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Free Liberal: Coordinating towards higher values

Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

For Sheer Bureaucratic Stupidity, the Winner Is…

by Chuck Muth

Hate is a pretty strong word. But not strong enough to express how I feel about the TSA - the Transportation Security Administration or Thousands Standing Around, depending on your point of view - which runs those security checkpoints at American airports. I may fear the IRS, and I may dread the DMV - but for sheer bureaucratic stupidity and its affront to personal liberties, the TSA has earned a special place of loathing in my heart.

And apparently I’m not alone. An Associated Press story this past December on MSNBC’s website is titled, “TSA draws travelers' complaints: Security screeners are the most familiar - and hated - face of government.” The story notes that TSA receives about a thousand complaints about its operations every month - which doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the number of Americans who quietly seethe at security checkpoints but don’t waste their time filing a formal complaint. Deaf ears and all that.

TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe, however, bristles at the criticisms leveled at her agency, insisting her screeners “are on the front lines and they deserve our respect."

No, they aren’t, and no they don’t. From a December 2007 story by Reuters:

“Airport security lines can annoy passengers, but there is no evidence that they make flying any safer, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday. A team at the Harvard School of Public Health could not find any studies showing whether the time-consuming process of X-raying carry-on luggage prevents hijackings or attacks. They also found no evidence to suggest that making passengers take off their shoes and confiscating small items prevented any incidents.”

The story notes that over $5 BILLION a year is being spent on airport security operations and that the vast majority of items confiscated by screeners are cigarette lighters - which at one time were deemed by the TSA to be extremely dangerous, but now are OK. Toothpaste and deodorant are apparently the new weapons of choice by the world’s most vicious, cold-hearted terrorists.

Meanwhile, TSA chief Kip Hawley says his agency is deploying new screening techniques to make the sheep…er, people…in those long lines “calmer” and not “so tense.” The AP reports that Hawley claims new “behavioral observation and document checking are proving to be the most successful in rooting out would-be terrorists.”

Oh, puh-lease.

“Behavioral observation” is nothing more than a cover-your-butt smokescreen to deflect criticism by human “rights” goofballs that TSA agents are “profiling” someone. When a 23-year-old named Mohammed is pulled out of line for additional screening, the screeners can claim he was “acting suspicious,” a totally subjective assessment, rather than note that he looked just like the 19 guys who flew planes into the World Trade Center . Let’s get real here.

But I can now attest from personal experience that these new “behavioral observation and document checking” procedures to root out would-be terrorists are a crock.

My family and I – which means all three kids, including the baby - were returning home from vacation last week and dutifully filed in line for the ol’ “Papers, please” routine at the Honolulu airport. I handed our five boarding passes and our ID to the lone TSA guy who gets paid to look at boarding documents and, according to TSA chief Hawley, use them to root out would-be terrorists every day. But this genius couldn’t find any of our names on the boarding passes and handed them back to me, demanding that I show him where the names were. Heck, I didn’t know. It’s not my yob, man.

In the meantime, the line behind us was getting longer and longer and the folks in that line were getting tenser and less calm by the minute. Finally, I find where the names are located on the boarding passes and hand them back to Deputy Dawg (I’m sorry; was that not respectful, Ms. Howe?).

We’re finally approved to move to Phase Two of the front-line against terrorists, much to the collective relief of those behind us. Off with the shoes and belts. Out with the laptop. Oops, almost forgot to remove my keys from my pants.

One-by-one we dutifully file through the metal detector, miraculously not setting off any bells or sirens. Whew! At least we can now put our clothes back on, head for the gate and grab something to eat before the flight, right? Not.

Apparently there was something in our “behavior” and/or our “documents” which triggered the crackerjack TSA security guards’ suspicions. Yes, a middle-class white family with three young children, including a 16-month-old baby, returning from vacation set off alarm bells in some bureaucrat’s mind. So we were instructed to move to the side for “enhanced” screening while all of our carry-on bags, including the baby’s stroller, were hand-inspected.

Out of morbid curiosity, I asked if this was simply a “random check” that we’d been so lucky to be honored with. The terse reply from the agent on the front-lines of the war against terrorists was a simple, “No.” So our selection couldn’t even be explained away by the stupidity of random selection; these people intentionally singled us out as a potential security threat.

Barney Fife then proceeded to get a female agent to pat down my wife and two daughters before feeling me up-and-down himself. At which point my wife was instructed to hold the baby out with outstretched arms like Rafiki did with Simba on the rock ledge in “The Lion King” for a pat-down. Absolutely ridiculous.

In the meantime, another crackerjack TSA agent was busy rifling through our carry-on bags, and lo and behold, he caught my wife trying to smuggle onboard a tube of skin cream which exceeded the federally-mandated 3-ounce limit. Goober informed us he was confiscating the potentially lethal tube of Lubriderm, much to the relief of the other passengers standing in line who clearly were worried it might be used to send us all to a watery grave in Davy Jones’ Locker somewhere over the Pacific.

With one of our bags now 5 ounces lighter, we finally were allowed to leave Checkpoint Charlie and proceed to the gate. Now for the kicker.

When we finally get home and unpack, I discover that the girls had inadvertently packed a pair of metal scissors they found at the condo where we stayed in their carry-on knapsack. Neither the TSA’s expensive, super-sensitive X-ray machine nor hand-inspection of the bag detected this pair a metal scissors - but they did find the Lubriderm! Don’t you feel safer now?

I’ll leave you and this topic (for now) with the following CNN story, which came out on the exact same day of our latest thrilling experience with the TSA: “A passenger who went through an airport security checkpoint -- before remembering that he had a loaded gun -- is facing charges after going back to report his error, authorities said.”

So a LOADED GUN and a pair of metal scissors can make it past professional airport screeners, but not a tube of skin cream? And once the guy realizes his mistake, HE gets charged with a crime for reporting it? Unbelievable.

The real crime here was perpetrated by President Bush and the idiots in Congress who foisted this asinine airport security regime on the land of the free and home of the brave. And for all the dolts out there who mistakenly think this ludicrous and ludicrously expensive TSA crud is needed to make Americans safer, I can only refer to you the immortal words of founding father Ben Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty , to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Case closed. Next. Papers, please…

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington , D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at Copyright 2008 Chuck Muth. All rights reserved. “Muth’s Truths” may be republished providing the column is copied intact, and full credit is given. Talk show producers interested in scheduling an interview with Mr. Muth should call (202) 558-7162

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