Monday, February 24, 2003

Federalism is Bad... No, Good... No, Bad... Oh Forget it.

The Des Moines Register has been sounding a shrill editorial tone in favor of the .08 alcohol blood limit. On 1/6/03 the Register ran an editorial that praised the Federal Government for their threat to withhold Federal highway funding to any state that does not pass state legislation lowering the limit to .08.

In today’s issue, the Register is bemoaning “heavy handedness” from Washington in an editorial that blasts the “No Child Left Behind” act. Well kids, it’s time to grow up… you can’t have it both ways. “Hey, man… Federal mandates are great when you agree with them but they are heavy handed when you don’t.” No, you don’t get to pick and choose. The Register's edtorial stance on these issues are on the same level as arguments my 15 year old uses on me. Strike that… that would be an insult to my son… he KNOWS that his arguments are a load of crap He’s just using 15 year old guile and sophistry to get what he wants.

Other than griping about the act itself, the piece centers on the fact that it costs more to have students in the public schools that DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH. Whew… that’s a man bites dog story. You know where this is going, don’t you? We’re… get ready… UNDERFUNDED!

How the hell did all of the Italian, Armenian, German, Slavic, etc., etc., etc., immigrants who came to this country learn our language before ESL (English as a Second Language) became entrenched in our educational culture? Simple, they were immersed in English. Do you know how we teach foreign languages to native born English speakers? We enroll them in a foreign language immersion school. There are at least two in the Minneapolis public schools that I know of, one for Spanish and one for French.

When I was in high school, I lived for three years in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When I arrived there as a 15 year old, I spoke only very basic Spanish. When I left, I was fluent… and I went to English language schools. Why…? I WANTED to learn the language. It SUCKED not understanding what was going on around me. I watched Spanish language TV, particularly the news, constantly. I read the Spanish Language newspaper every day. Many of my friends were native Spanish speakers. I asked my mom (who was Puerto Rican and a native Spanish speaker) to speak with me in Spanish. I worked hard, and by the time I was a senior in high school, I was reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude", (“Cień Años de Solidad), in Spanish Literature class.

If these kids are going home and watching Telemundo on cable and not choosing to immerse themselves in English, I’m sorry. The schools can’t do it ALL. Just like public schools cannot make up for a terrible, disabling family life, they can’t.

People, especially kids, rise up to the level you set for them. If you choose to come to this country for a better life, your biggest obsticle to success will be not speaking English.

This is another byproduct of government sponsored “multiculturalism”… Okay, I’ll stop now; this is another rant in and of itself.

Back to Federal Government heavy-handedness… below is a piece I sent to the Register the day their editorial supporting the cutoff of Federal highway funds to all states that do not pass laws lowering the blood alcohol level to .08.

Regarding your Editorial on adopting the .08 alcohol limit, I find it hard to know where to begin. First, the central premise of the piece, regardless of issue seems to be: “Blackmail is okay, if it’s for a good cause”. No… blackmail is blackmail. What if the federal government was employing the same tactic, say for limiting a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy with an abortion. I’m going to assume that the editorial stance of the Register would be a bit different and would be in a panic over heavy handedness from Washington. So let’s drop “the ends justify the means” argument, okay?

Second, let’s examine the validity of the argument for the .08 blood alcohol standard. The .08 alcohol level is a new straw man from an old source. It is really a move towards “zero tolerance”, (no blood alcohol while driving) the stated goal of the lobbying group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The last time this happened it came from the same source. MADD (gee, if mommies are for it, it’s got to be right…) bulldozed the 21 year old drinking age across the nation using the same tactic. (Don’t get me started on what a mess this created in a consensus on the age of majority in this country.) Conform, or the Feds will cut off your highway funding

I salute MADD for what they did within the realm of opinion making, changing prevailing attitudes about drinking and driving. They made practices like the Designated Driver part of our shared culture. This was done by persuasion not coercion, one person at a time. However, now these well-intentioned moms are again pushing centralized political power from an emotional basis. They have lost someone to an accident caused by a drunk driver and the problem must be SOLVED… completely. There must be more things to be done and we must do them or else my loved one has died in vain. Emotion is a horrible way to create and manage public policy.

Let’s take a reasoned look at this. About 40,000 people die on US highways every year. If we really want to cut down the number of highway fatalities, let’s try the following:

1. Raise the driving age to 18. If you don’t trust a 16 year old with a beer, why in God’s name would you have one at the helm of a 2-ton mass of steel traveling at 65 mph? Other than making parents’ lives more convenient by not requiring them to be chauffeurs, there’s no reason for it. Farm kids could be exempt, for farm chores only. Hey city kids, you won’t like me for this but, take the bus, ride a bike, ask your parents for a ride, or… heaven forbid… walk where you want to go. You don’t NEED to go anywhere but school.

2. Require a behind-the-wheel driving test every four years for every licensed driver in the state. Make the test a true evaluation of a person’s ability to control a vehicle and respond to various traffic scenarios. Do not issue licenses to those that fail. Do not make the test a joke. Make people WORRIED about passing. Test younger drivers (under 25) and older drivers (over 65) every 2 years. (By the way, a competent driver with a .08 blood alcohol level is a lot safer than an incompetent driver with a .08 blood alcohol level.) The biggest cause of highway accidents is incompetence behind the wheel. Let’s work on that. Only about 25% of traffic fatalities are the result of a person driving under the influence. Driving on the public streets is a privilege, let’s treat it like one.

3. Enact laws that make it illegal to eat, drink a beverage or talk on a cell phone while driving. Theses activities have been shown to be just as dangerous as driving while really drunk… way more dangerous than a competent operator driving with a .08 blood alcohol level.

4. Be more aggressive in taking away the licenses of drivers who have a bad driving record. If someone is a knucklehead, reckless driver, get them off the road… now.

5. Driving on a suspended license, you go to the pen for a year. See ya. When you’re released, you don’t regain your driving privileges… ever. You get caught driving again, bye-bye for 5 years.

Again, we lose close to a Vietnam War’s worth of people each year in country, due to traffic fatalities. By all means, if you feel strongly about that number, let’s do something.

On the State Rights vs. Federal Control level, this is just not an issue that’s worth Federal strong arming. This is just another feel-good “safety” issue (I just can’t wait until we have Federal OSHA laws prohibiting smoking in bars…) that should be decided on a state, local or (here’s a novel idea…) an individual level. Now, Civil Rights in the South in the early 1960’s… people required to use separate water fountains, go to separate and unequal schools and unable to vote because of skin color… THAT was an issue worth throwing Federal weight around for. .08 vs. .10… nah, I don’t think so.

Federal funding is a double-edged sword. You can take the money, but you have to do what daddy says. He might cut off your allowance. Hey, wait a minute! These are federal highway funds that were paid for by Iowans’ Federal taxes. It’s OUR money. Maybe we should pay for our own highway needs on the state level, not get the leftovers at Washington’s discretion after we subsidize New York City mass transit. Just a thought…


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