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Word is TSA is moving toward review and revision of airport check-in procedures. This is good. But I’m tempted to say “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Since the agency was formed in the wake of 9/11 it’s pretty much done whatever it wants to do. This is to say with news of any threat anywhere, TSA has added new, perplexing, and ever more personally invasive requirements for getting past security and on to ones gate. For a lot of travelers it’s become a toss-up as to whether they feel safer or just hassled to distraction.

I’ve written on this subject several times, I guess, because I travel so much. I see the inconsistencies from port to port, and I’ve been subjected to more than my share of odd requirements—take your belt off; no, you don’t need to take off your belt; put your shoes on the conveyer; no, put your shoes in the bins; take everything out of your pockets; come on through, it doesn’t matter you forgot to move a pen from your pocket to a bin. And so it goes.

I’ve also seen what I consider outright invasions of a person’s bodily space—not mine, but other passengers who’ve been chosen for pat-downs. This should not happen to citizens in a free country, because it treats them as criminals without benefit of probable cause, trial of ones peers, or a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Passengers have had it and are complaining loudly and more often to Washington.

I’ve maintained all along that there’s got to be a better way. Now TSA is finally admitting there may be, hence the openness at least to review the system. The agency is under political pressure and I hope it continues until intelligent changes are made.

I’m not anti-TSA, despite how this piece may sound. I’m certainly not anti-security. I am against knee-jerk reaction, un-reviewed procedures, lack of choice, inconsistency, and until perhaps now, a willingness to consider creative alternatives.

So, here’s hoping rational adult minds will prevail and we can return to some kind of normalcy that respects individual citizen’s rights and affirms propriety and freedom along with law and order.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Free speech—if you asked the average person on the street if he or she believed in freedom of speech you'd hear, “Yes.” In fact, most of us would defend the principle vigorously. It’s a precious and basic human right many in the Middle East are currently fighting to attain.

In America, the majority population enjoyed freedom of speech, even more broadly freedom of expression, throughout our history. It took us longer to establish freedom of speech for minorities, but it did come, if painfully, in time.

Now we live with it, which would seem to be a grand experience. And it is. But there are times freedom of speech tries our souls.

Such is the case of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 for the church over a lawsuit by Albert Snyder, father of a dead American soldier at whose funeral the church sponsored a protest.

The church contends God is killing American soldiers to judge the nation for its tolerance of homosexuality. Church members march near soldier’s funerals carrying signs stating “God Hates You,” “God is Your Enemy,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for 9/11,” and worse. They shout at soldiers’ grieving families and spout hate in the name of Christianity. Veterans on motorcycles have lined funeral procession routes in an attempt to hold Westboro at bay.

To say Westboro Baptist Church is un-Christian, wrong, and reprehensible, as I've said before, is true. But they become more egregious with each passing funeral. Their words hurt families, grossly misrepresent biblical Christianity, and incite some to violent response. All in all, it seems like some legal remedy should be applied to stop them, and Mr. Snyder tried. But the United States Supreme Court rightly ruled in favor not of Westboro but of freedom of speech.

Sometimes defending freedom makes for awkward bedfellows. Freedom of speech protects the KKK, American Nazis, and various militias. It also protects the platform, the podium, and the pulpit. If the Court ruled for Mr. Snyder, which our emotion and all that seems just suggests, we’d limit freedom of speech. More, the Court would be forced to draw lines and create categories, further delimiting freedom. Emotion, however understandable, doesn’t make good law.

With freedom of speech, those of us who disagree with Westboro Baptist Church may say so. We can contend with their view in the public arena and through moral suasion perhaps win the day. The United States Supreme Court made the correct ruling, however difficult it is to take, thinking about Westboro.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

With the world’s attention turned upon the Mideast in the last week—political unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria—a lot of words are flying around media and government about the hope democratic processes will take root in the sands of the Arab world. I hope this too. But I also know that democracy doesn’t just spring up full blown and ready to function flawlessly.

