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Archive for August 20th, 2010

I saw this jaw-dropping story linked on Instapundit. Some TSA bureaucrats, along with some Philadelphia cops, randomly decided to abuse an innocent woman. In a just world, all of these jerks would be fired and there were be strict new rules (in addition to the already-existing rules) unambiguously stating that the sole job of TSA bureaucrats is to look for things that threaten air travel. Period. Nothing else.

At what point does an airport search step over the line? How about when they start going through your checks, and the police call your husband, suspicious you were clearing out the bank account? That’s the complaint leveled by Kathy Parker, a 43-year-old Elkton, Md., woman, who was flying out of Philadelphia International Airport on Aug. 8. …A female Transportation Security Administration officer wanded her and patted her down, she says. Then she was walked over to where other TSA officers were searching her bags. “Everything in my purse was out, including my wallet and my checkbook. I had two prescriptions in there. One was diet pills. This was embarrassing. …What happened next, she says, was more than embarrassing. It was infuriating. That same screener started emptying her wallet. “He was taking out the receipts and looking at them,” she said. “I understand that TSA is tasked with strengthening national security but [it] surely does not need to know what I purchased at Kohl’s or Wal-Mart,” she wrote in her complaint, which she sent me last week. …In a side pocket she had tucked a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000. Her thought: “Oh, my God, this is none of his business.” Two Philadelphia police officers joined at least four TSA officers who had gathered around her. After conferring with the TSA screeners, one of the Philadelphia officers told her he was there because her checks were numbered sequentially, which she says they were not. “It’s an indication you’ve embezzled these checks,” she says the police officer told her. He also told her she appeared nervous. She hadn’t before that moment, she says. She protested when the officer started to walk away with the checks. “That’s my money,” she remembers saying. The officer’s reply? “It’s not your money.” …Thirty minutes after the police became involved, they decided to let her collect her belongings and board her plane. “I was shaking,” she says. “I was almost in tears.” When she got home, her husband of 20 years, John Parker, a self-employed plastics broker, said the police had called and told him that they’d suspected “a divorce situation” and that Kathy Parker was trying to empty their bank account. He set them straight. “I was so humiliated,” she said. What happened sounds to me like a violation of a TSA policy that went into effect Sept. 1, after the American Civil Liberties Union sued the agency on behalf of the former campaign treasurer of presidential candidate Ron Paul. In that case, Steven Bierfeldt was detained after screeners at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport discovered he was carrying about $4,700 in cash. He challenged their request that he explain where his money came from. The new TSA directive reads: “Screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security.” If evidence of a crime is discovered, then TSA agents are instructed to contact the appropriate law enforcement  agency. …Vic Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, called what happened to Parker “preposterous” and a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches. “I think they clearly crossed the line,” he said, adding that no one had probable cause to examine her checks. “None of this makes any sense except as a fishing expedition, which under the U.S. Constitution is not allowed. They can’t rummage through her personal life. I’m not surprised this woman is outraged. She should be.”

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This video from Reason TV about school choice in New Orleans is a perfect example of something good resulting from a bad event. Lemonade out of lemons!

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The news that China has surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy has generated a lot of attention. It shouldn’t. There are roughly 10 times as many people in China as there are in Japan, so the fact that total gross domestic product in China is now bigger than total gross domestic product in Japan is hardly a sign of Chinese economic supremacy. Yes, China has been growing in recent decades, but it’s almost impossible not to grow when you start at the bottom – which is where China was in the late 1970s thanks to decades of communist oppression and mismanagement. And the growth they have experienced certainly has not been enough to overtake other nations based on measures that compare living standards. According to the World Bank, per capita GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity) was $6,710 for China in 2009, compared to $33,280 for Japan (and $46,730 for the U.S.). If I got to choose where to be a middle-class person, China certainly wouldn’t be my first pick.

This is not to sneer at the positive changes in China. Hundreds of millions of people have experienced big increases in living standards. Better to have $6,710 of per capita GDP than $3,710. But China still has a long way to go if the goal is a vibrant and rich free-market economy. The country’s nominal communist leadership has allowed economic liberalization, but China is still an economically repressed nation. Economic Freedom of the World ranks China 82 out of 141, just one spot above Russia, and the Index of Economic Freedom has an even lower score, 140 out of 179 nations.

Hopefully, China will continue to move in the right direction. As Jonah Goldberg notes in his Townhall column, it is good for America to have China become a more prosperous nation.

Yes, technically, China’s gross domestic product is now slightly ahead of Japan’s. But GDP is a gross statistic. It doesn’t tell you nearly as much as you might think. In a very real way, China is still poorer than Japan. It’s also poorer than Tunisia, Ecuador, Gabon, Kazakhstan and Namibia. …China still has enormous problems, many of which aren’t reflected in its GDP growth rates, and without democracy, a free press and the rule of law, we can’t know what all of the problems are until they explode (and neither can the Chinese). But all of this misses the most important point. Economic “competitiveness” is a con. It assumes that when other countries prosper, America loses. That’s nonsense. If the average Chinese worker were as rich as the average Japanese worker, it would be an economic windfall for the United States. Conversely, if China’s economy imploded tomorrow, we would “gain” competitively but suffer economically. The cult of competitiveness is just a ruse used to justify the ambitions of economic planners and the pundits who worship them.

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