Monday, January 31, 2005

Free-Market Wireless Beats Government Telecom Monopoly

An amusing front-page story today in the Daily Progress (Charlottesville, Virginia) reports how University of Virginia officials lament the multiplication of cell-phone use among students who live in the dormitories on grounds.

It seems that for years, the University ran a monopoly on telephone service for dorm rooms, providing land lines and charging a premium price for long-distance service. The monopoly pricing was incorporated into the University's budget, with the money going toward telecommunications infrastructure projects.

What the University did not count on was the desire for freedom -- freedom to choose, freedom to move -- on the part of students, who increasingly use cell phones to communicate both locally and distantly with friends and loved ones. Consequently, the revenue from long-distance phone calls in dorm rooms has plummeted precipitously.

Reports Kate Andrews of the Daily Progress:

"The volume of student long distance calling has been dropping for many years," said James A. Jokl, director of UVa’s communications and systems. "I suspect many reasons, including e-mail and calling cards in the past and additionally cell phones more recently."

In the 1997-98 academic year, students spent more than 5 million minutes making long distance calls. That rate fell to 600,000 minutes last year, bringing in only $30,000.

Look at those numbers: Long-distance call-minutes have diminished to only 12 percent of their numbers of only seven years ago.

This may be a small example, but it is one more strong piece of evidence that, when government creates or facilitates a monopoly, some competitor in the private sector will come along to undercut prices or provide better service. Monopolies cannot and will not (and must not) be maintained.

U.S. Postal Service, take note.

Ayn Rand Centenary: February 2, 1905-2005

This Wednesday marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand.

Rand -- whose birth name was Alice Rosenbaum -- arrived in this world on the eve of the first Russian Revolution, lived as a teenager through World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the civil war that followed, and escaped from Communist Russia at the age of 21, coming to the United States, where she learned English and became, in short order, a screenwriter, playwright, novelist, and essayist. She created a philosophy called Objectivism and her writings are a tour d'horizon of epistemology, aesthetics, metaphysics, economics, and politics.

One hears over and over that a 1991 survey -- sometimes attributed to the Book-of-the-Month Club, sometimes to the Library of Congress -- ranked Rand's 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, as the second-most influential book among American readers, after the Bible. (Does anyone have verification of who actually sponsored the survey? Could it have been both the Library and the Club?)

Needless to say, we are seeing a flurry of activity to celebrate Ayn Rand's birthday. The Objectivist Center is hosting a half-day conference at the Library of Congress on the actual anniversary, Wednesday, February 2, with a number of distinguished speakers, including two Members of Congress -- Edward Royce of California and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Other speakers include Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, Ed Crane of the Cato Institute, and Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Information about the event can be found at the Objectivist Center's web site.

A number of pundits and cultural critics are also beginning to weigh in on Rand's legacy in the popular press. In the past few days, articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and New York Sun, among other papers, and we can expect to see more as the week progresses.

What is particularly praiseworthy about these articles is that, although the writers invariably admire Rand either for her ideas or for her persistence, they are not shy about criticizing the artistic quality of her work. The fact is, Rand's novels are as popular (and as provocative and controversial) as they are not for their style, but for the substance of their ideas.

Here for instance, is the Chicago Tribune's cultural critic, Julia Keller, writing in the newspaper's Sunday edition:

Rand's fiction has been critically scorned in some quarters, her philosophy reviled, but her influence is undeniable.

Did somebody say "influence"? Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, counts himself among her devoted flock. Rand's books, vastly popular in her lifetime, continue to sell at a nifty clip: More than 5.5 million copies of "Atlas Shrugged" have been snapped up since its initial publication, and in the last few years, sales have averaged about 150,000 copies annually, reports Richard E. Ralston, publishing manager for the Ayn Rand Institute. "The Fountainhead" has sold more than 6 million copies, with annual sales currently topping 130,000, he adds.

Wooden characters

Clearly, then, Rand knew what she was doing when she created dreadfully wooden characters to represent her philosophical and economic ideas, when she put long, impossibly windy speeches in the mouths of those characters. Because for all that, for all the technical flaws that even moderately attentive readers could red-pencil in their sleep, for all the narrative rules Rand breaks -- the novel just won't leave you alone. Of how many books can that be said?

Read at the right moment in one's life -- usually in late adolescence, when the world seems like a tangled mess of hypocrisy and confusion, and you hate your parents and especially that stupid assistant principal who is seriously on your case -- "Atlas Shrugged" is a tonic, a dream, a throat-scalding draft of pure, radiant clarity. You feel as if you've been walking upside down for most of your life, seeing things the wrong way, and now -- now – suddenly you're right-side up again and everything starts to make sense. Turns out it was the world that was upside down, not you.

But here's the funny thing: Re-reading Rand as an adult in 2005 is not what you thought it would be. It's not a "Oh, wow, what a chump I was!" feeling.

In fact, the ideas from "Atlas Shrugged" you thought you had outgrown don't seem all that outlandish, after all. The themes you abandoned as hopelessly naive and almost comically operatic -- all those fist-shaking tirades about human destiny, all those "Greed is good!" screeds that predate Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" by three decades -- somehow start making a bit of sense again, in a world upended by religious fanaticism and a nation crippled by soaring government deficits.

Flaws and all, "Atlas Shrugged" still is a powerful novel, a sweeping epic that either pulls you into its sphere or scares the bejesus out of you, or maybe both.

In a review of a new biography of Ayn Rand in the New York Sun, Andrew Stuttaford of National Review Online writes:

Rand herself, alas, was no beauty; her glorious heroines, ridiculously gorgeous, impossibly named, remarkably lithe, are less the template for -- as some allege - a sinister eugenic agenda than the stuff of Ayn's randy dreams garnished with a dollop of Art Deco kitsch. The first, extraordinarily violent, coupling in "The Fountainhead" of Howard Roark with Dominique Francon is not a general prescription for the relationship between the sexes but merely Rand's own erotic fantasy ("wishful thinking," she once announced, to the cheers of a delighted crowd).

Likewise, her sometimes-overwrought style is no more than - well, judge this sentence from "Atlas Shrugged" for yourself: "She looked at the lone straight shaft of the Taggart Building rising in the distance - and then she thought she understood: these people hated Jim because they envied him." Call Dr. Freud.

If sex in Rand's fiction can be savage, so is argument. Her sagas deal in moral absolutes, her protagonists are the whitest of knights or the blackest of villains, caricatures of good or evil lacking the shadings of gray that make literature, and life, so interesting. Yet "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead," at least, have a wild, lunatic verve that sweeps all before them. Like Busby Berkeley, the Chrysler Building, or a Caddy with fins, they are aesthetic disasters, very American aesthetic disasters, which somehow emerge as something rather grand.

There is plenty in Rand to make a modern reader queasy, though you would not know so from Mr. Britting's worshipful text. For example, there is something to the claim that like so many of the intellectuals, left or right, of her time she succumbed to the cruder forms of social Darwinism. For a woman who worshiped man, Rand did not always seem that fond of mankind.

But the accusation by Whittaker Chambers in National Review that there was a whiff of the gas chamber about her writings is wrong. Rand lived in an era of stark ideological choices; to argue in muted, reasonable tones was to lose the debate. As a graduate of Lenin's Russia, she knew that the stakes were high, and how effective good propaganda could be.

