Midnight in the White House

That Hillary Clinton ad about the need for an experienced president – “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing…. Who do you want answering the phone?” – reminds some commentators of a very similar ad that helped former vice president Walter Mondale hold on to his lead over the dashing young senator Gary Hart in 1984. It reminded me of John McCain’s jibe at George W. Bush’s inexperience in 2000, recorded by Dana Milbank in his book Smashmouth (page 313):

But when the scouting reports come in, there is only one lonely man in a dark office.

Are They the Ones We Have Been Waiting For?

Barack Obama’s soaring campaign continues to roll, this time with the release of a bilingual music video by musician will.i.am. In it, celebrities such as Jessica Alba, George Lopez, Ryan Phillippe, Malcolm Jamal Warner, and Macy Gray sing the praises of Obama and repeate his line “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Certainly I know that I have been waiting for Jessica Alba and Ryan Phillippe to lead our nation at last.

Lies, Damned Lies, and FISA Polling

Newt Gingrich’s organization recently released a poll purporting to show that Americans overwhelmingly support renewing the Protect America Act. But as a blogger at the Economist painstakingly explains, the high levels of support might be because the poll blatantly misrepresented what’s at stake in the surveillance debate.

Amazingly, even the first four words of the story, “in July of 2007,” are inaccurate, as the Protect America Act was actually passed in August. And it only gets worse after that. Not surprisingly, if you repeatedly misrepresent the state of the FISA debate, it’s possible to get randomly sampled voters to come to the conclusion you’re looking for. I think it’s telling that they seem to believe this level of deception was necessary to get the result they were looking for.

In case you’re curious how voters respond to a less blatantly biased poll, 61 percent of voters believe that “the U.S. government should have to get a warrant from a court before wiretapping the conversations U.S. citizens have with people in other countries,” while only 35 percent believe that “the government should be able to wiretap such conversations without a warrant from a court.” Similarly, 31 percent of voters believe that “Congress should give the phone companies amnesty from legal action against the companies,” while 59 percent believe that “citizens who believe their rights have been violated should be free to take legal action against those phone companies and let the courts decide the outcome.” That poll is from the ACLU, so it may be worth taking with a grain of salt, but its questions are certainly more representative than those of Gingrich’s group.

Collins Still Working to Preserve REAL ID

No state will comply with the REAL ID Act’s requirement to begin issuing a national ID by the forthcoming statutory deadline, May 11th.

Because of that, the Department of Homeland Security is giving states deadline extensions just for the asking. Interestingly, it’s turning around and spinning the acceptance of those extensions as commitments to comply. Many of the states shown in green on this map have passed statutes outright refusing to implement the law. (For readers new to Planet Earth, the color green typically means “go.” Green is a strange choice of color for states that have legally barred themselves from issuing the DHS’s national ID.)

With her state — the first in the nation to pass anti–REAL ID legislation — considering refusing even the deadline extension, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is once again working with DHS in support of the national ID law.

She has written a letter to the governor of her state, asking him to go ahead and take the waiver, playing into the DHS strategy. Followers of REAL ID know that delaying implementation helps a national ID go forward by giving the companies and organizations that sustain themselves on these kinds of projects time to shake the federal money tree and get this $11 billion surveillance mandate funded.

The cumulative profit margin of the airline industry is less than 1%. Should even a single state refuse to accept this national ID mandate, the airline industry, airport operators (faced with reconfiguring their operations), and travelers groups would be on the Hill in an instant. The Congress would have to revisit the issue.

Evidently, Senator Collins doesn’t want to risk the chance of an up-or-down vote on whether the United States should have a national ID. Her work behind the scenes in favor of REAL ID reveals where she stands.

Libertarians for Obama?

At Freedom Communications, the media company founded by the tenacious libertarian publisher R. C. Hoiles, which is still largely family-owned and freedom-oriented, they had an internal lunch debate on presidential politics the other day. According to Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, their corporate philosopher Tibor Machan advocated voting for the Libertarian Party. But the company’s CEO, Scott Flanders, had a different view:

But there was a hush as Flanders reasoned that Obama is the best candidate to work on four top libertarian reforms: 1) Iraq withdrawal, 2) restoring the separation of church and state; 3) easing off victimless crimes such as drug use; 4) curtailing the Patriot Act.

