The government admits it really wants to see your genitals at the airport

And we thought things couldn’t get any stranger.

Earlier this week, I suggested it might be the end of the world for travelers, thanks to a preponderance of odd events. I was kidding, of course.

But I should have written that post yesterday when the TSA out-bizarred all of us by publishing a post delicately titled, A Friendly Suggestion on Products Designed to Conceal Sensitive Areas, on its blog.

I’m not kidding this time. Read it for yourself.
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“Everything is objectively better than it was two years ago, particularly in the aviation environment”

The transcript from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” isn’t available yet, but here’s what we know: There was a lot of hemming and hawing — here’s a sample — and one keeper quote that could define her tenure.

“Everything is objectively better than it was two years ago, particularly in the aviation environment,” she told Candy Crowley this morning.

Excuse me?

Look, I don’t have a problem with letting Napolitano put a little spin on her accomplishments, but let’s be realistic about it. The last two years have been awful for air travelers, with new restrictions, security procedures and invasive, unconstitutional searches being performed in the name of homeland security.

The Secretary is blowing smoke.

And what’s worse is, we’re inhaling.
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If you’re reading this, you’re probably not home for Christmas

No, you’re stuck at the airport or in a motel, waiting for the winter storm to pass.

The National Weather Service has issued a warning for heavy snow in the mountain counties of North Carolina not bordering Tennessee, the mountains of South Carolina and Georgia, and the North Carolina foothills. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are under a winter storm watch. Airlines are proactively canceling flights and waiving cancellation penalties.

Western Europe, which has been battered by winter storms, has it even worse. About 200 people spent the night at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, which cancelled 400 flights because of snow and ice.

I spent a good part of yesterday fielding calls from reporters who wanted to know what to do if winter weather disrupts your holiday travel plans. Unfortunately, by “travel” they meant “air travel” — and that’s not how must of us are getting home. More than 90 percent of us are driving or taking the train. Or trying.

Do I have any advice for stranded travelers?

No, not really, other than to sit tight, pull out a good book or click on your favorite travel blog, and wait for the weather to pass. Airlines consider blizzards to be an “Act of God” and they aren’t required to do anything under their onerous contracts of carriage. As for motorists, when’s the last time you negotiated a meal voucher from a car that’s stuck in a snow drift?

I do, however, have some interesting holiday reading.
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TSA denies it turned off body-scanners on “Opt-Out” Day — but where’s the proof?

Two weeks after declaring National Opt-Out Day a failure and renaming it TSA Appreciation Day, the agency charged with protecting our transportation systems has formally denied it turned off its full-body scanners in order to squelch the pre-Thanksgiving protests.

“As soon as the media started reporting that Opt-Out Day was a bust, reports started coming in from blogs stating that TSA had intentionally shut down the Advanced Imaging Technology machines,” the agency says in a blog post. “This claim is utterly and completely false as AIT operations were normal throughout the holiday travel period.”

There’s just one little problem. In denying that it cheated in order to disrupt Opt-Out Day, TSA has offered no credible evidence — other than its own word — that the scanners were working.
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Lawsuits against TSA are piling up quickly

The Transportation Security Administration’s little body-scanning/pat-down problem isn’t just keeping us media types busy. Lawyers are having a field day with it, too.

The latest lawsuit against the TSA was filed earlier this week by two Harvard Law School students who claim the airport security checks involving full-body scanners and pat-downs are unconstitutional. The suit claims the screenings violate their Fourth Amendment rights prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures.

Here’s a rundown of the most high-profile cases.
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With a little help from TSA, 2011 could be a flat year for travel

With the economy slowly rebounding, 2011 was shaping up to be the best year for travel since the recession began. Prices were expected to rise only slightly, and people were making plans to take a long-postponed vacation.

But now that the Transportation Security Administration has introduced full-body scanners at many American airports, and subjected those who opt out of the machines to an “enhanced” pat-down, the 2011 outlook has changed, say travelers.

“I’m torn about whether I’ll travel more next year or not,” says Jeff Cohen, a stock trader from Austin, Tex. “I tend to go on a couple of large trips a year and was planning a major trip for the first half of 2011, to somewhere exotic. But the recent TSA crackdown has me rethinking that.”
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From the frontlines on Opt-Out Day: “Today was different from anything that I have ever experienced in my years of flying”

Edmond Valencia had an 8 a.m. flight out of Albuquerque today, and since this is one of the busiest days for air travel, he arrived with time to spare.

It’s a good thing.

There were protesters at Albuquerque Sunport holding signs that said, “The Terrorists are Winning,” and “Go Ahead and Sexually Assault Another 2 Year Old.”

They were being interviewed by print and TV media. The man stated that he is a Marine veteran of three Iraq tours. He felt that the liberties he fought for were being eroded by the actions of the TSA.

Then it was Valencia’s turn to go through the security line. He flies about once a week, so he’s used to the screening procedures. Or so he thought.
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Everything you need to know if you’re flying today (but were afraid to ask)

It’s National Opt-Out Day. Ready to fly?

Here are a few things you should know.