Rand's nonfiction may have a greater claim to intellectual respectability, but it was the lurid, occasionally harsh, simplicities of her novels that would deliver her message to the mass audience she believed was out there. She was right. Her key insight was to realize that there was an appetite among Americans for a moral case for capitalism. In a restless age that believed in the Big Answer, neither historical tradition nor utilitarian notions of efficiency would suffice. Ayn Rand gave Americans that case, perhaps not the best case, but a case, and she knew how to sell it.

The establishment always disapproved. Critics sneered. Academics jeered. The publishers Macmillan turned down "Anthem" (1938), saying that Rand, a refugee from the Soviet Union, "did not understand socialism." Oh, but she did, and so did those millions of Americans who bought her books, books that played their part in ensuring that the dull orthodoxies of collectivism never prevailed here.

Imagine the audacity of telling a refugee from the Soviet Union that she does "not understand socialism"! Of course, this was more than a decade before The God That Failed and Witness. (Not that those books had much effect on the Left's squishy views of Stalin, Mao, and Fidel.)

The executive director of the Objectivist Center, Ed Hudgins, explained the central facets of Ayn Rand's philosophy in the Boston Globe last weekend:

Rand's plots taught economic lessons better than do most college textbooks, showing exactly how one government regulation after another can punish productive individuals and destroy a country. Even more important, in her novels and her nonfiction works she developed a philosophy -- Objectivism – that provided a moral defense of free markets.

Rand began with the observation that since the ultimate alternative for human beings is life or death, the ultimate moral goal for each individual is survival. That might not seem so radical, but Rand went on to observe that because we are humans, the goal is not just physical survival; it is a happy, joyous, and flourishing life. Further, the means by which we discover how to achieve this goal is our unique rational capacity, not instincts, feelings or faith. Thinking allows us to produce food, clothing, shelter, medicine, printing presses, computers, rockets, and theories to explain everything from atoms to galaxies.

Rand developed an ethos of rational self-interest, but this ''virtue of selfishness" was not an antisocial creed for predators. Instead, it led Rand to her great insight that there is no conflict of interest between honest, rational individuals.

Since individuals are ends in themselves, no one in society should initiate the use of force or fraud against others. All relationships should be based on mutual consent. This became the credo of the modern libertarian movement, found today in think tanks, publications, and public policy proposals.

True individualists would not debase themselves by living the life of a thief, whether robbing a store with a gun or their fellow citizens with a government mandate or wealth-redistribution scheme. Rather, they would take pride in taking responsibility for their own lives, actions and moral character. Rand wrote, ''As man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul."

Thus an ethos of rational self-interest justifies and supports individual liberty; a free market -- not a communist, socialist, fascist, or welfare-state system -- is the only one that protects the rights of each individual. Entrepreneurs, workers, professionals, and all others need not justify their quest for the highest wages or profits or to seek permission from ''society" or their neighbors; they are free to live their lives as they please as long as they respect the similar freedom of others.

The result of such self-interest is a peaceful, prosperous society of achievers. Such a society would be a joy to live. Not only would we each benefit materially from the goods and services we purchase from others, we would obtain spiritual fuel from their inspiring examples. As one of Rand's characters states, "Don't work for my happiness, my brothers -- show me yours . . . show me your achievement -- and the knowledge will give me courage for mind."

Meanwhile, syndicated columnist Steve Chapman asks, "Has Ayn Rand gone mainstream?" His partial answer begins:

The radical champion of individualism and capitalism, who died in 1982, is no longer an exotic taste. Her image has adorned a U.S. postage stamp. Her ideas have been detected in a new mass-market animated comedy film, "The Incredibles." And Wednesday, on the 100th anniversary of her birth, there will be a Rand commemoration at the Library of Congress--an odd site for a ceremony honoring a fierce anti-statist.

In her day, Rand was at odds with almost every prevailing attitude in American society. She infuriated liberals by preaching economic laissez-faire and lionizing titans of business. She appalled conservatives by rejecting religion in any form while celebrating, in her words, "sexual enjoyment as an end in itself."

But her novels found countless readers. "The Fountainhead," published in 1943, and "Atlas Shrugged," which followed in 1957, are still in print. In 1991, when the Book-of-the-Month Club polled Americans asking what book had most influenced their lives, "Atlas Shrugged" finished second only to the Bible. In all, Rand's books have sold about 22 million copies and continue to sell at the rate of more than half a million a year.

Rand emerged in the aftermath of the Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II--which were taken as proof that the free market was obsolete, that prosperity required an all-intrusive government, and that national success demanded the subordination of the individual to collective purposes. After the traumas of the 1930s and '40s, America was intent on building a well-ordered welfare state based on compromise and consensus.

In that setting, Rand resembled the female athlete in Apple Computer's 1984 Super Bowl commercial, who sprinted into a mass assembly of oppressed drones to hurl a sledgehammer at the Big Brother orating from a giant TV screen--smashing it and bathing the audience in a dazzling light.

* * *

Looking back, it's hard to recapture how jarring that phrase was a generation ago, when altruism and self-sacrifice were seen as the central elements of an exemplary life. Today, Americans take it for granted that they are entitled to live for their own happiness, without apology.

It may seem curious to honor a writer who merely defended free markets, preached the superiority of reason over blind faith and extolled the American ideal of the pursuit of happiness. David Kelley, head of the Rand-oriented Objectivist Center, jokes that he's reminded of the theatergoer who complained that "Hamlet' was full of cliches. Rand's beliefs have been so widely disseminated and absorbed that we have forgotten where they originated.

The truth is that for all she did, they are no longer her ideas. To a large extent, they are ours.

There is a book called It Usually Starts with Ayn Rand, which tries to explain how young people, in particular, come to accept and act on libertarian philosophy. In my own case, I was already a diehard libertarian before I read any of Rand's novels. I began with We the Living (cheating a bit, I saw the movie first), then moved on to The Fountainhead and Anthem, and ended -- after considerable effort -- with Atlas Shrugged. During this time I was delighted to discover that a play I had worked on in college, The Night of January 16th, had also been written by Ayn Rand. Back then, I was unaware of Rand's reputation as a philosopher and had no idea that the play were were doing was anything more than a run-of-the-mill courtroom drama with the twist of letting the audience act as the jury. The things one learns when one grows older.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Censorship? What Censorship?

The Washington Times today has a front-page story about church leaders and conservatives who are fretting about how the media -- both print and broadcast -- are engaging in a kind of "censorship" by denying religious advertisers the opportunity to place their advertisements on TV or in magazines like Rolling Stone.

The article ("Churches decry 'commercial censorship'"), written by correspondent Donna De Marco, begins:

The ongoing controversy between the media and religion heated up this month with Rolling Stone's initial rejection of an ad for a new version of the Bible.

The decision was reversed, and the ad will run next month, but religion-based advertising is becoming an increasingly heated issue as morals and ethics move to the forefront of the political debate.

The media, whether broadcast or print, have the right to turn down ads, but religious organizations and church groups say that right is a form of censorship. They say media must act in the public's interest and not dictate what can or cannot be seen and heard.

