Saturday, February 26, 2005

My Academy Award® Predictions

No explanations here -- just my predictions of who will win, not necessarily whom I prefer to win.

Best Picture

Actor in a Leading Role

Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Alda in THE AVIATOR

Actress in a Leading Role
Imelda Staunton in VERA DRAKE

Actress in a Supporting Role
Cate Blanchett in THE AVIATOR

Animated Feature Film

Art Direction


Costume Design


Documentary Feature

Documentary Short Subject

Film Editing

Foreign Language Film


Music (Score)

Music (Song)
"Believe" from THE POLAR EXPRESS

Short Film - Animated

Short Film - Live Action

Sound Mixing

Sound Editing

Visual Effects

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Check my prognostication against the actual list of winners after the awards ceremony tomorrow.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Potts to Throw Hat in Gubernatorial Ring; Joins Fitch, Kaine, Kilgore

Friday's Winchester Star reports that:

Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. is primed to make arguably the most flamboyant splash of his political life today.

The Winchester Republican will announce his run for governor at a 10 a.m. press conference in the Old Senate Chambers in Richmond. Sources say he will run as an independent.

Potts, who has served in the upper chamber of the Virginia General Assembly as a Republican, seems to be modeling his bid on that of former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker, who was a Republican U.S. Senator from that state before running for the state chief executive's post as an independent.

In fact, Potts has hired one of Weicker's campaign consultants, Tom D'Amore.

On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Govenor Tim Kaine faces no opposition for his party's nomination. Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who has been the presumptive Republican nominee since November 2001, may face Warrenton Mayor George Fitch in the June primary, if Fitch can collect a sufficient number of petition signatures to get his name on the ballot. (Potts faces that same hurdle as an independent, although he has until June 14 at 7:00 p.m. to turn his petitions in.)

Provided all these candidates remain in the race, the November election may not be as boring as we expected it to be.

Were it not that the Republican Party, in Virginia as across the country, is so hierarchical, George Fitch could prove a formidable opponent to Kilgore in the party primary. As noted in a Virginia News Source editorial,
Prior to his taking office, Warrenton was one of the highest taxed towns in the state of Virginia. Due to Mayor Fitch’s determination to put the breaks on reckless spending and ensure taxpayer money was well spent, Warrenton now has the lowest property taxes of any community in Virginia.

Through his initiatives, real estate taxes were slashed 77%, personal property taxes cut by 55%, and business taxes are down 22%. George accomplished all this while eliminating the town’s debt, doubling Warrenton’s reserves, and improving local government services.

Al Aitken, chairman of the grass-roots property-tax reform group, VOTORS (Virginians Over-Taxed on Residences) notes on the group's web site that Fitch is the "one gubernatorial candidate who supports the VOTORS proposal for a constitutional amendment to reform our Commonwealth’s property tax system."

Even the Libertarian Party of Virginia (which apparently is running no statewide candidates this year) has noticed Fitch. An article on the LPVA web site by Robert Dean (who, as a Libertarian candidate for Mayor in Virginia Beach last year, earned 43 percent of the vote) explains:
Fitch believes that the $800 million in savings found by the Wilder Commission Report should be fully implemented instead of collecting dust on a General Assembly shelf. He proposes that a portion of the savings be applied to the protection of the Chesapeake Bay program.

Asked about the small businessman and the Business, Professional, Occupational, License tax, George Fitch believes it should be eliminated. The tax was levied to help pay for the War of 1812 and is collected on a business whether or not they even make a profit.

In “Miracle on 34th Street”, when a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing. Unlike Santa Claus, George Fitch doesn’t have a long white beard, a red velvet suit or the potbelly usually associated with the jolly man bringing gifts.

Unlike the lawyer also vying for the Republican nomination, Fitch has a success story of government reform without pain; its been called “The Warrenton Miracle.” It’s a story that should ring well with voters of Virginia who are on the verge of tar and feathering politicians who have an insatiable appetite for more of their hard-earned money.

Potts and Fitch are two Republican mavericks with quite different views of how the taxpayers' pockets should be picked. It will be interesting to see what contributions to the gubernatorial campaign debate these two candidates will make.

Competition, in politics as in commerce, is healthy. More candidates with varied (but strongly held and well-expressed) views can only be beneficial for the voters. Voters without an authentic choice on election day are powerless and effectively disenfranchised. Voters with a real choice control their own destiny.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

George W. Bush in Wonderland

David Brooks describes the Humpty-Dumpty, Mad Hatter world that George W. Bush lives in as his administration tries to expand government entitlements beyond FDR's wildest dreams.

Brooks notes that the Medicare prescription drug plan, which will cost far more than the administration estimated as it was strong-arming Congress to pass it, is now so sacrosanct that the President is threatening to wield his veto pen in order to preserve it at the highest price possible.

In his most recent syndicated column, Brooks refers to conservative Representatives Mike Pence and Jeff Flake and Senators Judd Gregg and Lindsey Graham as among those who are ready to "readjust the program" to reflect fiscal realities.

Brooks writes:

These fiscal conservatives want to make the program sustainable. Perhaps the benefits should be limited to those earning up to 200 percent of the level at the poverty line. Perhaps the costs should be capped at $400 billion through other benefit adjustments. These ideas are akin to what the candidate George W. Bush proposed in 2000.

But the White House is threatening to veto anything they do! Bush, who hasn't vetoed a single thing during his presidency, now threatens to veto something -- and it's something that might actually restrain the growth of government. He threatens to use his first veto against an idea he originally proposed!

Have we entered another world, where up is down and rationality is irrational?

Someone should tell the President (and Karl Rove) that, if they want to make sense out of the nonsense they're creating, their most realistic course of action -- short of delivering on the Bush 2000 campaign promises of fiscal restraint and prudence -- may be to follow the White Rabbit down a hole. There they may find a land that better fits their psychedelia-colored fiscal non-restraint. My advice?

Go ask Alice
, Mr. President.

I think she'll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen so I'll be dead
And the white knight's talking backwards
And the Red Queen Says off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said

Feed your head
Feed your head

(Lyrics from "White Rabbit," by Grace Slick, as performed by Jefferson Airplane)

Ubiquitous TV Cameras Don't Reduce Crime, UK Study Says

Thanks to the folks at Marketplace, public radio's daily business-news program, for this tidbit from today's broadcast:

Whoever said crime doesn't pay clearly wasn't in the closed circuit TV business. The British Government spent $325 million to wire the nation with cameras. Some 4.2 million cameras later, crime is still as bad as ever.

This piqued my interest; I had to find out more. I turned up this AP story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which fleshed out the skeleton Marketplace provided:
Video cameras have blossomed in Britain since the 1990s. An estimated 4.2 million cameras now observe the country's 60 million people going about their everyday business, from getting on a bus to lining up at the bank to driving around London. It's widely estimated that the average Briton is scrutinized by 300 cameras a day.

For the Home Office-funded study, academics from the University of Leicester studied 14 closed-circuit TV systems in a variety of settings, including town centers, parking lots, hospitals and residential areas. Only the parking lot scheme was shown to cause a fall in crime.

Previous studies of the effectiveness of closed-circuit TV systems have come to similar conclusions.

Public opinion has turned against the program. Citizens seemed to know instinctively, even without the Home Office study, that the closed-circuit TV surveillance is a scam. The Associated Press reported further:
The report found that while a majority of residents backed the cameras, support in nine of the 14 areas declined after they were installed. It said governments had oversold the technology as a "magic bullet" against crime.

"For supporters of CCTV (closed-circuit TV) these findings are disappointing," said Martin Gill, the professor who led the research. "For the most part, CCTV did not produce reductions in crime and it did not make people feel safer."

