Top officials set the tone

Unhappy over Transportation Security Administration practices that subject millions of innocent people to indignities and delays, Ryan Bird wrote a note saying TSA head "Kip Hawley is an Idiot" and included it in the clear plastic bag of personal items he presented for inspection at a security checkpoint.

Later explaining his note, Bird said "My level of frustration with the TSA and their idiotic policies has grown over two years. I'm frustrated that poorly trained TSA people can pull random passengers out of line and pat them down like common criminals. The average traveler has no recourse. "

The vice president of a company, Bird was "detained" after an angry baggage screener called a sheriff's deputy to check whether he had any warrants for his arrest. According to CNN, a supervisor told Bird he had the right to express his opinions "out there" - pointing outside the screening area - but did not have the right "in here." To its credit, the local sheriff's office quickly determined Bird was no threat and sent him on his way.

Clearly, poor TSA training is part of the explanation for how Bird was treated when his note was read at the airport. Well-trained screeners would know the Bill of Rights doesn't stop at the threshold of an airport concourse. Also in evidence is the well-tested axiom that power tempts the unprepared to abuse it.

More importantly, even the most junior federal officials absorb whatever attitudes are fostered in the White House. If the message from the top is that basic freedoms are disposable, the TSA screener's behavior is less an aberration than it is an understandable extension of the administration's mind set.

Predictably, no apology has been forthcoming from TSA. Change will come only when there is change at the top.

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