Friday, October 29, 2010

Fat People and Air Travel

This morning, I read this on, a sensible piece that immediately made me think of the kinds of e-mails I get whenever I write anything remotely sympathetic about fat people squeezing into 17-inch-wide airplane coach seats that even skinny people find to be a tight fit.

The Jezebel post isn't about air travel, but it made me reflect on this aspect of the issue. The point is, I am always shocked by the rage and ugly contempt some people feel free to express about those whose bodies are fatter than whatever is the current definition of normal. Almost all of my e-mail replies to my columns are smart and reasonable, but when the subject is fat people, I hear from a whole different group of people out there. As the Jezebel headline says: "If You're Fat-Phobic, You're Also an Ignorant Bigoted Idiot."

(And never mind that the widely respected offensive line of the University of Arizona football team averages 325 pounds -- and at Iowa, it's 338 pounds!)

Anyway, is starting to become a must-visit site that reflects smart, trenchant female viewpoints. So I recommend the post today, which is pegged to the nasty controversy over fat people stirred up by this piece in a silly fashion magazine called Marie Claire.

Incidentally, the blatantly fatuous (pun intended) Marie Clair piece begins: "The other day, my editor asked me, do you really think ..." Trust me, I've been in this racket for 40 years, as an editor and a writer, and no good has ever come of that kind of opening.

Air travel is tough enough on all of us. I say let's cut our fellow travelers a bit of, you should excuse the pun, slack.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Southwest Goes International Faster Than We Anticipated

Alas, I had to miss the always valuable, annual Southwest media day today because of a previously planned trip to Washington, but the news has been coming fast and furious from the event:

Long before its anticipated foray into international service with the pending acquisition of AirTran and its Caribbean routes, Southwest Airlines said today that it is starting a new service for booking international flights by connecting with Volaris, Mexico's second-largest airline.

Starting Nov. 12, Southwest said, its customers can book service from 20 Southwest cities to five Volaris Mexican destinations (Cancun, Guadalajara, Morelia, Toluca/Mexico City, and Zacatecas), for travel starting Dec. 1. The new service will connect through Los Angeles International Airport, Oakland International Airport, and San Jose International Airport and will create up to 85 additional flight itineraries.

OK, enough Southwest promotion. But everybody's interested in Southwest and its plans. And we don't take ads here.


Southwest Sets Initial Schedule for Newark Service

Another interesting announcement today out of Southwest's annual media day:

"Southwest Airlines announced today it will serve Newark Liberty International Airport with eight daily nonstops flights, six to Chicago Midway and two to St. Louis beginning Sunday, March 27, 2011. To celebrate its 72nd city, Southwest is offering introductory fares of $72 one-way between Newark and both Chicago and St. Louis. Fares are available for purchase today through November 4, 2010 for travel March 27, 2011, through May 25, 2011. ... This announcement is the first wave of the carrier's new schedule at Newark International. Southwest will announce additional Newark flights to begin in 2011 before the end of the year."

The Newark fares are available exclusively through the Southwest Web site,


Southwest Introductory In-Flight WiFi Price: $5 (Cheap)

Southwest Airlines announced today a $5 flat rate per flight for any device for its coming WiFi HOTSPOT service, which will be provided by the satellite-based Row 44 system.

Southwest, which began testing WiFi service last year on four planes, now has 32 planes enabled with Row 44 WiFi. All of Southwest's fleet, consisting of about 550 Boeing 737s, will be WiFi enabled next year.

The price announced today undercuts the standard price points for the competing Aircell Gogo WiFi service on the roughly 1,000 aircraft that now have that system -- although Gogo is often available at a steep discount through various airline and third-party promotions. The Gogo system uses land-based antennas rather than satellites.

"Southwest tested a number of different pricing points throughout this process and is pleased that we will offer one low fee for this service, making it easy for customers to know what to expect," said Dave Ridley, Southwest's Vice President for marketing and revenue management.

Here's Ridley's blog post today on the announcement.

Customers on a WiFi-enabled aircraft will see WiFi HOTSPOT placards. When opening the Southwest Airlines WiFi HOTSPOT browser, customers will be taken to a home page that has free content, which includes a flight tracker, games, shopping on Skymall and Home Shopping Network.

