Fed Up with Stupid

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A blistering read from longtime TPM Reader I'll just identify as G ...

For me, it's the arbitrariness of it, the extremely poor attitudes of the TSA employees, and the fact that it doesn't seem to actually accomplish all that much more than pre-9/11 airport security.

A few thoughts:

I'm a lawyer. I go through security checkpoints all the time. Went through one at the local criminal courthouse this morning. They x-rayed my stuff, sent me through a metal detector, and then had me come back through it to pick up my stuff when they were done looking at it on the monitor. Done. 30 seconds. The lawyer's line at the courthouse is ever-so-slightly less rigid than the general public line (if it's obviously my belt buckle setting off the detector, they've never made me take it off; they've learned to accept that lawyers often keep calendars on their smartphones so we don't have to check them before entering the building, though they check to make sure the ringer is off), but even the general public line is pretty much what we were used to pre-9/11. X ray machine. Metal detector. Wand if they can't quickly figure out what's setting off the detector. Pat downs only if you're still setting off the detector and nothing's visible. 45 seconds or a minute, tops. And you know, a rather substantial percentage of the people who go through the line to get into a criminal courthouse are people out on bail, some of whom are actual dangerous criminals. And a lot of the others are people who are witnesses to crimes whose presence is not exactly welcomed by the criminal element. Honestly, this new TSA genital-feeling stuff goes further than I've ever had to go through to even go into a *prison.* They cavity search prisoners for drugs and weapons, of course, but lawyers and other visitors? Not in my experience. Not in this northeastern state. Not unless they're pretty damn sure you're carrying contraband. And we've had, what, 3 attempted bombing incidents post-9/11? Out of how many scheduled flights? I just did the math. Over 150 *million* worldwide. That's one attempt per 50 million flights.

Profiling isn't the answer either. The most ridiculous post-9/11 airport story I have seen involves an airport back in early '02. I saw them stop and aggressively question a young middle eastern-looking man after he'd paid for a one-way ticket to San Francisco in cash. Sounds suspicious, right? Except that I'd been listening to him on his cell a few minutes before. My Hebrew is pretty bad, but I gathered enough to figure out he was an Israeli soldier on leave who had to fly to the west coast to visit some dying relative, not knowing when he was going to return. Sure enough, he turned up back at the gate 45 minutes later, clutching his Israeli passport, putting stuff back into his IDF-issued backpack, and cursing up a storm. I've heard similar stories from Sikhs, who evidently give off the "other" vibe enough to be forced into humiliating removals of their turbans every time they go to an airport. The TSA, at least at my local airport, has at least three corrupt officers. There's evidently something broken in oversight. (changing minor details in the following) I have a client who had a bottle of DEA-scheduled medication (she's epileptic) confiscated from her despite showing a legitimate doctor's prescription (forcing her to have to find an English-speaking hospital the moment she got to France to get a new prescription to avoid having seizures.) Upon follow up, there was no record of the confiscation whatsoever. Of course, I can't subpoena the videotapes for national security reasons. There's absolutely no question in my mind that the TSA guys realized that a bottle of a hundred downers was worth quite a bit on the street, and they decided to take it from her. Simple as that. This is, coincidentally, the same airport where a TSA officer was recently fired for planting baggies of white powder into the luggage of attractive women so he could take them to the back room and chat them up. It wasn't until one of the women went to the press that any investigation whatsoever was done.

I'm sick of it. I'll take planes for cross-continent or overseas travel, but it's gotten to the point that the TSA checkpoints cause more anxiety than the flight does to the point that I'd rather drive six hours than take a one hour flight. Because they're arbitrary, capricious, poorly trained, sometimes corrupt, and have attitudes that make the bouncers at your average strip club or dance club seem like milquetoasts.

Put the rules in writing. Stick to them. Fire, and if necessary, prosecute those TSA agents who don't stick to them. Have some degree of transparency. If it requires paying to hire people with brains, then pay for it. Realize that inconveniencing people for security is ok. Subjecting them to literal terror is not. And keep things in perspective. 2800 people died on September 11. Of course it was terrifying and horrible and tragic, but also remember that 42,000 people died in highway accidents in the US the same year....

(I don't even want to be acknowledged by initials in this one if you use it-- all I need is to end up on the no fly list!)

Talking points by Josh Marshall November 22, 2010 4:55 PM

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