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Archive for November, 2010

Security and the TSA

There has been a lot of press lately over the TSA’s use of body scanners and very personal pat-downs lately. There has been some pushback against the TSA, but opinion polls generally suggest that about 80 percent of Americans support the new “security” practices, relying on the old “anything to make me safe” argument, or the “if you have nothing to hide” argument. I’ll spare you all that hoary Ben Franklin aphorism, but I will say that I have never felt so close to all my liberal friends as I do when I hear that nothing-to-hide argument!

For those that have forgotten it, or have never read it, here is the text of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

 

Let’s now focus on the parts that involve the TSA and the Border Patrol. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons…against unreasonable searches…shall not be violated.” There are a couple of key points in this amendment’s language that need to be clarified, so that we can all agree on the problem.

First, the amendment says the “right of the people.” This phrase does two things. It describes who and what the amendment applies to. It applies to the “people,” meaning you and me; and pretty much everyone who falls under the protection of the Constitution. Secondly, it identifies a right. It neither creates nor grants that right, it merely identifies it. The right belongs to the people, and cannot be defeased.

Second, the amendment talks about being secure in our person against unreasonable searches. We all know, almost intuitively, what that means. It means that the government cannot search our person, our body, unreasonably. But what does “unreasonable” mean? That is the question that we really need to answer. So, I did a little research.

According to Reason Magazine, your risk of dying in a plausible terrorist attack is much lower than your risk of dying in a car accident, by walking across the street, by drowning, in a fire, by falling, or by being murdered. The odds of being struck by an asteroid are about one in 200,000; if terrorists hijacked and crashed one of America’s 18,000 commercial flights per week, your chance of being on the crashed plane would be one in 135,000; hardly more likely than an asteroid strike.

So, given those numbers, I find the “please make me safe” argument rather unpersuasive. If people were really worried about safety, they wouldn’t drive, walk, use fire, or go to the bathroom. For the same reason, the “nothing to hide” argument falls flat. Even if we let people through without screening, the fatal terrorist rate would hardly change. So people are worried about the wrong things at the wrong times.

Every day, we drive our cars, and every day we kill people with them. And by we, I mean society in general. And yet, nobody would suggest, much less tolerate, indiscriminate stopping and searching of anybody’s car without reasonable cause. Yet when it comes to airports, we ignore our rationality, and submit to what are ineffective searches, that are on the face of them, mathematically unreasonable. Almost every public terrorist event involving passenger aircraft, has occurred after security checkpoints. The shoe bomber and the underwear bomber passed through screening and were only thwarted by passengers and flight attendants.

The TSA performs security theater. Groping grandma or grandpa isn’t making us safer, it only makes the unthinking people “feel” safer. The TSA, like the Army, always fights the last war. We had to take our shoes off after a shoe-bomber, and now, they need to electronically strip us because of the underwear bomber. But the reality is that the shoe and underwear bombers teach us that threats advance and change, and the answer is not to abuse our rights, but to proactively prevent the next attack, which will be neither shoes nor underwear.

The point is, the TSA searches and body scanner policies are blatantly unreasonable. They are unreasonable because they don’t prevent anything, and because they are, at least statistically, irrelevant. The only thing they do, at least to my mind, is to remind us of what Aldous Huxley said, “Continued crisis breeds continued control.” I thank God that our Constitution is not dependent on the whims of the population, I just wish it was less dependent on the whims of the Supreme Court.

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We Don’t Need No TV Here in West “By God” Virginia!

November 18, 2010 1 comment

Well, it’s official. Or at least it has become blatantly public. The U.S. Congress is open, notorious, and hostile in their opposition to the first amendment to the US Constitution. We all remember the abhorrent McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act and how it treated the first amendment. We are all aware, or should be, of the dangers of the DISCLOSE Act. Not just because congress tries to stifle political discourse, but because of their abysmal abuse of the English language and American history. Any congressman who is in favor of DISCLOSE should be forced to sit in a classroom and listen to Sr. Marie Antoinette teach them both.

