Monthly Archives: April 2009

It’s time to replace Janet Napolitano with Andrew Napolitano

Over at the Examiner, I’ve written an article which calls for DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to be fired and replaced by Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano.  Here’s why Janet should pack her bags:

Considering the timing of the actual release of the report, it seems that law enforcement was being provided a message from the White House to be on lookout for hundreds of thousands of Americans participating in Tea Parties across the nation on April 15th.  While national political journalist Robert Stacy McCain may have been the first to the note the connection between Tea Parties and the Homeland Security Document, other local bloggers have recognized the coincidence as well.

Here’s why Andrew is more than qualifed for the new job:

If I had to make a pick about which Napolitano serves as Attorney General, I’d choose the one who is equally critical of both political parties, the one who chooses constitutionality over partisanship, and the one who favors civil liberties over politics as normal in DC.

Read the whole article here.

There Is No Stopping Obama

Nine days ago, there was a special election in upstate New York’s 20th Congressional District. This election was billed as the first test for the Obamessiah’s agenda of radically remaking the United States. Unfortunately, his backed candidate appears to have won.

There are still about 600 absentee votes left to be counted and Republican Jim Tedisco hasn’t officially conceded. But the reality is that the special election in New York’s 20th District is essentially over and Democrat Scott Murphy is the victor.

Tedisco only trails Murphy by 401 votes but it’s hard to find many Republicans who think he has any chance of winning. Several leading GOP officials and operatives have already publicly thrown in the towel. Privately, Republican operatives tracking the race admit there aren’t enough GOP votes left for Tedisco to overcome his triple-digit deficit.

The Republican radio silence on the race is revealing. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, who made the special election a national priority for the party, hasn’t commented on the race in nine days. Tedisco’s campaign has also gone dark, with no press releases issued about the election since April 14. All of his campaign staff has returned to work in the state Assembly, and all that’s left is a press secretary on loan from the NRCC and the legal team that’s assisting him during the post-election phase.

Thursday night, Capital News 9 reported that sources tell them Tedisco could concede as early as Friday afternoon.

If there was any serious opposition to Obama and his policies, the GOP would’ve won this seat. Furthermore, Jim Tedisco was a popular state Assemblyman and the man who defeated him, Scott Murphy, was an unknown before this election.

Furthermore, a USA Today/Gallup Poll came out that is nothing but good news for the President.

President Obama’s opening months in the Oval Office have fortified his standing with the American public, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, giving him political capital for battles ahead.

As his 100th day as president approaches next Wednesday, the survey shows Obama has not only maintained robust approval ratings but also bolstered the sense that he is a strong and decisive leader who can manage the government effectively during a time of economic crisis.

“A lot of things were ignored over the last eight years, and I think it’s all coming home to roost,” says Benjamin Bleadon, 51, an insurance broker from Skokie, Ill., who was among those surveyed. “He has given the perception that he understands the issues and that he has taken control … and we’ll just have to wait and see if it works.”


Now, 56% say he has done an “excellent” or “good” job as president versus 20% who rate him as “poor” or “terrible.” An additional 23% say he has done “just OK.”

His excellent/good rating on national security is 53%. On the economy, it is 48%.

“He is seen as someone who was handed a large array of challenges and is dealing with them in a sensible way,” adviser David Axelrod says.

The first thing we libertarians and small government conservatives need to admit is we cannot stop Obama’s radical agenda politically. Obama has the support of the American people first of all. Secondly, we are politically discredited from the Bush years.

All we can do is try to educate enough people to realize the dangerous path we are on before it is too late in the time we have left and hope we have enough support to do something.

How we can do that….I leave that to you the commentors for frankly, I don’t have the first idea where to start.

I want to leave with one final thought:

America is at that awkward stage; it’s too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards. –Claire Wolfe

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Is It Time For A Federalism Amendment ?

Law Professor Randy Barnett thinks so:

In response to an unprecedented expansion of federal power, citizens have held hundreds of “tea party” rallies around the country, and various states are considering “sovereignty resolutions” invoking the Constitution’s Ninth and Tenth Amendments. For example, Michigan’s proposal urges “the federal government to halt its practice of imposing mandates upon the states for purposes not enumerated by the Constitution of the United States.”

While well-intentioned, such symbolic resolutions are not likely to have the slightest impact on the federal courts, which long ago adopted a virtually unlimited construction of Congressional power. But state legislatures have a real power under the Constitution by which to resist the growth of federal power: They can petition Congress for a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution.

Article V provides that, “on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states,” Congress “shall call a convention for proposing amendments.” Before becoming law, any amendments produced by such a convention would then need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

An amendments convention is feared because its scope cannot be limited in advance. The convention convened by Congress to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation produced instead the entirely different Constitution under which we now live. Yet it is precisely the fear of a runaway convention that states can exploit to bring Congress to heel.

