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Christmas Gift Guide 2010

Volume Five: The Fourth Amendment

If you wish to travel as a US citizen inside the country on an airplane, the government feels it is necessary to treat you like a terrorist, pat you down, feel you up or take pictures of your genitals. Big Sis says this is necessary because the terrorists are terrifying. Then again, all crime is a little terrifying, that doesn’t mean we sacrifice the right to be secure in our persons. This right is protected by the Fourth Amendment.

And I, for one, suggest to those traveling or buying Christmas gifts for travelers to pick up a little reminder that we haven’t forgotten about that pesky Constitution:

There are plenty of options, from t-shirts to boxers, panties and bras, even kids clothes. The undergarments are printed in a metallic ink that will show up on backscatter machines quite clearly.

It’s the perfect gift for the regular air traveler this year.


TSA Again

Transportation Security Administration notice

Image by timbrauhn via Flickr

Another way to look at the new security procedures at airports since 2001 is in how much time it wastes. This I know from experience. The new procedures take longer. You have to get to the airport earlier. About an hour per flight. So here’s an easy calculation. One hour, times 750 million domestic air passengers per year (taken from the BTO website) times nine years since 9-11.

That’s six billion, seven hundred fifty thousand man hours destroyed.

Put in human terms, that’s 10,274 human lives (assuming a person lives 75 years). You can probably increase that number by 30%, as you don’t get to sleep through a TSA screening.

Imagine a company that employs over 856,000* workers (full time). Or, more accurately, enslaves these people. That company does nothing. It pays nothing. I just takes 856,000 people out of the world who could be doing something else: working, gardening, building, sleeping, reading, learning, leading; and prevents them from doing anything productive. Anything fun. Anything they want to do. Away from work. Away from their families.

And while wasting their time, they also force them to be touched on their genitals by strangers. Or, they can let strangers see their naked bodies. They are forced to put on or take off their shoes. Belts. Whatever. Just mindless nonsense.

Would we put up with the existence of such an entity without positive results of any kind?

Now tell me, how many terrorists have TSA caught?

*Made an error in my calculations, this number should be 375,000. Still, even this number would represent the fourth largest “employer” in the US, with more “employees” than Target or Sears.

TSA=Terrorist Win

Seal of the Transportation Security Administra...

Image via Wikipedia

Regardless of the question of civil liberties and constitutional rights, there’s another problem with the TSA.

The terrorists are still killing people, indirectly, thanks to their 9-11attack. They are doing this by changing American habits in regards to transportation.

And the executor of their success is the TSA.

First, an assumption: The expanded TSA security procedures discourages people from flying.

If people avoid flying, they either stay home or travel by car. How many people? We can’t be too sure. I went looking for a graph, and here’s one from BTS:

It’s hard to see exactly what’s going on in the graph, so I amateurishly added some trend lines to the above graph in MSPaint:

Right after 9-11, there was a huge drop in travel. There was a decent recovery, then a plateau until about 2006-2007. Since then, there has been a severe downtrend in travel passengers. We can’t be sure exactly why. The recession plays a big role, increasing fuel prices could be another culprit. We can’t be too sure. But people aren’t flying like they used to.

[No matter what, that beautiful linear trendline before 9-11 is gone and gone for good.]

We also need to remember that added security adds time. Suddenly a 45 minute flight from Minneapolis to Milwaukee absorbs three to four hours. For someone living in Woodbury, it makes more sense just to drive to Milwaukee. I think it’s obvious that more people will drive medium-length (500-1000 miles) trips instead of fly because of the hassle flying has become.

As just a rough guess, let’s say that all this hassle has reduced the total number of air travelers by just 2%. If most of these people drive to their destination instead of staying home, that means about a million people a month who would have flown are driving.

For ease of calculation, let’s say these people each drive 1,000 miles. This is a billion extra car miles. According to the NHTSA, there are 1.13 deaths per 100 million miles driven. So there are an additional 11.3 deaths per month because of the TSA hassle. This is an extra 135.6 deaths per year, which is equivalent to a major aviation disaster.

[I know this from experience, long distance travel is dangerous. You drive tired, lost, frustrated, at night, on unfamiliar roads and in whatever weather conditions are handed to you. So this might be an underestimation of the danger.]

This ain’t good.

There is more evidence supporting my hypothesis. I found a poll on pollingreport.com (21 November, ABC News/Wash. Post) that shows 20% of people say these new security procedures make them less likely to fly, in comparison to the 10% who say more likely, and 70+% who say it doesn’t matter. So these security procedures drive away twice as many people as it attracts (bad business model).

