The Smart Card Alliance Thinks Privacy Is Bunk

A spokesman for the Smart Card Alliance says:

Privacy concerns are all perception and hype and no substance but carry considerable weight with state legislators because no one wants to be accused of being soft on privacy.

That’s Randy Vanderhoof, the Smart Card Alliance’s executive director, quoted in a Federal Computer Week article on the collapsing REAL ID Act/national ID plan.  He was speaking of Congressman Tom Allen’s (D-ME) bill to restore the 9/11 Commission-inspired ID provisions of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

Mr. Vanderhoof and the Smart Card Alliance couldn’t appear more dismissive, ignorant, and unserious about issues that are a core problem preventing uptake of its products.

FBI and Patriot Act

With all the excitement over the Second Amendment ruling, I’ve hardly had a chance to welcome the scrutiny that is now being directed at the FBI for its illegal use of “national security letters” (euphemism for super-special FBI search warrants).

Throughout the debate concerning the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, government people would taunt civil liberties advocates with the line: “Where are the abuses?”  We would patiently explain that the new police “tools” (euphemism for powers) were executed in secret.  The pols would usually just repeat their mantra in a louder voice, as if secrecy was irrelevant: “But you have not identified any abuses at all!”

Well, more abuses have now come to light and it’s a pleasant surprise that the development is at the top of the news.  But we should not be surprised.  Look at the incentives.  FBI agents get awards and promotions by breaking cases.  Agents do not get jailed or fired for skirting the law or disregarding civil liberties.   There’s no teeth behind the rules that were broken, just talk (‘We are studying the report … agents may need retraining’).  Lawsuits are mostly an expensive experience about futility.

Roll back the Patriot Act.  Abolish national security letters.  Not because search warrants are perfect–far from it.  But the judicial “check” in the search warrant application process is better than relying upon the police to respect the law and our rights.

For related Cato work, go here.

Environmentalism as Religion

Following his remarks at the Cato Institute on Friday, podcast producer Anastasia Uglova sat down with the President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus to discuss his views on global climate change. During the interview, the President reiterated his belief that environmentalism is more religion than science, calling it “a very illiberal ideology practically attacking our freedom.” President Klaus’ speech comes a month after calling global warming a “myth” in a Czech newspaper.

Listen to the full interview.

When Governments Lobby Government, Taxpayers Lose

John Fund has a rather depressing article at the Wall Street Journal’s opinionjounal.com. He explains how governments - including universities and Indian tribes - are exempt from restrictions on lobbying. Yet these are some of the groups that specialize in feeding at the public trough. The real problem, of course, is that government is too big. So long as politicians are confiscating and redistributing about $3 trillion, interest groups will figure out ways of steering other people’s money in their direction:

….lobbyists visiting Capitol Hill are bound by House and Senate ethics rules that cap most individual gifts at $50 per elected official or staffer, with an annual limit of $100 per recipient from any single source. But local governments, public universities and Indian tribes are exempt from the limit, so they are able to shower members and their staffs with such goodies as luxury skybox tickets to basketball games and front-row concert tickets. Having members or their key aides attend such free events in the company of glad-handing university presidents and local government officials winds up costing taxpayers a pretty penny. Much of the explosive growth in earmarks has been directed to local governments and universities. …Universities and colleges spent at least $75 million in 2005 on lobbying according to a study by USA Today. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that $2 billion in grants flowed into higher education in 2003. …The same lobbying rules that apply to private-sector lobbyists should also apply to taxpayer-funded government lobbyists. …Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff once told me that he built his lobbying business in such a way that all his major clients were Indian tribes and local governments, in part because he knew he could wine and dine power brokers on Capitol Hill without breaking any laws.

Were You Surprised that DC’s Gun Ban Was Declared Unconstitutional?

Last week, a federal appeals court overturned the District of Columbia’s gun ban on the grounds that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep a functional firearm in her home.

Some were shocked by the court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment.  After all, we’ve heard for years that the prefatory clause of that amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” limits the operative clause, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” to instances where arms are used in connection with service in the militia.

Those who follow Second Amendment scholarship, however, were not surprised by the court’s reasoning.  For years, scholars have examined the text, history, and context of the Second Amendment.  Those scholars built up a large body of evidence demonstrating that the “collective right” interpretation of the Second Amendment doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

That effort arguably began with Prof. Sanford Levinson’s 1989 Yale Law Journal article, “The Embarrassing Second Amendment,” where he wrote:

For too long, most members of the legal academy have treated the Second Amendment as the equivalent of an embarrassing relative, whose mention brings a quick change of subject to other, more respectable, family members. That will no longer do. It is time for the Second Amendment to enter full scale into the consciousness of the legal academy.