In essence, Barnett argues that states can use the threat of a Constitutional Convention to force Congress to propose an Amendment to the states for ratification. This method worked to some effect in the early part of the 20th Century when Congress finally acted on what became the 17th Amendment after thirty-one states had passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention to consider such an Amendment. Barnett contends that it could work again.

While the specific text of Barnett’s proposed Amendments, which you can find in the article linked above, is interesting and worthy of further discussion, I think there are several problems with his proposal.

First, his suggestion that the states play a game of Constitutional “chicken” with Congress by issuing a call for a Constitutional Convention raises all of the objections to that route that Brad and I noted nearly three years ago. Namely, this:

America was fortunate in 1787 in that we had men like Madison, and Hamilton, and Washington, and Franklin who produced a document that, to this day stands as the blueprint for the best system of government yet devised. I shudder to think what would happen if a Convention were called and populated by the likes of Schumer, Pelosi, Frist, Reid, Specter, and Kennedy.

And that’s precisely what could happen under Barnett’s proposal. What if, instead of caving in to the states on a Federalism Amendment, Congress decides to call their bluff and let a Convention go forward ? Does anyone really think that the end result of such a convention would come even close to what Barnett is suggesting ? I don’t, and I don’t want to take that risk.

The other problem with Barnett’s proposal is pointed out by his Volokh Conspiracy co-blogger Ilya Somin:

I am far less optimistic than he is about the likelihood that state governments will support such a massive reduction in federal power. Randy writes that “States have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making this Federalism Amendment the focus of their resistance to the shrinking of their reserved powers and infringements upon the rights retained by the people.” In reality, however, many state governments have a great deal to lose because they receive massive quantities of federal subsidies (equivalent to some 20-30% of their total budgets; see Table B-86 here) that would mostly be cut off by Section 3 of Randy’s proposed amendment. The states got some $450 billion in federal funding in 2008, and are likely to get even more this year. Right now, most states are very happy to take federal stimulus money, and many would like to get even more. State governments also often support federal regulation of private activity. John McGinnis and I discuss the reasons why state governments often favor broad federal authority in greater detail in this article. If the states really did have “nothing to lose” from imposing tight constraints on federal power, they probably would not have allowed the latter to grow to its current bloated size in the first place.

You need to look no further for evidence in support of Somin’s argument than the news coverage of Governors, Mayors, and other local officials who paraded to Washington in the weeks after Obama’s Inauguration to ensure that they got their piece of the stimulus pie. For the most part, these local and state leaders want federal money because, without it, their citizens would have to bear to full cost of all those state programs they’ve implemented — and that would lead to fiscal, and political, disaster for the powers that be.

As Somin notes, Barnett may have a point that a Federalism Amendment may have the salutary effect of giving the tea party movement something to rally around that is more productive than just “hate Obama” and “vote for Republicans,” but as a practical suggestion it seems to be sorely lacking.

Stupid Celebrity Quote Of The Day

Martial arts movie star Jackie Chan doesn’t like freedom all that much:

“I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not,” he told an audience at a regional economic forum in southern China Saturday. “If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic.” He continued: “I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we’re not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”

Chan says this while he spends most of his time in Los Angeles shooting movies. Apparently, he admires the totalitarian restraint of Chinese society, but only from a distance.

H/T: Radley Balko

Barney Frank On Ron Paul’s Federal Reserve Transparancy Act

As Stephen noted last night, Ron Paul has introduced a bill that would require the Federal Reserve to open it’s books to Congress. According to Thomas, that bill now has 79 co-sponsors.

I agree with Stephen that this is an issue that all libertarians, all Americans indeed, need to pay more attention to and, in that spirit, here’s a very interesting clip of House Banking Chairman Barney Frank answering a question about Paul’s bill:

At the very least, Frank’s comments would seem to indicate that the bill will get a fair hearing by the committee, which is more than can be said about previous legislative efforts to crack open the doors of the Fed.

There are no hearing dates set right now, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t time to contact your Representative and tell them they need to get on board, especially if they’re on the Banking Committee.

Milwaukee Police Chief Says To Hell With The Constitution

The Wisconsin Attorney General recently said in a legal memorandum that state law permits residents to openly carry a weapon in public, but the Police Chief in Milwaukee doesn’t care what the law says:

[S]ome law enforcement officials are preparing to face more open-carry situations, and some are clear the memo won’t change their approach.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said he’ll continue to tell officers they can’t assume people are carrying guns legally in a city that has seen nearly 200 homicides in the past two years.