The best news? The British government has decided to discontinue -- or at least no longer expand -- the spycam program:
The government's CCTV Initiative funded 684 local camera projects between 1998 and 2003. On Thursday, the Home Office said it had no plans for further spending, although local authorities and police forces could still install their own closed-circuit systems. A spokesman said the decision was not connected to the release of the report.

(If you believe that last sentence, I've got a bridge over the Thames I'd like to sell you.)

One hopes that news like this will discourage American law enforcement authorities from pursuing similar citizen surveillance programs. Milwaukee, for instance, is planning to follow in the footsteps of Tampa and Virginia Beach, two tourist destinations that have installed spycams with facial recognition software in a misguided effort to deter crime. According to a recent report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Milwaukee police are considering using around-the-clock surveillance cameras to watch for crime in troubled areas, an increasingly popular tactic that has sparked complaints from some that it could violate privacy.

* * *

"We are taking a hard look at cameras," Deputy Chief Joseph Whiten said Thursday. He said that the equipment is costly, however, and that the cash-strapped department is looking for sources to pay for it. He said the department is committed to putting cameras in squad cars, a more common practice.

* * *

"The neighborhood knows it is there, and (it) gives them more of a sense of security and safety," Macemon said.

The cameras have shown drug deals but no violent crimes in progress, Macemon said. The department moves the cameras when problems surface elsewhere, he said.

* * *

Christopher Ahmuty, head of the Wisconsin American Civil Liberties Union, said street surveillance raises several questions: Is the purpose to record crime, alert officers or deter offenders? What would happen to the tapes?

He also wondered how police would decide exactly where to put the cameras.

"The ACLU is not opposed to the effective use of technology. We have problems with technology that undermines the trust a community may have in the police," he said.

The UK study might allow cities like Milwaukee to put the brakes on further Big Brotherism, but it should come as no surprise. Experts have noted the inefficacy of these systems for years. For instance, Steve Lilienthal of the Free Congress Foundation noted in an article published in August 2003, appropriately entitled "America Needs Character, Not More Cameras":
Not a single criminal has been identified by the facial recognition camera system that is now in use on Virginia Beach, Va., boardwalk. But the Virginia Beach police consider the camera to be a success despite the fact that the camera and software comes with a $200,000 price tag.

The St. Petersburg, Fla., airport also uses cameras and facial recognition technology. A St. Petersburg Times editorial published on April 28 stated: "These systems are clearly not ready for prime time, having had a zero success rate when trained on the general public in search of criminals and tourists at the Super Bowl and at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport."

Lilienthal continued:
Criminals are not deterred by cameras. When Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union testified before the Washington, D.C. City Council's Judiciary Committee last December, he noted that Great Britain has relied extensively on closed circuit cameras as a crime fighting tool but they have failed to lead to any reduction in crime.

After reading a litany of the failure of cameras to cut crime, Steinhardt concluded "At most, what [CCTV] does is to displace criminal activity to areas outside the range of the cameras." Despite all the cameras, criminals keep breaking the laws, and an extraordinary number are not getting caught.

In October 2002, David Kopel and Michael Krause of the Independence Institute wrote an article in Reason about the increasing use of facial recognition technology (FRT), pointing up its ineffectiveness:
FRT, currently used in at least two U.S. cities and widespread throughout Great Britain, is notoriously unreliable and ineffective. At its best, it brings to our streets the high-tech equivalent of the Department of Transportation’s airport security policy: humiliate and search everyone ineffectively.

That’s bad enough, but the real problems will occur if FRT ever does start working as promised. It threatens to create a creepy future of ubiquitous spy cameras that will be used by police for purposes far less noble than thwarting terrorists.

* * *

Despite ubiquitous cameras, however, violent and property crime in England is soaring. A three-year government study by the Scottish Center for Criminology recently concluded there is no evidence to suggest that Britain’s spy cameras have reduced serious crime overall. Another study, this one by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, looked at 14 British cities and found that the cameras had little effect in reducing crime. The study suggested that improving street lighting would be a more cost-effective crime prevention method.

This much can be said in favor of the cameras: In some cases, they have been used to convict speeders, other traffic law offenders, and litterbugs. Yet it’s one thing to give up your privacy to catch Irish Republican Army terrorists. It’s another thing to surrender privacy so the police can catch people who litter.

Kopel and Krause end their Reason piece -- which is well worth reading in its entirety -- with this dire warning:
Ultimately, the future of face scanning will depend on the political process. There is almost no chance that the American public or their elected officials would vote in favor of tracking everyone all the time. Yet face scanning is typically introduced and then expanded by administrative fiat, without specific legislative permission.

So there is a strong possibility that future Americans will be surprised to learn from history books that in the first centuries of American independence citizens took for granted that the government did not and could not monitor all of their movements and activities in public places.

More and more American cities are looking at spyware as their quick-fix means of fighting crime. They need to look at the evidence as meticulously as the forensic teams on the many C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation TV shows and come to the obvious conclusions: Spy cameras are ineffective at best and threats to the privacy and integrity of every citizen at worst. They need to be abandoned as a law-enforcement tool except in the most narrow circumstances.

Disheartening Report from CPAC

If Ryan Sager's report from CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) is an accurate reflection of its proceedings last weekend, the news is quite disheartening to liberty-loving Republicans (and non-GOP libertarians, as well).

Sager, a member of the editorial board of the New York Post and a blogger (at Miscellaneous Objections), suggests that libertarians were all but shunned by the conservative activists at CPAC. Talk about history repeating itself -- his description echoes those of the 1969 YAF convention, in which Young Americans for Freedom split along a libertarian-conservative faultline (see John L. Kelley, Bringing the Market Back In: The Political Revitalization of Market Liberalism, pp. 100-104).

The libertarian-traditionalist split indeed predates that watershed year and has continued in creative tension up to the present. Take this passage from John A. Andrew's study of YAF's early years, The Other Side of the Sixties: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of Conservative Politics:

The debate was often complicated, but two divisions characterized much of it. First, traditionalists, libertarians, and fusionists continued to argue about the nature of conservatism and the proper definition of human nature. The problem was to find a balance between the objective order and individual freedom. In making a "conservative case for freedom," Stanton Evans questioned "whether the imperatives of individual freedom can be reconciled with the Christian conception of the individual as flawed in mind and will, with its demand for individual subordination to an objective, nonsecular order." This argument had bedeviled the new conservatism since its inception, and was not about to be resolved now. The second division, articulated by libertarian Murray Rothbard, was over priorities. Rothbard attacked YAF because it focused on political concerns. "To my knowledge," he wrote, "not one political action drive of YAF has been directed to an increase of individual liberty or of the free market." The right-wing resurgence, Rothbard complained, had largely ignored libertarian ideas because it was too committed to a "hysterical anticommunism." Groups like YAF shifted from antistatism to anticommunism, and in so doing they "failed to see that both the 'external' and 'internal' threats of statism to liberty were essentially domestic."

Replace "anticommunism" with "antiterrorism" and you see the rough equivalence of the '60s to today.

Compare this to Sager's comments on this year's CPAC:
In fact, if there was anything particularly striking about this year's CPAC, it is to just what extent Republicans have given up being the party of small government and individual liberty.

Make absolutely no mistake about it: This party, among its most hard-core supporters, is not about freedom anymore. It is about foisting its members' version of morality and economic intervention on the country. It is, in other words, the mirror image of its hated enemy.