Down the road, it isn't clear yet whether Southwest will operate two competing systems on its combined fleet once it completes its merger with AirTran, which was one of the early adopters of the Gogo system.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

British Airways Chairman: Stop 'Kowtowing' to U.S. On Ever-Changing U.S. Air-Travel Security Demands

According to the Financial Times, "the chairman of British Airways has launched an attack on 'completely redundant' airport checks and said the UK should stop “kowtowing” to US demands for increased security.

According to the FT report, which has started causing a stir on this side of the Atlantic: "The comments by Martin Broughton reflect broader industry and passenger frustration over the steady accumulation of rules on everything from onboard liquids to hand baggage that have blossomed since the September 11 terrorist attacks."

A British Airways spokeswoman told me today that Mr. Broughton's comments, made at a European aviation conference this week, came in a question and answer session with reporters following a formal speech.

Answering questions Tuesday at the annual conference of the UK Airport Operators Association in London on Tuesday, he said that TSA mandates requiring passengers to take off their shoes and remove laptops from cases should be eliminated.

British Airways has about 500 flights each week to the United States, including 7 daily roundtrips between Kennedy and Heathrow, one daily between Kennedy and London City Airport and three daily between Newark and Heathrow.

The FT report says: "The US required extra passenger checks at international airport gates after a Nigerian man tried to detonate a device hidden in his underwear on a flight to Detroit in December, a move some European airlines say unnecessarily duplicates existing checks.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, owner of Heathrow, agreed there was a need to review the government’s existing security programs. He told the Financial Times: “Today’s arrangements are incremental and I think there is a case for saying let’s start from a clean sheet of paper to achieve what we want to achieve."

Today, Broughton's comments elicited wide agreement among colleagues in Europe, the FT says in a follow-up report.

Some of the impetus for the criticism appears to be a move to prod government aviation authorities in Europe and the EU in Brussels to take a stronger stand about what are seen in Europe as hair-trigger reactions in the United States. And it would be wrong to underestimate the amount of irritation caused in Europe recently when the U.S. State Department issued a very unusual travel warning for Americans traveling in Europe -- based, critics in Europe said, on little more than an accumulation of scattered intelligence reports, with no specificity. The State Department move really rankled travel authorities and businesses in Europe with that move, which was seen in Europe as an overreaction to terrorist-intelligence chatter.

And all you have to do to get a sample of how U.S. security plays among Europeans is to ask one visiting this country about his or her experiences at U.S. airports.

Stay tuned on this one.


First Criminal Conviction in Brazil Mid-Air Collision Disaster

A single low-ranking Brazilian air-traffic controller has been convicted by a military court in the Sept. 29, 2006 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154 people on a Brazilian airliner, while the business jet it collided with at 37,000 feet (on which I was a passenger) managed an emergency landing in the jungle.

According to the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, the controller, Third Sergeant Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos, was sentenced in Brasilia to 14 months imprisonment "for negligence and for having ignored safety rules, which directly caused the collision, killing 154." The charge was "manslaughter-homicide with no intent to kill."

The other four air-traffic controllers charged in the disaster in the military tribunal were acquitted. The military operates Brazil's famously troubled air traffic control system.

The two American pilots of the business jet remain on trial in Brazil, in absentia, on criminal charges.

According to the news account (and many thanks, as usual, to Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo for the translation}:

"Absolved were João Batista da Silva, Felipe Santos Reis, Lucivando Tibúrcio de Alencar and Leandro José Santos de Barros. Santos was working on the day of the accident at Cindacta-1, in Brasilia. According to the accusation, his conduct was negligent and he failed to observe safety rules, directly causing the collision between the two aircraft.

"According to the indictment, he did not note the disappearance of the signal of the Legacy's transponder (the anti-collision device which warns the pilot of the possibility of a midair collision); he did not direct the [Legacy] pilot to make a frequency change, and he did not heed the altitude level in the airway and turned the flight over to his relief without alerting him of the irregularities."

[My note: Besides the slight imprecision in the description of the transponder, which unaccountably was off line for 50 minutes in the Legacy cockpit before the collision, the language in this news account is remarkable. That's because from day one, it has been argued here (and confirmed by a subsequent report by the National Transportation Safety Board) that Brazilian air traffic control mistakenly had both aircraft flying at 37,000 feet over the central Amazon, on a direct collision course.]

