Thursday, August 11, 2005

Smokefree - Subverted

I had some downtime at work, so in about 10, 15 minutes, I whipped up this letter to my city council. It's incredibly easy now that this well-funded, well-organized cabal of anti-smoking activists is starting to worry that support for the recently enacted smoking ban is evaporating. They provided this web portal that automatically faxes all 15 council members, the Mayor, and a few other parties. Man, this was fun to write, and get off my chest. I wonder if it will be persuasive? I'm already wishing I had been more specific, naming the studies (and court decisions!) that have thrown out virtually all the studies people cite to justify banning smoking on the grounds of a supposed link between second-hand smoke and disease.

For a short time, my letter was posted with all the others they've received here. But it's already been taken down, I noticed. So out of the 196 letters in support they've received (mostly from templates and talking points), I wonder how many other opponents of the smoking ban have done what I did?


I am a graduate student that University of Wisconsin. Madison has been my home now for more than two years, and I will probably live here for a minimum of another four. (With any luck, UW will hire me when I finish my degree, so I can stay in this beautiful city for even longer.)

Recently, the Madison City Council made a horrible mistake. It gambled with the city's economic prosperity on the basis of shoddy science and an ideology of paternalism by passing a smoking ban. Without reviewing the most recent studies, which demonstrate that the risks of second hand smoke to customers and workers is negliable, or even studying the possible economic effects to bar-owners, it unwisely passed this law restricting private property rights and the freedom of peaceful assembly.

You have by now already heard of some of the effects. Bowling alleys have lost entire league memberships to bowling alleys in subburbs, and those bars and taverns not in the inner city have seen their customer base relocate to subburbs. The littering of cigarette butts has increased, and some have already raised the question of what environmental effects could be caused by countless many butts finding their way to lake runoff.

While the economic impacts of this law should be sufficient enough to warrent a reconsideration of this law, the most fundamental reason to repeal the ban is liberty. At the end of the day, all laws and regulations must protect and enhance the liberty of the individual, and any law, no matter what its economic impacts, is unjust when it trespasses upon the individual. Smoking, though an unhealty activity, is still legal, and in bars, would be a protectable freedom of assembly.

This should not matter, but for what it is worth, I am a non-smoker. While I occasionally have visited smoking bars with friends who smoke, I enjoy going to places that have practiced voluntary bans, like Dotty Dumpling's, the Crave and the Ratheskellar in the Union. Without a smoking ban, those places lose their niche appeal, so if anything else, you might also consider the economic impact toward places that no longer have anything to distinguish themselves from their competition.

I urge a repeal of the ban. In its place, you may consider instead a ban of smoking in places where children could be present. If your concern is worker health and safety, you may consider establishing an anonymous complaint phone line, that could tip off inspectors to visit specific locations and issue citations for insufficient ventilation. Most people who work in bars, if not themselves smokers, at least have no problem with it, which is why they work in the one sub-sub-category of the hospitality industry that allows it on the job. I believe you find very few complaints, even without any supposed stigma from complaining about second hand smoke. (I can't speak to the motives of council members who supported the ban, but I find it suspicious that if the real concern here was the effect on worker health caused by second hand smoke, that _smokeless_ tobacco was also banned.)

Just as drinking is a risky, unhealthy activity that falls within one's personal liberty, so too is smoking. Given that the science does not support the public health justification of the ban, what's left is the liberty of the individual - which the Council has a moral obligation to respect. Please do the right thing.


A Tyranny A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Good god - could the Madison City Council be any more anti-capitalist? Scarsely even a month after the Council anally raped clobbered the bars and restaurants with a smoking ban (that also banned smokeless tobacco and cigars in cigar bars), they are now contemplating mandating paid sick leave for all employees in Madison.

Not so surprisingly, many of the same arguments we heard with the smoking ban are here too. This would make healthier workplace, we're told, because sick employees wouldn't feel pressured to work. (How this is reconciled with the fact that most diseases are contagious before one has symptoms, or when symptoms are barely manifested, I do not know). If anything, we're told, this would be great for business, because they'd save so much money in the long run from having healthier, more productive employees. Once again, people sitting on a city council, most of whom have never worked in industry much less actually owned or managed a business, somehow know more about how to run a business than people who actually do. And once again, public health is the justification for abridging economic and personal liberty.

And again, the same paternalism we heard before. The smoking ban, likewise, was supposed to actually be good for business, since all of these people who hated to go to smoky bars would return. Naturally, that hasn't happened either. So forgive me for being suspicious that the Council knows more about business than actual business people.

And I wish this guy was my alder:

Ald. Zach Brandon, 7th District, who runs a laundry business near UW- Madison, blasted the proposal ... "What bothers me is, the same people who continually bring up these issues are the same people who fight all the economic development issues. They're always wanting to talk about how we re-cut the pie, but they're never there on how do we expand the pie."

NARAL's Daisy Girl Revisited

My post on NARAL was a bit longish, and still, I didn't quite make the point I wanted to make. Succinctly - the point of the slanderous Roberts ad was not to uncover a truth about Roberts we should all know - that much is obvious. The point is, as I maintained, to obtain free advertising as people discuss the ad more and more (see the 1964 anti-Goldwater Daisy Girl ad for the beginnings of that template). It's about setting the terms of the debate. As long as this ad is out there, outraging some, embarrassing others, and defended by still others, notice what we're talking about - Roberts and his position on abortion. Roberts' champions are put on the defensive, and we're now talking not only about abortion, but about pro-life extremism evocative of terrorism - instead of, say, Roberts' actual qualifications for the job. It's insidious - and very clever. NARAL doesn't have anything substantial with which to damn Roberts, so instead, they can set the terms of our "national dialog," and raise doubts in the minds of the Senators (and the supporters of those Senators) they need to persuade - primarily, the 14 members of the filibuster compromise, the moderate Democrats and RINO's who might object to a filibuster so much with these doubts in place.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

NARAL and the Price of Obsession

I think NARAL has recently been cribbing its notes about how to run a political campaign from the NAACP.

