 253 makes as much sense as sending trained rescuers to Atlanta for sexual harassment training.

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