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Security Theater

Well, so much for "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here."

Maybe Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab scared you. But for me, he was mainly just another reminder that much of this "war on terror"--from the illusion of heightened airport "security" to these two stupid wars--has largely been a waste of our nation's time, resources and manpower.

We're not being "kept safe" here or abroad. We're not equipping our airports with the latest technology for sniffing out explosive substances. We're not securing our seaports or train stations or bus depots. Hell, we don't even want to pay folks who operate the airport X-ray scanners more money or provide enhanced training. If you're stunned that a 23-year-old fanatic could make it into Detroit and nearly blow up a plane, then you haven't been paying nearly enough attention to the numerous reports that, since 9/11, have detailed just how porous and illusory U.S. airport security really is.

But that hasn't stopped our politicians from drawing us into yet another installment of "Security Theater." We raise terror alert levels and increase armed security at the airports. We get more aggressive in our demands that elderly ladies remove their shoes and traveling salesmen dispose of their lighters. We crack down. We beef up. We debate worthless placebos like the racial profiling of Africans or Arabs. (But somehow never the Tim McVeighs of the world.) And we keep up the mad scramble to find inroads into the illusion that we can somehow be made invulnerable to every single loon and crackpot with a half-assed religious or p0litical agenda, all the while bypassing real measures and technology that might actually filter out a nut or two.

So too with these wars. We keep telling ourselves this lie that we're in a "war on terror" because the idea of a "war" makes us feel safer, like our elected officials are giving this the gravity it deserves. So we bomb the bejeebus out of two ass-backwards nations that had nothing to do with the alleged pretext for this military action, the Sept. 11 attacks. Meanwhile, as we squander trillions in Middle East war zones without batting an eye, our roads crumble, our schools rot, our levies break, our bridges collapse and we argue ourselves silly over whether universal health care is affordable and in the best interest of the nation. Uh-huh.

Al-Qaida, meanwhile, hasn't shown itself to be much more than a criminal organization with a crypto-religious bent. They're the Mafia with a prayer rug, and 9/11--for all its horrific tragedy--was much more a crime than an act of war.

But for the sake of "Security Theater," we've assigned them the role of the Third Reich. We've created special holding facilities in Cuba when we should be tossing their asses in Leavenworth and the Supermax. We've sent in the Army where something akin to the crew from The Wire or CSI is probably more appropriate. We're warring when we should be policing (like Bill Clinton did after the first WTC bombing, when he tracked down and arrested the thugs responsible).

Along the way, we've also launched domestic spying programs, detained American citizens without due process and otherwise threatened to shred our Constitutional principles in the name of the expediency this kind of political kabuki promises. Meanwhile, the attempts on our lives--and collective peace of mind--continue.

Of course, we cannot afford to diminish these threats. There are indeed crazies who'd do us harm. But responding inappropriately to them in the name of "Security Theater" hasn't served us well either. Not only do we distort potential threats like Abdulmutallab, we risk distorting who we are, too.

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