It then goes on to list several examples of this "censorship." And in every single example, the media outlet that initially refused to run an ad ended up relenting, permitting the advertiser to place the ad either in its original form or with minor changes.

The complaints have a sort of ironic misdirection, since they emanate largely from conservative groups.

Why is that? Well, for instance, one of the most widely publicized cases of "censorship" was an ad from the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination, which wanted to demonstrate its inclusivity. The ad shows, among other things, a gay couple being turned away by a beefy bouncer at another, unnamed church's door -- along with Hispanic, black, and handicapped individuals. That ad was refused by "liberal" networks NBC and CBS, but accepted by "conservative" Fox. And, the Times notes, "CBS and NBC did accept a second ad from the UCC that ran at the end of December. " (You can see the UCC ad here; click one of the options under "Watch 'Bouncer' commercial.")

So what's the beef? If the complainers can't come up with a single example of a refused ad placement that sticks, they have no complaint.

Moreover, let's not forget that the publications and broadcast outlets have a right, acknowledged by the First Amendment to the Constitution, to control their own message. Do the religious groups want to see a day when their church bulletins must carry advertising for Satanic cults and sex toys?

Friday, January 28, 2005

A 'Dissenting' View on Gay/Lesbian 'Priorities'

GayPatriotWest links to an article in The Cornell Daily Sun by graduate student Brian Holmes, "The Language of American Values," in which he takes to task some of the tactics and positions of mainstream gay-rights organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign. Holmes writes, in part:

The national gay rights groups have issued a "unity statement," pledging to work toward "Civil Rights, Community, Movement." There are two problems with this approach. First, there is the problem of focus. These groups should be striving to ensure that gay and lesbian Americans and their families can live and work and contribute fully to society without fear of retribution by the state; this is priority one.

Good point. Too many goals set by self-styled gay-rights organizations depend on taking advantage of state action rather than opposing the intrusiveness of the state.

The "unity statement" to which Holmes refers, for instance, was coordinated by the Human Rights Campaign and lists these "common priorities" that the groups intend to pursue in the "months and years to come":
* We must fight for equal employment opportunity, benefits and protections — and the federal and state laws that safeguard them.
* We must fight against anti-LGBT violence and for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes law that already protects Americans based on race, religion and national origin.
* We must fight — in both the private and public sectors — for better access to health care and insurance. We must advocate for HIV/AIDS policies — including age-appropriate, LGBT-inclusive comprehensive sexuality education — that effectively address this epidemic at home and abroad.
* We must insist on safe schools, where youth can learn free from bullying, harassment and discrimination.
* We must fight for family laws that give our children strong legal ties to their parents.
* We must work to overturn the military’s discriminatory anti-LGBT ban, which dishonors service members who serve their country with valor and distinction.
* We must continue to expose the radical right’s efforts to advance a culture of prejudice and intolerance, and we must fight their attempts to enshrine anti-gay bigotry in our state and federal laws and constitutions.
* And we must continue our vigorous fight for the freedom to marry and the equal protections, rights and responsibilities that safeguard our families, strengthen our commitments and continue to transform understanding of our lives and our relationships.

It's hard not to notice that fighting anti-gay laws is second from the bottom of the list, while expanding the federal government's role in labor-management relations is at the top, followed immediately by expanding the federal government's role in prosecuting crimes that are normally left to state and local authorities.

Believe it or not, there are gay Americans who oppose these "priorities." For instance, Reason magazine's Washington correspondent wrote in a 1999 column: "Two and a half years in Washington and I've finally found the free marketeers in the Republican Party--they're gay." Quips aside, Lynch went on to report on the substance of a Log Cabin meeting in Northern Virginia:

The second Wednesday of each month, in the basement of the Rhodeside Grill in Arlington, Virginia, anywhere from 30 to 60 gay men, a few straights, and a couple of women gather under the auspices of the Log Cabin Club of Northern Virginia. I dropped by yesterday to catch the featured talk, "Freedom for All: The Case Against Employment Non-Discrimination Laws," by Nigel Ashford, a professor of American politics in England.

I assumed they had to go all the way to England to find a gay conservative willing to argue against making homosexuality a protected class under federal discrimination law. But this hunch was wrong. The vast majority of the 40 or so gentlemen and two ladies present appeared to agree with Ashford. This puts them at odds with the national Log Cabin Club and probably every other gay advocacy organization.

Bookended by a dartboard and a TV showing local news, Nigel began his talk by saying he had 15 minutes to give 12 reasons why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), was a bad thing. "Start with a principle," he said. It is wrong to discriminate, but it is wrong to force people not to discriminate. Since he has no right to a particular job, being denied it is not a denial of his rights. Said Nigel, "Even bigots have rights."

Nigel then laid out three more specific reasons to oppose ENDA: It's a threat to civil liberties, to society as a whole, and to gays. "It is intended to increase opportunity, but perversely, and I said perversely, not perversity, it will have the opposite effect," he said. This is because employers will be less likely to hire openly gay individuals if they fear they cannot let them go without risking a lawsuit.

So what is the proper agenda for politically active gays? Gays should work for equality before the law, Ashford said, by attacking sodomy laws and promoting gay marriage, gays in the military, and gay adoption laws. That's not exactly a Republican agenda, but then, Ashford has the benefit of being British.

Not everyone agreed with Ashford's libertarianism. A dissenter said he supported equality and therefore he wanted to be equal with minorities and women. Someone else in the audience clapped. Nigel answered that such group rights were damaging to America, adding that he thinks anti-discrimination laws for other groups should be abolished as well.

And then there's the question of hate crime laws. A lot of gay Republicans, I'll admit, support this sort of thing. But gay libertarians do not. In my capacity as president of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty, I wrote a column in reaction to the horrible murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in October 1998. Picked up by the Houston Chronicle, the article was spotted by Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who inserted it in the Congressional Record. Here is how it appeared there:
HATE CRIMES AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS -- (BY RICHARD E. SINCERE, JR.) (Extension of Remarks - October 16, 1998)

in the House of Representatives

Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, I commend to my colleagues in Congress as well as citizens everywhere an article authored by Richard Sincere, Jr., President of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty. Mr. Sincere aptly describes how the very essence of hate crimes undermines a pillar of a free and just society; that is, equalt reatment under the law irrespective of which particular group orgroups with whom an individual associates. Ours is a republic based upon the rights of the individual.


The wicked murder of Matthew Shepard by two thugs, assisted by two equally contemptible accomplices, has resurrected a debate about the need for hate-crime laws.

Shepard, an openly gay University of Wyoming student who had been widely praised for his talents, ambitions, and personality, last week was beaten senseless and left for dead, tied up like a scarecrow along a fence on a little-traveled country road. Miraculously, he was found by passers-by many hours after the attack, still struggling for life when he was rushed to a hospital in Fort Collins, CO, where he died Monday while on life support.

Local law enforcement officials in Laramie, WY, where the crime took place, quickly arrested the alleged perpetrators--two men who performed the assault and two women who helped them hide their deed--and it looks like they will be punished to the full extent the law allows if they are convicted. With Shepard's death, they face a possible death sentence.

Laramie, a university community of 27,000 people, is feeling both shame and outrage, a sentiment shared by all right-minded people throughout the country, indeed around the world. News of this brutal assault has appeared everywhere in print and broadcast media.

