Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Nanny State strikes again

Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters has a nice response to the US District Court Judge who has ruled that American paper money discriminates against blind people. An excerpt from Captain Ed's post:

For my report, I decided to interview a blind person to discover her reaction to the news that Judge Robertson had freed her from the bonds of discrimination. The First Mate's initial response is hard to quote, because I don't know how to properly transcribe a snort and a peal of laughter.

There are two major problems with this ruling. First, all due respect to the American Council for the Blind, we don't really see that a problem with the currency exists. My wife has been blind for almost three decades, a good portion of that time as a single woman or a divorced mother, and for the majority of those periods used currency almost exclusively. The Braille Institute taught her some simple techniques in handling paper currency that allows her to this day to organize it properly. It's a point that the National Federation for the Blind, a much more representative group for the visually impaired, makes in response to the ruling:

"We believe in solving real problems of discrimination - not in doing gimmicks that look like they solve a problem and could make things actually worse," James Gashel, executive director for strategic initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind, said Wednesday. "For a federal court to say that we are being discriminated against is simply wrong."

Even worse, the ruling simply abuses the position of the federal courts. It's ludicrous on its face to believe that US currency represents a deliberate attempt to discriminate against blind people, who make up one percent of the population, according to the LA Times story. Even if one can argue that changing the bills in the manner Robertson demands would help blind people cope better with cash, that's a policy question and not a Constitutional issue. That argument belongs in front of Congress, especially since the solution will cost hundreds of millions of dollars at the outset and cause confusion for years to come.

Ed mentions in passing that refitting vending machines could be a big issue if money were made different sizes. I'm sure it would be, but since we rely on a cash register for our business transactions, may I suggest that it might be pretty pricey to reconfigure cash drawers of one kind and another, too. Perhaps Judge Robertson would like to buy us a new drawer (if the new bills can be made to fit in it) or a new register (if they can't)? Preferably out of his pocket, not the taxpayers'? No? I thought not. Judges can be as free and easy about spending other people's money as politicians, if you hadn't noticed.

I have to think refiguring bills could cause some expense, by requiring changes to money-manufacturing machinery. And shipping containers, perhaps. And...

Oh, it's just nuts.

Some blind people simply have someone at the bank - or someone else they trust - fold their money for them, a different way of folding for each denomination. Done deal. I'm sure there are other tricks I don't know about.

(And let's not forget that there are degrees of blindness. Many 'visually-impared' people see well enough to read the big numbers on bills, etc.)

Really, this judge needs to meet more people who manage to live life instead of wasting time whining.

Of course, people like that are too busy living life to show up in anybody's court in cahoots with lawyers out for a buck and/or some notoriety and/or who imagine they can create utopia if they just file enough lawsuits. (Some 'utopia' that would produce. A problem with using judges as sledgehammers is that once you get them in the habit, they don't seem to know when or where to stop. Once you get them in the habit of seeing rulings as statements instead of each ruling being a closing of a specific case, same problem. Correct me if I'm wrong on that.)

Maybe we need to start an Adopt-A-Judge program to make sure more of them get to meet non-activists? Hanging around with radicals doesn't seem to be doing them - or us - a whole lot of good.

OK, OK, to be fair, both Captain Ed and I are looking at the more drastic option of changing the size of bills, or otherwise doing something that would muck up current money handling systems. According to the LA Times story:

In his opinion, Robertson ordered the Treasury Department to consider such options as changing the size and color of banknotes for each denomination and adding tactile differences, such as foil, raised numbers or perforations, to the bills.

Other currencies, such as those of the European Union, Japan, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, include such differences, he said, adding that the United States could have incorporated similar changes during recent redesigns that added anti-counterfeiting features.

So, fine. If the Treasury Department wants to "improve" our money in a way that makes it easier for blind people, that's wonderful, if it can be done without undue problems or cost. But it's not a judge's job to make design changes. Or run a government department at a distance by his lonesome, with all of the fun and none of the responsibility for the day-in, day-out stuff. We expect our Treasury heads to exercise common sense. If the judge doesn't like what a government department is doing, let him complain properly like an honest citizen instead of taking it upon himself to exercise several offices at once in the manner of the Pooh-Bah character in The Mikado.

One of my fondest dreams is that a new crop of judges will show up, full of men and women who know a frivolous lawsuit when they see it, and who enjoy throwing such a litigant out on his or her ear. I know it can happen. I know somebody who was in a courtroom when a case got thrown out and the lawyer who brought it got a proper scolding. It can happen. I do wish the judge in this case had been that sort of fellow. (I know. I know. Activists pick their judges carefully, as a rule. But, still... A gal can dream, can't she?)

Where's Will Rogers when you need him? He was good at skewering the nascent nanny state stuff that was popping up at his time. I heard a recording once where he made a joke about the government planning to put up crossing gates at railroad crossings. He asked something along these lines (I'm paraphrasing, from memory): 'What? The government thinks people can't look down a railroad track to see if a train's coming?'

On the recording, the audience roared with laughter. I mean, he cracked them up. Just think, Mildred. Those crazy folks in Washington think we can't deal with everyday hazards like a train? What do they take us for? Babies? What fops!

Those were the days.

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