Doug Casey on the TSA

(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)

Louis James, Chief Metals & Mining Investment Strategist

L: Doug, your favorite group of people, the Transportation Security Agency, has been in the news a lot lately, with their chief being summoned to Capitol Hill to answer for the excesses of his underlings. Today is National Opt Out Day, when Americans are encouraged to refuse the full-body "porno" scans and the alternative pat-downs. And yet, the TSA is said to have very high approval ratings – as high as 81% in one CBS poll. As straws in the wind go that does not bode well. What do you make of this?

Doug: They're certainly the face of government that one encounters most often these days. Some newer polls and news stories suggest that support for what they do may be waning, but in general, it's another sign of the accelerating decline of the American Empire. As Tacitus pointed out in the second century, the more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the state.

All bureaucracies inevitably become sodden, counterproductive, and centered mainly on their own agendas. But the TSA is on an extraordinarily steep downward trajectory. I suspect that is for several reasons. One is that the TSA is on the "front line," as they pathetically describe it, of an unnecessary and illusory war on terror, so they're very sensitive about somehow justifying their existence. Another is that they're dressed up in uniforms and organized in a paramilitary manner; once you put people in uniforms they become much more obedient chimpanzees. Another is that their employees are actually the dregs of U.S. society. It amazes me that when Congress created it, they somehow found 50,000 people who thought that getting paid to go through fellow citizens' dirty underwear at airports was a good deal.

This is unskilled labor of the most menial sort. But these are not, by and large, teenagers with no skills; rather, they are middle-aged people who should be able to find some more productive – or at least higher-paying – use for their time. I suppose it was perceived as a step up for those who were WalMart greeters, or packing bags at Safeway – although that's incorrect, because although those are low-paid, unskilled, and unchallenging occupations, they are at least honorable work.

And they've now expanded the force to 65,000, and they are still hiring – they've placed ads on the backs of pizza boxes. These people are truly the bottom of the barrel.

L: I've just looked it up, and the TSA screener gets paid $10.91–$15.59 per hour. Overtime is up to $23.23, and there are bonuses. I wonder what those are for…

Doug: I doubt the bonuses are based on "customer satisfaction." And I bet the government benefits are significant, and the fringe benefits are commensurate with government employment. At this point, the average government employee makes about 50% more than a civilian worker. It's appealing to those who have not bothered to learn a useful trade.

But the real problem is psychological. Certain types of people are drawn to certain types of jobs. Only a certain type of person would, for example, become a prison guard. It's bad enough being sent to prison involuntarily, so what does it say about a person who'll spend his or her days there, just to be the one with the baton? These are really bad apples, and the power has, quite predictably, gone to their heads.

L: You don't think any of them think they are actually making people safe – saving lives?

Doug: There might be a few who actually believe that, but that doesn't mean they are not still, on average, the sort of person who enjoys bullying other people. Actually, the people who are even more contemptible are the members of the chattering classes – you can read their editorials in the Washington Post and here – who cheerlead for the TSA, by saying "Yes, some mistakes are made, some officers are over zealous, or lack common sense, but it's good and necessary in principle." That's totally pernicious nonsense on all levels. It's a matter of principle that's in question, something to which they're completely oblivious.

There are many, many recent examples of just how arrogant and abusive these thugs have gotten recently. I just read today about a cancer victim that had a bladder bag…

L: Can't take any liquids through security!

Doug: Yes. So they pawed the thing and spilled urine all over the fellow, and he had to travel that way. Another story I read recently was of a woman who had pierced nipples and the TSA removed the rings with some pliers they had lying around, even after the things were identified and were obviously no threat.

And there was a six-year-old child who couldn't walk without a leg brace, but they made him take it off to go through the metal detector. And you better not back-sass your betters today, either…

Actually, the TSA serves absolutely no useful purpose. On the one hand, it's playing into the bad guys' hands by helping bankrupt the U.S., by death through a thousand cuts. On the other hand, if a bad guy really wanted to do some damage, he'll just stand in a line with hundreds of others waiting to go through screening, and detonate his carry-on bag there. That will certainly happen.

L: I've just looked up some sample news reports, including the screaming three-year-old and that guy's "don't touch my junk" cell-phone recording that's going around, for people who haven't seen them.

Doug: This is, in my view, criminal malfeasance. These people are completely out of control. But, more importantly, it's a sign of the times.  An atmosphere of suspicion, antagonism, envy, and fear is becoming more pervasive every day in the U.S. and Europe. With every real or imagined "terrorist" event it gets ramped up more. The TSA now has goons patrolling trains and bus stations. A clever bad guy will attack one of those, so that all public travel in the U.S. would be as bad as it is in the airports. Then, a couple incidents using cars and trucks, which would "prove" the necessity for 100,000 more TSA people. Eventually, you'd be unable to travel anywhere, in any way, without the prospect of inspection and detention.

