Archives: June, 2008

TSA Background Check Includes Political Party

We’re now learning the meaning of a new policy that Americans can’t “willfully” refuse to show ID at airports. The Consumerist has a write-up of one man’s experience with IDless travel. It turns out they do a background check on you using, among other things, your political affiliation.

That’s a nice window onto what identity-based security is all about: giving the government deep access into all of our personal lives. Of course, this type of security is easy to evade, and the 9/11 plot was structured to evade it. Checking ID cannot catch someone who has no history of wrongdoing.

Identity checks at airports require law-abiding American citizens to give up their privacy, including their political affiliations, with essentially no security benefit.

Scientists Gone Wild

One of the oft-encountered talking points offered by the Left is the extent to which the Bush administration has alternatively ignored, intimidated, and done violence to the scientific community. The picture being painted is that of a know-nothing Christian fundamentalist in the thrall of corporate America waging unremitting war against the Enlightenment.

While there is enough truth to this charge to give it legs, the “science” lobby is scarcely blameless. For all the moral and ethical posturing surrounding the sanctity of “the scientific process” and the need to keep the same safe from assaults by power-hungry politicians and ignorant political mob action, climatologist James Hansen’s recent call to literally criminalize disagreement with him about climate change is a more radical assault on the the scientific process and the scientific method than anything forwarded by the Bush administration.

Now, James Hansen would probably argue that he’s not interested in criminalizing disagreement per se; he’s interested in criminalizing dangerous, life-threatening speech that the speaker knows is fraudulent. Perhaps. But exactly what is the nature of this special mind-reading power that allows James Hansen to determine that Rex Tillerson, head of ExxonMobil, believes X but says Y? Is it so beyond the realm of possiblity to think that Rex Tillerson actually believes what he says (pace, say, commentary by our own Pat Michaels on the subject)? Or does James Hansen presume to know Pat Michaels’ true and secret thoughts as well?

To the extent that James Hansen’s views are embraced by the self-appointed gendarmes of science, politicians are right to suspect that climate change alarmism is heavily influenced by the lust for power, the demands of ego, and the pursuit of political agendas that go far beyond a disinterested search for scientific truth. Moreover, one can’t help but wonder about the strength of an argument that requires the threat of force to silence critics.

Call me an idealogue, but criminalizing skepticism about scientific theories is probably not the best way to facilitate the quest for scientific truth.

A Big-Government Running Mate for McCain?

The Washington rumor mill has Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as the leading candidate to be John McCain’s running mate. If so, that would be a clear slap in the face to small-government conservatives.

Pawlenty, who reportedly coined the term “Sam’s Club conservative” to describe his political philosophy, has been an economic populist and big-spender generally. Among other things, he:

  • Supported government subsidized health care for all children as the first step toward universal health insurance, and opposed President Bush’s veto of a Democratic bill that would have expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance program (SCHIP) to families earning as much as $83,000 per year;
  • Supports Massachusetts-style health care reform, including a “health care exchange” and an individual mandate;
  • Has called for banning all prescription drug advertizing, and seeks government imposed price controls for drugs offered through Medicare;
  • Proposed a $4000 per child preschool program for low-income children;
  • Pushed a statewide smoking ban smoking ban in workplaces, restaurants and bars;
  • Increased the state’s minimum wage;
  • Imposed some of the most aggressive and expensive renewable energy mandates in the country;
  • Was an ardent supporter of the farm bill;
  • Received only a “C” ranking on Cato’s 2006 Governor’s Report Card, finishing below such Democrats as Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and tied with Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

It was the Republicans’ big-spending, big-government ways that helped ensure their defeat in the 2006 midterm elections. Suburbanites, independents, and others who were fed up not just with the war and corruption, but also with the Republican drift toward big-government who stayed home, or even voted Democratic, on election day 2006. That night, more than 65 percent of voters told a pollster they believed that “The Republicans used to be the party of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and limited government, but in recent years, too many Republicans in Washington have become just like the big spenders they used to oppose.”

John McCain cannot hope to win this fall without the support of economic and small government conservatives. Many are attracted to what appears to be McCain’s genuine fiscal conservatism. But many others are suspicious of McCain’s populist, big-government tendencies on issues from energy and the environment to civil liberties, the war and campaign finance. McCain needs to reach out to Reagan/Goldwater small-government conservatives. Vice President Pawlenty would be sending a very different signal.

More Reaction to Boumediene Ruling

Jonathan Turley: What citizens need to understand is that it is meaningless how many rights are contained in a Constitution, if the government can deny you access to the courts to vindicate those rights.

Richard Epstein: Boumediene v. Bush is not a license to allow hardened terrorists to go free. It is a rejection of the alarmist view that our fragile geopolitical position requires abandoning our commitment to preventing Star Chamber proceedings that result in arbitrary incarceration.

Robyn Blumner: Upholding the Constitution doesn’t make us less safe, only more careful with the lives of other people. Affording timely due process to those we suspect is an honorable endeavor engendering goodwill and worldwide respect, and serving, ultimately, as great a protective shield against attack.

Steve Chapman: It’s also a small price to say that if the executive branch wants to capture someone, treat him as an enemy combatant and hold him for the rest of his life, it should have to justify that decision to someone other than itself. Critics of this decision are terrified that the courts will have the power to free innocent men. But really, the alternative is a lot scarier.

Glenn Greenwald: Our political and media elite were more than willing – they were eager – to relinquish that [habeas] right to the President in the name of keeping us Safe from Terrorists. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court, in what will be one of the most celebrated landmark rulings of this generation, re-instated that basic right, and in so doing, restored one of the most critical safeguards against the very tyranny this country was founded to prevent.

