Fun With DHS Press Releases!

Let’s fisk a DHS press release! It’s the “Statement by DHS Press Secretary Sara Kuban on Markup of the Pass ID Bill by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.” Here goes:

On the same day that Secretary Napolitano highlighted the Department’s efforts to combat terrorism and keep our country safe during a speech in New York City,

This part is true: Secretary Napolitano was in New York speaking about terrorism.

Congress took a major step forward on the PASS ID secure identification legislation.

There was a markup of PASS ID in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It’s a step – not sure how major.

PASS ID is critical national security legislation

People who have studied identity-based security know that knowing people’s identities doesn’t secure against serious threats, so this is exaggeration.

that will break a long-standing stalemate with state governments

Thirteen states have barred themselves by law from implementing REAL ID, the national ID law. DHS hopes that changing the name and offering them money will change their minds.

that has prevented the implementation of a critical 9/11 recommendation to establish national standards for driver’s licenses.

The 9/11 Commission devoted three-quarters of a page to identity security – out of 400+ substantive pages. That’s more of a throwaway recommendation or afterthought. False identification wasn’t a modus operandi in the 9/11 attacks, and the 9/11 Commission didn’t explain how identity would defeat future attacks. (Also, using “critical” twice in the same sentence is a stylistic no-no.)

As the 9/11 Commission report noted, fraudulent identification documents are dangerous weapons for terrorists,

No, it said “travel documents are as important as weapons.” It was talking about passports and visas, not drivers’ licenses. Oh – and it was exaggerating.

but progress has stalled towards securing identification documents under the top-down, proscriptive approach of the REAL ID Act

True, rather than following top-down prescription, states have set their own policies to increase driver’s license security. It’s not necessarily needed, but if they want to they can, and they don’t need federal conscription of their DMVs to do it.

– an approach that has led thirteen states to enact legislation prohibiting compliance with the Act.

“… which is why we’re trying to get it passed again with a different name!”

Rather than a continuing stalemate with the states,

Non-compliant states stared Secretary Chertoff down when he threatened to disrupt their residents’ air travel, and they can do the same to Secretary Napolitano.

PASS ID provides crucial security gains now by establishing common security standards for driver’s licenses

Weak security gains, possibly in five years. In computer science – to which identification and credentialing is akin – monoculture is regarded as a source of vulnerability.

and a path forward for ensuring that states can electronically verify source documents, including birth certificates.

We’re on the way to that cradle-to-grave biometric tracking system that will give government so much power over every single citizen and resident.

See? That was fun!

Will the Blue Dogs Ever Bite?

We’ve written more than once about the Democratic “Blue Dogs” and the lack of any actual evidence for their supposed fiscal conservatism.

Now Merrill Mathews in The Wall Street Journal tells the sad story of the Blue Dogs in the Obama era. They call in the journalists, and they moan and complain about their concerns over the deficit and rising federal spending. And when the rubber meets the road, what happens?

• The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). One of the first things the Democratic leadership wanted the newly inaugurated President Obama to sign was a huge expansion of SCHIP. Democrats have been trying to pass the expansion for over a year, with some bipartisan support. President George W. Bush vetoed the legislation twice, and Congress sustained his veto both times by a hair.

SCHIP was created for low-income uninsured children not eligible for Medicaid. Under the old bill, children whose family incomes were 200% of the federal poverty level were covered. With the new bill, Democrats increased funding to cover children whose family incomes are up to 300% of the federal poverty level—or $66,000 a year for a family of four. The Bush administration and most conservatives thought it should remain at 200%. Did the Blue Dogs agree? Only two voted against the expansion.

• The $787 billion stimulus. The next major spending package was Mr. Obama’s stimulus bill. Not one House Republican voted for the bill. The Blue Dogs? Only 10 of 52 voted against it.

• President Obama’s 2010 federal budget. In April, Congress took a vote on the president’s $3.5 trillion budget for 2010—by far the biggest spending package in history. Again, not one House Republican voted for the bill, but only 14 Blue Dogs joined them in opposition.

Matthews says the health care bill is the Blue Dogs’ last chance to show that they actually do care whether the federal government spends us into bankruptcy.

Mortgage Mods: Congressman Prefers Coercion over Cooperation

The recent focus in Washington on mortgage modifications once again illustrates one of the most fundamental flaws in current political debate:  the notion of using government to threaten or force the “voluntary” transfer of wealth from one group of citizens to another.

Just this week Rep. Barney Frank warned the banking industry if they don’t “voluntarily” do more to reduce foreclosures, Congress will step in and make them do so, by allowing bankruptcy judges to re-write mortgage contracts.  This proposal is really nothing more an ex poste transfer of wealth from investors in mortgage backed assets to borrowers.

