Friday, April 27, 2007

Academic Irony

What a tangled web of deception has come to light at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

Marilee Jones, a prominent crusader against the pressure on students to build their resumes for elite colleges, resigned yesterday as dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after acknowledging she had misrepresented her own academic credentials.
It turns out that Dean Jones did more than just pad her c.v. through exaggeration or clever use of adjectives. She actually made things up by claiming to have earned degrees that she had not, in fact, earned.

According to Justin Pope of the AP:
She falsely bolstered her credentials to get a job with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and over the course of her career claimed to have earned degrees from three schools. MIT officials say now they have no evidence she ever graduated from college at all.
Apparently Jones couldn't even keep her own story straight: She claimed, over the years, to have degrees from Union College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the Albany Medical College.

What was it that Mark Twain said about lying? "Always tell the truth. That way, you don't have to remember what you said."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Does the First Amendment Protect Political Speech?

The Supreme Court heard its last oral arguments of the 2006-07 term on Wednesday morning, April 25, in a case that could have substantial ramifications for freedom of speech and election law.

In the combined cases of Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life and McCain v. Wisconsin Right to Life, the justices considered whether the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA, also known as “McCain-Feingold”) permits the government to prohibit the broadcast of “issue ads” paid for by groups of citizens, aimed at influencing legislation, during the 60 days prior to a federal election, if those ads mention the name of a public official who is also a candidate for elective office.

Just a few hours after the Supreme Court hearing recessed, the Cato Institute sponsored a briefing that featured four distinguished legal scholars who had both participated in and observed the argument: James Bopp, Jr., the attorney who argued the case on behalf of Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL); Kathleen M. Sullivan, the former dean of Stanford University Law School, who had drafted a friend-of-the-court brief supporting WRTL; Rick Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles (who has already blogged about the oral arguments here); and Martin Lederman, a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center here in Washington. Hasen and Lederman had jointly authored a brief supporting the Federal Election Commission’s position in the case. Cato's Roger Pilon moderated the discussion.

In assessing the oral arguments, James Bopp began his remarks at Cato by saying that the outcome “looks close.” He said that Justices David Souter and Steven Breyer were “lively” and “almost hostile” in their questioning of him, as an advocate for WRTL. He said of the final vote that “it’s plausible that it could be 6-3, but more likely to be 5-4.”

The real question, he said, is whether the eventual ruling will be “broader or narrower.” For Bopp, the “heart of the argument is that these were genuine issue ads,” rather than ads aimed at changing the outcome of an election. The problem, he said, is that the government has never offered a test that can be used to determine whether something is a “genuine issue ad” rather than one designed to affect an election.

He suggested a multipart test that would define a “genuine issue ad,” which would include certain features: (1) identifying a legislative issue; (2) taking a position on that issue; (3) urging listeners to contact elected officials about the issue; and (4) having no link between the ad’s text and the election (for instance, having no content referring to a candidate’s character or fitness for public office).

Some of these types of ads, he continued, do state the position of public officials and do praise or criticize them for those positions.

Unfortunately, Bopp complained, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) “seems to have adopted the position that there are no genuine issue ads.” What the FEC now claims, he said, is that the “government has the authority to prohibit any ad that might influence an election.”

This position is foreboding, according to Bopp, because “if the government can seize that power, it means the whole purpose of the First Amendment has been destroyed.”

(During the question-and-answer period later in the forum, Bopp said that those who support the BCRA in its current form “want to prohibit anything that might have a remote or speculative effect on elections.” This is wrong, he said, because “things that are unambiguously related to elections can be regulated” without burdening free speech.)

He pointed to a brief filed on behalf of Senator John McCain which “reveals that the purpose of the electioneering communications black-out period is to prohibit criticism of public officials.” Yet, he said, “this is exactly what the First Amendment is intended to protect.” Consequently, “there is a lot at stake in this case.”

Rick Hasen took the lectern to point out that for a hundred years, corporations and unions have been banned from spending on electioneering from their general treasury funds. They are required to form special political action committees (PACs) for that purpose.

Hasen argued that the BCRA does not “prohibit political speech” but rather requires that money spent on such speech should be kept in segregated funds, what he called the “separate fund requirement.” In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld this requirement (and the BCRA’s extensions of it) in the case of McConnell v. FEC.

Therefore, Hasen argued, what is at issue in this case is, what is the exception to the requirement.

There has been a change in the make-up of the Court since the McConnell decision. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who had voted in the majority in that case (and was widely considered to be the “swing vote” in that case, as in others), has been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who dissented, has been replaced by John Roberts.