Sager complains:
Needless to say, triumphalism permeated the proceedings. The Republicans, having just held the presidency and consolidated power in Congress, are perhaps entitled to some gloating. But out-and-out arrogance was the order of the conference, as well, and that is what threatens to undo Republican gains in the long term.

Arrogance toward Democrats isn't the problem -- though that was everywhere...

No, the arrogance that will prove problematic, ultimately, was that directed at the libertarian-leaning conservatives by the social conservatives. The message in that regard was clear: We Christians can do this alone, y'all who ain't down with J.C. best be running along.

He concludes:
...precious little libertarianism came from the stage, and what little did was seldom well received.

Now, perhaps CPAC just isn't any place for libertarians. But that, in itself, is a problem. The conservative movement should be reaching out to people who, well, just aren't as bothered by "Will & Grace" as some other people are.

Conservatism can't survive by religious extremism and tax cuts alone.

My question is: Whatever happened to the party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What the Bad Guys Say About Eminent Domain

The day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kelo v. New London, I received my copy of the Cato Policy Report in my postal mailbox. The back page of the January-February 2005 issue includes this nugget, attributed to Bond Buyer Online (October 4, 2004), a defense of indiscriminate use of eminent domain powers by the government:

"The way the opponents of eminent domain always want to portray it is, 'Oh, Old Mother Hubbard is getting kicked out of her cupboard by an evil government," said [District of Columbia mayor Anthony] Williams, a lawyer.

Much of the time, local governments try to expropriate the property of "some wealthy interest [who] doesn't want to get off their land for the benefit of the public," Williams said. Eminent domain authority constitutes "the exercise of the public realm for good productive purposes against selfish, private, parochial interests."...

"[Court restrictions on eminent domain] to me would be a veneration of propery rights at the expense of community interest, a federation of private interests at the expense of the public commonweal," he said. "The restrictions on when you can take property are becoming more and more severe."

If only Williams' last comment reflected reality! One can only hope that the Supreme Court makes his words true.

The kicker is Cato's headline on this little item: "Like small businesses getting expropriated for millionaire baseball owners?", a reference to Williams' steamrollering of a publicly-financed stadium in southeast Washington that will destroy dozens of small businesses and displace numerous homeowners. The taxpayer subsidy of the baseball teams' owners is bad enough; the destruction of a neighborhood is shameful.

Just more evidence of the inherent evil in those government officials who use eminent domain to transfer wealth from poor, politically powerless citizens to rich, politically powerful ones.

Ronald Reagan on Wyatt Durrette

My February 20 posting on a voice from the past, Wyatt Durrette, has generated some interest. Bacon's Rebellion, Sic Semper Tyrannis, and the Commonwealth Conservative all posted links to the article on their blogs (thanks, guys!). I have learned that Durrette is now a lawyer in private practice with his own firm in Richmond, DurretteBradshaw PLC. And, as a result of someone finding my article through a Yahoo search, I found out that 20 years ago, President Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Arlington endorsing Wyatt Durrette and his running mates.

Reagan's speech
touches some familiar themes. Taxes, transportation, and education, to start:

Well, Virginia needs Wyatt Durrette's strong, principled leadership. But you all know that already, and I'm here today to tell you that America needs him, too, because it's only if we pull together at both the State and national levels that we can give America the bright future of expanding hope and opportunity that she deserves. Wyatt understands that the road to that future is not paved with government programs. He knows it's freedom that creates economic growth and prosperity, and all over the world we are seeing more and more freedom works.

He knows, in addition to that, that it's not another new State office boondoggle paid for by higher taxes that we need for any of the problems that confront us. He knows the way to give minorities a fair shake is to open up with enterprise zones and a youth opportunity wage for teenagers. He understands the transportation needs of Northern Virginia, and he knows that the way to educational excellence is through incentives for achievement, higher standards for our students, and merit pay for teachers.

I've been following this race in Virginia pretty closely, and in many ways it reminds me of that campaign I was going through not too long ago. Last year, too, we heard promise after promise for billions of dollars of new government spending programs, but at least my opponent, then, admitted that he wanted to raise your taxes. Well, the American people let it be known last November what they thought about that idea, and I am convinced come November 5th, the people of this great State are going to repeat that message loud and clear when they elect Wyatt Durrette Governor of Virginia.
And when Reagan spoke about liberal ideologues and the opponents of his foreign policy, he could easily have been in the shoes of George W. Bush today:
But when we talk about the future of Virginia and the future of America, we're really talking about something more fundamental than dollars and cents. Wyatt understands that underneath all these issues lie basic questions of values. The big spending pressures that we still have to fight against on both the State and national levels are really an attempt to artificially pump up a failed and exhausted liberal ideology. It's an ideology that looks on America with despair and that has spent the last several decades trying to unravel the social order that binds us together as a nation and as a people. When it looks abroad, it is an ideology that, in Jeane Kirkpatrick's famous phrase, always ``blames America first,'' while too often making excuses for the enemies of freedom.
There's even a hint of what sparked Durrette's letter to the Times-Dispatch about federalism last Sunday:
Well, you know, ladies and gentlemen, Virginia is one of the greatest States of the greatest Nation on Earth. Virginia deserves the very best -- John Chichester for lieutenant governor, Buster O'Brien for attorney general, and Wyatt Durrette for Governor. And all of them, I know, endorse the fact that we must never forget that our very freedom is based on this fact: that this nation is a federation of sovereign States, and they must never be reduced to administrative districts of the Federal Government, as some in Washington would have us do.
The irony of this speech, of course, is that while highly critical of politicians who want to raise taxes, President Reagan endorsed John Chichester, described earlier this month by the Washington Times as "the politician who has become the state's most fervent supporter of higher taxes and a bigger state government." Obviously, President Reagan strongly believed in his own Eleventh Commandment.

The U.S. Postal Service introduced its Reagan stamp just a couple of weeks ago, to coincide with what would have been the President's 94th birthday. (For many of us, it's still hard to believe that he's gone, so strong is his influence on the American polity.) Reading a speech by Ronald Reagan, even a short, simple campaign fundraising speech like the one uncovered above, is a reminder of what a masterful orator he was. Fortunately, the Reagan speeches have been preserved in book form, on audio CD, and even on DVD. His spoken words remain a legacy for us to study and admire for generations to come.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Property Rights Go Before the U.S. Supreme Court

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Kelo v. New London, in which a group of homeowners are suing their city government to prevent their private property from being taken through eminent domain proceedings. The city wants to turn around and sell the property to private developers.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Supreme Court correspondent, Michael McGough, explained the basic facts in an article published Monday:

The question before the Supreme Court is whether the redevelopment of Fort Trumbull, which the city believes will invigorate the economy of New London, is a "public use" that overrides the owners' right to hold on to their land if they choose.

For Scott G. Bullock, the lawyer for the New London property owners, the answer is obvious: "This is a clear abuse of eminent domain. If they can take these properties, any neighborhood is up for grabs."

Bullock is an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based libertarian public interest group ...

In interviews and in the institute's brief to the Supreme Court, Bullock argues that the New London case should be an easy one because -- as is not the case with other uses of eminent domain -- New London did not assert that the neighborhoods it seeks to condemn are "blighted." The redevelopment took place under a state law designed to revitalize older commercial and industrial areas.

"To petitioners, like most Americans, their homes are their castles," the institute's brief says. "In this case, they face the loss of the homes and neighbors they cherish through the use of eminent domain not for a traditional public use, such as a road or public building, nor even for the removal of blight. Rather, respondents -- a local government and a private development corporation -- seek to take petitioners' 15 homes to turn them over to other private parties in the hope that the city may benefit from whatever trickle-down effects those new businesses produce."

