Tuesday, May 30, 2017

From the Archives: World War II veteran Franklin Kameny remembers his experience with 'don't ask, don't tell'

World War II veteran Franklin Kameny remembers his experience with 'don't ask, don't tell'
May 30, 2010 2:49 PM MST

Franklin Kameny Gay Is Good gay rights DADT Rick Sincere WWII
The confluence of the vote in the House of Representatives to repeal the law known colloquially as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and Memorial Day weekend may not seem to be much more than a coincidence.

For many people, especially those born in the last decade of the 20th century, the idea of ending the ban on openly gay and lesbian Americans serving in the armed forces may seem to be a new one. Even older Americans may not have become aware of the issue any earlier than 1993, when Bill Clinton tried to end the ban but ended up signing the law that made it permanent.

The fact is, not only the ban but attempts to end it go back much farther than the early 1990s.

On May 5, the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner interviewed Franklin Kameny, one of the pioneers of the modern gay rights movement, at the National Press Club in Washington.

Kameny, who celebrated his 85th birthday on May 21, cautioned, first, that we must “keep in mind” that the gay ban “became statutory law in ’93 [but] has been military policy for very, very, very much longer than that. You can arguably bring it all the way back to 1778 and George Washington.”

‘They Asked; I Didn’t Tell’
Kameny encountered the gay ban for the first time during World War II, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

“I personally ran into [the ban] on May 18, 1943, when a few days before my 18th birthday, I enlisted in the Army at the height of World War II,” Kameny said. “They asked; I didn’t tell, even though as a healthy, vigorous teenager there were things to tell. (Not terribly much, it was a different era in all kinds of ways.)”

Kameny added: “I have resented for 67 years that I had to lie in order to serve in a war effort that I strongly supported. I did serve and I saw combat in Europe.”

In 1957, Kameny – a Harvard-educated physicist and astronomer – was fired from his job with the Army Mapping Service because he was gay. He spent the next several decades in temporary jobs because he was unable to get a security clearance to do what he was trained to do. In fact, he said, there were some months when had only 20 cents to spend per day on food. (The story of Kameny's life during this period is told well by historian David K. Johnson in his 2004 book, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government.)

Marching on the Pentagon
By 1961, however, he began to get involved in the then-fledgling gay rights movement. One of the first issues he and his colleagues tackled was the military gay ban.

“We picketed against it starting in ’65 both in front of the White House and at the Pentagon, and at the Pentagon again in ’66,” demonstrating, he said, “specifically against the exclusionary policy.”

Congressional Campaign
The issue also came up in 1971, when Kameny was the first openly gay person to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (He ran for position of Delegate from the District of Columbia, a slot now filled by Eleanor Holmes Norton.)

“In the course of all that, I was campaigning on two different fronts,” Kameny explained. “One was purely on District issues; if you’re going to run for Congress in the District [of Columbia] you have to be an expert on trash collection and everything else.

“But also,” he continued, he was running “as a gay activist,” so that in the later part of the campaign, he held “a press conference in or near the office of the Secretary of the Army, and I met with him or somebody in his staff ... in connection with the gay ban.”

Two decades later, “in ’93, it became law, which completely changed the politics entirely.”

That politics will play out this summer when the U.S. Senate takes up the issue and will decide whether to follow the course set by the House or to let the gay ban linger for another year or longer.

Publisher's note: Today is the traditional date of Memorial Day, as it began in the years after the Civil War and was commemorated until the late 1960s, when it was moved to the last Monday in May.

This article is drawn from my Examiner.com archives. It was originally published on Examiner.com on May 30, 2010. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Monday, May 29, 2017

From the Archives: JFK was 'cautious, conservative' says UVA political scientist Larry Sabato

Publisher's note: Today would have been the 100th birthday of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. 

This article is drawn from my Examiner.com archives. It was originally published on Examiner.com on October 15, 2013. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

JFK was 'cautious, conservative' says UVA political scientist Larry Sabato
October 15, 2013 1:37 AM MST

On the eve of a press conference announcing new scientific evidence related to John F. Kennedy's assassination, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia moderated a panel discussion about November 22, 1963, featuring three witnesses to the event and two authors of books on the topic.

The UVA Center for Politics hosted “The Kennedy Half Century” in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom on October 14, and Sabato hinted that the revelation the next morning at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., will be related to the acoustic evidence of the gunshots in Dealey Plaza.

