Feeling Safer Yet?

I travel a lot. I have come to see most of what passes for airport security as a charade, kabuki theater that only gives the illusion of greater security and safety.

On Sunday, new enhanced security measures will be going into effect at many US airports. These measures include use of the new backscatter x-ray machines and enhanced pat-downs of passengers who either refuse to be irradiated or who are flagged for additional attention.

In the report linked above, the security consultant was asked whether these new (very expensive) machines would have detected the explosives in Captain Boomerpants’ manties. The answer was “no”. What would have stopped him was our very expensive, very large security apparatus paying attention to the guy’s own father, who took the time to drop by our embassy and warn us.

We are all familiar with the stated reasons for these new procedures: the 9/11 hijackings and other attempts to destroy passenger aircraft in flight, most notably the shoe bomber and Captain Boomerpants. Both plots failed and both were taken off the aircraft upon arrival and both were somewhat worse for the wear.

Other dangerous acts aboard in-flight aircraft have also resulted in the perpetrators being taken off the aircraft in a condition often significantly worse than when they boarded. (FBI Agent: “What did you people do to this guy?” Passengers: “He fell down the stairs? A lot?”).

Prior to 9/11, airline hijackings were attempted for ransom payments or for “glory of the revolution” where the hijacker wanted to make a political statement by going to Havana. The best way to safeguard the passengers was to just go along with the hijackers and after a couple of days, they would be released. 9/11 was the first that changed that dynamic. The people aboard United 93 figured out that they needed to do something different. Everyone who now flies, especially who fly often, knows that hijackings and other acts of terror must be dealt with quickly and decisively.

This past week reports surfaced in Europe criticizing our airport security measures. In essence, the reports said that our security measures were too elaborate and contained actions that were pointless. Two activities that were specifically mentioned just happen to be two of my personal pet peeves and cause the bulk of the backup at checkpoints: removal of shoes and removing laptops from their bags. I’ll also note that flying back from Europe is insane. You have to go through a security checkpoint at the airport, just like you do here. Then there’s another one at the gate (required for US carriers). Then, after you arrive in the US and go through Passport control & Customs, you have to go through another checkpoint. Going to Europe, you go through security at the main checkpoint only.

I wonder how long it will be before this kind of intrusive search is implemented elsewhere in our society?

Friday Open Comments

The most exciting thing about this election is not that the Republicans will sweep the House and maybe even take the Senate. We’ve known that for a while. And I remain skeptical they’ve actually gotten the message conservatives have sent them. With Boehner and possibly McConnell in charge I won’t be surprised to see business as usual a la 2001-2007. At least we’ll have divided government and Obama’s all-out march towards European-style socialism will be checked.

No, the most exciting thing is watching bellicose and clueless Nobel prize winners turn into banshees:

This is going to be terrible. In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness.

And this from the man that routinely accuses Republicans of fear-mongering. He ends his FUD-filled rant with a dire warning:

So if the elections go as expected next week, here’s my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Yes it’s going to be an exciting Tuesday night!

Thursday Open Comments

Victor Davis Hanson talks of American Groupspeak:

Don’t discuss the deficit. Instead, call borrowing “stimulus.” Trillions are not much different from billions.

Keep silent about Social Security and Medicare. If the system is insolvent, it cannot be because we are living longer, retiring earlier, often taking out more than we paid into the pot, abusing disability provisions, or facing an aging and soon-to-be-shrinking population. Instead, rail at fat cats who need to pay more payroll taxes, and at wasteful programs like defense that can be cut to ensure more for the elderly and needy.

Most Americans choose to be called “cowards” by Attorney General Eric Holder rather than accept his invitation to talk about race on his terms.

Closing the border is a taboo subject. Also taboo is the phrase “illegal alien.” Speak instead about the need for social justice, not the enforcement of mere laws. Illegal aliens broke no real law when enticed northward by greedy employers.

There are many others. When you collectively look at the sheer number of subjects that are now taboo you realize how damaging Obama’s brand of cultural Marxism has been to our national dialogue. We can most likely expect a good tongue-lashing next Wednesday:

We do not quite know how Americans will vote next week, in part because citizens fear to talk openly about their concerns and instead employ groupspeak. We suspect that in the privacy of the voting booth, they may prove angrier and more frustrated than we think.

