Thursday, June 29, 2006

Driver’s License, American Express and National ID

Don’t leave home without it!


MastercardThat famous tag-line for American Express has become a part of the cultural history of the country. What it means for us as Americans, that our cultural history is defined by Madison Avenue ad-writers, I don’t know. But hardly anyone would equate American Express or the need of a state driver’s license (or, for that matter a Social Security card) with Nazi Germany.


Except for Edward Roybal, a Mexican-American member of the House of Representatives from California. Roybal was 70 years old in 1986, the year he threw his semantic monkey-wrench into the landmark Immigration Bill and thereby gutted it.

"We may face the danger of ending up like Nazi Germany," said Roybal, a Mexican American. "I do not say that we are going to go back to the Nazi regime, but . . . it will be the beginning of the violation of rights, and we . . . in this nation may be known by numbers."

RepedwardroybalBy that handy piece of demagoguery, Roybal assured the toothlessness of carefully arranged and negotiated legislation. More to the point, he further assured that the promised ‘last amnesty’ would be revisited again in a scant twenty years, illegal immigration (mostly from Mexico) having ballooned during those years to over 12 million.

It’s an absolute laugh that Americans continue to see a National Identity Card as a huge, dark, big-brothery menace. Casually allowing their e-mails and phone calls to be monitored, unbothered by the feds tracing down their bank transactions, ready and willing to give up all kinds of information (including photo ID and, in some states, fingerprints) in order to get a driver’s license, Americans go ballistic when national ID is proposed.

C’mon, guys, the credit ‘industry’ already know where you bought your snow-tires, how much you paid for them and if the payment was made in a timely manner. Unseen observers of your life already know where you’ve been, what and where you eat, how many times (if ever) you visit a message-parlor. They already know how much you owe on your home, if it’s been refinanced and if you’re struggling to pay Dr. Jones for that uninsured tummy-tuck.


PassportFewer than 20% of Americans have ever had (or even thought of having) passports. In all other reasonably advanced societies of the world, passports are common as driver’s licenses. Because they are bulky and not something you want to lose or have stolen, most countries issue a national identity card as well. Simple, laminated photo-IDs that carry easily in pocket or purse.


What can possibly make Americans so flinchy about such a common document?


Roybal and a bunch of House Democrats pulled the ID portion of the immigration legislation in the middle of the night, asking no one and presenting the final marked-up bill a half-hour before the vote. Sound familiar? Yeah, Democrats used to do that stuff as well as Republicans.


‘Round up the usual suspects,’ Claude Rains barks in Casablanca. The usual suspects in Washington are outfits like Heritage Foundation, who (claim to) worry that legal immigrants might be penalized by incorrect information entered into a national database. It strikes me that’s like not hiring a window-washing firm, accepting work behind filthy office windows because someone’s glass might be streaked.


Not to be left out, the ACLU has several objections


  • That such a program would cost $4 billion to operate (although I fail to see the connection between civil liberty and the cost of programs)

  • Terrorists or illegal immigrants would find a way to get one (like they can’t get passports, driver’s licenses, credit or social security cards)

  • A database of all Americans could be misused by a government determined to spy on its citizens. (Exactly what has not happened in Social Security and MediCare-MedicAid databases)

Rep James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsonite who’s long on disdain Repsensenbrenner2_1and short on ideas, is also chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill he sponsored, ‘disdained’ an ID plan, specifically stating “nothing in the legislation shall be construed to authorize . . . the establishment of a national identification card."


Wow! Shakespearean in its power. To construe or to misconstrue, that is the question.


Sensenbrenner wants a worker verification system that employers would check through the Internet. The Senate agreed on a similar tactic rather than a national ID system.


The Internet! Now there’s a vehicle that’s safe from terrorist tampering!
_____________________________________________________


More about politics in America at my opinion columns web site.