On Security Theater

(Updated below)

I assume that y’all are more or less familiar with the TSA’s new “security” measures — you get the choice of submitting to a full-body imaging scan which produces detailed images of your naked body, which images are then supposed to be but not necessarily actually destroyed, or of submitting to an “enhanced pat-down” (and if you think that sounds a lot like “enhanced interrogation technique,” well, that’s maybe not such a coincidence) in which a TSA employee of the same gender (as long as you’re cis and your gender presentation fits the conventional binary) gropes your entire body, chest and groin included.  If you’re inside security and try to refuse both procedures, you will neither be allowed on the plane nor allowed to leave the airport without being threatened with arrest and hefty fines.  I’m dashing this post off quickly, so I won’t include links to sources — I’m confident that Google will back me up.

A few points about this situation, though they’re probably not going to be new ideas to anyone.

  • There is no reason whatsoever to believe this will in any way make air travel safer.  People who want to sneak things onto planes will still find ways to do so, because people who want to sneak things onto planes are not stupid, and will be able to figure out, just as I have figured out, and just as you have probably figured out, that neither the grope-down nor the naked scanner will reveal any objects hidden inside a person’s body.  People who, for example, want to blow up a plane while they’re on it are probably not going to be deterred by the idea of sneaking the explosives on by swallowing them or inserting them rectally — after all, drug smugglers have been doing so for ages.
  • What makes air travel safer is good investigative and intelligence work, so that plots against air travel can be stopped in the planning stage, before anyone gets on a plane.
  • Approximately one in six American women has been the victim of rape or sexual assault in her lifetime.  That means about 8% (at least) of the flying public are now legally required to relive their sexual assaults.  (The remaining 92% are “merely” required to submit to an initial sexual assault.)
  • A common refrain from defenders of the new measures is “I’d rather be groped than blown up.”  It’s crucially important to try to get through to people who argue that, that being groped in no way reduces their already-minuscule chances of being blown up.
  • Another common claim is “we have to do anything we can to prevent another 9/11.”  But, aside from the aforementioned intelligence work, which we aren’t doing as much of as we should because we’re distracted by nonsense security theater like this — and aside from the bill being sponsored by Rep. Markey which would require screening of 100% of air cargo, an entirely sensible measure — we have already done all we can to prevent “another 9/11.”  Namely: we locked the cockpit doors.  It will never again be possible for hijackers to gain control of an airplane and fly it into a building, killing thousands; and unless you’re just invoking the September 11th, 2001 attacks for cheap political gain you have to accept that nothing short of that would be “another 9/11.”  (The September 11th hijackers themselves also had a hand in ensuring that another such attack could never happen: they let all air passengers know, from now on, that it is not safe to assume hijackers are just after ransom and intend to the hostages unscathed once their demands are met.)
  • We have to assume that the people in charge of devising and promulgating these policies — the TSA, DHS, and up the chain to the President — are themselves also not stupid, and know just as well as some guy with a blog that there’s no plausible way the new screening methods will improve security in any meaningful sense.  We have to conclude, then, that improving security is not their purpose.
  • Finally, even supposing that there were some way in which these measures would reduce the already-minuscule chances of dying in a terrorist attack, it wouldn’t matter.  It wouldn’t matter because these searches are clearly in violation of the 4th Amendment: they are neither reasonable, nor spurred by immediate probable cause, nor backed by warrants issued on evidence of probable cause and describing the specific things to be searched for and seized.  This would be plainly true even if these techniques were effective, and the fact is that they aren’t.  (In DC v. Heller, for example, the Supreme Court made it clear that even a law which is demonstrably effective at reducing crime does not supersede [their interpretations of] the Constitution.)

Update: Of course, another thing to keep in mind here, and it’s something I’m as guilty of as anybody, is that arbitrary harassment and abuse by authorities who can’t be effectively held accountable for it have just been the status quo for many marginalized populations in the US, especially people of color, GLBTQI people, people with disabilities, poor people, etc.  It’s only now that affluent white men — John Tyner, a software engineer; Penn Jillette, a millionaire comedian — are being subjected to this kind of treatment that there appears to be some serious outrage growing.  Only now that white men aren’t treated differently from those other people.  There are all kinds of ways in which that doesn’t say anything good about our society.

Thank You, Judge Walker.

As most everyone will have heard by now, Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (first nominated by Ronald Reagan, blocked over Democratic concerns he would be insensitive to gay and lesbian issues, and later confirmed after renomination by George H. W. Bush) issued his ruling (available as a PDF here, among other places)in Perry v. Schwarzenegger today, striking down the infamous Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban on the grounds that California had no legitimate interest in preventing same-sex marriage, that to do so was a violation of the due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, and that sexual orientation was a “suspect classification,” meaning approximately that almost any state or federal law or government act which discriminates on that basis is more or less presumptively invalid.

This is an enormously important decision, no less so for the fact that it should always have been self-evident.  The celebrations going on tonight in California, and around the country, are well-deserved; I’m raising a glass to toast the victory, myself.

The question now, however, is how this ruling will fare on appeal.  Its next stop is the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which in recent history has been known for leaning left; there’s no completely reliable way to predict what they’ll do, but it seems most likely they’ll affirm Judge Walker’s decision.  Then — a year or two from now — it goes to the Supreme Court.

SCotUS is, of course, the real question.  I haven’t read the entirety of the Perry decision, and I’m not a lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt, but to me it seemed airtight; and at least some of the lawyers I know have agreed with me on that.  But there is a solid bloc of four Justices who are staunchly opposed to GLBT rights in any form, and airtight reasoning by a lower court may not be sufficient to keep them from finding a pretext on which to oppose the ruling, so as many important things seem to, it will likely come down to Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote (assuming, of course, that by the time the case reaches the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan is on the bench but the composition of the court has not otherwise changed).

