Reason Roundup

The TSA's 20th Birthday Should Be Its Last

Plus: A dispatch from the National Conservatism Conference, a progressive FCC nominee gets a surprising backer, and more...


Exactly 20 years ago today, President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law and created the Transportation Security Administration, better known as the TSA. A response to the 9/11 attacks, the TSA was thought to be a necessary tool for confronting the new reality of terror in the skies.

Two decades later, the TSA has more than 54,000 employees, a budget of $8 billion dollars, and a long track record of harassing passengers for no good reason. Far from contributing to actual safety, the TSA is a stunning example of government failure: Its absurd travel restrictions make air travel no safer, deprive passengers of their civil liberties, and make the process of flying much more costly, time-consuming, inconvenient, and unenjoyable. The agency should never have been created, and its 20th birthday is as good a time as any to abolish it.

For starters, the TSA routinely fails at its main purpose: preventing passengers from carrying deadly weapons onto airplanes. TSA agents constantly miss weapons, drugs, and other illicit items when government agents try to smuggle them in as part of testing.

"TSA screeners failed to detect weapons, drugs, and explosives almost 80 percent of the time," noted the Heritage Foundation in 2017. "While the exact failure rate is classified, multiple sources indicate it is greater than 70 percent." During one test, at the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, the TSA's failure rate was 95 percent.

The 9/11 terror attacks, in which a small number of men were able to use crude, simple weapons to hijack airplanes and crash them into important buildings, were a scarring moment for the nation. The U.S. government vowed to be more vigilant. But the truth of the matter is that preventing hijackings is now trivially easy: Pilots can lock the cockpit doors, which are almost impossible for intruders to breach. Prior to 9/11 most airplane hijackings involved detours to different locations; hijackers did not intend to crash the planes, and thus neither crews nor passengers had much reason to fight back. This calculus is forever changed: Would-be plane hijackers will face insurmountable difficulties, whether or not they've received aggressive pat-downs from the TSA.

Meanwhile, the TSA's security theater has made air travel a much more grueling process. It's not just the ritualistic humiliation of having to remove belts and shoes, empty out backpacks and suitcases, and submit to full-body scanners. TSA agents are also frequently caught stealing from passengers, groping them, and delaying them for no reason. Again, there is no point to any of this. It does not make people safer. If anything, it makes us less safe: It is likely that some people choose to drive to their destination, rather than deal with the hassle. Car travel, though, is far more dangerous than air travel—many more people die in car crashes than in plane crashes each year. And not even COVID-19 could tip the scales in airplanes' favor, according to The Washington Post.

Enough is enough. There is not a single good reason that Americans should have to endure such misery at the hands of this utterly pointless bureaucracy. The best time to abolish the TSA was right after it was created. The second-best time is now.


New York Times columnist David Brooks has written a terrific recap of the recent National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, for The Atlantic. His article makes many of the criticisms that Reason's Stephanie Slade has leveled at the right's latest intellectual trend:

The NatCons are wrong to think there is a unified thing called "the left" that hates America. This is just the apocalyptic menace many of them had to invent in order to justify their decision to vote for Donald Trump.

They are wrong, too, to think there is a wokeist Anschluss taking over all the institutions of American life. For people who spend so much time railing about the evils of social media, they sure seem to spend an awful lot of their lives on Twitter. Ninety percent of their discourse is about the discourse. Anecdotalism was also rampant at the conference—generalizing from three anecdotes about people who got canceled to conclude that all of American life is a woke hellscape. They need to get out more.…

Finally, there is something extremely off-putting about the NatCon public pose. In person, as I say, I find many of them charming, warm, and friendly. But their public posture is dominated by the psychology of threat and menace. If there was one expression of sympathy, kindness, or grace uttered from the podium in Orlando, I did not hear it. But I did hear callousness, invocations of combat, and whiffs of brutality.…

Sitting in that Orlando hotel, I found myself thinking of what I was seeing as some kind of new theme park: NatCon World, a hermetically sealed dystopian universe with its own confected thrills and chills, its own illiberal rides. I tried to console myself by noting that this NatCon theme park is the brainchild of a few isolated intellectuals with a screwy view of American politics and history. But the disconcerting reality is that America's rarified NatCon World is just one piece of a larger illiberal populist revolt that is strong and rising.

Read the full article here.


President Joe Biden has nominated Gigi Sohn, an attorney and progressive foe of many conservative media organizations, to serve on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Sohn previously co-founded Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that encouraged cable providers to stop airing right-wing channels. She previously called on the FCC to rescind Sinclair Broadcast Group's broadcast license, due to the channel's conservative bias:

She has also said that Fox News is far more dangerous for democracy than Facebook. Breitbart's tech reporter, Allum Bokhari, described her as a "pro-censorship partisan leftist" and warned that her confirmation to the FCC would be terrible for conservative news channels.

But one conservative channel disagrees: specifically, One America News Network (OANN). The network is "working behind the scenes to rally conservative support for Gigi Sohn," according to The Washington Free Beacon. Why? Well:

Conservative political operative Bradley Blakeman told the Washington Free Beacon that OANN's president personally arranged for him to appear in a pro-Sohn segment on the network and that OANN executives believe Sohn will be an ally in the network's fight to wrest market share away from Fox News.

The belief is rooted in Sohn's criticism of Fox News. Sohn has questioned whether Fox News should be investigated for being "state-sponsored propaganda with few if any opposing viewpoints." Fox News and OANN compete for many of the same viewers, and former president Donald Trump encouraged his voters to leave Fox News for OANN or right-wing outlet Newsmax.

Sohn has called for the FCC to intervene in disputes between major cable companies and smaller content providers like OANN. In 2018, OANN, Newsmax, and Sohn found themselves fighting on the same side against the more powerful conservative network Sinclair. According to Blakeman, OANN executives believe that, if confirmed, Sohn will support them in "carriage disputes" with carriers like AT&T and Comcast.

OANN president Charles Herring endorsed Sohn in a letter last week, praising her "strong belief and advocacy for diversity in the programming lineup." A source with knowledge of the situation said Herring is meeting with Republican senators on Capitol Hill to advance Sohn's nomination. He also arranged for Blakeman, a former adviser to George W. Bush, to praise Sohn on the air.

In an interview that aired Friday on OANN, Blakeman noted approvingly that Sohn "disagrees with" cancel culture and touted her regulatory credentials.

A conservative news network is supporting the confirmation of a progressive government bureaucrat because management believes the bureaucrat will make life even worse for its competitors. So much for principles.


• Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) is begging Democrats to reform marijuana laws before the GOP retakes control of Congress. "If the Republicans get back in charge, which I think we will, the bills are never going to happen because our leadership doesn't like them."

• Vice President Kamala Harris' communications director has resigned.

• The College Democrats of America is collapsing amid several different cancel culture scandals: One young leader has been asked to denounce a bad tweet she sent when she was 13.

• An analysis of National Science Foundation grants between 1990 and 2020 found an increasing leftward slant.

• "Futurists have their heads in the clouds": some predictions for the year 2050.

• Early midterm preference for Republicans has reached an all-time high: