Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Four Minutes For Freedom

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
attributed to Edmund Burke

Americans have been asked to do a lot to secure the blessings of liberty over the years.  I hope that you'll do two more things to that end.  They won't involve suffering through a long winter at Valley Forge or getting tear gassed and billy clubbed at Selma.  They'll only take a few minutes each and you can do them right over the computer before you now.  Let me explain why they're important.

In the previous post I chronicled a few personal horror stories of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) new enhanced security measures.  These involve expensive new "body scanners" that basically conduct a virtual stripsearch of air travellers and transmit the image to a TSA officer for viewing.  The naked image of the citizen can also be stored and transferred elsewhere.  Other technologies, that are equally effective yet raise fewer privacy concerns, already exist and are operation in European airports.  The only alternative the TSA offers for its body scanners is an even more intrusive full-body pat-down.

These searches are clearly in violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of U.S. citizens.  The Fourth Amendment says, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." [Emphasis added.]

While the Supreme Court has not ruled on airport screening technology yet, lower courts have.  According to George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen in a recent Washington Post article:
[T]he U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2007, that "a particular airport security screening search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it 'is no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives.' "
In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both "minimally intrusive" and "effective" - in other words, they must be "well-tailored to protect personal privacy," and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate "in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search."
As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito's tests.
Most Americans don't need these highfaluting legal opinions to tell us what our gut is already telling us, namely that there is something wrong with all this.  We know that the new TSA procedures look, sound, feel and stink like a police state.  So, what can we do about it?  I suggest two things for starters.

First, write your elected officials.  I know that seems trite and lame.  I've pretty well given up on that civics class pap, but this is important enough that it's worth a try.  If we raise enough of an uproar perhaps even our representatives might have to awaken and do something.  If you go to the ACLU's website you can send a pre-written message to DHS Secretary Napolitano, your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative urging them to "rein in these invasive searches, and to implement security measures that respect passengers' privacy rights."  It only takes a few clicks and you can use the service even if you're not a fan of the ACLU. 


Secondly, please help out Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).  Back in July, when the rest of us were thinking about barbecues and fireworks, EPIC was already slapping a lawsuit on the DHS to stop them from implementing the new scanner/pat-down procedures.  Unfortunately the wheels of the justice system turned too slowly to have it stopped before it started, but better late than never.  The on-going lawsuit alleges that the new procedures violate travelers' Fourth Amendment rights, and violate both the Privacy Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as a bunch of administrative regulations.

Legal battles aren't cheap, especially when you're going up against the federal government with it's deep pockets (our pockets, that is).  According to its website, "EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values."  Contributions to EPIC are tax-deductible.  I know times are tight, but please try to send them whatever you can.  Even $5 would help, if enough of us do it.  You can DONATE ONLINE or send a check to:  "EPIC," 1718 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20009.

So please, there are two small things we can do to defend freedom.  It will only take a few minutes and a few clicks.  The other option is to do nothing and allow evil to triumph.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TSA Travel Terror

Holiday travelers be on alert: An organized and determined group has launched a coordinated effort to disrupt airline travel and terrorize American citizens.  The "good" news is that the group is our own federal government.

No doubt you've already heard horror stories of the Transportation Security Administration's new "enhanced pat-down" techniques and body scanners.  The new security measures are supposedly in response to the Christmas bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab who snuck explosives onto a plane in his underwear.

David Rittgers of the Cato Institute explains that the expensive new body scanners, "that look beneath clothing to perform virtual strip searches," aren't the panacea they're made out to be.  "Despite what their proponents would have us believe, body scanners are not some magical tool to find all weapons and explosives that can be hidden on the human body," writes Rittgers.  "Yes, the scanners work against high-density objects such as guns and knives — but so do traditional magnetometers."

He continues: "And the scanners fare poorly against low-density materials such as thin plastics, gels and liquids. Care to guess what Abdulmutallab's bomb was made of? The Government Accountability Office reported in March that it's not clear that a scanner would've detected that device."

Rittgers also explains how Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has already figured out a low-tech way of defeating the machines by inserting the explosives in their rectums.  Drug smugglers have been doing this for years with their product and AQAP has already tried this in an assassination attempt against a Saudi official.  A would-be terrorist could smuggle the explosive device on board a plane, then remove it from its "hiding place" during the flight in the plane's lavatory.

