Tag: washington examiner

‘Give Thanks for the TSA’?

My Washington Examiner column this week covers two developments last week that may make you somewhat less likely to “Give Thanks for the TSA” as former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen urged on National Review’s website.

The first is the viral video of a TSA agent at New Orleans airport giving the “freedom fondle” to a six-year-old girl. The second is Friday’s revelation that among the “behavioral indicators” TSA uses to scope out travelers who deserve extra manhandling is the “arrogant” expression of “contempt against airport passenger procedures.”

Because, clearly, making a scene on an airport security line is sound strategy for anyone trying to sneak a bomb onto a plane.

Is it possible that anyone with an IQ above room temperature buys that logic?
A lot of Al Qaeda terrorists are pretty dumb. But it seems doubtful that they’re that dumb.

The column looks at what our willingness to submit to this sort of thing says about “American Exceptionalism”:

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “American Exceptionalism,” and whether President Obama understands what makes America stand out among the family of nations.

I’ve always thought that what makes Americans exceptional is our ornery resistance to being bossed around….

Neoconservatives see America’s uniqueness as an excuse to bomb any country that looks at us crosswise. But the original idea was somewhat less aggressive. With “every spot of the old world… overrun with oppression,” America would be freedom’s home – an “asylum for mankind” – as Thomas Paine put it in Common Sense.

In the 1992 film adaptation of “Last of the Mohicans,” James Fenimore Cooper’s novel about the Seven Years War, there’s an exchange that illustrates American Exceptionalism at its best. An effete British officer berates the rough-hewn colonial “Hawkeye”: “You call yourself a loyal subject to the Crown?”

“Don’t call myself ‘subject’ to much at all,” Hawkeye replies.

You have to wonder how long that spirit can survive in a world where official federal policy requires you to stand by placidly while agents of the state run their rubber gloves under your innocent 6-year-old daughter’s waistband. And it’s far from clear that these procedures are even making us any safer.

Those Non-Meddling Kids

For once, a new poll on the political attitudes of young Americans brings some good news.  The poll, “D.C.’s New Guard: What Does the Next Generation of American Leaders Think?”[.pdf]  is from the Brookings Institution, and it’s the subject of my Washington Examiner column this week:

“It’s a survey of the type of kids who run for student government and choose to spend their summer vacations working in Washington,” the authors explain, “youth who already have the ‘Washington bug’ and have set themselves towards a career in politics and policy.” In other words … creeps!

If you’re the rare bird who favors limited government at home and abroad, you can hardly expect good news from a poll of this generation’s Tracy Flicks*. After all, aren’t these just the sort of model U.N. types who’ve always wanted to run the world?

Maybe not: The Brookings study contains some surprisingly encouraging findings about the attitudes of our future policy elites.

When given a list of possible foreign policy actions and asked to prioritize them, our precocious politicos put “build a stronger military force to ensure deterrence” near the bottom. Moreover, nearly 58 percent of these “young leaders” agreed with the statement that “the U.S. is too involved in global affairs and should focus on more issues at home.”

Only 10 percent “thought that the United States should be more globally proactive.”

I’ve read a lot of polling data on the Millennials’ politics, and, from a libertarian perspective, they’re a mixed bag. On the plus side, they’re socially liberal, and totally uninterested in culture-war politics. On the minus, they exhibit higher levels of faith in government than do older generations, leading the Center for American Progress to call them “The Progressive Generation.”

But if, as the Brookings survey suggests, even GenY’s model-UN types don’t want to run the world, then the future looks less bright for neoconservatives than it does for libertarians.

* reference is to the Greatest Political Movie of All Time, 1999’s “Election”:

Jeff McKay: Cavalier About Violating Metro Riders’ Liberties, Spending Taxpayer Dollars

In a blog post of righteousness last week, I assailed Fairfax County (Virginia) Supervisor Jeff McKay for his failure to comprehend basic security principles as they pertain to the Metro system.

A Washington Examiner reporter retrieved McKay’s response:

[H]e laughed. But he quickly defended his stance, saying that random searches were recommended by the U.S. Transportation Security Association, the D.C. Police, and WMATA management.

