DHS: And We Even Obey the Law!

The Department of Homeland Security’s Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, Daniel W. Sutherland, explains here the great pains DHS is taking … well, not to embarrass itself as American Muslims return from the Hajj. Well and good.

But he goes a little far in touting the department’s efforts: “For the first time in the federal government, a Cabinet-level Secretary has placed two civil libertarians in senior leadership positions – Hugo Teufel, our Chief Privacy Officer, and me.”

The Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Privacy Officer are statutory positions. I’m not sure self-congratulation is in order for following the law.

Defeat Terrorism

Terrorism is a strategy used by the weak to goad the strong into self-injurious overreaction.

DownsizeDC has a campaign underway that I think is critical to defeating terrorism. It’s described on their site this way: “We’re looking for a few brave Americans to start a real war on terror — by not being afraid!”

The “I am Not Afraid” campaign is not about passing or killing any legislation. It is just to get Washington, D.C.’s consistent overreaction to the threat of terrorism under control. The sense of proportion this campaign seeks to create really makes it worth a visit, but here’s a taste:

Nearly 800,000 people have died in car accidents in the last twenty years. During that time there have been exactly two Islamic terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, with less than 3,000 total fatalities. That’s more than 200 TIMES as many Americans dying in their cars as at the hands of Islamic terrorism. And yet …We’ve turned the whole world upside down in response to the two terrorist attacks. We’ve launched invasions, created vast new bureaucracies, shredded the Bill of Rights, compounded regulations, spent hundreds of billions of dollars, and disrupted travel and commerce. But no one is suggesting that we do 200 times as much to address the driving risk, which is 200 times greater.

Terror warriors, keep your straw men in the barn. This is not a pacifist, terrorism-denial campaign. It seeks proportional responses to threats, and acceptance of harms that cannot reasonably be prevented. The message to legislators:

“I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.”

This is good, important work to defeat terrorism.

Evangelicals and Libertarians

A front-page story in the Wall Street Journal features this chart:

It shows, as the Washington Post bannered after the 2006 election, that evangelicals moved a bit away from the Republicans in 2006. Indeed, there was a 7-point decline in the Republican margin among evangelicals.

But if you want to see a real shift, the Post and the Journal could run this chart:

In other words, among libertarians, the margin for Republican House candidates dropped from 47 to 8 points, a 39-point swing. The libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote measured in exit polls, and it is subject to swings more than three times as large. Strategists in both parties should take note.

Virginia’s National ID Tax

The Washington Post had a story yesterday on whether Virginia would implement the REAL ID Act, the national ID law that has been rejected by other states across the country. They object to its formidable costs, bureaucratic burdens, insoluble privacy problems, and ineffectiveness as a security tool. Why might Virginia go along?

“The vast majority of 9/11 terrorists used Virginia licenses,” Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said. “I think that’s why you haven’t seen as much of a push back.”

It’s the hairshirt theory of policymaking - never mind whether making the driver’s license into a national ID will add to our protections.

Noting the governor’s proposal for a $10 increase in the fee to renew a Virginia driver’s license, the Roanoke Times editorializes today with a little more clarity:

Americans should not have to wait weeks for a driver’s license. They should not have to worry about a massive database tracking their every move. They should not have some wannabe national ID card sloughed onto states.

If you think a national ID tax and all this nonsense somehow adds to the country’s protections, then, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Lipstick on a Pig

The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely Redress Act of 2007 is a recently introduced bill that would establish a dedicated agency within the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and streamline the appeals of people who believe they have been wrongly watch-listed by DHS or the Department of Justice. This office would maintain a “Cleared List” of names that have been identified as not representing a risk.

This is not an answer. As I’ve written before, watch-listing is alien to our system of justice and law enforcement. And because of the potential for opening holes in the pseudo-security watch-listing provides, getting “cleared” by this office would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

This proposal is lipstick on a pig. The pig is watch-listing.

Washington In a Nutshell

C@L readers with a cynical view of Washington and an openness to crude humor may appreciate Andrew Ferguson’s, er, celebration of the McLaughlin Group’s 25th anniversary over at the Weekly Standard. (Warning: Disturbing imagery.) In it, Ferguson describes his one-day tenure as a staffer on the show:

For my first task he told me to work up a lead-in to a segment on some bit of legislative sausage grinding its way through Congress. “Cokie Roberts had an excellent report on the bill on NPR this morning,” he said. “I taped it to make it easiah on you. It’s all the background resuch you’ll need.”

I went back to another office carrying Dr. McLaughlin’s handheld recorder. He had evidently propped it against his radio speaker to record the tape that morning. “Considerate of the old bastard,” I thought, pressing the play button. I heard Cokie’s swampy voice explaining the doings on the Hill. And then I heard water rushing, and a clatter of ceramic, and a mysterious release of air, and I realized that the doctor had made the tape in the bathroom. I was hearing his morning ablutions: the gush of faucets running and the honk-honk of nasal passages clearing and the rumble of phlegm rising and … much worse. Scraps of show tunes hummed off-key competed against every noise the human organism is capable of producing at that hour of the day, and together they threatened to drown out Cokie’s report: “The prognosis, critics say, is still a matter of PHLOOOTH!” At times I could barely make out what she was saying. I’d rewind the tape only to hear some new intimate eruption. I shut off the recorder after four or five minutes. I wrote up the lead-in as best I could and walked back to his darkened lair.

He was eating an enormous platter of steak and eggs from the restaurant downstairs. “Did you learn anything, Andrew?” he said from behind his desk, with a half smile. He dabbed his thumb and forefinger on the napkin tucked into his collar.

“It’s hazing,” one of the assistants told me later that morning. “He’s establishing the parameters of your relationship. This way you know who’s in the dominant position. He can embarrass you, but you can’t embarrass him. That’s the key: He refuses to be embarrassed.”

The anecdote absolutely speaks volumes about life in Washington. Idealistic young people beware: this is what awaits you in DC.

Added bonus McLaughlin Group parody featuring Dana Carvey here.

All Those Who’d Like to Live in Rwanda, Vietnam, or Cuba, Raise Your Hands

Parade magazine frets:

In the current U.S. Congress, women account for only 16.3% of the members: 16 of 100 in the Senate and 71 of 435 in the House of Representatives. Eighty-four nations have a greater percentage of female legislators than the U.S., including our neighbors Mexico and Canada, as well as Rwanda, Vietnam and Cuba.

It’s not exactly clear that legislatures with more women produce better government. So why, then, as Parade notes, does the United States demand that emerging democracies have gender quotas that we would never accept in our own politics?

After the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the United States made sure that when those two countries held elections, 25% of the seats in their legislatures would be reserved for women.