Civil Liberties



Why Won’t Obama Curb the TSA?

Published April 29th, 2011 by tcarpenter

The Transportation Security Administration’s outrages against air travelers reached new heights earlier this month with the (very) thorough pat-down of six-year-old Anna Drexel at the New Orleans airport.  Not only did that action violate common sense, it violated common decency.  The girl’s parents caught the horrific incident on their cell phone video camera, and it immediately went viral on the internet.   After being subjected to what one critic later described as the “freedom fondle,” Anna burst into tears.  That was hardly a surprise.  She had been told repeatedly by her parents and teachers that it was wrong, wrong, wrong for any stranger to touch her in her private places.  Anyone, that is, except arrogant, thuggish bureaucrats working for the TSA.  Talk about mixed messages!

Angry members of Congress have introduced legislation to bar such procedures on young children in the future.  But why should legislation be needed to end the practice–and the TSA’s other offenses against the basic civil liberties of the American people?  The TSA is an agency of the executive branch.  President Obama is the head of the executive branch.  He could order an end to all such abuses with the stroke of his pen on an executive order.  Why has he not done so?  His failure on this issue is just the latest piece of evidence that all of his  rhetoric about “hope and change” in the 2008 presidential campaign was just that–empty rhetoric.  

Decent Americans have had more than enough of the TSA’s airport security theater–useless and obnoxious intrusions on our civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism.   If President Obama is too timid or uncaring to rein-in this rogue agency, Congress should do it without further delay.

Republicans: Federalism For Me But Not For Thee

Published October 30th, 2010 by tcarpenter

One interesting feature of the debate over Proposition 19 in California, which would legalize the possession of marijuana, is the curious position many Republican leaders have taken.  Members of the GOP supposedly want as many policies as possible decided at the state and local level.  They complain loudly about an overbearing federal government that runs roughshod over the wishes of people in the various states.  At Republican gatherings, such phrases as “states rights” and “federalism” make frequent appearances.

But the attitude regarding Proposition 19 is strikingly different.  Republican leaders such as Texas Representative Joe Barton insist that if the measure passes, the federal government should strongly enforce federal laws against marijuana inside California.  In other words, Barton and his cohorts are perfectly willing to disregard the wishes of California voters and trample on their new, liberalized law.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time that Republicans have displayed such inconsistency about “states rights.”  Overwhelmingly, they push to overide state laws or state court decisions legalizing gay marriage.  Again, they apparently have no problem invoking federal supremacy when it suits their policy preferences.

And it’s a long-standing pattern.  When Congress moved in the 1980s to establish a national minimum drinking age of 21, brazenly negating the wishes of states that had established 18 or some other lower age limit, the Republican congressional delegation split down the middle.  A major faction was willing to okay a measure whereby Washington blackmailed states into approving the 21-year-old threshold or lose a sizable portion of their federal highway funds.  Yet Republicans routinely screamed whenever Washington used that tactic to force state compliance regarding other matters. 

The GOP standard seems all too clear.  Republicans love states rights when they’re confident that voters at the state level will adopt policies conservatives favor.  But to Hell with states rights and federalism if those misguided voters might approve policies–especially social policies–that conservatives abhor.

There is a word for such a blatant double standard.  It’s called hypocrisy.

School Hair Police At It Again

Published September 14th, 2010 by tcarpenter

There is yet another story about a school district giving an in-school suspension to a boy for daring to have long hair.  And once again it’s in Texas, this time in the town of Itasca.  (There really must be something in the water in the Lone Star State.)

In this case, the authorities have suspended the sixth-grade boy, Kenneth Fails, for 14 weeks, apparently directing him do little but look at a wall all day.  His furious mother, Marsha Wisnosky, confronted the school board last night.  Their reaction?  Dead silence.  They would not respond to her complaints, the arguments she presented, or her request for a policy change.  They were the perfect symbol of an arrogant public school  bureaucracy.  How dare a mere peon parent criticize how they run their school system!

This case and others like it confirm the need for school vouchers or a program of school tax credits to produce a robust system of private schools.  As it now stands, about the only people who can send their children to private schools are the affluent or those affiliated with churches willing to provide a big subsidy.  The government-run schools (aka public schools) operate the way you would expect any protected monopoly to operate–with inefficiency, lack of innovation, and pervasive arrogance.

A robust private school system in competition with the government-run schools would enable parents like Wisnosky to have choices.  She could find a school that didn’t regard hair length on boys as more important than academics.  And parents who want their sons to look like Marine recruits could send their kids to authoritarian schools with strict dress and grooming codes.

