Airline Safety

The problem of airplanes being hijacked and used as weapons was solved at 10:03 AM on 2001-09-11 over a field in Shanksville, PA. ‘Average’ Americans figured out the security equation just more than an hour after the first plane hit Tower 1. Everything since is a distraction.

The specific problem that’s supposedly being solved by Airport Security is using airplanes as weapons. That one’s been solved – you can’t do that anymore if you’re a hijacker.

But, what if you’re a hijacker who doesn’t want to use the airplane as a weapon? Everybody is still going to think you do. So they’re going to rush/kill you, probably before you even get to the cockpit. I agree that the hardened cockpit doors were a good idea, which is why the Israeli airline has had them for decades. But we have them now, let’s move on.

The only thing you can do to an airplane now is blow it up. But, you don’t even need to do that by suicide if you don’t want to, so why would you? If you’re a sociopathic maniac wouldn’t you rather live and extend your reign of terror? In the US we have a policy against negotiating with terrorists, so you can’t hijack to have demands met for release either. So, curiously, the 9/11 attacks dried up hijacking as a viable means of anything.

But to bring home the point, there have been hijackings for decades before 9/11, even bombings (Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie and perhaps TWA-800), and we didn’t implement draconian searches after that. There was more reason at the time – nothing you can do can ever fully prevent these things, terrorists aren’t stupid (they’re doctors and engineers – at least some of them) and this kind of chicanery just wastes everybody’s time and money. So long as a terrorist can take one up the wrong way and get binary explosives onboard, there’s a hard limit on how safe air travel can be. Even at that, planes can’t handle all weather, and life isn’t a risk-free proposition.

Meanwhile, if you’re in any number of professions which require even occasional air travel (or even a leisure traveler), the Federal government is infringing on the Fifth Amendment prohibition against being deprived of liberty without due process of law. The due process of law, and Hamilton was very specific about this, is a trial by a jury of your peers, and the liberties are derived from ‘natural law’, as described as ‘the law of the land’ in the Magna Charta, and inherited by our system. Let’s not be coy – at these ‘security’ checkpoints you are being detained by the government, they’re just letting you go quickly if you cooperate. If you don’t cooperate your detainment will be longer.

Travel by air is the de-factor standard method of travel in the US for many businesses, and many would not be able to maintain their living without it. For those who answer, “just drive”, this would be analogous to a practice at the founding of our country where your wagon was subject to search and seizure if it were on a road, but the government would tell you, “stop complaining, you can always walk through the woods.” That would have been considered just as reprehensible then as it is now.

Truthfully I’d love to see a private-sector implementation of a ‘safe airline’. There would be no carry-on luggage, pockets would be empty (standard-issue clothes would be best), and everybody would get an MRI on the way in to look for internally concealed weapons.

I think it would go out of business. Quickly.

Early Threat Against US Skyscrapers

According to an AP story, dated September 18, 1986, the Islamic terrorrists “The Committee for Solidarity with Arab and Middle Eastern Political Prisoners” released a statement saying:

“We shall meet soon in your great states. We shall get acquainted with your great states, your cities, your skyscrapers, your Statue of Liberty.”

The group, also known by its french acronym CSPPA, was responsible for four bombings in France at the time. They claimed the US pressured France not to release the prisoner they wanted released. The alleged organizer of the bombings returned to Iran six months later.

Several pundits have argued of late that the US did not draw the ire of Islamic terrorists until it occupied Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War. While this may have fanned the flames, this threat, almost fifteen years to the day before the attack in 2001, shows that this kind of thought was at least a smoldering ember before the Gulf War.

Amtrak to Start Sucking Much More

Starting this week, Amtrak will start featuring, no, not decent sandwiches, but automatic weapons on its trains.

From the AP story:

WASHINGTON – Amtrak will start randomly screening passengers’ carry-on bags this week in a new security push that includes officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains.

