- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Cargo concerns

Remember six months ago when Charles McKinley decided he wanted to visit his father in Dallas, so he climbed into a wooden crate marked “computer equipment” and shipped himself undetected by airplane from New York to Texas?

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Suzanne Luber tried explaining to the jittery nation that Mr. McKinley simply figured why not “ship himself rather than pay for a ticket.”

Now, one of the more outspoken Democrats on homeland security says in the two-plus years since September 11 dangerous gaps “persist” in the aviation-security system.

Specifically, Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey, who has introduced the Secure Existing Aviation Loopholes (SEAL) Act to address more than a dozen security issues threatening airline passengers, is concerned about cargo aboard passenger aircraft.

Twenty-two percent of U.S. cargo shipped by air is transported in the bellies of passenger planes, and as the congressman observes, the Department of Homeland Security “does not routinely inspect cargo transported on passenger planes.”

Rather, the department relies on “flawed” paperwork checks of manifests and random physical inspections, he said.

The SEAL Act would require 100 percent physical inspection of cargo transported on passenger planes, the cost offset by a cargo security fee similar to what passengers pay for security measures when they purchase airline tickets.

And what’s become of Mr. McKinley?

In recent days, a federal magistrate in Fort Worth, Texas, after calling the 25-year-old shipping clerk “stupid,” handed him a year of probation, four months of house arrest, and a fine of $1,500.

Not a bad deal for the stowaway, figuring he faced a year in jail and fine of $100,000. Then again, Mr. McKinley arguably taught Uncle Sam a timely lesson. Or so Mr. Markey and the traveling public hopes.

Illegal payments

Apparently it dawned on a Washington bureaucrat: Why not tax illegal aliens like everybody else?

In the last few weeks, six congressmen we know of have written to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking why tax preparers, including the Internal Revenue Service, are providing tax assistance — and presumably refunds — to people in this country illegally.

One of the lawmakers, Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, wasn’t amused to learn that tax providers, including H&R; Block, are reportedly working in conjunction with the IRS to assist illegal aliens in obtaining Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs).

The congressman says an ITIN can be used as a “breeder document,” allowing an illegal alien to obtain identification documents, fraudulently register to vote, “even board airplanes.”

“I believe that the assistance provided by H&R; Block — and presumably other tax providers — along with the implicit approval and accommodation of their activities by the [federal government] … may also be in violation of federal law,” Mr. Tancredo states.

He references several laws that prohibit aiding, assisting and harboring illegal aliens.

“If someone changed or repealed these laws, they certainly didn’t tell Congress — and until they do, I would expect the Justice Department to enforce them,” the congressman says.

Civil war

Don’t let the names fool you: Americans for a Better Country (ABC) and People for the American Way (PAW) are as different as — well, left and right.

The liberal PAW is concerned about a pending Federal Election Commission (FEC) advisory opinion — requested by the right-leaning ABC — that it says could severely restrict the ability of nonprofit organizations to communicate with the public about important policy issues, candidates and officeholders.

It specifically cites President Bush as somebody who could be sheltered by such a ruling.

The FEC will consider the advisory tomorrow.

Dog groomer

Regarding our presidential birthday item, reader Nanit Noyb writes: “I share a birthday with George Washington and was married in the chapel at Valley Forge. When we went there … we went upstairs and saw a tiny museum with GW memorabilia. In one case, were multiple locks of his hair and lockets with his hair. It was fashionable to wear them among the ladies of the day.

“My fiance said, ‘Either George had a lot of hair or his dog was bald.’”

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected].

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