Supported by city governments -- not including Pittsburgh's -- and environmental organizations, New London argues in its brief that "employing the power of eminent domain to revitalize a municipality's economy satisfies the public use requirement. This is especially true in urban settings, in which the problem of land assembly often acts as a barrier to economic revitalization."

Timothy Sandefur, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, gives some background on the issue in his article (published in the March 2005 issue of Liberty magazine), "They're Coming for Your Land!":
Eminent domain — the government's power to force a person to sell real estate against his will, at a price the government deems "just compensation" — is one of the most extreme forms of government coercion, and today, among the most common. Used for centuries for building railroads, highways, and post offices, eminent domain is now a multi-billion dollar industry, and a classic example of rent-seeking run amok. Governments throughout America routinely seize property to transfer it to private companies to "create jobs" and increase the tax base in a community. In 1999, the city of Merriam, Kan., condemned a Toyota dealership to sell the land to the BMW dealership next door. That same year, Bremerton, Wash., condemned 22 homes to resell the land to private developers. In one especially notorious case, billionaire Donald Trump convinced the government of Atlantic City, N.J., to condemn the home of an elderly widow so that he could build a limousine parking lot. As attorney Jennifer Kruckeberg puts it, "Whether you know it or not, your house is for sale. Corporations, using cities as their personal real estate agents, are proposing the following assignment: 'Find me your most prominent location, get rid of what is on it, help me pay for it, and maybe you will be lucky enough to have me move to your city.' Such is the state of the current eminent domain power."

The exploitation of eminent domain by such private interests is a relatively new phenomenon, and is explicitly prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, which holds that "private property" may be taken only "for public use." But a series of court decisions beginning in the first years of the 20th century, and culminating in the 1954 decision Berman v. Parker, eroded the "public use" limitation to such a degree that, as Richard Epstein once noted, some law professors have taken to replacing that clause with an ellipsis when writing out the text of the 5th Amendment.

In Berman, the Supreme Court held that eliminating slums was a public use because once the legislature deems a project worthy of its attention, that project is necessarily a public one: "[W]hen the legislature has spoken, the public interest has been declared in terms well-nigh conclusive," wrote Justice William O. Douglas for a unanimous Court. "In such cases the legislature, not the judiciary, is the main guardian of the public needs to be served by social legislation."

While the Institute for Justice is the lead counsel for the plaintiffs -- IJ staff attorney Scott Bullock won the coin toss to represent the Institute in today's oral arguments -- 25 individuals and organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs, including the Cato Institute, the Tidewater Libertarian Party (from Virginia), and Jane Jacobs, author of the classic text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The group of amici includes some strange bedfellows, such as the AARP, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist (author of The Wealth of Cities), and the Rutherford Institute. IJ's president, Chip Mellor, says that "Each brief, in its own way, helps to underscore the tragic consequences and dire implications of eminent domain abuse."

I have long maintained -- and I am not alone in this assessment -- that the Institute for Justice is the single most effective libertarian organization in the country. This is not meant to denigrate other libertarian organizations, which do necessary and terrific work, but IJ has done the best to meet the goals of its narrowly-set mission, achieving more measurable successes than other libertarian groups have been able to do.

This is due, in part, to the fact that the successes of other libertarian organizations are not immediately measurable. The Cato Institute's work on Social Security reform, for instance, dates to 1979 but is only beginning to bear fruit today. The Institute for Humane Studies identifies and educates young scholars who may not make an impact for another 30 years. The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, can judge its impact as its vote totals rise from 2% to 3% to 3.5% from election to election.

With IJ, the impact is known and felt immediately: A court decision is rendered in favor of liberty, or against it. And more and more frequently, IJ's attorneys persuade judges to rule in favor of liberty, whether it's fighting against government-mandated taxi monopolies, or arguing in favor of freedom of association (BSA v. Dale), arguing for family choice in education, or standing up for an Atlantic City David against Donald Trump's Goliath. (With that case in mind, what other libertarian group has been featured in a series of Doonesbury comic strips?)

Reports of today's oral arguments have not yet been published. As they are, I will update this posting with news of the Court's proceedings.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

John Raitt, 1917-2005

Monday's New York Times reports that Broadway star John Raitt has died at the age of 88.

Raitt's best-known roles were his leading men in Carousel and The Pajama Game, although he appeared in several other new musicals in the 1940s and '50s (some which were not nearly as successful as those two shows), and in national touring companies (his big break came as Curly in Oklahoma!, a role he repeated in Lincoln Center in 1964, which is preserved in a CD recording) and summer stock.

(I'm embarrassed to say that, while I am certain I saw Raitt in summer stock at Milwaukee's Melody Top Theatre in the 1970s, I cannot recall what play I saw him in. It's possible that it was The Pajama Game, but the only actor I remember from that production was a quite fey Alan Sues, known from TV's Laugh-In and the original Broadway cast of Tea and Sympathy. It may, however, have been Man of La Mancha. My memory fades after more than 25 years -- or perhaps Raitt failed to create an indelible image for me, as Sues did or as other Melody Top performances -- Laugh-In's Joann Worley in Mame, Dorothy Collins in Follies, Jane Powell in Irene, or Barry Williams in Pippin -- did.)

With his performance in Carousel, Raitt helped revolutionize the Broadway musical. His rough-hewn Billy Bigelow redefined what a leading man could be -- in this case a cad, a wife-beater, and a thief -- without turning off audiences. Bigelow is a complex character and Raitt's song "Soliloquy" expresses every facet of this. "Soliloquy" was a new kind of song for Broadway, as was the first act duet known as the "Bench Scene," which (like "People Will Say We're in Love" before it) became the model for the non-love love song. Stephen Sondheim has called the Bench Scene "probably the singular most important moment in the revolution of contemporary musicals" (cited in Ethan Mordden, Beautiful Mornin': The Broadway Musical in the 1940s).

Of Raitt's two biggest hits, it may surprise people to learn that The Pajama Game ran for 1,054 performances, 164 more than Carousel's run. (Carousel has stood the test of time better than The Pajama Game has.)

Of course, nothing is certain in the theatre. The creative team had trouble with Carousel in the out-of-town tryout period. Raitt told the authors of Sing Out Louise! 150 Broadway Musical Stars Remember 50 Years what it was like:

"Work on the show was very slow and laborious," Raitt recalls. "When we opened in New Haven, the curtain came down at a quarter to one. After the show every night, Oscar [Hammerstein] would write until three or four in the morning, and then at nine o'clock we'd get the changes, and rehearse until five, and then play the show. Mr. and Mrs. God were still in the show, and when we got to Boston, I remember the Christian Science Monitor saying you couldn't have a Mr. and Mrs. God. Well, Dick [Rodgers] and Oscar were walking across the Common from the Colonial Theatre to the Ritz Carlton after the show, and Dick, with that wry sense of humor, said, 'Oscar, we've got to get God out of that park. Put him on a ladder. Put him anywhere.' And that's how the ladder scene -- the Starkeeper -- evolved."

One of John Raitt's failed shows was Three Wishes for Jamie (music and lyrics by Ralph Blane, book by Charles O'Neal and Abe Burrows, based on O'Neal's novel; O'Neal was the father of actor Ryan O'Neal and grandfather of Oscar-winning actress Tatum O'Neal), which ran for only 94 performances. Raitt's description of the production leads one to believe it may have been the inspiration for a hit show written by Mel Brooks that still is selling out on Broadway and on the road (again from Sing Out Louise!):
"It was badly produced. First of all, they oversubscribed it -- they went 120 percent over. The producers got put in jail."

