Required Reading

Great WaPo column today from Robert Samuelson. Some highlights:

With high unemployment benefits, almost half of Western Europe’s jobless have been out of work a year or more; the U.S. figure is about 12 percent. Or take early retirement. In 2003 about 60 percent of Americans ages 55 to 64 had jobs. The comparable figures for France, Italy and Germany were 37 percent, 30 percent and 39 percent. The truth is that Europeans like early retirement, high jobless benefits and long vacations.

The trouble is that so much benevolence requires a strong economy, while the sources of all this benevolence — high taxes, stiff regulations — weaken the economy. With aging populations, the contradictions will only thicken.

A weak European economy is one reason that the world economy is shaky and so dependent on American growth. Preoccupied with divisions at home, Europe is history’s has-been. It isn’t a strong American ally, not simply because it disagrees with some U.S. policies but also because it doesn’t want to make the commitments required of a strong ally. Unwilling to address their genuine problems, Europeans become more reflexively critical of America. This gives the impression that they’re active on the world stage, even as they’re quietly acquiescing in their own decline.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Wow. Even better Anne Applebaum piece on the expensive idiocy known as the Transportation Security Administration:

If you happen to be reading this while standing in one of those disturbingly slow, zigzag lines at airport security — looking repeatedly at your watch, wondering if this time you really will miss the plane — here’s something to make you feel worse: Almost none of the agony you are experiencing is making you safer, at least not to any statistically significant or economically rational degree. Certainly any logical analysis of the money that has been spent on the airport security system since Sept. 11, 2001, and the security that the system has created, must lead to that conclusion.

[T]his mass ceremonial sacrifice of toenail clippers on the altar of security comes at an extraordinarily high price. The annual budget of the federal Transportation Security Administration hovers around $5.5 billion — just about the same price as the entire FBI — a figure that doesn’t include the cost of wasted time. De Rugy reckons that if 624 million passengers each spend two hours every year waiting in line, the annual loss to the economy comes to $32 billion. There has also been a price to pay in waste, since when that much money is rubbed into a problem with that kind of speed — remember, the TSA had only 13 employees in January 2002 — a lot of it gets misspent. In the case of the TSA, that waste includes $350,000 for a gym, $500,000 for artwork and silk plants at the agency’s new operations center, and $461,000 for its first-birthday party. More to the point, the agency has spent millions, even billions, on technology that is inappropriate or outdated.

In fact, better security didn’t have to cost that much. Probably the most significant measure taken in the past four years was one funded not by the government but by the airline industry, which put bulletproof doors on its cockpits at the relatively low price of $300 million to $500 million over 10 years. In extremely blunt terms, that means that while it may still be possible to blow up a plane (and murder 150 people), it is now virtually impossible to drive a plane into an office building (and murder thousands). By even the crudest cost-benefit risk analysis, bulletproof cockpit doors, which nobody notices, have the potential to save far more lives, at a far lower cost per life, than the screeners who open your child’s backpack and your grandmother’s purse while you stand around in your socks waiting for them to finish.

But, then, this isn’t a country that has ever been good at risk analysis. If it were, we would never have invented the TSA at all. Instead, we would have taken that $5.5 billion, doubled the FBI’s budget, and set up a questioning system that identifies potentially suspicious passengers, as the Israelis do. Even now, it’s not too late to abolish the TSA, create a federal training program for airport screeners, and then let private companies worry about how many people to hire, which technology to buy and how long the tables in front of the X-ray machines should be (that last issue being featured in a recent government report). But every time that suggestion is made in Congress, someone denounces the plan as a “privatization” of our security and a sellout.

As I’ve said many times before, even if there were no security checks at airports, there will never be another successful hijacking of an airliner with Americans aboard. The 2001 attacks were successful only because the hijackers took advantage of three decades of government-encouraged social conditioning: “Don’t resist. Do as you’re told. Wait it out, let the professionals negotiate, and chances are you’ll be all right.”

Nobody is going to follow that advice, ever again. While I’m not in favor of eliminating airport security checks entirely, we’ve clearly gone way over the line of reason (to say nothing of cost benefit, as Applebaum cogently points out) in today’s mindless bureaucratic airport “security” mania.

It’s a shame there aren’t any politicians of either party with the nerve to say the very obvious things that Applebaum so aptly summarizes here. Read it all.

