June 2nd, 2011
By: Statehouse Bureau Staff
Facing broad criticism for flying by helicopter to watch his son’s high school baseball game in Bergen County, Gov. Chris Christie refused today to refund the state for Tuesday’s $2,500-an-hour flight.
“The governor does not reimburse for security and travel,” a spokesman for the governor, Kevin Roberts, said in an e-mail message. “The use of air travel has been extremely limited and appropriate.”
The State Police said the flight taken by Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, had presented “no additional cost to taxpayers.”
That didn’t stop a horde of Democratic legislators — and even some conservative commentators — from denouncing the use of the helicopter by a governor who has become widely admired for his insistence on fiscal austerity.
Christie flew from downtown Trenton to Montvale, where his son Andrew was playing baseball for Delbarton, his high school team. He stayed five innings before getting back into the helicopter, accompanied by his wife. From there they flew to Princeton, the police said, for a dinner at Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion, with a group of wealthy Republican donors from Iowa who were in New Jersey to try to persuade Christie to run for president.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) chided the governor today for what she called his “do as I say, not as I do” attitude.
“I can’t remember how many times I had to skip political events because my children had games or school activities,” Vainieri Huttle said. “Leaving in the fifth inning to meet with wealthy Iowa political donors says something about the governor’s priorities. Perhaps his presidential courters can help him foot the bill so our taxpayers aren’t on the hook for such perks when he is calling for sacrifice.”
Even a conservative talk show host from Fox News, Greta Van Susteren, added to the stream of criticism. She took to her blog to question why the governor had used the helicopter.
“In these very, very difficult times for most Americans, it looks really bad when a politician is spending (or appearing to be spending) taxpayer money in lavish ways,” Van Susteren wrote.
Amid the flak, State Police Supt. Rick Fuentes issued a statement saying the pilots would have been in the air training even had they not been ferrying the governor and his wife in the new $12.5 million helicopter.
“Therefore, there is no additional cost to taxpayers or the State Police budget, nor is there any interference with our daily mission by adding the state’s chief executive to any of these trips,” Fuentes said.
The use of state helicopters by governors of both parties has been a flashpoint for decades. But the practice has been to reimburse the state for flights not related to official business. In 2002, the Democratic Party paid the state $18,200 for 14 flights by Gov. Jim McGreevey that were deemed political or personal, including one to a wedding.
Gov. Christie Whitman repaid the state when she took a police helicopter to a New Jersey Devils game at the Meadowlands.
According to Fuentes, Christie has traveled on the state’s helicopter 35 times since taking office in January 2010 — far less than previous governors — including trips to survey flood and storm damage. The dates and locations of those trips were not made public.
“As part of our long-standing security protocol, the EPU (Executive Protection Unit) provides secure, protected travel by vehicle in the overwhelming majority of the governor’s business and personal travel, except in those rare instances when the governor’s schedule warrants use of air travel,” Fuentes said.
A State Police spokesman, Sgt. Stephen Jones, emphasized that pilots are constantly logging hours in the new helicopters and would probably have been flying even if the governor had not been aboard.
“The destinations might be different,” Jones said. “But they’d be logging flight hours — flying over rail systems or transportation hubs or ports or chemical or nuclear facilities.”
As for Christie’s use of a car to get the 100 yards from the landing site to the ball park, which was ridiculed by Van Susteren and others, Jones said the cars were there for the governor’s safety.
“If the helicopter got called away for a higher priority mission, then the governor would be transported to his next location on the ground,” Jones said.
November 19th, 2010
The Associated Press
In a climate of Internet campaigns to shun airport pat-downs and veteran pilots suing over their treatment by government screeners, some airports are considering another way to show dissatisfaction: Ditching TSA agents altogether.
Federal law allows airports to opt for screeners from the private sector instead. The push is being led by a powerful Florida congressman who’s a longtime critic of the Transportation Security Administration and counts among his campaign contributors some of the companies who might take the TSA’s place.
Furor over airline passenger checks has grown as more airports have installed scanners that produce digital images of the body’s contours, and the anger intensified when TSA added a more intrusive style of pat-down recently for those who opt out of the full-body scans. Some travelers are using the Internet to organize protests aimed at the busy travel days next week surrounding Thanksgiving.
For Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida, the way to make travelers feel more comfortable would be to kick TSA employees out of their posts at the ends of the snaking security lines. This month, he wrote letters to nation’s 100 busiest airports asking that they request private security guards instead.
“I think we could use half the personnel and streamline the system,” Mica said Wednesday, calling the TSA a bloated bureaucracy.
Mica is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Once the new Congress convenes in January, the lawmaker is expected lead the committee.