Signal Boost: There Must Be Accountability

This is mainly me doing my paltry best to boost signal for Teh Portly Dyke’s post on the necessity of investigations and prosecutions for the war crimes committed by the US government over the past eight years (a subject I’ve mentioned before).

Launching a war of aggression is a war crime. Torturing prisoners is a war crime. Refusing to investigate and prosecute war crime is itself a war crime. And if the rule of law means anything, it means the mighty are bound by the same laws as the small, and president, ministers and CEOs may not be excused for their misconduct on grounds of expediency anymore than pickpockets or junkies.

PD has issued a pledge and a challenge to write letters weekly until investigations commence. I don’t know whether I will manage to do that — it often takes me months to write a single blog post — but I will try, and I encourage you to as well.

Why I Am Not a Revolutionary

Many writers and thinkers I respect a great deal argue that the extant social order — which is in bell hooks’s terms white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy — is hopelessly morally corrupt and must be ended.  I agree with this, in fact.  The inhumanity of our system is evident; thus clearly it must be changed.  However, it’s common for these people with whom I agree (Twisty Faster is a good example) to hold that because this hopelessly morally corrupt social order is extant, and being hegemonic will not only fight to preserve itself, but has access to virtually limitless resources in order to do so1, it is functionally impossible to reform, and must instead be overthrown by revolution.  And there, I do disagree.

First, I want to emphasize that it’s the conclusion I disagree with: the idea that the solution is revolution.  It is certainly true that the extant social order is very, very difficult to change.  But I reject revolution, as I’ll explain, on the grounds that it’s a cure worse than the disease.


Why Does Glenn Beck Hate America?

On his Fox show last week, it seems Glenn Beck, noted professional terrible person, had a panel including ex-CIA and ex-Army officers discussing a supposed coming civil war in the US.  Greenwald:

[H]e convened a panel that includes former CIA officer Michael Scheuer and Ret. U.S. Army Sgt. Major Tim Strong.  They discuss a coming “civil war” led by American “Bubba” militias — Beck says he “believes we’re on this road” — and they contemplate whether the U.S. military would follow the President’s orders to subdue civil unrest or would instead join with “the people” in defense of their Constitutional rights against the Government (they agree that the U.S. military would be with “the people”) [Emphasis mine.]

Even for a vile, eliminationist blowhard like Beck, this is shockingly blatant (and I’m a bit surprised Dave Neiwert hasn’t written about it yet; he probably has a piece in the pipeline, though).  I probably don’t even need to bring up the kind of enormous storm of fauxtrage we’d be seeing from the right wing, if a Rachel Maddow or a Keith Olbermann or a Michael Moore had said something even a fraction as inflammatory as this.

This bears empasis, so pardon my repetition: Glenn Beck, a professional political commentator employed (presumably to the tune of a rather large number of dollars) formerly by CNN and now by Fox News (sic), just ran a program promoting the idea that there will soon be a civil war in this country, in which in violation of their oaths the military will side with survivalist-type civilian militias against the (Democratic-Party-controlled) government.

This is insane.  And it’s unconscionably, dangerously irresponsible, especially in light of recent, tragic proof that this kind of violence-promoting rhetoric is not just a gimmick to boost ratings (and the question of whether Beck himself thinks that it’s just a gimmick is essentially irrelevant to the horrific results) has real, and terrible consequences.

The only remotely conscientious, responsible course of action for Fox is to cancel Beck’s show immediately and require him to deliver an on-air apology.  They won’t do that, of course, because they aren’t conscientious or responsible.

Update: See also Cosmic Variance.

Go, Read.

Charley is exactly right:

There simply must be prosecutions. It’s not enough to imagine that we can restore the Constitution by popular vote, by just electing people of better morals, of more restraint, of greater reverence for the law and human history. Because “good people” come and go. You don’t always get the people you need in positions of power. The law itself must be affirmed, and those who intentionally and flagrantly abused its practice — for the purpose of abusing humans — must be punished.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, someone asked Ben Franklin whether we had a monarchy or a republic. “A republic — if you can keep it,” replied Franklin. The lesson is that the Constitution is not magic, not an all-seeing eye, not a god that imperceptibly guides the machine of state. It depends on people of good faith and forbearance to keep it.

High-level Bush administration officials must be prosecuted.  Bush and Cheney must be prosecuted.  If no one at that level of power goes to jail, it will be the end of law in this country.

Something Other Than Beer

Darcy Burner is running for Dave Reichert’s congressional seat.  That seat is in Washington State, so it’s a bit out of my normal purview, but Burner has been one of the leading figures in promoting the Responsible Plan — I learned about her via Orcinus a while back.  She put up a very good post at OpenLeft last week, on the genuine threat to American democracy posed by mercenary armies like Blackwater, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, etc., which are paid (and paid very well) by our government, ostensibly, to perform supporting duties for American troops.  In actual fact, these “contractors” are carrying out combat operations, and are frequently committing crimes — up to and including rape, murder, and torture — both against Iraqis and against other Americans, including their own coworkers.  On our dime, and in our names.  And because they’re not military personnel, and the US demanded, and the Iraqis had little choice but to accept, that “contractors” not be considered under the jurisdiction of Iraqi law, they operate in a legal vacuum.  They can’t be held to account for crimes they commit.

I’ve called the offices of my Representative and Senators, and asked them to cosponsor (respectively) H.R. 4102 and S. 2398, the House and Senate versions of the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, which would prevent further funding of mercenary armies.  I respectfully ask that the readers I optimistically imagine I might have read the OpenLeft post and the bills, and call or write your Congresspeople, and ask that they consider signing on as cosponsors.