Friday, November 19, 2010

Flying Blind

When you’re standing in line this week at the airport waiting to be searched, scanned, or poked, Adam Serwer is here to remind you who helped get us to this point.

This comprehensive assault on individual freedom didn’t occur in a vacuum; it occurred because conservatives were successful in frightening Americans into choosing security over liberty every time the choice was before them, and because America’s elected officials take being blamed for a terrorist attack more seriously than their oath to protect the Constitution. While the scanners have been in development for years, their deployment was rapidly accelerated in the aftermath of last year’s attempted underwear bombing, as the TSA became even more concerned about the threat of nonmetallic objects. Conservatives must now face the Frankenstein they created by breathlessly hyping the threat of terrorism for political gain: A recent CBS poll found that 81 percent of Americans support the new machines.

A couple of years ago I was singled out — apparently randomly — at MIA for a pat-down. I bore it without saying anything to the man who did it and went on my way, but what was running through my mind was that this is really the ultimate control mechanism. We have gotten to the point that regardless of whether or not this new aggressive form of screening is effective; we have institutionalized and improvised our fears of terrorism into an agency of the government. Any attempt by the Obama administration to try to make it less invasive or more streamlined will be trumpeted by the right wing as an indication of being “soft on terror” while at the same time they’re carrying on about the metaphorical rough hands of government agents touching our junk. For them it’s a political win in the same way they were able to gin up the uninformed about the bailouts and the stimulus package: it’s big bad government trying to solve a problem that they helped create.

No, the conservatives didn’t have anything to do with 9/11; they merely exploited it. On their watch, illegal wiretaps and torturing suspects at foreign jails are good for America and keeps us safe; after all, you can’t enjoy your civil liberties if you’re dead. But under a Democratic president, it’s the big bad government harassing the good and true Americans who are just on their way to see Grandma in Orlando… well, except for that brown-skinned guy with the stubble who’s looking like his name might be Mustafa.

Earlier this week I noted with a tinge of sarcasm that flying is voluntary and that you don’t have to subject yourself to a search at the airport if you don’t go there. But the point is that we shouldn’t have to get to this point, and most of the security experts from places where air travel is under constant threat — Israel, for example — say that what we’re doing at the airport is window dressing and, most importantly, not effective. It’s like keeping a loaded pistol under your pillow in an attempt to keep the burglars out of your house. By the time you need to use it, it’s too late; they’ve already broken in. And if you haven’t done the preventative measures to keep the burglars out in the first place or even found out whether or not there are any burglars to begin with, the only person you’re going to end up shooting in a panic is yourself.