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Daniel Cubias

Daniel Cubias

Posted: November 29, 2010 05:56 PM

I didn't fly anywhere for Thanksgiving. This was obviously a good thing, as incessant news reports have informed me that TSA agents are groping Americans nonstop.

Really, it appears that this has become the civil-rights issue of our time. Citizens are up in arms that their privacy is being violated, so we have people opting out or showing up in bikinis or clamoring that TSA agents have literally squeezed the piss out of them.

And don't get me started about the dreaded full-body scanners. We've heard that they cause cancer or melt your keys to your leg or instantly post images of your naked body to Facebook. At the very least, you never know if some Al-Qaeda operative is going to pick the moment you get scanned to detonate a terrorist photobomb.

2010-11-29-xrayphtobomb.jpg

Yes, it's grim times at our nation's airports. I'm sure even the TSA agents don't like what's going on.

But I'm wondering how much of this outrage is principled concern for our rights, and how much of it is, you know, total bullshit.

Don't get me wrong. As a frequent flyer, I'm as annoyed as anyone at the mammoth security lines and arbitrary rules that appear to have little relation to actual security.

And as I've mentioned before, I seem to get pulled out of line and frisked more often than my fellow travelers do. Really, my wife and joke about my odds when going through security.

On my last flight, the TSA gave me the full wand and confiscated my toothpaste (it was over the three ounces allowed; everybody on my flight breathed easier because the killer fluoride was kept off the plane). There's no doubt in my mind that some TSA agents look at me and say, "He's probably Latino, but possible Arabic. Close enough. Grab him."

So I hate airport security too, and I have more reason to be offended than most travelers do. But I have to wonder why this issue has raised the collective hackles of my fellow citizens.

I didn't see this kind of outrage over warrantless wiretapping or indefinite detention. I still don't see it over old-school libertarian issues like seatbelt laws or minimum drinking ages.

It got me thinking about a subject that dominated my writing this summer: Arizona's SB 1070 law. As we know, this infamous piece of legislation made it easier for the police to question Latinos' legal status. One objection to the law is that Hispanic citizens are more likely to be harassed.

This opinion isn't just some bleeding-heart complaint. Indeed, according to the Economist, "71 percent of Americans believe it is likely that Hispanic citizens will be questioned by police because of the new law."

And a New York Times/CBS News found that "82 percent of Americans consider it either very or somewhat likely that the Arizona law would lead to people of certain racial groups being singled out. Yet slightly more than half of Americans also think that the law is about right."

I'm not interested in reopening the debate about whether SB 1070 will actually lead to increased racial profiling. My point is that a huge percentage of Americans presume that it will. And they're fine with that.

So allowing the police to stop brown-skinned people at will doesn't annoy Americans. In fact, it has widespread support.

Of course, the argument is that SB 1070 is designed to identify undocumented immigrants -- you know, law breakers. Any Hispanic who is in the country legally should have nothing to hide.

I must point out, however, that the TSA manhandling is designed to stop terrorists. Any person who isn't planning to blow up the plane should have nothing to hide... right?

In essence, we have a lot of Americans patting themselves on the back for their brave stance against government intrusion. But the majority of these people are, most likely, all for laws like SB 1070 that may step on the rights of their fellow citizens.

The difference, of course, seems to be that the people at the airport are wealthy enough to fly regularly. And at the risk of playing the racial card, I have yet to see a black or Hispanic person interviewed about the injustice of their pat-down.

I have to surmise that many of the individuals ready to wage insurrection over this are simply not used to being harassed by authority figures. Getting frisked is supposed to happen to others, usually poor or dark people who look like they're up to something. It's the airport equivalent of the velvet rope outside a hip nightclub, with privileged people snapping, "Don't you know who I am?"

Of course, this also seems like just another manifestation of the "government is evil" mantra that resonated so well in the midterms. I would argue, however, that bitching about being inconvenienced in a security line is not up there with marching alongside MLK. So unless you're a consistent advocate of civil rights for all Americans, please spare us the stirring calls to action.

Although to be fair, if women insist on flying in bikinis, I can't see the downside.