The panelists were Wesley Buell Frazier, a co-worker of Lee Harvey Oswald at the Texas Book Depository; Sid Davis, a journalist for Westinghouse Broadcasting at the time who rode in the presidential motorcade's press bus; James C. Bowles, then a communications supervisor for the Dallas Police Department and later sheriff of Dallas County; former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, author of Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA and publisher of the web site JFKFacts.org; and Henry Hurt, author of Reasonable Doubt: An Investigation into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.

'Life after death'

The Kennedy Half Century Larry Sabato JFKAfter the two-hour discussion, Sabato spoke with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about his new book, The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, which is scheduled to be published on October 15.

The book, he said, “has been a five-year project,” which he undertook in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's murder.

Although people are quite interested in the assassination and its theories and counter-theories, Sabato emphasized that “two-thirds of the book is about President Kennedy's life, presidency, and then his legacy through nine successors.”

He defined “legacy” as “a kind of life after death. Kennedy's words and deeds were so powerful that his successors of both parties have used him to accomplish their own agendas, and some of them very cleverly.”

The best, he said, was Ronald Reagan, who “used Kennedy even better than Lyndon Johnson did. Johnson distorted the Kennedy legacy, certainly by the middle of his full term.”

Sabato said his aim in the book was “to focus more on President Kennedy's life than on his death” but he recognizes that “you can't understand the legacy until you understand the assassination because it created so much of the Kennedy myth.”

Lincoln's legacy

By way of illustration, he recounted an anecdote he discovered that “stunned” him when he came across it.

One day, Kennedy had invited a Lincoln scholar to the White House to give a lecture. He asked the historian, after the speech, whether Lincoln would be so highly regarded had he not been assassinated.

“The historian immediately answered, 'of course not' because he would have had to deal with the nitty-gritty of Reconstruction, he wouldn't have had the martyrdom conferred by assassination, and several other reasons,” Sabato explained, reporting that “Kennedy said, 'Exactly what I thought' and apparently made a comment to Jackie later on, 'well, if I'm going to die, this would be a good time.' That was shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

The same principle that affected Lincoln's legacy “applies to Kennedy,” said Sabato.

'So many women'

JFK Larry Sabato UVA Kennedy Rick Sincere
“Had he actually faced the challenges of the sixties, had he lived through two full terms, for one thing, his marital infidelity could have come out. There were so many women, it's amazing that it didn't come out during his short presidency. All kinds of things could have happened.”

By Sabato's estimation, Kennedy would not “be nearly as highly regarded,” in part because “presidencies tend to deteriorate in the last two or three years of an eight-year term.” Kennedy, he said, “never had to face that and he died at a peak moment of American power, economically and militarily.”

Kennedy also would not have achieved as much of the domestic agenda that was completed by Lyndon Johnson, he said.

Although Kennedy would have beaten Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, Sabato surmised it would have been by a narrower margin than Johnson's eventual victory – “55-45 instead of 61-38.”

The difference, he pointed out, was that “Kennedy was much more cautious than Johnson by nature. He would have stopped at the Civil Rights Act. I don't think he really would have pushed for the Voting Rights Act or the Open Housing Act unless he were forced to” do so.

'Budget hawk'

As Sabato did research for his book, including interviews with people who worked in Kennedy's administration, what struck him was “just how cautious he was. He was fiscally cautious. The only reason he was worried about his across-the-board tax cut was because it would increase the deficit. He was a budget hawk in a lot of ways.”

On foreign policy, too, he was “a hawk.”

That was why Reagan cited Kennedy so often, Sabato said: “Because he could adapt that rhetoric to his fight against the Evil Empire.”

He recalled that JFK had criticized the Eisenhower administration for a “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union that turned out to be non-existent, “which he later admitted after the election. He was the hawk” in comparison to 1960 rival Richard Nixon.

John F. Kennedy, Sabato concluded, “was a very different kind of Democrat. People have forgotten it. They've mixed him up with Bobby in the later years and then Teddy's career. Jack Kennedy was the moderate, or moderate-conservative, in the family.”

In the same interview, Larry Sabato commented on the current gubernatorial race in Virginia and candidates Ken Cuccinelli (R), Terry McAuliffe (D), and Libertarian Robert Sarvis.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

From the Archives: 3 Virginia legislators explain their votes against gay judge candidate

3 Virginia legislators explain their votes against gay judge candidate
May 20, 2012 3:52 PM MST

Virginia General Assembly gay judge Tracy Thorne-Begland
In separate interviews at the Fifth Congressional District Republican Convention on May 19, three members of the Virginia House of Delegates offered virtually identical explanations for their votes to reject openly-gay prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland’s nomination to be a General District Court judge.

