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Saturday, November 20, 2010

There Are Other Ways Of Getting Around Airport Security Than Being John Boehner

Roland and I fly a lot... and we like to feel safe. Roland seems to be pretty complacent about the latest TSA efforts to look like they're keeping the flying public safe with the full body scanners and intrusive, aggressive full body pat downs. Last night he told me that he read somewhere that the latest in terror tactics will be for suicide bombers to fill their stomachs with plastic explosives and we should enjoy the little inconvenience the TSA is inflicting on us now because its going to get a lot worse.

Today's NY Times laid out all the complaints about the new TSA initiative, from the serious dangers of cancer and blindness to the rapaciousness of a crook like former Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff who got this ball bouncing on behalf of one of his firm's clients, Rapiscan Systems which Chertoff recommended as the manufacturer for our airport safety and which has already benefited to the tune of a quarter billion dollars.

I still recall standing on long lines and feeling Big Brother was further dehumanizing me and I blamed it on Bush. I'm sure there were plenty of otherwise apolitical frequent flyers who turned away from the GOP because of the increasingly authoritarian nature of airport security. I remember talking with fellow passengers about how things would start to get better under Obama. But Obama seems politically tone deaf to what's going on at the airports. And it doesn't help that rich people and politically-connected people-- like John Boehner-- don't have to go through what the rest of us have to.
As he left Washington on Friday, Mr. Boehner headed across the Potomac River to Ronald Reagan National Airport, which was bustling with afternoon travelers. There was no waiting for Mr. Boehner, who was escorted around the identification-checking agents, the metal detectors and the body scanners, and whisked directly to the gate.

The Republican leader, who will become the second person in line to assume the presidency after the new Congress convenes in January, took great pride after the midterm elections in declaring his man-of-the-people plans to travel home as other Americans do. In a time of economic difficulty, it was a not-so-subtle dig at Ms. Pelosi, who has access to a military jet large enough to avoid refueling for her flights home to San Francisco.

And if you want to pay to join a Verified Identity Pass program like Clear, you can almost be treated as well as Boehner.
Members who pay the $99.95 annual fee to join and who submit to biometric and background screening are given access to a private lane, which purports to usher them through security with more predictability, greater speed and less hassle ($28.00 of that fee goes to the TSA to cover the cost of completing a security threat assessment). “Clear has made this new life of flying commercial, which has gone down the toilet, a little more bearable,” said program member Henry Morgan, regional manager of Highline Products in Orlando.

Clear [$199/year] is one example of the Registered Traveler programs that the Transportation Security Administration has developed in conjunction with private companies in order to, as the TSA puts it, “provide expedited security screening for passengers who volunteer biometric and biographic information” and who “successfully complete a security threat assessment.” To date, Verified Identity Pass and four other companies-- Unisys, Saflink, Verant and Vigilant-- have satisfied TSA’s criteria to act as providers of Registered Traveler services. As the TSA notes, "The program is market-driven and offered by the private sector with TSA largely playing a facilitating role."

President Obama may think working out "free" trade agreements with China and Colombia that ship more American jobs overseas are better uses of his time but some American voters are boiling that this airport screening mess is being handled so poorly and they're not going to blame faceless bureaucrats, Joe Lieberman or Michael Chertoff. They're going to blame Barack Obama.

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