Topic: Cato Publications

Big Day for Cato Books

On Sunday the New York Times Book Review ran a review of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution by Michael Tanner. Reviewer Jacob Heilbrunn wrote

By exposing Bush and the Republican leadership as apostates who foolishly believe big government can be employed for conservative ends, Tanner hopes to persuade the right to return to what he sees as its original ideals of limited government and individual responsibility….Tanner is a lucid writer and vigorous polemicist who scores a number of points against the Republican Party’s fiscal transgressions.

On the same day, the Washington Post Book World reviewed On the Wealth of Nations, the latest book from Cato’s H. L. Mencken Research Fellow P. J. O’Rourke. And in the Post and hundreds of other papers, George Will took note of John Samples’s new book:

According to John Samples of the Cato Institute (in his book ” The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform”), congressional Democrats began the process that culminated in criminalizing large contributions – the kind that can give long-shot candidates, such as Vilsack, a chance to become competitive. Yes, the initial aim of campaign “reforms” was less the proclaimed purpose of combating corruption or “the appearance” thereof than it was to impede the entry of inconvenient candidates into presidential campaigns. In that sense, campaign reform is a government program that has actually worked, unfortunately.

Finally, the Times Book Review also reviewed Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who spoke at Cato’s Annual Benefactor Summit a week earlier. Benefactors who attended the Summit got to hear from three authors a week before their books hit the big time. Don’t miss it next year!

USA Today Goes 0-5 on REAL ID

This morning the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Public Liaison was good enough to email me a copy of USA Today’s editorial supporting the REAL ID Act.  Curiously absent from the email was a copy of, or even a link to, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero’s opposing view.

It has been called unwise to argue with someone who buys ink by the ton, but USA Today’s praiseworthy adoption of “Web 2.0” interactivity on its Web site shows how ink is shrinking in relevance.  So let’s go ahead and see how the paper did in its point-by-point assessment of REAL ID.  Below, USA Today’s points are in bold.  My commentary in roman text:

Taking the arguments of Real ID opponents one at a time:

•It won’t make the nation safer. True, there’s no guarantee that the law would have stopped the 9/11 hijackers and that determined terrorists won’t find a way around the new requirements. Averting terror attacks, however, requires layers of security. Credible IDs are an important layer.

To be more clear, the law would not have stopped the 9/11 hijackers.  All of the 9/11 attackers could have gotten driver’s licenses legally had the REAL ID Act been the law on September 11, 2001.  Identification really doesn’t provide any security against committed threats.

“Layered security” is a legitimate way of thinking about things.  One shouldn’t rely on a single security system, because that creates a single point of failure.  However, security layering doesn’t end the inquiry.  Each layer must provide security that is cost-justified.  If creating a national ID doesn’t create a substantial protection - and it doesn’t - the national ID layer does more harm than good.  Speaking of cost …

•It costs too much. Motorists will have to spend an estimated $20 more, a relatively small sum for a standardized, tamper-proof license. For states, the costs are estimated at up to $14.6 billion over five years, offset by as much as $100 million in federal grants this year alone, on top of $40 million in federal aid already provided. Governors can make a case for more help, but cost-sharing arguments shouldn’t stop the program from going forward.

DHS’s own cost estimate is that REAL ID costs over $17 billion dollars.  That’s about $50 per man, woman, and child in the United States.  State government officials are probably not enthused to know that DHS is making available less than 1 percent of the costs to implement REAL ID.

•It violates privacy. The creation of large databases always is reason to be wary. But the new regulations don’t create a national ID card or giant Big Brother-like federal database. States will still issue the licenses and retain information used to verify identity. Making an existing database more credible threatens privacy far less than many private sector data collections do.

To most people, a nationally standardized, government-issued card that is effectively mandatory to carry is a national ID card.

No database, huh?  Here’s section 202(d) of the Act:

To meet the requirements of this section, a State shall adopt the following practices in the issuance of drivers’ licenses and identification cards: …

(12) Provide electronic access to all other States to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the State. 

(13) Maintain a State motor vehicle database that contains, at a minimum–

(A) all data fields printed on drivers’ licenses and identification cards issued by the State; and

(B) motor vehicle drivers’ histories, including motor vehicle violations, suspensions, and points on licenses.

As to private sector data collections, these, at least, people can prevent.  But if the private sector is wrong to do this, two wrongs don’t make a right.

It forces illegal immigrants to drive without licenses or insurance. Illegal immigrants won’t be able to get Real ID licenses, but states will be allowed to issue permits allowing them to drive and obtain insurance. In any event, the nation’s immigration problems require a comprehensive solution in Washington; they can’t be solved at state motor vehicle departments.

When the state of New Mexico de-linked driver licensing and immigration status, uninsured vehicle rates in the state dropped from 33 percent to 17 percent.  Unlicensed driving, hit-and-run accidents, and insurance rates probably followed a similar course.  It’s true that states will be allowed to issue non-federally-compliant IDs, including to illegal immigrants.  Knowing that such cards are “for illegals,” illegals are unlikely to get them.  Thanks to REAL ID, these drivers will kill innocent law-abiding Americans on the highways.

It’s too hasty. This is just absurd. DHS gave states until the end of 2009 to have programs in place to replace all licenses by 2013 — a sluggish 12 years after the 9/11 attacks.

Each day that driver’s licenses lack credibility is a day of needless vulnerability. As DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told Congress last month, “If we don’t get it done now, someone’s going to be sitting around in three or four years explaining to the next 9/11 Commission why we didn’t do it.”