What the scanners lack in effectiveness they make up for in expense.  According to Rittgers, "executives for scanner-producing corporations — mostly former high-ranking Homeland Security officials — successfully lobbied Congress into spending $300 million in stimulus money to buy the scanners. But running them will cost another $340 million each year. Operating them means 5,000 added TSA personnel, growing the screener workforce by 10 percent. This, when the federal debt commission is saying that we must cut federal employment rolls, including some FBI agents, just to keep spending sustainable."

For airports that don't yet have the expensive scanners, or for people who decline to be scanned by them (perhaps out of fear of the unknown long-term health effects), or for people on whom the scanners see something suspicious, an "enhanced pat-down" becomes necessary.  During this procedure TSA agents manually check passengers intimate areas for weapons or explosives.

This experience is traumatic enough for most travelers but especially for a rape survivor like "Celeste" in Minnesota who, despite public assurances that pat-downs will be performed only by same-sex agents, had hers performed by a male agent.  She recounts her encounter with the TSA here:  "He started at one leg and then ran his hand up to my crotch. He cupped and patted my crotch with his palm. Other flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and started praying[.]  He also cupped and then squeezed my breasts. That wasn’t the worst part. He touched my face, he touched my hair, stroking me. That’s when I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped. There’s no way I can fly again. I can’t do it.”

Or there's the story of 61 year old Thomas D. Sawyer of Lansing Michigan.  According to an msnbc.com article, "Sawyer is a bladder cancer survivor who now wears a urostomy bag, which collects his urine from a stoma, or opening in his stomach. 'I have to wear special clothes and in order to mount the bag I have to seal a wafer to my stomach and then attach the bag. If the seal is broken, urine can leak all over my body and clothes.'"

When the scanners picked up Sawyer's urostomy bag he was pulled aside for a pat-down procedure.  When Sawyer tried to explain his condition to the TSA agents they said they didn't need to know about it.  Once Sawyer removed his sweatshirt and they spotted the bag they finally asked him about his medical condition.
“One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.”

The security officer finished the pat-down, tested the gloves for any trace of explosives and then, Sawyer said, “He told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened. But I know they saw it because I had a wet mark.”

Humiliated, upset and wet, Sawyer said he had to walk through the airport soaked in urine, board his plane and wait until after takeoff before he could clean up.
These are just two examples, but a quick search of the internet will show more stories like this than you'd care to read.  These are all real Americans being treated like cattle by their government.  Thankfully the people appear to be fighting back.  Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the TSA and there has been a vocal public outcry against the new procedures.  Some local district attorneys have threatened to prosecute TSA agents who engage in inappropriate behavior.  Despite all this, TSA head John Pistole has said that they're not going to change the policies.

Pistole and the rest of the federal security bureaucracy, as well as many fellow citizens, probably think that all of this is a perfectly acceptable trade-off to keep the American people "safe."  However, as the government is diligently fondling Grandma's labia in a vain attempt to prevent the previous terrorist attack, they will meanwhile be failing to "connect the dots" to prevent the next one.  When it hits, Homeland Security will treat the present level of intrusiveness as a floor, not a ceiling, and the current infringements upon our liberty and dignity will have all been for naught.  They will just demand more of our liberty the next time.

Perhaps the best summation of the situation comes from Thomas D. Sawyer, the traveler who had his urostomy bag ruptured by the probing fingers of an overreaching government.  “I am a good American and I want safety for all passengers as much as the next person.  But if this country is going to sacrifice treating people like human beings in the name of safety, then we have already lost the war.”  Wise words from someone whose dignity was a collateral casualty in the federal government's "war on terror."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Iowa Firearms Coalition Announces 2011 Legislative Agenda

The dust had barely settled from the 2010 election when the Iowa Firearms Coalition (formerly Iowa Carry) announced its 2011 legislative agenda, working in conjunction with the National Rifle Association.  The two groups successfully pushed through a "shall-issue" weapons permit law which was signed by Governor Culver in April of this year.  The ambitious 2011 agenda includes an amendment to the state constitution, as well as legislation strengthening Iowa's firearms preemption laws, protecting those who use a gun in self-defense from civil liabilities, and allowing Vermont/Alaska-style carry of firearms without a permit.