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27 Responses to “Required Reading”

  1. Eric Says:

    Amen, Will. I’ve been saying the same thing about airport “security” to anyone willing to listen. No commercial airliner departing from an American airport will ever be successfully hijacked again. Ever. The sheer idiocy of the TSA’s farce boggles the mind, and the unwillingness of the public to cause an uproar over it such says something disturbing about our willingness to tolerate bureaucratic absurdities and senseless petty tyranny when frightened enough.

  2. Tim P Says:

    Applebaum and Samuelson both make perfect sense. That’s probably why nobody in goverment will listen.

  3. Scott Janssens Says:

    I disagree, the first article was much better.

    While there can be no argument that the TSA is wasting money (it is a governmental agency after all), Anne uses many weak arguments.

    I don’t buy the $32 billion figure in lost time. Most work will still happen, just a little later in the day. I’m sure far more time is wasted in the office surfing the ‘net (ahem).

    The gym and decorating costs are not annual costs. (Although there is an operational cost for the gym, she doesn’t mention it.) Perhaps the TSA employees should sit on folding chairs at card tables.

    The one place where she can make a truly valid point she provides no evidence, that “the agency has spent millions, even billions, on technology that is inappropriate or outdated.” Given that I haven’t been paying particular attention to the topic, I haven’t heard this. Further, given that I don’t find her earlier arguments overly persuasive, this particular unsupported point appears as so much hand waving to me.

    I’m not disputing her claim, just that it’s not a particularly well written piece.

  4. Scott Janssens Says:

    Also, I don’t find the “never hijack a plane again” to be of much comfort. If I was a terrorist, I’d simply blow the plane up. I’d go to O’Hare or Midway in Chicago and choose a plane that’s take off or landing route took it anywhere over the city. It’s not targeted, but then again, that’s not the point.

  5. tommy Says:

    As a commercial pilot this is an issue I pay at least a little attention to. I guess the best way to sum up our security measures is that they are meant to give the impression that something is being done. The vast majority of it is simply a joke, but the idea is that you’ll notice how much of a hassle it is for you to get through security so you think “wow, they must really be doing some security stuff” when in fact,the only thing they are doing is hassling you.

  6. Scott in CA Says:

    Adopting El Al’s procedures for our airlines would make them as safe as they can be. The Israelis have been doing this for 40 years. I have flown El Al from North America and Europe, and even though security is very tight, most people are not bothered. The reason is that the Israelis PROFILE. It works. We just need to get beyond the ACLU and the Leftoids screaming about “discrimination” and do it. It could be done with an executive order from Bush.

  7. Neo Says:

    I have a real problem with security stories.

    I live about 6 miles (upwind) from a nuclear power plant. So you might understand why I personally dislike stories that do the “scouting job” for the possible terrorists, showing them all the holes and methods used to stop terrorist. Damn, don’t tell the terrorists, tell those who run the security.

    Do you think the NYT, WaPo or LAT would like me to broadcast that their shipping docks are virtually unprotected from intruder entry or that their front desk security is a joke ? The same is probably true for the networks, their affiliates and the cable operators.

    The question is .. does broadcasting this information unduly expose these potential targets or make them safer. I’m sure we would all like to believe the latter, but it’s probably the former.

    So who exactly benefits from these sorts of stories ?

  8. Chuck Pelto Says:

    TO: Will Collier
    RE: Flying?

    I donn need no stenking ‘flying’.

    I’d rather drive and see more of this beautiful country. And I counsel my friends who drive to avoid the interstate. The back roads are so much more relaxing. Even in west Texas….

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)

  9. TF6S Says:

    I wonder if “improved” security has decreased the chances of someone bringing a bomb onto a flight? I’m not worried about hijackings anymore, but explosives are another thing.

  10. Eric Says:

    Scott, explosives are still a concern, and need to be screened for. But do you think that confiscating scissors and Swiss Army knives prevents a bomb from being smuggled on board?

  11. azlibertarian Says:

    As I’ve said here before, I am a captain at a major national airline. The biggest problem with the TSA, IMO, is that we had to bend to the democrats in that “In order to professionalize, we must federalize”. A private system generally will be much better than anything the government can cobble together. However, the pre-9/11 private screenings were rightly to blame for some of the the troubles we now find ourselves in.

    However, with that said, the TSA does a much better job than what we had pre-9/11. The TSA does waste money, but what are our real choices here? We certainly can’t go back to the days of only cursory security inspections. The TSA is also caught in a technoligical dilemma. The technology today available to screen for explosives is not reliable enough to soley rest your screening upon. So–they have to hire enough people to open up your bag to examine it for explosives. Its not a good solution, but the best we have available today.

