Tag Archives: National security

TSA: Now admitting stun guns on a plane near you.

First of all, how does TSA miss this?

They’re checking the diapers of seniors and babies for bombs and guns (because that’s the type of people that typically attack airplanes). They’re using machines that expose every inch of you to the random perusal of a unionized, blue-shirted, under-appreciated and over-empowered government agent. They have been accused of stealing iPads and  electronics from travelers bags. And now they missed a stun gun at security.

A cleaning crew reportedly found the stun gun in a seatback pocket while tidying up a plane that had landed at Newark. The flight had originated at Logan International in Boston but had made several other stops during the day. The Newark Port Authority has turned the weapon over to the Trouser Search Administration, which said it and the FBI are jointly investigating the matter but that it was currently unclear how the device got on board.

via If You Left a Stun Gun on a JetBlue Flight Friday, the TSA Would Like to Speak With You – Lowering the Bar.

I guess it could have been the gun of a US Marshall who is just too embarrassed to go back for it, but I thought they packed the real thing.

I know there is a learning curve to this whole national-security-meets-theater thing, but this really is a blow to any  confidence TSA is supposed to provide fliers. Stopping the harmful  and letting the harmless through (and not fleecing travelers along the way) is job priority number one,  a job that TSA seems to fail to do repeatedly.

That said, I for one am glad that none of TSA’s fumbling and stumbling has resulted in any successful penetrations by Al Qaeda or any other terrorist. I just wish TSA could get their act together without the massive cost, personal intrusion, and incompetence.

Israel, with far greater threats,  has seemed to figure it out; why can’t TSA?

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The answer to why Americans are OK with more spending

Yesterday, just before the State of the Union speech, I had an insightful conversation with a family member. This person is taking his first class in political science, something like a Polisci 101 class. He called me to ask some questions for an assignment he was working on.

“What does ‘non-security, discretionary spending’ mean,” he asked. “I guess the President is going to cut it, or freeze it, or something.” He paused. “It’s supposed to be in the speech tonight.” That would be the State of the Union, I mentally added.

“That phrase,” I said, “refers to items and projects in the federal budget that don’t relate to national security–like the military–and that can be adjusted from year to year, or that we have a choice about whether to spend money on them.”

“So what is non-discretionary,” he asked back.

“Things that must be in the budget, things that are fixed,” I said. “Things that Congress can’t really adjust because they are dependent on other factors, like how much Medicare or Social Security will cost that year.”

“Healthcare?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. The other side was quiet for a moment. Then he said thanks, and hung up. Two minutes later, my phone rang again, and he had another question.

“So,” he started. “How will cutting ‘non-security discretionary’ spending affect me?” I thought about his question. “Will it, like, lower my taxes?”

“Not much,” I said. “Most of the federal budget is spent on the non-discretionary things, so the discretionary non security items don’t account for much. And we spend more than we make.”

” More than we make? We pay for the budget with taxes, right?”

“Yeah, but the federal government has to borrow to pay for it, because it doesn’t collect enough taxes for everything.  So taxes pay for some of it, but not all of it,” I said, unsure where this was going.

“How much?” I wasn’t sure how much, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t all. In fact, I was positive.

“We don’t pay for most of it. We raise a lot of money in taxes, but we don’t pay off how much we borrow, ever. With only one exception (I think), we’ve run a debt since the early 1980s.”

“So we’re spending more than the taxes pay for?” He was incredulous, shocked.

“Yeah. A lot more.” I was surprised. Doesn’t everyone know this?

“No way,” he said. “That’s crazy.”

Yeah. It is crazy. But what struck me, and perhaps what is more crazy, is that it’s probably something that few people realize. The federal government spends more than it taxes. Further, it has done that for several decades, and it is projected to continue doing that for the foreseeable future.

And I doubt there are few Americans that realize it. The government is, largely, providing something for nothing and no one is paying for it. The next time you complain that the government owes you something, remember: it’s not paid for–it’s bought with a credit card. The federal credit card. And no one is paying that credit card off.

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Looking at “Signing Unconstitutional Laws” by William Baude (part 1)

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of th...

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What I’m reading right now, continued: William Baude “Signing Unconstitutional Laws” 86 Ind. L. J. (forthcoming 2011).

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of talk, primarily from the Tea Party wing of the political right, about how law makers should not pass into law legislation that is unconstitutional.  I know of at least one candidate who made this his main campaign promise and the pillar upon which he removed an 18 year incumbent in the race for one of Utah’s U.S. Senate seats.

With this context, I ran into Baude’s article, referenced in a blog.  I won’t say I agree with it, at least not yet, but I do think his thought bear evaluation for public policy‘s sake.

According to Baude, the argument threads a line between those who believe the president should not sign anything that he thinks is remotely unconstitutional, and those who believe that “constitutional principles should give way to pragmatism.”  He dismisses both sides, but allows that there are situations, indeed situations where the constitutional duties of the President requires he sign laws that may have unconstitutional provisions:

In a wide range of cases, there is nothing wrong with signing unconstitutional laws. These cases involve constitutional tradeoffs between the President’s duties to prevent unconstitutional laws from taking effect, and his affirmative duties to make good on certain constitutional protections. At the same time, the President must exercise this power responsibly: so he must both have other constitutional duties that justify signing the remainder of the bill into law, and must be prepared to use his other powers to prevent the unconstitutional provisions from being
executed. But there is no categorical duty to veto.
However, disregarding unconstitutionality is not an issue of pragmatism nor has there been sufficient legal framework articulated for a President to do so.  Baude’s framework for those situations where the President can, or may, sign legislation with unconstitutional provisions, is founded on two prongs:
  1. The Presidential oath requires the President to uphold the constitution, and the President has more tools at his disposal to do so than just his veto.
  2. The President’s obligation to uphold the constitution requires him to help pass laws, “especially in the national security and individual rights context.”  Often, a veto is not likely to produce a better proposal, and the president is under some obligation to sign the proposal.

more later….