L: People do seem to be realizing this danger. The outrage seems to be a matter for comedians to take up. There are some Internet spoofs of the TSA pat-downs going around, including one from Saturday Night Live I just dug up.

Speaking of spoofs, do you remember the Airplane movies made back in the 1970s to spoof the Airport dramas? In the second one, there's a scene in which two main characters are talking in the foreground, and in the background, people are trooping through the magnetometer with guns, bandoliers and bazookas, while a little old lady is thrown against a wall and frisked. These movies are totally slapstick, intended to be utterly ridiculous, and now life is imitating fiction.

Doug: I know; Americans are now the laughingstocks of the world. Life is clearly imitating art at this point. There's no question about it. I just wish it would get to the point it did in V for Vendetta, towards the end of the movie – and sooner rather than later. But I fear that whatever replaces the current system – at least for a while – will be even worse, before it eventually gets better.

L: It certainly seems to be a sign of our times – evidence of the decay of the empire, as you say; the roaches are coming out of the woodwork and marching about in the light of day with arrogance and disdain for their inferiors. On the other hand, the head TSA roach did get called out on the mat. The Internet is buzzing with praise for Ron Paul's efforts to put them in their place. Do you think there's any hope Americans will put their collective foot down and stop the airport grope-fest?

Doug: No. Some polls show citizens are outraged, but most others suggest that they are cheering the TSA on. The fact is that when you deal with almost anybody, as an individual, they are generally affable and sensible. But we're dealing here with mob psychology, and governments. Therefore you're dealing with the lowest common denominator, and the basest motives and emotions. At this point the whole system is in a self-reinforcing downward spiral. It needs to be flushed.

L: Hmmm. There was a recent comedy about an improbable romance between a "nobody" and a girl who's totally "out of his league." What job did they give the guy to epitomize the insignificance of his life? He was a TSA goon. But it was a Hollywood fantasy, so he was, of course, an under-appreciated nice guy.

Doug: That's classic. But in real life, even people who would ordinarily be nice tend to let the demons within out, once they're sucked into power within an abusive system. It's like the Milgram Experiment. You can put an ordinary person into an authority system, and he starts acting as he's told to. And the public starts acting like sheep. This is why it only takes one guard to intimidate 100 prisoners.

Take the example of Germany. It was a civilized country in the 1920s, but when the wrong people got in power, the 20 percent of the 20 percent who are the worst among people came out of the woodwork and joined the SS and the Gestapo. They were mostly pretty average nothing/nobody people who let power go to their heads – just like the people who work for the TSA today.

The Black Riders have come out from Mordor and their minions are swarming over the land.

L: Someone replicated the Milgram experiments recently. I'm amazed they got it past an ethics committee. As for the TSA, here's a collection of horror stories to back you up.

What's really scary is all the preparation our tireless public servants have done, setting up systems that seem benign – or at least mostly harmless – now, but pave the way for serious abuse. The suspension of posse comitatus for the drug war, the declaration of U.S. citizens to be "enemy combatants" (a term not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution) and therefore without the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the stories about the FEMA camps already built, wiretaps without warrants, the erosion of the Second Amendment (the right to keep and bear arms), "free speech zones" where free speech is allowed… All of these things are police-state tools.

Right now, the U.S. still feels relatively free. You and I can have this conversation without being sent to the gulag. But make a joke in a TSA screening checkpoint, and see how free you feel. Or make a politically incorrect statement on a college campus. What happens when these insects, with real or manufactured approval from the masses clamoring for security, feel truly free to do whatever they please?

Doug: The cat's totally out of the bag now. It's become Kafkaesque. It's gotten so bad, many people I know go out of their way not to fly through the U.S. Even if you're not leaving the airport, but are just making a flight connection, you have to go through the indignities of customs and immigration – and then you have to deal with these lowlifes at the TSA. And it's just going to get worse.

I'm interested in – but not looking forward – to seeing what happens on my next trip to the U.S. Flying in most parts of the world is still fairly mellow, unless it's a flight to the U.S. I plan on opting out next time, and not using the back-scatter device. I just have to keep my cool. These people can sense I have an attitude about these things – and frankly I have only contempt for people who don't have an attitude. They either have no self-respect, or no intelligence. But it's pointless to lose you temper, since you're dealing with robots. Raging against the machine just depletes your own resources, and can actually strengthen the machine.

