In the consensus judgment of America's 16 intelligence agencies, the terrorist threat to our homeland is "persistent and evolving," placing our country in "a heightened threat environment."
Given that chilling assessment, isn't it the height of madness to use America's finite law enforcement resources to seek out and arrest people for tapping the foot of a cute undercover officer in a restroom?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not wild about walking into a public restroom and seeing a couple using the a stall for something other than, as Sgt. Dave Karsnia, the arresting officer in the Craig case put it, "its intended use."
But that is not what Larry Craig did. If he had, someone in the restroom could have done what most people do when they see a law being broken: go get a cop.
And as it happens, since Craig was arrested in an airport, presumably there were plenty of law enforcement officers nearby looking for, you know, real threats -- like explosives or folks on a Watch List. Assuming, that is, they weren't all hunkered down in other bathrooms across the airport, protecting the public against people who might be thinking about having sex.
Let me be clear: I'm no fan of Larry Craig. Indeed, I disagree with almost everything he stands for. And I'd much rather he not be in the United States Senate. But I'd also rather have had his exit be the result of his constituents voting on his ideas and policies, instead of a ridiculous sting operation in an airport bathroom.
At least it's nice to see that, while the cable networks have been giving the incident their usual nuanced treatment, bloggers across the political spectrum have taken a step back to look at the real issues here. Garance Franke-Ruta of The American Prospect asks: "Was there anything criminal about Sen. Larry Craig's gestures if they suggested a desire for consensual lewd behavior of some kind with the man in the adjacent restroom stall?" Her answer: no. Conservative University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter, blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy, agrees with her:
"Disorderly conduct is a notoriously nebulous crime, allowing police wide discretion in making arrests and charges for conduct or speech that is little more than bothersome to police or to others."
As Carpenter and Franke-Ruta both point out, soliciting someone to have sex with you is not a crime in Minnesota. If Craig had solicited someone, which then led to a round of bathroom sex, then yes, arrest them. But that's not what happened.
It's unsettling that more people here in the land of the free aren't at all discomfited at leaving it up to the prognostication skills of Sgt. Karsnia and his crack team of B-men to determine what crimes people might have committed if not for the mind-reading and daring-do of Minneapolis' Special Forces Bathroom Unit.
Conservative pundit Mark Steyn thinks that Craig was up to no good, but says, "Karsnia sounds just as weird and creepy: a guy who's paid to sit in a bathroom stall for hours on end observing adjoining ankles. I'd rather hand out traffic tickets."
But beyond them being weird and creepy, these kinds of stings also have a huge opportunity cost to them. There clearly are very serious potential threats to our safety to be found in airports -- outside of bathroom stalls. Is sending Sgt. Karsnia into the men's room to spend all day trying to get other men to look at him and tap his foot really the best way to use our limited law enforcement resources?
And just how much money is Minneapolis/St. Paul spending on sting operations like this one? Just since May, 40 men have been arrested on allegations of illegal sexual activity at the same airport. And how much taxpayer money in total is being allocated across the country by local police to protect us from people whom the Sgt. Karsnias of the world think might, at some point, commit a crime?
We at HuffPost are working to pull these numbers together by calling local police departments all across America, since the numbers don't seem to be readily available. We'd love your help on this; please send us any figures or worthwhile information you can find (post them in the comments section below or email email@example.com).
Here's another question to ask: does the Minneapolis police force look around its members for officers they think might be attractive to gay men? Or do they specifically search out recruits who would make good undercover "twinks," "bears," and "silver foxes"?
And, yes, I know, Sen. Craig pleaded guilty. But given the inevitable humiliation that would have ensued had he challenged this arrest, it's not hard to imagine that he felt he had no other choice. The same goes for the thousands of other men who have been snared in these wasteful sting operations.
But those of us who prefer that our public servants go after actual lawbreakers rather than use our resources to humiliate gay people do have a choice. And we should make it clear that we want our police going after terrorists -- not toe-tappers.
Since the news about Craig broke, the media focus has been on his sexual perversions -- it's time to turn the spotlight on the perverted priorities of America's law enforcement community.