By Spencer Kellogg | @TheNewTreasury
“Something has to be done. Everybody’s fed up. The people are fed up, the pilots are fed up and I’m fed up. What we are accepting at the airport is symbolic of us not standing up and saying enough is enough!” – Ron Paul
In the months that followed 9/11, the American people were scared, confused and angry. The ruling class was not. They had been waiting for that very moment when the people would be dependent and weak. For the anti-imperialist majority, it was hard enough to wrap their heads around why people from thousands of miles of way held such a crowning vendetta against The United States. Who the hell was so mad at us and what had we done to make it so? After all, it wasn’t the mechanic or farmer or dentist or professor who had instructed the century-long conquest of democratic interventionism behind the towering force of a nuclear arsenal. With the people’s psyche at their most fragile, The United States government took control of the narrative and labeled what would be the new enemy of the 21st century: anti-western terrorists who were willing to do anything to watch America burn into smoldering ash.
Nevermind the century of global policing carried out by the American Empire that saw us play another man’s terrorist in stolen lands and throughout sovereign nations. Nevermind the belligerent, hawkish interventionism that had sewn seeds of hatred and rebellion in peoples far and wide and of no relation to the engineer or arborist that both call Pennsylvania home. Nevermind the pervasive wars in the countries of Kuwait and Iraq and Iran and Syria and Libya and Afghanistan. Nevermind any of it. Americans let themselves be hypnotized into believing that brown Muslims wanted to kill us because of our freedoms and George Bush was the bald eagle messiah to lead the whole, spiteful, deviled world into a bright new dawn of democracy and peace.
To save us from these threats of a World War, the Bush administration pushed aside the fundamental tenets of our constitution as The Patriot Act, the NSA, and the TSA were all hastily rushed through Congress in what is now clearly the single greatest seizure of federal power since the end of WWII. In one broad swoop, the branches that had anchored our patently slow-moving enterprise were unceremoniously cut and the new drivers of the military war machine set ablaze. Under the guise of warding off some great, undefinable terror that suddenly existed today where it had not the week before, the American empire began its swift attack on the natural and unalienable rights of Americans. Over 60,000 federal TSA jobs were created, the largest federal mobilization since 1946, and a whole new opportunity for invasive, authoritarian access to the lives of peaceful American citizens was afoot. In the years since 9/11, we have come to accept this government’s preening with an eye roll and a shrug. What power does any of us have in the fight against it? And don’t we all have somewhere to be anyways? Better to let the agent get on with their prodding and questioning so we can make the puddle jumper to Cheyenne to see the parents over the weekend.
Which brings us to the big news that has been kept relatively quiet in mainstream media. Earlier this week, The Boston Globe blew the top off “Quiet Skies,” a secretive TSA program that has tracked over 5,000 US citizens on domestic flights throughout the past year. “Dozens of air marshals,” told The Globe that they were instructed to report in minute detail on the behaviors of passengers exhibiting peculiar patterns. These patterns included routine sleep, bathroom, and eating habits that would make potentially any passenger in The United States a target of surveillance. Many of the marshals have suggested that “Quiet Skies” netted zero serious targets and was a complete waste of time and resources.
The late Gore Vidal was one of the sharpest critics of the Bush-era policies that gave expansive power to the surveillance systems of centralized intelligence. His reign was only the beginning of a vast reduction of Americans civil liberties and constitutional rights that have been sustained through Obama and now Trump’s presidencies.. Railing against what he saw as an opportunistic and parasitic state, Vidal often cried afoul of a national security apparatus that ran wild on the psycho fanatical nightmares of a ginned up public. When Congress passed the meticulously crafted 350+ page Patriot Act in the early months after 9/11, Vidal was one of the loudest voices to suggest that this new, abrasive surveillance state had been waiting in the wings for an event of this scale.
We were entering a bit of a depression around 9/11, so if it was Osama’s timing, it was very clever. They hit us when we were really quite off balance. These Presidents, as they get worse and worse – proving that Darwin was wrong – the wars get more surreal. We blow up Afghanistan when all of our enemies who struck at us in the airplanes that day were Saudi Arabians. They weren’t Afghans. And the Afghans were rather hurt that we were blowing up all their cities when we should’ve been taking out the Saudi Royal Family. We hit the wrong people.
