I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the current hot topic of “enhanced pat downs” our Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has recently started. Even more, I’ve been thinking about how few people in our country actually seem to care that a government agency has taken it upon themselves, without any debate by elected officials or discussion within the public arena, to grope people using the legal justification that “probable cause” consists of attempting to board a commercial aircraft after legally purchasing a ticket. For the sake of national security and keeping us all safe from bad guys.
Our 2010 Department of Defense (DoD) budget comes in at $721.3 billion including our splendid little wars against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is equivalent to about half of the entire world’s defense spending. This does include intelligence gathering by the CIA and the NSA but not the spy satellites needed to find bad guys, operated by NASA, which adds on as much as $8.5 billion (about 50 percent of NASA’s total budget). We pile up another $2.7 billion annually for FBI counter-terrorism operations (about one third of the FBI’s total budget). Our Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is officially designated as the domestic security agency responsible for keeping Americans safe from bad guys, costs American taxpayers another $54.7 billion per year.
The $721 Billion spent by the DoD pays for, among other nice-to-have stuff, the cost of maintaining 1.4 million active duty military personnel stationed at 820 installations in at least 135 countries around the world. In fact, we have the second largest standing military force in the world after China’s People Liberation Army of 3 million members. Then again, China has a population of 1.3 billion people and we have a population of 310.8 million, which makes the ratio of personnel in uniform .2 percent for China and .4 percent for America; twice China’s percentage. No other nation on this planet has so many armed personnel stationed outside their borders in so many locations.
All of this is to keep us safe from bad guys that want to hurt Americans.
So, we are spending half of the entire world’s total on defense; maintaining the world’s second largest military with armed troops in almost every other nation and territory on earth; spending half of our space exploration budget on spy satellites; spending a third of the FBI’s budget on counter-terrorism; and spending still more money for DHS-managed domestic security. Yet, to hear the current TSA administrator John Pistole tell it, the only thing that can prevent Osama Bin Laden wanna-bees from flying airplanes into our buildings is TSA employees feeling up the genitals of everyone including little kids and grandparents.
And Americans don’t seem to think that’s a bad thing. Because it will keep us safe from the bad guys.
It seems to me that Osama Bin laden, where ever he is hiding, is as proud as can be of what he has accomplished. Never mind 9/11/2001. In December 2001, Bin Laden had a sad-sack loser try to blow up his shoes on an airplane, and nine years later people are still required to walk through airport metal detectors in their socks. In August 2006, the United Kingdom police arrested a bunch of Bin Laden-inspired sad-sack losers for allegedly trying to carry chemicals on board an aircraft, mix them and blow up the planes. So for the past four years no one is allowed to carry a bottle of water through airport screening. In December 2009, Bin Laden had another sad-sack loser try to blow up his underwear on an airplane, and now people have the choice of getting photographed in the nude or groped by TSA agents, apparently until all eternity. In addition to taking off our shoes and being denied permission to carry water through the checkpoints.
The nation that once led the free world in simultaneously fighting back the scourge of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan; the nation that once put people on the moon; a nation that calls herself the “shining city upon a hill,” the “freest, greatest, last best hope for mankind,” “the model of Democracy for all the world to follow”; and cries out “Let Freedom Ring!”; is now willingly allowing government employees to commit acts that in other settings would get those employees listed on a sex offender registry. To keep us safe from the bad guys.
Osama Bin Laden has near single-handily shown the entire world that America has become nothing more than a paper tiger.
What happened to us?
For those readers fortunate enough to have not flown recently, here are a just a few links on how abusive airline screenings have become:
YouTube Video: TSA abusing young female passenger to: “Teach Her a Lesson”.
For some websites doing great work on tracking and reporting these abuses:
And of Course, the Great Orange Satan, DailyKos
Added 30 November: DailyKos: Male TSA Agents Target Female Travelers
For the record, my personal position on “airline security” as a frequent flyer: The risk of dying in an airplane crash caused by mechanical failures or FAA controller errors is far, far greater that from a terrorist attack. When we devote as much resources into holding airlines accountable for proper aircraft maintenance and building up FAA controllers as we do on the TSA, in proportion to the actual risks, I’ll consider that we as a country have a balanced approach to air travel safety.
You’re post illustrates the obvious: a large standing military is irrelevant to stopping acts of terrorism, committed by irregulars using asymmetric warfare.
For that matter, GropeFest 2010 isn’t likely to stop terror attacks. Nor will x-ray machines, or bomb-sniffing dogs, nor anything else.
What we can do is limit the scope and effectiveness of an attack, which is what those seemingly irrelevant military and security forces actually accomplish.
If we understand that Acts of Violence in the Name of (fill in the blank_____) are inevitable as long as some attention-seeking jerk sees profit in attacking us, then the question should be “Why are we so risk-averse?” Bin Laden is going to have his occasional airliner and frankly there isn’t jack we can do to stop him. Likewise, Somali pirates are going to bag the occasional ship and–outside of actively hunting and killing pirates–there isn’t squat we’re going to do to stop it. Regardless of who commits the violent act, the act itself doesn’t do nearly as much damage as our overreaction to it.
So how risky are we willing to live? Of the 10 million airline flights per year, how many are we willing to write off as ‘the cost of rendering Bin Laden militarily impotent’? I think we’re willing to write off zero, and that is what gives terrorism its power.
We expect the government to implement solutions that keep us safe, bitch when those solutions impose on our individual lives, and bitch again when those solutions fail to stop the bad guys from finding inevitable work-a-rounds.
Bin Laden isn’t going to beat us. We are