The crime against Shepard has renewed calls for passing hate-crime legislation, both in Wyoming and nationwide. Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer and President Bill Clinton have said that this attack shows the need for such laws.

This would be a mistake. It would be a mistake because hate-crimel aws, however well intentioned, are feel-good laws whose primary result is thought control, violating our constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and of conscience. It would be a mistake because it suggests that crimes against some people are worse than crimes against others. And it would be a mistake because it uses a personal tragedy, deeply felt by Shepard's family and friends, to advance a political agenda.

Hunter College Professor Wayne Dynes, editor of the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, notes that hate-crimel aws, if they are to be applied in a constitutional manner, must be content-neutral. He notes this example: "Countless numbers of people, aware of the unspeakable atrocities under his leadership, hated Po lPot. This hate was surely well warranted. If one of the Pol Pot haters had killed him, would this be a hate crime ? Why not?"

Dynes adds: "In seeking to exculpate the killer, we would get into the question of whether some hate is 'justified' and some is not." He concludes that hate-crime prosecutions "will be used to sanction certain belief systems--systems which the enforcer would like, in some Orwellian fashion, to make unthinkable. This is not a proper use of law."

Under our system of justice, everyone is equal before the law. Those accused of crimes are entitled to certain constitutional protection, which we must cherish, and the victims of a crime--whether a Bill Gates or the poorest street-sweeper in a slum--are entitled to the same respect. (In the Middle Ages, the law required a greater punishment for killing a rich man or noble than it did for killing a peasant or a laborer. Our law recognizes no such distinctions.)

So, too, with class- or group-based distinctions. Is it worse to kill a man because he is foreign-born than it is to kill him to steal his car? Is it worse to kill a woman because she is black tha nbecause she cut you off in traffic? Is it worse to beat up a fat sissyboy if the bullies think their victim is gay, or if they dislike him because he is fat? Crime is crime; assault is assault. All deserve punishment.

Hateful thoughts may be disagreeable, but they are not crimes in themselves. The crimes that result from hateful thoughts--whetherv andalism, assault, or murder--are already punishable by existing statutes.

In a speech at the University of Texas last year [1997], libertarian activist Gene Cisewski said: "We should be anti-violence, period. Any act of violence has to be punished swiftly and severely and it shouldn't matter who the victim is. The initiation of force is wrong and it doesn't matter why--the mere fact you had a motive is enough."

Cisewski acknowledged the good intentions of those who propose hate-crime laws. He noted that "the reason for the call for (such laws) comes from bad enforcement of the laws." Police and prosecutors have been willing to look the other way when victims came from unfavored groups. Luckily, in the Shepard case, the authorities seem unwavering in their prosecution. This is, unfortunately, not always the case.

The answer, Cisewski suggested, and I agree, is that "we hold every law enforcement official and every court official who administers justice to the standard that every American is guaranteed equal protection under the law."

Hate-crime laws set up certain privileged categories of people, defined by the groups to which they belong, and offers them unequal protection under the law. This is wrong. It is sad to see a young man's personal misfortune used by various special-interest groups to advance such an agenda.

We are all shocked and dismayed by the assault on Shepard. Such brutality cannot, should not be countenanced. Let us not multiply the crimes of his attackers by writing bad law in response.

GLIL -- Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty -- also set itself apart, and proudly so, in 2000, when it was the only gay organization to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court's case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. That is, we were the only gay organization to submit an amicus curiae brief arguing that the Boy Scouts had the right, under constitutional guarantees of free association, to set their own membership and hiring policies even if that meant excluding gay Scouts and Scoutmasters. While we decried the policy, we defended the Boy Scouts right to be wrong.

The brief can be found here (in PDF format). This is the news release that GLIL used to make its position more widely known:

Gay Organization Praises Supreme Court Ruling That Favors Boy Scouts
"Freedoms of Association and Expression Were Protected Today," GLIL Leader Asserts

(WASHINGTON, June 28, 2000) --- The president of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL) today praised the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says the Boy Scouts of America are free to choose their own leaders, even if it means excluding gay men as Scoutmasters.

Richard Sincere, president of GLIL since February 1998, stated that his organization was pleased that "by a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court recognizes that freedom of expressive association is protected under the U.S. Constitution. Despite what others might say, this is a victory for the rights of gay men and lesbians to form groups, gather for expressive purposes, and pursue their own visions of happiness with freedom and dignity."

GLIL had filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale, arguing that the Boy Scouts of America have a constitutional right to set their own standards for membership and leadership positions, even if that means the Boy Scouts may exclude openly gay Scout leaders from participation in the organization.

Sincere said GLIL leaders were pleased that Chief Justice Rehnquist seemed to follow the reasoning in the group's brief when he wrote that: "We are not, as we must not be, guided by our views of whether the Boy Scouts' teachings with respect to homosexual conduct are right or wrong; public or judicial disapproval of a tenet of an organization's expression does not justify the State's effort to compel the organization to accept members where such acceptance would derogate from the organization's expressive message."

"Our brief had emphasized our disagreement with the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding gay members and leaders," said Sincere, a former Boy Scout himself. "But if government forces the Boy Scouts to change that policy, the constitutional rights of all of us -- not just the Scouts, but everyone, gay or straight -- will be diminished. Freedom does not belong only to those with whom we agree. Gay men and lesbians have suffered when freedom of association has not been respected. We benefit when freedom of speech and freedom of association are vigorously protected. A Supreme Court ruling against the Boy Scouts would have had the perverse effect of hurting gay and lesbian Americans."

GLIL's brief before the Supreme Court was prepared by the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public-interest law firm. GLIL's amicus brief is available on-line at

Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty was founded in February 1991 to advance the ideas of economic and personal freedom and individual responsibility. It has members across the United States and in several foreign countries.

As a final example of work I've done in the past to demonstrate that the words "gay" and "liberal" are not synonymous, I offer this article that appeared (by invitation of the editors) in the Virginia Advocate, a conservative student publication at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In it, I try to show that it is possible to be gay and conservative or gay and libertarian without suffering from psychic dissonance.

You Think You're Gay?

You do have a choice (of political affiliation)

by Richard E. Sincere, Jr., GLIL President, April 2001, vol XXV, no. 2

On Easter Sunday, 2000, members of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL) participated in a protest in front of the White House, demonstrating their disdain for the previous day's kidnapping of Elián Gonzalez by heavily armed government thugs, in a pre-dawn raid at the behest of Attorney General Janet Reno.

So far as we know, no other gay organization took the time to protest this particularly vicious manifestation of the heavy hand of government. Sadly, this example explains why, for many Americans, their gay compatriots have been stereotyped as belonging to one, monolithic political category: liberal Democrats. This simply is not the case. Like all Americans, gay men and lesbians hold a wide range of views on political, social, and economic issues. For various reasons, however, the images presented by the media-and reinforced by some conservative activists-tend to favor the liberal Democratic pigeonhole.

GLIL, a non-partisan organization founded in 1991, is one of the alternatives that represent some politically aware gay Americans. In February 2000, GLIL filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Boy Scouts of America have a constitutional right to set their own policies for selecting leaders, even if this means excluding openly gay scoutmasters. Freedom of association, GLIL argued, is of paramount importance to gay Americans. If the Boy Scouts lost their case, gay people would end up losing, too.

