Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Since 9/11, there has always been a little gnome in the back of my mind gnawing at my conscience regarding the formation of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). I’ve always been too busy to devote any brain space to the matter until now. It’s not that I don’t agree with the TSA being formed  but it’s feels like they are the Keystone Kops of our era.

Originally, it annoyed me that the Bush administration tried to give the parent branch of the TSA this warm, fuzzy, white-washed persona by calling it “Homeland Security.” The Bush advertising arm made a habit of that. “Operation Enduring Freedom,” for example. What kind of advertising bullshit is that? I guess ‘homeland’ is designed to make you feel like Thanksgiving reunion or something but it really gives TSA carte blanche to do stuff they normally couldn’t get away with.

Secondly, we air travelers were continually being asked to sacrifice stuff. First it was pocket knives, then it was fingernail clippers or anything markedly pointy, then it was toothpaste, followed by bottled liquids. Look, in our daily lives, we use this stuff. I resent having to leave these things behind in order to go to a different destination and have to spend time scrounging up the same stuff just to function knowing I’ll have to leave that stuff behind when I go home (what happens to all that stuff they confiscate at the airport anyway? Do TSA agents have a surplus of nail clippers in their medicine cabinets?).

Next came the ridiculous  procedures for boarding the plane. We gave up extra time in our lives to get to the airport two hours in advance to go through this silly process. Then we had to remove our shoes, watches, belts, jewelry, coats, get out your laptops separately. All of these things, in and of themselves, are terribly inconvenient but the sting of 9/11 made us feel as though it was necessary.

Suddenly, some kid who has been brainwashed by al Qaeda shows up with junk in his trunk designed (yet failed) to take down a plane. And the answer to that from TSA? Full body scans showing off everything your Mama gave you for the TSA agents to see. And if you object to that, you get a big invasive feel-up session.

So what happens next when a terrorist shoves a bomb into his/her colon? Are we going to have to submit to body cavity searches? Should we just opt to travel naked?

This has gone way beyond absurd. The feel up, porn machine thing is a violation of our privacy.  It’s an insult to us as Americans. It has spawned an internet phenomenon with the ‘Don’t touch my Junk’ guy similar to the ‘Don’t tase me bro’ video.

And just how effective is all this invasive, intrusive security really? Some say that it has avoided another terrorist attack. Well, I would argue that’s a questionable causality conclusion. Both the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber were taken down by passengers; not TSA. I would suggest that there are other results in play here. From my perspective, all the rules of the TSA  have done is make the land of the free less free. To me; that means the terrorists have won. We have made small sacrifices to the point of demoralizing our self-image. That’s how terrorism works.  You break down the self image through threat. It’s bullying. My father taught me that violence is not a viable solution, but he also taught me to stand up to bullies when the solutions become non-viable.

Look, if people want to attack us, they will find a way. If they can’t hijack a plane, they’ll find some other weakness. If terrorists can’t get to planes, they’ll get to some other place particularly since they’ve distracted us from looking with the whole airport screening thing. They will likely look for easer targets. It wouldn’t take much to blow up a bomb in the waiting line to be screened for getting on a plane. Why not a busy street in NYC? Oh, right. that’s been tried and thwarted…by civilians. How about a ferry boat across the harbour? Tom Clancy pretty much wrote the terrorist manual for creating a dirty bomb and detonating it in a football stadium. An underwear bomber could sneak into a football stadium and do some considerable damage. Your neighbor could have a gun and plan to use it against you. Bogeymen lurk in every corner. Be afraid. Because if you’re afraid, I have power over you. I can get you to agree to an invasive anal search if I want to.

In the meantime, we are expending tons of resources on TSA’s ability to inhibit and offend us. We are being defeated economically because of our fears. Remember what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in the middle of another time of terrorism? “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That’s where we are now.

What the TSA is screening for now is the tools to create chaos. They aren’t screening for the intentions of those who wish to create it. It isn’t my fingernail clippers that will turn an airplane into a weapon, it’s the intent of the terrorist that is the danger. That’s the problem with the TSA. They’re a reactionary group trying to find the means of those who wish to hurt us, not the methodology of those who would seek to scare us into submission.

I’ll have more on this tomorrow.


About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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21 Responses to Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

  1. Bart DePalma says:

    Mr. U:

    Nice to see you join us libertarians on this one. My wife travels for her work. When we went on a flight for a vacation, I was joking about the security and she started shushing me and warning that TSA would take me back for interrogation if they overheard me and we would miss our flight. This is America?

  2. Mr. Universe says:

    Well, Bart, I just think enough’s enough. Something ain’t right even under the best of intentions. I have some ideas but I’ve got to get some sleep for now.

  3. drfunguy says:

    So Bart, as a Libertarian, you agree with the party platform on abortion?
    “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”
    How about Gay marriage?
    ” Personal Relationships
    Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government’s treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships. ”
    http://www.lp.org/platform

  4. Mr. Universe says:

    Whoa, funguy.

    We were about to have an interesting on-topic conversation with our libertarian friend on TSA before you lobbed the abortion bomb. Could we maybe save that for later?

  5. filistro says:

    Bart is not in any way a Libertarian. He’s a socially conservative Republican through and through.. just like all his fellow Teapers…. but now he’s oddly reluctant to indicate his political affiliation. Let’s see if we can figure out why.

    It was the Republicans who spent almost a decade whipping the public up to a fever pitch of fear of evil sinsiter deadly terr’ists. Orange alerts every time there was an election or a dip in Dubya’s approval ratings. Totally shameless manipulation of public fear. And now THEY are the ones protesting security measures at airports.