“My message to my troops is if you see anybody carrying a gun on the streets of Milwaukee, we’ll put them on the ground, take the gun away and then decide whether you have a right to carry it,” Flynn said. “Maybe I’ll end up with a protest of cowboys. In the meantime, I’ve got serious offenders with access to handguns. It’s irresponsible to send a message to them that if they just carry it openly no one can bother them.”

So, in Flynn’s world, the mere fact that you’re doing something that you’re authorized to do under the law is reason enough for the police to forcibly detain you on suspicion that you might be a criminal.

Can anyone say police state ?

Glenn Reynolds wonders if Flynn would appreciate his own logic being applied to him:

[I]f you see Police Chief Ed Flynn, put him on the ground, take his wallet away, and then decide whether he’s accepted any bribes that day. If, after doing that, you think the money’s his, give his wallet back. Who cares what the law says? It’s the Milwaukee Way!


H/T: Radley Balko

It’s time for libertarians to start taking Federal Reserve issues seriously

For years, a lot of libertarians and paleoconservatives have focused a lot of attention on the Federal Reserve.  Some have gone overboard, blaming the Fed on virtually every lost freedom in America.  Others have focused too hard at the wrong time; I remember one person speaking at a gun show looking pretty foolish because he was talking about Fed issues while everyone in the audience was concerned about the upcoming passage of Clinton’s Assault Weapons Ban.

On the other side of the coin, our recent economic situation has raised a lot of issues about the role of the Federal Reserve, what alternatives there are to it, and how the system really works in practice.  Ron Paul supporters are particularly well-versed on these issues and the general public is becoming more interested in them, as well.

On February 26, Ron Paul introduced legislation to audit  “the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal reserve banks” before the end of 2010.  While bills introduced by Paul are often disregarded by the rest of Congress, this one is starting to show some legs. According to Paul’s website, the bill now has 71 co-sponsors.

I’ve taken a lot of heat over the years for trying to protect the movement from being disregarded by mainstream Americans because of our internal kook factors.  When Ron Paul can obtain 71 sponsors for a bill, it’s time for hesitant libertarians to jump on board the Federal Reserve bandwagon.  You might start by contacting your Representative today.

UPDATE: Just received the following on Twitter:

If you don’t think the Federal Reserve issue is too arcane, then I’m up for it! Heard it for a while-can’t pretend I understand it. Freedom!

Alan Keyes teams up with Prison Planet to start new conspiracy theory

In a match made in heaven, Prison Planet has joined with former Ambassador and presidential candidate Alan Keyes to suggest that President Barrack Obama plans to “stage terror attacks, declare martial law and cancel the 2012 elections.”

While I’m certainly no Obama fan, that’s a very serious allegation to be tossing about in such a “well-respected” publication.  It’s also “surprising” that they pay attention to anyone who would throw his daughter out of the house, stop “speaking to her and refuse to pay for college because she is gay.”  The last time I checked, gay rights weren’t on the agenda at any recent CFR or Bilderberger meetings.

Libertarian, conservative and liberal nutballs have been suggesting that 9/11 was caused by President George W. Bush acting with the same intentions.  I’ve heard these same folks say Dubya was going to declare martial law and cancel presidential elections.  I’ve also heard people say that Bill Clinton was going to the same.  I heard similar fantasies during the George H.W. Bush years.  I heard them during the Reagan and Carter years, as well.  While I’m not old enough to remember earlier examples, I’m sure such rumors have existed since the founding of the Republic.

Guess what?  As many years as I’ve been hearing these reports, it ain’t happened yet.

Similar to his predecessor, the list of valid grievances against President Obama grows on a daily basis. My advice to Dr. Keyes is to get back on his medications and attack Obama for offenses committed on this planet.

UPDATE: I just had a call from the media on this, but lost the interview when I made a certain fact known.  For some reason, the interest was lost when they found out that I helped break the DHS story targeting most libertarians and conservatives in the country.

Supreme Court One Step Closer To Allowing Strip Searches In Schools

I’ve written in the past about the case of Savanna Redding, a now 19 year-old woman who, when she was thirteen years old was strip-searched by officials at her Arizona school who were convinced that she was concealing a banned substance; Advil.

As it turned out, Savanna had no drugs on her, but the strip search is something she’ll never forget, and, yesterday, her case against the school officials who did this to her was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States:

An important case at the Supreme Court sometimes informs as much about the justices as the issue at hand, and yesterday’s animated hearing on whether school officials have the right to strip-search a 13-year-old female student seemed just such a case.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wondered if the incident was much different from the experience of disrobing for gym class. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy affirmed his deep concerns about illicit drugs. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed at times on the edge of exasperation with her all-male colleagues. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. searched for a way to make the issue go away.

But it was Justice David H. Souter who seemed to sum up the dilemma for a majority of the court. He put himself in the place of a school official balancing the need for keeping his young charges safe from drugs while respecting the constitutional protections even middle school students should receive.

