Jan 192011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

The rhetoric and theatrics of frustrated passengers and politicians had reached a fever pitch in the weeks following the failed attempt to blow up a cargo plane over American soil last October.

The Transportation Security Administration faced increasing scrutiny and pressure from politicians and air travelers to streamline airport security screening. To its credit, the TSA adjusted its practices of screening passengers to help quell the angry crescendo.

However, months after the failed attack, the TSA is still scrambling to close the security gap in screening international cargo transported aboard commercial passenger flights bound for the U.S. The TSA recently announced plans to screen 100 percent of such cargo by the end of 2011 (more than two years ahead of schedule).

Despite this seemingly good news, critics such as Brandon Fried, the executive director of the Airforwarders Association, said recently that “screening all international cargo may not improve security and would likely cause economic damage to our slowly recovering economy.” At this point, the last thing we need is another ineffective drain on our economy.

The irony is that even though that package didn’t explode as intended, we’re still doing exactly what the extremist attackers wanted us to do.

Osama Bin Laden and other leaders in the jihadist movement have repeatedly stated that they wish to disrupt our lives, limit Americans’ personal freedoms and cripple us economically. Sound familiar?

The long lines at airport security checkpoints are at the very least a disruption as we try to go about our lives. I for one feel as though enhanced passenger security screenings are worth the time and frustration experienced by travelers if it ensures a safe flight. Still, many people find the thought of exposing themselves to TSA agents ­–– via the new full-body scanners that produce images showing detailed contours of our bodies –– too much to bare (pun intended).

As for limiting our personal freedoms, I would argue that not only have the majority of Americans gone along with such limitations, but they’ve actually come to welcome liberty-restricting legislation with open arms. As evidence, one has to look no further than Congress’ overwhelming support to renew the Patriot Act last February. Passing the House with a vote of 315-97, there was nary a whimper to be heard from even the staunchest Tea Partiers or Libertarians who often cite their supposedly diminished personal freedoms as justification for their vehement anti-Obama vitriol.

I challenge anyone to show me another piece of legislation more damning to individual privacy and freedom than the Patriot Act. An act, it should be reiterated, that was drafted with the intention of stopping would-be terrorists (such as those who mailed those printer cartridges) from attacking us.

As for crippling us economically, one would be hard-pressed to defend the obscene amount of money that we’ve spent since 9/11. I know that the economic crisis is multi-faceted and can hardly be blamed solely on wasteful defense spending, but it’s undeniable that it’s a significant contributing factor.

So far, taxpayers have spent more than $1.1 trillion to fight the war on terror. We spend such an astronomically high amount of money on defense each year that the exact number is hard to pin down. Some estimates put the U.S. defense budget at nearly $800 billion a year. This accounts for 46.8 percent of the entire world’s military spending and is more than the next 29 highest-spending nations combined.

All of this money is being borrowed from China and spent at a time when we as a nation truly can’t afford to be throwing money away. No matter how much we spend, our security forces are ill-equipped to deal with tiny, splintered factions that can easily coax us to spend billions, simply by mailing a few packages. The phrase, “death by a thousand cuts,” is becoming eerily apropos.

I can’t help but wonder how hard the masterminds behind the attacks are laughing from watching all of this unfold. Perhaps the CIA should simply try listening for cackles emanating from deep within the caves of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to find these rogue militants.

Joe Vajgrt is a junior journalism major. His column appears weekly in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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