After Raitt's musical theatre days ended, he continued to perform on television and in concert well into his 80s. Expect the lights to dim on Broadway one night this week.

Wyatt Durrette on Federalism

A name from the Virginia GOP past surfaced today in the letters-to-the-editor column of the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch. Wyatt B. Durrette, Jr., who ran for state attorney general in 1981 and governor in 1985, chose the Times-Dispatch as the forum to express his concerns about the Republican party's abandonment of federalism as a defining principle.

Some background may be in order, for those who are unfamiliar with Virginia politics or who are new to the Old Dominion's political scene. (After all, Durrette made his mark two decades ago.)

According to The Almanac of Virginia Politics (Fourth Edition, 1983), after Gerald Baliles won a narrow victory for the Democratic nomination for attorney general,

An even closer contest evolved between Baliles and his Republican opponent, Wyatt Durrette, a former Fairfax County delegate to the House. Durrette, extremely popular and active within his party, had the strong backing of many influential conservatives, including former Governor Mills Godwin. Although many observers predicted Baliles would be the only member of the Democratic statewide ticket to lose in the 1981 elections, he squeaked by Durrette with 50.9 percent of the vote.

Four years later, Baliles and Durrette faced off against each other, this time at the top of the ticket. As described in The Almanac of Virginia Politics (Sixth Edition, 1987):
Gerald L. Baliles won with 55 percent of the vote, a more than 140,000-vote plurality [sic: this should read "majority"] over his opponent. Baliles carried all congressional districts in a victory larger than the success [Charles] Robb had forged in 1981.

In an article reprinted in Virginia Government and Politics (Fourth Revised Edition, 1998), the University of Virginia's Larry J. Sabato had this to say about the 1985 elections, the year of the Baliles-Durrette rematch and when the Democrats swept the statewide ticket:
The 1985 Virginia statewide election will certainly be one of the long-remembered few. Not only did voters elect the first black (L. Douglas Wilder) and the first woman (Mary Sue Terry) to statewide office, but they also signaled the political moderation of their state and the emergence of Virginia as a leader in the New South.

Gerald Baliles won the governorship over his opponent Wyatt Durrette with 55.2 percent of the vote. That was an even larger proportion than Charles Robb's 53.5 percent in 1981 (though slightly less than Republican John Dalton's 1977 victory margin of 55.9 percent). Douglas Wilder beat Republican John Chichester to win the lieutenant governorship. He secured 51.8 percent of the vote. Mary Sue Terry attracted the broadest electoral coalition of all in her successful bid for the attorney general's seat over Republican candidate William "Buster" O'Brien. Her 61.4 percent statewide vote enabled her to add all but six counties and four cities to her column.

In the most general terms, the Democrats won in 1985 for the most fundamental reason: they ran more experienced and better-tested candidates who conducted better campaigns.

I did not live in Virginia in 1981 or 1985. (Although I lived just across the Potomac in Washington, D.C., I did not pay much attention to Virginia politics until 1988, when I moved to Arlington County and registered to vote in my new state.) So I cannot speak from personal knowledge about the kind of campaigns that Wyatt Durrette ran, or about his stances on the issues. I do know that I had not heard his name in a long time, and then only in reference books (such as those cited above). To see him write a letter to the Times-Dispatch on an issue such as federalism, therefore, came as something of a surprise.

Here is the gist of what Durrette wrote to the Times-Dispatch, in a letter apparently sparked by the passage of the tort reform bill by Congress, which was signed by President Bush just a couple of days ago:

In bygone days most Republicans championed the principles of federalism, which valued the integrity of state governments and limitations on national prerogatives. They felt strongly that the separation of power and responsibility between state and national governments fostered diversity and best served to protect the rights of our citizens.

No more. Today most Republicans (and Democrats for that matter) adhere to a doctrine of expediency, championing national legislation when it suits their political interest and policy goals. Federalism receives lip service and no more.

* * *

But it is sad to watch the principle of federalism, which used to be a bedrock of the Republican Party, now crumble before the onslaught of political expediency yet again. There are lots of reasons to oppose this legislation, which at its core offers yet another obstacle for the average American without collective political clout and concentrated wealth to protect his interests.

There is no justification for the national government yet again to legislate in areas where the states have always had the responsibility to govern.

The federal nature of our republic is indeed under assault from Washington. Too many crimes are being federalized, including murder and assault, crimes that are already forbidden and punished by state law. The authority of state and local governments to run their own schools is threatened by the No Child Left Behind Act. And, as seen in my (surprisingly) popular posting about Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton's ideas for "reforming" the federal electoral system, even the capacity of states to run their own elections is being brought into question on Capitol Hill. (The Cato Institute's Gene Healy has written about some of these phenomena in his book, Go Directly to Jail : the Criminalization of Almost Everything.)

I hope that elder statesmen like Wyatt Durrette continue to question this trend, and to use their influence to stop it.

The Simpsons' Gay-Marriage Episode

The media and the blogosphere are abuzz about tonight's episode of The Simpsons, in which a character comes out of the closet and gets married in a same-sex ceremony. At the same time, Homer becomes a minister for the sole purpose of marrying gay couples, seen by the Springfield community as a good thing because it brings in tourist dollars.

As Jennifer Stuller noted in the University of Washington Daily:

"We're here, we're queer, get used to it." emphatically chant the participants in Springfield's annual Pride Parade.

"We are used to it," responds young Lisa Simpson as they pass by 742 Evergreen Terrace. "You do this every year."

Although everyone's favorite 8-year-old progressive is used to it, there has never been an openly gay character -- as a series regular -- on The Simpsons in its 16-year run. That all ends on Feb. 20, however, when someone comes out of the proverbial closet.

The Washington Times had a rather churlish reaction to the news (and not on the editorial page, but rather in Christian Toto's entertainment news compilation):
Having a character from a long-running show come out of the closet sounds like a "jump the shark" maneuver to us.

So it's sad to report that's the big news on this weekend's new installment of Fox's "The Simpsons."

Geeky Internet types the world over have been arguing just who will declare their homosexuality at 8 p.m. Sunday, but for true blue "Simpsons" fans the news will be greeted with a shrug.

It's yet another sign the once great show is settling for conventional sitcom gimmicks.

Jumping the shark? The Simpsons? Hardly. Since 1989, The Simpsons has been a remarkable reflection of popular culture. As University of Virginia English professor Paul Cantor put it in an interview with Stephen W. Carson:
That we see in the Simpsons that these people in a little American small town are in touch with India and Albania and have been all over the world and all the world comes to them. I think that actually captures something about the texture of American life in the 1990s, actually something very positive.

Cantor, author of Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization, which discusses The Simpsons at length, explained his view of how the series remains fresh and relevant:
One thing I try to show is that even if the work isn’t intentionally conservative or libertarian it can be used for those purposes. Or at least to open up questions. The Simpsons is my prime example of that. I know it’s mostly written by Harvard graduates. You can tell that the creators of the show are largely left-wing, or at least liberal, in their sympathies. Nevertheless, they are equal opportunity satirists. They can’t resist satirizing everybody so they attack the first George Bush for many years, eventually they went after Clinton. So, in just needing to be even handed it ends up skewering a lot of left wing pieties. I analyze that at length in my book. I tried to show that many of the issues the show raises are issues, particularly that I think libertarians are interested in.

The show ends up debunking the nation state and defending the local things. The most positive lesson of the show is that small is good. The family is good, the small town is good. It even shows that the church is good. Its general message is: the bigger government is, the worse it is. Even though it makes fun of the small town, clearly the small town institutions are preferable to all these distant bureaucratic arms of the state like the IRS and the FBI.

