Reason Express

Vol. 8 No. 50


In this issue:

1. President George Honecker
2. Katrina Post-Game Analysis
3. The Permanent Universal Service Fund Act
4. Quick Hits
5. New at Reason Online—Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
6. News and Events

1. President George Honecker

When in doubt, double down. That seems to be the Bush administration reaction to the disclosure of the Texas spy 'em program. What is now being offered is a total ends-justify-the-means argument: The threat to the nation was so great that the specifics of the law could not be followed. Or, in Bushian language: The president has the power and responsibility to protect the people. That's it.

There are at least two more facets of this matter yet to drop. One will be the growing understanding that there is nothing particularly special about the claim of imminent danger being advanced by the Bush administration. The exact same kinds of claims were advanced in the 1970s to justify spying on anti-Vietnam War protestors. There was considerable worry that protestors were being directly controlled by overseas forces and, as a result, were effectively an active fifth column in America. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 was a direct response to the executive branch assumptions about what kinds of domestic activities rose to the level of imminent threat to the American public. Saying as, Bush does, that the act is too slow for today's foes is just saying that the administration does not like the law.

Further, as one smart questioner pointed out to utterly no avail during the president's Monday press conference, if the need for quick interception of overseas communication trumps FISA requirements for a warrant, then presumably the need for quick action can—and has—trumped the need for domestic warrants as well. This is the next shoe to drop. If the president's authority as protector-in-chief extends as far as the White House says it does, then there is absolutely no reason why the Bush administration has not conducted similar summary interceptions on wholly domestic communications. After all, the use of domestic flights was one of the great shocks of 9/11. Domestic communication between the hijack cells was vital to the plot.

Accordingly, it stands to reason that secret electronic-surveillance of domestic sources has been a large part of the response to 9/11.


2. Katrina Post-Game Analysis

President Bush has stressed just how important it is to get the Gulf Coast back up to where it was before Katrina slammed into it. That will be a big problem if congressional investigations on how the levee system was operated pre-Katrina are turning out an accurate picture.

The Army Corps of Engineers, ostensibly in charge of the levee system, was told to stop trying to repair one busted levee after Katrina destroyed it. Louisiana's Department of Transportation and Development evidently claimed jurisdiction on the matter, but no firm chain of command for the levee system seemed to exist at any point, pre or post-Katrina.

The working model had the Corps building the levees and then handing them off to state or local officials for day-to-day operation and control. But major fix-it jobs still got federal funding. The record of spending on the actual levees seems spotty. A cynic would conclude that the idea was to keep the Corps as far away from the levees as possible after construction, lest a pattern of diverting fix-up money to other uses was discovered.


3. The Permanent Universal Service Fund Act

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) may call his bill the "Digital Age Communications Act," but amid all the seemingly market-oriented provisions is a move to grant the Bells a long coveted aim: To make all telecom players, Net and otherwise, pay into the Universal Service Fund. That means they will have to charge customers universal service fees, thereby closing the price-point gap with the Bells while maintaining the USF beloved by regulators. In effect, the USF is a massive, ongoing bribe to regulators from the Bells.

Remove the USF provision, and you might have the beginnings of a good telecom reform bill. But just try suggesting that twist and watch how enthusiasm for the legislation melts away among the phone guys.

Better still, include a provision abolishing the anachronistic USF and all regs on telecom rates and watch how the sudden infatuation with "markets" turns to revulsion.


4. Quick Hits

Quote of the Week

"He just happens to be a geek who is a fantastic musician."—Gates Foundation chief Patty Stonesifer on Bono, one-third of Time magazine's "Persons of the Year," along with Bill and Melinda Gates.


Morgan Freeman Meets Bill Cosby

Actor Morgan Freeman calls Black History Month a "waste of time" and says the best way to end racism is to stop talking about it.


Bernanke on Deck

Speculation about how incoming Fed chief Ben Bernanke will handle monetary policy is already starting to bubble up, and he does not even take office until February 1.


Conan the Disappointer

It is official. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Worst. Governor. Ever. (California division.)


5. New at Reason Online

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
The war on Christmas is over. Guess who won? Jesse Walker

Amtrak Sucks
Traveling Soviet-style aboard America's $30,000,000,000.00 nostalgia toy. Peter Bagge

D.C. Stadium D?j? Vu
The nation's capital rolls over for Major League Baseball—again. Dennis Coates

And much more!

6. News and Events

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