In a speech sponsored by Students for Individual Liberty at the University last spring, GLIL executive vice president Odell Huff noted that "only through our ability to freely associate with one another" are gay people "able to come to terms with our own sexuality, deal with the social hostility we inevitably face, create safe places for ourselves where we can feel comfortable and secure, and meet one another so that we might form happy and stable relationships."

Over the past ten years, GLIL has sponsored forums on our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms; on why the Food and Drug Administration should allow people to choose to use home-testing kits for HIV; and, as early as 1991, in a debate between Andrew Sullivan of the New Republic and Tom Palmer of the Institute for Humane Studies, on the question of equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian citizens.

GLIL also sponsored a debate on hate-crimes laws some six years before the murder of Matthew Shepard brought the issue to national prominence and, at the time of Shepard's murder, an article explaining GLIL's opposition to hate-crimes laws was reprinted in the Congressional Record.

GLIL members oppose laws like the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which interfere with the rights of employers and workers to decide conditions of employment but also support the rights of gay and lesbian Americans to serve openly in the military.

GLIL is not a lonely non-left voice in the gay and lesbian world. There is also the Independent Gay Forum, which publishes the views of a wide range of non-left writers such as U.S. Representative Jim Kolbe, Jonathan Rauch, Jennifer Vanasco, Norah Vincent, Bruce Bawer, and others.

On January 19, 2001, the Republican Unity Coalition was launched, as a gay-straight alliance for Republican activists. Former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming emceed the breakfast, which featured U.S. Representative Tom Davis (R-Va.) as a speaker. Davis stated the obvious: "Politics is about addition, not subtraction," pointing out that if the Republican Party wants to win elections, especially in toss-up suburban areas, it must not exclude any potential voters or activists.

And, of course, there are the Log Cabin Republicans, who have been active in Virginia politics since 1997. The Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia is now spinning off clubs in Central Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Michael Lynch of Reason magazine wrote of the group: "Two and a half years in Washington, and I've finally found the free marketeers in the Republican Party-they're gay." Former Prince William County GOP chairman Bill Kling noted that LCRC/NoVa meetings are "fast becoming a 'must' campaign stop for many GOP candidates."

So there are alternatives for politically active gay and lesbian Americans. If you're gay, you do have a choice. You are not stuck in an endless, downward spiral of socialism, irresponsibility, and dependency. You can embrace free minds and free markets instead.

Charlottesville resident Richard Sincere is president of the Washington-based Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Parsing the Oscar® Nominations

The 77th annual Academy Award® nominations were announced this morning. While some may gaze into their crystal balls to predict who the eventual winners might be, others try to discern cultural significance from the choices of the Academy. In this, they are akin to kremlinologists assigning great political import to the position of Politburo members in the reviewing-stand photos of May Day parades.

I’m generally not inclined to do that, but what the hell. Let’s give it a try.

To the surprise of many who thought it would be entirely ignored, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ earned three nominations, while its rival in the red-state/blue-state culture wars, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, was shut out completely.

Gibson’s film was nominated for best cinematography (a more important category than people give it credit for, since without cinematography there would be no cinema), make-up, and musical score.

The Passion was as overrated as it was overwrought. I saw it on Ash Wednesday, the day it opened, with a large crowd of faithful. My immediate reaction was that it was "an Opus Dei wet dream." Andrew Sullivan is not alone among Catholic commentators who thought Gibson's Passion was pornography -- pornographic violence, to be exact.

Moreover, in a surprise move, Clint Eastwood was nominated for playing a man who has a longtime habit of going to daily Mass in Million Dollar Baby, for which he also received a nomination for best direction. (Eastwood’s acting nod fills the slot most expected would go to Liam Neeson for the title role in Kinsey.)

Just what can the conservative religious critics of Hollywood say about the film community’s values now?

I was disappointed that in the documentary feature category, neither of the two best documentaries I saw this year – Tarnation or Paper Clips – was nominated. Tarnation may be just a bit too avant garde stylistically for the Academy, though its subject matter – a mentally ill woman’s relationship with her troubled son – is not beyond them. Paper Clips, on the other hand, had all the elements that usually add up to a best documentary nomination: the Holocaust, cute schoolkids, and lessons in tolerance.

The odds-on favorite to win best documentary is Morgan Spurlock’s anti-corporation, anti-personal-responsibility Super Size Me, which uses many of the techniques mastered by Michael Moore. But don’t be surprised if the Oscar® goes to Twist of Faith, the story of the victim of a Catholic priest/pedophile. The voters might go with that latter film just to give the religious right an anti-religious film to whine about.

Other disappointments for me include the actors’ division passing over Kevin Bacon for his tortured, subtle, understated performance in The Woodsman, and the absence of any nominations for David Gordon Green’s Southern Gothic road movie, Undertow.

Conservative critics should also be pleased that family-friendly fare like The Incredibles received multiple nominations. Besides being nominated for best animated feature, The Incredibles also was nominated for sound editing, sound mixing, and -- most importantly -- original screenplay. And why not, given dialogue like this?

Helen Parr: Everybody is special, Dash.
Dashiell 'Dash' Parr: That's just another way of saying nobody is.

Not quite as subversive as South Park, but still a subtle blow to the politically correct pushers of "self-esteem" as a substitute for self-respect.

I won’t make any predictions about winners since, in most cases, I have not seen the performances or productions that have been nominated. In fact, the only Best Picture nominee I have seen so far is Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator – a fine movie and one with a clear anti-government message. (Aside from the OCD, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes could be a hero in an Ayn Rand novel. And Alan Alda’s nominated performance as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster rivals Ellsworth Toohey as a statist villain.)

Perhaps later, after I have had an opportunity to see more of the nominees (and it will be near-impossible to see any of the nominated short subjects or documentaries), I will play the prognostication game.

In the meantime, I’ll just be waiting for Oscar® Sunday, February 27, when the awards are presented on ABC-TV and hosted by Chris Rock (whose own brand of humor, by the way, is subversively conservative even while it is vulgar).

More on Caballes and the Drug War

It comes as no surprise, but my concerns about the Supreme Court's lopsided decision against personal integrity and security in yesterday's Caballes decision are shared by others.

New York-based blogger "KipEsquire" writes:

The Supreme Court has handed down an utterly terrifying holding today further undermining the Fourth Amendment in the name of the "War on Drugs."

* * *

The implications of Caballes are utterly staggering. As both Justice Souter and Justice Ginsburg observe in their dissents, there can now be no question that random, suspicionless drug-sniffing dog sweeps of unoccupied vehicles in parking lots or garages and on curbsides would almost certainly be completely permissible under the Fourth Amendment.

The total elevation of the sniffing dog above the human being is now nearly complete. Only one basic dignity has yet to be eradicated -- the dog sniff of a person has not yet been sanctioned. Yet.

With nauseating decisions like Caballes being handed down with 6-2 majorities, it's probably only a matter of time.
Stay tuned. More complaints -- and substantial analysis -- are sure to follow.

Virginia Property Rights Bills in Danger of Defeat

Two bills under consideration by the Virginia General Assembly, designed to protect the rights of property owners against aggressive eminent domain practices by state and local government, are in danger of defeat at the committee level.

