Monthly Archives: March 2007

Amtrak: Slower Than A Bus, More Expensive Than Flying

In Mike’s post about Amtrak, it was suggested in the comments that if we lost passenger rail, we’d be stuck with buses.

So what? They’re far cheaper than Amtrak, and they’ll often get there faster! I wrote the below post back in April 2006 (so the costs might not be up to date), and added a little below this.

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The railroads are tremendously important to this country for shipping goods, but there are much easier and cheaper ways to travel as a passenger.

As a quick test, I looked up train fare from Atlanta to Chicago. Since I regularly travel there to see family, I wanted to see how it compared to airfare. Well, Amtrak doesn’t run a direct route between the two. So a round-trip ticket cost about $380, with a stop each way in Washington, DC. And due to the extra time of those trips, the total travel time was about 30 hours each way.

Compare that to an airline flight. The same trip, by air, costs about $200 and takes about 2 hours each way. Hell, to get to Chicago is only about a 11-12 hour DRIVE, and wouldn’t cost more than about $100 in gas each way. I even checked Greyhound, and it was about a 15-hour trip, at a cost of $130 round-trip.

Of course, I’m sure I can be accused of cherry-picking the data with an Atlanta -> Chicago trip. I’m sure some other routes are more competitive in cost. In all honesty, it was simply the first choice I thought of, as it’s two major cities I’m familiar with for both auto and air travel. But if you’re going to offer intercity travel, without any direct service between the largest city in the Southeast and the largest city in the Midwest, aren’t you shooting yourself in the foot?

It’s very simple. For any long trip, it’s much more worthwhile to fly. For shorter trips, though, it might be profitable and convenient… IN WHICH CASE PRIVATE ENTERPRISE CAN TAKE CARE OF IT. And where rail lines aren’t available, bus service is.

There is absolutely no reason that American taxpayers need to continue wasting money on passenger rail service. If Amtrak can’t get themselves to profitability, it’s time for them to disappear.

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In addition, I tried to run a different experiment. Going 1-way from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Amtrak’s cheapest route takes 74 hours, and came in at $382, traveling through Washington, DC and Chicago, IL in the process. Greyhound takes about 47 hours, and costs $120. By choosing Greyhound, you save an entire day of travel time and over $250.

Lest you think I’m deliberately choosing Atlanta, I decided to pick a one-way trip between Chicago and Los Angeles, one of the few routes where the rail lines are direct. Surely rail is cheaper and much faster than bus service, right? Amtrak is 43 hours, $218. Greyhound is 44 hours, $120. You burn an extra hour (assuming Amtrak is on time, which is rare), and save nearly $100.

Greyhound is more flexible and cheaper than Amtrak. The infrastructure they roll on (the roads) allows for much more freedom of route service than the rail. On most routes, Greyhound will provide more competitive prices and actually get you there faster than Amtrak.

Why do we continue throwing money after passenger rail?

Iraq War Four Years Later (Part Deux)

No commentary because I’m headed out the door, but I thought this poll would make for an interesting counter-point to Doug’s recent post on Iraq.

DESPITE sectarian slaughter, ethnic cleansing and suicide bombs, an opinion poll conducted on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has found a striking resilience and optimism among the inhabitants.

The poll, the biggest since coalition troops entered Iraq on March 20, 2003, shows that by a majority of two to one, Iraqis prefer the current leadership to Saddam Hussein’s regime, regardless of the security crisis and a lack of public services.

The survey, published today, also reveals that contrary to the views of many western analysts, most Iraqis do not believe they are embroiled in a civil war.

Officials in Washington and London are likely to be buoyed by the poll conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB), a respected British market research company that funded its own survey of 5,019 Iraqis over the age of 18.

Of course, there’s the not so nice data as well:

The poll highlights the impact the sectarian violence has had. Some 26% of Iraqis – 15% of Sunnis and 34% of Shi’ites – have suffered the murder of a family member. Kidnapping has also played a terrifying role: 14% have had a relative, friend or colleague abducted, rising to 33% in Baghdad.

