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Tomgram: Engelhardt, The United States of Fear

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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The National Security State Cops a Feel 
Taking Off the Gloves (and Then Everything Else)
 
By Tom Engelhardt

It's finally coming into focus, and it's not even a difficult equation to grasp.  It goes like this: take a country in the grips of an expanding national security state and sooner or later your "safety" will mean your humiliation, your degradation.  And by the way, it will mean the degradation of your country, too.

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Just ask Rolando Negrin, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screener who passed through one of those new "whole body image" scanners last May as part of his training for airport security.  His co-workers claimed to have gotten a look at his "junk" and mocked him mercilessly, evidently repeatedly asking, "What size are you?" and referring to him as "little angry man."  In the end, calling it "psychological torture," he insisted that he snapped, which in his case meant that he went after a co-worker, baton first, demanding an apology.

Consider that a little parable about just how low this country has sunk, how psychologically insecure we've become while supposedly guarding ourselves against global danger.  There is no question that, at the height of Cold War hysteria, when superpower nuclear arsenals were out of this world and the planet seemed a hair-trigger from destruction, big and small penises were in play, symbolically speaking.  Only now, however, facing a ragtag set of fanatics and terrorists -- not a mighty nation but a puny crew -- are those penises perfectly real and, potentially, completely humiliating.

Failed Bombs Do the Job

We live, it seems, in a national security "homeland" of little angry bureaucrats who couldn't be happier to define what "safety" means for you and big self-satisfied officials who can duck the application of those safety methods.  Your government can now come up with any wacky solution to American "security" and you'll pay the price.  One guy brings a failed shoe bomb on an airplane, and you're suddenly in your socks.  Word has it that bombs can be mixed from liquids in airplane bathrooms, and there go your bottled drinks.  A youthful idiot flies toward Detroit with an ill-constructed bomb in his underwear, and suddenly they're taking naked scans of you or threatening to grope your junk.

Two bombs don't go off in the cargo holds of two planes and all of a sudden sending things around the world threatens to become more problematic and expensive.  Each time, the price of "safety" rises and some set of lucky corporations, along with the lobbyists and politicians that support them, get a windfall.  In each case, the terror tactic (at least in the normal sense) failed; in each case, the already draconian standards for our security were ratcheted up, while yet more money was poured into new technology and human reinforcements, which may, in the end, cause more disruption than any successful terror attack.

Directly or indirectly, you pay for the screeners and scanners and a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy that officially wields an $80 billion budget, and all the lobbyists and shysters and pitchmen who accompany our burgeoning homeland-security complex.  And by the way, no one's the slightest bit nice about it either, which isn't surprising since it's a national security state we're talking about, which means its mentality is punitive.  It wants to lock you down, quietly and with full acquiescence if possible.  Offer some trouble, though, or step out of line, and you'll be hit with a $10,000 fine or maybe put in cuffs.  It's all for your safety, and fortunately they have a set of the most inept terror plots in history to prove their point.

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By now, who hasn't written about the airport "porno-scans," the crotch gropes and breast jobs, the "don't touch my junk" uproar, the growing lines, and the exceedingly modest protests on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, not to speak of the indignity of it all?

Totally been there, completely done that; totally written about, fully read.  Shouldn't we move on?

Taking Off the Gloves (and Then Everything Else)

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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