No thanks

Folks will just have to understand today and tomorrow if I snap at anyone who gives thanks that we live in a free country — or, should the sentiment be expressed on television, if I throw a brick at the screen.  The Department of Fatherland Security has committed two outrages on consecutive days.

First came the news yesterday that a date certain has been set — January 23, in case you missed it — for all air travelers entering the United States to show a passport.  That includes U.S. citizens returning to their homes from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.  Travelers by ship, too.  Oh, and according to KATC-TV in Louisiana, deep-sea fishers who head out more than 60 miles from shore.  Travelers by vehicle still have a year's reprieve, but come early 2008, anyone from Seattle taking a spin up to Vancouver for the weekend will have to present their papers if they want to get back home.

Then today comes the word that you'd better not criticize the government while you're on board a plane.  Now this isn't enshrined in any formal regulation, but it's hard to reach any other conclusion from Fatherland Security's justification of U.S. Airways kicking six men off a plane for flying while Muslim.  Turns out it wasn't just that ignorant passengers got itchy because the clerics prayed in the terminal.  (Well, yes, Muslims pray five times a day, so it's probably not surprising that they'd pray sometime between check-in and arrival at their destination.)  What clinches it from Fatherland Security's standpoint is that passengers heard the men making "anti-U.S. statements," in particular criticizing the Iraq war.

So there you have it, the new unwritten rule of air travel: Sit down and shut up.  And keep that passport handy.