Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Your Papers, Please

Earlier this year, under “Chertoff the ‘Crime Czar’” (April 7) I remarked:

“The strongest evidence that the U.S. is not only losing the “war on terror,” but will be struck again with perhaps greater force, is the siege mentality of those charged with protecting the nation. Instead of destroying the states that sponsor terrorism, the U.S. is conducting the ‘war’ as though the enemy was some kind of super-Mafia gang whose members had to be detected and deterred. All we need do, goes the thinking, is identify the bad guys and keep them from entering the country. It elects to fight enemies dedicated to destroying this country with the methods suitable to Eliot Ness in his pursuit of bootleggers.”

I might have added that the “enemy” also includes Americans and harmless foreign visitors flying the American skies.

On my way back from the OCON conference on July 16th, I had a three-hour layover at Dallas-Ft. Worth airport (DFW) before boarding my flight to Richmond. This airport is one of the most traveler-unfriendly airports in the country. There are four main terminals – A, B, C, and D – and if one is unlucky enough to taxi up to terminal A and one’s connecting flight is at terminal D, one must rush through the throngs to find the “Sky Link” train to take to D. If one’s connecting flight is at terminal B, the same grueling exercise is necessary; on a map of DFW, A is adjacent to B, but actually not connected to it. At least, I couldn’t find a short crossover to it indicated in the bewildering array of signs.

So one boards the train and perhaps seven stops later, one arrives at the connecting terminal. Then one must find the right gate, and that could be in one of three directions and is usually a five to ten minute hike at a near run. With luck, one’s connecting flight gate hasn’t been changed.

I don’t know the financial history of DFW, that is, who or what paid for this “multiplex” abomination. But I’m betting that the Sky Link train was built with some Federal funds, and that the rest of this locked-down prison received a big share of state and Federal loot, as well, to make it so “modern.”

I confess a contempt for Texas in general. I lived there once. Its native boosters posture as really free, proud, independent individuals – “Howdy, pardner!” – whose ancestors were at the Alamo and all that. But, thanks to pork barrel politics, Texas is one of the biggest pigs at the Federal teat. The Lone Star state degenerated into the Lone Statist state, and taxpayers from Maine to Idaho are helping those “rugged” loners buy the ten-gallon hats that are as phony as the vaunted Texan “independence.”

DFW is also smoker hostile. What accounts for that must be the Bush family influence and the pull of other native anti-smoking evangelists. Unlike many other airports in the country, such as the Cincinnati airport, which provides several smokers’ lounges in its terminal complete with wall-installed lighters, DFW forces smoking travelers to make a decision: “quit” for perhaps hours before boarding a connecting flight, or go outside, if you can find an exit close to your connecting gate. That’s Texas hospitality for you.

The catch is: go outside, and go through the TSA’s pickpocket alley again. Even with a boarding pass. Which brings me to my main subject: the Transportation Safety Administration, and how futile, invasive, abusive, corrupt, and costly it is.

The TSA is futile on three counts: if Islamic terrorists strike the U.S. again, they won’t be coming through its airports. They are already here, or will find other ways into the country. Any Islamists with killing on their agenda will know that they are on various national and international watch lists (not that these are very effective anyway) and that their profiles must practically include their shoe sizes as well as their education history and national origin. They are going to poison a reservoir or run an oil tank truck through a shopping mall or the like, or work quietly to assemble the parts for a “dirty” bomb to detonate in some major city’s business district or seaport –and not to try to turn commercial aircraft into missiles again. Simply put, they are going to bypass the TSA and any other barriers erected by Homeland Security.

(The denizens of Washington D.C. needn’t worry about anything bad happening there; the Islamists have too many good friends in Congress, the White House, and the State Department whom they wouldn’t want to risk hurting or killing. So, all the security arrangements in Parasite City intended to deter terrorist attacks – the blockaded streets and surveillance and the like – are quite pointless.)

The TSA is futile because if President Bush dealt properly with this country’s enemies – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan – it would not be necessary. When this country was genuinely in a declared war with two formidable enemies in the 1940’s, air travel was not made miserable by any kind of federally imposed policy of search and seizure. Knock out or overthrow our current enemies, and their fellow travelers and jihadists in the U.S. and Europe would scurry back into their holes of anonymity, grateful that they weren’t vaporized or caught in the imam and mullah roundups. And all those power-happy unemployables waving their wands and picking through purses and feeling one’s rolled-up socks at our airports would have to find honest, productive work elsewhere.