But the most damning evidence of the political classes contempt for for free speech was presented today by democrat Jay Rockefeller.

“I’m tired of the right and the left,” West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller said Wednesday during a Senate hearing on retransmission consent. “There’s a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to Fox and to MSNBC, ‘Out. Off. End. Goodbye.’ ”

Yet, ignorant of the irony, he went on to say:

“It would be a big favor to political discourse[.]” Yes, senator, I was thinking just that, that in order to do good things for political discourse, let’s turn off the news. Perhaps the senator from the great state of West Virginia would then send out letters informing us of what we should know. It would certainly improve his re-election efforts.

But those three are just molehills compared to the mountainous affront proposed by a democratic congresswoman from Maryland. Rep. Donna Edwards has introduced an amendment to the constitution, ostensibly in response to the “Citizens United” decision by the Supreme Court. Instead of paraphrasing, I’ll just reproduce it here, minus the boilerplate introductory language.

‘‘ARTICLE—

‘‘SECTION 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity.
‘‘SECTION 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.’’

The number of problems in this amendment are staggering, as well as frightening. Thankfully, the chances of it ever being ratified are astronomical. But let’s take a look at some of the problems. I wont even mention the congresswoman’s erroneous use of “democracy” to describe our government. History and I have been very clear on that issue.

The amendment would give congress the power to prevent any corporation from using money for political speech, while at the same time allowing other corporations free rein. A predominantly democratic congress could, for example, prevent GM from donating to republican candidates while at the same time allowing IBM to donate without limit to democrat candidates. And before you get all giddy at that thought, the converse applies equally.

The amendment mentions corporations, LLCs, and other “corporate entities.” Exactly what does that mean? Would it cover partnerships? Or what are know in the legal world as “closely held corporations?” Those are corporations that are family owned, with no outside stockholders? Would it cover not-for-profit corporations? What about unincorporated associations, which have some of the attributes of corporations, but are not? The language is sloppy and indefinite, which, when you think of it, is the problem with the way most politicians think.

It also says the States may regulate such spending. Here are two problems. The amendment says “Congress and the States,” not “or.” So, does the amendment require that any regulation be attempted by both at the same time? If not, the connector should have been “or.” The second problem being the use of the plural. Can a single State regulate corporate spending, or does the amendment require a minimum of two states to regulate? One addition word could eliminate that problem. Without it, the amendment seems to be a boon to lawyers.

Section two says the amendment isn’t meant to abridge the freedom of the press. Which leads us to a number of additional questions. What about the press that exist as a corporation, like the N.Y. Times? Why would some corporations get preferential treatment? What about me? I publish a blog. Am I part of the “press” contemplated by the constitution?

Technical defects aside, the contempt the political class shows to our freedom is, or should be, frightening. It seems that at every turn, someone is nibbling away another of our freedoms. And the freedoms that disappear don’t come back spontaneously. They are only protected, and only restored, by people who are willing to risk everything for them.

 

“For it’s Tommy this, and Tommy that,

And throw him out, the brute.

But he’s the savior of his country

When the guns begin to shoot.”

 

Let’s hope we don’t need Tommy anytime soon.

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Michael Moore Gets It Wrong Again

In addition to his other crimes against the arts, Michael Moore has published a column on the website “CommonDreams.org.” In this column, after calling anyone who disagrees with him hateful, spiteful, racist, and anti-American, he advocates that the lame duck session of Congress passes some, if not all, of the 420 bills passed by the House since January 2009. Among the bills he wants to see passed are these, listed by his cute monikers:

• The “Give Mom a Raise Act,” officially known as the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” which addresses pay gaps between men and women.

• The “Don’t Amputate Our Feet Act,” aka the “Eliminating Disparities in Diabetes Prevention Access and Care Act of 2009.”

• The “Pay Up, BP Act,” aka the “Audit the BP Fund Act.”

• The “Stop Foreigners From Hitting Grandma Act,” aka the “Elder Abuse Victims Act.”

• The “Let’s Try Not to Destroy Planet Earth Act” (aka Cap and Trade, a lousy half-way measure to begin with, but about the best you can expect from you Democrats these days).