To Hasen, the key vote will belong to Justice Anthony Kennedy. He said that in the oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts were aggressive in their questioning. But, he added, Justice David Souter “has never been so aggressive as he was against Jim Bopp,” who was arguing for WRTL.

The question, for Hasen, is “where do Kennedy, Roberts, and Alito stand?”

In terms of policy, Hasen said, “certain as-applied challenges [to BCRA] should be allowed,” for instance, 501(c)(3) non-profit groups, which are not permitted to form PACs, should be allowed to issue such a challenge.

Hasen thought that a clue to the ultimate outcome could be found in a question that Justice Kennedy asked about the parallel to the fighting words doctrine, saying that “context matters.” (It was noted that the district court, which ruled in favor of WRTL, refused to consider the issue of “context.”) Given this and other questions posed by the justices, Hasen said, “it looks like it will be a context-based test” and the case will be sent back to the district court, which will make a decision based on the test devised by the Supreme Court. He did say, with tongue somewhat in cheek, that this could mean that this case will make it back to the Supreme Court and that Jim Bopp might find himself arguing before the court once again after the 2008 elections. While that may be true, he added, once the test is defined and “once the rules are clear, we won’t have multiyear litigation” such as that represented by FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life.

For her part, Kathleen Sullivan – who also wrote an amicus curiae brief, on behalf of the Family Research Council and other groups – said the question at hand is “how do you give enough breathing room to voluntary associations” so that they can address both abstract topics and specific legislative issues?

Sullivan noted that Congress meets year-round and “escalates its legislative agenda” in the months before an election. Moreover, because of primary elections that occur on different dates in various states, we are not talking about a simple 60-day black-out period, but a period that could be much longer. Justice Scalia, she said, “wondered if it could be a 200-day black-out.” This, she said, “amounts to a severe restriction on speech.” The ban “is too broad for genuine grassroots advocacy” because the 60-day window (which is expandable) is too long and because the “separate fund requirement” is not just a regulatory restriction but essentially disqualifies groups simply because they might accept contributions from corporations.

The effect of all this is “strangling the little guy” who forms a group to advance his positions on legislative issues. “Everybody is foreclosed” even if they take just a “little corporate money,” she said.

Sullivan listed the reasons why this rule adversely affects “the little guy” but not people with large amounts of money and resources available to them: (1) 501(c)(3) groups cannot form PACs; (2) even if the group is not a 501(c)(3), the “little guy can’t form a PAC” because it takes a team of lawyers and accountants to do so; and (3) some groups may not want to form a PAC in the first place because they do not see themselves as “political” in the sense of “election-oriented” but rather simply interested in a particular issue.

The consequence of this is that “we have a world that is topsy-turvy” in which “rich guys can form PACs but the small grassroots advocacy group” is unable to respond to issues it thinks is important if those issues come up in Congress during the period before an election.

Suggesting a difference between herself and previous speakers, Sullivan said that the outcome of this case “depends more on Alito than on Kennedy.” She said that in oral arguments, Breyer and Souter expressed the view that it was important to be sure that non-profits do not take up the slack from for-profits – that is, that they are not conduits for corporate money.

Sullivan cautioned that we should not “discount Breyer,” noting that he had voted to strike down a Vermont state campaign finance law.

Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Kennedy, Sullivan said, “are solidly in favor of showing that the BCRA has limits,” even though Kennedy “threw a couple of lifelines to the government” in his line of questioning.

Thus, she said, it “comes down to Roberts and Alito,” whose questioning “looked favorable to an as-applied challenge.” Alito, she continued, “looked like he was looking for a way to say there is breathing room for grassroots lobbying.”

Sullivan did say, however, that “there is another way the court could go: It could prohibit certain speakers rather than [categories of] speech.” She suggested that the Court could reinstate the Snowe-Jeffords amendment to the BCRA, which carved out an exception for non-profits.

Concluding her remarks, Sullivan said: “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

The fourth speaker was Martin Lederman, who said he wished to dispel three myths about the BCRA and the case before the court.

First, he said, in answer to the question in the title of today’s Cato forum, the First Amendment does protect free speech and that “electoral speech is at the heart of the First Amendment.”

Second, there is a myth that it is difficult to determine if these ads are genuine issue ads. He replied that they are “both intended to influence issues and to influence elections,” because the advocacy group wants to “put pressure on elected officials.”

Third, he said the statute does not prohibit issue ads. “It is entirely more modest” than that, he said. All it does is to require “business corporations to pay for those ads through segregated funds,” as Rick Hasen had stated earlier.

