Liberty in Air Travel and More

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This morning, TSA searches are #1 on the google news list, no doubt because John Tyner‘s video went viral. Mr. Tyner, thank you for an heroic deed.

Yesterday CBS News reported a poll (taken between November 7 and November 10) in which 8 out of 10 of the 1,137 adults surveyed answered the following question “Yes”:

“Should Airports Use Full-Body X-Ray Machines?”

The 15 percent who disapproved of the x-ray machines adds up to a considerable number of adult Americans, at least 34 million. (That’s 15 percent of the 73 percent of the 310 million Americans who are over the age of 20.) Those who recently approved of imposing even more nationalized health care on Americans claimed to be terribly worried about 40 million uninsured Americans. Are they equally concerned about the 34 million who have no good choices when it comes to air travel?

These machines are new. Their operations at airports are new. Information about their negatives has not spread through the population. Information about their violation of the supreme Law of the Land and about their radiation hazards has not been fully disseminated throughout the population. Almost no information has been publicized or discussed about alternatives to the x-ray machines, such as screening and profiling on the basis of other non-physical information. There has not been a widespread public debate about the use of these machines. Consequently, this poll is at best a snapshot of uninformed opinion.

Poll results depend on how questions are framed. If the question had been put in different ways, the results may have been considerably different. For example:

“Should Airports Inspect the Anus, Vagina, and Genitals (Stuff, Junk, …) of All Travelers?”

“Should Airports Expose All Travelers To The Hazards Of X-Ray Radiation?”

“Should Airline Pilots and Flight Crews Be Excepted from X-Ray Inspections?”

“Should Pregnant Women and Children Under the Age of 10 Be Excepted from X-Ray Inspections?”

“Should Persons with a Valid U.S. Passport Be Excepted from X-Ray Inspections?”

“Should Persons Who Are U.S. Citizens for at Least 15 Years and Who Have No Criminal Records Be Excepted from Airport Inspections?”

“Should Persons Who Are U.S. Citizens for at Least 15 Years and Who Have No Criminal Records and Who Own Homes Be Excepted from Airport Inspections?”

There are a great many ways to screen or profile travelers beforehand without subjecting them to physical inspections of any kind. The preceding questions suggest this.

Racial profiling, which is the bugbear that is raised against screening, is not the only way to screen people. Country of origin is but one natural way for a government to conduct a non-physical screening that doesn’t violate the dignity, rights, and privacy of its citizens.

If a government is going to conduct safety procedures, at least do it in sensible ways. It means that there will be flexibility in the screening. Some people, indeed the great majority of people, will get through easily and without physical invasions of their persons, exposure to x-rays, rights violations, and without an enormous waste of their time and the resources of taxpayers.

It will be a considerable victory for liberty, even if not a full measure is achieved, if the government recognizes officially that different strokes apply to different folks, that is, they start applying their regulations flexibly based on sensible screening. This effectively recognizes a different legality for some, probably most, people than for other people who are subjected to more intensive screening. Equality of treatment for everyone alike, from baby to octogenarian, at the lowest possible level of physical invasion and x-ray machines gives way to a higher degree of liberty, in which many people effectively secede from the one-size-fits-all regulations or effectively nullify the one-size-fits-all regulations.

Poll results change over time as information is released and people revise their opinions. It may be that 8 out of 10 or 9 out of 10 adults will continue to support the use of these machines. So what? Neither polls nor votes make something right or wrong. If right and wrong are determined by majority rule or by authorities who are acting on behalf of majorities or a consensus of the population they represent or rule, then anything can be right or wrong. In particular, the people and authorities may decide to remove all Jews from the country or deport all Afro-Americans or imprison anyone who sells an ounce of marijuana or stop a person from working at less than $10 an hour or any number of other such measures. Right and wrong cannot possibly be determined by polls and votes. They are found by examination and discovery of law and justice in both general and particular situations.

Within the current spate of news reports appear various opinions that represent the current debate. Let’s examine some of this thinking.

“Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, says society is entering virgin technological and ethical territory. u2018The scanner’s ability to penetrate is metaphorically powerful. It’s invading privacy in all kinds of new ways,’ he told AFP. u2018Balancing that out, there is the other really basic, powerful argument, which is how you remain safe in the sky in the age of tiny weaponry and concealed bombs.'”

Prof. Thompson is correct that scanners invade privacy. On the other hand, he sees the scanners as an essential technology that is necessary to prevent concealed bombs. It isn’t necessary, however. Screening on the basis of who people are can replace it.

And scanners and molestations by physical feel-ups won’t prevent terrorism. Even if all air travel were 100 percent safe, terrorists could easily shift their focus in countless other directions on land and sea. The focus on air travel safety is misplaced. It ignores the substitution effect, whereby terrorists shift to other targets. The same kind of error is made all the time in banning drugs and tracking down drug importers and distributors. They substitute new kinds of drugs and new networks. They raise the ante of bribery, corruption, and assassinations. The terrorists will win if America ties itself in knots over air travel, and then decides to do the same for malls, arenas, marketplaces, games, nightclubs, trains, busses, or wherever people meet in numbers.