[This is ignoring the fact TSA may be encouraging the spread of communicable diseases by not changing their groping gloves.]

Play with the numbers. Find your own estimate. No matter what, you can’t help ignoring the conclusion that the terrorists are still killing people without even trying, a decade after their last successful terrorist attack on US soil.





This year, I choose to remember what was lost, not how it was lost.


Afghanistan Poll

ABC/BBC/et al

Summarizing: The people of Afghanistan are still optimistic, they still believe the overthrow of the Taliban was a good thing, they have a positive view of the US troop presence in their country though they are disappointed in their recent performance and most see the reconstruction of their country as progressing effectively. Differences in attitudes are dependant on the region; people closer to the violence are more pessimistic.

Optimism is necessary here, the Afghanistan people are still progressing but the reconstruction can’t be allowed to stall. Failure will result in civil war. So far this is only a “bump” in the road. For the sake of the Afghan people I hope the bump is a one time deal.


Oklahoma is Awesome



Dick Morris:

Calling him a “senior Taliban commander,” The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Abdullah Mehsud blew himself up at his hide-out in the town of Zhob in southwestern Baluchistan Province in Pakistan, rather than surrend er to government forces.

But what was he doing commanding Taliban troops in the first place?Mehsud had been captured by American forces in northern Afghanistan in December 2001 and sent to the Guantanamo Detention Center. The reason he was able to resume his duties as a Taliban commander is because we released him from Guantanamo in March 2004. The Times reported that “upon his return to the region, he took up arms again and soon became the Taliban commander of South Waziristan, a tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.”

Mehsud is suspected of being the mastermind behind the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in 2004, one of whom was killed.

So the question, not asked by The Times, of course, is why on earth did we free Mehsud in the first place, permitting him to go back to his day job as a guerilla and terrorist leader?

The answer is as obvious as it is depressing: pressure from human rights activists and their journalistic accomplices throughout the world. In the past few years, we have released hundreds of detainees and most face no charges in their native countries when they are repatriated.

One of my previous columns on Gitmo.

To Engage or Not

Tony Blair:

“The biggest danger is if America disengages, if it decides to pull up the drawbridge and say to the rest of the world, ‘Well you go and sort it out.’ We need America engaged.”

I for one agree. America should engage in the world in the hopes of making peace and providing aid to those in need. There’s a limit of course but we should be charitable. This puts me at odds with the isolationist (Ron Paul/Pat Buchanan/Paleo-Con) wing of conservatism.

The point isolationists make is that you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t whenever you intervene internationally. The point being if “you don’t” at least you can keep your treasure and resources. While it’s obvious intervention in the world at large creates a whole hosts of unintended consequences and can be quite costly both in terms of money and lives lost, allowing unabated human suffering on scales we can’t comprehend in our country is a greater crime.

Also, when it comes to terror, economy and environment the United States has a very large stake in what happens in the world at large.

The Iraq War

Omar from ITM wonders what the Democrats are thinking:

Instead of trying to come up with ideas to help they try to halt the sincere effort to stabilize Iraq and rescue the Middle East from a catastrophe.

I am Iraqi and to me the possible consequences of this vote are terrifying. Just as we began to see signs of progress in my country the Democrats come and say ‘well, it’s not worth it, so it’s time to leave’.

Evidently to them my life and the lives of twenty five million Iraqis are not worth trying for and they shouldn’t expect us to be grateful for this.

It must be difficult to understand America when you’re looking from the outside in. America invades Iraq to remove Saddam Hussien. In the course of the occupation foriegn terrorists come across the border to fight their holy was against the US. The Iraqis start a flegling democracy with our help and have several elections despite continuing violence from foriegn and domestic sources. Americans lose thousands of lives while Iraqis lose tens of thousands in the fight to keep the Iraqi Democracy. Americans become impatient and now the voice of the people (Congress) pushes for a withdrawl before the job is done just two years after President Bush wins re-election pushing for continued effort in Iraq.

I can’t understand it either. Take a look at this graph captured from JunkYardBlog dealing with the success of the surge:

Other than the one anomoly caused by one especially violent day, it is clear from the graph the surge is working and should be continued until status on the ground changes to the point where tactics would have to be re-evaluated.

Whether you agree with war or not, whether you agree with the ideas of nation building or not, whether you hate Bush or not, shouldn’t we do our best to help the democracy we forced into existence to survive? We shouldn’t leave this job undone just before victory. Losing isn’t lost.