Monday, September 30, 2013

Airlines promise a return to civility, for a fee


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Airlines promise a return to civility, for a fee

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Sep 30, 5:38 AM (ET)
By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ
(AP) In this Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, photo, Delta Air Lines passengers, who have purchased an upgrade to...
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NEW YORK (AP) - Airlines are introducing a new bevy of fees, but this time passengers might actually like them.
Unlike the first generation of charges which dinged fliers for once-free services like checking a bag, these new fees promise a taste of the good life, or at least a more civil flight.
Extra legroom, early boarding and access to quiet lounges were just the beginning. Airlines are now renting Apple iPads preloaded with movies, selling hot first class meals in coach and letting passengers pay to have an empty seat next to them. Once on the ground, they can skip baggage claim, having their luggage delivered directly to their home or office.
In the near future, airlines plan to go one step further, using massive amounts of personal data to customize new offers for each flier.
(AP) In this Wednesday, May 8, 2013, photo, United Airlines passengers board a flight using the Premier...
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"We've moved from takeaways to enhancements," says John F. Thomas of L.E.K. Consulting. "It's all about personalizing the travel experience." Carriers have struggled to raise airfares enough to cover costs. Fees bring in more than $15 billion a year and are the reason the airlines are profitable. But the amount of money coming in from older charges like baggage and reservation change fees has plateaued. So the airlines are selling new extras and copying marketing methods honed by retailers.
Technological upgrades allow airlines to sell products directly to passengers at booking, in follow-up emails as trips approach, at check-in and on mobile phones minutes before boarding. Delta Air Lines recently gave its flight attendants wireless devices, allowing them to sell passengers last-second upgrades to seats with more legroom.
And just like Amazon.com offers suggested readings based on each buyer's past purchases, airlines soon will be able to use past behavior to target fliers.
"We have massive amounts of data," says Delta CEO Richard Anderson. "We know who you are. We know what your history has been on the airline. We can customize our offerings."
(AP) In this photo taken Wednesday, May 8, 2013, United Airlines passengers enjoy the United Club as...
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Other airlines are experimenting with tracking passengers throughout the airport. In the future, if somebody clears security hours before their flight, they might be offered a discounted day pass to the airline's lounge on their phone. Airlines have yet to find the right balance between being helpful and being creepy. So, for now, most of the data is being used to win back passengers after their flight is delayed or luggage is lost.
"We want to get back to a point where people feel like travel isn't something to endure, but something they can enjoy," says Bob Kupbens, a former Target executive and Delta's current vice president of marketing and digital commerce.
Most passengers select flights based on the lowest base fare. The online travel industry plays up that price sensitivity with sites named CheapOair.com, CheapTickets.com and InsanelyCheapFlights.com.
When airlines try to raise fares, they are met with resistance.
(AP) In this photo taken Wednesday, May 8, 2013, a United Airlines passenger chooses snacks in the...
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"Customers are very quick to either change travel plans, or use another carrier or not travel at all," says Jim Corridore, an airline analyst with Standard & Poor's. In the past three years, airlines have tried to hike fares 48 times, according to FareCompare.com. During 29 of those attempts, bookings fell enough that airlines abandoned the increase.
Most fares today don't cover the cost of flying. While the average domestic roundtrip base fare has climbed 3 percent over the past decade to $361.95, when adjusted for inflation, the price of jet fuel has nearly tripled.
When oil prices spiked in 2008, airlines added checked baggage fees. Passengers still bought tickets on the base price and didn't think about the extra expense until the day of travel.
Now airlines are recasting fees as trip enhancements.
Travelers like Nadine Angress, of Mansfield, Mass., see the value. Her recent late-night US Airways flight home landed past six-year-old son's bedtime. She had to work early the next morning. So, for $30 she bypassed the baggage carousel and had the suitcase delivered.
"That was a very reasonable price to pay," Angress says. "It's making your life easier."
U.S. airlines collect more than $6 billion a year in baggage and reservation change fees. They also collect $9 billion more from selling extras like frequent flier miles, early boarding and seat upgrades. Together, the fees account for 10 percent U.S. airlines' revenue.
Fees provide airlines with another advantage: The Internal Revenue Service has said since they aren't directly related to transporting passengers, they aren't subject to the 7.5 percent excise tax travelers pay on base fares. Taxing fees would give the government an extra $1.1 billion a year to fund the Federal Aviation Administration, runway upgrades and air traffic control improvements.
Without the fees, experts say fares would be 15 percent higher.
"You're either going to go out of business or find a way to cover" your costs, says Robert E. Jordan, Southwest Airlines' executive vice president and chief commercial officer.
Southwest has held off charging for most checked bags. But it sells plenty of other add-ons.
Recently, it introduced a way for people at the back of the boarding line on some flights to cut to the front for $40. It's not a blockbuster seller - one person pays up every two flights - but with 3,600 daily flights, that nets $70,000 in extra daily revenue or $25 million a year.
Airlines now alter fees based on demand. United Airlines used to sell its Economy Plus extra legroom seats for one price per route. Today, aisle seats cost more than middle seats; prices are higher on popular flights.
That change in thinking has helped United increase fee revenue by 13 percent this year to more than $20 per one-way passenger.
Airlines are also starting to bundle items. Passengers purchase items they might not necessarily buy alone; it also simplifies the dizzying array of offers.
"I don't want you to have to do the math every time," says Rick E. Chat, managing director of digital marketing at American Airlines.
American offers a package for $68 roundtrip that includes no change fees, one checked bag and early boarding. Delta is experimenting with a $199 subscription that includes a checked bag, early boarding, access to exit row seats and extra frequent flier miles on all flights a passenger takes between now and Jan. 5.
Airlines say the fees bring a sense of fairness to the system. Why should a passenger with a small carry-on subsidize a family of four, checking suitcases?
Jamie Baker, an airline analyst with JP Morgan Chase, likens it to a meal at a restaurant.
"The sides are not included in the price of a steak," he says. "Airline ticket prices should reflect the costs incurred by the individual passenger."
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Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at .http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott


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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In the Chambers of the Secret Courts


Darkness, Darkness

In the Chambers of the Secret Courts

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
Perhaps even the Sun King himself appreciated the irony of his secret tribunals being conducted in a court where daylight was not permitted to penetrate. The sinister proceedings of the Chambre Ardente took place in a room blanketed by thick black curtains in the depths of the old Paris Arsenal a few blocks from the Bastille.
The so-called Burning Chamber, so-named for the flaming torches that lined the walls and its victims who would later be set afire at the stake, originated in 1535 under Francis I as an inquisitional court for the prosecution of heretics. But the tribunal really kicked into lethal gear during the reign of Frances’ demented son, Henry II.
Henry was one of the most depraved figures in an era known for its regal brutality. He was, by all accounts, an insipid man, of limited intellect and charm, a bigot and sexual sadist, who was driven by a rabid hatred of the French Calvinists known as the Huguenots. Henry viewed the Huguenots as a “foreign contagion” infecting the homeland, and issued a series of increasingly severe Edicts calling on the Parliament of Paris to enact laws that would extinguish the Protestant threat. When the Parliament refused to act, Henry, enraged, moved on his own authority, using the Chambre Ardente as his covert prosecutorial instrument.
Before the sequestered judges of the secret court, all suspects were presumed guilty, awaiting only sentencing. Calvinist books and Bibles were proscribed. Thousands were cast into dungeons, their property seized as property of the king, their bodies subjected to vile tortures: gouged eyes, cropped ears, tongues extracted by glowing pliers—the usual menu of medieval atrocities. The condemned were carted away by the hundreds to the Place Maubert and set ablaze for the edification of the public.
In 1559, Henry’s grim tenure as king came to a fortuitously abrupt end at the point of Gabriel Montgomery’s lance on the jousting field at Place de Vosges. Montgomery was the head of the King’s Scots Guard, a kind of death squad geared toward tracking down and dispatching suspected Protestants and Henry’s political opponents. After Henry died in 1559, the Chambre Ardente was shuttered and Montgomery, now a pariah in France, fled to England and converted to Protestantism.
For 115 years, the doors of the black-curtained court in the Arensal remained sealed, until the Le Roi du Soleil ordered the doors opened, the terrible tables of judgment dusted off and oiled, and his own private prosecutor installed, the indefatigable Nicolas de La Reynie, the inspector Jauvert of his time.
Under Louis XIV’s reign, the Chambre Ardente was retooled a kind of personal inquisitional court, where scores were settled, detentions ordered, suspects interrogated and tortured, executions decreed. Between 1675 and 1682, more than 210 sessions of the black court were convened. Hundreds of arrest warrants and seizure writs were executed. All in secret, immune from the unpredictable pronouncements of juries and jurists. The Chambre Ardente was a place where all verdicts were pre-ordained, with no right to appeal.
Confessions, of course, are always desirable, especially by despots, and as a means of encouragement the so-called water-cure (and early predecessor of water-boarding) was often deployed by agents of the dark court. In one notorious case, a certain Madame de Brinvilliers was force fed sixteen pints of water, until she admitted her guilt. She was subsequently beheaded, her corpse torched at the stake.
The most infamous proceedings of the dark court during this period involved what is known as the Affair of the Poisons, a sex-and-murder driven scandal involving members of the aristocracy and Parisian elites very close to the King himself. To keep, from implicating Versailles, Louis instructed the Chambre Ardente to institute secret round-up of problematic individuals, including political and sexual rivals, abortionists, homosexuals, and manufacturers of what was called the inheritance drugs (ie, poison). At least thirty-six people were executed. Even the dramatist Racine narrowly escaped being shackled in the dungeon of the Bastille. The strange saga is given a vivid narration in Nancy Mitford’s delightful “The Sun King,” recently brought back into print by NYRB Press.
Some of the objects Louis’ vengeance proved too sensitive even to be hauled before the Chambre Attendre. In these cases, the King used an even more malign method of disposing of his rivals, enemies and political opponents, the Lettre de Cachet. By writ of the King, individuals could be arrested, exiled and secretly jailed without any trial at all. This was an early form of rendition that wasn’t abolished until after the French Revolution.
More than any other autocratic European ruler since Caesar Augustus, Louis put the total into totalitarian, a divinely-infused absolutism that is crystallized in his infamous quip “L’etat c’est moi.” In other words, whatever the King did was legal by definition. Yet, Louis Quatorze was widely regarded as a benign dictator, even by fierce critics of the Ancien Regime, including Voltaire himself.
Now we have our very own Sun King, a man almost universally praised for his high-learning and enlightened moral conscience. And, like the Bourbon monarch, Barack Obama too has his own dark court, an extrajudicial panel that operates in secret, authorizes domestic spying, wiretaps, detentions, renditions and even summary executions by drone strike.
Obama’s FISA tribunals are a Constitution-free zone. Its proceedings are shielded from public light by executive decree. Here, as in the ancient Chambre Arendte, all suspects are presumed guilty and the agents of the state are considered omniscient and omnipotent. Last year alone, the FISA courts considered 1,800 requests for surveillance on American citizens. Not one request was denied.
The Left remains nearly inert to the steady accretion of executive powers and the stunning abridgement of fundamental civil liberties. The basic structures of our democracy are being occluded by the creeping shadow of a benign autocrat.
The Republic descends into darkness.
JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the editor of CounterPunch and the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of NatureGrand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.
This essay originally appeared in the July issue of CounterPunch magazine.