The case, he said, really “comes down to a rule that treats corporations separately” from other types of groups.

Lederman listed six different ways the statute would not apply (and therefore would not limit speech): (1) if WRTL ran its ad on the Internet; (2) if it ran the ad outside the 60-day window; (3) if it did not mention a candidate’s name (in this case, Russ Feingold); (4) if WRTL were not incorporated; (5) if it did not take corporate contributions; and (6) if WRTL had used a separate, segregated fund to pay for the ads.

What is at the heart of this case, Lederman said, is corporate speech. He cited former Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion that corporations need to be treated differently than individuals, which reflects a long-standing legal tradition based on certain advantages (such as limited liability) granted by the state to corporations but that are not enjoyed by individuals or unincorporated associations.

Lederman said that he agrees with Kathleen Sullivan “that speaker-based exceptions for certain organizations are a better way for the court to go.” The question he asked is whether the “four dissenters in McConnell can pick up Alito’s vote.”

If they can, the decision will be announced toward the end of the Supreme Court’s current term, close to the Fourth of July.

(Some of the various briefs filed on both sides in this case can be found through this link at Election Law Blog. A brief from the Center for Competitive Politics that was joined by the Cato Institute and other libertarian organizations can be found here.)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Limbo Now in Limbo

Reuters reports that the Vatican, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, has decertified limbo as the place that the souls of unbaptized infants go when they die:

The Roman Catholic Church has effectively buried the concept of limbo, the place where centuries of tradition and teaching held that babies who die without baptism went.

In a long-awaited document, the Church's International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation."

Origins, a publication of the U.S. Catholic Bishops that is available only by subscription, summarizes the Vatican document like this on its web site (Vol. 36, No. 45, April 26, 2007):
What happens to infants who die without having been baptized remains one of theology's thorniest questions and one that the church has yet to answer definitively despite the once widely taught theory of limbo, observes the International Theological Commission in a new study. Growing numbers of unbaptized infants give the question new urgency, it notes, and developments in theology and in society during the last 50 years give "serious theological and liturgical grounds for the hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness even though there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation."
Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press explained the importance of this shift in traditional beliefs:
Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized are with original sin and thus excluded from heaven, the Church has no formal doctrine on the matter. Theologians, however, have long taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, a state commonly called limbo, but without being in communion with God.

"If there's no limbo and we're not going to revert to St. Augustine's teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we're left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

"Baptism does not exist to wipe away the "stain" of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church," he said in an e-mailed response.
As Philip Pullella of Reuters noted,
Pope Benedict, himself a top theologian who before his election in 2005 expressed doubts about limbo, authorized the publication of the document, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised."
Is limbo gone for good? Is it just on hiatus? Or is limbo, so to speak, in limbo?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Carnival Catsup

My absence from the blogging keyboard has resulted in a lacuna with regard to recent blog carnivals that have featured my posts. So now it's time to play catch-up.

At the moment, I am reading a fascinating book by Toni Johnson-Woods, who teaches media and communications at the University of Queensland, called Blame Canada! South Park and Contemporary Culture.

Johnson-Woods' approach is mostly from a lit-crit perspective, rather than looking at South Park as a political or sociological phenomenon (although she does touch on those aspects, as well). In this she differs from, say, the University of Virginia's Paul Cantor in his essay, "The Invisible Gnomes and the Invisible Hand: South Park and Libertarian Philosophy," or Brian C. Anderson in his book, South Park Conservatives. But that doesn't make Blame Canada! any less interesting.

Johnson-Woods relies heavily on 19th-century Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. She asserts that South Park is an example of what Bakhtin calls "carnivalesque." She quotes his definition:

Carnival brings together, unifies, weds, and combines the sacred with the profane, the lofty with the low, the great with the insignificant, the wise with the stupid.... These carnivalistic categories are not abstract thoughts about equality and freedom, the interrelatedness of all things or the unity of opposites. No, these are concretely sensuous ritual-pageant "thoughts" experienced and played out in the form of life itself, "thoughts" that have coalesced and survived for thousands of years among the broadest masses of European mankind. This is why they were able to exercise such an immense formal, genre-shaping influence on literature.
With that in mind -- and keeping open the option of writing a longer review of Blame Canada! in the near future -- I return to the subject of blog carnivals. (How's that for a peg?)

To start, Divided We Stand United We Fall has a nice round-up of last week's various carnivals in a post entitled "Friday Flotsam," announcing that on April 23 there will be a new, anniversary edition of the Carnival of Divided Government.

