Moral Responsibilities

The editors of the New Republic say we have a “moral responsibility” to invade Burma in order to distribute disaster relief. The editors observe that no one taken seriously is seriously advocating doing this and lament:

This is, put simply, an unacceptable abdication of our moral responsibilities. Even though our standing in the world has been severely diminished by Iraq, we should at least be debating intervention in Burma. There are, no doubt, many logistical complications and unintended consequences that would follow from such a policy. But there are also reasons why it should be a live option. The goal of such an intervention need not be regime change; it should simply be to make sure that a vulnerable population receives the supplies it desperately needs. Of course, if violating the sovereignty of a murderous regime happens to undermine that regime’s legitimacy, then that would not be such a terrible result. But this does not necessarily have to be our goal.

One should not, I suppose, be too surprised that this sort of slipshod advocacy still emanates from the epicenter of liberal imperialism, a publication that was as influential as any in urging the Iraq war on the American people. (Neither should the fact that its leadership attempted to make their non-apology apology for Iraq look magnanimous.) The piece’s curtsy at post-Iraq reality is even sort of endearing, in a child-like way.

Note also the focus not on the particular policy of invading and taking responsibility for disaster relief in Burma, but rather on the importance of “debating” such a policy. After all, the New Republic’s writers aren’t going to be the ones to invade the country and deliver the aid. Rather, the important question is whether the political climate will allow for TNR’s writers to churn out tough-minded and uncompromising articles that allow them to stretch their rhetorical legs yet still keep them within the beloved Broderian mainstream of American politics.

But maybe the most disappointing point of that paragraph is that instead of the rote “to be sure” formulation, the editors chose to dodge completely the substance of the policy they’re advocating for by using the more indirect “there are, no doubt, many logistical complications…” phrasing. Write what you know, guys.

Supreme Court Rules on Money Laundering

Interesting voting pattern in a Supreme Court ruling today.  Instead of the usual conservative & liberal voting blocs, we find Scalia, Thomas, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens in the majority–while Breyer, Kennedy, Alito and Roberts dissent.

The case is called United States v. Santos and the issue was how to interpret the term “proceeds” in the federal money laundering statute.  The case was easy and should have been unanimous.  When a term in a criminal law is unclear, the defendant should get the benefit of the doubt, not the rule-making, rule-enforcing state.  That’s a legal doctrine called the “rule of lenity.”  Unfortunately, the Supremes do not apply that rule consistently.  Happily, the Court reached the correct outcome today.  Here’s the money quote from Scalia: “When interpreting a criminal statute, we do not play the part of a mind reader.”  The “we” in that sentence referred to the justices.  But that goes double for the individuals & business firms that are regulated by vague federal regulations.

The newest justices, Alito and Roberts, are showing their pro-state tendencies again. 

Medicare & the Mob

I blogged previously about University of Michigan law professor Jill Horwitz’s review of Medicare Meets Mephistopholes, a book by Cato adjunct scholar David A. Hyman.

Hyman and Horwitz are now mixing it up in an online debate over at the University of Pennsylvania Law Review’s PENNumbra.com.  Readers will find a good synopsis of Hyman’s book, as well as a good point-by-point critique.  Medicare’s critics will enjoy how Hyman likens Medicare – and many of its apologists – to mobsters.  Also available in pdf.

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.