by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[T]here are the head-shaking stories of interactions with our favorite blue-shirted defenders of airport safety – the Transportation Security Administration. Such as the TSA agents who didn’t know the District of Columbia is an officially recognized legal geographical piece of the United States of America. Or the JFK screener who didn’t realize the metal detector was unplugged. Planes had to be diverted, passengers rescreened. Or the TSA agent who asked me, “Sir, is this your real name?” What? Seriously? I was tempted to respond “Ah, you got me, it’s actually Fidel Castro.”
George Bernard Shaw entered idiom history with, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.” Now, I married into a family of teachers and, for reasons of personal safety, I will not comment on what is, of course, a silly statement. But I will revise it to, “He who can, does; he who cannot, takes a job with a federal safety agency.”
Sweeping generalization and ad hominem attack? Of course. But it does carry a grain of truth.
Or make that a silo. Recently, two teenagers were crossing from Canada back into the United States after a competition. And then, as AP reported:
The skirl of their pipes had barely receded before two New Hampshire teenagers learned a hard lesson in cross-border musical diplomacy: If your bagpipes have ivory in them, leave them at home before traveling to Canada or risk having them seized at the border.
The U.S. is part of an international agreement banning ivory importation as of 1976. Bagpipes often contain ivory, but, like many musical instruments (Stradivarius anyone?), they are hundreds of years old and therefore well predate that 1976 cutoff. These boys had certificates to prove as such. But to no avail. The U.S. border guards merely indicated they were enforcing an international ban against illegal ivory shipments, and that it is ultimately up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the provenance of any seized ivory and whether to release those seized items back to their owners.
The boys eventually got their pipes back – thanks to congressional and public pressure – but not before paying a $576 fine for taking their instruments across the border at a “non-designated crossing.” That’s what we call the U.S. government trying to save face.