Scanners are already being used at courthouses and public buildings. The war on terror has succeeded in transforming police into terrifying creatures of tribulation. Liberty is falling prey to what passes for necessary domestic security, i.e., “homeland security.” There is no security in having a police state. Who is going to hold back those in charge and those with the guns and those with the perverted laws at their backs? Who is going to stop the tyranny and the usurpations?

“TSA Administrator John Pistole says he understands why people are upset, but u2018everybody who gets on a flight wants to be sure the people around them have been properly screened,’ he told lawmakers Tuesday.”

Mr. Pistole begs the question: What is “properly screened”? He assumes that what the TSA is doing is proper. It isn’t. He asserts that there is a demand for this kind of screening. Maybe there is, but does that mean that it is right? Does it mean that everyone must undergo it, even those who object? Are there no reasonable exceptions? Is there no flexibility? Why not?

“Sullenberger said transport authorities should trust pilots and flight attendants, because u2018we’re trusted partners’ who are already u2018thoroughly screened.'”

Mr. Sullenberger is correct. The same logic applies to most Americans. The government already has so much information on Americans that it could probably screen out 95 percent or more travelers on the basis of such information and eliminate scanning and groping for them.

That’s a minimal way to restore a degree of sanity. Liberty entails choice. If the airlines and airports operated in a free market, which means free of TSA procedures, travelers would have a choice of procedures. Those who wanted to pass through x-ray scanners and/or have their breasts and genitals felt could do so. Those who wanted to get secure travel by market-determined means could do so. Each group would pay its own way. The costs would not be socialized through government.

The government, through building an unnecessary empire, has created enemies throughout the world. It is a wonder that the terrorist backlash has not been even greater. It can only grow if the U.S. persists in killing and terrorizing innocent people in multiple foreign locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The government and people of the U.S. have unlawfully extended majority rule, or government by polls, to almost every area of choice that one can think of. The results are in. These extensions have led to economic instability, economic decline, needless warfare, ruination of family, community, and neighborhoods, loss of values, cultural and artistic decline, moral decline, ethical decline, degradation in discourse and thought, and loss of liberty.

X-rays and genital inspections at airports are part of a noxious cloud of government oppression spreading over the land and choking out liberty and choice. The brainlessness and intimidation of TSA officials is part of this ongoing process. It’s a travesty for the TSA to threaten John Tyner with an $11,000 fine for doing nothing that would harm anyone.

Do we have to put up with such total nonsense like the following?

“The mood among security officials is u2018anger over the way the media is playing this story,’ according to a senior Homeland Security official. u2018You had a dutiful [transportation security officer], someone who works on the front lines to protect this country from a terrorist attack, someone who did everything by the book and according to his training, and he was accosted and verbally abused by a member of the traveling public,’ the official said. u2018The fact that some in the media would hail the traveler as a kind of folk hero is shameful.’

A senior government official thinks that airports are “front lines.” He sounds like George Bush with his “fronts” in the war on terror. He has absorbed the propaganda that completely and now spreads it further. He absolves those doing the prodding, feeling, groping, and x-raying of any measure of guilt or conscience. They are, like good little Nazis, just doing their duty. Then we have a bald-faced lie, which is that Tyner accosted and verbally abused this dutiful worker! No one is supposed to question these procedures. That becomes a crime. To say “Don’t touch me” becomes a crime.

This thinking is a strong signal that the police state is advancing. The barriers that protect ordinary people from unlawful incursions by police and officials have weakened very considerably. They are being penetrated daily.

It is extremely difficult to be fighting against every single incursion by any official anywhere who is stepping over the proper boundary lines that are supposed to be there. This cannot easily be done when he or she has legalities and regulations and courts and guns and the press and sometimes majority opinion to back them up.

Either one supports government tyranny or majority rule tyranny or one does not. If one does not, the alternative is personal and group secessionism from the state’s authority. Let those who want to be ruled by the state suffer the consequences, but let those who wish to secede from its authority do so. That is what liberty, rights, and the freedom of association mean. They mean voluntaryism. This alternative means ending territorial monopoly. Let any person, group, people, community, or society live under its own law, with none claiming any territorial monopoly, which the current states do, under the ruse that they represent a single society, which, it is evident, is a fiction. Let the statists rule themselves with their statist laws to their hearts’ content, but not be able to extend that rule to the non-statists in their midst. Let no one claim rule over any territory, but only live according to the government or non-government of their choice. Let those who desire freedom, peace, and justice live in societies of their choice that fulfill their aims.

The deepest cause of the airport travails is the presumption that a state has a rightful power to force any person within its borders to obey, whether by due process or not. The deepest cause of this and other problems is the territorial grasp of states. That is what ultimately precludes choice among those living within its enforced borders. It is widespread acceptance of that territorial idea that gives rise to the government tyranny. If we rid ourselves of the idea that government must be territorial, we then rid ourselves of government as a monopoly. All governments enforce their monopoly by use of borders and territory. Take that away and they are subject to competition. That breaks their monopoly power. That frees us.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire.

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