There Is a God After All

And He hath seen our oppression under the wicked Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and hath smitten its malefactors with a plague. Yes, the TSA’s vaunted new uniforms apparently cause "skin rashes, …runny or bloody noses, lightheadedness [sic], red eyes, and swollen and cracked lips." Or at least that’s what the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) claims. It "estimate[s]" that 200 or 300 "workers" [sic for "stand-ins at the security theater"] have complained of such symptoms.

The TSA unveiled screeners’ blue shirts and gold metal badges with great foofaraw this summer. Among their many other sins, no one at this absurd agency seems to have read Thoreau’s warning against enterprises that require new clothes. Too bad: their ignorance and new costumes cost us $12 million.

The uniforms deliberately mimicked those of cops, the better to cow passengers. “Our research shows that people respect individuals who wear uniforms, and do what they say,” Prof. Brad Bushman of the University of Michigan told Time magazine. The article added, "Psychologists who have researched the effects of official-looking uniforms and badges find that they do indeed tend to make people more compliant. … In two studies conducted in the 1980s, Bushman found that people were much more likely to follow the orders of a person with a uniform and a badge than the direction of someone in regular clothing." Uniforms also affect the wearer. Bushman "predicted" their new rags might make screeners "demand more of people… And people can be expected to submit at least a little more readily." Screeners themselves admitted this: "We wanted to have, I don’t want to say more authority, but a more professional look to upgrade our image,” burbled one budding Napoleon at Reagan National.

Despite outcries from cops and their unions nationwide, the TSA never admitted to impersonating the police (naturally enough, since that’s a crime — at least for you or me). Yet it not only confessed but emphasized its hopes of intimidating us. "The new shirts and badges will convey authority to passengers and reflect the seriousness of screener’s duties, said Elio Montenegro, a TSA spokesman." USA Today seconded that: "The attire aims to convey an image of authority to passengers, who have harassed, pushed and in a few instances punched screeners. u2018Some of our officers aren’t respected,’ said TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe." My heart bleeds.

But now the story’s changed. It wasn’t power over us these bozos sought; no, it was a "more professional look" and "better wear." Why, the TSA even listened to its employees, atypically enough, and "designed" the uniforms with their "input." ("Yo, Boss," says fat LaWanda, peeling off her blue gloves. "How ’bout you gimme a badge like them cops wear? Tired of these uppity passengers arguin’ wit me ever time I take one of their damn bottles of rum, like I’m stealin’ or somethin’ ‘stead of doin’ my job. Hell, I’d go thirsty otherwise on the chicken%@#$ I make at this damn checkpoint.")

Astoundingly, the TSA also wants us to believe screeners donned new duds for us! Yes! Christopher White, yet another of the TSA’s abundant and voluble spokesmen, rhapsodized, “We’re very proud of the new uniforms. We’ve heard a very strong reaction from passengers. They like the look. It looks much more professional.” Nor does a compliant and gullible media remind either White or us of the authoritarianism that sparked the change. Instead it echoes White’s whopper: the "TSA changed uniforms last summer in an effort to make employees look more professional."

Alas, it’s unlikely that the plague is punishing screeners nearly as much as they deserve. The caliber of the TSA’s typical hire is lower than a politician’s credibility: not only are screeners given to robbing, molesting, and even slaughtering passengers, but they whine. A lot. Screeners are just trying to pay the rent and feed their kids, after all; they can’t understand why we object to their delaying us and rifling our belongings in pursuit of those lofty goals. You might think runny noses would be a small price to pay given that the TSA expects American passengers to fork over their time, money, privacy, and dignity in the War on Terror, but no. Screeners draw the line at sniffling for their country.

Meanwhile, remember who’s encouraging these malingerers: a union, which, by definition, means an entity that matches the TSA for mendacity. Indeed, unions are one of the reasons the TSA unconstitutionally impedes our travels, as Joseph and Susan Trento explain in Unsafe at Any Altitude: Exposing the Illusion of Aviation Security: "…[A] government labor union …was pressuring Democrats such as former representative Richard Gephardt to support a huge federalized workforce to replace the private screeners." They quote Kenneth Quinn, formerly an attorney with the FAA, who observed, "…you had a federal union that really wanted fifty-five thousand jobs, a very powerful PAC, and they are, like, 95 percent Democratic…They saw it as a great opportunity to get a bunch more members into a federal government union." Ironically, recruiters are still drooling over that "bunch": seven years after its authorization, the TSA has yet to forcibly unionize.

So the AFGE has a vested interest in magnifying any complaint screeners make. In this case, it claims that the culprit is formaldehyde, "a chemical byproduct of the permanent-press finish applied by clothing manufacturers to prevent mildew and stains." The TSA and the uniforms’ manufacturer, VF Solutions of Nashville, naturally deny that and brandish reports from an independent lab. Which reminds me of Alexander McClure’s story about Abraham Lincoln. When General Ulysses Grant took too much time from killing Americans to linger over his whiskey, Lincoln supposedly told his critics to find out his brand "because I want to send a barrel of it to each one of my generals." Likewise, let’s insist Leviathan dress all its minions in VF Solutions’ uniforms.

Even if the suffering isn’t as severe as screeners and a scheming union would have us believe, there’s still cause for rejoicing. Catch the comments readers are appending to the story in its various iterations on the web. Not long ago, such remarks could launch liberty’s lovers into a tailspin of despair: most folks applauded the TSA as a fine idea whose efforts to subjugate us merited more money and power. But unless they work for the government or are related to someone who does, Americans are wising up. "Good work, rashes!" cheers one at the Washington Post. "Now [screeners] have at least an inkling of the discomfort and rage American citizens have to experience every time they take even a domestic flight…. Go rashes go, be fruitful and multiply!" A second reader hopes the malady "make[s screeners] almost as miserable as they make us citizens, who are presumed GUILTY by the TSA until PROVEN INNOCENT!"

Others echo that theme. "Pure Karma," writes one taxpayer and "Poetic justice," croons another. A concerned citizen inquires, "Are the jackboots too tight as well? I do hope."

Some propose a solution. "Why don’t they just give them brownshirts and swastika armbands?" one wit wonders. Another believes that "The TSA is a good place to begin saving budget money. The program should be abandoned…" A third offers "a quick fix: Eliminate TSA. Problem solved." Is a fourth referring to our taxes or Rigoberto Alpizar when he says, "Stop the bleeding. Close Homeland Security"?

Others are simply grateful: "Thank you VF Solutions, thank you, thank you."

And keep up the great work!