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Cranks Resist Security at Airports -- and in the Senate

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To paraphrase that cult movie classic, Eating Raoul, frisk me, pat me down, make me write bad checks. If it keeps my flight from falling out of the sky, do what you must. Just don't expect breakfast in the morning and a thank you note.

Because let's face it, as onerous as you might think these new airport body scans are, not to mention the pat downs with benefits if you refuse the scan, they may be a necessary part of life in these United States circa 2010. Facebook already has wiped out most vestiges of your privacy; the Transportation Security Administration simply takes care of the rest.

Not that there aren't problems, bugs that have to be worked out as these systems go through their shakedown phase. Overly aggressive and handsy TSA inspectors, for one. And according to The Washington Post, a scientist claims there's a "cheap and simple fix" to the scanners that would "distort the images captured on full-body scanners so they look like reflections in a fun-house mirror, but any potentially dangerous objects would be clearly revealed," thus quelling the protests of those who object to real-time, nude outlines of the human body.

The former nuclear weapons designer, who helped develop the scanners at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, says he offered the solution to Department of Homeland Security officials four years ago during the Bush administration but was "rebuffed."

There's also some concern about radiation, although the Associated Press reports the TSA claim that:

...radiation from one scan is about the same as a person would get from flying for about three minutes in an airplane at 30,000 feet, where atmospheric radiation levels are higher than on the ground. That amount is vastly lower than a single dental X-ray.

You would have to go through scanners more than 1,000 times in one year to even meet the maximum recommended level -- and even pilots don't do that.

(So why are pilots and flight attendants being allowed to duck the scanners? Just asking.)

And here's an interesting tidbit from Amy Goodman's Democracy Now website on November 23: "As the national debate over airport screening practices intensifies, little attention has been paid to the increasing lobbying power the manufacturers of full body scanning machines have in Washington. USA Today reports L3 Communications has spent $4.3 million on lobbying, up from $2.1 million in 2005. L3 has sold nearly $40 million worth of machines to the federal government. Lobbyists for L3 have included Linda Daschle, the wife of former US Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. Meanwhile, Rapiscan Systems has spent more than $270,000 on lobbying so far this year, compared with $80,000 five years earlier. The company made headlines last year when it hired former US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff who has become a prominent proponent of body scanners. The CEO of Rapiscan's parent company, Deepak Chopra, recently traveled with President Obama on his three-day trip to India."

(And no, not that Deepak Chopra. The New Age guru would determine your terrorist potential by evaluating your aura, no machines or strip searches necessary.)

In any case, if you're contemplating staging a protest while in line at an airport this holiday weekend, in the name of all that's holy, please don't. I'm not flying anywhere this week, but think of the 1.6 million Americans who are and show a little common sense and thoughtfulness. Also ask yourself, would I be doing this if George Bush were still in the White House urging me to be patriotic and patient? And to shop my terrors away at the mall?

Besides, when it comes to security, frankly, there are more important things to worry about than some anonymous, federal rent-a-cop scanning your privates for grenades.

Like North Korea. On Tuesday, it shelled the island of Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean soldiers and wounding 18 military personnel and civilians. The attack occurred just days after Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory was shown a secret North Korean uranium enrichment facility. The New York Times noted, "The development confronted the Obama administration with the prospect that North Korea country is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal or build a far more powerful type of atomic bomb." Nuclear technology they've already demonstrated they're willing to sell to the right bidder.

Just one of the many good reasons that in its lame duck session the United States Senate should ratify the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty with Russia: to maintain stability and strengthen the alliance with that former Cold War enemy that helps keep North Korea -- and Iran -- in line. And to restore on-site inspections of Russian missile sites and storage facilities to prevent nuclear weapons from disappearing into the hands of terrorists, state-sponsored or otherwise. And to limit the number of strategic warheads held by the two nations.

The treaty needs 67 votes for ratification, which means eight Republicans must support it along with all 59 members of the Democratic voting bloc. But some are trying to hold off the vote until the new Congress in January, when 14 Republican votes will be required for the necessary two-thirds majority. That doubtless would put a stop to START, and seriously undercut our worldwide credibility.

This is foolish, dangerous partisanship, plain and simple; Republicans denying President Obama even the most sensible initiative just to further undermine his chances for reelection without regard to the international consequences, which include a possible strengthening of Russian hardliners, an end to that nation's cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran, and a general destabilization of the balance of power.

This is a treaty endorsed, as Steven Benen of Washington Monthly has pointed out, not only by the leaders of NATO but by six former secretaries of state and five former secretaries of defense from both parties, seven former Strategic Command chiefs, national security advisers from both parties and nearly all former commanders of US nuclear forces. Not to mention Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, who described START as "essential to our future security."

But to many hard line Republicans, like the cranky travelers who balk and rage at scans and searches, security may no longer be the priority it once was. Not when there's a presidency to destroy.

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Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.