Will my flight be delayed? If you’re flying out of one of these airports, it should be smooth sailing, according to Flightstats (numbers in brackets are average on-time departure performance during the past three Thanksgiving holidays).

1. Salt Lake City (89.00 percent)
2. Minneapolis (86.61 percent)
3. Portland, Ore. (86.43 percent)
4. San Diego (85.00 percent)
5. Seattle (84.88 percent)

Here are the five worst:

1. Miami (67.03 percent)
2. Dallas (69.23 percent)
3. New York (71.04 percent)
4. Atlanta (71.19 percent)
5. Chicago (O’Hare) (72.32 percent)
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A surprising 70 percent of air travelers support National Opt-Out Day

Despite the government’s insistence that American air travelers broadly support its new airport security measures — which include either a full-body scan or a so-called “enhanced” pat-down — a weekend poll by the Consumer Travel Alliance finds public sentiment has turned against the policy.

Asked whether they supported National Opt-Out Day, on which air travelers plan to call attention to what they say are overly invasive TSA screening techniques by intentionally refusing the full-body scans at the airport, a surprising 70 percent answered “yes.” The poll of more than 1,000 travelers suggests that air travel could be slowed significantly or even grind to a halt on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

The Consumer Travel Alliance and several other groups that represent travelers, including the Business Travel Coalition, do not believe Opt-Out Day is the best way to promote change. In fact, history suggests litigation combined with public pressure is a more effective way to change TSA practices. (Two policy changes last week involving the screening of pilots and children under 12, were a direct response to lawsuits and intense public pressure.)

There were strong opinions on all sides of this issue, with supporters saying civil disobedience was the only option and the detractors accusing the organizers of Opt-Out Day, and even this site’s publisher, with endangering national security.
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What’s the TSA’s policy? Search me!

Just a few days before the busy holiday travel period, the Transportation Security Administration has decided to change the rules of flying – again.

At the beginning of this month, the agency began enforcing its name-matching requirements for airline tickets. Passengers must now provide their full names as they appear on a government-issued ID, their date of birth and their gender when they book a flight.

After a terrorism scare involving explosive devices shipped by cargo, the government banned printer cartridges from luggage.

And the TSA started implementing several new screening measures, including an enhanced “pat-down” protocol for air travelers who opt out of a full-body scan.

The agency appears to be phasing in these new procedures unevenly, leading to frequent confrontations with air travelers. At some airports, passengers are being randomly asked to go through the scanners, while at others, they must all be screened by the machines or by hand. At one airport last week, passengers were both scanned and frisked.
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TSA sends defiant “holiday travel message” to air travelers: Prepare to be patted down

TSA this afternoon sent a defiant holiday travel message to air travelers: Prepare to be patted down.

A full transcript is below.

But the video is telling. TSA Administrator John Pistole looks tense, sounds almost angry, and claps his hands twice — a sign of either nervousness, or defiance. I’m reading defiance into it.

This is his stand against the tsunami of public criticism over enhanced pat-downs. He is determined not to back down, even though many air travelers do not support the new procedures.
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Yes, pat-downs are “more invasive” but here’s what you can do about them right now

So TSA Administrator John Pistole had his day on the Hill, testifying in front of the Transportation Security Administration Oversight Hearing. I predicted earlier this week that this could be an interesting meeting, but I was wrong.

Far from the “grilling” that mainstream media outlets claimed Pistole got, I found the exchange to be more of lovefest.

Guess the TSA isn’t the only part of government that has lost touch with the people.

Pistole did say a few interesting things. First, he admitted the pat-downs were “more invasive.” Duh! But watch his expression when he makes that confession after the opening statements (link to video at top). Is that defiance I see in his eyes? Why yes, I believe it is.

Second, he suggested children under 12 wouldn’t be patted down. We’ll see how long that policy lasts, or how uniformly it’s enforced.

The TSA administrator also said John Tyner, the San Diego-area passenger who who left Lindbergh Field under duress on Saturday morning after refusing to undertake a full body scan and is being investigated by the TSA, is basically off the hook.
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TSA Administrator John S. Pistole will testify at a Transportation Security Administration oversight hearing in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

Maybe our elected representatives will tell him what their constituents have been saying since the beginning of this month.

Maybe they will say, “enough!”

Enough with the full-body scans. The technology is unproven and may be ineffective and unsafe. It violates our privacy. We never asked for the machines, and we are not asking for them now.
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TSA threatens to fine passenger who refuses full-body scan

As the TSA’s use of full-body scanners turns into a national debate, it appears the agency is taking a harder line against passengers who resist.

Last week, TSA agents in Florida allegedly handcuffed a passenger to her chair after she refused both a full-body scan and a pat-down. (Surveillance video of the incident called parts of her story into question.)

And yesterday, a traveler at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport who declined the full-body scan and agreed to be frisked, but complained about the invasive procedure, was threatened with a fine.

It happened to Karen Cummings, the same woman who received an enhanced pat-down when it was being tested in Boston this spring.

If the threat against her is part of TSA’s new enhanced pat-down protocol, then this is a troubling shift in policy that is only likely to intensify the discussion about the use of full-body scanners.
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