Three carnivals included my submission of my post on Pope Benedict XVI's economic thoughts:

Profound Gratitude
hosts Catholic Carnival 114 (that's longevity for a blog carnival!).

Framing the third Carnival of Principled Government with the festival of Passover as a celebration of liberty, Principled Discovery says this about my pope post:
Rick Sincere offers an analysis of the Pope's new book criticizing the West for exploiting the Third World. Take time to read the older article he includes about the Hidden Causes of Third World Poverty. He raises some interesting issues which we can see even within our own borders with the forced redistribution of wealth.
The Ward View (motto: "We hold no cows sacred") adds a subtitle to the latest Virginia Blog Carnival: "The Taxman Cometh."

As it happens, The Washington Times ran a front-page article on Pope Benedict's new book on Saturday, headlined "Pope's book sees capitalism as 'cruel.'" In it, AP reporter Nicole Winfield writes:
"Confronted with the abuse of economic power, with the cruelty of capitalism that degrades man into merchandise, we have begun to see more clearly the dangers of wealth and we understand in a new way what Jesus intended in warning us about wealth."

Benedict continues that message in another chapter on the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, and the need to love one's neighbor. In it, the pope decries how the wealthy have "plundered" Africa and the Third World, both materially and spiritually, through colonialism.

He criticizes the lifestyles of the wealthy, citing "victims of drugs, of human trafficking, of sexual tourism, people destroyed on the inside, who are empty despite the abundance of their material goods."

Rich countries continue to do harm to the Third World by giving aid that is purely technical in nature, he says in the book. "This aid has set apart religious, moral and social structures that existed and introduced their technical mentality in the void."
The book, already published in German, Italian, and Polish, will become available in the United States on May 15. That is when we will be better able to judge it for ourselves.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Pope's Medieval Economics

Pope Benedict XVI, in a new book scheduled to be published next month, condemns the West for exploiting the Third World. News reports about the book -- called Jesus of Nazareth and excerpted earlier this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera (which happens to be owned by Rizzoli, the publishers of the book) -- do not indicate whether the pontiff similarly condemns the rulers of Third World countries for their kleptocratic practices that serve to keep their subjects in poverty while the government elites party like the wealthy title character in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Somehow I doubt he does, since -- whatever the Pope's merits as a theologian and rhetorician, which are considerable -- he lacks an understanding of basic economics. In fact, given what I have seen (again, based just on news reports), his views on economics are positively medieval, offering a sense that economics is a zero-sum game. That is to say, he seems to think that some people are rich because other people are poor. (All I can conclude from this is that Benedict somehow missed studying anything on economics written since before the Spanish Scholastics were around.)

Here is one quotation from the book that Reuters chose to illustrate Benedict's thought:

"If we apply it [the parable of the Good Samaritan] to the dimensions of globalised society today, we see how the populations of Africa have been plundered and sacked and this concerns us intimately," the Pope says in his book, which comes out on April 16, his 80th birthday.

He drew a link between the lifestyle of people in the developed world and the dire conditions of people in Africa.

Oddly enough, Reuters correspondent Philip Pullella refers to Jesus of Nazareth as Pope Benedict's "first book," when the Pope is, in fact, a prolific author. (A quick search results in 93 entries in which the Pope -- under his previous name, Joseph Ratzinger -- is listed as author. Even discounting those books in which he contributed only a chapter or a preface, Ratzinger's books as sole or primary author number in the dozens.)

Enough digression. What is particularly surprising and disappointing about the excerpt that appeared in the Italian press is that the German-born Pope appears to refer approvingly to the sociological analysis of Karl Marx, the father of modern Communism. According to EarthTimes,
Pope Benedict XVI draws from Karl Marx's theory of alienation in his forthcoming book on Jesus Christ to illustrate his point that the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan is still relevant today. The reference to the 19th-Century German philosopher and founder of modern communism is found in chapter seven of Jesus of Nazareth, extracts of which were published Wednesday by Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

"Karl Marx describes man's alienation in a drastic way; although by limiting his reasoning to the material sphere he fails to reach the true depths of alienation, he nevertheless provides a clear image of the man who falls victim to the robbers," Joseph Ratzinger writes....

"Is it not true that man ... during the full course of his history, finds himself alienated, mangled, abused?" the pope writes.
At least the Pope tries to distance himself a bit from Marx; still, it is jarring to see the progenitor of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot quoted in a papal document in anything other than terms of anathema.