The rejection of Thorne-Begland made national headlines last week after a post-midnight roll call failed to return the 51 votes needed to approve his election as a judge who presides over traffic citations, minor crimes, and small claims. (In other states, the occupant of such a bench might be known as a magistrate or justice of the peace.)

None of the three, interviewed by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on the grounds of Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville, mentioned the fact that Thorne-Begland is gay or that he is married to a same-sex partner. All said their vote was about Thorne-Begland's political activities during his tenure as an officer in the U.S. Navy.

‘Contrary to the oath’
Rob Bell General Assembly gay rights Virginia politics Albemarle Charlottesville
Delegate Rob Bell, who represents a district near Charlottesville, said that he voted “no” on the Thorne-Begland nomination.

Bell explained that he “thought the actions [Thorne-Begland] took while an active-duty military officer were contrary to the oath of office and the Military Code of Justice and I thought the actions he took thereby meant that I did not think he would be a good judge for Virginia.”

Delegate Danny Marshall represents the city of Danville and parts of Pittsylvania and Henry counties. He also voted to block Thorne-Begland’s election.

“I’m glad you asked why,” he said.

Noting that he is not a military veteran himself, Marshall said he listened “to the passion” of fellow legislators with military backgrounds.

‘Political agenda’
“When you go into the service,” he said the veterans explained to him, “you raise your right hand and say you will not use that uniform as a sounding board for any of your political agenda. He did that. He [wasn’t] supposed to do that. My concern was, if he’s already done something that he said he would not do, would he use that court to move his political agenda forward? That’s what I was worried about.”

Danny Marshall Virginia House of Delegates gay rights
Pointing out that he is not a lawyer, Marshall continued, “judges call balls and strikes. We as the General Assembly -- we set the laws. They don’t set the laws; they don’t set the agenda. We set the agenda and let them call balls and strikes. That’s my worry -- that he would do more than call balls and strikes.”

Asked about the election of two former members of the General Assembly, Clay Athey and Bud Phillips, as judges the same day that Thorne-Begland was rejected, Marshall argued there was a difference in the kinds of political activism in the three cases.

“We vote on 3,000 or so bills each year in the General Assembly,” he said, but the two former legislators did not have one issue that motivated them.

“Clay Athey or Bud Phillips did not have one issue they were worried [about]. Again, it’s 3,000 bills or so each year, so they didn’t have that animal rights issue or whatever issue, they did not have a single issue. This gentleman had a single issue” in his background, Marshall said.

‘Certainly qualified’

Delegate Marshall conceded that, “if you looked at his résumé, he was certainly qualified to do the job. I listened to the other lawyers in Richmond [and] he’s done a heck of a job in prosecuting people” in the city of Richmond.

“I was torn with this. From that side, he’s got the skills to do the job. My worry is,” he asked, “would he use being a judge to be an activist judge?”

Delegate Charles Poindexter, now in his third term, represents parts of Franklin and Henry counties and all of Patrick County. He also voted no on the Thorne-Begland nomination.

‘Pure, poor judgment’
Charles Poindexter Virginia General Assembly gay rights
He explained that “the gentleman took an oath when he entered the United States military to uphold the constitution and all the regulations and rules of the United States military. He did not do that. He broke that oath openly, willingly, and publicly several times – not just once but several times, even on television. Anyone would have got kicked out of service for that.”

That, Poindexter said, showed “pure, poor judgment. That’s not something you do. We were there to elect him to exercise good judgment on laws and people and events and circumstances.”

The vote against Thorne-Begland, he said, “had nothing to do with what the charge is about,” that is, the nominee’s being openly gay.

Instead, Poindexter argued, “he just used pure, bad judgment, did not demonstrate the integrity and character to be a judge, and I voted no.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on May 20, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

From the Archives: Attorneys Ted Olson, David Boies discuss Proposition 8 and gay marriage at Cato

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on May 18, 2011. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Attorneys Ted Olson, David Boies discuss Proposition 8 and gay marriage at Cato
May 18, 2011 2:40 PM MST

Rick Sincere Theodore Olson David Boies Cato Institute gay marriage
Two veteran Supreme Court litigators – former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and David Boies (twice named Lawyer of the Year by the National Law Journal) – spoke at the Cato Institute on May 18. Their topic was not the National Football League’s labor dispute, in which they are each representing opposing sides, but rather a case on which they serve on the same team.

