Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quote of the Day - Safety and Liberty

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Benjamin Franklin

Quote of the Day - Safety and Liberty

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Open Letter to Janet Napolitano

Secretary Napolitano,

Like millions of Americans today, I take issue with the fact that, upon entering an airport, we are all (well, not including the “elite”) considered guilty until proven innocent. As you know, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution established the right of Americans “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effect, against unreasonable searches and seizures” without probable cause. But one TSA employee put it this way: once a passenger purchases an airline ticket that passenger forfeits many of his rights, including constitutional rights. Do you actually believe that the purchase of a plane ticket is sufficient cause to suspect an American of malicious intent? If this simple act of engaging in commerce can negate one's constitutional rights, then what is to stop the government from saying once an American purchases a hot dog they forfeit their right to own a gun, or once a citizen checks out a book from the library they forfeit their rights to privacy (oh, wait, the government already did that.) Despite being a fairly decorated Iraq war veteran – who supposedly fought against those airplane destroying terrorists – I, too, become a suspected terrorist the moment I walk into an American airport. But I guess that should be no surprise to me. After all, your own department issued a memo just last year warning that young veterans like myself are likely candidates to become domestic terrorists.

You recently said that the TSA is doing what it needs to do “to protect the traveling public.” This notion that the TSA makes Americans safer by destroying America's foundation of liberties is the same tired falsehood that was used to justify the last several hundred expansions of government into American lives. According to you, if I go through the porno-scanner or get sexually assaulted by a uniformed government agent I will somehow be made safe, correct? Please explain to me how I am made safe by enduring these blatant violations of my privacy. Despite the TSA's habitual claims, how many terrorist plots have been stopped at the screening gates of American airports? How many bombs have TSA agents discovered in Americans' tighty-whities? I suspect you know the answer, but that suspicion may be a bit generous based on what I know of you and your ability to reason. Well, the answer is none. I apologize for my lack of faith, but I assure you it is based on reason (that strange concept I was talking about a minute ago).

Since September 11, 2001, not one single terrorist attempt has even occurred on a domestic U.S. flight. All attempts – the “shoe bomber,” the “underwear bomber,” and the latest cargo plot – all were on flights that departed from foreign countries. This means that the chances of an American dying while performing a number of mundane tasks are far greater than the chances of being a victim of a terrorist attack on a domestic flight. I am more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport or when I get hit by a car crossing the street from the airport parking lot. I am more likely to get infected with e-coli from a restaurant in the airport, or test positive for HIV after an unforeseen sexual excursion in the lavatory of a commercial airplane. And, like I said, it's not that and attacks on domestic flights were prevented, but they were never even attempted. In other words, the government agents that stand at the front of airport security lines did nothing to prevent them. Yet the TSA continues to ramp up its efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, even on domestic flights.

Secretary Napolitano, we know that you lied about the clarity of the scanned images. But you say passengers have the option to opt out of the scanners and instead undergo an enhanced pat down. Under 18 U.S. Code Section 2244, " 'sexual contact' means the intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade." This degrading procedure would be considered a crime if it were perpetrated by anyone but the government. Never mind the psychological effect that it could have on abused children and rape victims.

Even if going through a virtual strip search machine or undergoing an “enhanced pat down” does make me safer, as you suggest, then wouldn't it do the same for you? I can't help but wonder, why don't you go through the two screening procedures yourself? If the soldiers that fight on our front lines – supposedly against terrorism – become terror suspects themselves the moment they step foot in an airport, then why not politicians and bureaucrats? Why not Janet Napolitano, or President Obama?

Furthermore, if the imaging procedures “in no way resemble electronic strip searches,” as you say, then I presume you would be willing to broadcast your own scanned image to the American people, right? If you want to gain the trust and support of Americans, then you ought to be willing to endure the same violations of privacy (which are, in fact, not violations of privacy according to you) that you expect all flying Americans to endure. If it is really not a violation of privacy and is in no way harmful to have your scanned image broadcast to some stranger in another room, then I'm sure you will not hesitate to to take this step to broadcast your image (which, I remind you, in no way resembles an electronic strip search) to hundreds of millions of American strangers, right? In fact, why even bother hiding the screens in the first place? According to you, the image of a nude child when seen through the eyes of an x-ray machine is not child pornography at all, otherwise TSA agents would be violating federal law. Why not broadcast the images to all the passengers standing in line, or even across the entire airport. That way, passengers could really feel safe by confirming first hand that the passengers boarding their flights are not carrying any explosives in their underwear (by viewing the images that in no way resemble electronic strip searches) or, god forbid, hiding nail clippers in their bra or a bottle of water in their pockets.