According to the Estado account, the convicted controller's lawyer, Roberto Sobral, said that an appeal will be filed with the Superior Military Tribunal and if necessary with the Brazilian Supreme Court. Estado reports that Sobral "said that his client did not have a sufficient level of English to direct a foreign pilot - in this case, the Legacy's crew."

That, again, is remarkable language, in that systemic deficiencies in Brazilian air traffic control were the "probable cause" of the crash, according to the NTSB report. My own reporting along these lines, from day one, created a furor in Brazil and led to a lawsuit and a criminal proceeding against me for causing "insult" to the nation of Brazil. Both are pending.

[My note: English, of course, is the language of global aviation. Air traffic controllers are required to use English. One of the strong criticisms of Brazilian air traffic control, which I heard and hear repeatedly from international pilots, is a lack of basic English-language communications skills.]

The convicted controller's lawyer said: "The conviction is unacceptable. We were not allowed to prove that he doesn't speak English and was made to sit at a console and coordinate the flights of foreign pilots." And, the report said, "The lawyer further remembered that another trial of the controller is underway, in the Federal Court in Sinop, Mato Grosso." [The collision occurred over northern Mato Grosso state.]

Essentially, as Richard Pedicini points out, here is what Santos was convicted of (and given the minimum sentence for):

-- he did not note the disappearance of the signal of the Legacy's transponder
-- he did not direct the Legacy pilots to make a frequency change,
-- he did not heed the altitude level in the airway and
-- he turned the flight over to his relief without alerting him of the irregularities.

The Amazon collision led to a huge protest by Brazilian air traffic controllers -- angry that they might be blamed for deficiencies caused by a badly maintained and poorly managed air traffic control system, which is operated by the Brazilian Air Force. The controllers protest actions caused a months' long major disruption in Brazilian air traffic. Then a few months later came another crash, this one at the Sao Paulo airport, that killed 200.

After a lot of furiously xenophobic public emotion -- disgracefully stirred by the Brazilian media, the defensive Brazilian authorities, and lawyers representing some of the families of those killed in the Amazon crash -- it may be that some degree of reason seems to have settled on this awful, horrible case.

We shall see. The group representing some of the victims' families have been on a publicity campaign to further vilify the two American pilots, and to try to persuade Brazilians that each and every of the 191 million of them is a "victim" of the American imperialists. No doubt, they will weigh in anew.

Meanwhile, remember that two innocent American pilots remain on criminal trial in Brazil, on trumped-up charges.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Airlines Making Money ... And Adding Some Capacity

[Chart shows 4th quarter scheduled domestic capacity, from BoydGroup International. Codes that aren't obvious include AS, Alaska; B6, JetBlue; F9, Frontier; WN, Southwest]

The media echo chamber has been resounding with the conventional wisdom that airlines have cunningly reduced capacity, even as the news firms up that airlines have become solidly profitable -- at least for now, and at least partially because of those $8-plus billion in extra fees for checked bags, changes to itineraries and other things that the industry will jack up customers on this year.

But, as Mike Boyd has been pointing out, it ain't necessarily so that capacity is down across the board.

"--September 2010 OAG (Official Airline Guide) schedules database indicates that airlines, worldwide, will offer 8% more, or an additional 22.6 million seats, in September 2010, as compared to the same month a year ago. The number of flights will increase 6%, to a total number of 2.6 million scheduled flights operating in September 2010, an increase of 151,257 over last year."

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association recently revised its 2010 industry outlook, now projecting an $8.9 billion profit, up from its originally forecast $2.5 billion in June, but predicting profitability will drop to $5.3 billion in 2011.

"What has caused this improvement? The first factor is careful capacity management," said the IATA director, Giovanni Bisignani. "Demand improvements have been very strong. Already traffic is 3-4 percent above the pre-recession levels of early 2008. In July, premium traffic was up 13 percent," he said, adding: "Unfortunately it is still 8 percent below pre-recession levels."

"Over the full year, we expect global demand to expand by 11 perdcent and capacity by 7 percent. The tighter supply and demand conditions are boosting load factors. The average load factor for January to July was 78% globally. With that, airlines are getting some pricing power."

Meanwhile, Richard L. Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group, notes that airlines have trimmed capacity by grounding planes, reducing the number of flights they offer between cities and flying smaller planes.