“My thought process is, I would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search, if we can’t find anything short of that, than to have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry,” Souter said.

As ScotusBlog’s Lyle Dennison notes, the Justice’s questioning seemed to indicate that their decision in this case will be motivated by fear more than anything else:

With an undercurrent of fear running across the Supreme Court bench about drug abuse among school students, and a perception that young people will try hard to avoid detection, the Justices searched anxiously on Tuesday for a way to clarify — and perhaps to enhance — public school principals’ authority to conduct personal searches of the youths in their charge.


No more telling illustration of the Court’s mood emerged than Justice David H. Souter — whose vote would almost have to be won for student privacy to prevail – expressing a preference for “a sliding scale of risk” that would add to search authority — including strip searching — based on how school officials assessed whether “sickness or death” was at stake.

“If the school official’s thought process,” Souter asked, “was ‘I’d rather have a kid embarrassed rather than some other kid dead,’ isn’t that reasonable under the Fourth Amendment?” Stated in that stark way almost compelled agreement, without regard to whether a student singled out for a strip search was actually adding to such a risk, but was only the target of a classmate’s unverified tip.

Along with Souter, two other Justices whose votes might turn out to be crucial — Stephen G. Breyer and Anthony M. Kennedy — were plainly more concerned about the drug problem than with student privacy. Both of those Justices, in past cases involving students and suspected drug use, have suggested that students’ rights were not very sturdy.

You can read the full transcript of yesterday’s oral argument in the case here.

Given this, I find myself in agreement with Radley Balko, who says that the reports from yesterday’s oral argument are not encouraging at all for anyone who believes in civil liberties:

Can anyone think of a single incident in the last 30 years in which several children have died after ingesting drugs distributed by one of their classmates on school grounds? Before we let school principles go rummaging through the panties of underage girls, shouldn’t we be at least be able to cite a few examples?

It’s a little troubling to see how comfortable these old men (Ginsburg isn’t quoted in the article) seem to be with allowing school administrators access to the genitalia of school children based on nothing more than a hunch that they might be “crotching” some ibuprofen.

And Steve Verdon notes that the school officials could have exercised just a small degree of common sense:

The strip search was based on a snitch’s statements, something that should be taken with a shovel of salt. When you are down to the underwear and you haven’t found drugs on a student with no history of drug abuse, good grades, good attendance, and no other indicators of being a problem student maybe it is at that point that you should call the child’s parents and involve them.

I summed my own opinions about this story up last month:

I cannot imagine any circumstances where it should be acceptable for school officials to strip search a child. If there is some suspicion that a crime was committed, then the matter should be turned over the police — in which case she couldn’t have been strip-searched until she was actually placed under arrest.

It is, however, John Cole who comes away with the quote of the day on this story:

I can state that as someone with an IQ over room temperature, the fact that we are debating whether it is appropriate for school authorities to strip search kids is a sure sign that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with this country and our sense of perspective, and I blame the war on drugs.

The fact that Supreme Court Justices, and likely a large segment of the American public, can’t recognize that makes it all even more troubling.

C/P: Below The Beltway

Colorado One Step Closer to Abolishing the Death Penalty

The Colorado House passed the bill which would eliminate the death penalty by 1 vote.

The Denver Post reports on the dramatic moment:

In the hushed state House chamber, all eyes Tuesday stared up at the vote board, which showed lawmakers deadlocked 32-32 on whether to repeal the death penalty in Colorado.

All but Rep. Edward Vigil’s eyes, that is.

The Fort Garland Democrat sat at his desk with a hand held to his forehead, contemplating his suddenly crucial decision.

Heads swiveled in his direction. Whispers filled the silence. Seconds passed.

After nearly a minute, Vigil pushed a green button and, in doing so, pushed House Bill 1274 on to the state Senate in a dramatic 33-32 victory for death-penalty foes at the Capitol.

“Hopefully this will make us a better society in Colorado by not having a death penalty,” Vigil said afterward, “though I have my reservations.”

The bill would eliminate the death penalty as a sentencing option going forward and would use the projected cost savings to fund a cold-case unit in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Only 1 Republican voted in favor of repealing the death penalty on pro life grounds: Rep. Don Marostica of Loveland.

As evident from the article, Coloradans are very divided on the question of the death penalty, despite the fact that only 1 person has been executed in Colorado since 1976. How the vote will go down in the Senate and whether or not former prosecutor Gov. Bill Ritter (D) will sign the bill into law is anyone’s guess.

It’s my hope that Colorado will ultimately make the right decision and follow New Mexico’s lead.

Why Ron Paul Is Wrong About Secession

In the wake of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s off-the-cuff comments last week that seemed to suggest he viewed the idea of seceding from the Union favorably, Texas Congressman Ron Paul has waded into the fray.