• The “National Bombing Prevention Act” (it’s actually already called that, which is hard to improve on).

Parenthetical comments are all his, by the way.

I’m impressed. Moore certainly has a wide range of things he wants done. Notably absent is any mention of extending the current tax structure or dealing with the national debt or deficit, however. So let’s take a look at the cost of some of these bills.

Based on estimates from a variety of sources, most notably the Congressional Budget Office, these bills alone would cost about 16 billion dollars a year for the next ten years, for a total of roughly 150 billion dollars. And that doesn’t even cover the cost of some of his other pet projects that he wants the senate to vote on, like extending emergency unemployment benefits, or passing the DREAM act, the DISCLOSE act, or the Employee Free Choice Act.

Granted, 15 billion is small potatoes when the deficit for the year is 1.4 trillion, but as one famous Senator said, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money. Of course, Michael Moore has no problem spending your bucks. And, perhaps, that’s the real reason people object to these bills. Faced with record debts, and ever growing deficits, people have finally realized that when you’re drowning in debt, you have to stop the outflow.

There’s another reason to oppose some of these bills, as well. Congressional power was just realigned, with the incoming Congress significantly different from the outgoing one. The voters, i.e., me and you, sent a message that we wanted change in the way things got done, as well as what got done. Wouldn’t it be anti-democratic, to use a favorite approach of the left, to allow a group that was thrown out of office to continue to thwart the will of the electorate?

There’s one more reason to oppose some of these bills, and that’s what they do. For example, the bill to eliminate disparities in diabetes treatment, does no such thing. It only requires that the Secretary of HHS make reports to congress about how minorities are treated for diabetes. We all know the reasons to oppose “cap and trade” by now. Even if the only negative was the 1500 dollars per month it will cost the average family, that would be reason enough to oppose it. The paycheck fairness act, in addition to being very costly and a sop to the trial lawyers, addresses a problem that doesn’t really exist. If a business could hire an equivalent worker for 78 percent of other worker’s pay, they would, yes? And that would depress the wages of all job seekers to that level, no? Absent any collusion, the net effect of sex-based wage disparity would be to equalize wages at the lower level. But that hasn’t happened, and the reason must be something other than mere sex-based differences, which this bill does nothing to fix.

So, Michael Moore gets it wrong again. Not surprising coming from the author of “Bowling for Columbine,” and the eponymous “Stupid White Men.” Michael Moore has an axe to grind, and he refuses to let truth, logic, or common sense get in his way.

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A Weekend of Genius

I was privileged to spend this last weekend in the company of two geniuses. Both dead, unfortunately, so my time was spent with them indirectly, I suppose. On Thursday, I drove to Pennsylvania to visit Fallingwater, the Kaufman departments store family’s weekend home. It was about a nine hour drive, so I spent the round trip listening to “Twilight of the Gods,” the fourth installment of the operatic Ring Cycle. The two geniuses being, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Wagner.

In addition to Fallingwater, I spent some time at the Hagan home, also known as Kentuck Knob. Both homes were designed by the greatest architect America, and probably the world, has ever seen. And on this trip, his genius was evident in two different ways. At Fallingwater, which the American Institute of Architecture has named the greatest work of American architecture, Wright showed what a man could do when he was free from the constraints of money and society. Spending thirty times the cost of an average home at the time, Wright created a home that was at once inside and outside. He built a home that functioned as more than a residence; it was a structure that acted as an intermediary between man and nature, bringing both together in a new and exciting way. They didn’t call it “green” building in the 30’s, but Wright did it all back then. Southern exposures, thermal mass, no air conditioning. And all while bringing the river inside, and making the house part of the hill, and not just a decoration plunked on top of it.

At the Hagan house, Wright showed off the other end of his genius. The Hagan house is one of his Usonian designs, homes designed to be affordable by the average family. The Hagan home was expensive, but that was due to the fixtures and materials. Wright designed a home that was adaptable to different budgets, and different families, while never losing sight of his theories of organic design and plasticity of materials. The Usonian home, which perhaps reached its apex here, became the foundation of the ubiquitous ranch style home. And like copies of the greatest works of art, it falls short of the master’s vision. The Hagan home and Fallingwater are beautiful testaments to a man’s mastery of his art.

