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Above: a TSA Wave Scanner, where "hands up, don't shoot" takes on a deadly new meaning.
Below: a Palestinian man comes up for air at an Israeli checkpoint, one of many that line the perimeter of the Gaza strip.
“You said the past won't rest until
we jump the fence and leave it behind.
But you started a war that you can't win,
They keep erasing all the streets we grew up in...”
- Arcade Fire, “Suburban War”

When I was a boy, flying was a truly wondrous experience. Captivated by the power and grace of titanic, winged machines capable of scaling distances I could barely conceive of, the majesty of air travel all but completely eclipsed any sense of peril I might have encountered while in the air. Stories of airliners being shot out of the sky, of skyjackings by mad, desperate men, felt like abstractions, frightening in their implication but hardly an existential threat. They always seemed to happen to “other people,” in faraway lands that I'd never even heard of, let alone dreamed of visiting. Besides, those responsible for running the airport – the check-in attendants, the maintenance personnel, airport security, and so on – always appeared to have things very much under control, and their confidence and courtesy always seemed to make travelers feel very much at ease. With occasional exception, airports run their enormously complex, multifaceted operations with incredible precision, and they make it look easy. Aberrations in procedure are dealt with swiftly, and in a fashion almost invisible to the public. What could be more secure than that?

Above: The lines at TSA checkpoints
are often a trial for everyone involved.
Below: A crowd gathers at a Gazan checkpoint.
Imagine this as your daily commute.
A lot has changed in America's airports since September 11th, but I was never there to see it. For me, flying has always been a luxury, and before a recent visit to Seattle, I had not set foot on a plane since 1999, when airport security was considerably more relaxed. My awakening to the realities of air travel in the 21st century was, needless to say, fairly rude.

In post 9-11 America, there are few better examples of “legislating while temporarily insane,” as notable radio and Internet personality Dan Carlin so aptly refers to the ways in which our government responds to acts of terrorism, than the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. Despite the fact that the World Trade Center's destruction was the result of a collective failure by numerous state and federal agencies, a tragedy easily prevented from reoccurring with minimal reform, it was somehow determined that localized airport security forces were the most culpable for failing to prevent the attack, and as such needed to not be reformed, but entirely replaced by nothing short of a federal agency under the domain of the Administrative Branch. If that's not an overreaction, I don't know what is.

The results were predictably disastrous: a Google search for “TSA violations” reveals an extensive and expansive history of horrific abuse, oversight, and corruption within the agency, a place where thuggishness and rough trade are the norm, and public accountability is a pipe dream. One of the more egregious examples of legislative overreach in recent decades, the creation of the TSA set a dangerous precedent for how we allow our government to respond to crises, and along with things like the Patriot Act, greatly accelerated the militarization of our nation's police forces, the effects of which can be seen anywhere from Occupy Wall Street to Ferguson, Missouri.

Above: a TSA agent searches a carry-on bag.
Below: an Israel guard searches Palestinian purses.
Terrorism, by design, is intended not only to strike fear into the hearts of its victims, but also to induce a paralyzing regression of civil liberties into their societies. By that standard, America may have won many battles, but we are losing the war. When looking at photographs of the borders between nations with a history of conflict and strife, it's hard not to see how closely many of their crossings bear resemblance to your average TSA checkpoint. After all, what is an airport but a gateway to a foreign land, one that must also be made secure from unwanted intrusion?

The similarities are unsettling: the abysmally long lines full of hopeful, yet despondent travelers, the routine and arbitrary searches and seizures conducted by coarse, unforgiving security personnel, the cries of indignation and outrage over being treated like insurgents rather than sovereign citizens...in the eyes of the TSA, the presumption of innocence is dead, replaced by the hard, aggressive suspicion of a nation gone mad with fear. In the face of that, there is no alternative to “hands up, don't shoot,” not if you want to catch your flight, at least.

After the towers fell, national security took on an entirely new and grave dimension in American politics. In the years since, the War On Terror, a conflict with no conceivable chance of meaningful victory, has been used to justify trillions of dollars in defense spending and infrastructure, and layed the groundwork for the modern police state, a juggernaut employing tens of millions of people across thousands of public and private enterprises. To dismantle even a small portion – the TSA, for example – would require massive and immediate reform across a such a variety of other government agencies and programs as to be inconceivable, as well as a cadre of politicians dedicated to speaking with real conviction about ratcheting down the War On Terror with more than just token gestures. In our current political paradigm, this is career suicide, and those who take the leap are buried quick and deep. So the police state juggernaut rumbles on, immune to consequence, immune to reason. On September 11th, that juggernaut grew wings and took to the skies, captained by injurious lunatics forever haunted by the spectres of their collective failure. Now, there's no coming down, and there's no turning back.

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Comment Preferences

  •  yes, (8+ / 0-)

    every time we fly i realize again that bin laden unequivocally won.