The current arrangement denies the element of choice to most people.  Instead, we have a “one size fits all” model.  If pro-skinhead families are in the majority in your school district, your preferences simply get trampled.  Doesn’t sound very American, does it?

Ground Zero “Mosque” Opposition: Some Thoughts

Published August 29th, 2010 by tcarpenter

I haven’t weighed-in on the “ground zero mosque” controversy before, although some of my colleagues at the Cato Institute have done so on both sides of the issue.  However, the tone of the opposition to the building of the mosque (actually a multi-functional Islamic cultural center) makes me increasingly uneasy.  

First of all, while most opponents of the Cordoba House project acknowledge that there is a legal right to buid the center, and insist that their objection to it is based solely on the lack of “decency” of erecting a symbol of Islam on that site, their actions often belie such assurances.  After all, the initial action  that opponents took was to try to get the New York City government to deny a building permit.   That didn’t exactly show respect for the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment.

Second, opponents almost always stress the “hallowed ground” aspect of the proposed site for the center–some 2 1/2 blocks from ground zero.   But there are several problems with that argument.  Most notably, there are already two other (smaller) mosques and several other religious buildings in the immediate area–not to mention shops, restaurants, and porno outlets.  Do opponents of the new Cordoba House want those structures to be bulldozed?  They don’t appear to advocate that step.  So why the outrage over this project?

Third, while some of the opposition to the building of Cordoba House reflects genuine anguish on the part of people who lost friends or relatives on 9-11, and for whom the sight of a major Islamic center so close to ground zero would be a cause of further pain, there is something much broader–and uglier–at work.  The “proximity to ground zero” argument does not explain why there have been equally virulent campaigns against proposed mosques and other Islamic structures in such places as Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida, and Virginia.  What’s the justification in those cases?  Proximity to the Grand Old Opry, Lambeau Field, the Manassas battlefield, and Disney World?  No, those campaigns reveal an underlying religious bigotry.  Muslims may be the latest targets of that intolerance, but they’re hardly the only ones.  In earlier periods, Jews, Mormons, and other religious minorities experienced similar discrimination.

Finally, those who spew vitriol in response to the Cordoba House project need to understand that they are playing with social and foreign policy dynamite.  Contrary to some hawks who would like nothing better than a holy war against Islam, the United States is not at war with all Muslims.  We are at war with a small faction of radical Muslims.  But moderate Muslims in the United States and around the world are watching the Cordoba House controversy.  And some moderate Muslims are already being radicalized because of their anger at the opposition to that project.

Critics need to understand that an ill-advised position on this issue could help lead to a disastrous self-fulfilling prophecy in which most Muslims, both here and abroad, do end up hating the United States and becoming mortal enemies of this country.  The consequences of that kind of religious war are too horrible to contemplate.  Even those Americans who do not like many of the values put forth by Islam, and I count myself among them, need to stand up for the principle of religious tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.  That is both the prudent thing to do and the morally right thing to do.

Security Gestapo Strikes Again

Published June 25th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Just when you think that the guardians of airport security, the TSA (Terminally Stupid Agency), can’t get any more obnoxious in the way that it treats hapless airline passengers, along comes this little gem.  The arrogant TSA bureaucrats have now moved beyond frisking grandmothers and small children as possible terrorists and are now humiliating amputees as part of the airport screening process.  Ah, our tax dollars at work.  Our civil liberties RIP.

Death of Common Sense: More School Episodes

Published May 25th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Yes, our zealous educational bureaucrats are at it again.  This time, yet another school in Texas imposed a bizarre, one-week suspension on an elementary school student.  Her offense?  Possession of a Jolly Rancher’s candy that a friend had given her.  It seems the healthy food police insist that possession of such evil contraband was a blatant violation of the rules and could not go unpunished.  

Now, I love Texas.  My wife and I lived in the state for 14 years in the 1970s and 1980s, and we plan to have our primary retirement home there.  But after this latest incident, I was beginning to wonder if there was something in the water supply that was causing Texans to lose all semblance of good judgment.  (It could also explain why they inflicted both Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush on the nation.)

It soon became apparent, though, that the loss of common sense is not unique to Texas schools.  School administrators in Georgia suspended an autistic student for drawing a stick figure gun with a caption that implied he would like to shoot his teacher.  Not only did he receive a suspension, he now faces possible felony charges.  Although the child is 14 years old, his parents and others insist that he has the mental capacity of a third grader.  Nice way to show compassion and a sense of proportion, Georgia bureaucrats.

