Thursday, November 25, 2010


At this point, we've heard the arguments. Air passengers object to the new scanners for various reasons, and they especially object to the extremely thorough “pat-down” that results when you refuse the scanner (or when the picture on the scanner doesn't satisfy the TSA, or when you're a 20-year-old smoking hot blond, or when you have annoyed the TSA for any reason). The TSA's response is that we all have to suck it up. They're doing all these things to keep us safe, and they have to do it the way they're doing it, and they know secret things about the bad guys so it's wrong even to question them. It's a tough argument to overcome. How do you argue with “secret knowledge?”

Pilots and flight attendants have lodged separate, though similar, complaints, but the reporting on this issue has tended to put the objections of the flight crews on page 23. Yeah, they're bitching too, but let's show that video of the screaming three-year-old again, or let's talk to the young lady in the stilettos who didn't fancy having a stranger's hand up her skirt.

In fact, the objections of the flight crews are a critical piece of the argument for everyone. The treatment of the professionals exposes, and refutes, the TSA argument that everything they do is designed to keep us safe. If that is the case, WHY ARE THEY FEELING UP THE PILOTS AND FLIGHT ATTENDANTS? There is no possible justification for this in terms of airline security. The airlines know who these people are, and they can be subjected to any sort of background investigation as a requirement to keep their jobs, but once that is done, there can be no purpose to X-raying them or feeling around in their underwear. (Note: since the controversy exploded, the TSA has decided to change the security rules for pilots. The rules for flight crews are unchanged, however, and there is still no explanation for the prior practice of scanning and patting-down pilots.)

Once it is established that the TSA is not solely concerned with airline safety, the question may fairly be asked: “Well then, what the hell ARE you concerned with? In particular, why exactly do you have your hand down MY pants?”

We all know the answer, don't we? So why can't the TSA admit it? They do it to be fair. They do it because of the political belief, deeply embedded in our federal bureaucracy, that if anyone gets groped, everyone must be groped. Otherwise, it would be “unfair.” Somebody might have his feelings hurt. It used to be that peewee ballplayers got trophies for winning. Now everyone gets a trophy, just for playing. In airline security, everyone must be punished. In peewee baseball, everyone must get rewarded. It's the same principle.

Now, not everyone believes the give-everybody-a-trophy ethos is based on sound thinking. I don't, for example. But nobody gets killed when little Johnny gets an award just for showing up.

In the airline security crapshoot, however, the stakes are a bit higher. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Incompetano is constantly warning us of the daunting responsibility she faces, and stressing the difficulty in parrying every terrorist threat. If that is true, however, and if the resources we can devote to the effort are not infinite, how can anyone justify expending those resources to further goals other than actual security? The annual budget of the TSA is $7 billion, much of which is spent searching and scanning people who pose no risk to anyone. The billions that are spent ensuring no one's feelings are hurt are not spent on keeping airplanes safe, and that endangers all of us. Also, quite apart from the danger that results from spending billions on warped notions of fairness, there is the sheer expense. In addition to the money wasted by the TSA itself, there is the far greater expense in economic productivity lost among the millions of travelers forced to wait in long lines. Many of the folks whose time is being squandered actually make things or invent things, and thus create wealth, unlike the federal government, which only dissipates it.

Those who support the current regimen will offer, in its defense, a favorite rhetorical tool of the left---the absurd duality. Either we do it this way or we start “profiling” (a very, very bad word). Either we stick our hands in everyone's pants or we have to waterboard every non-white or slightly-non-white flier before letting him or her on a plane. Those are the only two choices.

But they are not the only choices, of course. Another option is what might be called “positive profiling.” Maybe we can lose the term profiling altogether, and call it “go-filing.” In a Trusted Traveler program, which has been suggested by many commentators, frequent fliers and others would submit themselves to a background check and, if approved, would be spared the rigors of TSA inspection. Everyone would benefit from such a program. Even those still stuck in line would at least now be in a shorter line.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I was going to write a piece about the TSA and the gropefest in America's airports, but I realized I already did, five years ago. The problems described in “Archie Bunker Air” (here), are the same ones we are facing today. But now they're worse.

From the beginning, the philosophy of the TSA has been that the way to make innocent people safe is to render them defenseless. Thus, the agency has always been 100% effective at disarming people who pose absolutely no risk to airline security. This brainless notion is now so embedded in the TSA and its procedures that there would seem to be few alternatives to simply eliminating the unit and starting over from scratch.