    They instituted and passionately defended warrantless wiretaps and illegal search and seizure… and now THEY are the ones who say say “This is America?”

    That’s rich, it really is. If it weren’t so infuriating, it would almost be comic.

    Small wonder Bart (despite the “tsunami”) is still ashamed to call himself a Republican. Who wouldn’t be? It will be a long, long time before this party… a party that doesn’t even want to claim its own name… will ever hold the Presidency or the Senate again.

  6. Bart DePalma says:

    drfunguy says:

    So Bart, as a Libertarian, you agree with the party platform on abortion?

    I guess you missed my exchanges with Fili on this issue. Generally, libertarians believe that the only legitimate laws are those which prohibit one person from harming another. If you believe, as I do, that we are all persons from conception, then a prohibition of most abortions is perfectly compatible with libertarian principles.

    As you can see from Filis response to your post, she just refuses to even consider my argument. It messes with her world view of social conservatives being opposed to libertarians on all issues. They do disagree on most issues involving self harm like suicide and drug usage or government enforcement of social behavior norms, but abortion is different because it involves harming another person.

  7. Bart DePalma says:

    Fili:

    Stop making this a partisan issue. Homeland Security and TSA were bipartisan creations and both parties have essentially granted this bureaucracy carte blanche to do what they please so the politicians will not get blamed for the next plane attack. Like all bureaucracies without any democratic accountability, HS/TSA has run amok with inexorable reductions of our personal freedoms. It is long past time for our representatives of both parties to pull HS/TSA’s chain and get back to non-invasive security unless you have a reasonable suspicion some person is a terrorist as required by the 4th Amendment.

  8. Monotreme says:

    My beef is that there isn’t any cost-benefit ratio being done here.

    I would feel a lot better about all this if I had the sense that someone was “minding the store” in terms of having to justify, on an internal basis, the total cost of the security measures (lost traveler time, staffing, lawsuits) vs. the increase in safety.

    I understand why I don’t get to hear that discussion. I would like to know that such a discussion is ongoing.

    I would also point out that much of the current mishmash is because the Senate Republicans can’t figure out what “advise and consent” means:

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/11/23/pistole.threat.delay/

  9. drfunguy says:

    Sorry Mr. U. my hypocrisy detector went off.
    I will refrain from engaging BDP’s hypocrisy and logical inconsistencies on this thread but they’re such large and tempting targets its hard to resist.

  10. As I noted in my earlier article on the TSA, much (not all) of what happens at the security checkpoints is designed to make us feel safer, so that we keep flying. Most of the “real” security at airports consists of things you don’t see.

    Part of the problem that surfaces in situations like these, however, is that most TSA agents don’t realize they’re supposed to be actors. They take their jobs seriously because they’re told that they must. This can lead to Hall Monitor Syndrome, which leads to passenger frustration, and works against the intent of the visible security measures.

  11. @monotreme,

    I understand why I don’t get to hear that discussion. I would like to know that such a discussion is ongoing.

    The discussion is ongoing, but it’s highly decentralized because of the enormous size of the US air transportation system. This leads to infighting caused by conflicting desires from conflicting constituencies, and we end up with a camel instead of a horse.

    Whose costs are we trying to minimize? Whose benefits are we trying to maximize? Are we focused on time costs? Labor costs? Monetary costs? These are all different priorities for the passengers, the TSA, the airlines, and Congress.

  12. filistro says:

    @doc… I will refrain from engaging BDP’s hypocrisy and logical inconsistencies on this thread but they’re such large and tempting targets its hard to resist.

    We need to cut Bart some slack on this one. It must be difficult nowadays to be afflicted with “the love that dare not speak its name”… which is what Republicanism has become. Bart is ashamed to come out as an actual Republican, so he tapdances around the issue around and claims to be a “libertarian” even though the only libertarian philosophy he actually espouses is a reluctance to pay taxes.

    When Bart finally matures to the place where he is at ease with himself and his own political orientation, we must remember to have a “coming out” party for him and show him we all truly embrace his honesty and self-acceptance.

  13. filistro says:

    @MW… “Hall Monitor Syndrome.”

    LOL… I love that. So true. 🙂

  14. Monotreme says:

    Barted:

    It is long past time for our representatives of both parties to pull HS/TSA’s chain and get back to non-invasive security unless you have a reasonable suspicion some person is a terrorist as required by the 4th Amendment.

    Sounds like an issue for SCOTUS.

  15. Bart DePalma says:

    Monotreme says:

    BD: It is long past time for our representatives of both parties to pull HS/TSA’s chain and get back to non-invasive security unless you have a reasonable suspicion some person is a terrorist as required by the 4th Amendment.

    Sounds like an issue for SCOTUS.

    No, the first line of protection for our constitutional rights are our elected representatives. SCOTUS should be the last resort.

  16. Mr. Universe says:

    Somebody has brought forth a suit against TSA based on the fourth amendment.

  17. robert verdi says:

    its a bummer to say the least.

  18. shrinkers says:

    Bart, as a libertarian, I assume you oppose all aspects of the Patriot Act, right?

  19. shrinkers says:

    Republican….. the party that dare not speak its name….

    C’mon, Bart, admit to being a stone partisan. Or else condemn the entire Republican Party for going back on their promise to oppose earmarks.

  20. shrinkers says:

    It looks like the libertarian rebellion against airline security didn’t take off.

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