    Going to an El Al profiling system might provide better security, but it too would come at a price. The time required to complete all that profiling would be intolerable in our society, especially considering the density of domestic travel that we enjoy here. Again, there are no easy (or cheap) answers.

  12. john Says:

    “the unwillingness of the public to cause an uproar over it such says something disturbing about our willingness to tolerate bureaucratic absurdities and senseless petty tyranny when frightened enough.” – Eric

    To paraphrase Neal Stephenson: the presence of taxes causes people to lean reflexively toward libertarianism; the presence of terrorism causes people to lean reflexively toward statism.

    John

  13. Scott Janssens Says:

    Eric, re: nail clippers, etc. No of course not. But that wasn’t what I was talking about.

    By saying “As I’ve said many times before, even if there were no security checks at airports, there will never be another successful hijacking of an airliner with Americans aboard,” Will implies that airline security shouldn’t be a significant issue or at the very least downplays the still significant potential for airliners as a terrorist weapons.

  14. denise Says:

    “The 2001 attacks were successful only because the hijackers took advantage of three decades of government-encouraged social conditioning.”

    You are absolutely right. In fact, the 2001 attacks were not 100% successful. They were 3/4 successful for the very reason you mentioned: when passengers knew what the terrorists intended, they took action and defeated the purpose of the hijacking.

  15. Tim P Says:

    Another issue that’s tangential to the security issue, is once you have created large, inefficient and wasteful government beauracracies like TSA, they tend only to grow.
    I can’t think of one that’s been disbanded.
    So it appears that the TSA will be with us regardless of its effectiveness.
    Hopefully, there might be meaningful reform, profiling, etc. but I’m doubtful.
    Based on prior government behavior, I’m not holding out for meaningful reform either.

  16. lpdbw Says:

    Neo,

    This has been a long-standing issue in the world of security, dating back at the very least to 19th Century locksmiths.

    It turns out that ignorance of security flaws most often causes more problems than not. Once discovered, the flaws propagate throughout the criminal community. If manufacturers keep the flaws secret, the consumers are unaware of their vulnerabilities, allowing more opportunities for the criminals.

    This was carefully explained to me when I entered the computer security business in 1990. Illustrated with an article written in the 1890’s, by a locksmith.

  17. Vilmos Soti Says:

    Bruce Schneier has a weblog, Cryptogram, available at http://www.schneier.com/blog/ which deals with security issues. He regularly discusses “security” measures and explains why they are flawed.

    Vilmos

  18. hey Says:

    here’s an idea:

    hand out desert eagles to anyone that wants them on the plane. loaded with hollow points.

    they won’t depressurize the plane (never mind explosively) but they will explosively depressurize anybody that gets out of line. no one will screw around cause they know there’s about 50 other people packing wrist breaking hand guns.

    and then who cares what the terrorists bring on board.

    as for explosives: chemical test everything, xray all the luggage (maybe at the plane, so that its harder to sneak a package in).

    that way you can get rfid of the rest of airport security.

  19. Max Says:

    The cheapest, most effective and easiest thing to do is profile. Needn’t waste anytime either…1. 100% of male nationals and former nationals of Muslim countries between the ages of 12 and 80 will be extensively searched before being allowed to board an aircraft. They will not be allowed ANY carry on items.

    2. See above.

  20. rosignol Says:

    here’s an idea:

    […]

    No need. Just extend the bulletproof barrier that currently covers the door to the cockput to the entire front bulkhead, and let people who have valid carry permits do so.

    You may get some injuries (possibly deaths) due to overpenetration, but there won’t be another successful hijacking.

  21. TJIT Says:

    Scott Janssens,

    The TSA has made things worse. Remember the college student who smuggled simulated contraband onto at least a couple of airplanes to point out how ineffective security is? Remember the news stories on how the TSA is not any better at catching guns, etc in security tests? So they aren’t doing a better job keeping things out of the airplanes.

    However, they have created massive lines and dense concentrations of people, LAX is a good example of this. This is a TSA provided target rich environment either for a suicide or car bomber.

    They have made it easier to inflict massive death loss attacks on the air transport system.

  22. C. S. Froning Says:

    No, planes will never be used as weapons again, but I for one would rather they not be blown out of the sky on a regular basis. I don’t think the TSA is such hot shakes, but I too found Appelbaum’s article a bit weak. Why should I care about a $400,000 party when the overall budget is $5.5 billion? She should have done a little research on where the real money is going and whether it’s worth the cost instead of going for the easy put-down.