It has been until now a decent alternative to airline transportation. Now you need to drive if you want to avoid infringement on your Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment protections, and that’s only if you don’t get stopped at a MADD-promoted ‘sobriety checkpoint’. This move is good for the automotive industry, no?

Amtrak has three problems here. First, they’re going to lose ridership. They’re already barely able to keep operations afloat. Second, the move implies there is specific intelligence about terrorism on trains. See problem #1. Third, if they don’t have specific intelligence, they’re just being belligerent towards their customers, so… see problem #1.

This might finally be the straw that breaks mass-transit’s back in the US. Can this policy really be promulgated by those who claim they want to do something about human CO2 emissions?

Gaming Quarterly Earnings Calls

Here’s an excerpt of a story from the Wall Street Journal about a guy who’s gaming quarterly earnings analyst calls, by asking nonsensical questions riddled with Wall-Street Speak. Most CEO’s try to answer the questions anyway. It would be good to know which CEO’s saw through the subterfuge.

The WSJ wonders what the point is… it’s Socratic Irony. The CEO’s can’t tell the difference between a real analyst’s call and the goofball. It’s an indictment of the system, and the article makes it clear the participants don’t get it. They would not be expected to.

One wonders if Sasha Cohen is doing a radio show.

Restoring The Republic

Q: When does a politician issue a press release that’s a 5000-word essay on history, political philosophy, and the sad state of affairs of his country while being hypercritical of his own party?

A: December 12th.

Yeah, it’s not a joke. In the candidly-named, Let It Bleed: Restoring the Republican Party, Michigan Representative Thaddeus McCotter lays into the ‘Cashocrats’ in Washington, condemns the members of his party and lays out a set of principles for a coming wave of what he calls ‘Restoration Republicans’. What do they want to do? Only wash away all the bad government of the past 100 years and re-focus on liberty and freedom.

In his essay he provides quite a bit of background, political theory, and makes many salient points about what shaped our government over the past 100 years and why current socioeconomic conditions render the entire premise for our governmentally-regulated society inappropriate.

This essay will probably be come to be known as a major catalyst for change – not on the level of Common Sense, but easily beyond the Contract With America.

I first heard about him in an interview on the Dennis Miller show. This guy is sharp and can go toe-to toe with Miller on obscure references and witty jabs, and he’s already in office.

He’s one of the good guys. Keep an eye on this one.

DirectBuy – Apparent Scam

I’ve seen/heard ads for DirectBuy on CNN and local radio. I figured I’d check out who these guys are, and came across this website.

Apparently the membership fee is $4950, they use high-pressure sales tactics, and their deals of are questionable value. Some write that it’s a good deal if you’re looking to buy more than $50K in product and enjoy their selection, but others write you can’t look at the selection before you sign up. Sounds like a scam. I’ve written the producers of a couple shows I listen to who promote the company, passing along this URL.

Here’s an older piece by WCBS in NYC for those more impressed by big media. They quote an NYU business professor describing their do-or-die technique as characteristic of disreputable companies.

I know all of my readers wouldn’t succumb to high-pressure sales tactics, but there are less savvy folk out there.

Selling Blood

BWJones writes on his blog about blood donation, selling blood, blood costs, blood shortages, and some historical problems with paying for blood.

He would like for all blood donation to be voluntary but accepts that paying for it may necessary at times. I think it’s a great idea all the time. Here’s how it could work:

We need to address these problems:

  • people donating too frequently

  • people donating who aren’t eligible due to age or history

  • people donating who are likely to give bad blood

for any such system to work.

Bryan cites studies from the ’70’s showing that the quality of blood that was paid for was lower, and this makes sense.

But today we have technology we didn’t have thirty years ago.

Let’s consider a system like this:

  • person signs up to be a blood donor

  • standard tests are done

  • a biometric (retinal scan, I’ll recommend) is taken

  • this data is uploaded to a database. Let’s say the Red Cross manages this.

  • Blood collection units are outfitted with a retinal scanner and laptop to enroll and check people.