The Catholic Church's skewed views on liberal economics are not new. While I was digging through some old files earlier this week, I came across an article of mine that was published precisely 20 years ago today.

At the time I was living in London, going to graduate school by day and attending as many plays and musicals as I could (using my substantial student discount for tickets) at night. Because the British university system is not quite so rigid in terms of requirements as is its American equivalent, this left me much time for pleasure reading. In ten months, I read dozens of books, many of which had little or anything to do with my studies.

One of those books, which turned out to have a profound effect on my political philosophy, was Jane Jacobs' Cities and the Wealth of Nations. (I often say that the two writers who were most responsible for making me realize I was a libertarian were Jacobs and Charles Murray.) A Vatican statement on global economics provided the news hook I needed to write a brief review of Jacobs' book. It was published in the New York City Tribune, a now-defunct sister publication to the Washington Times, on April 7, 1987 (coincidentally my 28th birthday).

I wrote a lot for the New York City Tribune that year I was abroad, averaging about one article or book review per week for several months, all without benefit of email or even a computer; the checks I received were the pocket money I needed to continue enjoying London as an impoverished student. (Food or theatre? Food or theatre? The answer was always clear.)

Here is that article, which I was surprised to find is still fresh and applicable today; I can identify a few phrases I might reword, but nothing I wince at after two decades:
The Hidden Causes of Third World Poverty
Richard Sincere

LONDON – The Vatican has issued, through the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, an 8,000-word statement on the international debt crisis. “Political officials and economists, social and religious leaders, as well as public opinion throughout the world,” it begins, “recognize the fact that the debt levels of the developing countries constitute a serious, urgent, and complex problem due to their social, economic, and political repercussions.” That is VaticanSpeak for: Third World debt levels are precipitating a crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Average citizens in the industrialized countries of Western Europe and North America might be inclined to shrug off Third World debt as a problem, but no concern of theirs. Leaders in developing countries, they might say, made bad political and economic decisions and are now paying the consequences; it doesn’t affect us.

In fact, though, it does. As the Third World debt whirlpool swallows up capital from all over the developed world, the effects are felt in shrinking national budgets, declining industries, rising interest rates, and increasing trade deficits. For the ordinary person, it means more difficulty in purchasing a home or a car – particularly if he or she is a first-time buyer.

A unique perspective on Third World debt – indeed, on a whole range of issues regarding the world political economy – may be found in a 1984 book, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, by Jane Jacobs. The book was widely reviewed and critically acclaimed when it was first published by Random House in the United States and Canada and by Penguin in the United Kingdom.

Jacobs is respected worldwide for her research and writing on cities. Her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is required reading for most students of urban planning. The secondhand department at the Economists’ Bookshop in London informs me that they get more requests for Jacobs’ The Economy of Cities (1969) than for any other out-of-print book. These observations reinforce her credibility and scholarship almost as much as the fact that she is a careful and thoughtful writer – averaging one book every seven to 10 years – as well as vibrant, witty, and commonsensical.

Cities and the Wealth of Nations begins by questioning the very structure of the world economy – its division into “nations” as distinct economic entities. They are political and military entities, but this does not mean they are also “the basic, salient entities of economic life or … the reasons for the rise and decline of wealth.” Jacobs argues that the failure of national governments and “blocs of nations” to control economic life effectively “suggests some sort of essential irrelevance.”

Political sovereignty is the only thing various nation-states really have in common, and Jacobs thinks it “affronts common sense, if nothing else, to think of units as disparate as, say, Singapore and the United States, or Ecuador and the Soviet Union, or the Netherlands and Canada, as economic common denominators.”

The basic unit of economic development, Jacobs asserts, is the city, and regions surrounding individual cities, and enlarging that unit inevitably leads to bad economic feedback and bad decision making. This problem cannot be overcome without a radical restructuring of the world economy – but the new structure must reflect free markets, attention to private enterprise, promotion of new industries, and (most important) trade among equals. That means underdeveloped Third World states should concentrate their commerce on other underdeveloped Third World states, learning “import replacement” and avoiding direct competition with the industrialized world unless and until their levels of development are more nearly equal.

Jacobs identifies what she calls “transactions of decline,” which include heavy lending to impoverished or underdeveloped areas. Such lending takes useful capital away from productive cities and sinks it into unproductive rural areas and uncreative towns and cities where it can do no good – and, indeed, often does harm. Transactions of decline like this may initially stimulate commerce and industry, but within a short while both economies – the lender’s and the borrower’s – begin to stagnate and then to decline. The downward spiral continues because policymakers, oblivious to the root causes of the decline, take more money from the pockets of productive workers and entrepreneurs and attempt to induce “development” in depressed areas at home or abroad. In the end the whole process is futile and frustrating. “Subsidies milked from cities,” notes Jacobs, are “profoundly antidevelopment transactions.”