First, he made these comments in a video posted by his Campaign for Liberty over the weekend:

Then he expanded on those comments in an appearance on CNN’s American Morning:

The biggest surprise to me was the outrage expressed over an individual who thinks along these lines, because I heard people say, well, this is treasonous and this was un-American. But don’t they remember how we came in to our being? We used secession, we seceded from England. So it’s a very good principle. It’s a principle of a free society. It’s a shame we don’t have it anymore. I argue that if you had the principle of secession, our federal government wouldn’t be as intrusive into state affairs and to me that would be very good.

We as a nation have endorsed secession all along. Think of all of the secession of the countries and the republics from the Soviet system. We were delighted. We love it. And yet we get hysterical over this just because people want to debate and defend the principle of secession, that doesn’t mean they’re calling for secession. I think it’s that restraining element of secession that would keep the federal government from doing so much. In our early history, they accepted the principles of secession all along.

In response, Timothy Sandefur does a fairly good job of raking the Congressman — and by extension others who have taken up the secession banner as if it were an actual solution to our problems — over the coals:

Excuse me, Congressman, but the United States did not “secede” from Britain. The nation had a revolution. The difference between secession and revolution is, of course, one which paleoconservatives like Paul insist on ignoring, but it is a crucial one. Secession is the notion that a state may unilaterally leave the American union, consistent with the Constitution of the United States. Obviously since the revolution occurred in 1776, eleven years before the Constitution, it can’t be called “secession.” And perhaps that’s why the word was not used by the founding fathers when they engaged in the revolution or even afterwards.

Secession is and always has been unconstitutional and illegal, for reasons discussed in my paper, How Libertarians Ought To Think About The U.S. Civil War. The people certainly do retain the right of revolution, but revolution, of course, can only be justified on the basis of self-defense. As the Declaration put it, only after a long train of abuses evince a design to reduce the people under absolute despotism may they throw off such government and implement new safeguards for their safety and happiness. That is the principle of a free society: that government exists to protect individual rights and has no value aside from that protection.

I made a similar argument several years ago when I argued that the Southern Rebellion of 1860 was, morally and legally, unjustifiable:

In the most important part of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson set forth the criteria for when armed rebellion is justified:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, ? That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security

In other words, taking up armed rebellion is not something that should be done for light or trivial reasons. Nor it is something that should be done when there are other, less violent methods for effecting political change.


Lincoln had said nothing, and certainly in the months prior to his Inauguration, had done nothing, to indicate that such a threat existed. Moreover, if the South had stayed in the Union and sent its Congressmen and Senators to Washington in 1861, they would have represented a voting bloc large enough that they would have been able to block any legislation they didn’t like, especially in the Senate.

I’ve quoted, rather approvingly, much of what Ron Paul has had to say over the past several months about the bailouts and Obama’s economic policies, but on this one he’s just plain wrong.

H/T: Jason Pye

C/P: Below The Beltway

RFID and Privacy

Yesterday morning I was sent an article written by Michigan House Representative Paul Opsommer regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s push to implement Enhanced Drivers’ Licenses:

The Department of Homeland Security is coming to Detroit to push their new “Enhanced Drivers License” (EDL) program on Tuesday as a way to make Michigan licenses compliant with the federal Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). If you don’t pay to enhance your license, you’ll need a passport in order to continue going across the Canadian and Mexican borders in June (you’ll still need a passport to fly).

Opsommer argues that it would make better sense to lower the price of a passport instead of trying to graft the purpose of a passport on to a drivers’ license. Then, he gets to the heart of the DHS proposal:

Instead, they’re offering to “enhance” our license by having a security interview, paying more, and then getting a wireless RFID chip in your license. While the first two requirements seem reasonable, if the part about the wireless RFID chip has you scratching your head, you’re not the only one. We already wisely don’t issue licenses to illegal aliens, but with the enhanced license you have to be able to not just prove your citizenship, but prove it via a wireless chip. Everyone who applies will have a new unique federal ID number assigned to them in addition to their current Social Security Number. The wireless chip then carries that new number, which can be wirelessly scanned by common readers up to 30 feet away, even while it’s still in your wallet.

In theory this will get you through the border faster, but then you are left with an unencrypted chip in your license for the other 12 hours a day you carry it.

He says the following about the privacy implications:

There is currently nothing in the law prohibiting the government from using this to track people away from the border, and also nothing in the law that would prohibit banks, hospitals, hotels, or others from linking you with the number and using it for their own marketing purposes or selling it.