Elsewhere, my colleague Tim Lynch links to reviews of several works that followed.  One of the more interesting contributions to this line of scholarship is an article by Prof. Robert J. Cottrol titled, “A Liberal Democrat’s Lament: Gun Control Is Racist, Sexist, and Classist.”  That article begins with a forceful quotation from Democratic icon Hubert Humphrey in support of “the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms.”  Cottrol concludes:

[T]he ultimate civil right is the right to defend one’s own life, that without that right all other rights are meaningless, and that without the means of self-defense the right to self-defense is but an empty promise.

Our serious thinkers have been absent from this debate for too long. The Second Amendment is simply too important to leave to the gun nuts.

The majority opinion in Parker v. District of Columbia is evidence that serious scholars heeded that call, a good summary of the debate over the Second Amendment, and a lesson about how honest, careful scholarship can defeat a very appealing myth. 

Hats off to those scholars, the litigants, and their counsel.

What if the ‘Surge’ Succeeds?

Robert Kagan, a long-time senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes a monthly column for the Washington Post. On the chance that Kagan’s views were not getting enough exposure, the White House helpfully e-mailed the column to me this morning as part of their “Iraq Update: IN CASE YOU MISSED IT” series (ALL CAPS in the original).

It puzzles me that the Post and the White House would want to shine so much attention on Kagan given his long record of faulty predictions with respect to Iraq. After all, one wouldn’t expect CNBC, BusinessWeek or Money magazine to be touting financial analysts and stock pickers who were strong advocates of ENRON, WorldCom and Tyco.

And it is not like this is a passing fancy; Kagan has been bullish on war with Iraq for years. Kagan signed the infamous open letter to President Clinton in January 1998 calling for military action against Iraq ”in the near term” given that “diplomacy is clearly failing.” Less than six months later, he repeated his call for military action in an open letter to then-congressional leaders Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott.

One year after the start of the Iraq war, Kagan and frequent co-author William Kristol noted the “obvious success” of the signing of Iraq’s interim constitution and “other measures of progress” including “electricity and oil production” and signs of damage to the Baathist-led insurgency. Despite continued violence, Kagan and Kristol cautiously predicted, “We may have turned a corner in terms of security.”

Kagan and Kristol were particularly encouraged by the “hopeful signs that Iraqis of differing religious, ethnic, and political persuasions can work together.” Then they took a shot at the Iraq war skeptics, “both here and in Europe” who predicated “that a liberated Iraq would fracture into feuding clans and unleash a bloodbath.”

After compiling a list of Kagan’s greatest hits, salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald asks “Why would any rational person listen to Robert Kagan?” Of course, Kagan is free to write or opine or do whatever he likes – and the rest of us are free to ignore him. But it isn’t enough to ignore the people who got us into the war, and who now expect us to take them seriously on what to do next. As Greenwald notes, scorn is much more appropriate.

However, what if Kagan is right? What if he has finally gotten something right, after years of inaccurate predictions and fallacious reasoning? For the sake of argument, I’ll take him up on the premise of his latest article, “The ‘Surge’ Is Succeeding.” The column begins: “A front-page story in The Post last week suggested that the Bush administration has no backup plan in case the surge in Iraq doesn’t work. I wonder if The Post and other newspapers have a backup plan in case it does.”

I wonder if the American public much cares. The public realizes what Kagan does not: the costs of the Iraq war have already far exceeded any benefits that we as a nation might ultimately derive from it, even if we did not spend another dime on the venture, and even if no more soldiers are killed or wounded.

If, in fact, a miracle has happened, if a mere 8,000 or so of the expected 25,000 additional troops have succeeded where 140,000 U.S. troops have failed for the past four years, if this small number of U.S. military personnel have driven the insurgency underground, stiffened the resolve of the Iraqi government, cowed Iraq’s neighbors into cooperating, and paved the way for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, we can all be thankful for that.

But wait. Robert Kagan does not favor an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops. Indeed, Kagan celebrates the announcement that U.S. troop levels in Iraq will remain at their current levels ”through at least the beginning of 2008” (again putting the lie to the notion of a surge, which implies a short-term increase).

Even 2008 is too soon to speak of withdrawal as far as Kagan is concerned. Any talk of drawing down forces (ever it is implied) can only give comfort to Moqtada al Sadr and al-Qaeda.

So if, by Kagan’s reasoning, the surge is succeeding, it merely paves the way for an indefinite troop presence at more or less current levels, at a cost of approximately $150 billion, perhaps 1,000 or so American troops killed, and 10 to 15 times that number wounded, each year.

That is what we get if the surge is succeeding. We shouldn’t be surprised that the public demands success of a different sort, the kind that will stop the flow of lives and money into the Iraqi quagmire that Kagan has long advocated.