At seven percent, last year’s capacity cuts were the deepest since 1942, as demand for air travel plummeted. And while the airlines have reversed some of the deepest cuts this year, they have not kept up with the growth in demand, he said.


2 U.S. Air Marshalls Fled Brazil, Fearing 'Trumped Up' Charges

More from the Brazilian justice beat that I am so intimately familiar with:

CNN is reporting: "Two U.S. air marshals who arrested the wife of a Brazilian judge on a flight to Rio de Janeiro -- and were themselves arrested and had their passports confiscated by Brazilian authorities -- fled the country using alternate travel documents rather than face what they believed to be trumped-up charges, sources said.

The incident has impacted air marshal operations on flights to Brazil, officials said, and air marshals contacted by CNN said the case raises questions about Brazil's willingness to support future law enforcement actions by U.S. officials on international flights. ..."

Developing, as they say ...

On the subject of Brazilian justice, I might add that just two weeks ago, a process server hired by a New York law firm working for a Brazilian court showed up at my house in the dead of night to serve me with papers from Brazil notifying me that I am the subject of a criminal proceeding, for the crime of causing "insult" to Brazil. The real offense, as anyone who has followed my case knows, is that I reported accurately and aggressively on the ongoing attempt by Brazilian authorities to scapegoat and criminally prosecute the two American pilots in the 2006 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, as is well known, found that systemic and operational errors by Brazilian air traffic control were the probable cause of that catastrophe, in which I was one of seven survivors.

The charges against the pilots are trumped-up, as I have reported from day one. So are the charges against me.

In the air marshals' case, the U.S. State Department told CNN that is has "broad deep relations with Brazil" etc. I can tell you from personal experience that in the mid-air collision case, the U.S. State Department was worse than useless, doing everything it could to enable the outrages the Brazilians perpetuated against the Americans after the crash.

Also developing, in the book ...


The War Against Nitwits

I'm indebted to Joe Brancatelli at for this morning's amusing link to a piece in the Atlantic magazine arguing that to a great extent our terrorist threat comes from ... well, a bunch of proven nitwits. And a lot of the holy warriors also appear to be porn-addicts, too. Not to mention their propensity for blowing each other up by mistake.

"More and more, as we work to disrupt training efforts, the jihadists we face are likely to be poorly prepared, and while that won’t always ensure a bungled attack, it suggests that terrorists are likely to select targets that are undefended and easy to hit. The United States has spent billions on port security since 9/11, even though terrorists have shown little interest in ports as targets and even less ability to actually strike them. In contrast, even small investments in training for police and airport-security personnel can make a big difference, as these are the people most likely to encounter—and have a chance to disrupt—an unskilled attacker," Daniel Byman and Christine Fair say in the piece in the Atlantic, which has become a must-read magazine.

No offense to the Three Stooges with the photo on top, by the way. My fan club in Brazil gets extremely upset whenever I use that stock photo. This has nothing to do with Brazilian justice! (Today.)


Sunday, October 17, 2010

TV's "Boardwalk Empire" Is Neither a Boardwalk Nor An Empire

[Photos: You shoulda seen Atlantic City in those days...]

Voltaire famously said of the Holy Roman Empire that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire -- and I kind of feel the same way about the depiction of old Atlantic City that I am seeing in the much praised TV series "Boardwalk Empire."

TV critics have been wildly effusive about this undertaking, reporting credulously that $20 million was spent on the first episode. Two things. One, TV critics are traditionally the dumbest people in any given newsroom (and I know that's saying something) and, two, if Scorcese & Co. spent anything like $20 million on the look for this version of Atlantic City, they would have been better off spending it in a casino and not on those cheesy Disneyland-design-level sets.

They don't even remotely have the look right. Understandably, because old slattern that it always has been (evidently, one cannot use the "whore" word even metaphorically these days, lest a media hissy-fit ensue), Atlantic City willy-nilly obliterated its physical past once the casino bulldozers arrived starting in the 1970s. These days, the only place you'll readily see a real depiction of the old Atlantic City is on a commemorative-edition box of Fralinger's Salt Water Taffy.

There is one place, though. And I recommend it if you're in Atlantic City. It's the Atlantic City historical museum, tucked on the rump of old Garden Pier on the far northern end of the Boardwalk.