HB 1820, patroned by Delegates Terrie Suit and Steve Landes, requires "that a condemnor's notice of intent to enter and inspect property prior to the institution of condemnation proceedings be posted on the door to the main entrance of a residence or business located on the parcel, include the names of the individuals who will be entering the property, and state the specific purpose and nature of the entry. Individuals entering the property are required to carry identification and documentation authorizing their entry. If a person fails to comply with the requirements, the owner shall be paid his reasonable costs and expenses, including attorneys' fees."

A companion bill (also patroned by Suit and Landes), HB 1821, would make "the general provisions for the conduct of proceedings to acquire property by exercise of the power of eminent domain mandatory. Currently, the provisions create no rights or liabilities. The measure requires condemnors to pay the landowner's reasonable costs and experts' fees, excluding attorneys' fees, if the award at trial exceeds the condemnor's initial offer by more than 15 percent, and requires courts to give preference to eminent domain proceedings over other civil actions when setting cases for trial. Condemnors that are authorized to use the quick-take process will be required to comply with these general provisions."

Under the current system, the deck is stacked against property owners, who have little recourse if a city or county wants to take their property -- even if the taking is for the benefit of another private owner. (The Institute for Justice combats this sort of abuse across the country. IJ's Clint Bolick has documented these situations in his books, Grassroots Tyranny: The Limits of Federalism and Leviathan: The Growth of Local Government & the Erosion of Liberty.)

Unfortunately, the passage of both HB 1820 and HB 1821 is threatened by the vociferous lobbying by municipal and local authorities, whose power will be diminished by laws that force them to adhere to the Fifth Amendment's provision that protects individuals against takings by the government.

A memorandum from a prominent lawyer-activist informs us that

The subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee is meeting next Wednesday, January 26th, to vote on the property rights bills (House Bill 1820 and 1821). The members of this subcommittee are:

Kilgore, McQuigg, Black, Athey, Janis, Marrs, Reese, Johnson, Barlow, Brink, Ware.

Delegates Athey and Marrs have stated that they are opposed to the property rights bills that protect property owners, and many of the other members are leaning toward voting against the bills. It is extremely important that citizens contact the members of the subcommittee and express strong support for the property rights bills (House Bill 1820 and 1821). It is equally important that citizens contact their local representatives and ask them to contact the members of this subcommittee regarding these bills. Many of the delegates have succumbed to intense lobbying from condemning authorities (mainly large public utility companies with lots of money and government bureaucrats with lots of time).

This is what citizens need to do if these bills will have any chance at passing:

1. CONTACT the members of the subcommittee and your own representatives, and express strong support for the property rights bills.

CALL the delegate’s number in Richmond (not the 800 number), and speak to the delegate or their legislative aide. Refer to the bills by number and as the “property rights” bills. (Do not use the phrase "eminent domain" because it is too obscure.) Be sure to refer to the bills by number (House Bill 1820 and 1821). Let the delegate or their aid know that “property rights” is an important issue and that the delegate’s vote on these property rights bills will be remembered next election.

2. ATTEND the subcommittee hearing next Wednesday, January 26th, You will need to arrive at the General Assembly building around 12:00 and be prepared to stay into the evening. Again, it is the meeting of the subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee.

The subcommittee will not commit to a certain time to discussing these bills. However, delegates have repeatedly told us that citizen turnout makes a huge impact. For years, property owners (who are working to provide for their families and pay taxes) have not been present, and condemning authorities (local government, public utilities, and government agencies) have been the only voice at the General Assembly.

3. Here are the names and contact information of the members of the subcommittee of the Courts of Justice Committee that is voting on this bill:

Athey, Clifford L., Jr. 18th R (804) 698-1018

Barlow, William K. 64th D (804) 698-1064

Black, Richard H. 32nd R (804) 698-1032

Brink, Robert H. 48th D (804) 698-1048

Janis, William R. 56th R (804) 698-1056

Johnson, Joseph P., Jr. 4th D (804) 698-1004

Kilgore, Terry G. 1st R (804) 698-1001

Marrs, Bradley P. 68th R (804) 698-1068

McQuigg, Michèle B. 51st R (804) 698-1051

Reese, Gary A. 67th R (804) 698-1067

Ware, Onzlee 11th D (804) 698-1011

It is also important for Virginians to let their own Delegates and state Senators know that they support HB 1820 and HB 1821. (Together, these bills amount to a "Property Owner's Bill of Rights" far better than what is currently codified under Virginia law.)

We should not let this opportunity to circumscribe the power of local government pass us by. As Nancie G. Marzulla, president of Defenders of Property Rights, wrote in a recent Washington Times article:

... the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires the government to pay for any private property that it takes for public use. What we have to demand from our government as well, however, is that it obey the Constitution while doing so. As Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes warned decades ago, "[W]e are in danger of forgetting that a strong public desire to improve the public condition is not enough to warrant achieving the desire by a shorter cut than the constitutional way of paying for the change."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Warnings Against Drug War Prove True Once Again

The U.S. Supreme Court today further eroded the rights of American citizens to be free of unreasonable searches. As reported by the Los Angeles Times ("Justices: Police Dog Searches Don't Invade Privacy") earlier today:

"The use of police dogs to sniff a car for drugs does not violate the privacy rights of a stopped motorist, the Supreme Court ruled today, even if the officers had no reason to suspect the car and its driver were carrying drugs.

"The high court's decision gives police broad, but not unlimited, authority to use canines to search for drugs or bombs — whether on the highways or in schools, at airports and office buildings.

"... in a 6-2 decision in Illinois vs. Caballes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the police may use drug-sniffing dogs so long as the officers have a reasonable basis for stopping a motorist or a pedestrian in the first place."

The money quote in the Court's decision (written by Justice John Paul Stevens) is this:

"... the use of a well-trained narcotics-detection dog—one that "does not expose noncontraband items that otherwise would remain hidden from public view," Place, 462 U. S., at 707—during a lawful traffic stop, generallydoes not implicate legitimate privacy interests. In this case, the dog sniff was performed on the exterior of re-spondent’s car while he was lawfully seized for a traffic violation. Any intrusion on respondent’s privacy expectations does not rise to the level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement."

In other words, all people who may possibly be suspects, even when no reason for suspicion is apparent, lack Fourth Amendment rights. This reminds me of former Attorney General Edwin Meese's notorious observation 20 years ago, "You don't have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That's contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect."

The Court's decision simply takes us one step closer to the day when every citizen is a suspect -- at that point, in fact, we will not just be suspects. We will be subjects.

In her dissent (joined by Justice David Souter, reaffirming his increasingly well-deserved reputation as the most nearly liberatarian of the nine justices), Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg argues, first parenthetically citing her own previous dissent in another case:

"('Fourth Amendment protection, reserved for the innocent only, would have little force in regulating police behavior toward either the innocent or the guilty.'). Under today’s decision, every traffic stop could become an occasion to call in the dogs, to the distress and embarrassment of the law-abiding population.