Companies that could gain business if airports heed Mica’s call have helped fill his campaign coffers. In the past 13 years, Mica has received almost $81,000 in campaign donations from political action committees and executives connected to some of the private contractors already at 16 U.S. airports.
Private contractors are not a cure-all for passengers aggrieved about taking off their shoes for security checks, passing through full-body scanners or getting hand-frisked. For example, contractors must follow all TSA-mandated security procedures, including hand patdowns when necessary.
Still, the top executive at the Orlando-area’s second-largest airport, Orlando Sanford International Airport, said he plans to begin the process of switching to private screeners in January as long as a few remaining concerns can be met. The airport is within Mica’s district, and the congressman wrote his letter after hearing about its experiences.
CEO Larry Dale said members of the board that runs Sanford were impressed after watching private screeners at airports in Rochester, N.Y., and Jackson Hole, Wyo. He said TSA agents could do better at customer service.
“Some of them are a little testy,” said Dale, whose airport handles 2 million passengers a year. “And we work hard to get passengers and airlines. And to have it undone by a personality problem?”
To the south, the city’s main airport, Orlando International, said it’s reviewing Mica’s proposal, although it has some questions about how the system would work with the 34 million passengers it handles each year. In Georgia, Macon City Councilor Erick Erickson, whose committee oversees the city’s small airport, wants private screeners there.
Erickson called it a protest move in an interview.
“I am a frequent air traveler and I have experienced … TSA agents who have let the power go to their head,” Erickson said. “You can complain about those people, but very rarely does the bureaucracy work quickly enough to remove those people from their positions.”
TSA officials would select and pay the contractors who run airport security. But Dale thinks a private contractor would be more responsive since the contractor would need local support to continue its business with the airport.
“Competition drives accountability, it drives efficiency, it drives a particular approach to your airport,” Dale said. “That company is just going to be looking at you. They’re not going to be driven out of Washington, they will be driven out of here.”
San Francisco International Airport has used private screeners since the formation of the TSA and remains the largest to do so.
The airport believed a private contractor would have more flexibility to supplement staff during busy periods with part-time employees, airport spokesman Mike McCarron said. Also, the city’s high cost of living had made it difficult in the past to recruit federal employees to run immigration and customs stations — a problem the airport didn’t want at security checkpoints.
“You get longer lines,” McCarron said.
TSA spokesman Greg Soule would not respond directly Mica’s letter, but reiterated the nation’s roughly 460 commercial airports have the option of applying to use private contractors.
Companies that provide airport security are contributors to Mica’s campaigns, although some donations came before those companies won government contracts. The Lockheed Martin Corp. Employees’ Political Action Committee has given $36,500 to Mica since 1997. A Lockheed firm won the security contract in Sioux Falls, S.D. in 2005 and the contract for San Francisco the following year.
Raytheon Company’s PAC has given Mica $33,500 since 1999. A Raytheon subsidiary began providing checkpoint screenings at Key West International Airport in 2007.
Firstline Transportation Security Inc.’s PAC has donated $4,500 to the Florida congressman since 2004. FirstLine has been screening baggage and has been responsible for passenger checkpoints at the Kansas City International Airport since 2006, as well as the Gallup Municipal Airport and the Roswell Industrial Air Center in New Mexico, operating at both since 2007.
Since 2006, Mica has received $2,000 from FirstLine President Keith Wolken and $1,700 from Gerald Berry, president of Covenant Aviation Security. Covenant works with Lockheed to provide security at airports in Sioux Falls and San Francisco.
Mica spokesman Justin Harclerode said the contributions never improperly influenced the congressman, who said he was unaware Raytheon or Lockheed were in the screening business.
“They certainly never contacted him about providing screening,” Harclerode said.
Anger over the screenings hasn’t just come from passengers. Two veteran commercial airline pilots asked a federal judge this week to stop the whole-body scans and the new pat-down procedures, saying it violates their civil rights.
The pilots, Michael S. Roberts of Memphis and Ann Poe of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., have refused to participate in either screening method and, as a result, will not fly out of airports that use these methods, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington.
Roberts is a pilot with ExpressJet Airlines and is on unpaid administrative leave because of his refusal to enter the whole-body scanners. Poe flies for Continental Airlines and will continue to take off work as long as the existing regulations are in place.
“In her eyes, the pat-down is a physical molestation and the WBI scanner is not only intrusive, degrading and potentially dangerous, but poses a real and substantial threat to medical privacy,” the lawsuit states.
Today, Kevin abolishes all rumors and gives you the truth behind inflation, the TSA and the government. Plus, Dr. Bob Marshall gives you the facts behind the dangers of Magnesium Stearate & Stearic Acid!