Technically, this technology never tracks people, it only tracks the license. The assumption is that the license is being carried by the license holder when out in public, thereby being a good proxy for tracking the person. However, wallets and purses can be left at home, lost, or stolen, at which point the assumption breaks down.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the RFID-chipped license will be carried by the owner 99% of time. This is the equivalent of forgetting one’s license three or four times a year, which is not uncommon for most of the folks I know.  In cases where identity verification is considered critical, such as at a border crossing, a 99% accuracy rate isn’t good enough.  Therefore, the system isn’t designed to operate by reading the license alone:

Enhanced drivers licenses will make it quicker and easier to cross the border back into the United States because they will contain

  • a vicinity Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip that will signal a computer to pull up your biographic and biometric data for the CBP Officer as you pull up to the border, and
  • a Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) or barcode that the CBP officer can read electronically if RFID isn’t available.

If the system is working as designed, it will accurately identify the person carrying the chip only when a person (or computer) can compare the features of the holder with the features on file. In any other case, the identity of the holder cannot be known for sure. That, however, doesn’t prevent someone from relying on the assumption that a license is always carried by the license holder and not another person.

This is an important point to make before addressing Opsommer’s argument about a “more secure” form of RFID license. In his comment above, Opsommer uses the word unencrypted to imply “less secure”. This is not the case. To fulfill the identification role specified by DHS, the government reader would need to be able to decrypt the encrypted value returned by the chip with no other information. This requires the use of an encryption algorithm that produces a unique encrypted number for each unencrypted number submitted to it.

The tracking opportunity is the same in either case. People are running around with unique RFID signatures that can be read from up to 30 feet away. The first piece of information a would-be tracker would get is the RFID signature. Once the signature is encountered, the tracker can start gathering information about the holder of the RFID-chipped license.  The interesting thing to consider here is that a third-party tracker piggy-backing on the DHS-sponsored license system would not need to match the ID number to a pre-established identity, meaning the encrypted value is just as useful for third-party tracking as the unencrypted value.

Imagine that a supermarket chain wanted to track its customers using the RFID signature of a drivers’ license.  They set up a scanner to read in the area where a patron would stand to interact with the checker and read the license every time payment was accepted.  It would be possible to track a patrons buying habits by linking the data saved from the register to the RFID signature.  In the case a club card was used, the drivers’ license would be linked back to the name on that.  If a check or credit card was used to pay, that financial information could then be linked to the RFID signature.  The store would now have an entire identity built around the unique signature that has nothing to do with the DHS database.

Taking this hypothetical to the next level, imagine that a diverse array of businesses such as banks, hospitals, hotels, casinos, restaurants, and bookstores began employing similar tracking techniques.  Each would build an identity around the unique signature of the chip.  The bank would know one’s financial habits.  The hospital would know one’s health problems.  The hotel would know when one visited.  The casino would know when one gambled.  The restaurant would know what one ate.  The bookstore would know what one read.  And the supermarket from before would know what one bought.

At that point, there would be an opportunity for an information clearinghouse to buy tracking data keyed to the unique RFID signature from different sources and build an amazingly detailed profile of the license holder/carrier.  The clearinghouse would know everything from their name, telephone number, and address to the fact that they bought a box of 24 donuts on Tuesday despite having diabetes.

In the extreme, it would be possible for the government itself to leverage the work of the clearinghouse by purchasing the data and crossing it with the DHS database.  This scenario is both technically possible and consistent with previous DHS behavior.  Encryption would make no difference in this case because DHS can already decrypt the RFID signature.  Imagine what the government could do with all that information about how a citizen lives his life?

Remember that this detailed profile grew out of exposure to a single unique signature.  The businesses doing the tracking started knowing nothing about the person other than the unique number emitted by their RFID-chipped license.  The only measure of safety encrypting the number provides is that the RFID tag could not be used to query the DHS database.  Of course, since one’s name would be revealed in one of many transactions, even this layer of protection is transitory since the DHS database would contain both name and ID number.

Back to Rep. Opsommer’s article, he laments the situation by saying the following:

[A]t the very least they need to offer enhanced licenses in two varieties, one that has RFID and one that doesn’t, and then let taxpayers decide which they want to choose. DHS has instead chosen a take it or leave it approach that bullies taxpayers with fiscal coercion and a one-size-fits-all policy that doesn’t allow Michigan to use more secure forms of RFID or to skip the chips altogether. Since an EDL will also technically be a limited passport, how the biometric data on the computer system gets shared with the governments of Canada and Mexico is also important.

I would submit to Representative Opsommer that encryption simply doesn’t matter.  Any RFID license that can be read without the holder’s consent is a threat to privacy.  Metallic sleeves and other devices that shield the license are not good enough, since they can be lost or forgotten.  The Ontario government has found a good solution to this problem, though.  They are looking at an Enhanced Drivers’ License that can be read only when someone holds it a certain way:

Seattle-based RFID chip manufacturer Impinj Inc. has demonstrated a prototype vicinity RFID card with a switch.

