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Saturday, February 14, 2004

Mr. Bush Can Play Hard-to-Get Too, M. Chirac

Jacques Chirac, who reneged on promised support to George Bush and Colin Powell, now waits by the phone and can't understand why they don't call:

The official invitation has been lying in his in-tray for several months, but President George W. Bush has failed to let the French know whether he will attend the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in June. France's president, Jacques Chirac, is expecting at least 15 heads of state to be present at the commemorations marking the decisive Allied offensive against the Germans in Normandy on June 5, 6 and 7.

15 heads of state will be on hand to celebrate, huh? Won't it be embarrassing for Chirac if the US president has something better to do the first week of June, even more so since this will be the first time a German Chancellor has been invited to attend. On the other hand, it's also the first major anniversary since the French defaced the cemeteries of Allied soldiers with Nazi symbols and spray-painted insults to the British and the Americans.

However, in the words of one Paris-based diplomat, Mr Bush is "making the French sweat". Relations between France and America have been strained since the French vehemently opposed US-Anglo military action against Saddam Hussein a year ago. The French government is hoping that the D-Day commemorations will help break the ice between the two countries. President Bush's failure to respond to the invitation is seen as a mark of his continuing personal anger and bitterness over France's formation of an anti-Iraq war axis along with Germany and Russia.

Apparently, the visits of two French ministers have not resulted in the message being received: it wasn't the anti-war position of the French that was objectionable, it was their reneging on their promise to support us if we voted for UNSC resolution 1441 and it failed -- which it did, and miserably so. Their motivation for betrayal has been uncovered in arms sales and bribes to highly-placed French officials. The French sold us out, and now they wonder why we're not excited to visit Normandy to commemorate the sacrifice of thousands of American lives in liberating them 60 years ago.

The truth is that in an election year, Bush could use the good domestic coverage that the D-Day ceremonies would bring, but his appearance would likely result in demonstrations by thousands of French protestors who would have been shot if they'd uttered a peep while occupied by the army that the British and Americans kicked out of France, starting on D-Day. I'm not sure it's worth it, and I'm certain that the current corrupt and treacherous French leadership isn't. It's extremely unlikely Bush would skip the celebration, but let's hope his schedule fills up before then.

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Friday, February 13, 2004

Greenspan: Make Tax Cuts Permanent

Alan Greenspan yesterday testified before the Senate Budget Committee in favor of President Bush's plan to make the Bush tax cuts permanent:

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Thursday that Congress should make President Bush's tax cuts permanent and cover the $1 trillion price by trimming future benefits in Social Security and other entitlement programs.

Greenspan told the Senate Budget Committee that Congress, "as a first order of business," should restore budget rules that cap discretionary government spending and require increases in entitlement benefits or cuts in taxes to be offset by other program cuts or other tax increases.

Greenspan was asked how he would come up with the decade-long cost of $1 trillion to pay for extending the 2001 and 2003 individual tax cuts. "I would argue strenuously that it should be taken out on the expenditure side," he answered.

Greenspan delivered the traditionally conservative position of smaller government, something the present Administration has been reluctant to do, preferring its more populist and expansive "compassionate conservatism" until recently. Greenspan's testimony may give some comfort to Bush's restless base which has recently made their displeasure known with some of Bush's legislative choices, such as increasing the funding for the National Endowment of the Arts and the proposal to create a guest-worker program to deal with illegal immigration.

Greenspan's remarks on Social Security, on the other hand, may cause Bush some problems in November, although his advice is simply common sense:

He recommended two items for study in terms of trimming benefits: linking the retirement age to the population's longer life spans and tying cost-of-living benefits in Social Security to a less-generous index than the Consumer Price Index. ... Greenspan said it was precisely as a result of that looming wave of retirement that lawmakers must update Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs.

For the rest of us, adjusting retirement targets for longer life spans make sense; the average life span has increased by several years since the creation of Social Security and retirement age has only gone backward during the 70 years since. When Social Security was implemented, 65 was higher than life expectancy, and after the economic collapse of 1929-32 most people's savings had been wiped out, meaning that nothing was left if they could no longer work. In 2004, those conditions no longer exist, but we have never addressed the change in context, allowing Social Security to grow out of control. Greenspan warns us, correctly, that the impending retirement of the baby-boomer population bulge will either bankrupt the system or force younger workers to float the difference.

Unfortunately, Social Security reform in an election year is a bit analogous to having a catatonic dragon sleeping just outside your city. You know eventually the dragon will wake up and wreak havoc, but it's not awake now, and you'd just as soon let it lie and make it someone else's problem later. Even suggesting that reform will be necessary -- especially for Republicans -- guarantees that the airwaves will suddenly be filled with ads paid for by AARP accusing you of "ageism" and nightly news stories of old ladies eating cat food to get by. You can expect the Bush administration to herald Greenspan's tax advice but grow strangely silent about his recommendations for paying for it, at least until after November.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

First, They Came For The Smokers ...

The forces of those who know what's best for you are gathering again to strip more personal choice from you -- this time aiming at your diet:

"Clearly, the obesity epidemic over the last 20 years is driven by something in our environment," says Robert Jeffery, professor and interim chairman of the division of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. He also researches public policy for the Minnesota Obesity Center. "Our basic biology has not changed." ...

"To get the most bang for your buck, if we want people to change, then we should change the price structure of food," Jeffery says. Higher costs for unhealthful foods are one way, as is done elsewhere through taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. But the public resists those costs, Jeffery notes.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has pushed this issue over the past year or so, quoting liberally from those who want to either start taxing "bad" foods or press lawsuits against fast-food vendors in order to limit the choices available to consumers. In a related story, the Strib conducted a poll on obesity and makes Minnesotan reluctance to hike taxes on certain foods seem hypocritical:

About 2.4 million adults in Minnesota are at least 30 pounds overweight, so it's easy to see why most Minnesotans agree we need to change our course, especially when it involves children. Take junk food in the school vending machines. Literally. Get rid of it, they say. And those Happy Meal ads blaring betwixt and between the cartoon shows (the ones that sabotage the best efforts of the home cook)? Perhaps folks are none too happy about temptations that entice kids at their most vulnerable moment, plopped in front of the TV. Most want limits on those ads.

But when it comes to hitting us where it hurts -- the wallet -- we are less strident. No new taxes on food, we say, even when it's the unhealthful stuff. As for legal protections for those who are obese -- similar to those for the disabled -- most of us support such sanctions. Yet plenty of us oppose any special protections.

However, it's hardly hypocritical to believe that we need to control the food content of our children's diets as parents and want our schools to avoid undermining that parental privelege and at the same time believe that government shouldn't act as a parent to 200 million adults who are capable of making their own decisions. Once again, we have a group of people who get frustrated when years of advocacy do not deliver desired results, and turn to regulation and litigation to achieve them instead. It's a different worldview; they see all liberty as a grant from the government, not government as a grant from a free people, which is why their poll shows that Democrats are far more likely to support price controls on objectionable food. The analogy used by the Strib writer illustrates this perfectly:

Amid a cholera epidemic, a community's water pump was found to be contaminated. To protect the town and prevent further illness, residents were taught what -- and how -- to keep clean. But, and this was the glitch, to bring cholera to an end, everyone had to be taught and everyone had to follow the recommendations.

Someone finally pointed out that the solution was to fix the pump.

Of course, not all food comes from one source, something that escapes the writer of this article; food comes from many sources, the result of our free market. Different foods are manufactured in response to demand, and the pricing of the food depends on that demand in opposition to its supply. Obesity-policy advocates propose to artificially tilt the market by overtaxing some foods, driving people to choose other foods, but it's not as simple as that. For one thing, the food industry employs a great number of people, and an even greater number of people invest in these companies. Toying with the market will result in large job losses and retirement-fund instability. Who do you think will be the most affected by these changes? The low- and middle-income families these advocates profess to protect through government interference.