The real problem is that a lumbering, expensive, customer-unfriendly government bureaucracy cannot possibly be counted on to provide airport security. Fortunately, however, we don't have to count on them. As Byron York pointed out today in the National Examiner, the TSA has no monopoly on screening passengers. Since 2003, airports have been permitted to opt out of the TSA program and provide their own security. So far, none has done so, but we can hope that the current scanning/groping scandal will kick-start a race for the exits

Privatization is the only answer. Putting this task in the hands of the federal government never made any sense.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


In case you missed the premiere, it's an hour-long political commercial. But unless you loathe her from the get-go (as many of you do), you will find it entertaining. It's charming and heart-warming from start to finish, and it has lots of cool stuff to look at.

As much as I like Sarah Palin, I never thought she could be elected president in 2012. Now I think maybe she can. For aficionados of hard-core politics, her “reality show” is a must-see.

It is sometimes said that generals and military strategists are always practicing to win the previous war. The next war, however, is always different in character from the last one, so the generals are usually unprepared, and often slow to adjust to the new paradigm.

It's much the same in politics. There are many reasons for Barack Obama's victory in 2008, but one of them is that John McCain ran basically the same grass-roots, volunteer-based campaign as George Bush had in 2000 and 2004, (and didn't do it nearly as well). Obama changed the game, however. No candidate had ever harnessed the internet, and particularly the new social media, the way Obama did. Not only did he keep his supporters excited and focused on victory through long months of campaigning, he also used the new media to raise close to a billion dollars, an unprecedented sum, with almost half of it untraceable. With a war chest that dwarfed his opponent's and a friendly media that promoted him unabashedly and saw no reason to investigate or interrogate him, he cruised to victory over a thoroughly decent man who nevertheless seemed hopelessly out-of-date.

I follow Sarah Palin. It's not hard to do. She's on Fox News, she's huge on Facebook, her tweets get reported in the New York Times, and in the recent election there was no one who had more impact for candidates she endorsed and for whom she raised money. (By contrast, there is no evidence Obama's efforts had any effect at all.) But it was not until I watched “Sarah Palin's Alaska” that the lightbulb went on for me. This is it. This IS her campaign for the presidency in 2012. She is inventing something completely new in campaign politics, and while she may ultimately fail, she has leap-frogged past even Obama's brilliant 2008.

It is the only sort of campaign that gives her any chance of victory. For one thing, the elites and what she calls the “lame-stream media” simply hate her. They hate her because she worked her way through Idaho State University rather than having a million bucks worth of prep schools and Ivy League education dropped on her. They hate her because she's the wrong kind of feminist. They hate her because she didn't abort her Down Syndrome child. They hate her because she sometimes says, “Gosh.” They hate her for a thousand reasons. They hate her no less than they did when several hundred reporters showed up in Alaska to investigate corruption at the Wasilla Public Library. In fact, they hate her more now because she won't go away.

So what's a girl to do? Well, since the NYT and the Washington Post and NBC and CBS and ABC and Chris Matthews and Katie Couric will ALWAYS treat her like something that crawled out from under a rock, Palin has decided to see whether it is possible that the leftwing cultural mavens have lost so much influence that a national campaign can successfully ignore them. It's an interesting question. The importance of the old-fashioned media in shaping opinion has been fading for some time. (I don't know anyone under the age of 50 who watches a network “Evening News” show, for example.)

In any case, she has no choice. John McCain's campaign, or George Bush's, or even Obama's, will never win another election. The winner in 2012 will have to do something different.

In her favor is the fact that she seems to understand the new media and how to exploit it. In particular, since she controls the image she creates on Facebook and elsewhere, she can use the leftwing hatred to her advantage. Earlier this year, she was lambasted for using the made-up word “refudiate.” Now she uses it all the time, with a wink and a nod to her fans. Yesterday, the New Oxford American Dictionary named it the best new word of the year. She also frequently makes jokes about things she can “see from her house.”

In addition, the new media tend to be more “personal” and less formal, and this suits her as well. While the reality show is not a high-brow format, it works for her. She has a large, photogenic family, Alaska is a beautiful place, and she's not an egghead. She likes hanging with Todd and the kids and going outside and hiking and fishing and shooting. It's not hard to watch, unless you loathe her with every fiber of your being.

Finally, there's another, more subtle, point being made with “Sarah Palin's Alaska.” She doesn't just think about things. She does things, and sometimes those things are interesting to watch. Imagine an Obama reality show, for example, with him and Geithner and Holder sitting in the faculty lounge that is now the West Wing, debating the finer points of some draconian new regulations for the citrus industry. That's it, pretty much---that's the whole show, unless they break it up with a couple hours of golf on a locked-down golf course at some Air Force Base. Granted, he's the President and he leads a locked-down life, but it's not like he ever did anything interesting before he became president. For him, it seems, life has always been a long stretch in the faculty lounge followed by a round of golf. There's nothing very visual or compelling about a man who lives largely inside his own head. Even for one of his acolytes, an Obama reality show would be pretty dreary stuff.