In May 2009, Olson and Boies – who had earlier represented opposite sides in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 presidential election case, Bush v. Gore – together filed suit in the state of California to challenge Proposition 8, a ballot measure from the previous November that prohibited same-sex marriage in that state. In August 2010, federal district judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional; its proponents have appealed the decision.

Observers immediately dubbed the two lawyers an “odd couple,” since it seemed unlikely, on its face, that a conservative Republican like Olson (who had served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) would join forces with a Democrat like Boies (who represented Al Gore and worked for the late Senator Edward Kennedy on Capitol Hill) to uphold the rights of gay and lesbian individuals to marry.

‘History of discrimination’

It became clear during the panel discussion at the Cato Institute that both Olson and Boies are equally passionate about this issue. Olson noted that the “history of discrimination [against gay people] is quite unpleasant to reflect on,” and that denying individuals the right to marry on the basis of sexual orientation is akin to granting a person all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship but, by dint of his nationality, denying him the right to call himself a citizen.

Ted Olson gay marriage Cato Institute Rick Sincere Theodore Olson
Ted Olson
He pointed out that in the pre-Civil War slave era, slaves were prohibited from marrying because marriage would be a symbol of their independence, and that when emancipation came, slaves rushed to be married because it was a way of asserting their new freedom.

Similarly, Boies asserted that “we all have an interest in protecting individual rights against government discrimination.” He pointed out that his clients and the proponents of Prop 8 both agree that marriage is a fundamental right that has been confirmed 14 times by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Boies said that depriving gay and lesbian citizens of the right to marry seriously harms them and the children they are raising. And, he pointed out, there is no benefit to other people from depriving gay men and lesbians of the right to marry.

After the panel discussion – which also included comments from former White House chief of staff John Podesta and Cato Institute chairman Robert Levy – Ted Olson spoke briefly with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about the case, which was originally designated Perry v. Schwarzenegger but is now called Perry v. Brown because of the change in governors in California.

Overwhelming evidence

With regard to the prospects for the case, which is now stalled in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals while some peripheral matters are being litigated, Olson said, “We hope that we’ll get ultimately to the Supreme Court and have the Supreme Court affirm the rights of gay and lesbian individuals to be treated equally and with decency and dignity, not just in the state of California but everywhere else. The badge of discrimination that’s engraved in the California constitution has to be eliminated.”

He added that the most surprising thing he encountered during the trial was the power of his team’s case.

“We were overwhelmed by the strength of our own case,” Olson said.

“Just to listen to the expert witnesses and to hear the evidence was overwhelming,” he explained. “We had strong convictions about our arguments but the fact that the evidence was so compelling beyond our expectations was very gratifying.”

Boies and Olson predicted that a ruling from the Ninth Circuit will come late this year or in early 2012, and that if the U.S. Supreme Court chooses to hear a further appeal, the high court’s decision is not likely for at least two years.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

From the Archives: Openly gay Navy veteran rejected for judgeship by Virginia legislature

Openly gay Navy veteran rejected for judgeship by Virginia legislature
May 16, 2012 1:40 AM MST

Virginia state capitol Richmond Thomas Jefferson architect General Assembly Rick Sincere
How often does a state legislature’s vote on the appointment of a local traffic-court judge win the attention of the New York Times, MSNBC, Washington Post, and other national news outlets?

Not often (if ever), except when, as in the case of Virginia judicial nominee Tracy Thorne-Begland, the proposed judge is openly gay and the only one of dozens of similar prospective judges rejected by the state House of Delegates.

Thorne-Begland, a prosecutor for the past decade in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, was sponsored by Republican Delegate Manoli Loupassi and two colleagues to fill an open slot in the city’s General District Court, which has jurisdiction over traffic offenses, small claims, and petty crimes.

Bob Marshall intervenes

Thorne-Begland’s nomination was vociferously opposed by U.S. Senate candidate Bob Marshall, who represents Manassas and parts of Prince William County in the House of Delegates. Marshall said that Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran who served as a pilot during the first Gulf War, was unsuitable for the job because of his previous activism on behalf of the civil rights of gay citizens and because he is legally married to his same-sex partner even though Virginia’s constitution forbids same-sex marriage.

Marshall argued that Thorne-Begland could not be trusted to uphold the law in a neutral, judicious manner because, like Marshall himself, he is outspoken on gay-rights issues.