But more than the economic consequences, the erosion of liberty is the paramount concern. At what point do we get to make our own decisions about our lives? People who claim to protect us from ourselves present our gravest threat to freedom, the more so because they are sincere in their desire to do good. They know best about what we need, and individuals who follow their advice as a matter of personal choice would benefit from doing so. But when they try to leverage the power of the government to dictate and limit the choices available to us on such a basic issue as the food we eat, the cure becomes more deadly than the disease. Like the NY Times article which advocated limiting consumer choice in general in order to promote "happiness", it reduces all of us to the level of children with government as the nanny, doling out what the poor dears need and slapping our hands when we don't choose what's best for us.

Critics will respond that obesity places heavy costs on the economy, mostly through the overuse of health-care resources and absenteeism from the workplace. It's the same excuse that generated the mind-boggling litigation against tobacco producers and the liquor industry. Government intrusion on the health-care industry allows this argument to be made, and demonstrates the dangerous road we have tread when we allowed the government to become a primary source of funding for medical services. What people fail to understand is that when we empower government to solve our personal problems, there is a price to be paid beyond the taxes collected. Each decision we abdicate to our government reduces our liberty a little bit more.

First they came for the smokers, and that was okay, because tobacco is evil and deadly, so no one questioned the legal sacking of the corporations that provided it -- even though anyone who started smoking after 1963 did so in defiance of warning labels on the product that told people it was deadly to do so. Next they came for the gun owners but were driven back. Now they've come for your dinner plate. How much more of this has to happen before people finally wake up?

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Sunday, February 08, 2004

We're American Airlines, Proselytizing As We Do Best

You know your flight is about to turn weird when the pilot asks you to raise your hand if you're sure ... that you're a Christian:

American Airlines is investigating reports that a pilot asked passengers to identify themselves as Christians so non-Christians on board could talk to them about their faith, a spokesman said Sunday. ... Kincaid said the pilot, whose name was not released, reportedly asked Christian passengers to raise their hands before suggesting that the other passengers should discuss Christianity with those passengers.

The pilot, who had just returned from a mission to Costa Rica, reportedly said he would be available at the end of the flight for further discussion, Kincaid said.

You would think that a pilot might have other things on his mind than a religion check -- like actually flying the plane. Next, he'll be asking to change the boarding classes from first class, business class, and coach to Saints, Sinners, and The Unwashed Heathen.

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Friday, February 06, 2004

Blair May Be Headed For Trouble

Tony Blair, America's staunch ally in the war on terror, may be heading for some electoral problems according to a story in tomorrow's Independent:

Our poll puts the Conservatives, with 36 per cent, one point ahead of Labour, on 35 per cent. This is the first non-internet poll to put the Conservatives ahead since Michael Howard became leader last November. When NOP themselves last polled at the end of September, the Tories were on 29 per cent, nine points behind Labour.

In contrast to his two predecessors, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, the new leader has made a favourable first impression on the electorate. As many as 47 per cent say he is doing a good job; only 15 per cent think he is doing a bad job. Perhaps just as importantly, only 13 per cent do not have a view about him. Mr Howard is evidently no "quiet man'' struggling to make his voice heard.

Even Labour supporters have formed a favourable view of the Tory leader. As many as 36 per cent think he is doing a good job, just 24 per cent a bad one. Any hopes Labour might have had that Mr Howard's political past would ensure he repelled anyone other than committed Conservatives have proven wide of the mark.

The Independent's glee at these numbers does manage to peek through at times in this analysis, and this underscores Blair's problem. For years, Blair had managed to pull the Clinton trick of stealing his opponents' issues while keeping his base happy, meaning that only the true believers on the right consistently opposed him, no little effect. With his partnership with Bush on Iraq came new dangers, and they now appear to be taking their toll on Blair's standing. Instead of mollifying the center-right and holding the left, the left now feels rejected by Blair's insistence on military action -- and the center-right has no loyalty to him. In a separate but related story, 51 percent now disapprove of Blair's performance, worrying numbers in the parliamentary system where a no-confidence vote could end Blair's career:

