Topic: In these times...
Safe and Convenient: The Price of Security and Other Things
He's back, as we see here - "Embattled White House adviser Karl Rove vowed Friday to make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue in November..."
Oh, it'll be more than that. At a more basic level there are simply two views of the world these days, and the idea Rove is peddling is one side. This one view is clear and unified - we're all in mortal danger, and have been since the 1933 or so, as there are madmen in the world (it gets worse every year), the family as a unit is disintegrating (divorce, gay marriage, a finally this movie about these very strange cowboys), there are always so many more odd others with odd religions and funny foods and nasty religions (the Catholic Cult-of-Mary turned out to be mostly harmless, the Jews finally seemed okay to everyone but Michael Jackson after his trial, but there's always the next as now we have Islam), and all the statistics show a steady climb is church-going and a yen for authority - a "big daddy" who lays down the new law (such as it is) and tell us what's good for us, and tells us anyone skeptical or raising questions is in cahoots with those who want to kill us all. This is supported by the nexus of talk radio - Rush and his imitators - promoting how awful the world is and how everything is disintegrating, and suggesting tight control from the top is the only thing that will save us all. Simple. Effective.
The other view is hardly worth mentioning - the one about tolerance and experimentation and seeing what's new and thinking about things and figuring out ways to adapt to how things change all the time - and trying some of the funny new foods. That's a minority view, and Rove knows it. These are the people who fly to Paris to see the sights there and hear a new language and sip cognac and chat with "the other."
But most people are afraid, anxious, turning inward from all the things science has discovered and toward the "faith," and turning outward for someone to tell them he or she will stop all this change, and make the queasy feeling that things are spinning out of control stop too. Out here you'll find them at Main Street USA at Disneyland down in Anaheim, or in Las Vegas exploring the fake Paris with its half-size Eiffel Tower, where it's safe and not too strange, although it is pretty strange the in other ways.
The latest twist on this "make us all safe, please" yearning, oddly enough, comes from a new effort by those we elected to do that at any cost. This is a combination of agreeing to prove to the government you are really not a terrorist - because, after all, they assume anyone of us could be - and the Reagan legacy view that anything the government can do can be done far better and far more efficiently if done by private enterprise, because if profit is involved and money is to be made, competition drives effectiveness to the ultimate. Whether this is true or not is not at issue, as people generally have come to believe this is true.
Thus we have this (AP) - "Airline passengers who buy a pre-approved security pass could have their credit histories and property records examined as part of the government's plan to turn over the Registered Traveler program to private companies."
The idea is the private companies would run the background checks, not the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). You'd give the private firms fingerprints of all your ten digits and permission to check your credit record and all property records, bank records, insurance data, and any court documents - anything they can find. If you pass, and don't seem to fit the profile of anyone who would be in league with any terrorist, you'd get to breeze through airport security - you don't have to take off your shoes or unpack your laptop computer or any of that. Pay the fee, pass the investigation, and you become a "trusted traveler."
The curious thing is what Amy von Walter, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration said - the agency wanted to be able to identify a terrorist who wasn't already known to law enforcement or intelligence agencies.
That's novel. Let the private firms - in their quest to make big bucks - do what the law enforcement or intelligence agencies can't do effectively - identify the bad guys. This gives a whole new meaning to what Adam Smith called the "invisible hand" of competition that makes all things run well.
So we'd now have, after June 20 when the program starts, Registered Travelers. These are the people who are "certified safe," not by the government, but by private firms.
The AP reports a few of the private firms are a tad surprised by their new role in preventative law enforcement, and wondering what to do. You see, before these companies will be allowed to sell "Registered Traveler Cards" they have to demonstrate that they can somehow or other definitively determine if any particular applicant is, say, a member of some terrorist sleeper cell. The FBI and CIA and NSA and such do this sort of thing all the time. But it's new to these guys.
The AP notes James Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said that the idea that commercial data can somehow be used to find a sleeper cell is "highly speculative." And Marcia Hofmann, an attorney with the privacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, is cited saying it wasn't clear whether federal privacy laws would apply to the program - ''It sounds like they want private companies to be in the business of law enforcement and intelligence gathering."
Well, yes, they do. The Transportation Security Administration was stung bad last year with a test program the collected airline passengers' personal data without their permission or knowledge. They secretly gathered files on a quarter million people. That was "Secure Flight" - every time someone hopped on a plane you automatically run the name against government lists of suspicious names. That didn't work out so well. Lots of name sound alike - some three-year-olds came up and that sort of thing. So it is obviously better to make this "private," and not governmental, and make it voluntary - you agree these firms can know everything. The government does catch crap.
Yes, yes - private firms are sometimes hacked. Yeah, last year someone stole, from ChoicePoint, all the personal data on over a million federal employees with Bank of America charge cards. Stuff happens.
Should you worry? -
That's not encouraging. Asking a private firm to operate like the old East German secret police does, of course, involve a learning curve.
But there's money to be made, so General Electric, ARINC and Iridian Technologies, and some airports, are lining up for contracts. If people want "authority figures" to keep them safe, and ask for that, and will even pay for it, you take their money. This is America.
But our friend, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sent an email to us here in Hollywood with this curious quote from the Transportation Security Administration - "We know that terrorists may seek to exploit the Registered Traveler program, and the program must be designed to thwart those efforts. Therefore, program benefits will change from time to time in order to make it more difficult for terrorists to anticipate our security activities. Further, TSA will not exempt Registered Traveler participants from random additional screening."
What? So what good is the whole program if, by revealing all and letting some for-profit firm says you're really not a terrorist, you still have to take off you shoes?
Ric: "Yes, but will they give you your money back - if you are a terrorist and have purchased an ID card in good faith." He notes this Google ad - "ID Card Solutions Custom ID Cards as low as .35 Each. Low Price Guarantee (Free Shipping) IDCard.Allid.com" - so you can make money on either side of this.
Ric also notes an item he found in Le Devoir about how the US government is bringing in ID cards through the back door. -
Anyway, Karl Rove is back, and he knows which way the wind is blowing. Shrink government, privatize everything you can, and trust that frightened, anxious people - most of us these days - will agree to most anything, and pay for it.
The Democrats had better run on some other issue. The Republicans will make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue, and they've won on that issue already.
Ric in Paris is wondering about all the news -
And so it goes.