Actually, democracy comes with prerequisites. Certain beliefs must already be present in the cultural soil for democracy to germinate and grow. In our understandable wishful thinking about Egypt in particular we seem to have forgotten this critical consideration.

What does democracy require to make it possible?

--Belief in the Sovereign God who created, loves, is engaged in, yet stands outside, the world system, thus acts as ultimate accountability.

--Respect for human life and dignity.

--Affirmation of freedom of worship and religion, speech and expression.

--Belief in natural or human rights, the idea that human beings are endowed by the Creator, or at least for secularists vested by Nature, with certain unalienable eternal properties we call civil liberties or rights, i.e., life, and liberty of soul, mind, and body.

--Belief in law and order, including equality and fairness, meaning justice is blind, and the idea of property rights, meaning individuals own and are entitled to the products of their minds and hands.

--Existence of some reasonable level of literacy.

In the United States Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included “pursuit of happiness” in his list of unalienable rights. While one might quibble with the philosophic concept of happiness, still, there’s a deeper even more important value embedded here. It’s the idea of self-determination, the belief each individual human being innately possesses the right to decide, to influence, and to craft their own future, which is to say in different words, to pursue happiness.

Middle East and North African cultures do not generally affirm these basic values, at least not consistently. Their religious presuppositions do not allow them to do so. Consequently, expecting democracy to flourish just because it’s established, or we wish it so, may be a false hope.

The United States tried to export democracy in the decades following WWII. We and other Western nations backed developing countries declaring their independence from colonial empires. Unfortunately, for the most part, our good intentions didn’t yield the results we hoped. Too often we helped set up a system and a leader, both of which soon fell to strongmen, tribal conflicts, or religious-ideological interests more aligned with the values of the local culture, but at odds with democracy and pluralism.

I wish for freedom and democracy to come to the Mideast, but I have my fears it will not, at least not soon. Too many other philosophic underpinnings are missing at this point.

The United States should step carefully, offering assistance but not leveraging results we think we want. We should have learned by now that what we want may not turn out to be what we hoped for.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

After considerable public reaction to TSA’s newly installed airport body scanners, they’re now testing a new technology that will reveal a fuzzed over generic body image rather than individual body parts.

I said earlier there was a better way than the unnecessary and humiliating full body image scanners being forced upon air travelers. But TSA and others argued, “No, trust us, this is best.” Looks like now: I was right.

The first test of the new technology will take place at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. The test will run for 45-60 days. So we’re not over the top on this just yet. The tests could fail. But at least TSA is listening to the public and working to find a better scanner that reveals weapons technology without forcing travelers to go naked into airport concourses.

The new technology will supposedly also allow TSA to do away with the recently installed security booths wherein agents reviewed monitors of travelers passing through the scanner, then radioed an OK. Now, because the image is fuzzed, it will likely be visible to travelers and agents can be liberated from the booths. So much for all that money spent on construction of the booths.

TSA and other government voices said the new scanners would save time. Baloney. Travelers are required to remove more from their person than ever before, belts, paper and pills in pockets, wallets, everything. None of which had to be removed to go through metal detectors. Getting through checkpoints and reassembling oneself afterwards takes longer than ever.

I’m not against safety and security. What sane person would be? But I don’t immediately buy the latest government line that the latest hot new security toy is the only only and the best we can do. That’s spin because it never really works that way. And this latest announcement demonstrates it. All that noise earlier. All that defense of what they were doing as “a must,” yet here we are with a possible improvement.

So three cheers on effort, but we’ll wait to see what happens.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Recent political upheaval in Tunisia and subsequent protests in Egypt remind us once again that a compelling drive for freedom exists in the heart of every human being.

Freedom, variously called liberty, so beautifully described in the United States Declaration of Independence, is the God-given inalienable right of every human being who has ever lived. While not every person experiences freedom, every person nevertheless possesses it. Freedom can be taken away from one’s body, but freedom can never be taken from one’s soul.

Freedom is more precious than gold. Just ask those without freedom.