Tony Blair's loss of public trust after the war on Iraq and the Hutton report is underlined today by a poll for The Independent showing more than half of voters want him to resign. The NOP poll, conducted this week, shows that 51 per cent want the Prime Minister to quit and 54 per cent believe he lied to the nation over the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Blair's troubles have been compounded by an admission that he did not know that a claim that Iraq had WMDs ready to fire within 45 minutes referred to short-range tactical weapons and not long-range ballistic missiles. The British government had reportedly allowed the impression to continue that British interests in Cyprus were threatened by this alleged ballistic capability. Now Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, is calling for Blair to resign. Howard's own numbers have increased dramatically since he replaced Iain Duncan-Smith as opposition leader in Parliament, and the Independent reports that Conservatives actually outpoll Labour, just barely, for the first time in years.

What effect will a damaged Blair have on the US? For one thing, Bush will lose his best international ally in the war on terror and in confronting the corrupt governments of France and Russia. The loss will affect Bush's re-election bid here as well. Americans have been impressed with Blair's eloquence and determination, and it is no secret that his enthusiastic endorsement of the Iraq phase of the war bolstered Bush at home, if not abroad. With his troubles mounting, Blair will have to tend his own political fortunes and that may mean distancing himself from Bush in order to hold onto his core support in Labour. While I don't think Blair will pull away from the war on terror -- I think he's deeply and personally committed to it -- I don't see him making any more visits to the US to discuss it anytime soon. It may be that Howard will turn out to be as strong an ally of Bush in the war, but so far I'm not terribly hopeful.

The Independent also includes a snide editorial analysis of the difference between Blair and Winston Churchill, provoked by a Blair supporter's comparison to the legendary British statesman, which is headlined, "Unlike Mr Blair, Churchill had been a soldier". I would say that Tony Blair will have the fight of his political life ahead of him in the next few weeks and months.

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Reverberations From A Rack

Variety writes at length today about the continuing aftershocks in the entertainment industry from the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake breast-baring incident:

The rehabilitation of Jackson has begun in earnest, and taking the lead is MTV sister network BET.

The vehicle: a series of 10 30-second vignettes featuring a subdued, furrowed-brow Jackson, dressed almost dowdily in conservative black, speaking directly to cable viewers about dignified African-American personages ranging from Sidney Poitier and Harriet Tubman to Marion Anderson and Paul Robeson.

Forget about what BET calls Jackson's "edgy and sexy persona," which exploded during the halftime of last week's Super Bowl game when Justin Timberlake ripped her costume, baring her right breast live before an estimated audience of 90 million people. In the BET spots, Jackson comes off like the mother superior of a nunnery. "Her tone is serious and focused," says a BET statement, and she takes on the "air and diction of a seasoned lecturer."

In addition, Jackson has withdrawn as a performer at the Grammys and organizers are debating whether to require Timberlake to do the same. TNT is insert a 10-second audio delay on the SAG Awards. MTV, which produced the halftime show that offended so many people, was barred from filming a series on a California high-school campus that had previously been approved. Finally, Congress is considering a bill that would increase the fines for indecency tenfold, a bill that the broadcast industry would like to fight but now is in a difficult position in which to do so.

It's amazing how much damage a nipple medallion can cause.

However, this is not a trivial matter, as I tried to explain to a (skeptical) friend the other day. Public broadcasting is just that -- a public issue, as radio frequencies are monopolies. Only one broadcaster can use a particular channel in each market, and so government has licensed broadcasters since 1933 in order to maintain order and to ensure that broadcasters meet the public trust in their programming. Since CBS, for instance, broadcasts on channel 4 in my area using a high-powered transmitter, I cannot make use of this frequency to publish my own point of view. This makes the Super Bowl broadcast very much different than having the Sopranos on HBO. HBO does not monopolize a certain broadcast frequency in order to play its programming; neither does MTV, the Comedy Channel, or any of the other cable networks. Cable bandwidth is owned by the cable delivery service; broadcast channels are owned by the public.