There’s more at the link, including the actual numbers from the poll. It’s well worth checking out, if for nothing else than to note the difference between American and Iraqi perceptions of the war. I’m planning on writing more about Iraq, as I’ve had a bit more time open up as of late. In any case, I’m hoping this might help us escape our label as a “lefty libertarian” blog. :-p

Tyranny and the Right to Leave

Brad has written previously on Mugabe cracking skulls and governments restricting their populace’s right to escape. The two have now combined in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe has continued its violent crackdown on dissents after an opposition activist was badly beaten and prevented from leaving the country at Harare International Airport, his colleagues reported Sunday.

The attack on Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) comes amid mounting criticism on the continent and abroad of the government action against opposition activists.

“He was badly beaten this morning whilst he was on his way to the airport by security agents,” said William Bango, a spokesman for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Chamisa had been due to fly out to Belgium for a meeting.

He became the third opposition politician to be blocked from leaving the country this weekend.

On Saturday, state security agents arrested Arthur Mutambara, leader of an MDC breakaway faction, when he tried to leave to South Africa.

Also barred from leaving the country were activists Grace Kwinje and Sekai Holland, who wanted to leave for South Africa for medical attention, after being beaten by security forces last Sunday.

And Arthur Mutambara, leader of the breakaway faction of the MDC, was rearrested on Saturday at Harare International Airport and charged with inciting public violence, his lawyer Harrison Nkomo told AFP Sunday.

Just because it’s happening in a third world nation doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in Britain, or here. Keep that in mind when discussing things like RealID.

The Iraq War Four Years Later

It was four years ago tomorrow night, early in the morning on March 20th Baghdad time, that the Iraq War finally began. After more than a year of build-up, accusations of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda that were later proven to be false, and stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that never existed, it all started with a bomb attack on a bunker where Saddam was believed to be hiding. As would prove to often be the case as the war went on, it turned out that the intelligence indicating that Saddam and his cronies was in the targeted bunker was, in fact, false. In retrospect, it makes you wonder if anything we thought we knew about the Iraqi regime in the days, weeks, and months before March 2003 was even halfway true.

The reasons for going to war, however, are mostly irrelevant at this point. We went there, we’re still there. Now the question is what happens next. According, to the latest CNN poll, the answer the American public wants to hear is that we’re getting the heck out of there:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Americans are starkly less confident and proud of their country’s involvement in Iraq, according to poll results released Sunday.

However, the poll — results of which were released on the eve of the Iraq war’s 4-year anniversary — also indicated that Americans are no more worried about the conflict than they were when it began in March 2003.

The CNN poll of 1,027 adults was conducted March 9-11 by Opinion Research Corp. The sampling error for the poll is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

According to the results, 35 percent of Americans are confident about the war, the poll said. When the war began, 83 percent of Americans expressed confidence in the campaign.

Similarly, 30 percent of those polled this month said they were proud of the war, as opposed to 65 percent who expressed that sentiment in 2003.

The poll also showed that 33 percent of Americans are afraid of the war and 55 percent are worried by it. Those percentages are roughly the same as they were four years ago.

Sunday’s results came on the heels of a Saturday release indicating that years of war had whittled away at Americans’ support for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the Iraq war began, 68 percent of Americans said they felt the situation in the country was worth fighting over. Now, 61 percent of those surveyed say it was not worth invading Iraq, according to the poll.

That survey of 1,027 adults by Opinion Research Corp. was conducted by telephone March 9-11 as well. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll showed that support for the Iraq war had dwindled to 35 percent. In 2004, support for the war was about 56 percent. Last year, the number dipped to 37 percent, and today about 35 percent of Americans say they support the war, according to the poll.

There will be much debate between now and the 2008 election over what the proper course of action in Iraq should be and what happens on the ground between now and then is anyone’s guess.

What seems unlikely at this point, barring a miracle that seems unlikely, is that the war, or at least the Bush Administration’s war policy, will ever regain the support it had when the bombs started falling four years ago. The Bush Administration has nobody to blame for that but itself. Not only was the planning for the war nearly non-existent, which led to the problems we’ve experienced since the troops start movement, but the public was never really prepared for the kind of war that this turned out to be.

