Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Little Johnny Terrorist

Michael Winston Hicks has all the classic stereotypical earmarks of a terrorist targeting the United States. He has three names. He lives in New Jersey. I can't pronounce his mother's name. He is a Cub Scout. He was born less than one month before September 11, 2001. He likes to travel domestically. So it should be no wonder then that little Mikey Hicks is firmly entrenched on the United States Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) watch list.
Yeah, let's not get all up in arms here, Company. Eight-year-old Mikey hicks is not on a no-fly list. He can fly anywhere he wants, he just has to undergo an extra series of humiliating and probably damaging to a child's psyche pat downs and security screenings. No problem. Enjoy your flight young man.
Here is the deal: somewhere along the way someone named Michael Hicks did something that flipped off some red flags deep within a Homeland Security office building nestled inside the Washington Beltway. He hit a certain Internet website or went to a certain meeting or subscribed to a certain magazine that caused him to become a person of interest to those in charge of protecting America from terrorists. Fine. Whatever he did was alarming enough to these individuals to get him placed on a list generated by a series of agencies, including the FBI, that was given to the TSA who then gave it to the airlines, so that any time one of the people on the list bought a ticket ot tried to get a boarding pass they would be subject to extra screenings. So, you know, they didn't cause tomfoolery on their Boeing 727. No big whoop.
Except it is a big whoop, because this particular Mikey Hicks is an eight-year old kid, and he is most definitely not a terrorist. Anyone who thought about it for most than a second or two would be able to see that. But no one seems to be able to combine that reality with the reality that Michael Winston Hicks is a name on the list. And because people are fucking stupid, the list always, always wins. Eight-year-old Mikey, at an age where most kids can't explain what it is like to take an airplane trip, can recite the whole farce. Leave extra early for the airport. Always take your passport. Try to get a boarding pass. The flags will go off. The ticket agent will look at the boy in disbelief, be embarassed, realize it's stupid, and call her supervisor anyway. The supervisor will make a series of phone calls and wriggle the kid onto the plane. The kid will still probably be patted down, up one leg, across the crotch, down the other, up under the arms and around the waist. By the time the family boards there will be few seats left and they probably won't be able to sit together. The first time Mikey had trouble he was an infant and his mother couldn't get a boarding pass from an automated kiosk. The first time he was patted down he was two. He cried.
The problem here, is that people in this world have lost their use of common sense. We, as a society in general, have come to the point where we can no longer look at a situation rationally and make decisions based on that. We want black and white situations, hard and fast rules so we only ever have two choices to make, like a telemarketer's flow chart. We like this because when we remove all the gray areas from a situation we remove all trace of responsibility. We can't get in trouble if we just have to choose between black and white, everyone knows the difference between black and white. You can't get in trouble if you pat down the child because the list says so. You can get in trouble if you make the judgement call and let the kid on the plane, expecially when his parents' names don't show on the list and he is wearing his Cub Scout uniform. Or his parochial school uniform. Or his TSA badge.
People who feel that they are on the list erroneously or without cause or terrorists who don't want to be continuously screened can apply to the TSA to get off the list, and Mikey's mother has made this application on Mikey's behalf, but seven years later he is still getting patted down routinely. On a recent vacations Mikey's parents even reached out to their friendly local Congressman's office, who worked with the TSA to have a TSA employee meet the family at the airport. He still received an extra pat down.
So poor Mikey can't go anywhere. Well, maybe by car or maybe by train, but certainly not by plane. Not without getting patted down like the obvious subversive criminal he is. I mean, if he were really an American boy he would be an Eagle Scout by now, right? Right. The TSA claims that important and needed changes are coming and that soon the list will be cross-checked by birth date and gender, in case your name is Pat or Chris or Leslie or something, which is a good start, but we probably could have cross-checked Mikey Hicks by age when he was a crying two-year old being patted down by a robotic TSA agent. Security without smarts is no security at all. Just ask the Hicks family how secure they felt on their last vacation.

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