The wisest course is to minimize your flying, and soon other travel, in the U.S. That means spending a minimum of time in the U.S., but since there is relatively much less wealth and opportunity in the U.S. with each passing day, that's less and less of an inconvenience. I fear it's going to get much worse, at an accelerating rate.

L: And to add insult to injury, none of this makes anyone one bit safer, while there are systems that apparently do. They don't pat people down in Israeli airports, for example, and yet have not had a breach of security for years. Here's a video I found that makes that point.

Doug: I suppose. The Israelis have gone out of their way to hire street-smart operators, which won't ever happen in the U.S. And they can be very politically incorrect, looking for a certain type – basically a young Muslim male; that will never happen in the U.S. either. And they've been lucky; only a complete idiot will hit such a hard target. But Israel is a theocratic, ethnically exclusive police state – hardly a model to follow. And I don't like being interrogated by some fool in a uniform, either.

On the bright side, this gross violation of people's rights by the TSA is so personal, it could be the thing that actually pushes the U.S. over a psychological tipping point, and gets Americans to act like Americans, and say, "I'm not going to take anymore!" At some point even a cowering dog will stop cowering and bite. At least in theory.

The would be good for the country, but could make things turn pretty ugly in the interim, which is one reason I'm glad I don't have to – and don't – spend much time in the U.S. any more.

L: But you've said before that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave has been turned into Land of the Lapdogs and the Home of the Whipped Dogs. Do you actually think there's a line beyond which U.S. citizens can't be pushed and will develop the spine to act like Americans?

Doug: Well, one can hope. With millions and millions of people losing their houses, and almost 40 million people receiving food stamps, while corporate execs loot their publicly-traded and government-subsidized employers for billions in bonuses, and inflation set to take off in the not-too-distant future, these sorts of indignities could push people over the edge.

Sometimes, it amazes me to see the stock market going up in the face of all this volatility, but I believe it's doing so because of the creation of all these trillions and trillions of currency units. Not because of any fundamental soundness in the economy. This has me thinking of the ideal speculations for the next little while… which I'll write about in the next issue of The Casey Report.

L: Okay, but generally, investment implications would be as with other straws in the wind spelling out trouble and volatility: liquidate, consolidate, create, and speculate.

Doug: And diversify your political risk. As you know, I always like to look at the bright side of things. In this case, it will be interesting to see if the looming complete bankruptcy of the U.S. government will force a deconstruction of the "national security" state, including disbanding of the TSA, which may well grow to 150,000 employees in the near future. Or whether it will turbocharge its growth for a while thereafter.

L: Okay then, no need to repeat that – but readers who have not read what you have to say on those subjects should follow the links.

Doug: Right.

L: Say, Doug, we spoke about music last week, but neglected to mention our music project.

Doug: You mean your student from Belarus, whose debut CD we funded?

L: Yes. Her band is called PRANA. We're still working on English translations, but there's one song in English folks can listen to now, if they're interested. Go to www.musicbyprana.com, click on "eng" for English, then click on the angel holding a musical symbol. That takes you to a page with an audio file called Tempt Me Not – click on the "play" triangle. There are other, rather different songs in Russian on the Russian side of the site.

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to ask our readers for a favor: PRANA has entered a contest in which anyone can vote for their favorite Belarusian bands. The big prize is funding for a professional music video. There's an important vote taking place today (until 5 a.m. EST 11/25), and another one next week. I'd like to ask our readers who are interested to listen to PRANA's music, and if they like it, to vote for her in this contest. To do that is easy, though the site is in Russian; go to http://www.trkbrest.by/projects and click on Prana's picture (it's the one on the right, the only one of a girl), and when the popup box appears, click on the blue "Голосовать" button on the left. That's it. Prana and our students in Belarus would really appreciate the support.

Doug: Okay, but when will we hear more songs in English?

L: I've helped her translate her lyrical poetry, and she's working on her pronunciation. The words are important in her songs, and she wants to be understood clearly. I hope we'll have an English CD soon.

Doug: Good luck to her!

L: Thanks, and thanks for your input on the TSA today. I hope lots of people opt out!

Doug: You're welcome. Until next time…

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Doug and his fellow editors of The Casey Report tell it like it is – so you always know what's coming. The increased government meddling in security and in all sectors of the economy, the looming bankruptcy of the U.S. government, and the investment implications can make or break your future wealth. Learn how to take advantage of the current situation and profit while other stand on the sidelines; click here for more.

Nov 24, 2010