To achieve genuine and lasting development, cities, regions, and whole countries must generate their own capital. Development must come about the old-fashioned way – you earn it.

There is no specific solution available from Jacobs’ analysis. But her arguments are worth pondering. The radical change suggested by Cities and the Wealth of Nations is precisely the opposite of the one demanded by Third World states called the New International Economic Order. Instead of authoritarianism, this change invokes free enterprise; instead of central planning, it calls for pluralism; instead of stagnation, it offers creativity and growth. If we are to solve the international debt crisis – an apparently insoluble problem – this is a good place to start

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based policy analyst who writes frequently on African affairs.
Unfortunately, I don't think anyone at the Vatican was reading the New York City Tribune in the late 1980s; at least not anyone in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Leon Gouré, 1922-2007

I learned from an obituary in Thursday's Washington Post that a sometime colleague of mine from the 1980s has passed away. According to the Post:

Leon Gouré, 84, a political scientist, Sovietologist and expert on Soviet civil defense, died March 16 of congestive heart failure at Capital Hospice in Arlington. He was a longtime resident of Potomac.

Mr. Gouré focused on civil defense at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were taking civil defense measures, even though the Cold War doctrine of "mutual assured destruction" required that both populations be vulnerable to nuclear annihilation. Convinced that the Soviets had concluded they could limit the damage and casualties resulting from nuclear war, Mr. Gouré reported in 1961 that the Soviet Union was quietly engaged in a massive civil defense buildup.

Back in the days when I was actively involved in the American Civil Defense Association (TACDA) and writing for the Journal of Civil Defense, I often found myself on the same program as Dr. Gouré. (There is, in fact, a Journal of Civil Defense cover that juxtaposes our head shots. Elsewhere on the page is a photograph of Edward Teller that must have been taken some 30 years earlier -- and this was published in August 1982!)

Though it would not be expected in a short obituary, the Post does not note that Gouré's views were controversial in the 1980s. There were those who argued that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union should have a civil defense capability. (That the arguments came from those outside the Soviet Union meant that their views were taken seriously only on one side of the Iron Curtain.)

In a brief article in the Journal of Civil Defense in June 1982, which I dug out of my personal archives but also found on line here, Gouré was quoted on page 25 as saying:
As the Soviets see it, no strategy or defense posture, and therefore no deterrent, can be fully credible or rational without a war survival capability, because it doesn't seem entirely reasonable that countries will deliberately court national suicide . . . the Soviets are absolutely right when they point out that in the nuclear age the fate of states does not depend only on what they do to each other but to a large and maybe decisive degree what happens to their own homeland . . .
In a "Too Good to File" feature in the February 1981 issue of the Journal (p. 22), there was an excerpt from a speech Gouré gave in Kansas City the previous December:
The Soviet Civil Defense Program is massive and comprehensive. It has been under way for some 30 years and has been repeatedly upgraded .... The program includes such things as the massive construction of blast shelters in the cities and in industrial sites, fallout shelters in rural areas, detailed planning of evacuation and dispersal of the urban population, yearly compulsory instruction of the entire population from school children to retirees, a wide range of methods to decrease the vulnerability of industry to attack (transportation and so on) ....

The civil defense system permeates the entire administrative, economic, educational and social structure of the USSR. You'll find it everywhere and at all levels ....

While the Soviet civil defense budget is kept secret estimates range as high as $35 per person per year - about what the Swiss spend right now on civil defense, although I would say a figure of about ... $15 to $22 per year is probably more likely.
Lest one get the impression that, because of his research interests, Leon Gouré was a dour individual, let me dispel that misapprehension. He had a sense of humor, too.

