Monday, November 22, 2010

Has the Sleeping Giant Awakened?

I used to wonder what it would take for Americans to rise up, enmass, and confront their government. If the news reports are any indication, it is the stories, the voice recordings, and the video of people, some as young as three years old, or as infirm as a disabled cancer patient, being put through a full body scanner or being groped as a prior condition for getting on an airplane. One man, to prove a point, refused the scanners, then refused the pat-down, but willingly stripped to his bike shorts so the TSA could see he had nothing to hide. He was told to put on his clothes so they could pat him down! Then they arrested him for not following instructions!
Indignation at the overreach of the TSA has gone viral. Someone started the call for a National Opt-Out Day, and over the course of two weeks it has snowballed into a fearsome threat to on-time air travel on the day before Thanksgiving.

The TSA reacted this past weekend. They stated that anyone who disrupts the scanning process or the pat downs will be arrested and fined $10,000. The pat-downs and the scans would go forward as planned, said Mr. Pistole, the head of the TSA. His tough guy attitude struck the exact wrong cord, and the calls for opting out of the naked body scanners intensified. Today, he was somewhat more concilliatory by saying they were looking at procedures to see if they could be made more palatable, and pleading with air travellers to cooperate with the TSA out of consideration for other travellers.

On my way home tonight, my Congressman, Russ Carnahan, got some airtime by saying he was reviewing TSA procedures to see if they couldn't be modified. Russ has never demonstrated the slightest concern for the Constitution. His concern was strictly to make TSA procedures less of a lightning rod. He doesn't want to kill the beast, he wants to tame it.

Debates have raged on TV between civil libertarians, who oppose the very idea of the TSA as well as the security measures they have put in place, and the Safety First crowd that repeats the mantra "anything for safety." One of their best critiques is "if you (libertarians) don't want the TSA to do body scans to keep us safe, what would YOU do to keep us safe?" The best response to that critique is: "it is not the government's job to keep us safe in the air, it is the airlines job to keep us safe in the air." That doesn't directly answer the question so much as it tries to reframe the debate: it's not WHAT will keep us safe, but WHO. I'm not sure most viewers get this.

Nevertheless, there is extensive buzz on the internet and in the mainstream press. We'll know in two days if it has any teeth. It seems to me that the easy way for the TSA to defang the entire threat is to turn off the machines for a day. No machines and no pat downs means no opt-out. The whole protest fizzles. They can always put the rules in place at another time when everyone has gotten a little tired of the arguments.

Personally, I hope the TSA sticks with its' hardline position. That could be the catalyst for a nationwide reality check, some citizen activism, and maybe for some citizen empowerment. If people see the TSA run away from one of their cherished programs because of an incensed public, maybe the public will sense their own power and continue spontaneous challenges to other programs, bureaucracies, and government institutions.

I wonder if the sleeping giant has awakened.

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