    There is no worse enemy of God and Man than zeal armed with power and guided by a feeble intellect... --William James

    by oslyn7 on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 10:44:23 AM PDT

  •  Federalizing airport security was not an overreach (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, WendiMiyaza, FG, basket, barbwires

    at all. What's ridiculous is that prior to 9/11 we thought private, for-profit airport security would actually be successful. It should have always been the federal government's responsibility and that error was finally corrected after 9/11.

    I never understood the hate for the TSA. There are people who want to blow up and hijack airplanes. It's quite simple, this isn't some fabricated fantasy, they've done it before and they'll do it again. Security is a must.

    There are plenty of modes of transportation that, amazingly in this day and age, still have no security (bus, train, your own car). If one doesn't like security, he/she has other options.

    •  Security theater doesn't make us safer, nt (8+ / 0-)

      Do you live in SoCal? Connect! Unite! Act! Join Los Angeles Kossacks. I'm in CA-35. What's your district?

      by benamery21 on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 11:20:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Benamery 21 has a good point. (5+ / 0-)

      It's just as much the theater of it that is so disturbing as anything else. The problem with making the TSA such a centralized authority isn't in their effectiveness, but in their accountability to the public, which is practically zero. This creates an environment where overreach becomes commonplace. If you knew you could bend and break the rules in your workplace with near-total impunity, and that doing so would only make your job more effective, I doubt that anyone would think twice about it after a time.

      When you apply that towards public safety and security, it justifies all manner of fear, intimidation, abuse, and corruption in the name of efficiency. Don't believe me? Just ask the NYPD about Stop & Frisk, which in my opinion couldn't have happened on the scale it did without agencies like the TSA and Homeland Security setting the precedent.

      I solemnly swear I am up to no good.

      by Randle Aubrey on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 11:28:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This "theater" thing is such hogwash (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        a2nite, WendiMiyaza, FG, rubyclaire

        They wear uniforms. They check your ID and boarding pass. You go through the machine. If it triggers something, they check further. It's security. Wtf are you guys talking about?

        And again, if you don't like whatever made up "theater" you're talking about, there are buses and trains that have no security for your traveling pleasure.

        •  The last time I got on a plane in the USA (5+ / 0-)

          I was pulled aside & frisked. I said, "What's this for?" The TSA thug snarled, "You were ordered to empty your pockets!"

          I had a handkerchief in my pocket. A fucking handkerchief. Everything else was in the tray that went through the x-ray.

          IMHO TSA is 10% security and 90% license for a bunch of lowlife goons to get their jollies off pushing around people who can afford an airline ticket.

          Go through a London airport sometime. UK security is tighter than a bull's arse in fly season, but somehow, somehow, they manage to apply it in a way that doesn't leave a passenger feeling brutalized.

          The bumpersticker I want: THE LEFT IS RIGHT! THE RIGHT IS WRONG! THE FAR RIGHT IS FAR WRONG!

          by Uncle Cosmo on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 12:04:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Next time I want to go to Europe (4+ / 0-)

      I'll just take the train.

      •  No one is forcing you to go to Europe (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        a2nite, WendiMiyaza

        But if you really want to go there, you can go through the metal detector like everyone else. If a metal detector is so outrageous to you that you absolutely refuse, then you can stay in the lovely United States of America and have all the non-security you want in the confines of our borders.

      •  And also, I'm not sure how you expect to be (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        a2nite

        allowed into Europe without having gone through a security check. Do you think they just let anyone in who wants to come? It's not just on the US side.

    •  The airlines fucked up badly, now it's too late (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slipper, basket

      & too bad. They didn't want to pay for locks on cockpit doors or other security measures. Airlines are just faster; it's just as  a crappy experience as taking the bus.

      Don't like it, don't fly.

      I don't like it & I fly rarely.

      I agree slipper.

      I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

      by a2nite on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 11:48:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yup. The airlines tried to run security on a (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        basket

        for-profit basis and it was a total fail. Because naturally, they ran it on the cheap. That's the whole reason we have the federal government, for things that typically can't be done successfully on a for-profit basis (like, for example, effective police and fire).

        •  And I forgot if it's ok to stop & frisk black (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          basket, slipper

          men on the street because; then it's ok to stop & frisk people boarding a missile with jet fuel.

          Flying is a privilege not a right. Drive or take the even crappier bus, or put up with being a terrorist until you're frisked, or take a ship.

          Welcome to being a black man/woman not white person in America. You're a criminal until "proven" otherwise.

          People need to stop whining about TSA because you are NOT exceptional. Being white does not give you a pass.

          I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

          by a2nite on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 05:20:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I don't think that's what anyone is implying... (0+ / 0-)

            ...but I can see how that might appear be the case. It's rare for white society to be confronted with violations of privilege, especially in such an overt and aggressive fashion. However, I'm not sure I see how that excuses the behavior of the TSA, especially when you consider how indiscriminate their agents appear to be in conducting their procedures, and to what extent.

            I solemnly swear I am up to no good.

            by Randle Aubrey on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 08:35:54 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Sure slipper, I'll drive from East Coast to CA (0+ / 0-)

      for my annual golf outing. And then drive back. Makes a week long trip into a three week trip.
      Republicans are quite the cowards!