In the beginning, most Bush Administration officials, most notably including Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, were telling the public that American troops would be welcoming by the citizens of Iraq and that there would be no need for a long, bloody occupation. Now, it’s entirely possible that they actually believed this, but reports that have come out over the past four years make it clear that there were people in the military warning that the invasion plan itself was flawed and that the planning for a post-invasion occupation was inadequate. Those people were ignored, and the men wearing the rose-colored glasses remained in charge.

In the end, it’s hard to see how things could have turned out any differently than they did.

George Will On The Parker Case

George Will has a good column up at TownHall.com on the Parker v. District of Columbia, where the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down the District of Columbia’s gun ban based on an individualist interpretation of the Constitution.

As Will points out there is an important similarity between those who would whittle down the right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment and the rights protected by the First Amendment:

When Madison and others fashioned the Bill of Rights, they did not merely constitutionalize — make fundamental — the right to bear arms. They made the Second Amendment second only to the First, which protects the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and worship. They did that because individual dignity and self-respect, which are essential to self-government, are related to a readiness for self-defense — the public’s involvement in public safety. Indeed, 150 years ago this month, in the Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney said that one proof that blacks could not be citizens was the fact that the Founders did not envision them having the same rights that whites have, including the right to “keep and carry arms.”

Increasingly, however, some constitutional scholars and judicial rulings argue that several restraints the Bill of Rights puts on government can be disregarded if the worthiness — as academics or judges assess that — of government’s purposes justifies ignoring those restraints. Erwin Chemerinsky, professor of law and political science at Duke University, argued in The Washington Post last week that even if the Second Amendment is correctly construed as creating an individual right to gun ownership, the D.C. law should still be constitutional because the city had a defensible intent (reducing violence) when it annihilated that right.

Sound familiar? Defenders of the McCain-Feingold law, which restricts the amount, timing and content of political campaign speech, say: Yes, yes, the First Amendment says there shall be “no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” But that proscription can be disregarded because the legislators’ (professed) intent — to prevent the “appearance” of corruption and to elevate political discourse — is admirable.

As Will points out, the Parker case is potentially one of the most important Constitutional cases to reach the Supreme Court in some time. If the Court sustains the Court of Appeals decision and restores the Second Amendment to the place that it belongs, it will have a profound impact on gun laws across the country. If, however, the Court accepts the political expediency arguments of the gun ban’s proponents, then it will have succeeded in denegrating the Second Amendment just as it’s decision upholding the McCain-Feingold law denegrated the First Amendment.

Another Nail In The Coffin For RealID

It looks like the Show-Me State is getting ready to join the growing coalition of states rejecting the RealID idea:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House overwhelmingly voted Thursday to refuse to follow a federal law setting national standards for driver’s licenses.

The federal Real ID Act passed in 2005 after officials learned that some of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists had obtained legitimate driver’s licenses. The law will link state records to a national database and set standard state licensing rules.

Supporters say the standards are needed to prevent terrorists and illegal immigrants from getting fake identification cards.

Rep. Jim Guest said the federal law is an invasion of privacy and could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars to comply. He worries that a provision requiring licenses to contain ‘‘common machine readable technology’’ could result in a Big Brother kind of system with the government able to track a person’s every move through a computer chip.

‘‘We must not lose what this nation was founded upon,’’ said Guest, R-King City. ‘‘The Real ID Act is a direct frontal assault on our freedoms.’’

I’m not sure that any opponent of RealID has put the issue as succintly and simply as Representative Guest did in that quote. All one needs to do is look at what’s going on in Great Britain as Brad reported earlier today to see what the future will be like with a National ID card.

It’s time to stand up and say no.

The Endgame Of RealID and Passport Restrictions

We need only look to Britain. In the name of security, they are pushing for a national ID card; to get the card you must surrender extremely onerous information to the government for whatever nefarious uses they might find.

But don’t worry, the program is optional. If you don’t want to give them the information, you don’t have to. But you’ll never leave Britain again.

It seems that “Big Brother” is gaining ground in Great Britain. Starting in 2009, in order to apply for a passport, Britons will be required to register their fingerprints, facial scans and a host of personal information such as second homes, drivers licenses and insurance policy numbers. If they do this, they will receive a national ID card and then their passport. However, the program is not mandatory. The British government has said that the program is voluntary and that people will be allowed to opt out. However, those that do will be denied receiving a British passport.