It will give you reason to recall the great ironic line that Burt Lancaster, playing that busted-valise of an old Boardwalk character watching the wrecking crews at work, memorably uttered in the 1980 Louis Malle movie "Atlantic City:" "You shoulda seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days."

Also, if you are in Atlantic City, do not -- repeat do not -- miss a lunch stop at the distinguished Philadelphia hoagie and cheese-steak emporium, the White House Sub Shop, a few blocks from the Boardwalk.

By the way, the TV series is based, extremely loosely, on a book of the same title by Nelson Johnson. So wildly inaccurate is the TV depiction of the corrupt Atlantic City boss Enoch "Nucky" Johnson that the character is rendered as "Nucky Thompson" in the show, even though the real Nucky has been dead, and hence incapable of suing, since 1968. And the source book is so limited in scope as a depiction of Atlantic City, incidentally, that the words "Steel Pier" and "Skinny D'Amato" do not once appear in its text. You could look them up.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Quest for Pizza

Tripadvisor has another one of those top-10 lists out, this time the top 10 pizza joints in the U.S., as chosen by its users.

Nice try here, Tripadvisor, but if pizza joints in New York (and all right, maybe Philly and Jersey also) don't occupy the entire top 10 list, that list is not reliable.

One of the (few) things I truly miss about living in Arizona now is the unavailability of good pizza -- which is however made up for by the availability of great authentic Mexican food.

Well-meaning friends here keep recommending various pizza places in Tucson that are said to have pizza like New York -- sorry, none pass the test, including the very good (but not really up to New York standards) Brooklyn Pizza joint by the University of Arizona campus.

And sorry, bujt there is no such thing as decent "Chicago-style" pizza. Does not exist.

Anyway, the Tripadvisor list:

1. Lombardi's, New York City
2. Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder, Chicago
3. Modern Apizza Place, New Haven, CT
4. Flour + Water, San Francisco
5. Vito's Pizza, Los Angeles
6. Pizzeria Regina, Boston
7. De Lorenzo's Tomato Pies, Trenton, NJ
8. Dewey's Pizza, St. Louis
9. Tacconelli's Pizza, Philadelphia
10. Fellini Pizzeria, Providence, RI


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Allegiant: An Alternative Air-Service Model

If you want to consider a growing niche in the future of air travel, in an era of diminished expectations and competition, consider Allegiant.

Allegiant's model is simple. It flies people mostly from small cities in the North and Midwest that have had major air-service cutbacks in recent years to bigger leisure-travel destinations in warmer climes. Its schedules are tight, fares are low and the airline does a lot of extra business packaging air travel with hotels and other services.

In short, a leisure-travel airline that operates just a little tiny bit like a charter airline: Its service and schedules are limited. Fares are low. Basically, you make your plans around the time the Allegiant flight is leaving, rather than expecting the plane to leave pretty much when you choose. A mid-sized city might have only three or five Allegiant flights a week.

Does this work? Yes it does, in a certain market segment that many of us are a part of from time to time, especially when traveling on leisure. The Allegiant model also has the effect of filling in service from small and mid-size cities that have been abandoned by the major airlines, to larger holiday-destination cities like Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, etc. Allegiant flies a fleet of planes in the MD-80 line.

How well does it work as a business model?

Well, here's a look at Allegiant's September operating results for its scheduled service (Allegiant also does charters). Judge for yourself.

--Passengers in September, compared with Sept. 09 -- up 25 percent.

--Passenger revenue miles -- up 25 percent.

--Available seat miles (known also as capacity) -- up 22.1 percent.

--Load factor (percentage of seats sold on average on a flight) -- up 2.1 points, to 91.9 percent.


Rockettes Arrive in North Korea

Nah, just kidding. It's military-parade time in Pyongyang, again.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Endless Media Security Hysteria: Grow Up!

I suppose it's hopeless: Several people have now alerted me to "breaking news," that scourge from cable and online journalism, that a passenger was removed tonight from a JetBlue flight because of unspecified "security concerns."

Online, there are at least 100 separate reports of this half-baked information, from the mightiest news outlets to the most humble. Fox News, of course, has that "breaking news" banner on top. Here's Fox hyperventilating as usual. But they're by no means the only outlet giving undue emphasis to what certainly appears to be a nothing story.

