Friday, March 16, 2012

New York Times: "How not to attract tourists"

Here, op-ed about how the U.S. customs and TSA folks look to travelers from abroad. Seriously, the folks employed by TSA at airports are the same stupid, brutal, hicks that authoritarian regimes the world over have recruited to do their dirty work.

Folks from abroad have to fill out something online called ESTA, Electronic System for Travel Authorization, in order to be able to get into the U.S. when they get here:

"ESTA asks for basic personal data, like your name and birth date. It also asks whether you are guilty of “moral turpitude,” whether you’re planning crimes or “immoral activities” and whether you suffer from “lymphogranuloma venereum” (don’t ask). If you’re involved in terrorism or genocide — and for some reason you’ve decided to take this opportunity to inform the United States government — there’s a box for that. And if you’re a spy — a particularly artless one — please let us know.

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Aesthetically, ESTA’s Web site — America’s digital front porch — is a disaster: uninviting and embarrassingly inconsistent with America’s information technology pre-eminence. Ten dollars of ESTA’s fee is earmarked for “visit America” ad campaigns. Tourism promotion is common sense. But we might reconsider the wisdom of requiring travelers to subsidize it in exchange for a grilling about their sexual health and genocidal activities.

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Finally, when travelers actually disembark, they are too often subjected to inaccurate lessons in American manners and common sense. Americans may be surprised by the conclusions of a 2006 survey by the U.S. Travel Association, which found that foreign travelers were more afraid of United States immigration officials than of terrorism or crime. They rated America’s borders by far the least welcoming in the world. Two-thirds feared being detained for “minor mistakes or misstatements.”

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This security mind-set occasionally veers into the absurd. Recently, two young European tourists were detained at Los Angeles International Airport for tweeting loose banter about plans to “destroy” America (an apparent reference to partying) and to disinter Marilyn Monroe. Vigilant border personnel reportedly searched their luggage for shovels, then deported them. Overseas commentators reacted with eye-rolling weariness but little surprise."

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