Post Propaganda

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In their war against liberty, no propaganda is too ham-fisted for Our Rulers. Witness this gem from Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine. It describes the "the Watch Floor… at the Transportation Security Operations Center…" in Herndon, Virginia, a clearinghouse for rumors, hearsay, and gossip: "Data from more than 450 federalized airports and 19,000 general aviation airfields feed into the Watch Floor." Basically, if a screener doesn’t like the way you look, talk, or pack your suitcase, someone on the Watch Floor hears about it. Colonial Americans silenced tattlers by tying them to a stool and dunking them in water; now we give them free run of the airport and "$24,432 to $42,135 annually plus additional locality pay" to rat out their betters.

Once the "data" wends its way from concourses and planes to the Watch Floor, more snitches try to determine whether your five ounces of cologne and my six ounces of shampoo add up to some dire plot. Yep, men old enough to know better waste their days and our taxes on this lunacy. Yet the Washington Post Magazine portrays them as competent, good-hearted, heroic patriots who’ve dedicated themselves to "prevent[ing] another 9/11." If you suspect that so thorough a whitewash requires operatic overwriting and almost as many words as War and Peace, you’re right. But fear not, dear reader: I waded through the sludge so you don’t have to.

Calling it the "Watch Floor" is uncharacteristic candor from the Feds because watching us is exactly what they do there. "Though run by DHS [Department of Homeland Security], the Watch Floor houses representatives from the Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, Secret Service, Capitol Police, FBI and FAA." If that convocation of cops doesn’t set you a-tingle, consider this: the Air Force stands by, ready to shoot down your plane when these paranoid nuts give the word. “u2018We’re scrambling now!’ an [Air Force] officer said on a recent afternoon, running across the Watch Floor. Scrambling fighter jets. … u2018We are not sentries. It’s more activist than that,’ says Kip Hawley, administrator of DHS’s Transportation Security Administration [TSA], which manages the center. u2018Our job is not to sit and watch, but to stand and fight.’"

Uh-huh. That would explain the "television monitors with commercial cable service" in the Center’s offices and workstations. Naturally, all that not-sitting-and-not-watching-television makes a guy hungry. Good thing the Center contains no less than seven kitchens complete with microwave ovens, icemakers, dishwashers, and refrigerators — two of which are "stainless steel Subzero models that cost more than $3,000 each." No need to stint on portions, either, because afterwards our "stander and fighter" can work it off in the Center’s gym. Ambling over there, he can savor the $500,000-worth of artwork and silk plants that decorate the premises. Or did: seems our fearless defenders are Philistines who promptly trashed the art in favor of family pictures. Well, why not? They didn’t pay for it: we did.

Indeed, we shelled out $19 million for this palace, dubbed the "Freedom Center" by Our Orwellian Masters. (OK, lighten up: they told the truth with "Watch Floor"; you didn’t expect them to make honesty a habit, did you?) The TSA needed this space about as much as we need airport checkpoints since it already had a headquarters with a $410,000 "executive office suite." You’ll probably also be pleased to learn that our warriors ditched these less-luxurious offices for their spiffy new digs a month early. It cost us taxpayers only another "$400,000 to $600,000 to substantially complete the [Center] 30 days in advance of the original schedule." The DHS’s Inspector General couldn’t determine the precise surcharge thanks to the TSA’s lack of paperwork — an oversight that usually lands the financial officers of a private company in hot water for fraud. Meanwhile, the "facility operations officer" and two of his buddies used some of our money to buy themselves "furniture and personal items, such as loveseats, armoires, leather briefcases, and coffee pots." Thieves loaf on the sofas we buy them, but passengers who sneeze funny must explain themselves to the cops, thanks to the Watch Floor’s finks.

Alas, you’ll learn none of these scintillating details from the puff piece in the Washington Post Magazine. It breathlessly concentrates instead on the Center’s "respon[se] to threats to mass transit, bridges, railways, vehicles and roads, pipelines, postal and cargo shipping, maritime matters and ports, and, above all, aviation." Goebbels must be laughing hysterically, provided that’s possible in his ring of hell. Sadly, most of the Magazine’s readers probably aren’t as astute.

How to turn informants and Big Brother’s spy room into something remotely sympathetic? The writer resorts to the hackneyed formula of personalization: she profiles Chan Browne, "a thickly built federal air marshal from Alabama" who works [sic] on the Watch Floor. Chan is allegedly an "expert marksman," which certainly puts him one up on his fellow marshals. I’m not sure why his prowess should comfort us, given that many Americans can no longer tell the business end of a gun from its butt — or their own, for that matter. That’s especially worrisome since air marshals already have one death to their credit: these goons slaughtered passenger Rigoberto Alpizar at Miami International Airport in December 2005.

Far from haunting the piece, Mr. Alpizar isn’t even mentioned. Rather, we’re treated to a history of Chan’s failed marriage and his current "relationship." Our Hero is a lovable guy. He pampers his fiancée’s little girl, packing her lunch and including a special note just for her. He’s a modern man — vulnerable, devoted, involved. He also spies on his fellow citizens for a living, but hey, it’s for their own good. Chan takes neoconservative nonsense very seriously. From the Watch Floor, he’s ready to sic NORAD on a pothead at Los Angeles International when the poor kid bolts a checkpoint lest the TSA "detain" him for toking up. Chan’s boss has to counsel another eager beaver not to overreact to some "radar anomaly" since "a lot of times" it’s only "a flock of birds": "You could start a war ’cause you’re reading it on your BlackBerry and get only half of it…" No kidding. Ya think that’s why the Founding Fathers severely limited government’s power?

Chan’s "grave cheer" [sic for "motto"] on the Watch Floor is, “We cannot be wrong. We have to be right." I’d settle for Constitutional.

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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