The TSA has added snow globes of any size to its list of items prohibited as airplane carry on. Do you feel safe now? Does it help you to know that the alleged “‘Terror Plot’ foiled on the morning of Wednesday, 10th August 2006″ of jihadists bringing down planes destined for the United States armed with a sports drink, nail polish remover (acetone) and an MP3 player has not amounted to convictions, or even proof of a real plot?
Most of the media has been pretty silent about it, but NBC news did report that a “an attack was not imminent” as had been suggested by police. This commentary discusses various sources and revelations about the likelihood of this latest terrorist attack. It’s very interesting reading, so I won’t repeat it here. Not only was the attack not imminent, it wasn’t plausible. If that doesn’t convince you, here’s another source, (with still more links) that explains that the suggested explosive, TATP, would sooner kill the alleged terrorist than bring down a plane.
So why all this attention on inconveniencing air passengers when the supposed plots aren’t feasible, reasonable, imminent, or even likely? Simple answer: politics. Elected officials have a better chance of winning if they’re doing something that keeps you safe. Even if we don’t agree, well, at least “he’s doing what he can.” It isn’t true only for elected officials and it isn’t true only in the United States. When NY Subway officials said they would perform random searches, travelers did not cry out about the stupidity of it all (they’d catch 1 in 10,000, even there were terrorists boarding the New York subway.) British authorities raised the “threat level” to critical after the alleged plot in August, even though there turned out to be no threat at all, and they didn’t retract their warnings after the investigation proceeded, because, well, it’s safer if people keep vigilant.
Lobbyists chasing after ever growing Homeland Security dollars, aren’t motivated to search out the truth of their claims that Red Bull and nail polish remover are the next major threat–it might endanger something more important than the freedom to travel: their jobs. A system where we reward politicians for the appearance of safety and action in spite of their effectiveness costs us more than inconvenience. It strips us of liberty, privacy and money.
The TSA isn’t cheap. They requested $5 billion alone for aviation risks in 2006. Compare that with $69 billion for the United States mandatory and discretionary budget for education. It seems strange to me that education is only seven times the budget for people who won’t allow us to bring shampoo or snow globes on planes which, of course, does nothing for our safety. But at least we feel safe, don’t we?
So why aren’t we complaining? Because there is a huge disconnect between those demanding our toothpaste and those making the policy. When we’re about to step on a plane we have no choice but to endure the indignity of removing shoes and showing off our “personal lubricants” in “a clear one quart zip-lock bag” we can’t really complain because they have every authority to keep us from flying if we do. Meanwhile, the policy makers are keeping us safe and hording Homeland Security dollars at our request.
Keep this in mind when politicians tell you they want to keep you safe and protect you from terrorists. Ask them not only what they’re going to do, but how they’re going to see if what they’re doing actually works! If your auto mechanic said he was going to change your oil every 50 miles because it’s better for your car, you’d question his motivation. It’s probably not bad for your car to change oil every 50 miles, but it’s not going to make it last any longer either. And it is going to cost you a fortune and loads of inconvenience.
There are hundreds of ways to blow up a plane, and hundreds other terrorists plots that could scare us, but we let our governments do the scaring instead. We really are letting the terrorists win. Keep this in mind while you shuffle through airport security getting your socks dirty. Snow globes are hardly our biggest threat.