And then there's Sarah. In 2011 and 2012, considering the media world that now touches all of us, there's something to be said for somebody who can shoot a moose, butcher it that afternoon, and cook up a tasty stew for the family that night.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


After the tea party influence in these elections, and their success, the Republican candidate for president in 2012 will have to be someone who is at least acceptable to the conservative elements in the party. This means that Romney, Huckabee, Giuliani, Gingrich and other standard-brand Republicans will not be elected president in two years. If any of them should win the Republican nomination, there will be a third-party candidate, and Obama's reelection will be assured.


It's tempting to be flippant about California's slide into Greece-like insolvency and chaos after decades of Democratic rule, but the election of Governor Moonbeam and Senator Barbara “Don't-Call-Me-Ma'am” Boxer is really kind of sad. California is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and its history is inspiring. It has always been “the end of America,” where hope ruled, where a new life beckoned. “Go West, young man,” Horace Greeley said, and Americans did. And now they are leaving.

Three thousand people leave California each week. It has the largest prison population in the country, the worst schools, the highest income taxes, the highest sales taxes and the highest gas taxes. Half of America's illegal immigrants live in California. It has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, after Nevada and Michigan. Personal income dropped last year for the first time since WWII. Its general obligation bonds now total $77.8 billion, and there are an estimated $500 billion in unfunded pension liabilities to the many thousands of public employees who earn in excess of $100,000 per year. Its bonds have the lowest rating of any of the fifty states, which means that California pays more interest on its debt.

And yet, the state elected Jerry Brown governor and Barbara Boxer to the Senate. If you had to pick two people who had more to do with the left-wing destruction of this wonderful state over the past thirty years, it would be hard to find two better candidates.

California WILL default on its obligations. And when the welfare benefits stop, and the unionized public employees stop getting paid their wages and pensions, there will be violence.


On right-wing talk radio, everyone who calls in to talk about the 2012 Republican ticket wants Chris Christie on it.


It used to be that “pursuing a land war in Asia” was the definition of political stupidity. Now, however, the three Democrats who rule my life---President Obama, Governor Rendell and Mayor Nutter---have made us forget Vietnam. The true measure of governmental incompetence is “raising taxes in a recession.”


Toward the end of the campaign, Democrats from Obama on down talked incessantly about the need to “get out the vote.” If everyone who voted in 2008 had voted in 2010, however, the Dems would still have gotten clobbered. Their problem was not that they couldn't get their voters out, but rather that there just aren't as many of them. All the polls, including the exit polls, indicate that fewer people identify themselves as Democrats and that many independents who voted for Obama now wish they hadn't.

The size of the American government has been increasing for decades, so the explanation cannot be that Americans don't want a big government. Clearly they do. They just don't want THIS big government. THIS big government is strictly an insider game.

If you are a member of a union, this government will funnel taxpayer money to your insolvent pension funds. In fact, if you are the UAW, they will give you a car company. If, on the other hand, you are a creditor of that car company, your rights can no longer be enforced in our courts.
When a state attempts to enforce federal immigration laws that the Obama administration wishes to ignore, the federal government condemns the state as racist, sues it in federal court, and reports the state to the United Nations as a violator of human rights.

As we have learned in Noxubee County, Mississippi, and in the voter-intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party, the Voting Rights Act will no longer be used to protect your right to vote if you are a white person..

If you are a businessman in a company or an industry Obama has decided to vilify (AIG comes to mind), your legal contracts will be ignored. In addition, busloads of agitators will be sent to the homes of your executives to terrorize their families. But if, like Google, you are a friend of the administration, your repeated releases of private information on millions of individuals will never draw the attention of the Justice Department, even though virtually every other Western government is pursuing Google in their criminal courts. Similarly, if you are Goldman Sachs---well, if you're Goldman Sachs, you just can't get arrested no matter what you do.


Following the Republican victory in the election, New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “If you look at the US, you look at who we're electing to Congress, to the Senate---they can't read! I'll bet you a bunch of these people don't have passports. We're about to start a trade war with China if we're not careful here, only because nobody knows where China is. Nobody knows what China is.”