Of course, Rep. Frank and others respond that they are only trying to “bring lenders to the table” in order to keep negotiations going.  In the words of many “consumer” advocates, this is just a “stick” to the motivate the lenders.  I could think of few things more offensive to a free society.  In a government truly constituted on the notion of the common good or general welfare, it would be no more appropriate to use the stick of the state on lenders than it would be on borrowers.  Government quite simply should not take sides in purely private disputes. 

One would think that if anyone could understand the principle that government should not interfere in the private, voluntarily entered relationships of consenting adults, it should be Mr. Frank.

Using ‘Cash For Clunkers’ Money to Buy a Muscle Car

chevelleABC News reports that the “Cash for Clunkers” scheme, a government program that offers a rebate to people who trade in vehicles with low gas mileage for more fuel efficient cars, is  gaining popularity:

The program is off to a fast start. In less than a week, 8,000 cars have been traded in for new ones – deals that might not have happened if Washington were not offering people $3,500 to $4,500 to get their aging gas guzzlers off the road.

In June, Cato senior fellow Alan Reynolds explained  how you can use that money to buy the muscle car or truck you always wanted:

Consider how easy it would be to game this giveaway program by using that $4,500 voucher to buy a big SUV or V-8 muscle car.

First of  all, with Chrysler and GM dealerships folding, it should be easy to buy a mediocre Chevy Cobalt or Dodge Caliber for about $10,000 more than the voucher.

What you do next is sell that boring econobox, even if you end up with $1,000 less than you paid — that still leaves you with $3,500 of free money, courtesy of taxpayers.

As this  process unfolds, the flood of resold small cars will make it even  harder for GM, Chrysler and Ford dealers to get a decent price for small cars, because of added competition from new cars being resold as used.

That’s their problem, not yours.

So, take the $9,000 net from reselling the crummy little car plus the $4,500 from Uncle Sam.  Then use that $13,500 to make a big down payment on a used Cadillac Escalade,  Toyota Tundra pickup or Corvette.

File this under “unintended consequences” (my own file is running out of space).

More Evidence on the Turning Tide

america-store_2065_6501360I wrote recently about the anti-Obama T-shirts on display at Washington’s Dulles Airport. This week I can report that at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, there are big cut-outs of Barack and Michelle Obama. But they’re standing by a display of shirts reading “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for McCain and Palin” and another reading “NOPE (with the Obama campaign logo) – keep the change.” The times they are a-changin’.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that out in the real America, the airports of Albuquerque and San Diego, there are no T-shirts on display for or against any politician. It’s like they don’t think Americans care about politicians.

Out of the TARP, But Still on the Dole

While banks such as Goldman and J.P. Morgan have managed to find a way to re-pay the capital injections made under the TARP bailout, their reliance on public subsidies is far from over. The federal government, via a debt guarantee program run by the FDIC, is still putting considerable taxpayer funds at risk on behalf of the banking industry.  The Wall Street Journal estimates that banks participating in the FDIC debt guarantee program will save about $24 billion in reduced borrowing costs of the next three years. The Journal estimates that Goldman alone will save over $2 billion on its borrowing costs due to the FDIC’s guarantees.

One of the conditions imposed by the Treasury department for allowing banks to leave the TARP was that such banks be able to issue debt not guaranteed by the government.  Apparently this requirement did not apply to all of a firm’s debt issues.  These banks should be expected to issue all their debt without a government guarantee and be required to pay back any currently outstanding government guaranteed debt.

To add insult to injury, not only are banks reaping huge subsidies from the FDIC debt guarantee program, but the program itself is likely illegal.  The FDIC’s authority to take special actions on behalf of a failing ”systemically” important bank is limited to a bank-by-bank review.  The FDIC’s actions over the last several months to declare the entire banking system as systemically important is at best a fanciful reading of the law. 

The FDIC should immediately terminate this illegal program and end the continuing string of subsidies going to Wall Street banks, many of which are reporting enormous profits.

Venezuela’s Assault on Freedom of the Press and Other Liberties

A Venezuelan court has prohibited Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovision Television, from traveling to Washington, D.C. where he was scheduled to deliver an address tomorrow at the Cato Institute. Zuloaga and his network have been openly critical of the Hugo Chavez government, and as a result have endured harassment from authorities as Chavez attempts to place television and radio networks under government control or shutter them completely.

As a result, the Cato forum will now feature the vice-president of Globovision TV, Carlos Alberto Zuloaga, and Rafael Alfonzo, president of CEDICE, Venezuela’s leading market-liberal think tank, with comment by Robert Rivard, of the Inter American Press Association. Mr. Alfonzo will discuss how CEDICE and other members of civil society are coming under increasingly serious government harassment for expressing views critical of the government.