      •  It's your choice (0+ / 0-)

        If you want the convenience of flying, you have to deal with the fact that the other people you are flying with don't want you walking onto the plane without being scanned and bringing on luggage without inspection.

        Don't like it? Take a private plane.

  •  flying has become (7+ / 0-)

    a miserable experience.

     Like you, I used to love my, quite rare, trips via airplane.

    The lack of space and crowding in the planes, I can understand - fuel is more expensive and they have to make money. But the whole TSA debacle just begins my trip with anger and disgust and all the crowding, delays and etc. seem to really get to me.

     TSA may be a necessary evil ( I don't think so ) but there is no reason why they cannot treat people with respect and cheerfulness. The rudeness, sneering, glowering and outright threats are absolutely unnecessary.

     It may be an unpleasant job, it may not be well paid - I don't know, it doesn't seem that awful to me, but they surely do make it so.

     The entire thing seems to me like a complete over-reaction and I always think of the Al Qaeda masterminds laughing themselves silly after the 'underwear bomber' persuaded us to start photographing travelers virtually naked as a matter of course.

    " In America we've got to get our politics above the 'snake line' ~ Yes we are ! Yes we can ! Yes we will !" Rev.Wm. Barber

    by Dvalkure on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 10:51:15 AM PDT

  •  The terrorists win (5+ / 0-)

    when they make you change how you do things. They sure enough won the airways.

    It doesn't help, either, that TSA went for the lowest common denominator when they hired their employees. I swear, some of those folks are dumber than the dirt they stand on, although it's not true in all locations. I used to fly a lot more than I do now, and I still keep a personal scorecard of the best and worst TSA employees I encounter. I've noticed that the ones in smaller airports (Richmond, Knoxville, Harrisburg, PA) tend to be friendlier and less impressed with themselves than some of the ones in bigger places. The ones at Dulles are generally businesslike and mostly impersonal, and in Salt Lake City they're generally very polite, but every time I've been in Las Vegas the ones I've encountered have been extremely obnoxious and outright RUDE for no reason at all. The absolute worst ones I encountered/observed, however, were in Kansas City. The behavior I observed there was rude, racist, and on one occasion, IMHO, downright perverted (the unnecessarily lingering patdown of a little blonde girl who appeared to be about 8 and was in tears). They behave this way because they can, and they get away with it time after time on the excuse of "keeping the skies safe". Bull pucky.

    Being "pro-life" means believing that every child born has a right to food, education, and access to health care.

    by Jilly W on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 11:31:47 AM PDT

    •  The terrorists did win nt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jilly W

      I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

      by a2nite on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 11:41:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Interesting question whether the terrorists won (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barbwires

    I'm still glad there's airport security.  

    I tend to keep a full purse, especially when I'm trying to avoid checking luggage.  Every time i get "extra screening" it makes me feel good that there's a better chance the terrorist with the bomb isn't going to get through.

  •  It is a bit of a pain, I agree. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, barbwires

    However, there are a number of things I have done to reduce the stress. First, I wear a jacket with zipped pockets. I transfer everything into those pockets before I get in line. Second, I wear shoes that slip off easily. Third, I try not to look around or listen to anything. I just zone out as much as possible. Searches at airports aren't going away. Ever. So, if you want to fly, just put your effort into reducing your stress response rather than - as I used to - actively resent the intrusion.

    Also, developing a sense of humor helps. I was asked by a TSA person if I had emptied my pockets. I replied, "Empty my pockets? I even emptied my bowels." She didn't smile, but I did.

    Finally, believe it or not, the TSA has gotten much, much better at this process, although some airports are not as good as others. I particularly like the TSA Pre program that I qualify for because I fly frequently enough.

    Voting is the means by which the public is distracted from the realities of power and its exercise.

    by Anne Elk on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 01:21:29 PM PDT

  •  The only time I've been treated badly by airport (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rubyclaire, wintergreen8694

    security was when leaving London in February 2005.  The officer at Gatwick pulled me out of the boarding line, threw me against a wall and frisked me extremely thoroughly in front of everyone (no privacy wall of any kind).  That made for a long, awkward flight back.

    On the other hand, my experience with TSA in the States has been neutral to pleasant.  In 2007, I was at the Hilo Hawaii airport getting ready to fly to Kauai. It had been raining that morning, so I forgot about the tube of sunscreen in my daypack.  I was the only person in line at the time, so the two female native Hawaiian agents weren't very stressed.  They told me I couldn't take the sunscreen on board, but suggested that I check it in.  I thought they were talking about checking my pack and said that I wanted to keep it with me.

    "No, you can just check the sunscreen"

    "I don't want to do that, I'll look like an idiot"

    The back and forth went on for a few minutes before they finally allowed me through, only after I had to promise both of the them that I would immediately buy sunscreen after landing in Lihue (they reminded me of the dangers of skin cancer).  There was also an argument between the two of them as to where I could get the best deal on sunscreen on Kauai.

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