Just finished celebrating a birthday. Fortunately, it was rather less depressing than last year's, though the recruiter's consoling comment that "everything happens for a reason" did end up looking damn near clairvoyant over the next 12 months - basic training has nothing on this. Still separated from my wife by circumstances and a continent, though she will be getting on an airplane at some point to be with us again. Airport idiocy, here we come.
Which neatly bridges 2 things much on my mind lately. One personal, and deliberately somewhat cryptic. The other (TSA) very public, and a source of more than considerable irritation to many of us. That irritation is boiling over into widespread anger at invasive, quasi police-state "security theater" that keeps no-one safer. As my friend Jack Wheeler puts it:
"After traveling around the world - and through airport security in 18 countries - over the past few months, then returning to the US, I can confirm that no country I know of on earth has airport security as stupid, obnoxious, and intrusive as the US. And yes, that includes North Korea."
The grains of irritation have been piling up for quite some time, and like any sand hill, you can never be sure when the system reaches its "critical state" and suddenly begins to give way. Eventually, however, it will - and when it does, things happen fast. That anger may have found its critical state flashpoints at last...
John "Don't Touch My Junk" Tyner may well be the grain that sets off the sand avalanche, via his viral YouTube audio recording. That backlash is quickly gathering steam, and a foresighted clause in the bill that created the TSA is giving it serious teeth.
So 4 cheers for Rep. John Mica [R-FL], who helped write the original TSA bill in 2001, and will soon chair the House Transportation Committee. He's now sent letters to over 150 airports, reminding about that intelligent clause that lets them opt out of having the TSA there.
Yeah, you read that right. And about f-ing time.
Orlando's Sanford International has opted out, which will be good news for Disneyworld fans, and for Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control employees. A number of other airports in Florida and Georgia are seriously considering it, and it seems likely that more will join them.
Personally, I do not see the TSA as capable of fixing itself. As the Washington Examiner points out:
"In a May 2010 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mica noted that the GAO "discovered that since the program's inception, at least 17 known terrorists ... have flown on 24 different occasions, passing through security at eight SPOT airports." One of those known terrorists was Faisal Shahzad, who made it past SPOT monitors onto a Dubai-bound plane at New York's JFK International Airport not long after trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square. Federal agents nabbed him just before departure."
That's why, if I'm Rep. Mica, my next step after airports have switched and passengers can see the difference, is to submit a house bill abolishing the TSA. It was a stupid idea then. It's still stupid. Undo the mistake, and show that government agencies can - and sometimes should - simply go away.
Politically, it also has much to recommend it. Let Senate Democrats risk putting themselves crosswise with a lot of constituents on a personal issue that really makes many angry. They thought ObamaCare was something? That was nothing. Let President Obama move to veto it, in order to keep his union funding coming. He'll lose the respect of many Americans in a way he won't recover, as the GOP reminds Americans again and again, through public and private channels, that if they hate the airport experience, they know whom to thank.
I'd support the same move if it was President McCain. Who would probably have started out clueless, then backtracked at 100 miles an hour. Obama won't backtrack.
Which makes this another good teaching moment and conversation about rights and the proper bounds of government. We'll need it, because replacing TSA employees with private ones doesn't necessarily solve our problem, unless methods also change.
We are still left with a system that does not see and advocate passengers as part of the solution - which, as Tyner points out so well, has been the common denominator of actual airborne terrorist attempts since Flight 93. We are still left with stupid security theater procedures that choose to make everyone victims, instead of targeting those with ill intent. The rise of narco-terrorism, and the potential for further escalation of Mexico's insurgency, means that profiling Muslims as the solution would create a blind spot that would make us less secure. Profile Muslims and Mexicans? Think for a second about the networks narco-terrorists can draw from, and already do. You're just asking to be blown up that way.
But states like Israel have managed to do this - partly because they're serious about security, and partly because, as anyone who knows Israelis will attest, those folks would not have stood for the TSA's brainless security theater for even one day without near-riots.
America can do this too. If it decides that it wants to. Or that it really, really doesn't want the current system. Which is a start. All it takes, sometimes, is that one last grain of sand.
Let the avalanche roll. And bury the TSA.