Freedom is a gift, from God, and from those who’ve gone before, paying for the gift with their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Freedom must be protected and preserved.

Freedom in its fullest and best sense is a matter of the body—freedom of life, assembly, mobility, mind—freedom of speech and expression, and soul—freedom of religion.

Freedom is a political birthright for those blessed with nativity in a nation based upon respect for life and dignity, the rule of law, the recognition of right versus wrong, equality, justice. It’s a birthright in that I did nothing to earn it. My freedom as an American citizen was handed to me, no questions asked, when I came screaming into the world.

Freedom can be a spiritual birthright for those who acknowledge the sufficiency unto salvation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. My freedom as a Christian was handed to me, no questions asked, when I was born again.

Freedom must be cultivated, multiplied, shared, for it is not a concept or reality limited to the American or Western or Caucasian or Well-born or Well-off or Male or Mighty.

Freedom is a responsibility, for which we’re accountable.

Freedom produces aspiration and inspiration, a hope for our country, culture, and children.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

At Richmond International Airport today I stood for the first time in a radar-scanner-better-than-enhanced-pat-down-let-it-all-hang-out “Advanced” Imaging Technology machine. I’m still decidedly not sure if I feel safer, violated, ready for an orange prison jumpsuit, or treated like just another piece of baggage.

I’ve written about this twice before: “New Enhanced Body Pats,” “Revisiting Pat Downs, Body Scanners.” So you can be forgiven for thinking I’m obsessed with this. But really, folks, this is getting ridiculous, all in the name of the ultimate trump card: security.

Before “Advanced” Imaging Technology machines: You unpack your laptop, take off your shoes and maybe your belt, place all metal (watch, coins, cellphone) in your bag or the cereal bowl provided for you, place small-bottled liquids within a plastic baggy—get the baggy out of your luggage—place on the checkpoint belt, remove your jacket, and walk through the metal detector holding your boarding pass.

After “Advanced” Imaging Technology machines: You do everything you did before AND remove all items from your pockets, stand side-ways placing your feet on two conveniently provided yellow footprints, place your hands over your head and wait while an X-ray picture is taken of your all-together. Then walk to the end of the rubber mat and stand on two more yellow footprints facing an agent who’s waiting to hear from his or her cohort that “He's clear.” Meanwhile, said cohort agent is sitting nearby in an enclosed, specially and newly erected opaque booth checking out your bod, deleting…or viewing, processing, or saving the pic for a rainy day.

After the newly installed AITs you can’t pass through the checkpoint with anything in your pockets, not your leather wallet, not aspirin, not even a piece of paper (all of which were perfectly permissible before AITs). So you’re down to the clothes on your back.

This is progress, which is to say “Advanced” apparently means not-able-to-distinguish-skin-from-leather, pills, or paper.

Women, or men for that matter, wearing more than a piece or two of jewelry have to virtually strip themselves before going through the AIT, only to take considerable time afterwards to put themselves back together. Post-checkpoint looks like a cross between a slumber party and a locker room with total strangers in various stages of undress.

All this makes us safer we’re told. And maybe it does. But I still believe there’re other ways, other less invasive, intrusive, time-consuming, and demeaning security methods than AITs and/or enhanced pat downs.

I saw an elderly woman in a wheelchair. An agent pushed her near the AIT. Then she had to take off her shoes, an action that was for her challenging at best, stand up teetering while she removed her coat, strip her jewelry, etc. No one helped her. In my book this is unnecessary and, worse, disrespectful.

Not for a minute do I think authorities can guarantee some notable person’s image won’t show up on the Internet. If it can happen it will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

While we’re told the AIT X-rays are safe I don’t think we’ll know for ten or twenty years—we’ve been told a lot of things were harmless for human beings only to discover otherwise: cigarettes, DDT, liberals, gambling, Bernie Madoff, O.J., obesity.

Mostly, though, I don’t think this theatre of the absurd at airport checkpoints actually increases airline security, mainly because radicals are smart enough to conjure ways around whatever we do. So we're involved in much ado about what?

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.