My Least Favorite Cheney

Published March 7th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Vice President Dick Cheney always impressed me as the most dangerous and vicious member of the Bush administration.  He seemed to regard war as the answer to every foreign policy problem, and his contempt for the Constitution and civil liberties was legendary.

But his daughter, Liz Cheney, seems determined to outdo her father with respect to both of those repulsive attitudes.  She is fast becoming my least favorite Cheney.

Her organization, which has become a prominent lobbyist for war with Iran, has now taken dead aim at supposed terrorist sympathizers in the Obama administration.   Television ads are now running attacking the president for appointing officials to the Justice Department who had previously served as defense counsels–or even just peripheral members of defense teams–for accused terrorist suspects.  Smearing those attorneys as the “Al Qaeda Seven,” the ad implies that such legal work should disqualify them from appointments to office.

That is a “guilt by association” attack that would have made Senator Joseph McCarthy (who was notorious for such tactics) blush.  And it is an especially ugly tactic in this case.  Lawyers are expected to be willing to defend even odious individuals, and they routinely do so.  That is part of the code of their profession.  It is appallingly unfair to hold that duty against them, much less to imply that they endorse the values of those individuals.  Moreover, just because someone is accused  of being a terrorist does not necessarily mean that the person is one.  That’s why our justice system requires fair trials–and defense attorneys.

If the logic of Liz Cheney and her cohorts was correct, John Adams, America’s second president, should have been disqualified from ever holding any office of trust.  After all, he was the defense lawyer for the British Redcoats involved in the Boston Massacre.  Got an acquittal, too.  Wonder what Liz and her smear artists have to say about that episode?

The good news is that decent conservatives have rebuked Cheney for her odious tactics.  People should not have their patriotism or integrity impugned because they uphold the core principles of our legal system.  That she would do so says all we need to know about Liz Cheney and her neoconservative associates.

Do All School Bureaucrats Lack Common Sense?

Published February 5th, 2010 by tcarpenter

The good people of New York City have been saved from a pint-size criminal.  It seems that Patrick Timoney, a fourth grade student at PS 52, dared to bring a weapon to school.  That weapon was a 2-inch plastic gun from his Lego set.  The PS 52 principal lectured young Patrick about the evil nature of his offense and threatened him with suspension.

Now, one might simply write-off this incident as the over-reaction of one school bureaucrat, except that a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education subsequently defended the action.  She stressed that the district had a “zero tolerance” policy for weapons, real or toy, brought on school grounds.  Apparently the district also has a zero common sense policy.   Anyone with an IQ above room temperature should be able to tell that a two-inch Lego is not a weapon. 

And these people are paid to educate our children?

More Idiocy From the TSA

Published January 16th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Just when you think the “security” measures at the airports can’t get any more absurd, along comes this gem.  It seems that the latest terrorist suspect is an 8-year-old Cub Scout, Michael “Mikey” Hicks.   The practitioners of security theater (taking highly visible measures to make travelers feel safer without actually making them safer) are alert to the dire menace that he poses.  They might have failed to stop the underwear bomber from getting on the plane, despite numerous warning signals, but they’re not about to ignore this lethal threat.  Little Mikey is on their watch list, and they subject the poor kid to a pat down whenever he and his parents try to fly.  Apparently, he has the same name as a real terror suspect.  But wouldn’t you think that reasonably intelligent adults could figure out that an 8-year-old is not the person they’re looking for?  Oh, wait… we’re talking about the TSA, where no intelligent adults need apply.

More Hair Micromanagement in Texas

Published January 12th, 2010 by tcarpenter

An update to last month’s decision by a school board in Mesquite, Texas to impose an in-school suspension on a four-year-old boy for the heinous crime of having long hair.  You can always count on bureaucrats, especially public school bureaucrats, to stick to a dumb policy no matter how much the evidence mounts that it’s a dumb policy.  True to form, the educational bureaucrats in Texas have offered a “compromise” to the parents of young Taylor Pugh, the miscreant who insists on maintaining a long hair style.  They can braid his hair–as long as the braids don’t come past his ears.

How a boy with braids is less of a “distraction” in the classroom (the official justification for the suspension) than a boy with long hair, I will leave it up to the Texas hair police to explain.  If this is the best that so-called educators can do with their time, I know a way that the hard-pressed Texas state budget could save some money.  Eliminate those positions and divert back to the state treasury whatever funds are used to pay for them.

Repeat after me: We are not the Taliban.  We should not try to dictate hair styles.