Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TSA: Damning American Catholics To Hellfire Eternal Since Its Inception

Among the myriad reasons I’m glad I’m not Catholic, there’s this: Catholics say despair is a sin, and after all the cool, exciting, makes-for-a-great-story sins I’ve committed it would really suck if I wound up condemned to Hell for what boiled down to never outgrowing my Goth phase. “Are you freaking kidding me?” I’d say when St. Peter turned me away from the Pearly Gates and summoned a demon to torture me forever (though if the demon were a US government operative, respectable mainstream American media outlets would say I was not tortured, but merely subjected to “enhanced interrogation”). “I was an atheist stripper who wrote blasphemous poetry in her spare time, and you’re condemning me for being depressed?”

Of course, you need not subscribe to any religious principles to figure despair worth avoiding; it may not be a sin but it still corrodes your soul. Yet the more news I read about the TSA, the harder it is to maintain any genuine optimism (as opposed to optimistic self-delusion). Even finding news about the TSA is a struggle these days; the media downplayed the issue long before events in Japan and Libya justifiably dominated the front pages.

But I belong to various anti-TSA online groups, which every day find and post obscure local stories that would’ve been national front-page news back when the media still cared about things like “civil liberties” and “the right to travel freely within the borders of my own country without being felt up by government agents so lacking in morality and intelligence, they actually think diddling innocent travelers all day is a noble and worthwhile act, and Americans have no right to be angry.”

Just look at the past week and change: the Department of Homeland Security argued in court that it has the right to strip-search every airline passenger, if it wants to. A congressional committee held a hearing on the nude scanners, and TSA initially skipped out on it, proving yet again that the rogue agency doesn’t even pay lip service to notions like “accountability to the public” or “consent of the governed.”

An alleged “calculation error” (or possible “deliberate lie”) resulted in TSA misreporting scanner radiation levels by a factor of ten; that is, the scanners emit ten times the radiation TSA previously claimed. Still, John Pistole wants to deploy another 275 of the scanners in airports throughout the country, and there’s talk of moving them out of the realm of transportation altogether, and installing them in schools, federal buildings, shopping malls and other public places.

An honorably discharged Marine Corps veteran – a Muslim man married to a Christian woman – was put on the No-Fly List and visited by the FBI after exchanging e-mails with a local imam on “how to raise children in an interfaith household.”

(Think of the outrage that story alone would have generated back when the American media still took the constitution seriously enough to care about threats to it: the FBI reading an American citizen’s private correspondence; the FBI assuming “discussing childrearing matters with your clergyman makes you a potential terrorist"; the FBI not even having sense enough to suspect “people devout enough to consider ‘religious terrorism’ as a career generally aren’t the ones in interfaith marriages.” It’s also worth recalling Bruce Schneier’s excellent description of the No-Fly List: “a list of suspected terrorists so dangerous that we can't ever let them fly, yet so innocent that we can't arrest them - even under the draconian provisions of the Patriot Act.”)

And all the while, TSA agents were too busy groping travelers’ genitalia or stealing money from travelers’ luggage to notice any knives or guns being smuggled through checkpoints.

Yesterday, the group We Won’t Fly put out a press release demanding a “No-Fry Zone” in airports. I’ve already written about legislators in a handful of states promoting bills protecting passengers from TSA assault. Will any of this matter? I don’t know. It’s almost half a year now since TSA officially decided “the ritualized humiliation of travelers” made an acceptable substitute for actual “transportation security.” But TSA was unconstitutional and pointlessly invasive from its very beginning; a quasi-law enforcement agency with the motivational motto “Dominate. Intimidate. Control.” is exactly what you want if you’re the generalissimo of a third-world banana republic, but can’t co-exist with a healthy republican democracy claiming to respect human rights and individual freedoms.

Is TSA merely an aberration, or an ominous harbinger of my nation’s future? The question’s gloomy enough to contemplate, without the added worry that knowing the answer might result in a mortal sin. Lead us not into temptation; lead us not into despair.


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