The design activates the RFID chip when someone places their finger on the corner of the card.

A mechanical switch – with moving parts – would be too frail, says Kerry Krause, vice-president of marketing at Impinj. So they took a different approach.

“With our technology, all you have to do is touch it,” he says. “The tag is only readable when a person is holding the driver’s licence and pinching it in the right spot. Your fingers are completing a circuit and turning it on.”

Such a license offers true privacy, as the person holding it has to take an explicit action for it to be read.  Anything short of this is simply a privacy violation waiting to happen.


Update – 4/22 @ 1:35 PDT – Thanks to Jeff Molby in the comments for pointing out that the government leveraging privately-collected tracking data is already happening.  Post updated with this information.

Update – 4/22 @ 6:21 PDT – Commenter “Encryption could matter” mentioned the use of push-button technology.  I’ve found info on this and it has been added.

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Bad News From Fannie/Freddie: Especially Freddie

As a renter in Southern California, I’m torn between the happenings in the housing market. I see some of the lower-end properties get listed low leading to bidding wars, and see the DJIA appearing to keep strength on the banks’ earning claims, but at the same time I don’t feel the trouble has worked its way through the system yet, and prices are going to continue falling.

We’re watching the dominoes fall. With each new domino, our market prognosticators aren’t really yet asking when the dominoes will be set back up again, they’re just hoping against hope that another won’t fall. Well, with the recent record high in foreclosures for Q1, and now an apparent problem with prime defaults at Fannie & Freddie, we might be watching another one drop.

Increasing Defaults, image c/o The Big Picture blog

Increasing Defaults, image c/o The Big Picture blog

How bad is it? Well, the CFO of Freddie Mac was discovered this morning, dead by apparent suicide:

The acting chief financial officer of mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac, David Kellermann, was found dead Wednesday morning, police said.

The death “may have been an apparent suicide,” said Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for police in Fairfax County, Va.

Authorities said there were no signs of foul play when officers were called to Kellermann’s home in Vienna shortly before 5 a.m. ET, Caldwell said. A source familiar with the investigation said Kellerman apparently hanged himself.

In all seriousness, we wish the Kellermann family our condolences at this time. While we at TLP have [rightly] savaged Fannie & Freddie’s business practices, it was professional, not personal. Even to the extent that Freddie’s woes were even partially caused by any specific employees, it’s simply should not come to a tragedy like this.

So how do I think the economy is doing right now? It isn’t over, folks. The bottom is still in the future.

Comment Of The Day

Yesterday, I linked an article about Obama “challenging” his cabinet to find $100M to cut from the budget. I suggested it would have to grow considerably to even be a drop in the bucket. One commenter named John suggested that he should do that every day for the rest of his term, and we might get somewhere. Akston suggested that might still not get us very far:

Actually at that rate (100 million a day), it’d take well over 100 years to compensate the recent 4 trillion in new spending. And that would only account for principal, not interest.

It’s one more point that shows just how foreign the entire concept of a trillion is.

I think it’s time to listen to some tunes

A sincere warning to big-government Republicans politicians

Last night, I published an article at The Next Right aimed at Republicans currently holding public office. Afterwards, I recalled that it wasn’t all that long ago that many elected Republicans thought the Internets are a long series of tubes. Lately, it seems that some Republican office holders have learned to tweet, but I’m not sure how many of them are ready for a full-sized blog posting. Although Glenn Reynolds, Robert Stacy McCain, Memeorandum, PoliGazette, BeltwayBlips, Jason Pye and SC Hotline managed to find the story, I’m not sure how many Republican governors and congresscritters did.

I’ve never met a Hill staffer who didn’t monitor Google News alerts on his or her boss.  As this site generates Google News alerts and The Next Right doesn’t, I thought I’d repost the article over here, adding the name of each current Republican Representitive, Senator and Governor at the end.   Hopefully the staffer who reads this will also inform his or her boss that the stage props used at this large Tea Party were really quite simple: A Gadsden Flag and a pitchfork.

A few offices will certainly have a good chuckle over this, as folks like Mark Sanford, Ron Paul and Jeff Flake have little to fear from their constituents.  The rest of them might benefit from reading the article below.  Enjoy!

Shortly after I wrote this quick piece for the Alabama Republican Liberty Caucus website, I was called by someone in another state who tracked down my cell number from a press release.

I had posted the now-going-viral video below of South Carolina Congressman Gresham Barrett (R) being booed, told to go home, and having people turn their backs on him when he spoke at the Greenville, SC Tea Party.

Calling out a Republican from my state congressional delegation for a bad vote on an amendment to the budget bill was my initial intention, but it’s starting to turn into more than this now.