This grant of local monopolies conveys a greater responsibility on the broadcaster to ensure that their programming does not violate community standards of decency. Without a doubt, baring an adult female breast in public is an indecent act, and in most if not all of America it would be considered a misdemeanor for indecent exposure. One does not need to find the bare mammary gland repugnant or shameful in order to understand the difference between broadcasting this on CBS on a Sunday evening during the most-watched TV show of the year and displaying it on the Playboy Channel. The latter service provides subscriptions to viewers who have an interest in that kind of programming and doesn't monopolize public broadcast channels to deliver it.

Nor, as my friend attempted to argue, is the Jackson/Timberlake episode analogous to scenes from National Geographic programs which have showed bare-chested women in tribal areas, living within their own community standards. The context of the Super Bowl halftime show was obviously sexual in nature. The songs being performed contained many references to sex, and the performers gestured in obviously sexual ways. Nelly, for instance, grasped his crotch a number of times, as CBS helpfully zoomed in on the action. Dancers were costumed in bondage-fantasy outfits. Jackson herself wore what looked like a leather butcher's smock/bustier. The effect of Timberlake's gesture was one of power and humiliation, two common themes in bondage-genre entertainment. The wonder isn't that many Americans were offended by such a display, the wonder is that women's groups didn't make more of a protest on Monday morning.

As the owner of the channels that CBS uses to its own profit, the public is entitled to demand a higher standard from the broadcasters and producers of the programming aired. Let's not keep discussing the supposed "Puritanism" of Americans as the problem; instead, keep in mind that the production CBS aired was not appropriate, not for the time, the audience, and the medium.

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Sauce For The Goose

In the midst of the outrage du jour -- outsourcing -- India responds with a big "so what":

Most jobs going to India are in the high-technology and professional-services sector. Data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show, however, that U.S. job losses are taking place mainly in manufacturing and retail services.

In the professional and business sectors, U.S. employers added workers in the last quarter. Although jobs did shrink — for many reasons, including a burst stock market bubble — employment in computer and mathematical occupations has grown since June last year by more than 150,000. According to the Information Technologies Assn. of America, only about 2% of 10 million computer-related jobs have gone abroad.

In U.S. manufacturing, jobs have been declining, but they have been gradually doing so over two decades. Investments by U.S. companies in India's manufacturing are still quite modest. In India's fast-growing automobile sector, for instance, Japanese and South Korean firms are big players. American auto giants have a comparatively low profile.

While much has been made of $80,000 jobs going to India for $20,000, Mr. Adhikari reminds us that the buying power between the two salaries is about equivalent, especially when you remember that India's per-capita income is less than $500 per year. The message is that the free market and globalization also relate to labor, as it must. We can hardly have a free market for goods if you have protectionism on jobs, or else we would have few markets with which to sell our products overseas. Forcing American corporations to eliminate low-cost labor alternatives will only mean that foreign corporations and governments will fill the market need themselves. Such a policy will increase our trade imbalance as American consumers will flock to lower-price options. Which is preferable: a policy that allows American corporations to profit from lower-cost (but hardly sweatshop) labor, or one that puts American corporations at stark international disadvantage? Where do you have your retirement money invested?

Of course, a free market cuts both ways, and what Mr. Adhikari doesn't mention is that Americans could simply refuse to buy goods and services produced from outsourced labor. That is also a free-market decision, and one that allows the market to work properly. The outcry from consumers is already having some effect to this end, and the perception that India's outsourced call-center services are lower in quality than comparable US services have driven some corporations to end the outsourcing of these jobs. Why not continue to allow the market to drive these decisions?

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Massachussets Supreme Court: Gay-Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

The Massachussets Supreme Court has ruled that civil unions are not adequate substitutes for marriage and has ordered the Commonwealth to recognize marriage for same-sex couples:

The Massachusetts high court ruled Wednesday that only full, equal marriage rights for gay couples -- rather than civil unions -- would be constitutional, erasing any doubts that the nation's first same-sex marriages could take place in the state beginning in mid-May. The court issued the opinion in response to a request from the state Senate about whether Vermont-style civil unions, which convey the state benefits of marriage -- but not the title -- would meet constitutional muster. ...