Thirty-three legislators voted their approval of the nomination, which had sailed through the Republican-dominated Courts of Justice Committee without controversy. Thirty-one voted against the nomination, while ten abstained and 26 were absent for the 1:00 o'clock a.m. roll call. A majority of 51 votes was necessary for the nomination to succeed.

Social media outrage

Virginia lawmakers and voters took to social media to register their outrage at the vote.

Tracy Thorne-Begland Jennifer McLellan Virginia state senate gay rights
Shortly after the vote, at 1:16 a.m., Delegate Mark Keam (D-Fairfax County) tweeted a photo of the vote display board in the House of Delegates and said, “VA House voted down Tracy Thorne-Begland as a General District Court Judge. First nominee rejected in my 3 years here.”

State senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) posted on his Facebook wall:

“I'm glad this is being noticed and criticized widely! My worst day in nine years in the General Assembly. I can't imagine how Tracy Thorne-Begland feels.”

State senator Mark Herring (D-Loudoun County) also posted on Facebook:

“The treatment that Mr. Thorne-Begland received by the General Assembly, well after midnight Tuesday morning, was disgraceful and offensive... Together with many of my fellow Virginians, I am embarrassed by what I witnessed take place early this morning.”

Elsewhere on Facebook, Richmond City Council member Charles Samuels wrote:

“It’s rare that I comment about the decisions of other elected bodies, but I have to say that the decision to vote down the judicial sponsorship of Mr. Tracy Thorne-Begland in the General District Court for the City of Richmond surprises, disappoints and frustrates me.”

Delegate Jennifer McLellan (D-Richmond) posted her floor speech on the matter on YouTube, noting that Thorne-Begland "was willing to fight and die for his country but he was not willing to lie about who he was to continue to serve."

On Twitter, the Virginia ACLU stated:

“We don't take positions on judicial [appointments], but shame on [Virginia] House for rejecting Thorne-Begland [because] he's gay.”

Lawyer Brian Schoeneman, a 2011 candidate for the House of Delegates, headlined an article on the widely-read Virginia politics web site, Bearing Drift, “Vote against openly gay judicial nominee another black eye for Virginia.”

Schoeneman wrote that “the vote last night was wrong. We let irrelevant issues cloud the real question – whether Thorne-Begland was qualified and would be competent in doing the job of a General District Court judge – with conjecture and character-assassination. Those are the only questions that matter, and we ignored them by bringing his past activism into play, especially when it would have little impact on the job.”

That article, published on a conservative web site, drew 71 comments by late Tuesday evening, a few favoring the negative vote against Thorne-Begland but most agreeing with the view that the vote was shameful.

Based on those comments and others, many Virginia political activists anticipate that this legislative vote will result in ridicule by late-night TV comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Jay Leno.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on May 16, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Guest Post: Race-Based Rhetoric is Inherently Un-American

by U.S. Representative Tom Garrett

Tom Garrett Congress Virginia Fifth Congressional District Charlottesville
Racism is an abhorrent institution, period. No one who believes they are better, worse, or unequal based on the color of their skin has a place in the District I represent or the America I defend. The charade that took place in Charlottesville on Saturday night was either criminally naïve or an intentional image meant to stoke the bigotry and intolerance that our Commonwealth fought to bury decades ago. Unfortunately, I am under the impression that it was the latter and I have no sympathy for those who embrace it. As I learned more about the gathering that occurred this weekend, purportedly to save the Lee statue from removal, I could not believe what I was hearing. While the First Amendment protects speech and expression, whoever thought that two hundred people carrying torches was anyway productive must have failed basic American history. Regardless of any cause they wanted to represent, their actions spoke for themselves in the message they delivered and that message should be rejected by all of us.

Race relations are a complex issue in the South, especially in Virginia, but I am proud of the special role the Fifth District has played in their progress. It is the home of flawless documents written by flawed men that created a system for all man to be treated as they were created, equally. It is home of General Lee’s surrender, the symbolic end to our bloodiest war and slavery. And it was home to Barbara Johns, a young spark in the Civil Rights movement who led her high school walkout against segregation and became the only student-initiated case in Brown v. Board of Education. These positive legacies inherently stem from dark pasts. We cannot forget where we came from, for progress will not seem as sweet. The pictures and chants of Saturday evening remind us of the darkness that once intimidated millions, but it will not intimidate us now.

I embrace an ideology rooted in protecting the ultimate minority – the individual. Collectivization based on race or any other distinguishing trait has no home in republican principles. These practices inherently divide us, run counter to our core, and regressively reject others from joining our cause. There is no home in my party—the party of our founding documents, the party of Lincoln, and the party that fought to pass the Civil Rights Act—for a race-based organization. For as much rhetoric as the modern Left uses to associate these actions with my party, I expected to see more of Virginia’s democratic leaders condemn these actions, yet Senator Kaine and Governor McAuliffe remain silent.