"The Illinois Supreme Court, it seems to me, correctly apprehended the danger in allowing the police to search for contraband despite the absence of cause to suspect its presence. Today’s decision, in contrast, clears the way for suspicionless, dog-accompanied drug sweeps of parked cars along sidewalks and in parking lots... Nor would motorists have constitutional groundsfor complaint should police with dogs, stationed at long traffic lights, circle cars waiting for the red signal to turn green."
Monday's decision comes just one day after publication in the Washington Times of an excellent article by former Reagan administration official Doug Bandow (now with the Cato Institute), which reviews two new books on the failure of the War on Drugs -- a failure that contributes to the diminution of human rights in the United States, in sharp contrast to the emphasis on both freedom and liberty given by President Bush in his second inaugural address last week.

Reviewing Bad Trip: How the War on Drugs Is Destroying America, by Joel Miller, and Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition, by Jeffrey A. Miron, Bandow writes, as if in anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruling:

"Another casualty of the drug war is privacy. As Mr. Miller points out, the fact that drug abuse is a victimless (or, more accurately, self-victim) crime means that there is no complaining witness. It is hard to collect evidence against drug users without using searches, wiretaps, and snitches. Even so, winning convictions in drug cases isn't easy. Thus, the government has increasingly relied on property seizures, which demand a lower standard of proof, to punish presumed wrongdoers. Yet Mr. Miller finds that the toll among the innocent is very high."

Bandow, author of The Politics of Envy: Statism as Theology, concludes:

"There is little good news in the drug war. The government has militarized law enforcement and turned homes and entire neighborhoods into war zones. Locking up ever more people hasn't stopped the flow of drugs, which are available inside supposedly secure penitentiaries.

"Proposals for decriminalization or legalization seem radical. But the only hope may be to treat drugs as a moral, spiritual, and health problem rather than a legal one. Mr. Miller notes the importance of 'social controls' in limiting destructive behavior, which ultimate are more powerful than ill-enforced laws. America's tradition of liberty should put the burden of proof on supporters of the drug war. After all, concludes Mr. Miron, 'the goals of prohibition are questionable, the methods are unsound, and the results are deadly.'

"Mr. Miller and Mr. Miron have presented a powerful case against the drug war. Drug prohibition is making Americans neither safer nor better off."

I have addressed the drug war on many occasions in the past, in speeches, articles, and in TV and radio appearances. One of my most recent articles on the topic pointed out how the failure of the War on Drugs is so pervasive that it reaches into the nation's First Family. This article originally appeared in Florida's Bradenton Herald in September 2002; it was picked up and reprinted by the Media Awareness Project:


Could we find a more vivid illustration of the conspicuous failure and counterproductive nature of the War on Drugs than this?

Noelle Bush, daughter of Gov. Jeb Bush and niece of the president, was caught with crack cocaine hidden in her shoe at a drug rehabilitation facility, according to a Sept. 11 report in the Orlando Sentinel. Last July, she was sentenced to jail time for possessing forbidden prescription drugs at the same clinic.

Billions of dollars of investment in the drug war cannot keep illicit substances out of rehabilitation facilities. Nor, for that matter, can law enforcement authorities keep drugs out of prisons - despite concrete walls, steel bars, razor wire and armed guards.

Prison walls are so porous that "it is commonly assumed that well over half of the prison population regularly consumes some kind of drug, be it alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines or heroin," according to Nick Flynn, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust. Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Arthur Solis gives a higher estimate: "Based on my experiences about 70 percent of inmates are in some way, shape, or form involved with drugs," he told Ad Infinitum magazine.

The metaphors are powerful. A daughter of the country's most powerful political family is ensnared in the politicians' own War on Drugs, yet her family fails to see the larger meaning of her predicament. It is easier to obtain hard drugs in jail than in a college dormitory, yet the government thinks it can keep drugs from crossing the 2,067-mile Mexican border or the 5,526 miles between us and Canada.

While families in poor neighborhoods bear the heaviest burdens of the drug war - turf wars among street gang members, endemic police corruption (Denzel Washington's Oscar-winning crooked cop in "Training Day" was a reflection of real life) and economic despondency - affluent and suburban families, including the Kennedys, Bushes and Rockefellers among us, have largely been spared the War on Drugs' collateral damage.

Jeb Bush, claiming the desire for family privacy, merely cloaks his own obtuseness by telling Florida journalists: "In this case, I'm not a governor - I'm a dad. And I just pray. That's all I can do," adding, "This is a private issue as it relates to my daughter, myself and my wife."

It is not private. It is a very public matter with very public ramifications.

The message of Noelle Bush's troubles is simple: We need to rethink the War on Drugs, starting by following the example of Canada, Britain, Portugal and the Netherlands (among other countries) and decriminalizing marijuana. An initiative on the ballot this November in Nevada will show us what voters - not politicians - really think about this proposal. If past experience is any guide, the voters will send a resounding signal to their legislators that drug laws must be reformed, and the law should be rewritten to reflect reason rather than raw emotion, logic and facts rather than propaganda.

Arrest, interdiction and punishment have all proven useless against the laws of economics and human nature. We should have learned the lesson during alcohol Prohibition, which in the 1920s created markets for organized crime, drove up the murder rate and laid the foundations for later criminal enterprises in gambling, prostitution and drugs. Banning a desired product or service always - always - generates incentives to providers who are willing to ignore the law to make a profit. Disputes among black-market entrepreneurs are settled with gunshots rather than with lawsuits. And the losers are all of us.

The War on Drugs casts a wide and dangerous net. Our constitutional liberties are eroded by law enforcement agencies eager to skirt the protections of the Bill of Rights so they can "score" another big arrest. Anyone with a bank account is saddled with invasive regulations that discard financial privacy to prevent "money laundering." Profits from the international trade in cocaine and heroin - profits multiplied by the drugs' mere illegality - finance terrorists on five continents.

The time has come to say no to the War on Drugs.

Gov. Bush and President Bush should listen attentively to their fellow Republican, Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who told his state's legislature last year that "we need to reform our drug policies." Johnson explained: "We need policies that reflect what we know about drug addition rather than policies that seek to punish instead of help. We need a humanitarian approach. The days of the 'drug war' waged against our people should come to an end."

What did I say there? "The time has come to say no to the War on Drugs." No, that's wrong: The time has long passed to say no to the War on Drugs.

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

Although it is nearly 13 years since Johnny Carson last hosted The Tonight Show, news of his death at age 79 comes as a shock. His importance to American entertainment cannot be understated. His importance to NBC television can be easily understood. The network has been treating his death -- well, mostly his life -- in a fashion that only parallels the way they treated that of David Sarnoff. Together, these two men defined television as we know it.

Like Ed Sullivan before him, Johnny -- his intimacy with the American audience demands no less than that we call him by his first name -- introduced countless entertainers to us. According to published reports, some 22,000 guests appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson between October 1962 and May 1992. In many cases, The Tonight Show offered the first national exposure to stand-up comics and other future stars. A laugh from Johnny and an invitation to come sit next to him to chat were the fuses that launched hundreds of careers.

There is little I can say in appreciation of Johnny Carson that has not already been said within the past 48 hours. Tom Shales offers his thanks in today's Washington Post. But words alone are insufficient. The best way to renew our memories of Johnny's life and career is simply to look at it as it was recorded through 30 years of nightly hijinks, such as through this DVD set.

