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| November 20, 2001
Welcome to REASON Express, the weekly e-newsletter from REASON magazine. REASON Express is written by Washington-based journalist Jeff A. Taylor and draws on the ideas and resources of the REASON editorial staff. For more information on REASON, visit our Web site at www.reason.com. Send your comments about REASON Express to Jeff A. Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) and REASON Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie (email@example.com).
November 20, 2001
Vol. 4 No. 47
- - Screen Savers - -
With Osama bin Laden holed up in a cave, George W. Bush decided to cave. The White House can spin it any way they want, but acceding to Democratic demands to hand over airport security to a new 28,000-strong federal workforce is a stunning about-face.
Bush just weeks earlier termed federalization "an inflexible, one-size-fits-all requirement" that would not address all of the different issues that affect airport security. House Republicans, who rightly--if parochially--see new federal workers as future contributors to Democratic congressional campaigns, fought to keep a federal takeover out of the aviation bill.
But after White House Chief of Staff Andy Card went on TV to say the president would sign anything Congress spit out, that position was rendered moot. So what we get is legislation that lets airports ask for government permission to privatize screeners three years hence, an option that would probably require a repeat of September 11 for anyone to contemplate.
Airports and airlines really don't want to have anything to do with security, so as long as it appears someone else is doing it and not charging for it, complaints will be few from those sectors.
But as for actually improving security, federalization does not address the basic accountability issues that have made such a mess of the task. Federal officials are past masters at blame-shifting and question-ducking, so it is hard to see how credible zones of responsibility will be established.
Further, if the goal is to modernize airport security, Congress has opted to buck history. Not a single civilian undertaking of the federal government can be called an early adopter of advanced technology.
In fact, this time next year don't be surprised if your luggage is ransacked by torchlight while a federal phrenologist examines your noggin for evil intent.
Robert W. Poole Jr. says real airport security means better information sharing at http://www.rppi.org/opeds/111301.html
- - Mortifying Moratorium - -
It is better than nothing but not by much. Congress has extended the Internet tax moratorium for another two years. Given the fact that states and localities are howling for new revenues as budget gaps grow, any extension might be cause for celebration.
But the particulars are cause for concern. Only the first $25 of Internet access fees is to be levy-free. This is a big green light for states and localities to devise new taxes on higher-priced broadband access. This is exactly what struggling-to-expand broadband does not need.
Beyond that, such taxes would begin to enshrine the notion that certain Net services are cash cows to be milked for revenue or--like the old phone system--used to subsidize other, politically favored, Net services.
Already 10 states collect Net access taxes and they will continue to do so under the moratorium.
Next up will be the application of universal service fund fees to Net access. Once that happens, any hope of abandoning the old, 1934-era phone rules, which held that rural and "under-served" areas must be subsidized by artificially high prices on other parts of the network, will be gone.
- - Ministry of Ragged Lane Changes - -
The transformation of the nation's capital from vibrant multiethnic city to locked down, antiseptic Singapore-on-the-Potomac continues. Contrary to repeated promises, the District's fleet of neo-fascist photo radar cars has issued tickets to anyone that exceeds the posted speed limits by any amount.
A local plumber was nailed for zipping through a 25 mph zone at 27 mph. Several other motorists report the same thing and now the District police say they will void all such tickets for going less than 5 mph over the speed limit.
So far the three-month-old program has netted the city $848,000 under a contract with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), which promises the city $117 million by 2004. ACS will get $44 million for providing the cars, hiring the off-duty police officers to run the cameras, and otherwise making the trains run on time.
A key component of the program appears to be making it all but impossible to contest the tickets, which carry no driver's license points, just fines. Accused speeders never get to question the camera operators, and can only say that someone else was driving or file an appeal.
An appeal costs a non-refundable $45, so even assuming all the time spent in court were free, the most anyone could recoup is $5 on the $50 tickets.
- - Quote of the Week - -
"The battle has been moved inside America, and we shall continue until we win this battle, or die in the cause and meet our maker." Osama bin Laden, in a videotape made October 20, according to a transcript quoted by British authorities.
- - Auto Imitation - -
Taking a page from carmakers, IBM says it will offer zero percent financing on servers that range in price from $5,000 to $500,000. The free money gambit helped car dealers post sizzling sales in October. But unlike carmakers, IBM makes most of its money from services and software, not the big hunks of metal.
- - Funny, Just Not Ha-Ha Funny - -
The FBI, Illinois State Police, and the U.S. Postal Service want to charge the makers of a fake postal stamp that bore a skull and the word "anthrax" with federal mail fraud. Two artists under suspicion have been churning out similarly edgy, pomo art for 10 years.
- - Legal Lube Job - -
Jim Ellis Motors of Atlanta has sued a Georgia Tech grad student for complaining on a car Web site about the service he received from the dealer. The dealer wants a restraining order against the man and Web site operator Vortex Media Inc., along with monetary awards.
- - Doctor Dragnet - -
Is the FBI pulling medical histories of targets as part of its anti-terrorism efforts? The wife of one of the three Pakistani men who were the subject of a recent FBI raid in Chester, Pa., was taking the prescription drug Cipro. Cipro, an antibiotic, has been prescribed to those exposed to anthrax. The FBI seized the prescription, raising the question: Did they just stumble on it, or go looking for it?
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