Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Shocker!!! SobekPundit Agrees (in part) With the ACLU!!!

They're filing suit to enjoin enforcement of New York's policy of randomly searching subway passengers.

"The suit, which filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, will claimed that the two-week old policy violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection and prohibitions against unlawful searches and seizures, while doing almost nothing to shield the city from terrorism."

Can you tell which part I agree with? It's the "doing almost nothing" stuff. Given that the police are forbidden from using the single most useful and logical tool in their quest to prevent radical Islamic fanatics from denotating bomb in a public place - i.e. looking for radical Islamic fanatics - I agree that the New York policy will have very limited usefulness.

But here's the conundrum. The lawsuit actually (and here again, I'm quite shocked) concedes that combatting terrorism is a good thing.

Now we have two basic premises set forward. First, we have to combat terrorism. Second, our efforts to combat terrorism should actually have some benefit. I can honestly only think of one course of action which logically follows from those two premises. New York should allow racial profiling. If we don't use it, the New York policy won't be effective (because frisking 80-year-old white women does not increase the probability of deterring terrorism), thus violating the second premise. Yet if, on the basis of a refusal to use it, we simply decline to look for terrorists at all, we violate the first premise.

And yet I can anticipate the ACLU's reaction should New York cops decide to use profiling.

We are therefore in an impossible spot, as far as the ACLU is concerned, because no plan can possibly satisfy the two premises I've highlighted except the one plan they absolutely refuse to implement.

Now to be fair, I also agree with the third premise, that the constitutional guarantee of Equal Protection must be upheld, and that includes preventing discrimination against people on the basis of race. And I concede that racial profiling is just such discrimination. But while that is the insuperable barrier for liberals to actually proposing something like a feasible plan (and no, I don't consider world-wide surrender to Islamic totalitarianism "a feasible plan"), for me it is no such barrier. As much as I hate the idea of racial profiling, I recognize that the perfect is the enemy of the good, that a solution which satisfies all three criteria advanced by the ACLU is logically impossible, and that one or more of the three must give. And so I propose that the Equal Protection premise must give. The "effective search" premise cannot, because it is physically impossible. It is not effective to randomly screen passengers with no attention to the characteristics most likely to tip of screeners, and it cannot possibly be. The "combatting terrorism" premise cannot, because to the innocent people who get blown up in terror attacks, neither of the other two premises make any difference. And so the third premise must yield.

And if you think about it, there's no reason that shouldn't satisfy a liberal. After all, the Constitution is a "living, breathing document," designed to be altered according to expediency, and the expediency of the moment requires a little flexibility in the Equal Protection clause.

Italian Wisdom: In 1897, the Tuscan author Renato Fucini published a wonderful short story called La Fonte di Pietrarsa ("The Fountain of Pietrarsa," title given in Italian for pretentiousness purposes). It is the story of an engineer who is assigned to design a fountain for the rural city of Pietrarsa, which is plagued by drought. The nearby hills have underground streams, the sources of which cannot be reached. The streams run directly under the city, under the soil, and then burst through a hole in the rock to cascade onto a rocky cliff far below. So the city comes up with a plan to build a fountain, and divert the natural resource for the use of all the citizens.

Three proposals are made, to build the fountain at town hall, to build it at the town square (near the inn and the postal stage), and near the church. The council gets together and decides to build near town hall, and the engineer is hired to make all the measurements and plans for the fountain. A contractor is brought in to do the masonry. Everything is ready to go.

Then an unruly mob shows up. They protest the plan to build near town hall. Why should the politicians get the best access! The poor people at either end of town are much more distant, and it will be very inconvenient for them to get the water. Isn't it just like the politicians, thinking only of themselves and making the poor to suffer! "The fountain in the middle, hey? because in the middle are the mayor, three councilmen and that big swine sor Girolamo!" The mob assembles outside the mayor's house and yell threats until he promises not to build anything until he has spoken with the council. The contractor tries to offer a contrary argument, and is soundly beaten for his troubles.

So the council again assembles, and they decide to build near the town square. Again, the mob assembles in a fury. Those who favor building near the church are in a furor, and those who wanted to build near town hall aren't about to lose their benefit because of a mob. But again the plan is postponed for further discussion, after the engineer is fined violating the stamp tax and the contractor is sent to jail for four weeks for "excessive self-defense."

At the end of the story, a final proposal is made to build near the church. The plan is unanimously approved, and then shelved, with the intention of never showing anyone. The crowd never hears of the approval, and is busy grumbling about how bad things will get if the town tries to build near the church.

The author ends his tale thus:

"The town of Pietrarsa is suffering from drought. But in the August evenings, when the wrinkled leaves sleep in the branches, and the very crickets are silent through exhaustion, it is a great comfort for thirst to hear the roar of the waterfall which, broad and everlasting, fades away noisily into the depths of the declivity."

This wonderful little story could have been written yesterday, prescient as it is in setting up the "evil" interests of government (town hall), commerce (town square) and religion (the church), and the warring factions amonst each. Anyone who chuckles at the fantastic nature of the fable ought to consider that these are today the three bogeymen of the Democratic National Party, and that while the DNC delights in pointing out what is wrong and inequitable with any proposed plans, they never seem to be able to propose a working plan themselves. This is not new insight, of course, but it's interesting for me to see just how old it is.