Video: The TSA Is Out Of Control
Full Frontal Nudity Doesn’t Make Us Safer
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Pilots & Passengers Angry Over New Airport Pat Downs
Body Searching Children A ‘No’ For Army, ‘Yes’ For TSA
Backlash Over TSA’s Naked Strip Searches
TSA Rage Hitting All Age Demographics Now
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November 17th, 2010
By: Declan McCullagh
Two months ago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the federal stimulus legislation would pay for the purchase of hundreds of controversial full-body scanners.
“Through the Recovery Act, we are able to continue our accelerated deployment of enhanced technology as part of our layered approach to security at airports nationwide,” Napolitano said at the time.
The number of scanners has roughly doubled since Napolitano’s announcement and they are now found in 68 U.S. airports, and the Transportation Security Administration says the controversial devices have proven to be a success.
“We have received minimal complaints,” a TSA spokeswoman told CNET yesterday. She said that the agency, part of DHS, keeps track of air traveler complaints and has not seen a significant rise.
A growing number of airline passengers, labor unions, and advocacy groups, however, say the new procedures–a choice of full-body scans or what the TSA delicately calls “enhanced pat-downs”–go too far. (They were implemented without much fanfare in late October, amid lingering questions (PDF) about whether travelers are always offered a choice of manual screening.)
Unions representing U.S. Airways pilots, American Airlines pilots, and some flight attendants are advising their members to skip the full-body scans, even if it means that their genitals are touched. Air travelers are speaking out online, with a woman saying in a YouTube video her breasts were “twisted,” and ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts emerging as an instant hero after he rejected both the body scanning and “enhanced pat-downs” options and was unceremoniously ejected from the security line from Memphis International Airport.
One lawsuit has been filed and at least two more are being contemplated. There are snarky suggestions for what TSA actually stands for, attempts at grope-induced erotic fiction, and now even a movie.
These privacy concerns, and in a few cases even outright rebellion, come as an estimated 24 million travelers are expected to fly during the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday season. One Web site, OptOutDay.com, is recommending what might be called strict civil obedience: it suggests that all air travelers on November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, choose “to opt-out of the naked body scanner machines” that amount to “virtual strip searches.”
Normally, that kind of public outcry might be enough to spur TSA to back down–after all, in 2004 it relaxed its metal detector procedures to allow passengers a second try, and a year later it relaxed its rules to allow scissors in carry-on bags. Plus, the U.S. House of Representatives (but not the Senate) approved a bill saying that “whole-body imaging technology may not be used as the sole or primary method of screening a passenger.”
But with a lame duck Congress not even in session until next week, no hearings on full-body scanners currently scheduled, and renewed concerns about explosives in printer cartridges, an immediate reversal seems unlikely.
Instead, TSA is defending its practice. “TSA constantly evaluates and updates screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats, and we have done so several times already this year,” a spokeswoman said. “As such, TSA has implemented an enhanced pat-down at security checkpoints as one of our many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe.”
“Administrator John Pistole is committed to intelligence-driven security measures, including advanced imaging technology and the pat-down procedure and ordered a review of certain policies shortly after taking office to reinforce TSA’s risk-based approach to security,” TSA said. “We look forward to further discussion with pilots on these important issues.”
TSA’s official blogger, who uses the apparent pseudonym Blogger Bob, went so far as to say this week that: “There is no fondling, squeezing, groping, or any sort of sexual assault taking place at airports. You have a professional workforce carrying out procedures they were trained to perform to keep aviation security safe.”
Another possible catalyst for an eventual change in screening procedures is a lawsuit that the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, filed against the TSA and Homeland Security last week.
“The agency went off the rails in the spring of 2009 when it decided on its own authority to make body scanners the primary screening technique in the United States,” says Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director. “We think there had to be a public rulemaking. We think the conduct implicates freedom of religion. We think it implicates the Privacy Act.”
EPIC’s lawsuit is ambitious. It says that TSA should have conducted a formal, 90-day public rulemaking to “fully evaluate all privacy, security, and health risks” and wants the D.C. Circuit to require the agency to conduct one. In addition, making full-body scanners the primary method of screening violates the Fourth Amendment, the suit says, because the scans are “far more invasive than necessary.”
In September, the D.C. Circuit shot down EPIC’s initial request for an emergency halt, saying the standards for a preliminary injunction against TSA were not met. Rotenberg remains optimistic, saying “these are obligations that are written into federal law” that TSA must follow. (This time, EPIC is not asking for an emergency injunction.)