Since the program has been proposed one in eight Britons has said that they would refuse to register their personal information with the government. This could mean that up to five million people would be refused the right to travel outside of Great Britain.

Phil Booth, a member of the NO2ID group, said: “The idea that ID cards scheme is voluntary, and people can opt-out, is a joke. There are all sorts of reasons why people need to travel, not just for holidays. There is work, visiting relatives. What are these people supposed to do? It stretches the definition of voluntary beyond breaking point. They will go to any length to get personal information for this huge database. Who knows what will happen to it then?”

The notion that this is a voluntary program comes in since Britons need not receive one of the official ID cards, however in order to receive a passport they will still need to surrender their personal information and pay the full £93 price for an ID card and a passport. So, in spite of the government’s insistence that the program is mandatory, the only way in which Britons will be able to avoid the program entirely is if they never renew or apply for a passport again; this means that those British citizens who refuse to participate for whatever reasons will effectively be compelled to stay in Great Britain for the rest of their lives, unable to leave the island nation for whatever reason.

The right to exit your country as a response to their tyranny is largely seen as fundamental. That right will only exist in Britain until 2009. What happens when they link the same requirements to the RealID they’re proposing here in the USA?

The Broadcast Nannies vs. Jack Bauer

The Parents Television Council is back, and this time they’re gunning for Jack Bauer:

Nipples are so three years ago. Janet Jackson’s 2004 flash at the Super Bowl reawoke the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to decency issues and left producers scouring TV footage for too droopy bathing suits. A few fines and a lot of blurred-out prime-time flesh later, the bare-breast buzz has faded from the headlines.

But don’t relax yet, River City: the guardians of decency are warning about new trouble, with a capital T, which rhymes with V, which stands for violence. The Parents Television Council (PTC), the group at the vanguard of the TV-sex wars, has lately focused on prime-time blood: power-tool torture on 24, serial killing on Criminal Minds, vivisection on Heroes. And the FCC has prepared a draft report suggesting that Congress authorize it to regulate broadcast violence, as it now does obscenity, and possibly force cable companies to let subscribers opt out of paying for channels that run brutal content.

In short, torture is the new sex. Jack Bauer is the new Janet Jackson.

The Great Sexwatch of 2004–05 was an artifact of its political era–remember “values voters”? But so is the violence crusade. Democrats now control Congress, and they get as exercised about violence as conservatives do about sex. Liberal Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia threatened that if broadcasters won’t police violence, “the Federal Government must step up.” If you favor Washington oversight of media, gory TV is your new opportunity area.

Exactly why Senator Rockefeller believes that the government “must step up” is, of course left unstated. But the real need for any government regulation of television just doesn’t exist anymore. Even if such regulation could have been justified in an era where people only had access to a handfull of television stations, and I don’t believe that it was justified even then, the idea that the state needs to step in and regulate the content of television in an era when the average viewer has access to dozens, if not hundreds, of different alternatives is simply absurd. If you don’t like the violence, or sex, or whatever it might be you see on Fox, change the channel.

Your puritinism is not license to regulate what I watch on television.

The FBI Knowingly Violated The Law

A further followup from last week’s story about the FBI’s use of “national security letters” indicates that the FBI’s improper use of these data collection techniques went on even while it’s own lawyers were expressing concern that the law was not being followed:

FBI counterterrorism officials continued to use flawed procedures to obtain thousands of U.S. telephone records during a two-year period when bureau lawyers and managers were expressing escalating concerns about the practice, according to senior FBI and Justice Department officials and documents.

FBI lawyers raised the concerns beginning in late October 2004 but did not closely scrutinize the practice until last year, FBI officials acknowledged. They also did not understand the scope of the problem until the Justice Department launched an investigation, FBI officials said.

Under pressure to provide a stronger legal footing, counterterrorism agents last year wrote new letters to phone companies demanding the information the bureau already possessed. At least one senior FBI headquarters official — whom the bureau declined to name — signed these “national security letters” without including the required proof that the letters were linked to FBI counterterrorism or espionage investigations, an FBI official said.

The flawed procedures involved the use of emergency demands for records, called “exigent circumstance” letters, which contained false or undocumented claims. They also included national security letters that were issued without FBI rules being followed. Both types of request were served on three phone companies.