But why not, when they know that candor and honesty can earn a presidential lecture, a job firing or a lawsuit?

Is Decriminalization Really the Answer?

Driving up to Dallas gave me some time to think. Would legalizing drugs really accomplish all that our libertarian friends think, or are they just living in a dreamworld?

Let’s establish the status quo. Marijuana is currently illegal to cultivate, possess, and consume to varying degrees across the US, except in very narrowly-defined instances.

Alcoholic beverages were once illegal in the US in much the same way as marijuana is now. This is widely regarded as a complete failure, as alcohol consumption was simply driven underground. Alcoholic beverages were readily available, provided my numerous criminal gangs that sprang up during Prohibition.

Marijuana legalization proponents point to this as evidence that criminalizing marijuana cannot work because, like alcohol, it is relatively easy for fairly inexperienced people to produce. They also point to the violent drug gangs that provide marijuana distribution to those who wish to consume it.

Given the above, let’s try to conduct a thought experiment. Let’s assume that marijuana is legalized to the Federal level; possession of virtually any amount is now legal, as is consumption and cultivation. Let’s place a bit of restriction on it, though. Let’s tax it and regulate its production and distribution in a way similar to that of alcoholic beverages.

Note that legalization by a single state would open up a big can of worms and make things much worse than decriminalizing at the national level. Marijuana from such a state would already be in the country and would “enjoy” a much greater freedom of movement. This would likely make the cartels stronger, because they would only need to concern themselves with “turf” and would not need to concern themselves with the problems inherent in crossing a national boundary.

I did a bit of research not too long ago on what it would take to produce and market alcoholic beverages. To say the process is Byzantine would be like saying getting a building permit in NY City is a simple and quick process. It would also be very expensive to pay for the Federal and State licenses. These fees would have been multiples of the revenues I might have expected.

This leads me to believe that there would be some growers who would pay the taxes and fees out of necessity in order to be able to sell their product in medicinal “clinics” and in boutiques where the marijuana would be marketed and sold like wine (“I’d like some Humboldt County Chronic and some Shasta Silver Haze”). It also leads me to believe that much would remain in the black (or gray) market (Tijuana Ditch Weed). Marijuana aficionados don’t tend toward strict following of rules. This is quite in line with current alcohol production and consumption patterns; alcoholic beverages in stores are marketed like other consumer goods and have had taxes and fees paid. Bootleggers are also still very active.

The upshot of all this is that revenue assumptions are probably very overoptimistic.

Now, where would this leave our friends in the cartels? I doubt that they’d all say “Well guys, we had a good run. Let’s go home now.” They will want to find something else to pursue, just like the booze gangs did when Prohibition was ended. The Mafia ended up in drugs (natch), prostitution, gambling, civic corruption via the unions, and still other new lines of business. It’s safe to assume they won’t suddenly turn to opening hardware stores, getting into IT, manufacturing toasters or radios, or anything else so benign.

As I see it, the so-called War on Drugs is unsuccessful partly because of the difficulties inherent in eliminating production and consumption of a product that is easy to produce by many people. The remaining difficulty is due to our lackadaisical attitude toward securing our borders (lots of marijuana comes in from British Columbia). This attitude has been discussed at length by all of us here. If our borders were actually secure, we’d at least reduce the effects of the Mexican (and other foreign) cartels.

Maybe the answer is some form of decriminalization done in concert with securing the borders.

If you want to participate, you must back up your assertions with some rational, logical argument. Simply asserting that marijuana is addictive and therefore must be eradicated off the face of the Earth needs to be backed up with how you might go about doing it. Likewise, asserting that the “War on Drugs” is an expensive and ineffective boondoggle needs to be supported with some discussion about the side effects of actually ending it and how we’d deal with the second and higher order effects of such an act. Cherry-picking articles alone doesn’t cut it either.

Note that I am only considering marijuana here. I am not in any way talking about hard drugs (e.g., methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, etc.). We’ll talk about that another time.