The much-anticipated opinion sets the stage for next Wednesday's constitutional convention, where the Legislature will consider an amendment that would legally define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Without the opinion, Senate President Robert Travaglini had said the vote would be delayed. The soonest a constitutional amendment could end up on the ballot would be 2006, meaning that until then, the high court's decision will be Massachusetts law no matter what is decided at the constitutional convention.

Bear in mind that the Massachussets Supreme Court ruling pertains to its state constitution, not the US Constitution, and that the ruling has no immediate or direct impact on other states. Congress has already passed legislation exempting marriage from the requirement of other states to recognize the laws of other states, so a same-sex couple who gets married in Massachussets won't automatically have that marriage recognized anywhere else. Legislators in Massachussets intend on amending the state constitution to reverse the decision, and this may cause a huge headache. A constitutional ban on gay marriage could not be applied ex post facto, meaning that anyone who gets married under the Court's ruling for the next two years would remain married regardless.

While I am more libertarian than my friends and colleagues and don't have an issue with gay marriage, I have a huge issue with it being implemented on a constitutional basis. Unless the Massachussets constitution actually says that the state shall not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation -- it might, I don't know -- then this ruling goes from interpretation to legislation, and star-chamber legislation is the worst form of governing that Americans experience. Granting rights through judicial activism is the legal equivalent of a sledgehammer -- it hits the target and a lot of surrounding territory and it proves almost impossible to undo.

Take, for instance, the recent SCOTUS ruling declaring sodomy laws unconstitutional. Most people certainly agreed that these laws were foolish and unenforceable, but by declaring that two consenting adults had a constitutional right to do anything they wanted not only opens the door for sodomy, but also adult incest and any number of activities destructive to the social fabric of society. Had the matter been pursued through legislation, the offending laws could have been removed without granting previously unheard-of "rights" for anything else that occurs between consenting adults. Strictly speaking, you can make the same argument for granting constitutional protection for prostitution; it is a business transaction that, when made without the threat of arrest, remains between consenting adults. Previous to that ruling, such an argument could be made only in support of legislative action, but now it could very reasonably support a federal appeal of prostitution or pandering charges. I suspect it will be soon.

What Massachussets is saying is that rights are without boundaries and exempt from all restriction and definition, but that simply isn't so. The right to free speech is bound by restrictions on libel and slander and inciting riots. The right to peaceably assemble is similarly limited. The right to vote depends on citizenship, legal status, age, and residency. To say that a marriage is a right which is not bounded by restrictions is to open the door to all sorts of "redefinitions" of marriage between consenting adults, including polygamy and polyamory.

As I said earlier, I'm not unhappy with the immediate result of legalizing gay marriage, but I am upset that another court has usurped the legislative process yet again to promulgate law by fiat. Representative democracies work by allowing the people to create and impose the laws under which they are governed so that even if you personally disagree with the result, you (a) had an opportunity to be heard, either directly or through your representative, (b) limit the scope of the policy to its intended result, and (c) retain the ability to revisit the issue at a later date if the policy turns out to be misguided. Court decrees granting broad "rights" eliminate all three of these natural safeguards, distancing the process of legislation from the people it affects and increasing the sense of powerlessness of the electorate. This sense of powerlessness results in sharply polarized politics, such as we see now on abortion, and it places too much political meaning in the judicial process, resulting in the acrimony and stalemate on judicial confirmations at all levels.

Massachussets resident may indeed desire to recognize gay marriages. Unfortunately, the only choice left to them now is to allow their court to set an extreme precedent or to block any redefinition entirely by constitutional amendment. Total victory or abject loss have become the only two options in American politics anymore, thanks to judicial activism, and until we insist on curtailing this activism we will continue the disenfranchisement of the American electorate in favor of government by robed diktat.

UPDATE: The decision, via Instapundit.

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Chase-Related Crash Wasn't

My local police department has discovered that a state-patrol crash just before Christmas that supposedly resulted from a perp chase was actually caused by a speeding trooper giving another trooper a lift to a hockey game:

A state trooper intent on getting an off-duty colleague to a hockey game allegedly used her squad car's lights and siren and reached speeds of up to 126 mph before crashing into a civilian car in Eagan in December. The trooper then told investigators she had been pursuing a violator when the accident took place, and told an Explorer Scout riding with her to lie about what happened, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday. ...

