Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
Sarah BrodskyPark 51
Posted at 3:03 pm on August 20, 2010, by Sarah Brodsky

Park 51, also known as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” may be the latest victim of zoning tyranny. Zoning takes building decisions that should be made by property owners and turns them into neighborhood popularity contents–or in this case, a national referendum.

Some of the debate around Park 51 deals with the people planning the community center. Opponents are combing through speeches, statements, and previous affiliations, looking for evidence of  radicalism. To which I say: Do you really want to do that kind of research before any group erects a structure?  Even the Westboro Baptist Church has a building. If you’re going to research every edifice that could harbor radicals, you should start with the all bus shelters where neo-Nazis gather before cleaning up highways.

Opponents will counter that Park 51 deserves special scrutiny. The proposed building would go up only a few blocks away from Ground Zero, so, they claim, we need to make sure terrorist sympathizers don’t congregate nearby. The thing is, that kind of reasoning can be used to stop any community center, anywhere in the country. This isn’t just a slippery slope of my imagination; it’s already happened. A proposed Hindu education center in Missouri has been caught up in a zoning fight for years, with some people objecting to it because they think it’s connected to 9/11. That incident shows that zoning disputes like the one threatening Park 51 aren’t about preserving the sacredness of any particular location. They’re about preventing members of minority religions from building swimming pools and chapels. When the memory of 9/11 can be used to stop a proposed Hindu community center one thousand miles from Manhattan, nobody’s safe.

Filed under: Politics, Religious Freedom, Zoning
Comments: 1 Comment

John W. PayneVote for Sandwich
Posted at 10:21 pm on May 26, 2010, by John W. Payne

This series of fake political ads for a sandwich are some of the best satire I’ve seen in a while, and they remind me of this article I wrote for The Washington Witness at Washington University before the 2004 presidential election.

John Kerry and the Other White Meat

by John W. Payne

In August 2003, I was sitting in a friend’s living room, watching the news, and commenting on Presidential politics.  I believed that President Bush’s chances at re-election looked slim.  I argued that if the situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate, as it has, and if people continued to perceive the economy’s performance as lackluster, which by and large they have, then a ham could defeat him next November.  I continue to maintain this position, but I have since realized that John Kerry’s bid to unseat the incumbent has thus far been sub-ham.  Allow me to explain.

One of the most accurate and widespread criticisms of Kerry is that he has repeatedly contradicted positions that he held earlier in his candidacy, or put more colloquially, he flip-flops.  Originally he supported the war in Iraq by voting to authorize the president to invade, then he decided the war was a bad idea, and then he said he still would have voted for it even knowing all that we know now, and so forth ad nasuem.  Of course Bush shifts his rhetoric frequently as well, most pointedly when offering brand new justifications for his war now that Saddam’s WMD have proven non-existent.  The difference between the two is that Bush’s horde of mantra chanters has successfully connected the name “John Kerry” and the term “flip-flopper” in the average American’s mind, while Bush still seems firm in his convictions.

Now compare these problems to what a ham would face.  The ham, being inanimate, would not take a single position on any issue publicly, let alone multiple positions.  It could not be called a flip-flopper, waffler, or any other childish epithet brewed up by Karl Rove.  The challenger’s campaign would rely exclusively on 527s and unofficial supporters to assassinate Bush’s character and claim whatever position happened to be popular at the time for the piece of pork.  If any of these positions turn out to be unpopular later, they can be denounced by an official campaign spokesperson as “inconsistent with the ham’s principles,” without actually having to specify what those principles are.  The campaign would only take official positions in October when it became clear exactly what people want to hear.  The ham would never hold an unpopular position, and it would never change its mind; a wiser and more resolute leader could not be found.

The other widespread, and far less accurate, attack on Kerry’s candidacy to emerge so far in the race was launched by longtime John Kerry hater John O’Neill and his group of Republican partisans known as The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.  The conflicting stories offered by Kerry and the Swifties are tedious and irrelevant to contemporary events, not to mention that Kerry’s story is, with the exception of spending Christmas in Cambodia, probably correct.  The point is that after having made his military service the centerpiece of the Democratic Convention, he should have expected his record to be attacked regardless of the truth.

However if the ham were in Kerry’s place, it would not need to worry over such matters.  Its past consists only of trifling matters: at one time the ham was part of a swine which was eventually slaughtered, the ham was then removed from said swine, prepared and packaged.  These events are not politically provocative, and the ham would not feature them during the convention.  Instead the ham’s campaign manager would encourage the Democrats to bash Bush relentlessly and with outright malicious methods.  They could claim he eats newborn children, or that he is actually a hermaphrodite, or they could just run the video of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein over and over.  The specific claim is unimportant just so long as one message comes across: George Bush is wrong about everything, everyone who advises him is equally wrong, and they all lack the ability to do anything right.  It would be very simple.

If John Kerry loses this election, the fault will lay fully upon him.  Unemployment is higher now then when Bush arrived in office.  Bush sold America a war of necessity in Iraq that was later exposed as one of choice and has since turned uglier than almost anyone predicted.  He has upset his own fiscally conservative base with deficits, tariffs, and the largest expansion of Medicare in the program’s history.  Stepping into such a situation, how could Kerry lose?  Put simply, he has given Americans no reason to believe they know what he thinks about anything.  With a ham at least people know it does not think at all, and in the worst case scenario it can be eaten by a needy family, but with a person whose thoughts are a mystery, anything is a possibility.

As of late, Kerry is on the attack in speeches with some fairly consistent criticisms of the war and Bush’s economic policies, but he should have been saying these things from day one.  If Kerry had taken a position, any position that George Bush did not hold, and stuck to it since his campaign started he would be easily ahead in the polls right now, but as it stands, it seems the ham still makes the better choice.

Videos via Radley Balko.

Filed under: Politics
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Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson






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