Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Floodgates open following Kelo decision

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:28 AM |  

The following examples (provided by the Institute for Justice) from newspapers across the country show that the threat of condemnation to homes, small business, churches and other property from government-forced private development projects following in the wake of the Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision.

According to the Institute for Justice, these incidents are the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of properties nationwide are facing the threat of eminent domain for private development, and many more projects are in the planning stages. In its first-ever nationwide study Public Power, Private Gain, the Institute for Justice documented more than 10,000 instances of threatened or actual condemnation for private development nationwide from 1998 through 2002. An updated report will be released later this year.

Freeport, Texas
Hours after the Kelo decision, officials in Freeport began legal filings to seize some waterfront businesses (two seafood companies) to make way for others (an $8 million private boat marina), according to the Houston Chronicle.

Lake Zurich, Ill.
Five property owners facing condemnation for private development had asked Lake Zurich officials to hold off until the Kelo decision. The Chicago Tribune reports that City officials are now moving to condemn.

Boston, Mass.
Two days after the Kelo decision, Boston City Council President Michael Flaherty called on the mayor of Boston to seize South Boston waterfront property from unwilling sellers for a private development project. “Eminent domain is one tool that the city can use,” Flaherty told the Boston Globe.

Arnold, Mo.
“Arnold Mayor Mark Powell applauded the decision,” reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The City of Arnold wants to raze 30 homes and 15 small businesses, including the Arnold VFW, for a Lowe’s Home Improvement store and a strip mall—a $55 million project for which developer THF Realty will receive $21 million in tax-increment financing. Powell said that for “cash-strapped” cities like Arnold, enticing commercial development is just as important as other public improvements.

Baltimore, Md. (West Side)
The City of Baltimore is moving to acquire shops on the city’s west side for private development. Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of Westside Renaissance, Inc., a private organization coordinating the project with the city’s development corporation, told the Baltimore Sun, “If there was any hesitation because of the Supreme Court case, any question is removed, and we should expect to see things proceeding in a timely fashion.”

Baltimore, Md. (East Side) (subscription required)
Baltimore’s redevelopment agency, the Baltimore Development Corp., is exercising eminent domain to acquire more than 2,000 properties in East Baltimore for a biotech park and new residences. BDC Executive Vice President Andrew B. Frank told the Daily Record the Kelo decision “is very good news. It means many of the projects on which we’ve been working for the last several years can continue.”

Newark, N.J.
Newark officials want to raze 14 downtown acres in the Mulberry Street area to build 2,000 upscale condo units and retail space. The Municipal Council voted against the plan in 2003, but then reversed its decision eight months later following re-election campaigns in which developers donated thousands of dollars. Officials told the Associated Press that the Mulberry Street project could have been killed if the U.S. Supreme Court had sided with the homeowners in Kelo.

Lodi, N.J.
Save Our Homes, a coalition of 200 residents in a Lodi trailer park targeted by the City for private retail development and a senior-living community, goes to court on July 18 to try to prevent a private developer from taking their homes. Lodi Mayor Gary Paparozzi called the Kelo ruling a “shot in the arm” for the town. He told the Bergen County Record, “The trailer park is like a poster child for redevelopment. That’s the best-case scenario for using eminent domain.”

Cleveland, Ohio
Developer Scott Wolstein has planned a $225 million residential and retail development in the Flats district. Wolstein has most of the property he needs, but is pleased that Kelo cleared the way for the City to acquire land from any unwilling sellers. If eminent domain is “necessary,” he told the Plain Dealer, “we think this makes it clear that there won’t be any legal impediments.” Previously, city leaders publicly supported Wolstein’s call for eminent domain.

Dania, Fla.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that Dania Beach City Manager Ivan Pato “expressed joy” over the ruling in Kelo. Dania plans to buy a block of properties for a private development project, and Pato said the city will use eminent domain to oust unwilling sellers. “Unless we expand the city’s tax base … our residents are facing rising taxes on their property,” Pato said. “Redevelopment is the only way we will be able to make ends meet.”

Memphis, Tenn.
The Riverfront Development Corp. is planning a massive, 5-mile development effort, including the use of eminent domain to claim a four-block section from the current owners for a mixed-use development. “[Kelo] definitely gives the city more tools in its tool box for dealing with the legal issues surrounding that piece of property,” RDC president Benny Lendermon told the Commercial Appeal.

Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and Miramar, Fla.
Broward County officials yesterday cleared the way for new condo and retail development in these three cities. Hollywood residents in the targeted area fear their homes may now be taken for economic development following the Kelo decision. Mayor Mara Giulianti said the City would use eminent domain on a “case-by-case basis” to remove homeowners unwilling to sell.

West Allis, Wisc.
West Allis officials want to “revitalize” the West Allis Towne Center, a shopping mall. If the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the homeowners in Kelo, officials may not have been able to use eminent domain to claim the mall, West Allis development director John Stibal told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In the immediate Twin Cities area, the Kelo decision has affect on two pending projects. Officials in New Brighton are currently misusing eminent domain to condemn a small business’ land for high-end condos. And in Champlin an elderly couple that has lived there for 28 years faces condemnation because their home is, in the mayor’s words, on “prime real estate” for luxury condos, a restaurant and a marina.

COLUMN --- Property rights remedy lies with Legislature

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:27 AM |  

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Number me among those that believe the Supreme Court got it wrong in Kelo v. City of New London. However, don't put me among those whining about judicial activism, wringing their hands about the destruction of property rights and wailing about the end of the American way of life.

Amidst the whining, wringing and wailing, the actionable reality of the Kelo decision is being overlooked. True, Kelo opens the door for Snidely Whiplash government officials to evict widows and orphans (and anyone else) from their property to make way for communities with clock towers and gazebos or job-promising corporations, but only if Minnesotans allow that to happen. There are still Dudley Do-Right options.

Kelo is a significant case. By a 5-4 margin the Supreme Court held that New London properly invoked Connecticut law when, under the guise of "economic development," it used eminent domain and public money to force the sale of private homes and then transferred the property to private developers. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor writes, "Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner … given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public."

Welcome to Snidely — but Kelo also leaves an out. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens states, "We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power." States may limit eminent domain through state constitutional law or state statutes. Concurring, Justice Anthony Kennedy notes that there may be cases in which private-to-private transfers of property through eminent domain are "suspicious" or "prone to abuse" or the "purported benefits are so trivial or implausible" that the courts "should presume an impermissible private purpose." Thus, the Supreme Court supports two actionable options.

When your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails. