Oct. 10 column -- "free market" in the skies?

Vin Suprynowicz Vin_Suprynowicz at lvrj.com
Fri Oct 8 18:38:28 PDT 1999

     THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz
     Let's launch an 'all-armed, all-smoking' airline

     A number of readers wrote in response to my column of Oct. 3, about
bored functionaries "randomly" rooting through my laundry and personal
effects even after my bags have cleared our now-standard metal detectors
and X-ray machines.

   Many noted that private airlines have a right of private contract, which
should allow them to set any such requirements they please, since we
passengers always have the right to patronize another airline.

   I'm familiar with the argument for freedom of voluntary contract. In this
case, it's purest steer manure.

   Suppose I raised $100 million and proposed to start AirGanja, "America's
only all-armed, all-smoking airline"? I'd beef up my on-board air
conditioning so I could advertise that our air quality is better than our
competitors' even if the passengers on either side of you choose to
chain-smoke cigars. My "flight attendants" would hand out free marijuana in
First Class once airborne, and politely offer each boarding passenger a
metal magazine (or revolver speed-loader) full or any caliber ammo they
choose, urging them to reload their weapons for the duration of the flight
with my special color-coded frangible rounds, designed to blow the head off
any hijacker without penetrating our pressure cabins.

   (Needless to say, "controlled" drugs could not be used until we're
airborne, at which point we're out of the jurisdiction of any local
prohibitionist deviants -- the precedent already having been set by the
fact that no airline today will refuse to sell you a cocktail while they're
passing over the dry counties of Texas or Tennessee.)

   Of course, I'd charge a 15 percent premium for these improved services.
Either I'd grow rich -- forcing my competitors to start offering some of
the same options and services -- or, if my idea proved unpopular with the
paying public, I'd go bankrupt.

   That would be a free market in air travel, and you would indeed remain
free to choose a "non-smoking, no guns," strip-search airline (if that
somehow makes you feel safer) instead of mine.

   Chance the FAA would allow me to launch such a competing service? Pinch
yourself; you're dreaming.

   If such suggestions now sound absurd, it's only because we've forgotten
what it was like to live in a free country. The average train passenger in
1912 could easily have found herself seated opposite a fellow passenger
armed with a loaded revolver (concealed or otherwise), smoking an Indian
hemp cigarette, and carrying a hip flask of laudanum. In fact, your
great-grandmother would probably have felt somewhat more secure under such
circumstances, knowing this fellow American was prepared to resist any
attempted train robbery, as well as to provide a sip of cough syrup should
the baby (your grandfather) grow fretful.

   The fact that we find it unthinkable today that an airline might be
allowed any such options only means we have grown used to living under a
burgeoning variety of fascism, an economic system in which private
corporations are allowed to keep private title to their properties and
extract certain after-tax profits (providing they don't grow large enough
to attract the attention of the "Anti-Trust Division"), but where all
substantive decisions about routes, "security," and so forth are actually
made on a "one-size-fits-all" basis by unelected government functionaries.

   To argue any part of the current scenario is a true "voluntary, free
contract" between passenger and airline is like saying the Todt
Organization's slave laborers in various cannon works in Nazi Germany had
no right to blame the government for their plight, since they'd entered
into a "voluntary contract" with their employer.

   ("Volunteer for this labor contract, or go to the death camps. Choose

   "Voluntary contract," indeed. I'm free "to not use their service" -- and
try to find a passenger train with regular service from Colorado Springs to
Las Vegas? And how long do you think we'll be free from having our luggage
searched and being require to show our "government-issued photo ID" on the
trains and highways?

   Whoops. "Random highway checkpoint" stops are already part of the War on
Drugs, aren't they? And reporter P.L. Wyckoff of The Newark (N.J.)
Star-Ledger reported this week:

   "They haven't attracted the attention that drug searches on the New
Jersey Turnpike and other highways have. But charges of racial profiling
are being leveled on another busy battlefield in the drug war -- the
nation's trains and train stations.

  "Larry Bland, a black Bethesda, Md., resident, says he had just walked off
a train in Richmond, Va., in July when police told him they needed to
search his bag because drugs were coming through the station and he 'fit
the profile.'

  "Carlos A. Hernandez, a former Newark, N.J., policeman, believes he was
singled out for a tense drug search of his Amtrak sleeper cabin coming back
from Miami that same month simply because his name is Hispanic. ...

  "Civil libertarians and attorneys say that, whatever the truth for Bland
and Hernandez, such cases are widespread. ... 'That is really just a sliver
of what's going on out there,' said David Harris, a University of Toledo
law professor who prepared a national report for the American Civil
Liberties Union on racial profiling on the highways.

   "Train searches 'have been going on for a long time,' agrees Georgetown
law professor David Cole. ..."

Vin Suprynowicz, assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas
Review-Journal, is author of the new new book, "Send in the Waco Killers,"
available at 1-800-244-2224 or via web site

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