CNN Contributor Doesn’t Welcome Blades On Board Planes

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently announced less restrictive rules for carrying knives on planes, a move CNN opinion columnist Bob Greene calls “insane” and “dimwitted.”

In early March, the TSA declared it would soon allow knives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches in length, and no wider than a half-inch, to be carried onto flights. The green-lighted knives cannot have a molded grip or a blade that is fixed or locked into place, meaning pocket knives are pretty much the only exception. Although, as Greene explains, there has been push back from members of Congress and aircraft crew members, the TSA has shown no sign of rescinding the decision, which should go into effect on April 25.In a press luncheon late last month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explained the reasoning behind the new policy: “We’re trying to prevent a bomb from getting on a plane. And if you are talking about a small knife, there are already things on a plane that somebody can convert into a small, sharp object.”

But Greene clearly disagrees, writing there is still a whole lot of risk involved in allowing knives on planes, and pointing out it was blades–not bombs–that allowed terrorists to take over planes on 9/11. However, he fails to note the many ways air travel has changed since the attacks, both at the airport and on the plane, including the creation of the TSA, increased screening processes, fortified aircraft doors and trained air marshals, not to mention a motivated passenger base willing to fight back. He also doesn’t mention that box cutters, the weapon used in the 9/11 attacks, will not be permitted to be carried on planes when the new rules go into effect later this month.

Greene’s other argument is that the move won’t speed up airport screening. He envisions TSA officers holding up the line to pull out rulers and ensure blades are falling under the 2.36 inch mark. But since small pocket knives are pretty much the only tools that will be allowed on planes, it seems pretty easy to quickly identify what is up to snuff and what’s not.

As someone who always carries a tiny Swiss Army Knife on my keychain, there’s been more than one occasion I’ve forgotten to leave it at home. I’ve had to forfeit two to airport security, and there’s been once or twice when I passed through the checkpoint with the tiny tool. It’s nice to see the TSA is implementing some concrete rules that conform to international standards, and I’ll be happy to soon travel with my knife (and screwdriver, and can opener and toothpick) in tow.

[Image credit: The Transportation Security Administration]

Europeans complain about U.S. travel fees

Extra fees charged by airlines, the “new normal,” are so popular that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has gotten into the game. And, bitching about these fees is equally popular, prompting the European Parliament to sound off like its members are Ryanair passengers with full bladders and no coin for the slot.

At issue is a planned $10 charge for Europeans coming to the United States. The European Parliament calls the charge unfair, saying it amounts to a new visa restriction. Enrst Strasser, a lawmaker from Austria, says that the requirements for entry under the Obama administration are even harder than they were under the previous (U.S.) government and that for us is a contradiction that we in the European Parliament cannot accept,” Austrian lawmaker Ernst Strasser told Napolitano during a special hearing with her. “We really have to insist on our European values, that European data protection laws and European civil liberties also have to be taken account of.”

Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary, calls the fee reasonable, since the United States doesn’t have an agency for travel and tourism, “unlike many of your countries,” she said of the European states. The $10 fee would be used to “fund and help tourists and travelers who wish to come to the United States.” Since budgets are constrained at both federal and local levels, Napolitano feels this is a reasonable move.

The money has to come from somewhere, and if Washington has to choose between taxing Americans and taxing everyone else, who do you think wins? Napolitano may not be an elected official, but her boss sure is. There’s a pretty clear need for travel-related revenue in D.C., and the government needs to invest in promoting visits from overseas. When people cross a border to come here, that’s a net inflow of money into the United States.

Despite European objections, the numbers suggest that this isn’t a bad idea. Foreign spending in the United States has fallen for the past year, with drops becoming particularly severe last spring and continuing without reprieve. From August 2008 to August 2009, spending by visitors from other countries fell 21 percent, marking the fourth consecutive month of declines worse than 20 percent.

When it’s time to pass the hat, nobody wants to reach into his pocket.