The driving portion of the trip was made bearable by a great recording of the “Götterdammerung,” which is translated as “Twilight of the Gods,” by Wagner. The end of an operatic epic that begins with “Das Rheingold” and continues with “Die Walkure” then “Siegfried,” Twilight is to my mind the greatest of all operas. And not just because it contains the longest aria in operatic history. It is because in the cycle, which took Wagner 24 years to write, Wagner destroyed the typical concept of an opera, and substituted a creature that required a new vocabulary, a new way of thinking, and even new instruments. Wagner did for opera what Wright did for architecture. Both men demanded a re-evaluation of the status quo, and in its place gave us new paradigms by which to measure both music and architecture.

It’s rare enough to meet genius, rarer still to spend any significant time with it. I’m fortunate in that I had the opportunity to spend a weekend with two of the world’s great men.

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Ft. Hood’s Pointless Monument

November 5, 2010 1 comment

The Army unveiled a monument today to 13 people who were killed a year ago today. These were the people who were killed by a Muslim yelling “Allahu Akbar!” For those of you who don’t know, that is Arabic for “God is great!” The AP story about this monument doesn’t mention any of this until the end of the story. The first 90 percent is predictable treacle about weeping families, stories of how wonderful the dead guy was, and people trying to extract meaning from the deaths.

Also predictable is the fact the the AP talks about the killings in the passive voice. It talks about the people who died, not the people who were killed. Even the victims used the passive voice, as if reluctant to speak the truth. That truth being, of course, that the 13 people memorialized today didn’t just die, they were murdered. They were shot dead by a Muslim terrorist who made no secret of that fact.

But the AP wasn’t the worst. CNN reports on the web didn’t mention that the “lone gunman” was a Muslim terrorist. Raycom News Network, reporting for KSLA, Texas mentions the shooter’s Muslim affiliation, but left out the part about “Allahu Akbar.” Even the assorted dignitaries treated the shooting as a random criminal event, not once using the words murder or attack.

We are a country of monuments. You can’t swing a dead general without hitting a statue, or plaque, or marker to some historical event or other. We have entire cities dedicated to honoring the dead; think Gettysburg. And there are two common threads running through these monuments.

The first is that some human actions are worthy of remembrance and emulation. Think of Olive Park, on Chicago’s lakefront, named after Milton L. Olive, or Evans Army Community Hospital in Colorado, named for Donald W. Evans. These memorials serve to remind us that there are things greater than ourselves worthy of honor, and there are actions worthy or emulation.

The second thread regarding our monuments is that there are actions taken by groups that are indispensable to who we are, and were made necessary by our need to serve all humanity, even at the risk of many lives. The World War II Memorial reminds us that it is sometimes necessary for entire nations to take actions that serve all of humanity, while the various Revolutionary War monuments remind us of the cost to produce the “last, best hope of mankind.” (Abraham Lincoln on the U.S.)

The problem with the monument at Ft. Hood is that it does neither. Without recognizing the true nature of the killings, the monument teaches us no more about individual bravery than those crosses randomly scattered about highways. Without recognizing the true nature of our enemy, this monument teaches us nothing about our nation’s urgent need to act decisively against a mortal threat.

There is a reason that we don’t place memorials to crime victims. It isn’t that their death is less tragic, or less painful than any other. It is that those deaths teach us nothing that isn’t already known intuitively by every person.

Almost any loss of life is tragic, especially among the young and those just beginning their careers. Who among us is not moved by stories of teenagers killed in auto accidents, or children lost to cancer. And when we see those things, we make sense out of them by recognizing them for what they are, and working to prevent further occurrences. We make DUI a crime, and we donate to cancer research. But until we recognize what happened at Ft. Hood for what it really was, a terrorist attack by forces that want to destroy us, we can neither make sense of it, nor take steps to prevent its recurrence.

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