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.