Q: They’re more stupid than evil.

A: Yeah, the local is more stupid than evil. The national is evil. An interesting thing is that you can get students talking about important issues by getting them talking about the Simpsons. I was particularly struck by how much students can articulate about their feelings about the nuclear family and the threats to it by talking about the Simpsons.

Q: That’s just what conservatives have been talking about.

A: Yes! My first lesson to conservatives... You are condemning this show for undermining the nuclear family. It’s the last bastion of the nuclear family on television. At the time it came out, it was after a decade when all sorts of alternatives to the nuclear family were being held up on television. The Simpsons marked a kind of return to the nuclear family. It turned out to be a significant portent in that sense. Now the Simpsons has been embraced. One of the things I pointed out is that it showed that religion has a place in average, daily, ordinary American life in a way that television had been denying for years.

Q: My father’s a pastor. My parents always talked about that. If you just watched our TV and movies, you’d think that no one in this country goes to church... Except to do something terrible.

A: Yeah, religious people are either total saints or they’re completely deranged, fundamentalist maniacs. And here’s Homer Simpson, absolutely average Joe, and he goes to church and it’s meaningful to him. He’s not the most pious guy, yet...

I really took the lead on that. I think I was the first person to go into print and now Mark Pinsky from the Orlando Sentinel [and Tony Campolo] has written a book called The Gospel According to The Simpsons.

This week, the public radio program Studio 360, hosted by Kurt Andersen, features a segment on gay TV characters, with the hook being the same-sex marriage episode of The Simpsons scheduled for this Sunday evening.

A transcript of the segment, which is 98% an interview with playwright Paul Rudnick, can be found here. (If, however, you prefer to listen to the segment instead, you can click on "Queer Eye for the TV Guide" at the "Studio 360" web site.)

Toward the end of the interview, host Kurt Andersen asks Rudnick, "And as we look forward in the next five or ten or twenty years, other than it coming to seem ever more normal - which I presume you would find desirable - are there place that Gay TV ought to go that would please you, that hasn't been done so far?"

Rudnick, who wrote The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and Jeffrey, among other works, replies:

Space. (Laughs) I think actually on all the Star Trek shows there are characters that are rumored to be gay, often the strange robot or inter-planetary characters. But it's interesting, sort of superheroes, although now in the comic book world there are actually a batch of gay superheroes, so the barriers are crumbling all over. It will be interesting to see what develops. It's funny, in the world of literature, in books like Kavalier and Clay, gay characters are now more than commonplace. In The Corrections, one of the main characters was a lesbian, so it just feels like that barn door has now been so removed from its hinges that gay characters will no longer be seen as just specialty items.

The Simpsons' gay wedding episode will emphatically not see the series jump the shark. It will be just one more day in Springfield, one more day in America. And The Simpsons will go on.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Clinton-Boxer Election Bill: So Bad in So Many Ways

Once again, the Washington Times' intrepid "Inside the Beltway" columnist, John McCaslin, tips us off to a piece of legislation that deserves attention -- but only so long as that attention serves to inform Congress of why the bill should be rejected.

In Tuesday's edition, McCaslin writes:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says she looks forward to working with newly crowned Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, starting with voting reform.

As people in Iraq and Ukraine "celebrate elections and voter participation," says the former first lady, "we must make sure every vote is counted in elections right here at home."

Which brings us to the Count Every Vote Act of 2005, which Mrs. Clinton is introducing this week with California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. If it is passed, the legislation would provide a verified paper ballot for every electronic vote cast and require the Election Assistance Commission to ensure uniform access to voting machines.

"It's outrageous that some people in predominantly minority communities had to wait up to 10 hours to vote [in 2004], while people in other communities often voted in minutes," Mrs. Clinton says.

If her act sounds familiar, it is because she introduced similar legislation last year, but acknowledges that "it never saw the light of day."

"I couldn't even get a hearing for my bill before the Senate Rules Committee," she complains.

"Inside the Beltway" doesn't tell the half of it. According to a news release posted on Senator Clinton's official web site, the legislation she and Senator Boxer (along with Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones are proposing would be a massive intrusion into the authority of states to set their own election rules, based on local conditions, traditions, and resources, as well as a huge unfunded and unjustified federal mandate that would have to be met by local governments who, all in all, do a damn fine job of administering elections.

Please don't take that last point as self-serving (regular readers will recall my position as chairman of the Charlottesville Electoral Board). As reported by the Associated Press on February 15:
Improvements to voting machines and election administration saved 1 million votes that otherwise likely would have gone uncounted in the 2004 elections, with states and counties that made the most comprehensive upgrades recovering the most votes, an academic analysis says.

The report, released yesterday by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, looked at a key measure of election integrity -- residual votes, or ballots cast during an election on which voters failed to mark a choice or machines did not record it.

* * *

The report "provides some corrective to what's getting to be a common interpretation of this election, which is that the election was deeply flawed and things were worse in 2004 than in 2000," said Charles Stewart III, the report's author and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political science professor.

"By this measure -- which is a measure that people were trying to improve on -- things were significantly better in 2004 than in 2000," he said.

(The complete report, Residual Vote in the 2004 Election, is available at the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project web site.)

Now, to the meat of the Clinton-Boxer bill. Here is the laundry list of changes the proposed law would bring, as stated in Senator Clinton's news release:

The Count Every Vote Act of 2005 will provide a voter verified paper ballot for every vote cast in electronic voting machines and ensures access to voter verification for all citizens, including language minority voters, illiterate voters and voters with disabilities. The bill mandates that this ballot be the official ballot for purposes of a recount. The bill sets a uniform standard for provisional ballots so that every qualified voter will know their votes are treated equally, and requires the Federal Election Assistance Commission to issue standards that ensure uniform access to voting machines and trained election personnel in every community. The bill also improves security measures for electronic voting machines.

To encourage more citizens to exercise their right to vote, the Count Every Vote Act designates Election Day a federal holiday and requires early voting in each state. The bill also enacts "no-excuse" absentee balloting, enacts fair and uniform voter registration and identification, and requires states to allow citizens to register to vote on Election Day. It also requires the Election Assistance Commission to work with states to reduce wait times for voters at polling places. In addition, the legislation restores voting rights for felons who have repaid their debt to society.

The Count Every Vote Act also includes measures to protect voters from deceptive practices and conflicts of interest that harm voter trust in the integrity of the system. In particular, the bill restricts the ability of chief state election officials as well as owners and senior managers of voting machine manufacturers to engage in certain kinds of political activity. The bill also makes it a federal crime to commit deceptive practices, such as sending flyers into minority neighborhoods telling voters the wrong voting date, and makes these practices a felony punishable by up to a year of imprisonment.

It's hard to know where to begin in addressing the horrid ideas found in this bill.

Let's look at the "voter verifiable paper trail." Last year, the principal authors of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (known in the trade simply as "HAVA") distributed a letter to their congressional colleagues explaining why the "paper trail" is unneeded. The letter was signed by Senators Mitch McConnell (D-Kentucky)and Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) and Representatives Robert Ney (R-Ohio) and Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), and thus lacks any hint of partisanship. The four legislators wrote in their letter, dated March 3, 2004:
Various proposals have been introduced in the House and Senate, but a common feature of these bills is they would amend HAVA to require that all voting systems, including electronic and computer-based systems, produce or accommodate a "voter verified paper record." Not only are such proposals premature, but they would undermine essential HAVA provisions, such as the disability and language minority access requirements, and could result in more, rather than less, voter disenfranchisement and error.

