The Stark Effect

Ask the cupcake lady

This is my last column of 2011, which has been a good year to write political commentary. We’ve seen Democratic Wisconsin lawmakers go for the cheddar, O’bama explore his Irish roots and Occupy Wall Street get sponsored by Unilever. Here’s hoping 2012 will be as good or better and, since it’s a presidential election year, I feel pretty good about the odds.

I recently watched the Jerry Seinfeld comedy special, I’m telling you for the last time. Recorded before 9/11, it featured some of Seinfeld’s classic routines, including a few about air travel. While most of them could have been written recently, one bit dealt with shaving in an airplane bathroom. Thanks to the heightened security of the Transportation Security Agency, gone are the days of shaving with a disposable razor while flying. After all, that much shaving cream would never be allowed to pass through security.

Airport security is getting out of hand. Nowadays almost anything is considered a risk if it has a liquid base and weighs more than two microns. I find this ironic given that the average human body is composed of about 60 percent water. It’s a wonder that people are allowed to board a plane at all. That’s probably because officials at the TSA don’t have a grasp of basic physiology.

I read a news report the other day about a woman who had a red velvet cupcake confiscated by an airport TSA agent. The reason? The agent “told her its frosting was enough like a gel to violate TSA restrictions on allowing liquids and gels onto flights to prevent them from being used as explosives.”

Thank you, Betty Crocker, for your vigilance in protecting our skies from the perils of cream cheese frosting on red velvet cupcakes. Air travel is safe once again thanks to your quick thinking.

Unfortunately, confiscating a cupcake is not the worst accusation to hit the TSA this holiday season. In early December, an 84 year-old woman with heart problems and an implanted defibrillator travelling from New York to Florida asked to skip the body scan and voluntarily submitted herself for a pat down instead. She received neither; rather, two female agents took her into a private room where they strip-searched her.

What, did they think her dentures were lined with C-4 instead of Sea-Bond? No, kids, grandma may not have gotten run over by a reindeer, but she was humiliated by government agents. The TSA has since apologized but maintains she was never strip-searched.

To those of you who realize these are two examples of government intrusion but think you are ok because you rarely fly, I say, think again. Now the TSA has a program that will bring all the joys of airport security to you without the pesky plane ride at the end. It’s known as the VIPR program, which stands for the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, and it is already at work.

According to the L.A. Times, there are currently 25 VIPR teams that “have run more than 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in the last year.” One team was in North Carolina. checking train passengers after the recent Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons game. At the Charlotte Amtrak station, three agents and a chemical detecting dog checked passengers for concealed nuclear materials. Not surprisingly, they didn’t find any. Common sense would have told them that the only bomb in Charlotte that day was the Panthers’ second half performance.

Is this what a free society looks like? Not in the least. In this post-9/11 Orwellian world, freedom is constantly being compromised in the name of safety, and no agency is more effective at it than the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Is Secretary Janet Napolitano bothered about these intrusions committed by her agents? Apparently not. Instead, she is upset with Congress for “turning a deaf ear to her pleas not to slash DHS’s” budget. Napolitano is turning a blind eye to the violations of personal privacy and freedom that are committed by the TSA. After all, it’s for our own good.

Therefore, to anyone who doesn’t like the treatment they receive from the TSA, let them eat cake. Just not the cream cheese icing.

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