The ACLU says it’s also weighing a lawsuit but has not filed one so far.
TSA has “always done pat-downs,” but until recently they haven’t been so aggressive, says Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the ACLU in Washington, D.C. “The pat-downs never used to go up a woman’s skirt.”
“It’s become troubling,” Calabrese says. “You’ve got these controversial naked strip search machines that they’re rolling out at airports across America. And if you choose not to go through the naked strip search machine, you’re subject to this (level of intrusive physical contact). It seems punitive. It seems designed to drive you to the naked strip search machine.”
November 17th, 2010
By: Jeremy Pelofsky
Stepped-up security screening at airports in the wake of foiled terrorism plots has provoked an outcry from airline pilots and travelers, including parents of children who say they are too intrusive.
With the busiest holiday travel season nearing, fliers face long security lines and new rigorous patdown checks begun in recent weeks aimed at discovering hidden explosives. As a result, some travelers are questioning whether to fly at all.
The Transportation Security Administration has ramped up airport security after two plots by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A Nigerian man hid a bomb in his underwear last Christmas and the group tried to send package bombs via U.S. cargo carriers but none of the explosives detonated.
To thwart such attacks, TSA is deploying body scanning machines to U.S. airports but travelers and pilots have complained about potential health risks and that they are too intrusive. The alternative is a physical patdown by a TSA officer.
“Pilots are not the terrorist threat,” said John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association and a veteran pilot for United Continental. “Seeing scarce security resources being used on pilots makes absolutely no sense.”
Some pilots, male and female, have complained the patdowns make them feel uncomfortable. The group urged any pilot who feels unfit for duty afterward to “call in sick and remove themselves from the trip.”
That has prompted urgent talks between the pilots’ group and TSA Administrator John Pistole. The two sides hope to resolve the matter in a few weeks, Prater said.
‘GATEWAY TO COMMERCE’
Executives from the travel industry, including online travel sites, theme parks and hotels, were set to meet Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Pistole on Friday to discuss their concerns that security is crimping travel.
“We have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from travelers vowing to stop flying,” said Geoff Freeman, an executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association, which set up the meeting with the Obama administration officials.
“You can’t talk on the one hand about creating jobs in this country and getting this economy back on track and on the other hand discourage millions of Americans from flying, which is the gateway to commerce,” he said.
Privacy groups have challenged the new body scanners in court, saying they are a violation of privacy and illegal. Lawmakers plan to hold hearings on aviation security next week when they return to Washington.
Some travelers are also livid about how children are being screened. During a trip last Sunday by a father and son through Orlando airport in Florida, the 8-year-old boy was selected for extra screening by TSA after going through the metal detector.
The father said the officer described the procedure before conducting it. Then he patted down the boy in the open security area, using the backside of his hands to check his genital area, he said.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as horrible as he was describing,” said the boy’s father, Bill, who works as a lobbyist in Washington and did not want his full name used.
November 17th, 2010
By: Art Carden
The Republicans control the House of Representatives and are bracing for a long battle over the President’s health care proposal. In the spirit of bipartisanship and sanity, I propose that the first thing on the chopping block should be an ineffective organization that wastes money, violates our rights, and encourages us to make decisions that imperil our safety. I’m talking about the Transportation Security Administration.
Bipartisan support should be immediate. For fiscal conservatives, it’s hard to come up with a more wasteful agency than the TSA. For privacy advocates, eliminating an organization that requires you to choose between a nude body scan or genital groping in order to board a plane should be a no-brainer.
But won’t that compromise safety? I doubt it. The airlines have enormous sums of money riding on passenger safety, and the notion that a government bureaucracy has better incentives to provide safe travels than airlines with billions of dollars worth of capital and goodwill on the line strains credibility. This might be beside the point: in 2003, William Anderson incisively argued that some of the steps that airlines (and passengers) would have needed to take to prevent the 9/11 disaster probably would have been illegal.
The odds of dying from a terrorist attack are much lower than the odds of dying from doing any of a number of incredibly mundane things we do every day. You are almost certainly more likely to die or be injured driving to the airport than you are to be injured by a terrorist once you’re in the air, even without a TSA. Indeed, once you have successfully made it to the airport, the most dangerous part of your trip is over. Until it’s time to drive home, that is.
Last week, I picked up a “TSA Customer Comment Card.” First, it’s important that we get one thing straight: I am not the TSA’s “customer.” The term “customer” denotes an honorable relationship in which I and a seller voluntarily trade value for value. There’s nothing voluntary about my relationship with the TSA.
A much more appropriate term for our relationship is “subject.” The TSA stands between me and those with whom I would like to trade, and I am not allowed to without their blessing.
