"Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law." ~ Louis Brandeis
Lament for a Flask of Gin
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
This summer, a government agent stole from me a bottle of gin at Logan Airport.
By "stole," I mean that he removed it from my possession without leave. That's the usual way that word is understood. Federal, State and local governments steal far more from each of us than that, every day – but somehow this tangible proof, this physically disappearing flask of good cheer, left me more outraged than the other heists.
I was traveling to Europe, and knowing that governments there tax liquor very heavily, I'd purchased a supply in the good ole' US of A to take with me so as to limit expenses. Three of the (plastic, travelers') bottles, as gifts and for my own use, I packed in the checked luggage; but there was a convenient space in my carry-on case for a fourth, and without thinking, I packed one flask of ordinary Gilbey's gin there instead. It was a simple mistake, for I'd heard previously that they don't allow liquids aboard aircraft in case someone carries some with malicious intent, but when packing for a vacation, there are a hundred things to remember and that's one I forgot.
That gin ordinaire had cost me about $10. A pretty fair bargain, at the New Hampshire liquor monopoly; they can do that because they make shopping mall owners set their rental exceptionally low in recognition that a liquor store will bring business to the whole plaza. The result makes all other merchandise a little more expensive than it would otherwise be, leaving booze competitive with surrounding states despite the monopoly, and forcing teetotal shoppers to subsidize winebibbers like me.
As a result of the loss at Logan, I had to pay the outrageous price in Europe, which is $28 a bottle of the same size, brand and quality. Presumably the NH store made a buck or so on my $10, so the government over there must be raking in about $19, as a tax of over 200%. When you control commerce in a whole country, isn't it wonderful how much you can rip people off?
When the TSA X-ray machines picked up trace of the flask, the agent poked through my case until he found the gin, and I pointed out that is was only gin (not nitroglycerine) and that he was welcome to verify that fact by unscrewing the sealed cap and taking a nip. He declined. A liquid is a liquid, and rules are rules. Seems “flexibility” and “sense” are words not found in the TSA's how-to manual, and that its scrutiny is mechanical, requiring few human attributes or skills. Gilbey's had taken ample care to distil and bottle the product to make it attractive to customers, but the government goon, even when I bade him farewell by saying “Enjoy the gin,” said most seriously it would go directly in the trash. So I can only hope some deserving wino later dumpster-dove that particular container.
I noticed that many passengers were losing small bottles of water, but those flasks cost only about a buck, and airlines generally serve water free on board so they may not have been as upset as I was. So far, airlines don't give away free bottles of gin.
Who's to blame for this $28 loss, and what's the fix?
Arguably I am, because I forgot the TSA rule when packing. But wait; am I really to blame because I should have remembered that a thief will operate in Circumstance X? Surely the primary blame is on the thief? Highwaymen notoriously rob travelers on Route 99, so does that mean the victim must remember to take the alternative Route 98? Hardly.
Carry-on liquids are verboten because some years ago, some malefactor threatened some flight with something liquid and dangerous – I forget what. Maybe an explosive, or gasoline, or chloroform, or some liquified poison gas. Many possibilities, when you are desperate or demented enough to take your own life and those of 200 or 300 others, just to make a point. Government reacts, and fights the previous battle, so it's very unlikely that anyone will try a liquid-based hijack again. They'll think up something new. So long as the motive continues to exist, government can still credibly claim to “protect” us by making the boarding process more and more miserable and invasive, but the determined and inventive attacker will always win – once.
So the real fix is to remove the motive.
It's been readily possible to bring down aircraft ever since the 1930s; all one had to do was to check luggage containing a bomb, and then disappear without flying (if survival was a part of the plan). That loophole was plugged by making sure all passengers who checked baggage also boarded the flight, but still Pan Am 103 was destroyed when a Libyan government agent flew the first leg of the connection but not the second – in revenge for the Iranian shoot-down by the USS Vincennes. Such outrages did not happen prior to the 1970s, and then extremely rarely; and nearly always the perps had Palestine on their minds. Things got worse at about the time that those who had been born in exile (1948 to 1960, say) grew into their 20s and organized to take action against the primary culprit: Israel's backer, the US Government. As wars go, I'd have to say this one has been rather successful. Enormous costs have been imposed on the developed West, notably the US, which predictably reacted by waging conventional wars in the Mid-East and so made America even more passionately hated there. So far, nothing at all has been done to affect the subject motive except to add frenzy and froth.
What fix is feasible? I can see three ideas, and the first is to dismantle the TSA; Rand Paul, I understand, is behind that one after being mistreated himself some months ago by the Administration. It's not a good one. I have no doubt that over several decades the FedGov has created some real enemies out there, and if that guard is taken down, they will take the opportunity to do more dreadful things in revenge.
The second is much more promising, and is to dismantle the State Department as well, so that no foreign policy can be implemented. The point here is that any and all foreign policies favor some foreigners and disfavor others (that's what a foreign policy is) and so it is a mechanism for creating enemies. Take it away, and the subject motive dissolves also – along with the “need” for a TSA. That would actually fix the problem.
The third is more radical, and answers a possible objection to the second, of the form “but you can't have a national government without a foreign policy and a State Department!”
I'm not quite certain that that objection is valid (has anyone ever tried?) but presume that it will be advanced vigorously, and especially vigorously by the bureau-rats over at State. Who knows, perhaps this time those government people might be telling the truth – it happens, once in a while. So let's take them at their word, and dismantle the lot to make sure; State, the TSA, the DHS, the DEA, the IRS and all the other three-lettered monsters. A bit late to tip them into the same dumpster as my bottle of gin, but any trash can will do and it's much better late than never.