For anyone, like me, who grew up in the 1960s and '70s, Johnny Carson was late-night television. There were no substitutes, no competitors. And there are really no successors, either.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

'Lavender Scare' Update

In my 2004 end-of-the-year letter, I mentioned how I read and enjoyed the book, The Lavender Scare : The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, by David K. Johnson.

David Johnson, who went to Georgetown University at the same time as I did, found the reference and sent me a nice note. He informed me that the book has received an award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. The book was one of several singled out by the Center as being "outstanding" in the cause of advancing human rights.

Here's how the judges described The Lavender Scare:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal agencies drew thousands of young men and women to clerical and administrative jobs in Washington. That urban environment fostered a gay and lesbian subculture. Government employees became vulnerable as a moral panic occurred and was used as a political wedge. Johnson demonstrates how the Lavender Scare helped fan the flames of the Red Scare. Communists were perceived by some to be perverting American youth in order to weaken the country for a communist takeover. The rationale was not that homosexuals were communists, but that they could be manipulated by communists. The book contributes significantly to public knowledge of McCarthyism, the 1950s, and gay and lesbian history.

After I've had a chance to re-read the book, I plan to write a full-length review -- but one that offers, rather than the conventional liberal view of the Myers Center, a more libertarian perspective, pointing out how the unbridled power of the federal government was applied to destroy the jobs and lives of thousands of loyal, peaceable citizens who had done nothing to justify their ill-treatment at the hands of the state.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Why Is "Folkskunde vs. The Moffatts" So Popular?

My January 10 article entitled "Folkskunde vs. The Moffatts" has proven to be the single most popular item on this blog. (No, really, it has. I'm baffled, too.) In the past few days, it has attracted more than 70% of new visitors here. These readers seem to be most interested in the latter-day adventures of Dave Moffatt.

Consequently, I've made some updates to the article, which you can read here.

By the way, I ran into Jacob Wolf of Folkskunde last night at Live Arts' opening night for Steve Martin's The Underpants and mentioned the popularity of the article to him. He seemed both surprised and pleased.

First Tinky-Winky, Now SpongeBob?

What is it about certain leaders of the Religious Right that drives them to self-parody? I mean, do they purposely try to undermine their credibility by making wild, ludicrous charges that do little more than provide fodder for the monologues of late-night TV comics?

The latest in this series of unfortunate events (unfortunate from the point of view of the religious conservatives, not their targets) comes from James Dobson, psychologist and Lord High Executioner of the Focus on the Family empire based in Colorado Springs. As reported in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel on January 21 ("Christian critics say SpongeBob video is 'pro-homosexual'"):

On the heels of electoral victories to bar same-sex marriage, some influential conservative Christian groups are turning their attention to a new target: the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results.

In many circles, SpongeBob needs no introduction. He is popular among children and grown-ups as well who watch him cavorting under the sea on the Nickelodeon cartoon program that bears his name. In addition, he has become a well-known camp figure among gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."

Now, Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators have enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video" in which he appears alongside other children's television characters such as Barney, Blue from "Blue's Clues," Clifford the Big Red Dog and Jimmy Neutron, among many others.

The makers of the video, he said, plan to mail it to thousands of elementary schools this spring to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity." He urged his allies to stand together to stop it as part of a "spiritual battle" for the country.

Despite denials by the video's producer Nile Rodgers (composer of "We Are Family") about SpongeBob's alleged "inclinations," the Focus on the Family folks stood firm:

On Wednesday, however, Paul Batura, assistant to Dobson at Focus on the Family, said the group stood by its charges, even as it acknowledged that the "tolerance pledge" was available only on the We Are Family Web site and not in material sent to the schools.

"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said. "It is a classic bait and switch."

Dobson apparently learned about SpongeBob's subversive, perverse lifestyle from the American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Mississippi. According to the Associated Press:

However, the Mississippi-based American Family Association, in a detailed article by the editor of its monthly journal, insists the endeavor has a pro-gay subtext.

"On the surface, the project may appear to be a worthwhile attempt to foster greater understanding of cultural differences," wrote Ed Vitagliano. "However, a short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality."

To back his assertions, Vitagliano said the foundation's Web site contained links to other organizations' educational material supporting tolerance of gays and lesbians.

Vitagliano also complained of a "tolerance pledge" found on the We Are Family Web site, borrowed from a civil rights group. It says in part, "To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own."

Focus on the Family and the American Family Association deserve the opprobrium they have begun to receive, and not just because their charges are so ridiculous. (Cartoon characters can certainly be gay -- Smithers, call your office! -- but only when their creators agree that they are. SpongeBob does not fall into that category.) They deserve criticism because they are showing themselves to be opponents of teaching our kids that intolerance and bigotry are wrong and that Americans should be able to live together despite their differences. Do they disagree with President Bush, who said this in his Second Inaugural Address on Thursday?

In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character - on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people. Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before - ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the weak. Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love. Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.

An editorial in today's Louisville Courier-Journal caught the true meaning of Dobson's remarks:

Dobson alleges that SpongeBob, along with other civilizational threats, such as Barney, appear on a video promoting tolerance, including for sexual identity. Well, Dobson is wrong. The video makes no reference to sexual orientation. And the TV show itself is utterly devoid of sexual content.

When push comes to shove, some religious extremists would turn their back on the shunning, taunting and bullying that gay children are exposed to, in order to thwart any message that young people should be tolerant of different sexual identities. And, remember, they do this ugliness in the name of Christianity.

The whole thing reminds me of the flap a few years ago, when the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, discovered that one of the Teletubbies was gay! (The horror, the horror!)

At the time, Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty addressed Falwell's inanity with this news release:

Even Tinky Winky Has Right to Privacy, Asserts Gay Libertarian Leader
Falwell's ‘Outing' of Purple Teletubby Violates Sacred Trust

(WASHINGTON, February 11, 1999) --- News reports circulating this week about the Reverend Jerry Falwell's criticism of Tinky Winky, the gay Teletubby, carry a subtle but dire warning: leaders in the Religious Right no longer respect the privacy rights of individuals, even fuzzy fictional TV characters.

"Although most of us agree that honesty is the best policy and that people should be open about their sexual orientation, everyone still enjoys a right to privacy," said Richard Sincere, president of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL), in response to the Tinky Winky controversy.

"Jerry Falwell has ‘outed' Tinky Winky without Tinky Winky's permission. If Tinky Winky wants to come out of the closet, it should be his (her?) choice as to where, when, and how. Falwell shows little respect for an individual's right to privacy -- and shows how close he is in spirit to his one-time nemesis, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt." (Flynt has recently made headlines by revealing the secret sexual peccadilloes of Republican members of Congress. He and Falwell were adversaries in a lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.)

"At a time when the U.S. government is infringing more and more on individual privacy -- such as the proposed 'Know Your Customer' regulations for banks -- political and moral leaders like Jerry Falwell should be more circumspect about invading people's privacy," said Sincere, his tongue partially in cheek.

Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty was founded in February 1991 to advance the cause of individual responsibility and personal liberty within the gay and lesbian community, and to urge all people to respect the liberties of gay and lesbian citizens. For more information, ... visit GLIL's homepage.


Every time incidents like this take place, it becomes increasingly difficult to take seriously the opinions and advice of Dobson, Falwell, and their allies. They undermine their own cause with each misstep they take.