The "Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms Constitutional Amendment" was first announced by the group on Jan Mickelson's radio show in early October.  Iowa is one of only six states that has no provision in its constitution protecting the right to keep and bear arms.  Since Iowa voters rejected a constitutional convention on the November ballot, amending the state constitution will require that an identically worded amendment pass two successive legislatures, then be approved by Iowa voters.

The proposed wording for the amendment by IFC/NRA is: "The right of individuals to acquire, keep, possess, transport, and use arms to defend life and liberty and for all other legitimate purposes is fundamental and inviolable. Licensing, registration, special taxation, or any other measure that suppresses or discourages the free exercise of this right is forbidden."

Second, the "Iowa Firearm Preemption Act" would modify "the current preemption law to completely disallow a series of confusing, indiscernible 'Gun Free' zones intermittently spread across the state causing confusion," according to IFC's website.  State firearms preemption laws basically state that local governments may not pass gun restrictions more strict than the state.  This bill no doubt comes in response to recent efforts by local governments, such as Shelby and Hancock Counties and the cities of Ottumwa and West Burlington, to circumvent the state's current preemption law and ban permit-holders from carrying  concealed weapons on county or municipal property.

Next is the "Iowa Family Defense Act."  According to IFC: "Today, in Iowa, should you be forced to defend your life, you can be held liable for your act of defense in a civil court. Your act of self defense, or the defense of another, could be used against you. This piece of legislation would ensure your right to self defense without potential exposure to prosecution in a civil case from an attacker."

Lastly the "Iowa Constitutional Carry Bill" would apparently require "no permit for carrying or for the acquisition of firearms," thereby ensuring "that our right to keep and bear arms is not infringed at all, just as our forefathers intended."  This would appear to be similar to legislation sought by the group Iowa Gun Owners in the 2010 legislative session. 

This system is often called "Vermont Carry" and, in addition to that state, it is currently enjoyed in Alaska and most recently Arizona.  IFC President Sean McClanahan told me recently that permits would still be available to those who wanted them, such as for people who wanted to carry concealed weapons into other states that recognize Iowa's permits, but would not be required to carry in Iowa.

McClanahan says the group will be considering other legislation as well, but these four measures will be the prime focus.

[This story also posted at Iowa Freedom Report.]

Saturday, November 6, 2010


As a known third-party supporter, after an election I'm sometimes asked by friends and coworkers if any of my "weird people" won.  This year, like every year before, I can answer that all of my "weird people" were soundly handed their asses yet again.  If you just want to be on the team with the highest score you can't vote third party.

One major disappointment came in the governor's race however.  Regular readers will recall that Libertarian candidate Eric Cooper sought to win 2% of the vote, thereby securing "major party" status for the Libertarian Party under Iowa law.  If ever we could achieve this status, I thought 2010 would be the year.

In Cooper we had a passionate and articulate candidate who was willing to do the necessary leg work.  He garnered the most media coverage of any Iowa L.P. candidate that I'd ever seen.  There was a palpable anti-establishment buzz in the air this election season.  All the political tumblers seemed to be aligning for the L.P. to capture major party status.  When the dust settled, however, Cooper had only received 1.28% of the vote.  (14,293 total votes.)  This is a respectable showing, but it didn't quite hit the state's arbitrary 2% requirement.  The L.P.'s next shot for Iowa major party status will come in the 2012 presidential election.

Libertarian candidates in other races across the ballot had some decent showings also.  John Heiderscheit got 25,168 votes (2.27%) in the U.S. Senate race.  For the U.S. House, Rob Petsche got 4,072 votes (1.93%) in District 1 and Gary Sicard got 4,327 votes (1.91%) in District 2.  One of the star performers of the night was Jake Porter who was running for Secretary of State.  Porter got 33,683 votes or 3.13%.  There were only 31,000 votes separating the two major party candidates, so Porter's votes were enough to make or break the election.  That is the main goal of a third party candidate: make the big boys sweat, so they'll steal your issues to get those voters back the next time.

In statehouse elections, Libertarian candidate Dr. Christopher Peters got an impressive 25.22% of the vote (6,071 votes) for State Senate District 15.  This district covers Iowa City and Republicans didn't bother running a candidate against Democrat Robert E. Dvorsky.  Peters happily jumped at the losing cause and used his candidacy to promote limited-government ideals in an area of the state not known for those ideals.  He was rewarded with the new record for highest vote percentage for an Iowa Libertarian candidate (beating Eric Cooper's 21% record for statehouse).  Also in Iowa City (and again with no Republican running),  medical student Dustin Krutsinger got 20.44% of the vote (2,550 votes) for State Representative District 30.  In State Representative District 46, Tyler Pauly got 347 votes or 2.45%.