The TSA is futile, because I got through three lighters and several packs of matches right under the noses of its thugs. I put them in the gray basket in which one is supposed to put one’s shoes and all pocket paraphernalia, including belts (women’s jewelry goes into what looks like white bedpans). Four times my basket went through their much-touted metal or illegal substance detectors, and all four times the baskets came down the ramp, their contents untouched, unscrutinized, unmolested. There is a way to fool the machines and the mini-minds that run them, which I will not divulge here. So much for the severity and thoroughness of airport security.

But a new, absurd TSA rule is: no bottled water can be brought through “security.” The water must be consumed or emptied out before a bottle can pass. Then one can fill it at a water fountain inside the terminal. Which obviates the purpose of buying spring water. What do these geniuses think anyone is going to take onboard? Nitro? Or some other, unstable, colorless, odorless liquid that won’t blow up in one’s backpack or purse on the way to the airport?

The TSA is abusive and invasive. At DFW I had my smoke, came through “security” again, then stopped to watch the unemployables put some Russian- or Polish-speaking tourists through hell. The irony is that everyone in this group was wearing an “I love America” shirt or sweater. Two were carrying small American flags on sticks. (The sticks somehow didn’t qualify as potential weapons, I guess.) One woman, who was at least 75, was made to walk through the X-ray four or five times. Each time she activated the alarm. Finally, they took her aside and repeatedly waved a wand over every inch of her body, including through her hair and between her toes. In the meantime, she was made to stand with her arms in the air. The unemployables just couldn’t figure it out.

I approached the TSA goon nearest me. “It’s the sequins,” I said.

“Huh?” the goon said, turning to me with suspicion.

“What’s setting off the alarm in the wand too is the metal in her sequins. Those sparkling things on her pullover sweater that say ‘I love America’?” I almost added “stupid,” but I wanted to see this woman’s humiliating ordeal ended, and held my tongue.

“Sir, please stand outside the security area,” answered the goon with all the patronizing officiousness of a school crossing guard.

But the goon then had a powwow with his colleagues. The woman was told to remove her sweater. She did, and walked through the X-ray again. No alarm. She was allowed to keep the sweater. Big-hearted Texans, I guess. Welcome to America, land of the free, home of the searched.

The TSA is corrupt. I have yet to see a TV special report on what happens to all the private property confiscated from passengers’ personal effects and luggage by the TSA. Its value by now must be in the billions. I’m certain it isn’t “destroyed,” and that a whole new racket has sprung into existence to “dispose” of that property. The TSA and its otherwise unemployable employees must have a vested interest in it since they’re the ones who steal it and must stow it somewhere.

But, this is a job for John Stossel and 20/20.

A brief news report on ABC last night featured an interview with a TSA official who said that “someone” is testing airport security by sending fake “bombs” through it, such as bricks of cheese with wires stuck in them. Frankly, these are either pranks or jihadists just ribbing the TSA.

The TSA is costly, not only in terms of taxpayer dollars to run and staff it and in terms of all the property that is confiscated that disappears into the black hole of corruption, but, far more importantly, in terms of abridged or surrendered rights. Are Americans growing too inured to the TSA’s legalized shakedowns? I think many of them are. The Bush administration has adopted a siege policy; most Americans have accepted and tolerate the role of being suspects.

Back in Washington D.C., Jihad Watch reports that Democrats want to remove from a Homeland Security bill a provision that protects Americans from lawsuits if they report suspicious activity on the part of Muslims and the Muslims are subsequently inconvenienced by the authorities. Doubtless Congressman Keith Ellison, Muslim and Democrat from Minnesota, is one of those who oppose the provision. Recall that Ellison, like Rosie O’Donnell, suggested that 9/11 was staged by President Bush as a ruse to seize power and blame the Muslims for the attack, just as the Reichstag fire in 1933 was staged by Hitler as an excuse to seize power and blame the Communists for the fire. He made the analogy, I didn’t.

On June 27th, several senior White House officeholders attended the rededication of the Islamic Center in Washington on its 50th anniversary. That was bad enough. Several of these “dignitaries” were women, including Fran Townsend, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Karen Hughes, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (another Texan and longtime crony of Bush’s). The Getty Images photo of the American dhimmis shows all the women wearing headscarves.

The White House itself has chosen to cozy up to such Islamic organizations as CAIR and MPAC, while Douglas Farah’s Counterterrorism blog reports that Bush has even extended a hand of friendship to the Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of most Islamic jihadist gangs. Through third parties – chief of whom is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an unemployable of elevated rank – it is dealing with Hamas, and has publicly announced its support of Palestinian Fatah.