Or, to put it another way, the FBI was violating the law, they knew they were violating the law, and they did it anyway. Now don’t you feel safer ?

A Litigator For Liberty

Today’s Washington Post has a profile of Robert Levy, the lead attorney in the case against the District of Columbia’s gun law:

Meet the lawyer who conceived the lawsuit that gutted the District’s tough gun-control statute this month. Meet the lawyer who recruited a group of strangers to sue the city and bankrolled their successful litigation out of his own pocket.

Meet Robert A. Levy, staunch defender of the Second Amendment, a wealthy former entrepreneur who said he has never owned a firearm and probably never will.

“I don’t actually want a gun,” Levy said by phone last week from his residence, a $1.7 million condominium in a Gulf Coast high-rise. “I mean, maybe I’d want a gun if I was living on Capitol Hill. Or in Anacostia somewhere. But I live in Naples, Florida, in a gated community. I don’t feel real threatened down here.”

He is 65, a District native who left the city 40 years ago for Montgomery County, a self-made millionaire who thinks the government interferes too much with people’s liberties. He was an investment analyst before he sold his company for a fortune and enrolled in law school at age 49. Now he’s a constitutional fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, working in his luxury condo 1,000 miles away.

It was his idea, his project, his philosophical mission to mount a legal challenge to the city’s “draconian” gun restrictions, which are among the toughest in the nation. The statute offends his libertarian principles, Levy said. And it is entirely his money behind the lawsuit that led a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to strike down the statute this month, a ruling that stunned D.C. officials and gun-control advocates. The city said it will appeal the decision.

Although one of the Plaintiff’s in the case is Tom Palmer of the Cato Institute, the lawsuit was largely Levy’s idea, financed with his own money and done on his own time. Why ? Because the law violates his principles and he wanted to change it:

To Levy the libertarian, though, the effectiveness of the law — its success or failure in curbing crime — isn’t the core issue. What matters most to him is whether the statute unjustly infringes on personal liberties. He doesn’t dispute that “reasonable” gun controls are permissible under the Second Amendment. But the District’s law amounts to “an outright prohibition,” Levy said, and “that offends my constitutional sensibilities.”

So he opened his wallet and did something about it.

And the rest, as they say, is history, with the final chapter waiting to be written by the Justices of the United States Supreme Court.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think of Levy as a modern-day version of the Founding Fathers. He saw a law that he disagreed with, a law that didn’t even impact him since he didn’t live in the District and doesn’t like guns, and he did something to change it. It’s nice to know there are still people like that around.

Hugo Chavez Continues To Defy Common Sense

Hugo Chavez must have it in mind to violate every law of economics in the book. Price controls, nationalization, and now demonetization:

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 17 — Of all the startling measures announced by President Hugo Chávez this year, from the nationalization of major utilities to threats of imprisonment for violators of price controls, none have baffled economists quite like his venture into monetary reform.

First, Mr. Chávez said the authorities would remove three zeroes from the denomination of the currency, the bolívar. Then he said the new bolívar, worth 1,000 old bolívars, would be renamed the “bolívar fuerte,” or strong bolívar.

Finally, at the behest of Mr. Chávez, the central bank said this week that it would reintroduce a 12.5-cent coin, a symbol of Venezuela’s prosperity in the 1960s and 1970s before freewheeling oil booms ended in abrupt devaluations, after three decades out of circulation.

Moves like this, of course, are common when countries are dealing with out of control inflation. Instead of dealing with the root causes of the problem, which would require a dictator like Chavez to abandon his ambitious/insane plans for Venezuela’s future, you simply change the monetary system and hope people will forget that the food they bought for 28,000 bolivars last week is the same as the food they’re buying for 28 “new bolivars” this week.

And it would appear that at least some people realize this:

The decisions to rename the currency and reintroduce the unusual coin, known here as the locha, a term thought to derive from an anachronistic practice of dividing monetary units into eighths, have dumbfounded many Venezuelans. More than a third of the country’s population of 26 million is under age 18, with no memory of the coin, which stopped circulating in the 1970s.

“I think that it’s cheap psychology,” said Jhonny Márquez, a manager at a transportation company. “I don’t believe the inflation will go down.”