The sinister side is the speed with which Clinton, after Oklahoma City, was ready with an anti-terrorist act. The speed of light and it had the most venemous dialogue. They decided, immediately, that many of our freedoms would be diminished starting with the 4th amendment. Now we have the Patriot Act, which was passed after the infamous September 11th. Congress passed it and as is their wont, didn’t read it. That was a terrific piece of legislation remeniscent of one of my favorite emperors: Tiberius.
Tiberius, when he became emperor, the Senate sent him some legislation saying that they would accept, in advance, sight unseen, any legislation that he wanted to send up to the Senate. He sent back a message and said “you’ve lost your senses. Suppose the Emperor has gone mad. Suppose the Emperor is a raging enemy of Rome and you didn’t know it. You can’t do that in advance.”
And they sent it back to him again “anything Glorius Ceaser, that you send us, we will endorse.” And he said, and I feel myself wanting to repeat Tiberius’ words: “how eager they are to be slaves.”
In the era of aviation before the towers fell, never would Americans have suspected that armed, plain-clothed officers were following them or fellow passengers onto flights because a person was deemed to have “taken a long nap” while awaiting their departure. Now, American citizens are forced to bitterly swallow intrusive searches of their person and property for the right to board a routine flight from St. Louis to Trenton. What’s worse, they are being systematically reduced to a state of intellectual paralysis where they can no longer remember a time where they were without the prying eyes of big government nosing through their suitcases and listening in on their bedrooms. “What can you do?” we think.
The very name ‘Transportation Security Administration’ strikes an anxious chord with most Americans. If there is an institution that expressly ‘secures’ transport, then there must be also an inherent suggestion that there is some great unknowable risk to our personal security at any given airport in any given city from Rochester to Sacramento. Is this true? Is flying that dangerous of an affair? Over two million passengers fly across the United States on any given day. Are the TSA really protecting us or are humans naturally peaceful and without an intent to harm? Is there a proven need for government agents to follow thousands of unsuspecting passengers as they travel freely around the country? Do we now hold such little trust in the decency of each other that we are happy to let federal officials encroach on our civil liberties for the perseverance of such an undefinable ‘security’? We can see clearly from research and media coverage that the TSA’s success rate in the past decade is a hotly contested issue with many suggesting overreaches without due cause or process.
In 2015 alone the TSA “missed 95 percent of weapons and explosives in security tests.” Even more ironic is a report after 9/11 that suggested 500 more people were killed a year as a result of automobile accidents after plane passengers opted to drive instead of the long waits and intrusive searches at the gates. This all signals what we already know to be true – the TSA does little in terms of protecting passengers from a terrorist attack. In fact, the more prodding you do of the TSA the more it appears that it’s nothing more than a carte blanch, federal cattle call that acts as an eye in the sky operation to survey and collect data on American citizens who have done nothing to warrant suspicion or investigation.
In our hearts and minds, we know as American citizens that these warrantless actions by the TSA are completely unjustifiable. We can still remember a time before the ever-present threat of a lurking, unspeakable terror threat. Programs like the TSA are simply another notch on the belt of the all-powerful state authority apparatus that cannot and will not be challenged. In the houses of Congress, where days should be filled with the thundering voices of vexed patriots, instead, career politicians smile and nod in happy cooperation. When it comes to the big stuff, they’re all on the same team, each being bought long before the first day they arrived. Their vote merely another casino chip.
As with many federal programs, before long the whole charade just becomes so mundanely every day that an entire generation of younger Americans grow up in the malaise and accept it as normal. The whole lot are indoctrinated through sheer, dramatic, routine, coaxing habit. Today, it’s commonplace to accept the ridiculous assertion that a bottle of shampoo could be a credible national security threat. It’s considered normal to allow another human the right to touch your body and investigate your property in the name of some worthwhile freedom on the other side. To live in America, the great land of liberty and happiness. No one dares step out of line. There’s family to be seen in Dallas.
Institutions should be judged on a basis of their merits. Does the TSA keep us safer? Is the TSA necessary? Or does it cut at the heart of our fundamental rights of travel and speech as Americans? Nobody trusts the TSA. And why should they? Every time you go through their surveillance systems you are made a target within your own homeland and that’s just the way it is.
Or is it? At what point does the American public justifiably ask for clarity on the subject at hand. How long will we remain criminals in our own country for crimes we have not committed? How long will we accept culpability for the violence of a rogue group of militant terrorists 17 years ago? How many of our civil rights must be trashed so that the state can keep us secure? How long before we send a clear and cutting message to Congress that they do not own the identity and soul of the American populace?
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