Just Stay Home

Thursday's Editorial   —   Posted on November 18, 2010

(by Jed Babbin, Spectator.org) – The trade association of U.S. airlines — the Air Transport Association — says that it expects that about 24 million Americans will take to the air over the Thanksgiving holiday. That would be about 3 percent more air travelers than flew last Thanksgiving. I hope they are wrong. Travelers should drive, take the train, bicycle, walk or just stay home. Just don’t fly. If we stay on the ground, the message may finally get through to our government: stop harassing us and concentrate on finding the bad guys.

Air travel was almost pleasant in the 1970s and ’80s. The food — at least on airlines other than the now-defunct Eastern Airlines — was pretty decent, service existed and all in all it wasn’t too bad even for those of us shuttling between Washington and Los Angeles every two weeks. It got steadily worse because the airlines were going broke in the 1990s and now — since 9/11 — only fools travel when they don’t absolutely have to.

There are two ideas which dominate US airline security, and both are false. The first is that every air traveler — be it a four-year-old girl or a 24-year-old Yemeni man — is an equal risk. The second is that it more important to keep dangerous objects off the plane than to keep a dangerous person on the ground. And plans based on these assumptions are metastasizing into a burden on air travel that will damage our economy severely.

We have been dutifully marching through magnetometers for decades. After 9/11, were grimly tolerant of the new searches, taking off our shoes, divesting our laptops of their cases and even leaving liquids and cigar lighters in the checked bags. But last Christmas, none of that prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding a Northwest flight with PETN (a very concentrated and powerful explosive) sewn into his underwear. Were it not for the action of a young Dutch filmmaker — who, if memory serves, leaped over several rows of passengers and forcefully doused Umar’s drawers — a lot of people might have been killed.

And in reaction to this, our dear Homeland Security Secretary, the lovely and talented Janet Napolitano, said that “the system worked.” Now, though I claim some expertise in matters of national security, I am unaware of any system which ensures that there’s a brave Dutch filmmaker on each flight, sitting on the edge of his seat and waiting for a faint puff of smoke to rise from someone’s BVDs.

As a result of Umar, the Touching Sensitive Areas agency ordered accelerated deployment of the x-ray scanners which display us naked for inspection by TSA employees and the use of enhanced “pat down” techniques that the selfsame TSA clods use to run their hands over every part of our bodies. And yes, I do mean every part, even those we render inaccessible to all but our spouses and physicians. A multitude of news reports say that there is a whole lot of groping going on.

Airline pilots and stewardi are refusing to go through the scanners because of the health risk attendant to repeated X-ray exposure (and because they don’t like being fondled by TSA). TSA — not your radiologist — says the scanners are safe. Right.

I am a cancer survivor. I have not, and will never, submit to the full-body x-ray scans. You should follow my lead. And when someone gropes you — touches your privates even briefly or “by accident” — get their name and their supervisor’s name, and the names of any and all who assist them and report them to the airline you were going to fly. Not to TSA: they’re governmentally impervious to such complaints.

Better still, stay on the ground until the Touching Sensitive Areas gang is brought under adult control. Which will require a complete rethinking of how we screen passengers for air travel: we need to concentrate on keeping bad guys — not just bad things — off the aircraft. It’s time to shift the security burden off the typical American traveler and onto the backs of the would-be terrorists.

Yes, we still need the magnetometers, the bomb-sniffing dogs and better high-tech screening of air cargo. We need the Federal Air Marshals, and more of them, aboard our airliners. But we must make air travel tolerable again for those of us who aren’t trying to blow ourselves up. And there’s two ways we have to do it.

As the Christmas underwear bomber’s case proved, we could — if we weren’t governed by lazy libs — gather intelligence on people who are dangerous and keep them off the aircraft. Abdulmutallab’s dad tried to report his Islamic radicalism to the State Department, but the information went into a black hole and wasn’t translated immediately into a “no-fly” order on the young man, as it should have been.

After the incident, the Obama administration was said to be revising the way information was handled. I have no confidence that this has been done, and no evidence to say it has been accomplished. The incoming chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (probably Michigan’s Mike Rogers) should hold a hearing to find out as soon as the new Congress convenes in January. We need to make it very easy to get on the “no-fly” list and very hard to get off.

And then there is the liberals’ biggest bugaboo, profiling. Yes, it’s high time we adopted the methods of profiling that have kept the Israeli airline El Al free of terrorist attacks for more than three decades. Every passenger should be screened behaviorally and — let’s say it loudly and clearly — special attention needs to be paid to every Muslim male between the ages of 17 and 45.

Would that be discriminatory? Of course. But discrimination is legal unless it is — as the courts have said for many years — invidious. In the 1984 case of McLaughlin v. Florida, the Supreme Court said that invidious discrimination is a classification which is arbitrary, irrational, and not reasonably related to a legitimate purpose.

The facts of Islamic terrorism demonstrate that additional screening for Muslim men in that age group is supported objectively and rationally and is related to the legitimate purpose of preventing terrorist attacks. It may be discrimination, but it is both legal and necessary. And it should be done, comprehensively, throughout our air travel system.

The 9/11 attacks were aimed at crippling our economy by hampering our ability to conduct air commerce. We recovered from it because we are innovative and because we know that air commerce has to continue if our economy is to thrive again. Secretary Incompetano and her gang are doing what UBL couldn’t: making it so miserable to travel that most of us won’t. Janet should be fired, and her replacement ordered to take the burdens of air travel off the businessman and the vacationer and put it on the backs of the would-be terrorists where it belongs.

Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies.

First published on Spectator.org November 15, 2010.  Reprinted here November 18, 2010 with permission from The American Spectator. Visit the website at Spectator.org.