According to the complaint: [Jennifer Lee] Schneider initially told a trooper investigating the accident that she was on her way to the Eagan Civic Arena to watch her husband — also a state trooper — play in a hockey game. She told the investigator she saw a motorist go through a red light and, in pursuing the vehicle, crashed her squad car.

But after receiving an anonymous tip, the State Patrol suspected Schneider had filed a false report and asked the Eagan police to investigate.

The highway where Schneider drove 126 MPH is a wide road, but the offramp is a tight and partially blind spiral, amd if Schneider went any faster than 60 MPH, it would have been grossly negligent, even if she snapped on her lights and siren moments before plowing into another driver. More to the point, when we hear a siren and see emergency lights, we expect that the unit is responding to an emergency and isn't a super-taxi for off-duty troopers. Further, we expect troopers to be honest when interrogated, not lie to cover up for each other.

Interestingly, Schneider's one flaw in her cover-up was the Explorer scout who rode along with her and her fare when the crash occurred. Initially the Explorer kept quiet about the truth, but that promptly changed when he was approached by Eagan investigators:

Immediately after the accident, an Eagan officer arrived and was asked by Schneider to transport Olson to the arena. When another trooper arrived to investigate the accident, Schneider indicated that the Explorer Scout was her only passenger.

"The kid came clean right away," Mayer said of the Scout. ...The Explorer Scout, Kyle Paulson, 19, of Oakdale, was reluctant to talk about what took place. When asked if he got a lesson from what happened, he said he learned the importance of one thing.

"Integrity," he said.

It would appear that the Explorer actually received a valuable education from his ride-along, one that Schneider never managed to absorb during her tenure with the State Police. She is lucky no one is dead. When it comes time to prosecute, I hope someone remembers that. That could just as easily have been my car, or my son's car with my granddaughter inside, that Schneider hit at high speed just so her husband's colleague could play in a hockey game. Someone with such little regard for the lives of Minnesotans doesn't belong in a trooper's uniform and should receive a sentence that will make that clear to any other law-enforcement professionals who feel tempted to start their own high-speed taxi services in Minnesota.

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Friday, January 30, 2004

French Corruption Scandals Grow

The French just capped off a glorious week of scandal and corruption with the conviction of former PM Alain Juppé, a crony of Jacques Chirac:

In a stinging reverse for President Jacques Chirac, the former French prime minister Alain Juppé was banned from office for a decade yesterday after being found guilty of corrupt party financing. ... A court in Nanterre in the Paris suburbs found him guilty yesterday of "taking illegal advantage" of public funds. He was given an 18-month suspended sentence and ordered to serve the mandatory 10-year suspension from elected office. More than a score of other serving or former party colleagues or associates of M. Juppé and M. Chirac were given suspended prison terms. ...

The legal conviction of M. Juppé also amounts to a political indictment of M. Chirac. The offences of which M. Juppé was convicted - embezzling the money of Paris taxpayers by putting seven party officials on the town hall payroll - occurred while M. Chirac was mayor of the French capital. It is generally accepted that the President would also have stood trial if he had not been protected by his immunity as head of state.

After the publication of the oil-for-food bribery list, featuring prominent French politicians who made France the second-largest recipient of Saddam's generosity, this additional scandal will rock Chirac's standing in the EU. Added to Elf-Aquitaine and their insistence on getting immunity in the US for the Executive Life collapse, and it is apparent that Chirac may be running the most corrupt Western European government since the Nazis stole everything that wasn't bolted down.

This scandal-ridden administration should make clear to all, especially Americans, that France no longer has any credibility. Chirac has forfeited any claim to speak for international agreements, let alone lecture the US on morality. Their self-assigned role as arbiter of our foreign policy, and the importance that certain politicians put in their opinion and assent, clearly are discredited now. Any candidate at any level that argues for French agreement (and Russian, for that matter) before pursuing foreign-policy and national-security objectives demonstrates their lack of qualification on national defense.

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