They continue:
The proposals mandating a voter-verified paper record would essentially take the most advanced generations of election technologies and systems available and reduce them to little more than ballot printers. While such an approach may be one way to address DRE security issues, it would, if adopted, likely give rise to numerous adverse unintended consequences. Most importantly, the proposals requiring a voter-verified paper record would force voters with disabilities to go back to using ballots that provide neither privacy nor independence, thereby subverting a hallmark of the HAVA legislation. There must be voter confidence in the accuracy of an electronic tally. However, the current proposals would do nothing to ensure greater trust in vote tabulations but would be guaranteed to impose steep costs on States and localities and introduce new complications into the voting process.

Last year, the Electoral Board and General Registrar of Arlington County, Virginia, prepared an article that listed several reasons why the VVPT (voter verifiable paper trail) is problematic. The article was reprinted in the October 2004 newsletter of the Virginia Electoral Board Association. (Regrettably, the VEBA newsletter is not available on line.)

The article points out how the VVPT concept is at odds with some of the other goals advocated by Senators Clinton and Boxer (and their allies). For instance, as noted above, their proposed bill "requires the Election Assistance Commission to work with states to reduce wait times for voters at polling places." Fine-sounding language, but think about this, as the Arlington County Electoral Board points out:
Mechanical printers appear to be the least reliable of computer system components: they jam, are slow, and a voting machine with a VVPT probably would need to be supplied with paper several times during Election Day.

They add:
For the VVPT to work and have a degree of accuracy, assurance would be needed that each voter would in fact verify every ballot. This would be time consuming, potentially more than doubling time spent at the machine.

While referring specifically to their own jurisdiction, the Arlington Electoral Board members note something else that is nearly universally true:
It may be helpful to remember that, for more than 50 years, no paper trail of voters' ballots has been available in Arlington for recounts. That was the case for the mechanical lever machines that were used from 1950 to 1991 and for the electronic push button machines used between 1991 and 2003. When those machines were in use, we know of no issues raised regarding the lack of a paper trail. In fact, one of the reasons for the original move to voting machines from paper ballots was to eliminate controversies regarding paper ballots. Historically, problems with paper ballots involved difficulties in achieving accurate counts, ballot box stuffing, and voter intimidation.

In Senator Clinton's news release, civil rights activist Ralph Neas says that "This bill provides practical, secure accessible solutions at the ballot box for Americans with disabilities, those who speak languages other than English, and other Americans who face hurdles in exercising their voting rights. It's a great bill."

But the internal contradictions of the bill -- involving VVPT, but other aspects as well -- undermine it. Turning again to the Arlington Electoral Board:
In multi-language jurisdictions, and Arlington may at some future date be required to produce the ballot in at least two languages, there would be the need for the VVPT to print in more than one language. Some ares of California, for example, now have ballots in a number of languages.

* * *

As a local example of what might be involved with a VVPT, Arlington has long ballots in presidential election years, with large blocks of text for ballot questions. The paper audit for one ballot could potentially be as much as 24 inches long and even if we could assure that every voter would take the time to review the paper tape against the electronic selections, such a system would considerably increase the amount of time a voter spends in the voting booth, guaranteeing the ire and frustration of other voters waiting in lines that they already believe are too long.

Some of the other provisions of the Clinton-Boxer bill -- mandating Election Day voter registration and "no excuse" absentee voting -- are recipes for voter fraud. (For documentation, take a look at John Fund's Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy.) There's far too little space available here to rebut each individual provision. Suffice it to say the bill would destroy the federal character of elections, which, as I have argued elsewhere, is the strongest defense against vote fraud.

Last year, similar legislation proposed by Senator Clinton was bottled up in committee. Let's hope this ill-considered grab-bag of half-baked ideas meets the same fate.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Kennedy Center Commits $125 Million to Arts Education

This news release from the Kennedy Center just crossed my desk:

February 16, 2005


Five Year Plan Calls for Innovative Uses of Internet, Ticket Discounts for Teachers,
New Family Theater and a new outreach program with Music Theatre International And Disney Theatricals Productions

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Michael M. Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, announced today that the Center will devote $125 million to performing arts education over the next five years. The funds will be directed to a number of new initiatives and expansion of current programs that currently reach more than 11 million people in all 50 states.

“Arts education can make an extraordinary difference in the lives of children and adults,” said Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman of the Kennedy Center. “The national scope of this unprecedented financial commitment to arts education befits the nation’s cultural center and should provide the best in arts education to all Americans.”

The central focus of the Kennedy Center’s education programming is on the classroom. Numerous programs and resources are provided to students and teachers to introduce the arts into the classroom. Complementing these programs are music and theater performances mounted in Washington, D.C. and on tour, and training programs for young talented performers. Most recently, the Kennedy Center has created a range of programs to enhance the skills of managers of arts organizations in the United States and abroad.

The Kennedy Center’s education programs address four distinct areas: family and children’s performances, arts and schools, career development for aspiring professionals and arts management training.

Family and Children’s Performances:

The Kennedy Center is devoted to commissioning, presenting and touring the best of family and children’s theater, dance and music. New programming plans include:

· Family Theater. A new 320-seat theater designed to house performances for young people and their families will open at the Kennedy Center in December 2005.

· Jazz Web Site. Building on the extensive Kennedy Center jazz programming, an expansive new web site will include jazz performances, interviews, oral histories, web discussions and exhibitions on jazz history.

· New Visions, New Voices International. A bi-annual symposium on developing plays for young people will now include theater companies from around the world.

Arts and Schools:

The heart of the Kennedy Center’s education programming is the classroom. A series of programs bring artists into the classroom in person, via computer and satellite technology. A substantial effort is made to train and to provide resources to teachers to help them bring arts into the classroom. New programming plans include:

· Teacher Discount. In an effort to encourage teachers to experience the arts, every teacher in the United States will receive a 15% discount on tickets at the Kennedy Center. This will take effect on April 1, 2005.

· Kennedy Center’s Arts On-line. A web-based performing arts experience for children and adults. Age appropriate displays reveal the history of the performing arts in America and allow users to learn about backstage life through exhibitions, performances and interactive activities.

· Distance Learning on Broadband. The Center’s efforts to distribute educational programming to students in classrooms across America will expand by using broadband technology that will increase exponentially the number of students who can access these programs.

· ArtsEdge Enhancements. Internet-based interactive arts programs are being created for students and teachers on the Kennedy Center’s education website. For example, the Martha Graham program can currently be accessed at

· Internet 2. The Center will work with a group of universities, industries and government agencies that are creating tomorrow’s Internet. The Center will integrate a comprehensive arts program into this new initiative.

· Rehearsal Commentary. A new program has recently been tested that provides ballet commentary by dance experts to student groups during a rehearsal using an infrared listening system.

· Musicals in the Schools. A new program in development will provide opportunities for grade school students to create musical productions. The Center will work with Music Theatre International and Disney Theatrical Productions to create musicals for children and to provide assistance and professional development for teachers who wish to mount these musicals. Pre- and post-evaluation and assessment of students is being built into the program.

Career Development for Aspiring Professionals:

The Kennedy Center provides training to young musicians, conductors and dancers. Expansions to these programs include:

· Conservatory Project Expansion. The Center’s program for developing and presenting young talent from the nation’s leading music conservatories will expand to include more music schools.

· Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell International. An annual dancer training program run by one of America’s greatest ballerinas will expand to include young dancers from China and other nations.

· Jazz Ahead International. Young jazz musicians from around the world will now have the opportunity to study performing, composing and arranging with leading jazz professionals.

· Summer Music Institute International. A summer program that allows student musicians to study with National Symphony Orchestra musicians will expand to include students from all over the world.

