Just as I step off a plane, news reports break about 19 American airports allowing components of bombs smuggled onboard in carry-on luggage. Talk about shock and awe. No wonder Philly security seems such a breeze lately.

For more than a year, I had avoided airline travel because of the hassle factor. Although it seemed simpler to bypass the Homeland Security charade completely, good friends beckoned. And so I flew out West for a visit recently.

Though these were not holiday flights, it took me from 9 a.m. until midnight of the same day, even without major problems, to travel between Pennsylvania and New Mexico – counting airport shuttles, connecting flights, layovers, minor plane repairs, slight delays – what would ordinarily be six hours nonstop if the airlines gave passengers that option.

Lately, direct flights seem a thing of the past. Instead, airlines stretch the experience so you can spend more money to enrich their coffers. Waiting around at an airport for a connecting flight in a strange city for a few hours can be hazardous to your wallet – unless you eat, drink, shop and be merry, you may just die of boredom.

Of course you could also read, watch TV, chat on the telephone, or use your laptop, but sometimes those constructive alternatives seem barely worth the effort when you are in the shoppers paradise our airports have become.

For me, the awful moment of truth was not going through the security checkpoint, but preparing for it. Almost obsessively, I spent two whole days before I packed merely subtracting items. The effort was debilitating. I just didn’t want to deal with the scrutiny.

Yes, I had heard about two “friends of friends” – right, the old Snopes “urban legend” trope – supposedly yanked aside and strip-searched. While that possibility might have appealed to me in my wild and crazy days, the thought of suffering through such an indignity now was way off-putting.

So I ask you, dear readers, what’s the point of all this punitive folderol aimed at harassing ordinary citizens, if our putative president goes and issues a carload of misguided pardons for … plain, garden-variety criminals? Shouldn’t presidential pardons be reserved for, um, correcting gross miscarriages of justice? Who does he think he is, OJ?

Remember WND’s report: “The White House has left unexplained the president’s decisions to grant pardons to drug dealers, carjackers, thieves and a moon-shiner, but deny the same mercy to two former U.S. Border Patrol agents each serving more than a decade in prison for shooting at a fleeing drug smuggler.”

I don’t know about you, but that last presidential pardon-fest convinced me not only has this nation been hijacked by the Bush Crime Family and others of that nefarious ilk, but we are truly living in a Banana Republic. Which means GWB could be the ultimate Banana Republican, right?

What kind of message is he sending to America’s youth? It’s OK to peddle drugs, carjack Subarus, steal stuff, sell home-made booze, and then you can get off, scot-free? Sounds like a laundry list of the Bushling’s own adolescent indiscretions and personal peccadilloes.

Just imagine reading this about …Venezuela:

“Chavez has left unexplained [his]decisions to grant pardons to drug dealers, carjackers, thieves and a moon-shiner. … His only comment: ‘Because I can.'”

Or, for that matter, Cuba:

“Fidel has left unexplained [his]decisions to grant pardons to drug dealers, carjackers, thieves and a moon-shiner. … His only comment: ‘Because I can.'”

Conclusive proof Bush-WAH really is a Banana Republican. OK, I rest my case.

Time to dust off the ol’ Y2K Escape-America Stratagem, starting off with dual citizenship someplace else. Maybe even Mexico. What a plan! Reverse/Reciprocal Immigration: all the Americans grossed out by the USA could resettle for one-tenth our cost of living, in Mexico, which could be eventually vacated by legions of ambitious ?migr?s headed for “El Norte” and a better life.

Otherwise, my recent nightmare beckons: I’m walking somewhere. Suddenly I turn to my left and who do I see but Hillary Clinton. She looks good, much better than her photographs, dewy and fresh-faced. So, to be sociable, I say, “Hello, how are you?” I’m thinking, gee, the universe has handed me a column; run with it.

No answer. She just keeps walking.

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