Still, Mr. Chávez, 52, waxes nostalgic about the coin. Citing “the respect Venezuela’s economy has around the world” in a transmission of his television talk show this month in which he announced the coin’s return, Mr. Chávez said, “We’re going to end monetary instability in Venezuela.”

Yea, sure you are.

The Government Will Pay Your Mortgage!

At least, that’s the best I can decipher from this news:

The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to look into the crisis in the subprime section of the U.S. mortgage market, said Chairman Christopher Dodd.

Dodd announced the date of the hearing on Friday, a day after he said the committee would meet next week.

In a statement, the Connecticut Democrat said “predatory lending practices” endangered home ownership for millions of people. “As chairman, I will use all the powers and tools at my disposal to keep families victimized by predatory loans in their homes and ensure that America’s dream of home ownership remains alive,” said Dodd.

Hmm, I think those predatory practices actually enabled millions of people to purchase their homes, evidenced by a 70% home ownership rate in this country. In fact, it enabled too many people to purchase their homes, because it enabled some people to purchase homes they can’t really afford. Nor does Dodd understand the nature of the subprime crisis, because the defaults don’t hurt the millions of homeowners who got a loan they actually CAN afford because of relaxed lending standards, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to purchase a home. Who the crisis hurts are the shareholders of those subprime lenders, the shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and people who owned homes but used these lending practices to trade up into houses that they can’t afford. The people who didn’t have a house and are defaulting now? They were given a chance to get into home ownership, and now they go back to renting, so minus the credit ding, they’re not that much worse off.

So what exactly is Dodd going to do? Is he going to find a way to take those people who couldn’t afford their homes and give them some sort of money in order so they can keep them? Is Dodd going to use the federal government to pay their mortgages? Or is he going to set up an empty-headed panel that will bring up the subprime CEO’s in order to lambast them publicly, and then not do anything? I’m guessing the latter.
» Read more

Police Arrest 7-Year-Old — Including Fingerprints & Mug Shot

What did this little hellion do? Murder a fellow child? Burn down the elementary school? Nope…

He rode a dirtbike on the sidewalk.

Police in the eastern state of Maryland arrested a 7-year-old boy and hauled him to jail, where his mug shot and fingerprints were taken on a charge of riding a motorbike on a sidewalk.

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore police department told AFP that the incident, which has sparked controversy, took place on Tuesday after a police officer noticed the boy riding the dirt bike.

“The officer confiscated the bike and it was towed while the 7-year-old boy was taken into custody and transported to juvenile booking,” said the spokeswoman, who did not want her name used.

Wow, I feel safer.

I hope this kid learned his lesson. No, I don’t ask that he learns a lesson about not flouting the law. I hope he has learned the true nature of government.

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficial. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

When our government will blindly arrest, fingerprint, and book a 7-year-old in the name of “safety”, perhaps our government needs a little reminder that they’re here to serve us, not control us.

Predicted But Unplanned-For Consequences Of New Passport Rules

January 1, 2007, marked a change. For the first time, you are now required to show a passport on flights to and from Canada and Mexico. Want to hop down to Cancun for spring break? Show your papers! This will be extended in 2008, when you need your passport in order to drive across the border as well.

What, you might ask, would be the effect of doing this? Well, one would think that it would greatly increase the demand for passports, and as such our government would be prepared for the increased demand. That, of course, would be assuming intelligent government. Instead we have delays and confusion.

Similar waiting games are being played out at passport processing sites across the country as the State Department wades through an unprecedented crush of passport applications. They are pouring in at more than 1 million per month.

Passport requests usually shoot up this time of year ahead of the busy spring and summer travel season. But the department has been really swamped since the government in late January started requiring U.S. airline passengers — including children — to show a passport upon their return from Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean.

Passport applications filed between October and March are up 44 percent from the same period a year ago, the department told lawmakers this week. In February alone, applications were up 25 percent.

Because of the glut, it could take 10 weeks instead of the usual six to process routine applications, according to the department. And expedited requests, which cost an extra $60 on top of the normal $97 fee, could take four weeks instead of two.

