One Perspective: Show your papers, and keep quiet

By Michael Giuliano
The Daily Record Newswire

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
— H. L. Mencken

If you’re preparing for another of those trips out of town during this holiday season, there are certain ways of gaining perspective on the impending travel experience. One YouTube video describes the history of the airline stewardess.

As the video shows, airline flights originally included stewardesses who were nurses because of their first-aid abilities and then “sky girls” required to be exemplars of beauty and charm. While it is undoubtedly old airline marketing, the video clip is nevertheless telling in that the passengers, nearly all wearing suits and dresses, are smoking, drinking and being merry. Baggage-handlers are shown dressed in ties and actually handle the luggage instead of heaving it.

At the end, the narrator reassures the viewer that by 1972, competence overtook beauty and charm as the priority for steward and stewardess hiring. I think most travelers today would take some of the charm. They certainly don’t find any in the airport pre-flight. Rude TSA employees, who make a trip to the DMV almost seem refreshing by comparison, add a delightful touch to the travel experience these days.

The pocket, belt and shoe removal wasn’t sufficiently harassing or degrading. Now, under the new protocol, they must also ‘sneak a peek’ and/or grope passengers before, wasting no time with pleasantries, ordering them to get their pants and shoes back on and get out of the way. With airline travel becoming more unpleasant every year, and having done nothing to alleviate the problem for their customers, several airlines will no doubt again need a bailout or bankruptcy protection in the near future.

Apparently, even the normally sheep-like have had the temerity to complain about the new “security” procedures. (Airport body scans, pat-downs draw more complaints. Associated Press/Miami Herald, Nov. 16, 2010) An online account of one man’s resistance, which included the statement “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested,” became an Internet sensation.

Families are reassured that children 12 or under who are unable or opt out of the scan are subjected only to a “modified pat-down” search. Due to “security reasons,” the TSA will not provide details on the examinations. One writer suggests that parents explain the possibility of a pat-down by TSA agents since parents “won’t necessarily be with their kids as they pass through the scanner or get patted down.” (Thanksgiving travel advice: Modified TSA pat-downs for kids and other checkpoint procedures. Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19, 2010)

Will the TSA lead traveler recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance during next summer’s Independence Day weekend to make the irony of the entire process more palpable?

The effect of the measures would seem to be to psychologically condition everyone to being treated like a criminal. Since the effect of the equal protection principle in this case leads to all people being treated equally badly, a 90-year-old woman is subject to the same intrusive search as a 30-year-old Saudi man, from where most of the 9/11 hijackers hailed.

According to the New York Daily News (TSA comes under scrutiny, some airports consider GOP Rep. John Mica’s proposal to ditch organization, Nov. 19, 2010), some airport administrators are evidently considering the use of private security services instead of TSA employees. They worry about the “customer service” skills of the TSA agents and the effect on the travel industry if people stop flying as much. However, a security service is, by its nature, not a customer “service.” No passenger “requests” a federal feel-up or body scan for his or herself or any other paying customer. It is not a voluntary service. Why a privatized feel-up by a firm dedicated to that line of work is assumed to be better is, of course, something to wonder about.

Why not just run with the whole customer service thing? Here is one proposal: If travelers are really customers of the TSA, then why not offer a TSA shoe-shining service while they undergo the full-body scan? Maybe foot massages would be a valued addition for the weary traveler while his or her shoes are on the conveyor belt?

As reported Nov. 23 by the Associated Press (TSA chief: Resisting scanners just means delays), one man at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport said he doesn’t mind the full-body scans. “I mean, they may make you feel like a criminal for a minute, but I’d rather do that than someone touching me,” he said. Indeed, Americans might need to get used to being treated like violent criminals wherever they go.

Personally, I’m not sure why certain people just recently noticed or became opposed to such privacy intrusions. The basis on which the TSA conducts its searches is the same upon which police departments conduct suspicionless, sobriety roadblocks and harass motorists with breathalyzers, threats, and intrusive questions without any cause, probable or otherwise. Where “safety” is allowed to override the Constitution by the official blessing of the Supreme Court, rights and protections have an eroded foundation and little force.

The TSA chief, a public “servant”, now wags his finger at travelers with contempt and crows that resisting scanners will just cause airport delays. In other words, just shut up and obey; resistance is futile. We care not about your privacy or what you think. You have no say in this democracy. Nobody is exempt, including nuns. Show the uniformed man your papers and have your body scan or body search performed, Granny, and we may let you proceed if you pass inspection.

Don’t the soldiers who have been sent to potentially die in the name of freedom deserve better than to have their country reduced to this?

Michael Giuliano is a Rochester-based freelance writer and a senior attorney editor at Thomson Reuters.