In a review of one of Gouré's many technical studies of Soviet civil defense (Journal of Civil Defense, February 1985, p. 21), Dr. Max Klinghoffer found an example of that humor:
Apparently some Russians, at least, have retained a sense of humor, according to Dr. Goure. One anecdote: "In the event of nuclear war, wrap yourself in a sheet, and walk to the cemetery. Why walk? To prevent panic." (One wonders if the teller of this story is now amusing his companions in Siberia.)
Gouré's work was admired and respected by his colleagues and associates. In that same review, Dr. Klinghoffer -- then president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, an organization that was established as a counterweight to Physicians for Social Responsibility -- began by saying:
Dr. Goure has again produced one of the most informative works on Soviet preparedness.
In a June 1984 review (p. 20) of another report produced by Gouré, Van E. Hallman wrote:
This comprehensive assessment of Soviet preparations for post-strike operations must be considered required reading for all persons interested in civil defense as well as those involved in governmental decision making or strategic analysis. As stated by Dr. Goure, "The Soviets are well aware that in a nuclear environment, post-strike operations will be difficult and complex and require extensive manpower and equipment. Therefore, from an organizational viewpoint, the great majority of the more than 20 million Soviet civil defense personnel are assigned roles in these operations." This statement, supported within the report by extensive evidence, should persuade skeptics that the Soviets intend to survive as a national entity in the event of a nuclear war between our two countries.
Reviewing Gouré's 1984 volume, Soviet Civil Defense Public Instruction and Training Programs, in the April 1985 issue of the Journal of Civil Defense, Dr. James M. Ridgeway began (p. 20):
This report should be read and weighed by legislators working on civil defense matters, and by the planners and managers of the national CD program in the U.S . It is a "buy" for local and State directors who need material for speeches and with which to update "strategic briefings" in instructional programs.
A brief excerpt from the February 1983 Journal of Civil Defense (p. 28) illustrates the sort of point/counterpoint debate that was going on during the last years of the Cold War. (I was intimately involved in these debates, participating in forums on college campuses around the country and on radio and television as well. Perhaps my most noteworthy appearance of this sort was on Crossfire, then co-hosted by Pat Buchanan and Tom Braden, in which my adversary was Australian anti-defense activist Helen Caldicott.) Leon Gouré was at the heart of it, too, though as someone who had been born in the Soviet Union and forced to flee both the Communists and the Nazis before arriving in the United States, he could speak with a greater degree of authority than folks like me:
Valentin M. Berezhkov, representative of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. said, "It's senseless to think someone could survive or win a nuclear war."

He said the Soviet Union has special organizations in case of natural disaster but the building of underground shelters ended in the 1960s.

"We realized it would not be good protection from nuclear war, so we didn't spend any more money on digging passages," Berezhkov said.

He countered U.S. speculation that the Soviet Union is prepared to evacuate cities and chided U.S. officials for promoting evacuation and relocation plans.

"It is impossible to evacuate. It takes only minutes for a nuclear warhead to get to (one nation from the other)," he said.
-- from a report in The Oregonian
on Valentin M. Berezhkov's
October address before the
United States Civil Defense Council

The case for the existence of a large Soviet CD capability is straight enough, irrefutable and is not a matter of opinion. It is based on analysis conducted over years by the U.S. intelligence community (see Director of Central Intelligence, Soviet Civil Defense, July 1978), on masses of Soviet civil defense publications - i.e., books, journals, newspaper articles, photography and films . . . on statements by Soviet leaders and military chiefs, on interviews with Soviet emigres, and on observations in the USSR by knowledgeable travelers. Incidentally, I have interviewed U.S. students who spent some time studying at the Moscow and Leningrad Universities, and they had no trouble finding evidence of Soviet CD or photographing Soviet shelters. Of course, foreign students are not allowed to attend the military CD courses at the universities which are compulsory for Soviet students.
- Leon Goure
The article about Leon Gouré in Thursday's Washington Post tells about a hazardous but no doubt exciting and educational experience as a youth:
Mr. Gouré was born in Moscow on Nov. 1, 1922. His father belonged to the Mensheviks, socialists allied with the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution until they were liquidated by Vladimir Lenin. Most of the Mensheviks were Jewish.

The elder Gouré took his family into exile in Berlin in 1923. The Gourés were forced to flee again when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany a decade later. Settling in Paris, they fled a third time when the city fell to the Nazis in 1940. Leaving Paris on the last train out, they made their way to Hoboken, N.J.

Shortly after arriving in the United States, Mr. Gouré enlisted in the Army. He had never held citizenship in any country until a New York City judge granted expedited citizenship to 150 basic trainees, including Mr. Gouré.

Three years after his arrival in the United States, the fledgling U.S. citizen was back in Germany as an infantryman. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and later served in counterintelligence, where he used his fluency in German, French and Russian to interview Nazis and their collaborators who were being held after the war.
There is a movie in this. Someone should prepare a treatment to send to Hollywood. If The Good Shepherd can get made, why not The Voice in the Wilderness: The Leon Gouré Story? Perhaps George Clooney or Clive Owen could play the lead.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


It was only a few weeks ago that a New York state senator proposed legislation that would have prohibited pedestrians in New York City and Buffalo from talking on their cell phones while crossing the street.