Harvey Silverglate: This past week, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s astonishing claim that it had the power to detain suspected “enemy combatants” at Guantánamo Bay — potentially for life — without fair proceedings or meaningful access to the federal courts. This moving reaffirmation of the so-called Great Writ of habeas corpus was probably the high court’s most important civil-liberties decision in my lifetime (and I was born in 1942).

Previous coverage here and here.

Happy Kelo Day

As our friends at the Institute for Justice will tell you, today is the third anniversary of Kelo v. New London, the property rights case that made my colleague Bob Levy’s list of the “Dirty Dozen” worst cases in modern Supreme Court history.  This was the case where the Fifth Amendment’s “public use” requirement was found to impose essentially no restriction on the government’s eminent domain power.  In some senses this was a lost battle leading to great progress in the war to preserve property rights, with legislatures in numerous states enacting anti-Kelo legislation in the wake of concerted grassroots activism against the decision.

This morning the Supreme Court found a curious way of winking at Kelo Day.  As I was scrolling down the orders list – a many-paged list of administrative actions, mostly cert denials – I happened upon the following notation:

07-1247 GOLDSTEIN, DANIEL, ET AL. V. PATAKI, FORMER GOV. OF NY

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. Justice Alito would grant the petition for a writ of certiorari.

Now, it’s exceedingly rare for individual justices to have the clerk record how they voted on a cert petition, but here Justice Alito did just that, and in a case that rang a bell in my mind I couldn’t place.  Then I realized that Goldstein v. Pataki was the appeal by a group of home- and business-owners who are likely to lose their property to a development that is to provide a new home to the the New Jersey Nets plus 16 high-rise office and apartment towers and a hotel.  Thus, not only is Justice Alito as friendly a vote on this issue as was his predecessor Justice O’Connor (who wrote an impassioned Kelo dissent) but he is apparently an emphatic one.  See a bit more here.  This is not necessarily a surprise – and it still leaves us one vote short – but, again, the notation on the order list is a neon light to Supreme Court watchers.

Congress Confuses on Iran

Over at TPMCafe, M. J. Rosenberg points our attention to two pieces of legislation winging their way through the House and the Senate The matching pieces of legislation declare the sense of the House and the Senate that “preventing the Government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, through all appropriate economic, political, and diplomatic means, is a matter of the highest importance to the national security of the United States and must be dealt with urgently” and call for President Bush to

initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program

Now, as Rosenberg reasonably concludes from reading the legislation, this sounds an awful lot like a blockade, which I’m pretty sure (I’m not a lawyer) qualifies as an act of war under international law. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which reportedly has been pushing the legislation through the House and Senate, replies to Rosenberg by asserting that

AIPAC supports sanctions on Iran and favors a voluntary international effort lead by the United States to stop selling Iran refined petroleum, not a blockade. Iran is highly vulnerable to such pressure. Sactions are the best way to persuade Iran to stop it’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. To suggest that AIPAC supports anything but tough economic sanctions on Iran is totally false…

I’m confused. The legislation calls for “prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran.” Now, what sort of mechanism would police such a “prohibition?” If the shipment of refined petroleum products to Iran has been “prohibited,” and a tanker sails toward it anyway, what happens? Who will be enforcing the “stringent inspection requirements on all person, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran?”

More on REAL ID Grants - DHS’ REAL ID Fervor Is Fading …

I wrote here last week about the limping DHS grant-making process for the REAL ID Act. (Summary: Good money after bad.)

Unsurprisingly, ID card maker Digimarc is touting the spending going to “its” states in a press release. I wrote about the plans of biometric technology company L-1 to acquire Digimarc’s ID card business in a recent TechKnowledge entitled “L-1: The Technology Company in Your Pocket.” (Digimarc recently received a higher offer for its ID card business from a French conglomerate. The appetite for national ID systems is certainly higher in old Europe and elsewhere around the globe than in the United States.)

Late Friday, DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker posted on DHS’ “Leadership Journal” blog about the grants. Late Friday is the time of the week when releases are least likely to get uptake - are DHS web staff trying to suppress Baker? You’d expect to see something like this on Friday morning, or the night before grants are announced.

Anyway, in his blog post, Baker tries to inflate the money available for REAL ID, claiming that this $80 million is really more like $511 million. It’s not. And if it were, it still would be only 3% of the $17 billion cost of implementing REAL ID.

Of course, Baker claims that the costs of implementing REAL ID are lower now, but that’s only because DHS assumed away much participation in the program. I suppose France could have defeated Germany buy building only 27% of the Maginot line, but it’s doubtful. That’s what a national ID card is - a Maginot line that’s easy to avoid. Baker wants us to believe that a bad security system which is also incomplete is therefore … somehow … good.

Baker’s post, like the rest of DHS’ recent efforts, is a tired effort to prop up REAL ID. He tries to skip past the issues, saying “The arguments for having secure identification speak for themselves.” They don’t, and Baker hasn’t spoken for them either.

DHS’ institutional support for REAL ID grows more and more anemic with each passing day. Witness the thoroughly lame effort of the Department to revive it by banning “willful” refusal to show ID at airports. I now find myself in the position of trying to draw attention to the corpse of REAL ID - I do so because government programs like this have to be really dead before they’re truly dead.

Giving away grants that nobody wants. Defending what can’t be defended. I would be tired too. Congress can make everyone’s life better by rescinding these grants and repealing the REAL ID Act.