In 10 Years, Peak Cesium Levels Off West Coast Could Be 10 Times Higher Than at Coast of Japan


Radiation On West Coast of North America Could End Up Being 10 Times HIGHER than in Japan

In 10 Years, Peak Cesium Levels Off West Coast Could Be 10 Times Higher Than at Coast of Japan

We’ve extensively documented the fact that ocean currents bring Japanese radiation to the West Coast of North America, and that – rather than adequate ocean dilution -  there could be “pockets” and “streams” of highly-concentrated radiation.
Joke F L├╝bbecke of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and 3 scientists from the GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences poured tracer dye into coastal waters off of Fukushima, and monitored its progress as it traveled to the West Coast of North America, to find out what might really happen.
They have revealed their results in a new paper published by journal Environmental Research Letters.
The paper shows that the West Coast of North American could end up with 10 times more radioactive cesium 137 than the coastal waters off of Japan itself.
How could radiation levels be lower closer to the source of contamination: Fukushima?
Because the currents are swift off of the Eastern coast of Japan, and quickly move the contaminated water away.
The paper explains:
In the following years, the tracer cloud continuously expands laterally, with maximum concentrations in its central part heading east. While the northern portion is gradually invading the Bering Sea, the main tracer patch reaches the coastal waters of North America after 5–6 years, with maximum relative concentrations ( > 1 × 10−4) covering a broad swath of the eastern North Pacific between Vancouver Island and Baja California. Simultaneously some fraction of the southern rim of the tracer cloud becomes entrained in the North Equatorial Current (NEC), resulting in a westward extending wedge around 20°N that skirts the northern shores of the Hawaiian Archipelago. After 10 years the concentrations become nearly homogeneous over the whole Pacific, with higher values in the east, extending along the North American coast with a maximum (~1 × 10−4) off Baja California. The southern portion of the tracer cloud is carried westward by the NEC across the subtropical Pacific, leading to increasing concentrations in the Kuroshio regime again.
***
With caution given to the various idealizations (unknown actual oceanic state during release, unknown release area, no biological effects included, see section 3.4), the following conclusions may be drawn. (i) Dilution due to swift horizontal and vertical dispersion in the vicinity of the energetic Kuroshio regime leads to a rapid decrease of radioactivity levels during the first 2 years, with a decline of near-surface peak concentrations to values around 10 Bq m−3 (based on a total input of 10 PBq). The strong lateral dispersion, related to the vigorous eddy fields in the mid-latitude western Pacific, appears significantly under-estimated in the non-eddying (0.5°) model version. (ii) The subsequent pace of dilution is strongly reduced, owing to the eastward advection of the main tracer cloud towards the much less energetic areas of the central and eastern North Pacific. (iii) The magnitude of additional peak radioactivity should drop to values comparable to the pre-Fukushima levels after 6–9 years (i.e. total peak concentrations would then have declined below twice pre-Fukushima levels). (iv) By then the tracer cloud will span almost the entire North Pacific, with peak concentrations off the North American coast an order-of-magnitude higher than in the western Pacific.
“Order-of-magnitude” is a scientific term which means 10 times higher.  The “Western Pacific” means Japan’s East Coast.
Here are some of the important graphics from the paper:

Figure 4. Decadal evolution of relative surface tracer concentration in the 0.1°-model simulation; boxes in (d) indicate regions for which the temporal evolution is computed in figure 7; contour lines mark power of 10 intervals.

Figure 5. (a) Temporal evolution of relative vertical tracer distribution (in m−1), horizontally integrated over the North Pacific, from the 0.1-simulation, contour lines mark a 2.5 × 10−4 interval; (b) vertical profiles from (a) after 15 days (black), 90 days (red), 2 years (green), 5 years (blue) and 10 years (light blue).