Really now. This sort of thing has to stop, doesn't it? It didn't work for Democrats before the election, and it certainly won't work now, so what's the point of insulting the majority of the electorate? A lot of people voted, and they elected some people that Michael Bloomberg apparently didn't like, but is that any reason for him to get all bitchy about it and tell me I vote for guys who can't read and don't know where China is? I mean, isn't it bad enough that all my friends and relatives and neighbors and acquaintances and parole officers think I'm a toothless, xenophobic, Muslim-hating, homophobic, illiterate maroon just because I read Friedrich Hayek and the Constitution and Supreme Court cases and stuff? Now I have to take this crap from the Mayor of New York too?


Advice to John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House: fire the caterer, lose the florist, cancel the deliveries from the patisserie, and get rid of the goddamn airplane. Completely de-Pelosi the office. The Speaker should never again be mistaken for Madonna.


I don't vote for a lot of Democrats. In fact, the only two I can remember are Lynn Yeakle and John Street. But I will never vote for another one until the Democrats stop doing two things.

First, Democrats who run blue states have to stop disenfranchising military voters. In the 2008 election, almost 20,000 military votes were never recorded because politicians in Democratic states failed to send out ballots in time. A certain outrage ensued, followed by the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, a federal statute requiring all states to send absentee ballots to servicemen at least 45 days before an election. Yet somehow, in 2010, twelve states (guess which ones---no, wait, I'll tell you---New York, Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts...) failed to send out ballots in time. In an unsurprising development, the Eric Holder Justice Department chose not to impose any sanctions on these states.

It's extremely unlikely that absentee ballots from service people in Afghanistan or elsewhere could ever turn an election, so the Democrats' actions in stopping soldiers from voting are not merely vindictive and corrupt, they are pointless.

The other thing Democrats must stop doing is forcing people who sincerely believe abortions are wrong to pay for them. Obama, Pelosi and Reid risked not passing Obamacare over public funding for abortion, and it was only because the last “pro-life” Democrats (e.g., Bart Stupak) in Congress caved on the issue that the bill was passed.

I don't know why Democrats insist on this (they never discuss their reasons), but insist on it they do. Though abortion is legal throughout the land, it remains the primary moral issue of our time, and half the American people have serious reservations about the practice. We all must accept the law of the land, but forcing dissenters actually to pay for the procedure is a violation of their most fundamental rights of conscience.


One of the most significant election results received little attention. In a retention (yes-no) election in Iowa, three of the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court were fired by the voters. New ones will now be appointed by the incoming Governor. Since 1962, when the system of retention elections was put in place, no justice has ever lost his seat. This time, however, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Justices David Baker and Michael Streit (the only ones facing the voters this year), all lost by double-digit margins.

It is an activist court. In April 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously found a right to same-sex marriage in the Iowa Constitution, effectively overruling all of Iowa's history as well as a 1998 Iowa statute, the Defense of Marriage Act, that had defined marriage along traditional lines. The decision was completely unexpected, and citizens of Iowa were shocked. Now, nineteen months later, the voters have had their say.

If you happen to read about this in the NYT or the Philadelphia Inquirer or hear about it on CNN, it will undoubtedly be presented as a triumph of knuckle-dragging, homophobic, Midwestern Bible-thumpers and rubes. I don't see it as having much to do with gay marriage, however. I prefer to view it as a demand by Hawkeye Nation that they be governed by law rather than the arrogant whims of elite ideologues.

Decisions like the same-sex ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009, or any of the other such decisions by other Supreme Courts, (or Roe v. Wade, for that matter), are an attack on the rule of law, and without the rule of law, America becomes Somalia. When results-obsessed judges invent doctrines in order to impose their personal beliefs on the rest of us, it is an affront to all freedom-loving people, regardless of how they may feel about gay marriage (or abortion).

Iowa has been a state since 1846, and until a few years ago, it had never occurred to anyone that the Iowa Constitution required that persons of the same sex be permitted to marry each other. The reason it never occurred to anyone is that this requirement is not found in the Iowa Constitution. Yet somehow, all seven justices of the Iowa Supreme Court suddenly decided there is such a requirement and that it has been there, hidden to the citizens of Iowa, for 164 years.

Sometime in the next few years, the citizens in one of our fifty states will vote to permit same-sex marriages, and though some will question the wisdom of that decision, no one will question its legitimacy. THAT'S THE WAY IT'S SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. That's how our Republic works. The people, and their representatives, get to decide on the laws that govern us. That is the democratic process. When that power is taken from us by a few men and women, no matter how intelligent or evolved they may believe themselves to be, we are no longer a nation of law. We join the billions of oppressed people in the world who are instead ruled by the prejudices of their “betters.”