Yesterday, July 24th, Bush’s envoys had their second round of talks with Iran, but not about the Americans being held hostage by Snake Eyes Ahmadinejad. To demand their release would be too tactless, you know. But the spineless, Christian character of Jimmy Carter is held to be a model of moral behavior to be emulated. (But, don’t forget Ronald Reagan, who did nothing to retaliate against the murder of over 200 Marines in Lebanon.) Why accuse Iran of killing American soldiers in Iraq when its leader is open to negotiation? That would only make Ahmadinejad angry.

In the meantime, all over America, arrogant unemployables in spiffy rent-a-cop style uniforms are closely examining the contents of women’s purses and nebnosing through men’s briefcases in search of threats to the “homeland.”

And, in the meantime, I keep thinking of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who so badly wanted to chastise the Barbary States for enslaving American citizens and seizing American property in the Mediterranean, and who each finally got his chance in 1805 and 1815. Neither Jefferson nor Madison elected to put Americans through a security wringer to ensure that the Islamists of their time didn’t slip into the “homeland” to sabotage all the canal-building projects.

They sent the U.S. Navy to the source of the problem, and that was the end of that.


Blane Burns said...

Hmmm. I thought I liked you. I agree about the smoking and and I must say I do detest the politics but the pork barrel thing is about successful politicians and Texas does boast success. So far as the rest goes, I don't want no Fed, state or local help. I would like the whole world to kiss my ass and quit helping us. Texas has been invaded, infiltrated and ruined by folks from the rest of America. Yuck. I am in favor of a border fence. I will man that wall so long as it is on the Northern border of our state. 7th generation native here. I do believe there are 10th generation natives here in my family. I am getting old. My ancestors from the east (1760's) had the good sense to come to Texas. We need our own civil war here to set it back right. Again, please keep passing through. Y'all don't come back again.

Ed Cline said...

I don't know whether or not to take you seriously, Blane. I harbor the same animosity for Massa-Taxxachusetts, whose citizens keep voting themselves down the tube, and New York, whose citizens do the same repeatedly (especially by voting for an Arkansas yahoo for senator), and then there's California, in a league by itself in terms of hubris and self-destruction. I hope there is some kind of civil war in Texas. If the right side wins, maybe I'll pay y'all a visit again.

Bill K. said...

It would almost easy to rid ourselves of al Qaeda once and for all. It is no mystery where bin Laden and his henchmen hang out. It is within a couple hundred square miles in northwest Pakistan.

We could carpet bomb from Peshawar to Quetta until not a dog was left alive. Al Qaeda would be effectively eliminated and Chertoff's guts would stop churning.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Cline -- that was one of the most enjoyable and on-the-mark pieces I've read in a good, long while! I admit to having had the distinct impression, while reading it, that you appeared to be experiencing a sort of "Oriana Fallaci Moment"!

Refreshing, isn't it?

Your description of DFW could be applied to Paris' Charles de Gaulle, although I'm quite certain the latter is considerably larger. Whatever the case, it too is a transfer nightmare (one which I will no longer suffer under any circumstance) with one major difference: the last time I transferred to another flight at that airport (2003), there was no security check of any kind! None. Nada. Zip. There was no review of passports and/or visas, no bag checks, etc., and while waiting for my connecting flight (a much later, rescheduled one, since I was unable to catch the one originally booked), I had complete and total access to the entire airport complex including the non-passenger areas. Slipping unnoticed into Paris or the rest of the country (and, therefore, the rest of Western Europe) would have been a piece of . . . er . . . genoise (as it were).

I'm not quite sure which situation, the one you describe at DFW or mine at Paris, is worse.

Michael Smith said...

Yes, we've gone from being a population willing to go to war with the most powerful nation on earth over such issues as unfair taxation -- to being a population willing to tolerate the crudest invasions of our privacy while listening passively as our leaders prostrate themselves in disgustingly abject apologies while making craven offers of appeasement -- rather than using the most awesome collection of combat firepower ever assembled to annihilate the pipsqueak, 7th century, superstitious clowns that rule Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the rest of the Islamic pestholes of the world.

Such is the power of philosophy.

Anonymous said...

If only I had thought ahead like you did. One of the thugs took my lighter this morning (ironically, it was adorned with a portrait of none other than Thomas Jefferson).