Danny Schechter (Al Jazeera) | RS_News | February 10 2012
OPINION | I had been debating with myself, and a few friends, about whether or not to accept an invitation to attend a film conference in Iran. The argument against going is that by travelling there, you validate a dictatorial police state.
But with so few American journalists going to Tehran these days, I felt a higher duty to attend.
The first step in the long trip from New York was getting in line for an inspection by that uniformed Army called the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), a $5bn agency that insists it is only there to keep us safe.
Talk about a police state.
There is no question that one consequence of its rigorous procedures is to teach the public how to be compliant and follow orders. It’s a manifestation of a certain “friendly fascism” ushered in by 9/11, what the Right denounces in other areas as a nanny state.
Never mind that on that day of infamy in 2001, Boston’s airport was run by an Israeli expert known for the highest security standards, or that security detectors at Newark found knives on hijackers, but they gave them back because they were legal at the time.
George W Bush’s decision to establish the TSA was about visibly reassuring the public to keep them flying. It was also a way to create lots of jobs without his own party objecting. It was justified as “at least we are doing something!”
This Big Government hiring programme was driven by fear – but rarely criticised.
Back in the line at JFK airport, I noticed that in this class society of ours, the TSA permits shorter lines for First Class and Business Class passengers, ensuring that the 99 per cent/1 per cent divide is alive and well in our airports.
A very sweet black woman helped me schlep my plastic containers overflowing with a bulky winter coat, a sweatshirt with a zipper, belt, coins, pens, sneakers, iPad and computer.
I surprised the officer by telling her that in England they don’t take computers out of bags anymore, and that Germany doesn’t require belts and shoes to be taken off.
Her response: “I hope someday soon that we can end all this. It is a big drag for everyone.”
I am sure she wouldn’t want to be quoted by name because, as I soon found out, the TSA does not like people who are “negative”.
Yet there have been many “negative” incidents – like old women being strip-searched, TSA agents asleep on the job and even reports of luggage being stolen.
Humiliation or Retaliation?
While all my stuff was going through one machine, I was steered to another, one of those supposedly safe body scanners where I was supposed to stand, hands up, as if I were being busted or guilty of something.