Topic: General

Border Enforcement without Reform is Doomed to Fail

The news media are playing up President Bush’s proposal, to be unveiled in an Oval Office speech tonight, to send National Guard troops to stop illegal immigration across our 2,000-mile border with Mexico. The real news is that the president and the Senate are about to work together to pass real immigration reform, including a new temporary worker program and a path to legalization for the millions of undocumented workers already here. The Cato Institute laid out the intellectual argument for such an approach in two major studies, Willing Workers and Backfire at the Border.

The large majority of workers here illegally have come for the same reasons immigrants have come to our shores throughout our history, to build a better future for themselves and their families–and to help us build a stronger U.S. economy in the process. Our economy continues to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs each year for low-skilled workers, while the supply of native-born Americans willing to fill those jobs continues to shrink. The American workforce is getting older and better educated. Yet our immigration system has no legal channel for a peaceful, hardworking person from Mexico or other countries to enter our country legally to fill those jobs.

Two decades of ramped-up enforcement have failed to fix the problem. We’ve increased spending on border enforcement 10-fold, we’ve built walls for miles into the desert, and we’ve raided hundreds of U.S. business from coast to coast. Yet the number and inflow of illegal workers just keeps growing. We need an immigration system that reflects the realities of American society and the American economy. A program to legalize millions of workers would allow the U.S. government to concentrate its enforcement on the real criminals and terrorists trying to sneak into our country.

It’s good news that President Bush and a majority of Senators seem to understand that enforcement without reform is doomed to fail.

No Courage Behind Global Warming Convictions

The House is expected to vote as early as Wednesday on a resolution that decries the dangerous threat posed by rising industrial greenhouse gas emissions. The resolution calls for an emissions cap on greenhouse gases as long as (i) the cap doesn’t harm the U.S. economy, and (ii) U.S. trading partners agree to live under a similar cap.

While the Greens are quite exited that the GOP seems prepared to go along with this, these things are called “resolutions” for a reason - they echo promises made on New Year’s Eve. In short, it’s nothing but a statement that the Congress thinks that this would be a good idea, but that they are unprepared (at the moment) to do anything about it.

Does this represent progress for the enviros? Not really. Show me an emissions cap that won’t have a negative effect on the economy and I’ll show you an alterantive reality where up is down, black is white, and rivers are made of liquid chocolate. Now, depending upon the nature of the cap and the regulations attached thereto, the negative economic impact might be very modest or rather signficant. But ruling out caps that have any negative economic impact is to essentially rule out a cap.

Frank O’Donnell, head of the Left’s Clean Air Watch, was not too far off the mark when he was quoted in the subscription trade journal Energy & Environment Daily this morning as noting that “The way [the resolution] is worded, you’d have to be a kook to be opposed to it.” Indeed, who would object to what is in effect an insurance policy with no premium?

If the Greens really think that global warming is serious, they are demonstrating both political and intellectual cowardice by backing pablum like this. All this resolution would accomplish is to allow politicians to claim environmental virtue from empty political gestures.

So why would the enviros provide an easy out for politicians who want to appear Green but not do anything real to advance the Green agenda? Because it’s the best the enviros can do right now. That speaks volumes. This is a resolution that advertises Green political weakness, not Green political strength.

The resolution, then, is pretty meaningless. That having been said, you don’t have to be a “kook” to be skeptical about all the “doom, doom I say” hand-wringing that litters the resolution. That is, unless you think a Vice President of the U.N.’s oft cited International Panel on Climate Change is a kook. And if you do, what does that say about the merit of that much-worshiped body of scientific experts?

Against the “Happy State”

Writing last week in the Telegraph, University of Kent sociologist Frank Furedi argues that “Back in the 1940s and ’50s, the big idea was the Welfare State. Today it is the Happy State.” Furedi, noting that there is more to a good life than mere feeling, is skeptical of the push to apply “happiness research” to politics and policy:

In reality, neither experts nor clever policies can make people genuinely happy. Freud may have been a little cynical when he suggested that his objective was to “convert neurotic misery into ordinary unhappiness”. But he understood that true happiness was an ideal that we pursue but rarely achieve. Nor is that a problem. A good life is not always a happy one. People are often justified in being unhappy about their circumstances and surroundings. Discontent and ambition have driven humanity to confront and overcome the challenges they faced. That is why people like the Controller in Brave New World want us live on a diet of “feelies” and “scent organs”. That is also why we should be suspicious of experts who seek to colonise our internal life.

It’s a thoughtful piece, worth reading.

Topics:

Microsoft and Big Brother

Microsoft has agreed to remain under Justice Department supervision until 2009, to ensure that it continues to be forced to give away its property to competitors. (That is, it will continue “to provide access to Windows communications code that would let competitors write software to link with Windows-powered personal computers with the same facility as servers using Microsoft software.”)

Given the relative success of Microsoft and the U.S. government when it comes to innovation, help for the American economy, and customer satisfaction, it would probably make more sense to put the U.S. government under Microsoft’s supervision until 2009.