· Dance Theatre of Harlem Professional Development Program. An on-going project to bring dance into the community will expand and redirect its focus to emphasize professional training, targeting students with the talent and passion for professional careers.

Arts Management Training:

Over the past four years, the Kennedy Center has initiated programs that train aspiring and professional arts managers. New programming plans include:

· Board Training. This new initiative will offer board members of arts organizations across the country the opportunity to obtain the knowledge required to guide their organizations.

· Arts Management Web Site. A new website will be established that allows arts managers around the world to participate in web discussions, explore case histories and receive online consulting assistance.

“The Center’s arts education programs are a cornerstone of this institution’s activities,” said Darrell Ayers, Vice President for Education “In the last 34 years, the need for arts education programming has only intensified, and the Kennedy Center has responded with comprehensive and focused programs that serve the nation, and, now, the world.”

Virtually every education program, apart from ticketed performances, are offered free of charge to all participants.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., is America’s living memorial to President Kennedy. The Center has seven theaters and stages and is the nation’s busiest performing arts facility with audiences totaling two million; Center-related touring productions, television and radio broadcasts welcome 20 million more.

Now in its 34th season, the Center presents the greatest examples of music, dance and theater; supports artists in the creation of new work; and serves the nation as a leader in arts education. With its artistic affiliate, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Center’s achievements as a commissioner, producer and nurturer of developing artists have resulted in more than 200 theatrical productions, dozens of new ballets, operas and musical works.

As part of the Kennedy Center’s Performing Arts for Everyone, outreach program, the Center and the National Symphony Orchestra stage more than 400 free performances of music, dance and theater by artists from throughout the world each year on the Center’s main stages, and every evening at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage. The Center also offers the nation’s largest Specially Priced Tickets program for students, seniors, persons with disabilities, military personnel and others with fixed low incomes.

For more information about the Kennedy Center visit


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Update: Over-the-Rainbow Adoption Bill Dies in Virginia Senate

On February 6, I posted some comments on a bill patroned by Delegate Dick Black (R-Loudoun County), one of the more sex-obsessed members of the Virginia General Assembly, that would have effectively prohibited gay Virginians from adopting children, regardless of whether such adoptions would be in the best interest of the children in question.

The bill was later watered down through the legislative process, so that it would simply require that "the circuit court's investigation of a petitioner for adoption to include an inquiry into whether the petitioner is known to engage in current voluntary homosexual activity or is unmarried and cohabiting with another adult to whom he is not related by blood or marriage."

Today the state Senate's Courts of Justice Committee killed the bill. As reported by the Associated Press:

On an overwhelming voice vote, the Courts of Justice Committee refused to send Del. Richard Black's bill to the Senate floor. The House of Delegates had passed the bill 71-24 last week.

Black's desperation to see his bill succeed led him to bring the discredited Paul Cameron to Richmond to testify in favor of the bill. Fortunately, at least one state senator knew that Cameron is a fraud and a charlatan. The AP reported:

Opponents of the legislation attacked the credibility of Black's chief witness: Paul Cameron, chairman of the Family Research Institute in Colorado Springs, Colo., who claimed that homosexuals, drug users and prostitutes "disrupt society" and have a much lower than normal life expectancy.

Responding to questions from Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, Cameron acknowledged that the American Psychological Association expelled him in 1983 for violating the association's ethical principles. The American Sociological Association adopted resolutions in 1985 and 1986 saying Cameron had consistently misrepresented sociological research, he acknowledged.

Cameron said those rebukes stemmed from "political differences." He said the ASA and other organizations have begun a covert "affirmative action" program favoring gay couples in adoptions to make up for what they believe to be past discrimination.

That Black could be misled to believe that someone like Cameron could be a viable witness on behalf of his legislation shows just how blind to reality the Delegate is. While he shouldn't be faulted for not reading the professional journals dealing with psychology or sociology, certainly he (or his legislative research staff) are familiar with such publications as, say, The New Republic, which carried a devastating critique of Cameron's sham science as early as 1994 (and available on line at the Independent Gay Forum).

In The New Republic, Mark Pietrzyk reported:
During the 1980s [Cameron] published hysterical pamphlets alleging that gays were disproportionately responsible for serial killings, child molestation and other heinous crimes.

Shortly after Cameron made these claims, several psychologists whose work he had referenced -- including Dr. A. Nicholas Groth, director of the Sex Offender Program at the Connecticut Department of Corrections -- charged Cameron with distorting their findings in order to promote his antigay agenda. When the American Psychological Association (APA) investigated Cameron, it found that he not only misrepresented the work of others but also used unsound methods in his own studies. For this ethical breach, the APA expelled Cameron in December 1983. (Although Cameron claims he resigned, APA bylaws prohibit members from resigning while under investigation.)

* * *

Unfortunately, the misrepresentations persist. Distortions and sloppy methods continue to shape Cameron's studies. As anyone who has taken a statistics class knows, a survey is valid only if the sample it uses is representative of the whole population. Sex surveys pose a particular problem, since many people who normally would be included in a representative sample are loath to discuss their private lives. That, however, hasn't deterred Cameron from his work.

Consider, for instance, his 1983 ISIS study, a survey of the sexual and social behavior of 4,340 adults in five American cities. Although thousands of heterosexuals allegedly responded to his survey, Cameron could get only forty-one gay men and twenty-four lesbians to respond. The extremely small sample size should have invalidated any conclusions about the sexual behavior of the gay population. In any case, the skewed results of the survey show that Cameron did not get an adequate random sample of heterosexuals either. He claims to have found that 52 percent of male heterosexuals have shoplifted; that 34 percent have committed a crime without being caught; and that 12 percent have either committed or attempted to commit murder. Most people would toss out such a survey but Cameron published the results in several pamphlets and in “Effect of Homosexuality upon Public Health and Social Order," an article in Psychological Reports.

Pietrzyk's full article deserves reading, since it offers many specific examples of Cameron's weird science.

A long time ago, an acquaintance of mine briefly dated "Dr." Cameron's daughter, when the family still lived in the Washington area. My friend mentioned in conversation one day that he was in the Camerons' basement, waiting for the daughter, when he noticed that the room was stacked floor to ceiling with gay pornography. "Dr." Cameron claimed this was "research material," but something tells me that this goes far beyond the call of duty, even for a reputable psychologist. It strays into the realm of the creepy.

I really think that Paul Cameron's presence in Richmond at Dick Black's behest served to sink the bill. I hope that every time Dick Black patrons an anti-gay bill, he brings in Paul Cameron for support.

Follow-up: Tim Hulsey does my anecdote on Paul Cameron's porn collection one better, by digging up a marvelous quotation from Cameron in -- of all places -- Rolling Stone. (Was he posed provocatively on the cover with boy-band members? Or was he consulted on Rod Stewart's digestive tract?) Here's Tim's gem:

Finally, gentle reader, consider Cameron's most famous quote, published in a 1999 issue of Rolling Stone magazine: "Marital sex tends toward the boring end. Generally, it doesn’t deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does ... The evidence is that men do a better job on men, and women on women if all you are looking for is an orgasm." I'm not sure, but I suspect most heterosexual men and woman would disagree with that.

They may disagree, but they'd be wrong. (It's frightening to think that my opinion on something corresponds to one of Paul Cameron, Defrocked Psychologist. But it's the only overlap, I assure you.)

Has anyone ever thought that Paul Cameron is something like Fred Phelps -- if they didn't exist, the gay movement would have to invent them? I mean, if you want to discredit your opponents, make sure your opponents are so loony that nobody can take them seriously.