Secretary Napolitano, let's stop the elitism and hypocrisy in Washington. Will you follow your own agency's security regulations? Will you enforce them on all the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington? Or are you and your friends above laws and regulations?

Don't worry, you won't look bad if you say no to enforcing these regulations on America's elite. In fact, you'll still look the same. You'll still be what you are. “Big sis'.”


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Whither Tax Cuts

With the lame duck session of Congress set to take up debate on whether to extend the Bush tax cuts to everyone, including the wealthy, I thought I'd take a moment to examine some of the rhetoric for and against.

The dividing line on this issue involves whether or not the Bush tax cuts should be extended to so-called wealthy Americans earning more than a certain amount per year. These would be the top 1 or 2 percent of Americans, depending on where the line is drawn. The Republican argument for extending the tax cuts for everyone is that the wealthy produce jobs, and that by including them in the tax cut extension we're enabling them to create more jobs. Democrats counter with the argument that American businesses are currently sitting on 2 trillion dollars in cash, and are not likely to create jobs for any reason other than an increase in demand.

Whether you believe in the philosophy of low taxation or not, the Republican position on this issue is fundamentally flawed in that it fails to explicitly draw the connection between being a wealthy American and being in a position to create jobs with that personal wealth. There is, in fact, no necessary connection between these two things.

So why are we even having this debate if the premise on one side is flawed at the outset? Perhaps we can chalk it up to lazy journalism for not forcing an honest debate. Whatever the reason, it seems simply another example of a serious issue being debated in terms of half truths. It should be no surprise when the outcome of such a debate produces unexpected results.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Constitutional Rights Are Human Rights

The partisan bickering over the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed continues:
Several senators announced legislation Tuesday that would cut off funding for the federal trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four accused accomplices, saying the five should be tried in a military court.

"We believe we're at war," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who stood with a number of senators that included Democrats and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent.

"The law enforcement model being used by the Obama administration should be rejected," Graham said. "We're not fighting a crime, we're fighting a war."
But, I ask, when did Congress declare war, and with what nation are we at war? The last time Congress declared war was on December 11, 1941, in response to Germany's declaration of war against the United States.

Congressman Ron Paul declares, "The process by which we’ve entered wars... and the inconclusive results of each war since that time, are obviously related to Congress’ abdication of its responsibility regarding war, given to it by Article I Section 8 of the Constitution."

Sadly, it appears that an honest understanding of the Constitution is a very rare anomaly on Capitol Hill. Our representatives in Congress have continuously and deliberately circumvented the precepts of the Constitution in order to advance their rotten agendas at the expense of the people's liberty over the last century.

Senator Joe Lieberman also commented on the impending trial:
"Putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a public courtroom in full view of the public gives him a better platform than any member of al Qaeda has been given to recruit new members," Lieberman said.
I find Senator Lieberman's initial comment to be somewhat ironic. Indeed, no better platform for al Qaeda recruitment could be provided than was provided by the United States government when they repeatedly attacked, occupied, and manipulated various countries throughout the Middle East. As I wrote in a previous post, there is undeniable evidence that American involvement in the Middle East has helped recruitment in terror organizations immensely. Again, Ron Paul was correct when he said of the then looming U.S. invasion of Iraq, "The greatest beneficiaries of the attack may well be Osama bin Ladin and the al Qaeda. Some in the media have already suggested that the al Qaeda may be encouraging the whole event. Unintended consequences will occur – what will come from this attack is still entirely unknown."