Even with some good results, I'm still bummed we didn't get major party status.  And I'm bummed the Constitutional Convention vote failed.  And I'm bummed that that bumbling Bolshevik bum Bruce Braley is still my U.S. representative.  (Since "Big Borrowin' Braley" is returning to DC, I've been trying to prepare my 16-month-old for his future by pointing to China on the map and trying to teach him to say "master.") 

C'mon, I couldn't end this thing without taking a swipe at my old buddy Clunkers (and practicing my alliteration).  That always makes me feel better.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Caffeinated Thoughts on Constitutional Convention

Today there was a good post by Eric Goranson at Caffeinated Thoughts blog, dealing with (among other things) the constitutional convention ballot question.  Here it is an excerpt:

The following question is on the back of your ballot: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution, and propose amendment or amendments to same?”

My vote will be a resounding YES! The Legislature has failed to act, I can’t see Republicans (sadly, at this point anyway) having the spinal fortitude to get two Assemblies to vote for a marriage amendment should they win control, and this is a Constitutional remedy we should jump on.

The opposition from the Right and the Left will point out that all kinds of bad things can happen in a convention and then the people might vote on them. The simple truth is this: All proposed amendments would be voted on individually. With that in mind, the opposition always wants the people to vote when the polling shows that the people agree with them and avoid popular votes when the polling tells them they might lose. Anyone who opposes the Constitutional Convention is either disingenuous, saying that calling a convention is “playing fast and loose with the Constitution” (It’s a CONSTITUTIONAL REMEDY, numbskull!) or they use fear to scare people into making a “risky” convention take place. They have succumbed to elitism. We either trust the people with the vote or we don’t.
With polls showing the people of Iowa pretty evenly split on the gay marriage issue, a marriage amendment wouldn't be a slam dunk for either side.  But a convention could also allow many other important reforms that the legislature won't move on, such as term limits, sunshine laws, and recall of elected officials to at least be voted on by the people.  You can read Goranson's entire post here.

Post Topics

10 Questions with... abortion ACLU alcohol Alzheimer's Ames Straw Poll armed self defense assault weapons ban Audit the Fed Austin Petersen Barack Obama Ben Lange Beth Cody Between Two Rivers Bill Weld Bob Barr Bob Cashner books Bruce Braley Bruce Hunter Candidates Carl Olsen Cedar Rapids Gazette charity Chet Culver Christopher Peters Clel Baudler communism Confederate Flag Constitution Constitutional Convention Corey D. Roberts Crime Cristina Kinsella Dan Muhlbauer debt Declaration of Independence Democrat Party disasters Donald Trump drones drugs economy education elections Eric Cooper events Facebook Fast and Furious First Amendment food freedom foreign policy free markets freedom Gary Johnson gay marriage Glenn Beck gold gun control Gun Owners of America guns health care Hillary Clinton history Honey Creek Resort Iowa Iowa Caucus Iowa City Iowa Firearms Coalition Iowa First District Iowa Freedom Report Iowa Gun Owners Iowa Right To Life Jake Porter Joe Bolkom John Boehner John McAfee John McCain Judge Napolitano Keith Laube Lake Delhi law Lee Heib Lee Hein liberals Libertarian Party libertarianism marijuana Me media medical marijuana memes Memory Walk Michele Bachmann military Mom Nate Newsome Nick Taiber NRA NSA Obamacare police policy politics President Obama primaries privacy property rights Rand Paul religion Republican Party resistance Rick Santorum right to carry Rob Petsche Rod Blum Roger Fritz Ron Paul Rush Limbaugh Ryan Flood Sandy Hook Massacre Sarah Palin Second Amendment smoking Social Security spending Star Wars State Defense Forces Steve King Steven Lukan taxes Tea Party Movement Tenth Amendment terrorism Terry Branstad Tom Harkin traffic cams TSA TV/Movies war Wayne Jerman weapons Will Johnson Yuri N. Maltsev Zach Wahls