Archives: June, 2008

Only in England

Bureaucrats in the United Kingdom must be getting jealous that their French counterparts are getting all the attention, so they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to demonstrate unparalleled government stupidty. Security officials at Heathrow Airport barred a man from flying until he removed a t-shirt with an image of an armed robot. The Evening Standard (not The Onion) reports:

An airline passenger claimed that a security guard threatened to arrest him because he was wearing a T-shirt showing a cartoon robot with a gun. Brad Jayakody, 30, from London, said he was stopped from passing through security at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 after his Transformers T-shirt was deemed ‘offensive.’ …Mr Jayakody said the first guard started joking with him about the Transformers character depicted on his French Connection T-shirt. ‘ “Then he explains that since Megatron is holding a gun, I’m not allowed to fly,’ he said. ‘It’s a 40ft tall cartoon robot with a gun as an arm. There is no way this shirt is offensive in any way, and what I’m going to use the shirt to pretend I have a gun?

Travelers in the United States, needless to say, have no reason to be smug. The keystone cops at the Transportation Security Administration, after all, have become experts at confiscating such well-known terrrorist weapons as fingernail clippers and bottles of shampoo.

False Dichotomy

In general, I don’t care what appears on the pages of Parade magazine—everyone’s favorite newspaper insert—but lots of people probably read the thing so when it contains something totally off the mark it’s worth rebutting. This weekend’s edition included a little story on homeschooling, in which Century Foundation Senior Fellow Richard Kahlenberg said that a California appeals court decision prohibiting parents from homeschooling without official teaching credentials “pits those who believe parental rights are paramount against those who place a premium on well-educated citizens.”

Talk about your false dichotomies! Kahlenberg is probably right that many people who say homeschooling parents should be required to have state credentials do so in the name of “well-educated citizens,” but there is no connection between teacher certification and well-educated anything, nor between public schooling and good citizenship. Indeed, state control of education is no guarantee of any quality whatsoever. 

People who want the state to control homeschooling might truly believe that it will produce well-educated citizens, but there’s very little evidence to support that belief.

Gravy Train for European Politicians

In the dark days of the Soviet Union, the political elite (known as the nomenklatura) enjoyed immense privileges, including uncluttered roadway access on special ”Chaika lanes.” There’s now a new version of Chaika lanes, only this time the nomenklatura are members of the European Parliament. According to the UK-based Times, they are getting a special train to ferry them between Brussels and Strasbourg. Needless to say, the taxpayers who finance this elitist boondoggle will not be allowed to ride the train:

After years of being accused of riding the Brussels gravy train, members of the European parliament are about to step aboard a real one. A Eurocrats-only express service will be launched next month to ferry MEPs and officials in luxury at 186mph between one European parliament in Brussels and the other in Strasbourg. The buffet car will, of course, be fully stocked. The Strasbourg Express will leave Brussels for the first time at 9.57am on Monday, July 7. Each return journey will cost the taxpayer about £158,000, but the fare-paying public will be banned. MEPs will pay £170 for a return ticket, but will then be reimbursed. “The public will not be able to buy tickets or use this train,” said Thalys, the high-speed train operator that will run the service. …Every month, when the European parliament moves to Strasbourg, the “train of shame” will leave Brussels on a Monday, returning the following Thursday, with up to 377 MEPs and officials travelling each way in three spacious carriages. It is widely seen in Brussels as a gimmick to boost the French, whose insistence on maintaining the second parliament in Strasbourg makes such journeys necessary in the first place.

Whose Side Are You On?

In an article about the wave of conservative reform under Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, the New York Times writes:

Meanwhile the House is considering an income tax cut that would cost the state $300 million. 

Another way to say that would be:

Meanwhile the House is considering an income tax cut that would save the taxpayers $300 million.

It all depends on whether you identify with the taxpayers or the tax consumers.

In Memory of William Odom, An Appreciation

I was saddened to learn over the weekend that Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, USA (Ret.) – a military assistant to President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, head of the National Security Agency under President Reagan, and an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq – had passed away from an apparent heart attack. He was 75 years old. His obituary reveals the extent of this man’s service to his country, and hints at his intellect and independence that I had grown to admire.

I did not know Gen. Odom very well, but I valued his wisdom and insight. Whenever I encountered him at meetings or informal receptions around town, I would gravitate toward him. He graciously shared his deep knowledge of defense and foreign policy issues, accumulated over many years in the military and in Washington. He was a terrific storyteller, and always generous with his time.

In recent years, especially, I respected his enormous courage in resisting mainstream opinion with respect to Iraq. He was one of a very few individuals who spoke out against the invasion before it occurred. After Saddam’s government fell, Gen. Odom made a strong case for why an expeditious military withdrawal from the country would serve U.S. interests, while a long-term occupation would undermine them. He made such arguments well before they were politically popular. (Read or listen to his comments at a Cato policy forum last year).

I have a strong suspicion that his outspokenness did not sit him in good stead with many of his one-time friends and benefactors, but he never seemed to care. Indeed, I sensed that he took some pleasure in it. For Bill Odom, being loyal to the truth was more important than being loyal to particular persons or groups.

In that respect, at least, Gen. Odom was a rare breed in Washington. He will be sorely missed.

Only in France, Part II

Not surprisingly, the French are leading an effort to impose EU-wide regulations on executive compensation, as reported by the UK-based Independent:

France, which takes over the presidency of the EU on 1 July, will ask finance ministers to consider a European directive to curb disproportionate bonuses or golden handshakes to company bosses. …The French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, said companies must put their own house in order or face a rash of national, or EU, legislation to clamp down on “excesses”. French officials said Paris felt that, without such an EU-wide curb, large companies or highly paid executives would evade national curbs by exercising their right to move from one EU country to another. …President Nicolas Sarkozy has already spoken out against large “golden parachutes” to failed business leaders. Although often presented in Britain and the US as a kind of French Mrs Thatcher, he has called for the “moralisation of capitalism”, something closer to the late President Charles de Gaulle’s statist and social approach to business.

But give them some credit. French politicians are clever enough to realize that imposing bad policy on French companies would cause firms to migrate to less-oppressive jurisdictions. That is why they want anti-market rules to be imposed across the continent (much as they support tax harmonization so that all nations have bad tax law and France is not disproportionately impacted).

In an ideal world, French politicians would avoid new taxes and regulation and instead would investigate whether existing government policies - such as anti-takeover restrictions - were insulating corporate management from investor oversight. But that would mean reducing the power and influence of government, so that option is not part of the discussion.