Senator Lieberman continued:
"To try them as common criminals, giving them the constitutional rights of American citizens in our courts, is justice according to Alice in Wonderland."
Fortunately, the Constitution clearly distinguishes between persons and citizens, and the Fifth and Sixth Amendments - the right to due process and a speedy trial respectively - declare persons to have these rights. The founders understood that these were inalienable rights - essentially human rights - rights that all men should have. Thus, I refuse to accept the notion that the Bill of Rights applies only to those that are fortunate enough and extraordinary enough to be American citizens.

If Americans want to encourage liberty to take hold across the world then we should do so - not through imperialism, not by force - but by example. We should restore our country to the confines of our Constitution and bring these men to justice. In doing so, we can demonstrate to the world the compassion that is the foundation of America and the morality that resides in all of us.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Have We Passed the Point of No Return?

The projected budget deficit for the coming year approaches 11 percent of the total economic output of the United States. While budget deficits have soared during past wars, the government's commitment to the Global War on Terror - essentially a war on an ideology that cannot be destroyed - provides little optimism that an end to conflict could return the deficit to reasonable levels (i.e. no deficit).

Current deficit projections effectively leave no room for the new entitlement programs that crowd Obama's agenda. Even while the President tries to play politics with ineffective spending freezes and optimistic projections, the White House's own numbers admit that the deficit will again increase by 2019. But with a history of deficits that reach back to the founding of America, we cannot expect that Obama or his predecessors will adhere to any true policy of fiscal responsibility.

With the current climate of endless wars and ever increasing deficits, how long can the world's first superpower retain that power? The course on which America is headed can only have one ultimate result: disaster. The only solution is for Americans to stand up and elect true fiscal conservatives that will stop the endless theft of wealth from future generations.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Debt for Students, More Cash for Universities

While the White House continues to spew rhetoric about not passing on the debt burden to future generations, the President proceeds to make decisions that are counter-intuitive to that refusal. The “change we can believe in” that we have witnessed to date has, in reality, only been a renewal of the welfare-warfare state of presidents past.

In his 2010 State of the Union address, Wednesday evening, President Obama reasserted his administration's commitment to increasing the debt burden on America's students and raising tuition costs at the nation's universities when he unveiled his debt-for-diploma plan to “make college more affordable.” The President's plan would afford students' families a $10,000 tax credit and “increase Pell Grants” while requiring students to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, with the remainder of the debt to be forgiven after twenty years. For students that chose to enter a “public service” profession – whatever that may be – the debt will be forgiven after only ten years of payment. But who, I ask, will pay the debt? Why, we'll just pass it on to the next generation!

This policy of subsidizing student loans stands to perpetuate the rising costs of education in America, just as the students of today's college generation are already feeling the debt pile on. USA Today reports that the average debt of peoples age 22 to 29 increased 10% over the five years from 2001 to 2006 to $16,120, and student loan balances rose to an average of $14,379, while nearly half of them have stopped paying on that debt.

Following his proposition for more student debt, President Obama sent an ironic message to America's schools:
It's time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs.
If the government is going to make financial aid even more accessible to students, then why shouldn't the universities raise tuition? Consider this hypothetical: If every college student in America had sudden access to $100,000 for school, then why should we expect universities to only charge $1,000? The easy money policies of Washington will essentially make every student wealthy in regards to school tuition by making American students more likely to take on debt, affording universities the ability to make education more costly. Moreover, if every citizen of America is able to obtain a college degree, then that degree will become essentially worthless as an asset in the marketplace.

Now, consider the following – a scenario in which market forces put downward pressure on the costs of tuition: If the government were to no longer subsidize student loans then creditors would be more skeptical of lending students money, as students traditionally do not have high incomes or steady jobs. Consequently, if students were no longer able to afford college due to their inability to acquire loans, then market pressures would necessarily lower tuition costs – colleges and universities would not simply sit empty, they would have to lower their tuition in order to fill up their classes.

The politicians and policy-makers in Washington have repeatedly displayed a blatant ignorance of economic principle. Rather than allow markets to put downward pressures on college tuition, they opt to expand the welfare-state and subsidize education costs, further entrenching our students in debt. If our nation and its economy are to survive, we must abandon the savior-based economy and return to a savings based one – we must let the free market work to reign in the high costs of education. For to continue subsidizing our costly lifestyle at the expense of future generations is simply immoral.