Second, the TSA doesn’t provide security. It provides security theater, as Jeffrey Goldberg argues. The kid with the slushie in Tucson before the three-ounce-rule? The little girl in the princess costume at an airport I don’t remember? The countless grandmothers? I’m more likely to be killed tripping over my own two feet while I’m distracted by the lunacy of it all than I am to be killed by one of them in a terrorist attack. The moral cost of all this is considerable, as James Otteson and Bradley Birzer argue.
For even more theater of the absurd, consider that the TSA screens pilots. If a pilot wants to bring a plane down, he or she can probably do it with bare hands, and certainly without weapons. It’s also not entirely crazy to think that an airline will take measures to keep their pilots from turning their multi-million dollar planes into flying bombs. Through the index funds in my retirement portfolio, I’m pretty sure I own stock in at least one airline, and I’m pretty sure airline managers know that cutting corners on security isn’t in my best interests as a shareholder.
And the items being confiscated? Are nailclippers and aftershave the tools of terrorists? What about the plastic cup of water I was told to dispose of because “it could be acid” (I quote the TSA screener) in New Orleans before the three-ounce rule? What about the can of Coke I was relieved of after a flight from Copenhagen to Atlanta a few months ago? I would be more scared of someone giving a can of Coke to a child and contributing to the onset of juvenile diabetes than of using it to hide something that could compromise the safety of an aircraft.
And finally, most screening devices are ineffective because anyone who is serious about getting contraband on an airplane can smuggle it in a body cavity or a surgical implant. The scanners the TSA uses aren’t going to stop them.
Over the next few years, we’re headed for a bitter, partisan clash over legislative priorities. Before the battle starts, let’s reach for that low-hanging, bipartisan fruit. Let’s abolish the TSA.
April 8, 2010
By: Joshua Freed
The CEOs of United Airlines and US Airways have both been up front about their desire to merge with another airline. Now it appears they’re talking to each other.
The two are in talks about a combination that would create the nation’s second-biggest airline, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks, which the person said appear to be getting more serious.
This person said a deal would be modeled on the Delta-Northwest combination, which was a stock swap without a cash component.
United Chairman and CEO Glenn Tilton and US Airways Chairman and CEO Doug Parker were both involved when their companies talked about combining in 2008. They walked away then citing high fuel prices, but didn’t rule out a future deal. That same year, Continental Airlines Inc. rejected United’s attempt at a combination.
“We don’t comment on rumors or speculation,” United spokeswoman Jean Medina said Wednesday. “We’ve been consistent on our position on consolidation generally for several years, and that position is well known.”
US Airways spokesman Jim Olson also said the airline doesn’t comment on rumors.
Integrating their unionized work forces would be one of the most difficult tasks if United Airlines and US Airways got together. The person who spoke to AP said the companies have a plan for dealing with that issue.
US Airways, which is based in Tempe, Ariz., still runs separate pilot and flight attendant groups after it was bought in 2005 by America West. And its pilots formed their own union after leaving the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents United aviators.
Executives at Delta and Northwest put their deal on hold in early 2008 so their pilots could work out an agreement on combining their ranks.
Pilots at US Airways have not been involved in any talks with United, said James Ray, a spokesman for the US Airline Pilots Association.
“We’ll support anything that would be good for our pilot group,” he said.
A spokesman for the United branch of the Air Line Pilots Association did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
“Mergers in the airline business are notoriously difficult,” said Doug Abbey, an independent airline consultant in Washington. He added, though, that Delta’s purchase of Northwest has gone well.
“The discussions certainly wouldn’t surprise me,” he said. “This is a combination that has been embraced as plausible by a lot of people.”
Based on 2009 traffic, a combined United-US Airways would be nearly as big as Delta Air Lines Inc., which became the world’s largest airline after buying Northwest. It is unclear which name would survive, where the combined company would be based, or who would run it.
Like Northwest before it, one of United’s main attractions is its Pacific routes, which it bought from Pan-Am in 1985.
Both airlines have been shrinking to cope with the recession. United cut capacity 7.4 percent last year, while US Airways shrank 4.6 percent. US Airways is cutting most flying that doesn’t pass through either Washington or its hubs in Charlotte, N.C., Philadelphia, or Phoenix.
US Airways lost $205 million in 2009, and revenue fell almost 14 percent to $10.46 billion. UAL lost $651 million, while revenue fell 19.1 percent to $16.34 billion.
Shares US Airways rose $1.39, or 20.4 percent, to $8.21 in after-hours trading Wednesday. United parent UAL Corp. fell 18 cents to $18.77.
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