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this was going to happen. In a country where only about 20-25% of the population have passports, changing a rule such as this would likely result in many people who have never needed a passport to get one. Back when I was married in 2003, my wife and I went to the Bahamas without a passport. My wife is just getting hers now (because we will be flying to Mexico in May), and I wouldn’t have needed one since except for a few overseas business trips in 2004 and 2005. We’re relatively experienced travelers, but simply didn’t need passports before. Now we’re waiting as the weeks go by, hoping her passport arrives by mid-May.

Now, I’m not going to let people off the hook for not getting their passports in time. The linked AP story is full of tear-jerking stories about people who are in danger of not being able to fly out of the country because their passports are delayed. One of the themes of each story are that these are ordinary people leaving on vacations and other planned excursions. Yes, passports may be taking 10 weeks instead of the usual six. Some of these people have waited until the last minute (as my wife has done, since she put off the passport application from October until January, but luckily is still well outside the 10-week window). There’s a story about a boy going to Israel for his Bar Mitzvah. That trip has likely been planned for months. One lady had sent in her renewal application a mere 4 weeks before her planned travel, and is shocked that it’s not processed yet. From the standpoint of an journalist, hoping to tug at readers’ heartstrings, it makes sense to downplay the personal responsibility angle. But some of these people simply waited too long, and it’s their own fault for doing so.

But what about our government? They had to think that there would be an enormous influx of passport applications. Why weren’t they staffed to handle this? They say they’ll be increasing their staff, but it looks like too-little, too-late to me:

The State Department said it is working overtime to handle the load and hopes to have an additional 400 passport adjudicators by the end of next year.

Did you hear that? “By the end of next year”. That’s December 2008. By then, all the rush will have gone away, because the proposed rules about travel to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean will have been in force long enough for most regular travelers to those places to have already applied for their passport. So they’ll have offices full of people with very little work to do. Good work, government! Way to respond to the needs of your constituents!

This is what happens when you put decisions into the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats. In the name of security, the government decides that American citizens entering the country from certain oft-traveled countries will now need to show their passport. Then, when the new rules create an “unprecedented” rise in the number of passport applications received, they act shocked! They make rules without preparing for the consequences, and it’s the people who have to suffer through delays, while government bureaucrats are getting paid overtime.

White House Opposes D.C. Vote Bill

The White House Made it fairly clear yesterday that it opposes the latest effort to give the District of Columbia a vote on the house floor:

The White House declared its opposition yesterday to a bill that would give the District its first full seat in the House of Representatives, saying it is unconstitutional, and a key Senate supporter said such concerns could kill the measure.

“The Constitution specifies that only ‘the people of the several states’ elect representatives to the House,” said White House spokesman Alex Conant. “And D.C. is not a state.”

He declined to say whether President Bush would veto the bill, but the White House appeared to be sending a message to Congress just as momentum for the measure was building. It cleared two House committees this week, and the Democratic leadership has vowed to pass it on the House floor next week.

The bill seeks to increase the House permanently to 437 seats, from 435. In a bipartisan compromise, one seat would go to the overwhelmingly Democratic District, which has a nonvoting delegate in the House. The other would go to the next state in line to pick up a seat based on the 2000 Census: Utah, which leans Republican.

Several Republican House members assailed the bill this week, noting that the Constitution reserves representation for residents of states, not districts. Supporters countered with a section of the Constitution known as the “District Clause,” which gives Congress sweeping powers over the city. Legal scholars have disagreed over who is right.

The bill’s advocates knew that the White House had constitutional concerns. But Conant said the White House hadn’t formally opposed the bill until it had cleared the Judiciary Committee on Thursday and was headed for the House floor. “We had not taken a position until after the committee vote,” he said.

The White House’s position, of course, is, as I wrote earlier this week, completely correct. Furthermore, the idea that the District Clause somehow supersedes the Constitution’s clear requirement that only state’s have the right to have a vote in Congress is just absurd.

Despite the clear Constitutional problems with this bill, it made it through the House Judiciary Committee and will clearly succeed in a full vote on the House floor. It’s fate in the Senate, however, is far from certain:

Supporters of the measure have anticipated a difficult fight in the Senate, where few Republicans have embraced it. The bill’s sponsors, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), have pinned their hopes on the Republican senators from Utah, believing they could persuade colleagues to pass it.