Few have made the argument that REAL ID is “too hasty.”  The Department of Homeland Security’s regulations didn’t make the law workable and neither can a delay.  The real problem is the law itself, and it needs to be repealed.

Careful observers noted the contrast between Secretary Chertoff’s urgency when speaking to Congress about REAL ID and his Department’s willingness to kick implementation down the road another year and a half, to December 2009.  Cards wouldn’t even be in everyone’s hands until 2013.  This puts the lie to the idea that a national ID is a security tool at all.

USA Today’s editorial page has been rather good on privacy issues in the past, and willing to call out government hypocrisy.  They took a winger on this one and got it wrong.

“Amen Brother” and Other Funky Breaks

Against Monopoly points to a YouTube video that tracks some of the history of the “Amen Brother” beat and sampling generally.  That’s the practice of taking pieces of an existing song and weaving it into a new one.

The video reminded me again of the upwelling of creativity that occurred in the late 80’s before sampling came on the the radar screen of copyright holders.  Though sampling remains possible, it is done less often because of the legal minefield one encounters when doing so.

“Amen Brother” is important, of course, but there are many other beats that contend for top honors. I went looking for James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and came across this list of beats, calling itself “The 30 Greatest Hip Hop Drum Breaks & Samples of All Time.” Well, I’m not so sure, if it doesn’t have Funky Drummer, but listening to the beats connotes the dozens of songs that succeeded them. It’s an exciting window into our culture.

Finally, after much searching, I came across the Funky Drummer beat on this list. Enjoy the two-and-a-half seconds of bliss.

The point? Creative works are not just outputs of creative people - they’re also inputs to new creative works, a point made well by Greg Lastowka and Dan Hunter in their Cato Policy Analysis Amateur-to-Amateur: The Rise of a New Creative Culture.

Deamonte Didn’t Have to Die

The other day, I was at CNN’s Washington studio to comment on proposals to improve dental care for the poor following the tragic case of Deamonte Driver, 12, who died in Maryland this week for lack of routine dental care

My case was twofold.  First, having the government throw more money at the problem would just leave even more people with lously access to dental care.  That is true of government programs targeted solely at the poor (read: Medicaid), as well as universal programs such as the U.K.’s National Health Service, described by the New York Times as a “state-financed dental service, which, stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone and no longer even pretends to try.”  Unfortunately, throwing money at the problem is exactly the solution proposed by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), as well as Maryland Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Thomas Middleton (D-Calvert County). 

Second, Deamonte might have gotten the care he needed if not for regulations that restrict access to basic dental care for poor families.  As the American Dental Hygienists’ Association notes:

In the greater Washington D.C. area, patients currently do not have direct access to dental hygienists because of restrictive public health policies. In many other states patients are allowed direct access to dental hygienists for preventive procedures, which has been an effective model in increasing access to care.

Those “public health” policies are regulations that define the scope of practice for dental hygienists and require them to work under the supervision of a dentist.  Requiring licensed hygienists to work out of a dentist’s office makes it impossible for them to strike out on their own, providing basic and preventive dental care that is affordable to low-income families. 

Were it not for those “public health” policies, intervention by a dental hygienist could have caught Deamonte’s problem well before it threatened his life.  Even if the hygienist could not have extracted the abscessed tooth, at a minimum she could have bought Deamonte’s family more time to fix the problem.

Something unrelated also happened while I was at CNN, about which I blogged elsewhere.

Government Identity Programs in Collapse?

Government Computer News has had a number of articles recently about the problems besieging the Transportation Worker Identity Card (or TWIC), one of a number of government identification systems nominally responding to the post-9/11 threat environment.  It should be no surprise to government watchers that a service provider for TWIC, viewed by many as unqualified, happens to be in the district of the former Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee.

The REAL ID Act is a bigger government identity control project, by far, which attempts to force states to convert their drivers’ licenses into a national ID card.  Regulations implementing REAL ID are widely expected to be released this week.  

Even while the architects of the surveillance state gather to talk about implementation, the Washington Post has an article out today that is probably best taken as the first post mortem on REAL ID

The headline (“As Bush’s ID Plan Was Delayed, Coalition Formed Against It”) wrongly attributes REAL ID to the Bush Administration, which was not a proponent of REAL ID, though the President did accept it as part of a military spending bill.  The article correctly attributes responsibility to Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Though the Bush Administration has room to distance itself from this colossal unfunded national surveillance mandate, a prominent member of the Administration appears to have consumed the REAL ID Koolaid - in quantity.

“If we don’t get it done now, someone’s going to be sitting around in three or four years explaining to the next 9/11 commission why we didn’t do it,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee on Feb. 13.

Secretary Chertoff’s shameless terror-pandering is matched only by his ignorance of identification’s utility as a security tool.  People who understand identification know that it does not provide security against committed threats.

It’s unfortunate that government works by trial and error, but this trial may soon show that a national ID is error.

Scared Stiff? Watch John Stossel

Tonight, John Stossel of ABC News offers a special report entitled “Scared Stiff: Worried in America.” The two-hour program, which is a special report of ABC News’ “20/20” and airs at 9pm Eastern, is a follow-up to Stossel’s very first special 12 years ago, “Are We Scaring You to Death?”

Among Stossel’s interviewees tonight are two familiar faces for Cato fans: adjunct fellow Veronique de Rugy (of AEI) and former visiting fellow John Mueller (of Ohio State University). Vero will discuss her research into the billions of dollars wasted in the name of “terrorism defense” and John will put the terrorism risk into context by comparing it to the far-more likely risk of drowning in a bathtub or being struck by a deer.