How the American people are like a 10-dollar whore

My wife and daughters are flying today and we know what happens to them in the name of safety.

And now I have a related question to ask of you.

Should the government spend up to 600 million dollars to protect one person from terrorists?

Maybe the President, you say, right?

Yeah well, I’m not talking about the President. I’m talking about you. And me. And my wife and kids. And about the guy who bags my groceries. And about the nurse who lives across the street from you. And about every college professor, truck driver, cop, entrepreneur, journalist, hobo, and blogger.

Go to WalMart, or visit a cineplex. Look around you. Pick any one person. Then let it truly sink in. His or her safekeeping from Islamist jihadis costs somewhere between 64 million and 600 million dollars.

Actually, that’s only the Department of Homeland Security’s part of the pie, and that money goes mostly to the so-called safety of air travelers (you’re welcome, TSA). Add in anti-terrorism efforts by our armed forces and by the whole spectrum of government acronyms — the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, the ATF, the Secret Service (I thought it best not to abbreviate the latter) — and the numbers are … incomprehensible on every level. It wouldn’t surprise me if the dollar amount per “life saved” turns out to be one to two billion dollars.

That’s not a national-security plan. That’s an economic suicide mission.

Here’s the story in a nutshell.

For most government agencies, cost-benefit analysis is key in justifying taxpayer expenditures for certain federal regulations. If the cost of a regulation far outweighs the benefit citizens receive from it, then funds are generally funnelled toward solving other problems. Except, two researchers discovered, when it comes to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Mark G. Stewart, a professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia, and John Mueller of Ohio State University, found that since the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) inception in 2001, a real cost-benefit analysis hasn’t been conducted to evaluate the DHS’s or the TSA’s expenditures, despite strong recommendations for one in the 2004 9/11 Commission Report. What Stewart and Mueller found is staggering: they estimate that the DHS, of which the TSA is a part, spends between $64 million and $600 million to save just one life from domestic terrorism — 60 times the $1 million to $10 million per-life goal set by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The chance of being hit by lighting is one in 500,000. The chance of dying in a domestic terrorist attack is one in 25 million. It’s basically more likely that you’ll be ass-raped by a nonagenarian circus clown on Main Street between the hours of 2 and 2:17 p.m. next Monday, than that you’ll die in a terrorist bloodbath. So what’s with the irrational overspending?

Look, I trust that Osama Bin Laden’s death was horrible and bloody and painful (albeit not nearly drawn-out enough), and I hope that I will never eat a fish or a crustacean that contains even one molecule of that vile, mass-murdering thug — my stomach might not be able to take it.

But the maddening truth is, yes, he won. He turned my America — our America, surely — into a nation of mewling pussies who insist that Big Brother must keep us all safe no matter what the cost to our liberties and to our wallets. I’d call that an unqualified victory. Bin Laden and his nineteen 9/11 henchmen even got the U.S. government to be their eager abettor. With one day of pandemonium, ten years ago, he and his ragtag band of sub-human scum burrowed so deep into the American psyche that we screeched for protection like frightened little girls, and collectively gave up our virtue like a ten-dollar whore.

And speaking of whores: The Patriot Act is probably hours from being renewed, its broad political support on Capitol Hill an odd but entirely predictable reversal from ten years ago; this time, a few lone Republicans, including Rand Paul, are sounding the alarm, while Democrats can’t push through the assorted nastiness fast or far enough. So there’s that.

Hell, there even appears to be a shadow Patriot Act (a stealthy reimagining of the original one) that We The People are not supposed to know about. Wired has the story. So there’s that, too.

Maybe I’m just in a sad, sour mood. When I step into the suddenly-balmy Maine spring air, and take in the fragrance of the apple tree blossoming in my yard combined with the salty aroma that surrounds my old seaside farmhouse, I feel appreciative of all that I have, material and immaterial. I really do. But I also feel deflated, mournful. The sad truth is, I’ve just about given up on the America of Jefferson, the America of law and liberty, the America of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

It was lovely while it lasted.

And by the way, I don’t think I’m abandoning it as much as it is abandoning me.

If America was once that shining city on the hill, a beacon for those who aspire to freedom, I can only perceive, powerlessly, that its light grows dimmer with each passing week. Ten years ago, America was brought to its knees by ululating medieval moralists with boxcutters, and by the Senators and Congressmen — talk about dim bulbs! — who subsequently played straight into their hand. So I look at the wounded, anemic creature — so much smaller in stature than I thought I remembered it — and an eighties’ TV commercial for LifeCall plays through my mind:

It’s fallen and it can’t get up.

There it lies, still-blustering but badly broken. And soon broke, if it continues to stave off the terrorist boogeymen to the tune of a billion or more dollars per U.S. life saved.

If only there was LifeCall for moribund superpowers.

About Rogier:
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.
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  • [...] But the maddening truth is, yes, he won. He turned my America — our America, surely — into a nation of mewling pussies who insist that Big Brother must keep us all safe no matter what the cost to our liberties and to our wallets. I’d call that an unqualified victory. Bin Laden and his nineteen 9/11 henchmen even got the U.S. government to be their eager abettor. With one day of pandemonium, ten years ago, he and his ragtag band of sub-human scum burrowed so deep into the American psyche that we screeched for protection, and collectively gave up our virtue like a ten-dollar whore. (source) [...]

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