As a soldier, prosecutor, and legislator, I’ve devoted my life to defending American ideals. Anyone who believes the color of a person’s skin makes us different is an anathema to the values I’ve fought for. We must remove the plank from our own eyes and work together, regardless of partisanship, to reject these organizations and look beyond physical differences on our way to our more perfect union.

Source: Office of Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA5)

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Guest Post: Don Quijote, Man of Free Markets

by Eric Clifford Graf

Economists from the Austrian School have long argued that the free-market mindset, which reached its pinnacle during the classical liberal period of the 18th and 19th centuries, traces its own origins back to the early modern period, especially the ideas of the neo-scholastic thinkers of 16th and 17th century Spain known as the School of Salamanca.

Eric Graf Cervantes Modernity Don QuixoteJust to name a few, men like Domingo de Soto (1494-1560), Martín de Azpilcueta (1491-1586), Diego de Covarrubias (1512-77), Luis Saravia de la Calle (1500s), Tomás de Mercado (1525-75), Luis de Molina (1535-1600), Juan de Mariana (1536-1624), and Felipe de la Cruz Vasconcillos (1500s) were keen to define, analyze, debate, and explain things like interest rates, the pricing of goods and services, the causes and effects of inflation, the advisability of different monetary policies, and the relation between supply and demand.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), author of the first modern novel, Don Quijote de la Mancha (part one, 1605; part two, 1615), was familiar with the School of Salamanca. As evidence, here are five major ideas at the core of free-market thinking which are also at the core of Don Quijote:

Subjective Value
Salamancan and Austrian economists embrace the notion that free and voluntary exchange implies that even two wrongs can make a right. If both of us leave happy, the “true” value of things we exchange matters less than the fact that we exchange them. Tastes, wants, and needs are subjective. Indeed, such differences are precisely why we produce stuff and trade it. Without them we would all be poor, starving brutes.

Examples of subjective value theory abound in Cervantes. For example, in Don Quijote Part 1 Chapter 21, Don Quijote, the eccentric hidalgo (gentleman) asks Sancho, “Do you not see that knight coming toward us, mounted on a dappled gray and wearing on his head a helmet of gold?” The squire is unconvinced: “What I see and can make out ... is just a man riding on a donkey that’s gray like mine, and wearing something shiny on his head.”

The Time Value of Money
In the Protestant world, men like John Calvin and Henry VIII began eroding usury laws around 1550. In Spain, the Salamancans debated. Saravia’s Instrución de mercaderes (1544) marked a transition between different ways of thinking about business; Mercado’s Suma de tratos y contratos (1569) advanced a liberal view of charging interest; Vasconcillos’s Tratado único de intereses (1637) indicated the basic injustice of borrowing money for free.

Cervantes’s critique of usury laws appears in Don Quijote Part 1 Chapter 4’s dialogue between the hero and Juan Haldudo regarding the back pay the peasant owes a shepherd. Don Quijote calculates that “nine months, at seven reales a month” comes to “73 reales,” which includes an interest of 10 reales. It’s a game of perspectives. If we laugh at Don Quijote, we endorse the official policy against interest; if we accept his calculation, we think like rational market participants.

By the way, a surcharge of 10 reales for the use of 63 reales for nine months, or 21% annually, was a reasonable rate around 1600.

Free-Labor Markets
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels credited Thomas Hobbes as an originator of their materialist assessment of how the world works. They liked Hobbes’s critique of metaphysical thinking but also his understanding of labor as a commodity subject to the law of supply and demand. A fundamental aspect of the transition from feudalism to bourgeois capitalism involved an awareness that we should compensate people for their property or services.

Hobbes was a serious reader of Don Quijote. Throughout the book, squire and hidalgo negotiate Sancho’s salary. In Part 1 Chapter 20, Sancho presses his master: “I would like to know ... just how much a squire made from a knight-errant in those days, and if they were paid on a monthly basis or daily, like bricklayers.” When Sancho threatens to go on strike in Part 2 Chapter 7, Sansón Carrasco, also known as “perpetual diversion and delight of the courtyards of the schools of Salamanca,” offers his services. Don Quijote perceives a market: “Did I not tell you, Sancho, that I would have plenty of squires from whom to choose?”