“I trust the intelligence agencies when they tell me there’s a reason to do this,” he said.

McKay admitted that bag searches likely wouldn’t stop someone intent on causing mass destruction to the Metrorail, but that they will make passengers much more aware of security concerns.

Supervisor McKay was not flip about these issues at the meeting of the Metro board. He spoke about the bag search policy in terms of his moral duty to make the Metro system safe.

But it turns out he can’t defend the validity of bag searches as a security measure. He admits he’s just doing what he’s told, and he sees it as a way to keep Metro riders on edge. The taxpayer money spent on bag searches is pure waste. Interesting moral universe.

And Then You’ve Got Your Pro-Regulatory Republicans…

President Obama’s “Regulatory Review” executive order, issued this week, has no effect on the regulatory environment that I can discern. It essentially encourages agencies to continue doing the thinking and analysis they are doing so poorly under existing law and executive decree. I called it “a cosmetic, symbolic effort” in the Washington Examiner and—you’ll get the backstory here—also speculated that it’s an effort to change the subject. “Regulatory review” has briefly turned the press away from the government’s huge, ongoing spending spree, and the pall of uncertainty that President Obama has cast over the economy with projects like his re-design of the American health care system.

But don’t take that as an endorsement of the Republican program. Yesterday, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) issued a statement endorsing the E-Verify program, which deputizes large and small businesses into a federal government document-checking program. You’d think that clearing out regulatory underbrush and getting people to work would be part of the Republican program, but Johnson said, “I will work with my colleagues and key stakeholders to design a verification system that prevents illegal employment while safeguarding the jobs, identities and privacy of U.S. citizens.” Can’t be done.

If you want to get a taste of the complexity, privacy consequence, and cost of E-Verify as it struggles through its nascent stages, take a look at this truly excellent summary of a recent GAO report. The system now prohibits the employment of around 26 people for every thousand potential new hires, down from 80—and that’s the good news!

There’s much bad news. (The always-understated Government Accountability Office says “significant challenges.”) Identity fraud and employer noncompliance are (predictably) growing, so U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services is negotiating to get access to driver’s license data from state Departments of Motor Vehicles. Along with state bureaucrats, federal bureaucrats are (predictably) weaving together the national identity infrastructure that the American states and people rejected with the REAL ID Act.

And then there are costs. The last thing we need is more government overspending, right? So USCIS and the Social Security Administration are hiding it. Says the ever-accomodating GAO:

USCIS’s cost estimates do not reliably depict current E-Verify cost and resource needs or cost and resource needs for mandatory implementation. While SSA’s cost estimates substantially depict current E-Verify costs and resource needs, SSA has not fully assessed the extent to which its workload costs may change in the future.

This is the intrusive, costly program that the House Republican majority is falling in line behind, a clear sign that business-as-usual is business-as-usual for both parties. It’s a record-setting rejection of the Tea Party zeitgeist that put them in power. Where does it say in the Constitution that every employment decision in the country can be run past the federal government for approval?

Getting TSA to Look in the Mirror

If you travel by plane, you either hate the Transportation Security Administration, or will soon do so.  The TSA has unveiled a new security pat down which is about as close to a strip-search as you can get while still wearing clothes.

With a metal knee replacement I invariably set off the TSA metal detectors.  I can avoid a pat down by using the fancy new imaging machine where it is available.  But this machine images everything on the body, and that means everything.  The explicit nature of the pictures is reflected in the nick-name which I’m told TSA employees have applied to the machine.  Let your mind wander, but imagine a crude term about measuring the male genitalia.

The other alternative is to accept the pat down.  Until recently TSA employees used a hand-held wand to check for metal and did a limited hand check.  The new system eschews the wand and replaces it with searching hands climbing up the inside of the thighs – all the way up.

The only saving grace for me is when veterans do the check.  When they realize that I have an implant and go through the check weekly and sometimes daily, most of them take a more relaxed approach.  But the newer, and often more determined to do everything by the book, employees really mean it when they announce that they are about to check my thigh.

