Archive for May, 2009

Paging George Orwell

Published May 23rd, 2009 by tcarpenter

My annoyance meter always registers a high reading whenever politicians and bureaucrats use nice-sounding names (euphemisms) for sleazy laws or programs.  George Orwell highlighted that concept in his famous novel 1984, in which government officials cynically insisted that war was peace and slavery was freedom.

An Orwellian example in our own time is the so-called PATRIOT Act, rushed through Congress in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  Portrayed as a measure to keep Americans safe, it was in reality the biggest mugging of our Constitutional liberties since the infamous laws that Woodrow Wilson’s administration pushed through in World War I.

A more minor, but still irritating, incident is now occurring in my home state of Virginia.  The state police propaganda apparatus is touting the onset of CARE (Combined Accident Reduction Effort) over the three-day Memorial Day weekend.  As the name implies, the supposed motive is to increase traffic safety.  Even the press release gave the game away, though, by boasting that last year saw more than 11,000 speeding tickets issued during that holiday period.  The dirty truth is that CARE is an excuse to fill Virginia’s coffers with more revenue from hapless motorists who run afoul of speed traps.

Experts have pointed out that speed limits on most roads, especially rural interstate highways, are habitually too low.  And most drivers seem to agree.  Along many stretches of the interstate system, 75 to 80 percent of drivers routinely exceed the speed limit.  Since most motorists drive with the intent of arriving at their destination safely rather than incurring injury or death, we should assume that they are acting rationally.  And we should ponder why a prevailing speed, arrived at by thousands of motorists making their own decisions, are automatically worse than arbitrary limits imposed by politicians and bureaucratic hacks in state capitals.

At the very least, we should insist on truth in labeling.  The next time a governor’s armed revenue collectors announce a “highway safety program,” they should be required to admit: “Yeah, the state budget is hurting, so we’re going to collect more fines from drivers.”  At least then their infringement on liberties wouldn’t be compounded by hypocrisy.

Keep an Eye on Pakistan

Published May 11th, 2009 by tcarpenter

The situation in Pakistan is becoming increasingly ugly.  Taliban forces and their Al Qaeda allies have gained control over significant chunks of Pakistan along that country’s border with Afghanistan.  The feckless government in Islamabad, after unsuccessfully attempting an appeasement policy, has now apparently reversed course and is confronting the militants with a major military offensive.  The bottom line is that Pakistan is an extremely fragile country with a growing radical Islamic insurgency.  At the very least, those developments complicate America’s already beleaguered mission next door in Afghanistan, where the Obama administration is beefing-up the U.S. military presence.  And we need to ponder a possible worst-case scenario: Pakistan completely unraveling and the militants getting control of that country’s nuclear arsenal.  While the risk of Pakistan becoming the South Asian version of Somalia is still relatively remote, that possibility cannot be ruled out.

My colleague Malou Innocent recently published an excellent study on this extremely complicated situation.  She spent several weeks last year in Pakistan as part of her research, and her analysis is the best relatively short treatment I’ve seen of this crucial and difficult issue.