Stable Currency 

John Maynard Keynes observed that only one man in a million perceives the destructive effects of inflation. Hoping likewise, the Habsburg kings of early 17th-century Spain undertook the first modern industrialized production of fiat money to finance their wars, corruption, and extravagance. The results correlate well with the fall of the Spanish Empire marked by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 (see figure below). Artificially induced inflation was criticized by members of the School of Salamanca, especially Mariana. Philip III burned Mariana’s books and the Inquisition charged him with lèse-majesté – insulting the monarch, which was treason.

Purchasing power of the billon cuarto coin reverting to the market value of copper, 1597-1659. The maravedí was one of the era’s units of account. Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

In Don Quijote Part 1 Chapter 1, the first metaphor in this greatest work of fiction involves a comparison between Rocinante’s hooves and the decayed purchasing power of the era’s quarter coins. Later, in Part 2 Chapter 17, Cervantes has his hero attack what is first described as the king’s money cart. It’s really a cart carrying the King’s lions, which refuse to fight with Don Quijote. But when he uses gold coins to tip the driver and the lion tamer, bribing them to say he vanquished the beasts, it’s symbolic: gold is a store of value against Philip III’s money. The narrator reports that the lion tamer “promised to relate that valiant deed to the King himself when he arrived at court.”

Sweet Commerce
Montesquieu’s notion of “doux-commerce,” a vision of the positive effects of trade, anticipated Adam Smith, James Madison, David Ricardo, Norbert Elias, Steven Pinker, and Niall Ferguson. Anticipating Montesquieu was Mariana, who said, “There’s nothing more excellent in human life than that good faith by which commercial relations are established and society among men is constituted.”

Don Quijote also concerns this lesson. The protagonist’s madness dissipates as he comes to terms with bourgeois virtues. In Part 1 Chapter 1, he is mismanaging his domestic economy such that not even Aristotle could help him. Just one chapter later, he learns that, unlike chivalric novels, the real world requires payment for goods and services. Fittingly, the innkeeper knights him by pretending to read Latin from an accounting ledger. By Part 1 Chapter 7, our hero grasps that he must finance his adventures: “Hawking one thing and pawning another, all for less than he should have, he came up with a reasonable amount.” Don Quijote is perhaps most bourgeois in Part 1 Chapter 44, where he quietly resolves, without his usual recourse to violence, a payment dispute between the innkeeper and two guests.

The greatest irony involving commerce in Don Quijote is that the marketplace rescues the novel from its own violence against itself. In Part 1 Chapter 9, the narrator explains how he acquired the continuation of the text that ended in the middle of the knight’s battle with the Basque in Part 1 Chapter 8. Asymmetrical information about bundles of paper the narrator finds in Toledo’s marketplace results in their purchase and then the employment of a local Morisco to translate them. Think about this: we couldn’t read the novel past Part 1 Chapter 8 were it not for the miracle of a multiethnic marketplace for goods and services.

Cervantes was a capitalist? An Austrian? A free-market Randian? A libertarian? An English liberal? I hedge by saying he was a precursor.

Nevertheless, when it comes to thinking about economics, there’s a tangible intellectual feedback mechanism amplifying the influence of the first modern novel: Salamancan thoughts on political economy influenced Cervantes; later, proto and classical liberals who also read Salamancans often validated their ideas while reading Don Quijote. John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and Frédéric Bastiat were also intense fans. But that is another story.
Republished from PanAm Post.

Eric Clifford Graf Don Quixote economics Salamanca
Eric Clifford Graf (PhD, Virginia) is director, writer, and host of Universidad Francisco Marroquín’s Discover Don Quijote de la Mancha, a MOOC (“massive open online course”) available in both English and Spanish.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

#StarWarsDay Guest Post: What's So Bad about the Galactic Empire?

by Sean Malone

Everyone familiar with Star Wars knows that the Empire is bad, and the Rebellion is good.

But, why?

Seriously. What makes life under Emperor Palpatine so unbearable, and what would make life under the New Republic so much better, for the ordinary citizens of the galaxy? The movies offer surprisingly little information as to what's actually wrong with Imperial rule.

Now, I'm not talking about blowing up planets or Anakin murdering Jedi children. I'm talking about the daily lives of ordinary citizens. People who don't have any connection to the Sith or the Jedi or the battle for the Senate or any of that stuff.

Sure, behind closed doors, Emperor Palpatine is secretly a Sith Lord who can shoot light bolts from his hands. That definitely seems evil, but, according to the movies, nobody but a few Jedi even knows about it. He doesn't walk down the street electrocuting random peasants.

