PJ Media

Beyond the Nanny State

If there is any good that might come from the Transportation Safety Administration’s heavy-handed move to full-body scanners, complete with refusers being forced to endure aggressive pat-downs that all too often fit the dictionary definition of sexual assault, it’s that it may shake enough Americans out of their presumptive, too-comfortable complacency about our government’s benign intentions.

The TSA mostly had my backing until several weeks ago. No, let me correct that. The TSA employees on the ground who carry out the government’s required searches at our airports had my sympathies. After all, they’re not the ones who decided that all passengers must be profiled equally (if you won’t profile on any other basis, that’s what you’re doing). To be clear, this horrible no-profiling non-judgment goes back to George W. Bush’s neanderthal Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta. TSA’s frontline employees aren’t the ones who decided that everyone must send their shoes through the X-ray machines, and they’re not the ones who have compiled the detailed list of what you can and cannot take onto the plane or include with your checked baggage.

But my compassion for TSA employees who have public, er, contact mostly vanished when I learned that the “Advanced Imaging Technology” (AIT) currently being employed:

  • May not be safe — “[S]ome researchers are sounding the alarm about airport scanners and the radiation they give off,” including, according to CBS News, “a group of doctors in San Francisco [who] want the FDA to do an analysis of the radiation risk.”
  • Hasn’t been proven safe, at least to the public — “It appears the Obama administration wants to keep that information classified.”

There’s also plenty of justification for doubting AIT’s security effectiveness. CBS also tells us that:

  • A report issued after investigators for the Department of Homeland Security “tested the devices in eight airports using federal agents disguised as passengers to see if the items they had on their person were detected by the controversial whole body scanners” stated: “The number of tests conducted, the names of the airports tested, and the quantitative and qualitative results of our testing are classified.”
  • “The Government Accountability Office has criticized TSA’s internal testing of the machines.”

What’s with the secrecy? If AIT screening is truly effective, the government would be performing a public service by saying so. The idea that potential terrorists would take such an announcement, if backed by the facts, as some kind of a dare is pretty weak; it isn’t as if they’re not already constantly looking for other airline-related lines of attack. More likely, the lack of willingness to disclose how well AIT and other procedures really work is emboldening terrorists to continue their pursuit.

But let’s get back to the TSA’s employees. Anyone there who understands the problems with AIT, and the completely logical reasons why people would refuse to subject themselves to it, should be asking themselves how they can continue to be participants, when a passenger’s only alternative — besides walking away — is to be subjected to an aggressive, privacy-invading, dignity-compromising pat-down. TSA employees who stay on the job in the midst of all of this are telling us a lot about themselves, and it’s not complimentary.

The bottom line is that millions of passengers are being forced to endure deliberately high-visibility searches which, if they improve security at all, only do so marginally, while obviously more effective measures, including logic-based profiling, remain sidelined.

At some point you have to wonder if the government’s top-priority goal is really security, or if it is more about creating a populace of ever more-compliant sheep willing to put up with anything in the name of some supposedly noble goal.

The idea might seem ridiculous if there weren’t so many clues in other areas that an ever more unaccountable bureaucracy is more interested in asserting control than in achieving positive results, including but by no means limited to the following:

  • Vehicle-related traffic deaths per mile driven have been on a decades-long decline. Miles driven have roughly doubled since 1980, while deaths per mile are down by well over 50%. The absolute number of traffic deaths dropped by 22% from 2005-2009. About 29% of those deaths still involve a drunk driver. So what explains Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s obsession with technologically shutting down the ability to use a cellphone while in a car — even as a passenger?
  • LaHood, who has morphed into Norm Mineta’s evil twin, has openly stated what his department’s so-called “livability initiative” is really about: “It is a way to coerce people out of their cars.” Why is that important, when Climategate and other revelations — including the German economist who recently admitted that the entire enterprise is really all about redistributing wealth, while the alleged science is secondary — have totally discredited the validity of the idea that global warming, if it is even occurring, is human-caused?
  • You wouldn’t think so from the headlines, but the incidence of food-borne illness is down significantly in almost all major categories in the past decade or so. So why has the Obama administration been pushing to impose regulations which currently only apply to large agribusinesses on even the smallest family farms, creating what Patrick Richardson calls “an army of regulators with TSA-like authority over agriculture” — perhaps even your backyard garden?
  • Finally, of course, there’s ObamaCare. As written, the legislation’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), will, through its default control over Medicare’s budget, decide the level and quality of care America’s elderly will receive without extraordinary congressional intervention. The IPAB is living proof, so to speak, that Sarah Palin’s “death panels” assertion last year was all too accurate; it will in effect decide who lives and dies without leaving its members with blood on their hands.

It always seems to get back to control of our lives, doesn’t it? What the TSA is currently doing is bad enough, but it pales in comparison to the government’s command-and-control efforts in other areas. We’re not as far as most people think from having soulless, TSA-like officials dictating the tiniest details of our daily lives. They must be stopped.