Forthwith, some semi-random thoughts about some big stories in the news this weekend.
Drudge is yakking about former Treasury Secretary O’Neill’s tell all book, in which O’Neill calls Bush a blind man, talks about how removing Saddam and the post-war planning was in in place from early 2001, and how Bush doesn’t say a whole lot when his cabinet officials brief him.
I don’t know about any of you, but none of these revelations particularly shocked me. What did shock me, is the Bush would have the bad judgement to hire somebody as disloyal and indiscreet as O’Neill to fill a cabinet position. Now that reflects badly on Bush.
Moving right along…
There’s a lot of good stuff in the Wash Post’s “Outlook” section today. For the uninitiated, Outlook combines the usual Op-Ed page, with expanded reader letters and several more pages of punditry, pontificating and blow-hardiness.
David Broder spends some time nosing around the Iowa caucuses. He notes that one of the Iowa Dem party activist leaders is thrilled with Dean. His way of making people less cynical about politics, and the possibilities for change, has made her feel that maybe we can remake the world. She states that she hasn’t been so excited about politics in 35 years. I found the 35 years figure kind of interesting, and so did Broder, so he asked about it. She said
“Since SDS,” referring to the Students for a Democratic Society, the New Left campus organization of the 1960s.
That means the SDS of 1968. SDS had started out lefty-peacefreaky, but by 1968 it was well into its metamorphosis into the Weather Underground, a leftist terrorist group aimed at overthrowing the U.S. government. Not all SDS members were terrorist supporters, but a lot provided hard and soft core support to the Weathermen. David Horowitz was involved in this far left fringe movement, and eventually recoiled in horror to become the arch conservative he is today.
Well, I will say this about Howard Dean – he sure does inspire people.
Then there’s this nice discussion of the new U.S. Visit program that Homeland Security launched this week. If you are travelling to the U.S. on a visa, you have to place your index fingers on an electronic touchpad, and a digital camera embedded in the kiosk takes your picture. It adds about 10 – 15 seconds to the minute-long ‘forms & questions’ process that has been in place for some years. Your prints and picture are checked against the 15 or so terrorism, immigration and crime watchlists that the government maintains. Before you’ve finished answering questions, the border agent knows whether you are a wanted person, or not.
The records of your visit will be maintained 3-4 years, depending on where you are traveling from. If you are from a visa waiver country – like Britain or Oz – and you are not traveling on a visa, you don’t have to do it. It’s been implemented at the 15 or 20 largest air and seaports, and will eventually be in all airports. Right now, it just checks you coming in; eventually it will register you leaving as well.
While I have some apprehensions about this system – or any government system that collects information – it strikes me as a common sense, least-intrusive-means of policing our borders. On the first day it was in action, it caught around 20 people who are inadmissible to the U.S. on criminal or immigration grounds, including one major gangster who is wanted in several states for orchestrating large financial fraud schemes. He fessed up to entering the U.S. 60 times in the last year, under 60 different names. In fact, his true name is not yet known…
In the larger scheme of things, this is a step towards an automated immigration process. Currently, your immigration status changes if you leave the country, even if you are a visa or visa waiver holder. This system will function as an important check on people who can currently get away with defrauding the immigration system.
It will also help the government track people who are admitted into the country, but who are terrorism suspects. Why admit people like that? Because intelligence information, and watchlists, aren’t always precise. Besides, sometimes it pays to keep your friends close, and enemies closer. The FBI can watch a suspect in New York, and detect the sleepers in his support network; wherease turning him away at the border just means another operative will be sent to do his mission.
What it boils down to is this will help us tighten up the borders and better police who is coming in, with minimal intrusion into people’s lives.
Author Joshua Kurlantzick of the New Republic thinks this is a ‘orrible idea, and it will destroy the reputation of the U.S. as a free country. Well, yes it will, if two things happen. One, if the gubmint fails to articulate to foreign nationals why we track such things, yes, it will spoil our image. Second, if people in the press write dozens of articles saying that the U.S. is a police state because it takes steps to ascertain the true identity of people entering the country – well then, yes, it will hurt our image. You know, perhaps the two are related?
I don’t want to disregard the threat to our personal liberty posed by vast government information gathering programs. The threat is real, it exists. But the way to deal with problems like this is to think through them in a measured fashion, and work out smart responses, like a privacy act modeled on the German DatenSchutz. Hysterial reactions, followed by hysterical overreactions, are usually the precursors to bad policies.