For the most part, his brutality seems to be limited to confrontations with the Rebel Alliance.

And yeah, Darth Vader is one of the most intimidating villains of all time, and he's obviously a menace to Rebellion soldiers and the Jedi, b
ut imagine you're just some ordinary moisture farmer going about his business on Tatooine. Unless your name is Owen Lars, Darth Vader almost certainly doesn't care about you. He's mainly interested in finding Luke Skywalker. So the question is, what would it mean to live in a Galaxy "ruled" by the Empire, and why is it the ultimate depiction of Tyranny in popular culture?

Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace
The more I've thought about this, the more I have struggled to come up with an answer based on anything actually depicted in the films themselves.

Part of the problem is that in most Star Wars movies, the characters are all fighting in a single political struggle. And apart from Padme's interminable dialogue about Senatorial procedure in the Prequels, there's almost no discussion of governing philosophy in the entire series.

Ask yourself: What does the Rebel Alliance stand for besides the destruction of the Empire, and what does the Empire stand for apart from maintaining power?

In A New Hope, Grand Moff Tarkin at least offers some insight into the Empires operation, when he explains that regional governors have “complete control” over their territories.

But, what does that actually mean? What policies does the Emperor want to be enforced across the Galaxy? What is it that he's actually imposing on his citizens that requires multiple planet-destroying superweapons to enforce?

I mean, I get that Palpatine wanted power, but, what does he actually do with it?

Once he acquired political control over the Galaxy, did he ban gay marriage? Droid marriage? Gay droid marriage? Did he ban books and restrict speech? Does Star Wars even have books? Did he nationalize (or “Galactize”) major industries?

For something that's so important to the story, Star Wars doesn't really even try to answer these questions.

When Liberty Dies

But here's what we do know.

First, there's a lot of smuggling in the Star Wars universe. And that probably means that there are a lot of laws and regulations making various goods and services costly or illegal. Prohibiting or restricting trade creates Black Markets, it can also impoverish many people and make their lives much harder when they can't access the things that they want and need.

Even though it's the invisible fabric of everyone's daily life, commerce doesn't really seem to exist in the Star Wars universe at all, but one way the Empire could be ruining people's lives is by controlling what gets bought, sold, or traded; dictating prices; or by taxing everything so much that even basic necessities become impossible to afford.

Another thing we know is that the Imperial military uses its power against citizens of the Empire, and not just in terms of collateral damage.

In Star Wars: Rebels, Storm Troopers and other Imperial agents are often seen conscripting innocent people into their armies and seizing their property without compensation. More recently, in Rogue One, we see a Star Destroyer hovering over a Kybur Crystal mine, and the Empire appears to force people to work in the mines in order to acquire key components of the Death Star.

We might assume that the Imperial military gets many or most of its supplies and resources through similar means – stealing from people around the galaxy, taking their property by force. But that assumes some kind of property rights, and that's never fully established in that world.

Star Wars The Force AwakensAnd there's one more terrible thing we know about the Empire from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Reformed Storm Trooper Finn (FN-2187) explains to Rey that he was actually taken from his family as a child, conscripted into the Imperial Army, and trained to be a soldier. That's a form of slavery that many real-world governments have used throughout history. Sadly even the United States government still has the power to draft its citizens into war, though that hasn't happened for decades.

Unfortunately, Star Wars never actually wrestles with these issues in any meaningful way.

It seems to assume that the major difference between a "good" world and a "bad" world is the presence of Democracy, but that's hardly a guarantee. Many Democratic leaders have created misery for their citizens and even used Democracy to amass power and become dictators themselves – just like Emperor Palpatine did.

I think the idea that a Senator becoming Chancellor becoming the Emperor works so well in the film because it's so true to what we actually see in real life. And when Padme says “This is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause,” she gets to the real issue here.


The only answer to this question that actually makes sense is that the Empire is an awful place to live because its people lack individual freedom.

Citizens of the Empire aren't secure in their possessions and property. They can't go where they want without being stopped by Imperial forces. They can be imprisoned or forced into an army without a trial or the opportunity to say no, and restrictions on trade and commerce make them poor and condemn them to getting what they need from dangerous black markets, smugglers, and gangsters.

If the Rebellion stands against that, then they are true heroes.

Sean Malone Star Wars liberty #StarWarsDay
Sean Malone is the Director of Media at FEE. His films have been featured in the mainstream media and throughout the free-market educational community.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.