As it happens, a few days earlier I had talked to a leading libertarian writer, who told me that he supposed he’d vote for Obama on the basis of the Iraq issue.

Libertarian voters should be up for grabs this year, the Republicans having done such an effective job of pushing them away. But the Democrats don’t seem to be making much of a pitch for them. At the last Democratic debate, Clinton and Obama spent the first 30 minutes proclaiming their devotion to socialized medicine and protectionism. But maybe issues of peace and civil liberties — combined with the Republicans’ loss of credibility on fiscal and economic issues — really will push some libertarians into the arms of the Democrats, especially if the Democratic nominee is not self-proclaimed “government junkie” Hillary Clinton.

One in 100: Behind Bars In America, 2008

A new report, One in 100, from the Pew Charitable Trusts is drawing attention to the remarkable growth in the U.S. prison population. The Washington Post reports: “With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second.”

I do not think our prison population should be some function of the overall adult population in the United States. But, still, when the freest country in the world is locking up more people than a much more populous totalitarian state, policymakers ought to pause and ask themselves this question: Do so many Americans really need to be kept behind iron bars? I addressed that question in a Washington Post article a few years ago — just as our prison population was breaking the two-million-prisoner mark. The short answer is no. 

The subject is not that complicated. Social engineers thought that a ban on drug use would work. It has not. Federal and state drug laws are broken millions of times each and every month. The social engineers have tried increasing the penalties and stepping up enforcement in order to “send messages.” The courts and prisons are busier than ever, but the drug trade continues to thrive.  

When the prisons are overflowing in certain jurisdictions, the system starts backing up and the police will focus on the most violent offenders and only the “major drug traffickers.” In the jurisdictions where there is some extra prison bed space (such places are few and far between), the police can “crack down” on (low level) drug dealers and users. Given that reality, one must recognize the folly of the conservative policy prescription, which basically is: Let’s build some new prisons. The liberal policy prescription of “home monitoring” and “drug treatment” do not address the core problem. 

The costs of incarceration are keeping the most zealous drug warriors in check because they cannot persuade enough people to spend whatever it takes to enforce the law against the possession and ingestion of an arbitrary list of substances. The course we are now following is nothing but a series of stop-gap measures — i.e., the police will ignore some drug dealing, the judges will send more people into drug treatment (whether they need it or not), and the wardens will have the inmates set up cots and bunk beds in the cafeterias and exercise rooms at night. 

For additional Cato work on this subject, go here.

Don’t Make a Federal Case Out of It

Federal agents investigate, arrest, and prosecute local law enforcement agents on a fairly regular basis.  Unfortunately, state and local police rarely investigate, arrest, and prosecute federal agents.  I suspect the locals are just intimidated by the FBI, Secret Service, IRS, etc.  When something suspicious or questionable happens, the feds tell the locals something to the effect of “Back off.  We’ll handle this ourselves-internally.” 

So Arizona officials deserve some credit for pressing ahead and treating Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Corbett like any other suspect.  According to the local prosecutor, Corbett’s story does not hold up and sufficient evidence points toward his guilt.  If that is indeed the situation, this case should be simple: Prosecute.  The fact that the victim didn’t have a visa in his pocket does not matter.   It also does not matter that Corbett had a federal badge in his wallet.

The Arizona officials did mess up one important aspect of this caseWhy is this matter in federal court?  Well, I already know why because this typically happens in these rare circumstances when a federal agent is prosecuted.  The more precise question is: Why didn’t the Arizona officials object to the transfer to federal court?   One news story alludes to juror bias, but that does not hold up.  Where are the jurors in federal court coming from?  Rhode Island?  The issue isn’t really rural vs. big city either because, again, if you name any big city in Arizona, there are going to be Arizona courts there! 

The thinly veiled reason for the removal procedure is that the state process is supposedly rigged/biased against the federal agent.   Arizona officials should have recognized this and defended their justice system instead of just rolling over. 

Agent Corbett has a right to a trial – like any other person accused of a crime.  The point here is that he would have had the opportunity to argue self-defense in the Arizona state courts.  And if he is convicted but thinks his trial was unfair, he can appeal and try to persuade a higher court with specifics.  This case belongs in state court, not federal court.