Look, it's Saturday night, and there is no news, unless you count the South Carolina upset of No. 1 ranked Alabama today -- and no reason to suspect that this JetBlue incident is actual news to anyone except the people on that airplane who were inconvenienced. Passengers -- drunk, crazy, abusive, whatever -- are routinely removed from flights.

So chill, Saturday night editors, unless you got something -- which you don't, as far as I can see.

[UPDATE, Sunday Oct. 10] -- Yeah, never mind. The "security concerns" involved a passenger who tried to switch seats and got into a dispute with a JetBlue flight attendant, who luckily did not pull a Slater, grab two beers, blow the emergency chute and slide to infamy. This time.

The New York Daily News informs us this morning: That no arrests were made, but "the captain of the Airbus 320 ordered all passengers off the plane because of the incident, requiring everyone to go through security screening again before being allowed back on the massive craft, officials said."

Wait a minute, now. The New York Daily News believes an Airbus A320 is a "massive craft?"

Saturday nights/Sunday mornings in Newsroom America. Not an inspiring sight.


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Please Spare Me Your "Thank a Vet" Travel Hype

I arrived in Saigon while it was still on fire from the Tet Offensive in early 1968, so that makes me a vet by any definition of the term.

Nevertheless, I'm sick and tired of various travel-company promotions that seek to latch onto the current good feelings toward the military by invoking veterans to sell products, by pretending the promotions are designed to "thank a vet."

Oh, spare me this patronizing crap. As an NCO, I made $325.70 a month in Vietnam -- and that included combat pay. I was not aware of any travel promotions at the time, other than the one that got me to Tan Son Nhut in the first place. While it's a myth, incidentally, that Vietnam veterans were reviled and spat-upon on returning home (see the important book "Stolen Valor" by B.G. Burkett), it's true that they were mostly ignored. OK, so be it. That's life, as Sinatra sang.

USA Today, which never met a feel-good press release that it didn't love, swallows another one today, credulously promoting an offer from "more than 525 B&Bs in 48 states and two Canadian provinces" that claim they will "give away free rooms to active and retired service members and their spouses/partners" the night before Veterans Day, which is Nov. 11.

Gushes the USA Today: "Time to ditch those bull-in-a-china-shop images: Once stereotyped as fussy, antique-filled Victorians with shared bathrooms and dainty teacups, B&Bs have been updating and broadening their appeal - to soldiers as well as to would-be romance novelists."

Now, my own impression of B&Bs is framed by those wonderful madcap scenes in the classic 1996 road comedy "Flirting With Disaster," especially when the imperious pinched-face B&B lady declaims to Ben Stiller and his brood: "You are not B&B people!" But that's beside the point.

Every day, I get pitches from PR people trying to sell me on this or that "Thank a Vet" program. They never seem to have straight answers when you ask: Are these offers guaranteed if, say, more "vets" than expected try to claim them? How does one prove that one is a "vet?"

And exactly who, pray tell, is a "vet?" The B&B offer, for example, claims it's for "active and retired" military personnel. I pressed some PR people behind it, though, and they didn't even seem to realize that the vast majority of veterans, including World War II and Vietnam veterans, are neither active nor retired. Does the offer include all vets, not just those on active duty and those drawing nice pensions? No reply.

Is the USA Today going to follow-up when some unsuspecting sergeant, home between miserable tours in Afghanistan, gets turned away when she and her husband try to accept the "thank a vet" offer from B&B that's all full up with paying customers the night before Veterans Day, the offer not being available, thank you? I sincerely doubt it.

As a veteran, I have no interest in promotional offers and patronizing platitudes from merchants and marketers, to whom I say:

You want to thank me and my brothers and sisters who served over these long, long years of wars in those endless over-theres? Then end your damned wars. Bring the troops home, and make sure they have access to good jobs and decent medical care when they get back.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Brits Steamed On Vague U.S. Travel Alert

The U.S. State Department's vaguely worded travel alert issued yesterday for Americans has kicked up criticism in the U.K.

Some of that criticism is misguided-- the State Department alert specifically said that it was not based on any new information, but rather on an accumulation of intelligence information in recent months. Blame media paraphrasing there, for not providing specific texts.

On the other hand, legitimate questions are being raised about whether the alert -- highly unusual in that it was not country-specific, but rather inclusive of Europe in general -- was another example of hair-trigger reactions to the ongoing Islamic terrorist threat.

