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TSA-Public Servant or Jack-Booted Thug?
In 1971, I was a high school student with his first after school job, working at one of many airport concessions stands. When I started, passengers could board planes without being subject to security screening. But the pressure was on to make changes due to the rash of airplane hijackings during the late 1960’s and by the following year, 1972, security checkpoints and procedures were instituted at all concourses.
Flash forward to 1976, waiting to be called on to active duty military service, I worked for a time for a private contractor who was charged with the responsibility to screen passengers and their carry-on personal items prior to their boarding aircraft. It was a minimum wage job, anyone who had two arms and two legs with a record that precluded felony conviction could be hired. I worked at this job for three months. The standing and waiting was tedious as it was hot and cold; a rush of incoming flights for one moment with deathly quiet and boredom during the rest of the time. We wore blazer jackets with the professional polish, but it was just for appearances to reassure the flying public. There was no guarantee that any screener so much as graduated from high school. The job required having passengers move through metal detector machines and if the machine alerts positive for metal, the wand would be used over the body to detect all metallic objects on the person. That person would be asked to remove the metal upon detection so that the wand would no longer register metal. Same sex pat downs were performed when there was prosthesis or some other metal that could not be physically separated from the passenger. No one got any sort of thrill performing this activity; as a matter of fact it was a function of the job that most of us screeners would just as soon avoid. Believe me; it was just as uncomfortable for us as it was the passenger. We had x-ray machines to check items going through the conveyor belt. We were basically looking for shapes of weapons or items too dense to allow penetration of the x-ray. There was nothing more feared than having to ‘hold’ an item coming through the conveyor belt for further inspection. The passengers were in a hurry and were often times rude. It was more comforting to stick your hands into the mouth of crocodile than going into a woman’s purse. Who wants to get their hands in there? Everything from Kleenex, handkerchiefs and any number of unmentionables were on display before others. Yes, a woman’s purse was truly a bottomless pit where anyone would fear to tread. The only better definition for turnover than what this job represented was the pastry itself. Training was rudimentary and the staff was not well versed. Even then, this was an important job being handled by the government through award to the lowest bidder, which was not conducive to a professional cadre doing the job. These contractors were ‘penny-enny’ operators that were so cheap as to squeeze the nickel so hard as to make the buffalo hollar’. Well, so much for the ‘virtuous’ private sector. So now that I have provided background to indicate that I have been involved in this service, it is time for what you have all been waiting for, my rant.
No One is Above Suspicion
Most of us had heard of the tragic story taking place last June 18th of the 95 year old woman in a wheelchair who experienced an undignified search of her person. She is a person with terminal cancer nearing the end of her life and I sympathize under the circumstances. But while she may well be an unlikely candidate as a terrorist that does not mean that her condition and her implements could not contain items that would constitute contraband or who knows, someone could have placed dangerous material on her person in a manner in which she may have been completely unaware. I have certainly read stories where smugglers would use the bodies of dead infants to move drugs past customs officers. These people are ruthless and cannot be allowed to think that there is anyone or any group that is not subject to being checked. You can rely on the fact that that very “Achilles heel” is what will be exploited by the terrorist. We are not talking about hijacking where it is not likely that hijacker is going to sacrifice his or her life to accomplish the objective. These are people that are willing to kill themselves along with a plane full of passengers, what could be more dangerous?
Conservatives seem to think that this is all ‘overkill’. While they are the most anxious to prosecute the war against terror, they want us all to get caught with our breeches down here at home. In discussions with conservatives in other media, they advocate profiling, assuming that just because a white blue eyed person has never commandeered an aircraft for attack that it cannot happen. That is pretty dumb reasoning, I hope those that are to be overseeing all this at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a more refined, evolved approach than this? I want everybody checked consistently and fairly. Race and ethnicity is just one factor of many that need to be taken into consideration before you call someone aside. The rightwinger wants to assume that everybody wearing traditional Middle Eastern dress is a terrorist and that they should naturally expect unjustified scrutiny and indignities as a result. They say why is it that the “good ones” do not get the ‘bad ones’ in line? Because they do not, then whatever indignities they receive as a group they bring upon themselves. That’s nuts! It they do not want to be singled out they need to wear western clothing and go whiteface? Most of these goober pea guys could not tell the difference between a Hispanic and a person from theMiddle East; after all don’t they both have the same shade of brown? Any man that would kill and injure over 800 people as did Timothy McVeigh in 1995 is capable of blowing up aircraft, who is profiling him and his sort? What about the fellow inSpokaneWashingtonthat left a bomb on the parade route for the King Holiday last January? So, it is obviously that I don’t like profiling as I consider it a sloppy and lazy substitute for good police work. If I were them, I would litigate this and get the message across through the expense to society at large. I will leave it at that.
A Professional Workforce
We cannot afford, with so much at stake, to trust the private sector and its clinging to the profit motive to ever rise to a task that requires a commitment by the employer and employees that transcends such a motive. If the low bid contractor was not effective in 1976, how much more so in an environment that is several times more dangerous. All this ‘stuff’ about groping is silly, thousands of passengers go through the screening process each year without incident. But, of course, when there is an error or problem, it is like that represents all of TSA. I recall the film The FBI Story (1959) with James Stewart, a pretty good picture, all in all. It begins with the explosion of a plane in mid air over Coloradoskies in 1955 by a man who planted dynamite on the plane after taking out an insurance policy on his mother’s life. Well, the days of hopping on a plane without security screening has gone the way of the nickel Pepsi, and I know conservatives constantly lament this reality, but that is the way that it is. Can you imagine the challenge today, bombs that are extremely efficient in separating the x from the y? We have C-4, all manner of explosives and detonators, timers, barometric pressure triggers and even cell phones. And after all this, you want the people protecting you from this complex array of mayhem coming from the unemployment line working in a McDonald’s kind of work environment? My God, man, think McFly, think! Remember, as I said earlier, I had held this job at one time, but today the stakes are so much higher
Let’s Let The Professionals Do Their Job and Move Beyond Bigotry For Its Own Sake
Last May there was an incident that made me pretty upset, when some Muslim religious leaders wearing traditional Arab garb were humiliated and embarrassed when they were wrongly kicked off two commercial flights as they sought to travel to a national conference. While Federal regulation allows an airline to refuse to transport an individual that it decides is unsafe, the plane’s captain has ultimate authority. The decision cannot be made based solely on the person’s race, color, national origin, religion, ethnicity, or sex. The captain is in violation and abused his discretion and consequently will subject the air carriers to a lawsuit as a result. The conservatives on this thread where the article was found infuriated me by insisting that these men should have worn western clothing and that the captain was right in expelling them. That’s nuts. It is high time for the right wing to stop being so damned provincial and grow up, it is a big world and not all things exist only to make you comfortable. But, I suppose that is why I am a progressive.
All the best to each of you and have a happy 4th!