Required Reading for Your College-Bound Kid

Texpat forwarded me a link I thought I’d share.  One of the biggest concerns I hear from friends with children heading off to college is that they fear the indoctrination into leftist ideology that seems to be ubiquitous on college campuses nowadays.  Some folks got together and wrote a book about it – Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.  Here’s a description from Amazon:

Every year, thousands of young Catholics leave their homes for higher education at our nation s colleges and universities. Very few realize, however, that from orientation day onward, they will be indoctrinated with a vision of reality that is very different from the values their families hold dear. Sadly, many of our young people will fall prey to one or more of the dominant ideologies engrained in their college education, ideologies that can lead them away from the Church and, ultimately, their faith in God. Students who are not taught how to think critically or who lack the tools needed to sift through the logic of these positions are easily swayed by the smooth sophistry of the intellectual elite.

For this reason, fourteen of the top Catholic writers in America professors, priests, journalists, philosophers, and theologians have come together to dissect the trendy ideas that can lead young Catholics away from the Church. Disorientation is intellectual ammunition for every college student and parent, as it breaks down the history, analyzes the appeal, and debunks the empty promises of such wildly popular errors as:

Hedonism
Relativism
Progressivism
Modernism
Scientism
Fundamentalism
Feminism
Multiculturalism
…and more.

Looking at the list above it may be suitable for any person of faith, not just Catholics.

Minnesota Democrat Party says Catholic Church Ignores the Poor

There are some justified criticisms that can be leveled at the Catholic Church.  Ignoring the poor is most certainly not one of them.  Unless you’re the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.  The DFL is the Minnesota arm of the national Democrat Party.  Their political ad comes in the form of a postcard depicting a man dressed as a priest wearing a button that reads “Ignore the Poor”. From Gateway Pundit:

For the record… The Catholic Charities network is the nation’s fourth largest non-profit, according to The NonProfit Times. The combined revenue of the Catholic Charities network from all sources, public and private, was $2.69 billion in 2000. Nearly 90 percent of these funds were spent on programs and services, making the Catholic Charities network one of the country’s most efficient charities. Today, the Catholic Charities network — more than 1,600 local agencies and institutions nationwide — provide help, sometimes with government funding, and create hope for 6,597,998 in 2003, regardless of religious, social, or economic backgrounds thanks to the dedication of more than 51,000 staff and 175,000 volunteers.

For 2000 years countless numbers of Catholic priests, religious orders, and other laity have devoted their lives to helping the poor.  Many take vows of poverty themselves. To suggest that the Church ignores the poor is simply absurd.  How any thinking person can, in good conscience, vote for a candidate endorsed by this organization is incomprehensible.  Any candidate endorsed by this organization who doesn’t immediately repudiate this reprehensible mailer should be called out by Minnesotans.  I don’t expect either to happen.

Update: According to this article the ad wasn’t directed at any church, but at Dan Hall, a candidate for the state senate:

When viewed in full (PDF here), the Democratic mailer — 10,000 went out in the 40th senate district — is clearly a blast at Hall for what it says was his support for Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s decision to reject $1 billion in federal aid for health care for the poor and elderly. “Preacher Dan Hall protects politicians — not the poor,” it reads.

I ain’t buying it. Hall is a Pentecostal preacher. They don’t wear Roman collars. In another ad against Hall they use a photo of what can only be a Catholic or Orthodox Church.

Gibson attempts to further explain it away:

In fact, the other side of the mailer notes that while the Catholic Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul and the state’s Lutheran Synod both objected to the health care funding decision, Hall — a volunteer chaplain at the state senate who attends a Pentecostal-affiliated megachurch called River Valley — did not speak out.

Uh, no it doesn’t. The other side of the mailer notes that “leaders of the faith community” objected to the decision. It makes no mention of the Catholic Archdiocese or the Lutheran Synod.

In my opinion, the Minnesota DFL saw a perfect opportunity to bash “Preacher Dan” while not-so-subtly disparage the Catholic Church.

Wednesday Open Comments

Democrat election strategy: Crank up the Smugness!

THE HILLS are alive with the sound of liberal Democratic contempt for the electorate. So are the valleys, the prairies, and the coasts. For months, voters have been signaling their discontent with the president, his party, and their priorities; in less than a week, they appear poised to deliver a stinging rebuke. Yet rather than address the voters’ concerns with seriousness and respect, too many Democrats and their allies on the left have chosen instead to slur those voters as stupid, extremist, or too scared to think straight.