So it was not hard to believe a story on NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" that reported how a New York city council member is proposing that all cellphone ringtones, except for four approved by the government, would be banned in an attempt to prevent "ring rage" -- that is, people getting into fights because of obnoxious or loud cellphone rings.

I was listening to the report in the car on my way to church and was particularly struck by this soundbite from Councilor David Yassky, responding to New Yorkers who called the proposal "ridiculous," which encapsulates so perfectly the road from compassion to totalitarianism:

David Yassky: Well, look, Liane, you can always find people that complain about any change but you know, first of all, it's not just the noise pollution. This is very costly to our economy. We estimate that distracting ringtones in the workplace and then the arguments and joking that goes along with that cost our economy more than $1.2 billion a year.

And, you know, when we did the pooper-scooper law, we did the smoking ban, we banned trans fats, first, you know, people objected but then they realized just how valuable these laws can be.

Liane Hansen: So you don't think it's too extreme?

Yassky: Not at all. I think New York will prove to be a model. Once we do this, I think you'll see this in cities across the country.
That's exactly the sort of crypto-socialist, nanny-state claptrap that one has come to expect from New York politicians. So who could blame me for being suckered by a National Public Radio April Fools' prank?

It turns out that NPR has a history of playing effective April Fools' jokes on its listeners. In an Arts section article on Sunday, Washington Post radio beat reporter Marc Fisher notes:
NPR producers have a knack for finding phony stories that sneak right up to the edge of credibility. In 1994, "All Things Considered" reported on teenagers who agreed to tattoo their ears with corporate advertising in exchange for a lifelong 10 percent discount on the company's products. NPR has presented April 1 reports on dog-bark translation software, the abuse of performance-enhancing steroids by classical violinists and a U.S. Postal Service program that would allow Americans to take their Zip code with them when they moved....

NPR's gags tend to take listeners to remote corners to visit unusual characters. But in 1992, "Talk of the Nation" host John Hockenberry reported that Richard Nixon was coming out of retirement to run for president. The report included audio of Nixon defiantly averring that "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." NPR included comments on the surprise announcement by Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe and Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman. Callers jammed the show's phone lines to deliver themselves of their outrage that the disgraced ex-president would consider such a comeback. Hockenberry waited until the show's second hour to reveal that what the Nixon listeners had heard was actually impressionist Rich Little.
I didn't know any of this history at the time I turned off the radio, before the music bumper of Kander and Ebb's "New York, New York" (done in a comical style) would have revealed to me that I had been had. It wasn't until I looked it up on NPR's web site -- with the intention of blogging about the latest legislative outrage from New York -- that I found out the truth of the prank.

Good job, NPR! If nothing else, it shows that the line between reality and satire is very thin, indeed.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Yesterday this blog experienced a milestone worth noting. According to SiteMeter, the 100,000th visitor (since December 22, 2004) brought up this site on his or her computer screen at about 4:15 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday, April 1, 2007.

The lucky seeker was from Philadelphia and used Google to find information about "candy lightner and BAC and 0.08" (but did not put the phrase in quotation marks). Google asked whether he meant "candy lightner and BACK and 0.08" but the answer was no.

To my surprise and delight, a page in this blog was the first listed on the results Google returned. Number one among about 247 search results was the page under the topic "drunk driving," which includes a post I did on May 31, 2005, entitled "Misplaced Drunk Driving Priorities." That post features a reprint of an article I published in 1997 called "A Wrong-Headed Change in Drunk Driving Definition" and also makes reference to the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Candy Lightner, who once joined me at a legislative hearing in Richmond at which we both opposed a change in the definition of legally drunk. That change, which made a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent the legal limit rather than the older limit of 0.10 percent, eventually became law both in Virginia and nationwide, despite our efforts.

It is just a coincidence, but visitor number 50,000 found us almost precisely one year ago, on April 2, 2006.

Meanwhile, over at I'm Not Emeril, Alton is hosting the Virginia Blog Carnival and has some very nice things to say:

Rick Sincere, Charlottesville's premier Libertarian blogger and theater fiend has recently returned from New York. While there he naturally took in a show or two. Actually, that was the purpose of the trip. These reviews, like all of his reviews, are as good as it gets. Go see Report from New York, even if you do get a chance to make it to one or more of the shows.
Thanks, Alton! If I ever compile my theatre reviews into book form, that blurb goes on the back cover.