But both Utah senators indicated yesterday that the bill could be in trouble. A spokeswoman for Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R) said he continues to support it. However, “based on the constitutional concerns raised by the White House and others in Congress, it may be difficult to get the 60 votes to move this bill,” said the spokeswoman, Emily Christensen, referring to the threshold necessary to avoid a filibuster.

If it does, though, the last test will be what the President does. Hopefully, he will have the sense and courage to veto this unconstitutional mess.

Originally Posted at Below The Beltway

New Mexico Approves Medical Marijuana

Thanks to support from Governor Bill Richardson, New Mexico is on the verge of becoming the latest state to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes:

Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, poised to sign a bill making New Mexico the 12th state to legalize medical marijuana, said Thursday that he realizes his action could become an issue in the presidential race.

“So what if it’s risky? It’s the right thing to do,” said Richardson, one of the candidates in the crowded 2008 field. “What we’re talking about is 160 people in deep pain. It only affects them.”

The legislation would create a program under which some patients — with a doctor’s recommendation — could use marijuana provided by the state Health Department. Lawmakers approved the bill Wednesday. The governor is expected to sign it in the next few weeks.

To Richardson’s credit he’s taking a position on this issue that could hurt him in his expected run for the Democratic Presidential nomination

Richardson said he has been asked about the issue by only a few voters while campaigning in Iowa. He said the White House had urged him not to sign the bill.

“I don’t see it as being a big issue,” he said. “This is for medicinal purpose, for … people that are suffering. My God, let’s be reasonable.”

If only the rest of the political leadership were as reasonable.

H/T: Hit & Run

Quote of the Day

It’s been a while since any of us posted a “quote of the day”, so it seemed to be time. And this one is so true, except that it seems more like 8 decades, not 3.

Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.

— Thomas Sowell

We could probably name 10 things without even trying. Maybe the commenters would care to start the list.

Stockholm Syndrome With Government?

Over in a comment at Catallarchy, I came across this from Constant:

To give an example, I am not personally bothered by taxation. I don’t get an adrenaline rush (in a bad way) from taxation, but I do get a bad adrenaline rush from being mugged. My feelings about taxation that I feel each year as April rolls around are about the same as my feelings about paying rent. It’s something I have to do. There’s little point in having strong feelings about something so regular and so inevitable and so I don’t. But my conclusions about taxation are that it is theft. Similarly, if I were taken hostage, I would likely develop Stockholm Syndrome. Feeling warm fuzzy feelings about someone who can and is likely to kill you is a defense mechanism that probably pays off in increasing your chances of survival, by getting him to warm up to you in response. Among most people there is something much like Stockholm Syndrome with respect to the state. People have accepted and even have warm fuzzy feelings about the government, for no other real reason than that the government has got them in its immense power.

Could this explain why so many people, even though they’re regularly faced with evidence that government is full of liars, cheats, and thugs, and can’t do anything right– still think government is good? They’ve been under the boot so long that they’ve grown to feel that there must be a boot on their neck, and they’ll just hope that the wearer doesn’t start adding weight?

Three NYPD Officers Indicted In Sean Bell Case

Back in November, Sean Bell was to death shot by New York City Police Officers on the day of his wedding, today ABC News is reporting that at least three of those officers have been indicted by a Grand Jury:

NEW YORK Mar 16, 2007 (AP)— A grand jury on Friday indicted at least three of the five officers in the 50-shoot barrage that killed an unarmed man on his wedding day, lawyers told The Associated Press.

The lawyers said Marc Cooper, Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver had been indicted, but they did not know the exact charges. The three officers fired the most shots Cooper, 4, Isnora, 11, and Oliver, 31.

“He has been indicted. He has been asked to surrender on Monday,” said Paul Martin, who represents officer Marc Cooper. He did not know what charges were brought against Cooper.

The lawyer for Gerscard Isnora, 28, also said his client was indicted. “He is very upset, but he is confident that once he has his day in court he will be vindicated,” Isnora attorney Philip Karasyk told the AP.

“I am disappointed my client was indicted. But it was not unexpected given the forum we are in,” said Oliver’s lawyer, James Culleton.

It was not immediately known if other officers were also charged.

Full details of the indictments will come out on Monday, but it appears that there may actually be some justice in this case.

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