For example, the Independent newspaper in London today called the State Department alert "an unhelpful overreaction and a kick in the teeth for the European tourist industry" and said, "If intelligence had suggested U.S. citizens were a specific target, the alert might have been justified. But there was nothing in the intelligence reports last week to suggest that. And the fact that no arrests were made after the report was leaked indicates how nebulous and undeveloped these plots must be."

Meanwhile, ABC News, which as I said yesterday has a reputation for going off breathlessly with alarming, usually anonymously sourced terrorist-threat reports that ultimately fizzle, is still at it today, with a report that "teams of terrorists" in Europe "may now be ready to attack" and may not back off because they are on a "pre-set timetable."


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Text of Europe Travel Alert From State Department; Also: If Prince Harry's Party-Boat Sails Get Trimmed, the Terrorists Will Have Won

Rather than depending on reporters' often sloppy paraphrasing, which is the most annoying media habit there is (except for starting sentences with "Indeed," that is), have a look at the full text of the State Department's travel alert for Europe, issued this morning:

"The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks. European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.

Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.

We continue to work closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including al-Qaida. Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.

We recommend U.S. citizens register their travel plans with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website. Travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444 from elsewhere in the world."

It's important to know that this alert was not issued in response to new intelligence information of an imminent attack, but rather in assessment of gathering momentum over recent weeks in information about the activities of various Islamic terrorist groups.

However, ABC News is reporting this morning that it has been told that "terrorist teams in Europe have selected their targets, completed their surveillance, eluded capture and are now ready to strike at airports and tourist attractions."

Here's the ABC "exclusive" -- but also note, ABC "exclusives" sometimes have a way of remaining exclusive. That is, ABC News has a reputation for breathless reports on terrorism based on anonymous sources -- reports that haven't panned out on previous occasions.

Still, there is no doubt that Islamic terrorist groups have been tuned-up lately in Europe, which accounts for the State Department action this morning.

Meanwhile, poor Drudge is all hysterical this morning about the well-being of Prince Harry, the Queen of England's grandson. Drudge is in a frenzy about some report in the News of the World that the No. 3 Heir to the Throne is "the main target," number one on a terrorist attack list which also includes the Eiffel Tower, the Hotel Adlon in Berlin and Notre Dame in Paris. Alas, it isn't quite clear why the randy young prince would be tops on the hit list for what the News of the World informs us is a threat from "Islamic and Irish" terrorists -- the News of the World evidently seeing an opportunity to toss in the Irish once more, for old time's sake.

But did the always-dependable News of the World mean to suggest that the terrorists are both Islamic and Irish -- which would be one hell of a terrifying combination if you ask me.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

State Department to Caution Americans in Europe: Be On Alert Amid Terrorism Concerns

The State Department plans to issue a travel alert tomorrow for Americans who are in Europe, citing fears of potential Islamic terrorist acts in European cities.

Here's the AP story.

Such notices for Americans abroad to be vigilant during times of potential trouble are not out of the ordinary for many countries. But they are unusual for all of Europe. Tomorrow's notice is not expected to include any specific warnings on travel to Europe, but rather heads-up information on possible trouble in European cities from possible Islamic terrorist activities.

The AP report quotes an unnamed U.S. official saying that the alert "is being prompted by the volume of intelligence on possible terror threats, rather than new intelligence" and adds: "It emerged last week that U.S. intelligence officials were looking at information about a possible 'Mumbai-style' attack in cities across Europe."

The State Department issues two basic kinds of precaution notices, the most serious of which are travel warnings to "avoid or consider the risk of travel to" specified countries because of "long-term, protracted" conditions of terrorist threats or other serious danger. That current list has 31 countries on it -- here -- including Mexico, Israel, the Philippines, Pakistan, Colombia and Nepal.

Travel alerts, like the one expected to be issued tomorrow, are issued for what the State Department describes as "short-term conditions, either transnational or within a particular country, that pose significant risks to the security of U.S. citizens."

Such conditions include "natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events," the State Department says.

Current country-specific travel alerts -- here -- are in effect for India, Bolivia and Kenya.

Tomorrow's travel alert for Europe will come within a general "Worldwide Caution" alert issued by the State Department in August for Americans abroad. Here is that one.