Like never before, the new procedure has set off public protests.  And anger could increase at Thanksgiving, when so many more people will be flying.  No one wants airplanes to be hijacked, but few people believe that the current system does much to safeguard us.  At least, much of what is done today looks to be “Security Theater,” meant to reassure rather than actually do improve security.

One possible alternative would be for airports to take back control of the process.  Reports the Washington Examiner:

[Rep. John] Mica, one of the authors of the original TSA bill, has recently written to the heads of more than 150 airports nationwide suggesting they opt out of TSA screening. “When the TSA was established, it was never envisioned that it would become a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy which was soon to grow to 67,000 employees,” Mica writes. “As TSA has grown larger, more impersonal, and administratively top-heavy, I believe it is important that airports across the country consider utilizing the opt-out provision provided by law.”

Private security personnel obviously could mimic the TSA’s worst practices.  But if there were multiple actors providing security services competition would encourage airports to look for improved techniques which would cost less, waste less time, and create less embarrassment.

The vast majority of the TSA personnel with whom I deal are polite and friendly.  Most actually are working, though it’s not clear their activities always benefit the public.  But they all seem to lack a sense of irony.

I enjoy wearing my Cato t-shirt with the P.J. O’Rourke quote about giving to power to government being like giving car keys and whiskey to a teenage boy.  I receive a lot of admiring comments on it–including from TSA employees.  Today it happened again, at Washington Dulles.  As I was waiting for my regular TSA-provided fondling experience down below.

It’s no knock on the individual employees to point out that the TSA as an agency is a perfect example of what P.J. was warning against.  Give Barack Obama & Co. this power and we are likely to lose our money, freedom, and dignity.

I’d like to believe we’ve entered a new political era in Washington, but I’ve worked through too many “new eras” to believe that this one is really new.  But a popular uprising about TSA de facto strip searches would be a good start.

Credit Where It’s Due, National Journal Edition

A week ago today, I questioned both the premises and purpose of an upcoming National Journal forum on ObamaCare and job creation.  The forum’s promotional materials touted the new health care jobs that the law will create as a Good Thing, even though we already have too many health care jobs.  All in all, it looked to be a very dignified pro-Obama(Care) rally, funded by one of ObamaCare’s biggest beneficiaries, the drugmaker Eli Lilly.  The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney picked up on the story.  Then Instapundit added his own pithy interpretation: “Hey, the Atlantic media empire needs money. Eli Lilly has it. Plus, it boosts Obama. Win-win!”  (Actually, I believe that would be win-win-win.)

To its credit, National Journal has since added balance to the forum and its panel.  I received a promotional email today that reframes the event by asking, “are the right jobs being created?” (Emphasis mine.)  They’ve also added AEI’s Tom Miller to the panel, who I’m guessing will cast a skeptical eye on the value added by these new health care jobs. Now the event looks to be a dignified and balanced discussion of ObamaCare.

National Journal still describes ObamaCare as “reform,” which I submit compromises objectivity.  But this is progress.  Kudos to them.

Barack Obama’s War on ‘Chooming’

My Washington Examiner column this week begins with a look back at the Disco Era:

In his high school yearbook photo, President Barack Obama sports a white leisure suit and a Travolta-esque collar whose wingspan could put a bystander’s eye out. Hey, it was 1979.

Maybe that explains the rest of young Barry’s yearbook page, with its “still life” featuring a pack of rolling papers and a shout-out to the “Choom gang.” (“Chooming” is Hawaiian slang for smoking pot.)

Survey data suggest some 100 million Americans have tried pot, including political elites and drug war supporters Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. So the point here isn’t to play “gotcha” by calling the president out on some harmless fun three decades ago. It’s to ask why he isn’t doing more to change a policy that treats people engaged in such activities as criminals.

As I note in the column,

in his new National Drug Control Strategy [.pdf], Obama “firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug” and boasts of his administration’s aggressive approach to pot eradication. Watch your back, Choom Gang.

This may present Obama with a serious moral dilemma if and when California votes to legalize recreational use of marijuana this November. (More here in this podcast).