For those who don't know - NARAL has recently produced an ad, to run on CNN and elsewhere, that more or less claims that John Roberts supports abortion clinic bombing.

WTF?, you find yourself asking? Has NARAL discovered the smoking gun, the dark secret in Roberts' past that demonstrates his unsuitablity for the high court? Or are they lying? Well, Fact claims it's more the latter.

But NARAL is smart enough to know that getting sued for libel and slander sucks, so claim isn't entirely made out of thin air. Roberts once worked as general counsel for the Bush 41 administration, and during the Supreme Court case Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic (1993), argued the administration's position (which was later affirmed by a 6-3 majority).
Surprisingly enough, the Bush 41 administration did not argue that they supported clinic bombing or baracading the entrance. Rather, they argued against the clinics' attempt to federalize this case by sueing the defendants under a provision of an 1871 anti-Ku Klux Klan law, which federalized the crime of conspiring to deprive civil rights.

We studied this case in my Legal History seminar. The issue turned on whether the pro-lifers, some of whom bombed clinics and others, I think, baracaded clinics, were guilty of a Klan-like conspiracy to deprive people of their civil rights. And plainly, whatever the abortion protesters were guilty of, it wasn't that. For one thing, the law had racial oppression in mind, and at best, this was gender discrimination. For another, this wasn't gender discrimination. The clinics and victims were not targeted for being women, but for being either patients or providers of abortion. While all patients were women, the providers and workers equally targeted were men as well as women. They were victims in virtue of their relationship with abortion, not in virtue of their gender. (The KKK victims, in 1871, were victims in virtue of their race.) I also remember wondering how this exactly qualified as a conspiracy - if it was a conspiracy, it was one in plain sight, where the leaders and participants didn't wear masks and sheets and remained public figures.

Why would this distinction even be meaningful? In ordinary circumstances, it's not. The police powers vested in the states mean that the criminals in this case were liable under state law, and if memory serves, there was no evidence presented to the Court that the states wouldn't be prosecuting to the full extent of their laws. This of course, was the problem that led to the original 1871 law - the KKK was able to operate without fear of state prosecutions, as they enjoyed popular support in the areas of the South where they operated. The law was needed only insofar as the States weren't doing their jobs.

In essence, this was the position that Roberts defended to the Court (again, on behalf of his real client, the Bush 41 administration - he never worked for the bombers, calling them "criminals" in his brief). NARAL would have you believe, in this ad, that this position amounts to filing briefs supporting abortion clinic bombing. And to think, in my first year at UW, I attended meetings of UW's NARAL chapter. *sigh*... This reminds me of the antiwar movement. I sort of leaned against going to war against Iraq, but the antiwar movement was so deadset against my values that I couldn't support them. I'm pro-choice, but I think it would be humiliating to be associated with these people.

Remember - the point of this ad is most certainly not to get out the truth about Roberts, and it's sure as hell not about presenting a balanced portrait. Like the NAACP ad, there is only one purely partisan goal that all other interests, including especially the truth, are subordinated under - in this case, to defeat Republicans at all costs. They don't have to be right or factual. They just have to scare enough voters, and the Senators who are supported by them, to eek out a filibuster. And even if they fail to persuade anyone outright, they get a victory out of all the free publicity that the ad will get the more the media discusses, and if they at least raise doubts. The news consuming audience, broadly, has enough of a bullshit detector to know that Roberts doesn't support violence. But, NARAL succeeds as a long they raise doubts about Roberts. This is much more about poisoning the well then about actually presenting facts. Which is what makes this so despicable.

But why? Even if somehow they convinced Democrats to abandon the filibuster compromise, and Roberts were to be successfully Borked, surely they know that Bush will just nominate another conservative, possibly one even more dangerous to their agenda.

There are two possiblities that I can see. One, they may hope for a repeat of what happened with Bork - after Bork went down, a cowed Reagan administration nominated Anthony Kennedy in his place. Kennedy leans more to the liberal side of the Court, so this would be a happy outcome for these activists. Two, they realize that Bush 43 has learned the lessons of the Bork ordeal, so they know that Bush won't just give up and give them another Anthony Kennedy. But they are also looking at the clock - Bush only has another 3 years of his presidency left, and even more ominiously, mid-term elections are nary a year away.

My suspicion is that even now, even this far away from the next election, NARAL and its allies hope that they can run down the clock on Bush. Their hope is that by 2006, Democrats will make a turn around in mid term elections, Bush will be in full lame duck mode, and as of 2008, a Democrat (let's call her, for convenience's sake, "Hillary") will emerge triumphant. So regardless of how many nominees Bush has gone through, the 2006 opinion polls (and looming real polls) will effectively force Bush to nominate another Kennedy. And any other retirees in 2006 or later will get so held up by Democrats unless Bush also replaces them with Kennedy's.

So more than anything else, I think this is a matter of delay and forestall as long as possible. The longer they do that, the less likely it is that Bush will get who and what he wants on the Court.

Is their hope reasonable? I don't know - I'm inclined to think not. For all the troubles the Bushies are having these days in the polls, it hasn't really, that I can see, translated into any increased popularity for Democrats. And more to the case in point, especially after the disclosure that Roberts has also worked pro bono on behalf of gay rights groups, I can't help but think this will actually cause a net loss in support and crediblity for NARAL. They demonstrated not only rank dishonesty in this case, but even political stupidity in trying to paint a man who supports gay rights as a religious ideologue who supports violence against women. They would do well to remember the fate of the boy who cried wolf.