    Regarding screening: as I recall from an article about El Al, one of the groups subject to the strongest screening are young, umarried women travelling alone. The Rachael Corrie’s of the world apparently are susceptible to having their Palestinian boyfriends put something a little extra in their suitcases before they travel. I remember thinking, when Ann Coulter said that she shouldn’t be stopped for screening because she’s obviously not a threat, “Well, actually…”

  23. C. S. Froning Says:

    No, planes will never be used as weapons again, but I for one would rather they not be blown out of the sky on a regular basis. I don’t think the TSA is such hot shakes, but I too found Appelbaum’s article a bit weak. Why should I care about a $400,000 party when the overall budget is $5.5 billion? She should have done a little research on where the real money is going and whether it’s worth the cost instead of going for the easy put-down.

    Regarding screening: as I recall from an article about El Al, one of the groups subject to the strongest screening are young, umarried women travelling alone. The Rachael Corrie’s of the world apparently are susceptible to having their Palestinian boyfriends put something a little extra in their suitcases before they travel. I remember thinking, when Ann Coulter said that she shouldn’t be stopped for screening because she’s obviously not a threat, “Well, actually…”

  24. C. S. Froning Says:

    Sorry about the double post. Sheesh.

  25. azlibertarian Says:

    Profiling and arming passengers are easy answers to hard questions.

    Profiling If we were to profile “100% of male nationals and former nationals of Muslim countries between the ages of 12 and 80”, we’d allow in John Walker Lyndh, Richard Reid, Jose Padilla, all of the Russian “Black Widows”, not to mention any “Rachel Corries” mentioned by C.S.. To expand on C.S.’s point, some of the Vehicle-Borne-Improvised-Explosive-Devices affecting Iraq today, are bought right off the car lot by unsuspecting purchasers, driven away and then remote-detonated whenever the bombers find an opportune moment. If we depend on profiling in our airline security program, how to you ensure something isn’t added to a Caucasian 80-year-old grandmother’s carry-on? Admittedly, the bulk of the world’s current-day terrorists are Arab Muslims, but the problem here is radical-Islam–not radical-Arab-ism. How do you profile the extreme edge of a religion?

    Desert Eagles all around/CCW carriers on board Say we adopt this plan, and one day a team of terrorists decide to test the system. Terrs#1, #2 and #3 stand up to begin the mayhem, and six armed civilians pull their weapons and start shooting. What if one of these civilians stands up to take his shot? Do another three civilians assume that he is also a terrorist and then begin targeting him? How do you know if you’ve only armed civilians and not terrorists? Who gets to decide when “Enough is Enough”? Once the shooting starts, how might you find a sleeper-terrorist? How often and to what standards do these armed civilians train with their weapons? This idea has the potential to quickly turn into an airborne circular firing squad.

    In short, it doesn’t take too long before these easy answers are inadequate for what we’re dealing with.

  26. TJIT Says:

    C. S. Froning, You said

    “Why should I care about a $400,000 party when the overall budget is $5.5 billion?”

    Because 400k is a lot of hard earned taxpayer money. Throwing a $400,000 dollar party indicates the TSA has sloppy to non existent financial control. If they screw something that simple up you can be assured they are mismanaging other more important but less visible items also.

  27. Jules Says:

    I’ve been saying this from the beginning and nobody has listened, but let’s give it another go…. Profiling won’t work because of copycats. Every time there’s a high-profile crime or a high-profile suicide, a significant portion of the nutsos out there who were just sort of amorphously nutso will pick up on that modus operandi. It’s been a while and I can’t remember the exact citation of the study, but somebody once showed very specifically that when the media reported on a person who committed suicide by driving his/her car into a tree/bridge/etc. that there would be a spike in people committing suicide by driving into trees/bridges/etc., but if the highly reported suicide drove into oncoming traffic instead then there would be a spike in that very particular method.

    So how’s this relate to terrorism? I *guarantee* you that at some point a couple of Columbine-wannabe teenagers discussed hijacking a plane and flying it into their school. Or some guy who’s fed up with his job thought that flying a plane into the building would be more fun than just shooting the place up. Or make up your own example. The point is that there *are* all-American people out there who have no connection at all to radical Islam who have thought about pulling off terrorism using airplanes since September 11, and any ethnic/religious profiling system is going to miss them.

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