NSA Redux

In his latest posting, my colleague Roger Pilon restates several of his arguments in defense of the NSA’s warrantless domestic surveillance.  Each of Roger’s points has been addressed in detail in our recent debate and in my Senate testimony.  For those who prefer a nutshell version of my response, here it is:

Roger asks, “How can Congress, by mere statute, restrict an inherent power of a co-equal branch of government …?”  I do not dispute that the president has inherent powers, especially during wartime.  The question is not the existence, but rather the scope, of those powers.  And because Congress too has wartime powers, an express restriction by Congress, like the FISA statute, is persuasive when deciding whether the president has overreached. 

Indeed, the Constitution specifically authorizes Congress to shape the  president’s inherent powers.  Article I, section 8 empowers Congress to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution … all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” 

If, as Roger insists, warrantless domestic surveillance is incidental to the president’s inherent powers, so too are sneak-and-peek searches, roving wiretaps, library records searches, and national security letters – all of which were vigorously debated in deciding whether to reauthorize the Patriot Act.  Could the president have proceeded with those activities even if they were not authorized by Congress?  If so, what was the purpose of the debate?  Why do we even need a Patriot Act? 

President Bush has also asserted “inherent powers” to justify military tribunals without congressional authorization, secret CIA prisons, indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, enemy combatant declarations without hearings as required by the Geneva Conventions, and interrogation techniques that may have violated our treaty commitments banning torture.  Are those activities outside the president’s wartime authority?  If not, what are the bounds, if any, that constrain his conduct?

The animating sentiment at the time of the founding was fear of executive power – return of the king.  Against that backdrop, it’s remarkable that the president, with Roger’s apparent approval, now claims to wield unilateral powers with no safeguards – in effect, an irrebuttable presumption of authority, unfettered by Congress or the courts, to do just about anything that he pleases in battling terrorists.

NSA: Keeping One’s Eye on the Constitutional Ball

Followers of Cato’s Constitutional Studies department know that my colleague Bob Levy and I have a respectful disagreement over the constitutionality of recently revealed NSA surveillance practices. Consider this the latest installment in that discussion….

In an earlier Cato@Liberty post, Bob finds it “ominous” that the NSA might be “monitoring the content of wholly domestic calls.” But he adds, “When communications from and to a US person in the US are monitored, that’s domestic surveillance, no matter whether the party on the other end is inside or outside of the US (original emphasis).”

I have to disagree. Perhaps Bob thinks that the monitoring of international calls, as we would normally call them (one party outside the United States), is also ominous, because he next says, “Since Bush believes that warrantless domestic surveillance is permissible regardless of FISA’s contrary provisions, we shouldn’t be surprised if the NSA has much more data (including content) than USA Today has uncovered.”

This focus on domestic/nondomestic, pressed by the Bush critics, comes from the language of FISA—and points to yet another problem with the statute. After all, the calls we want most to monitor are those that go to and come from al-Qaeda sleeper-cells in the United States. Insofar as FISA burdens that “domestic” surveillance, it frustrates the very purpose of surveillance.
 
In Nov. 2002, the FISA Court of Review cut through that distinction when it spoke of the president’s “inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches [leaving it open whether inside or outside the United States] to obtain foreign intelligence information,” adding that the “appropriate distinction” to be drawn in balancing the government’s interest against individual privacy interests is between “ordinary crimes and foreign intelligence crimes.” Unlike with the former, where punishment and deterrence are the main purposes, the government’s concern with foreign intelligence crimes, the court said, “is overwhelmingly to stop or frustrate the immediate criminal activity.” It can hardly do that effectively if it has to run to court for a warrant at every turn—nor did the court hold that it had to since that issue was not before the court.
 
The deeper issue with FISA, however, is the constitutional separation-of-powers question: whether Congress has the authority to restrict an inherent power of the president. How can Congress, by mere statute, restrict an inherent power of a co-equal branch of government that has been exercised, with no objection, by every president since George Washington? Congress, by mere statute, can no more restrict the inherent power of a president—or a court, or a state, for that matter—than it can restrict the constitutional rights of an individual. If a line is to be drawn between the power of the president and the rights of the people, it is for the courts to do it. And if the courts will not or cannot do so (because of standing or other such problems), then the matter is ultimately political, not legal.

Kiddie Mac

Pop Quiz:

“Kiddie Mac” is:

     A. America’s next great hip-hop star

     B. a cheesy new dish from Kraft

     C. a youth-oriented computer by Apple

     D. a foolish idea floating around the halls of Congress

I assume most people identified the correct answer. Kiddie Mac is in fact, the informal title of a the proposed Children’s Development Commission—a federal agency that would provide loan guarantees for child daycare centers. The ridiculousness of this proposal speaks for itself. Yet, Rep. Carolyn Maloney recently introduced a bill to create Kiddie Mac, and has done so repeatedly since 1999.