Monday, August 14, 2006

Making People Afraid of Toothpaste

I had the dubious pleasure of flying to LA the day after the new “terror” plot was revealed in the UK and new travel restrictions were announced.  No lotion!  No toothpaste!  No contact solution!  Taste your baby’s formula!  No drinks!  A friend who had the misfortune to travel the day the arrests were announced even saw expensive lipsticks confiscated.

With a 6:45 am flight to LA last Friday, we dutifully got a cab at 3:30 am in order to reach the airport the requisite 3 hours in advance.  When we arrived, there was already a line snaking around terminal C.  Airline and security staff weren’t even at their posts as we queued up and waited.  Around 4:15am, the airline staff arrived, and began encouraging us to “surrender” our liquids and gels, or else pack them in checked luggage.  Security moved slowly, but surely.  The graveyard of water bottles made me thirsty.  Before we boarded the plane, they hand searched all of our carry-ons, a practice I didn’t even experience in the weeks immediately following 9-11, when I flew around the country quite a bit.  (At least we were able to take carry-ons – flights originating from and connecting in Europe were denied even a book to read.  Books = danger!)  

Overall, the personal inconvenience was minimal, other than having to check the bag we’d normally carry on.  Now I’m sitting in LAX, waiting to return to Boston, and the security was no big deal.  

So, what was this episode all about?  In the midst of plummeting numbers of people who approve of the war in Iraq (and a steady march of 2 US troop deaths a day), Israel’s attack on Lebanon (during which they are merely told to “be careful” and “try not to kill too many civilians”), and the warm up to the mid-term elections, it’s clear that the Bush regime needed a little boost for their “war on terror”.  

Bingo!  Terrorists in the UK want to blow up planes traveling to the US!  Red alert on the Homeland Security (sic) color wheel for flights from the UK!  Orange alert for everyone else!  Danger Will Robinson!

The best part is that what airlines are controlling for is a long list of common liquids and gels.  I’m reminded of that SNL skit with Jerry Seinfeld as the newscaster who reported “a common household cleaner could be killing you right now! More at 10:37.”

Gone are the days of worrying about your nail clippers.  Who cares about sharp objects when your lotion could explode!

In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore concluded that the issue in America is not higher crime rates than other countries, nor is it more guns.  The issue is FEAR.  I think our government understands this better than the average citizen, and they are depending on it working now.  The more scared people are, the more likely they are to buy into the Bush agenda of endless war “over there, so we don’t have to fight them here.”  Especially convenient at election time!  

We may never know if the people arrested in England last week were actually plotting to explode planes over the Atlantic or not.  Ultimately, that’s not even the point.  The point is that the Bush regime is continuing to boldly push their international agenda, which goes hand in hand with “the new normalcy” at home of increasing fear which makes it easier for the government to decrease civil rights.

I don’t believe that banning people from carrying liquids or nail clippers on planes makes us any safer, nor does having to stay seated for the last half hour of a flight into Washington DC.  If it’s “safety” we’re after (and that’s a whole debate in itself), two things that would go a long way are changing US policy on Israel and getting rid of the Bush regime.  I’d give up my toothpaste for that any day.

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