My caller liked the idea so much, he’s beginning to quietly organize his folks to show at a scheduled event for one of his local “RINOs in DC.”  They plan to boo, turn their backs, and video the entire encounter.  They also plan to quietly alert the media in advance.

From the perspective of someone who helped organize a large 2003 Tea Party event to begin the process to kill Alabama Governor Riley’s proposed tax increase, I know how angry fiscal conservatives can feel about folks who have betrayed them.  More recently, we even dissed a Republican Secretary of State who demanded to speak at one of the April 15th Tea Parties I helped organize.

Pondering all of this, I contacted a few Tea Party organizers I’d been in contact with see what they thought of the general idea.

“Hell, yeah!” was the immediate response from one person I’ve never heard use that word before.

“We should do it even for one bad floor vote,” wrote one organizer about a specific Senator in his state.  “This way, he’ll get the message that we’ll be watching every minor move he makes.”

To wrap this all up, it’s better that I don’t identify any states or congressional districts already targeted.  This way, every last Republican with a bad fiscal conscience (or desire to be re-elected) who currently holds public office should be having nightmares about who might show at his or her next campaign rally or public speaking event. A healthy dose of paranoia can sometimes be a good thing.

Even little ol’ me can turn out a few thousand on fairly short notice in my state.

If you haven’t seen the video yet, it’s worth your time to watch it.  And if you are a Republican holding public office, think about how embarrassed you will feel losing to some unknown challenger come next primary election night. Only those with guilt in their hearts have to fear being next on the list.  If you think you might be on the list, I’d start with a call to my favorite spin-meister to come up with either the first or the best mea culpa that money can buy.

H/T to the good folks at the John Locke Foundation.

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Obamessiah Pisses Away More of Your Money

In news that shocks absolutely no one, the Obamessiah found yet another way to piss away some more American taxpayer dollars, this time on a “national service” bill.

President Obama on Tuesday signed a bill authorizing a major expansion of funding to federal community-service programs, marking a rare example of Washington bipartisanship.

The legislation reauthorizes the Corporation for National and Community Service – the government agency that runs AmeriCorps and other service programs – for the first time since 1996. It calls for a 25 percent increase in funding, giving the CNCS $1.1 billion for next year and almost $6 billion through 2014, if the money is appropriated by Congress.

The legislation is named for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, and it passed with strong support from both sides of the aisle – moving from proposal to passage in little more than a month.

“Programs like these are a force multiplier,” Mr. Obama said at the signing. “They leverage small numbers of members into thousands of volunteers.”

Currently, 75,000 Americans serve in AmeriCorps annually, and they train and manage some 2 million community volunteers. The legislation authorizes an expansion of the program over eight years to 250,000 people, which in turn will allow millions more Americans to volunteer.

There went the $100 million the Obamessiah saved.

Seriously, I thought the point of volunteering was doing something good while not expecting something in return. The United States government has no business paying “volunteers” to serve the volk.

What about those “fiscally-conservative” Republicans, well, they generally supported it. More than half the Senate Republicans and 70 GOP Congressmen supported this bailout of the Americorps, the remnants of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”, and big government in general.

Remember these folks around election time.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Worth requoting

Are Republicans going Galt?

Maybe you see a pattern there and maybe you don’t. But of the roughly four different pathways the Republicans could take in the post-Obama universe — toward Ron Paulesque libertarianism, toward Sarah Palinesque cultural populism, toward Mike Huckabeesque big-government conservatism, or toward Olympia Snowesque moderation/ good-governmentism — the libertarian side would seem to have had the best go of things in the First 100 Days.

My initial response is that Republicans tend to be better supporters of small government when they aren’t clutching the keys to power.  They are also a lot friendlier to libertarians when they don’t have long lines of lobbyists paying for their lunches.  But let them resume power again and watch what happens…

This said, I find Nate Silver’s observation to be a good description of what’s happening in the GOP right now.

Quote Of The Day — Obama Cost-Cutting

Well, the Tea Partiers must have had an impact, because Barack Obama is about to go on a cost-cutting spree. With this quick 90-day window to identify $100B of cuts to make across his cabinet, he’s showing that he really does hear our pleas for fiscal sanity.

Oh, wait, did I read that wrong? Yep, it’s NOT $100B, it’s $100M. That’s not even enough to be a drop in a bucket!

Reason puts it in perspective:

Imagine that the head of a household with annual spending of $100,000 called everyone in the family together to deal with a $34,000 budget shortfall. How much would he or she announce that spending had to be cut? By $3 over the course of the year–approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks. The other $33,997? We can put that on the family credit card and worry about it next year.

Expect petulant politicians, like spoiled children, when these “cuts” are identified, to scream and whine — “But we wanted our latte!”

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