  • Wifi or cellular connection needed (fall back to the old system where unavailable)

So, a person coming in to donate needs to:

  • Sit down in front of the scanner. Positive ID made.

  • The system checks on all the various criteria and decides if the person is eligable to donate

  • Blood is donated.

Note, there’s nothing in these steps about ID. This can be totally anonymous. This will increase the number of people donating blood.

Now, if the blood is bad, it’s:

  • rejected from the blood supply

  • the donor is marked in the database as either a problem donor (3 strikes and you’re out) or is permanently off the list (hepatitis, AIDS, etc.)

If the blood is good:

  • The blood enters the blood supply

  • The donor is marked as a good donor

So, now the issue of payment has to be dealt with. We have risk involved here for the blood manager, as there is some unknown aspect of the quality of the blood. By collecting the above data we have a system to rate the quality of the donor.

To these we’ll assigned a tiered pricing scheme. For donors with no score at all, there are two options:

  • Cash on donation

  • Delayed payment

For those who wish to remain anonymous, and are new, cash on donation is the only option. But they are also the riskiest. We only give them $20. If their blood is bad, it’s marked as such and they won’t get $20 again.

If the person is willing to give his personal information, that’s more valuable. For them, we’ll give them $50 for the unit of blood, but only after it’s been verified to be OK. This encourages good donors since their payment is delayed and they won’t donate if they know they have a problem since they won’t get any money. The value difference is good enough that they’re willing to wait a week or so for their check/direct deposit.

Giving personal information is also useful to many people because it serves as a free bloodbourne-disease screen, but we need to know how to let them know if they’re sick. Still, many people prefer their privacy, and if you mandate this you lose donors. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

Next, we have historically good donors. They’ve donated a dozen times, all checking out OK. These folks get $50 at the donation center instead of having to wait a week since the odds of their donation being bad are very low. If it is, the system will correct itself the next time around (they’re back on the the wait-a-week plan). This will encourage more people to donate because they gain immediate gratification and can take their family out to dinner that night. This is a powerful motivator.

And, of course, anybody can waive the payment if they wish to donate magnanimously.

Now, this appears to increase the cost of blood slightly. 20%, according to BWJones’s numbers ($50 on top of $200, not counting the cost of laptops/scanner). But that only considers the immediate cost of the blood. If you have twice as many people showing up at a blood drive, why you don’t need to have as many blood drives. Therefore, I believe this proposal would be, on the approximate, cost-neutral and increase the blood supply.

All without getting the Federal Government involved in the process, and more importantly, getting donors who don’t file a Schedule C with the IRS.

Does M3 Matter?

Donald Luskin, CNBC commentator and chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, writes:

If I’m right and Ron Paul doesn’t just fade away as the primary season progresses, he’ll make a real difference. His anti-war message would make life difficult for Hillary Clinton, by drawing away the most pacifist elements of the Democratic base. But it’s on the economics side where I think he could make the biggest impact. In an election year in which bigger government, higher taxes, and protectionism seem to have so much momentum, Paulonomics may be just what is needed to rebalance the debate in favor of growth.

Yet he dismisses Dr. Paul’s criticism of The Fed’s discontinuance of M3 as ‘nutty’. Mr. Luskin manages to weave ‘radical’, ‘gadfly’, ‘flamboyant’, ‘nutty’, and ‘Kucinich’ all into feints of aspersions, but backs away from each carefully. Is this now the price of admission for a nationally syndicated article?

I found an old interview with Paul discussing his criticisms of M3’s discontinuance before he was running for anything other than district Congressman. One may find grounds to argue with his relative valuation of M3, but he clearly explains his thinking, and if M2 and M3 move independently, it would be interesting to hear a reasoned explanation for how it’s not useful or how the same information can be derived from M2. As I understand it, the only explanation offered is that it’s ‘not useful’ and ‘costs money to calculate’. The latter case is obvious, the former needs justification.

If anything The Fed should have realized that perceptions are important and provided good data to back their claims, since others are claiming that their intentions are skulduggerous.

They didn’t.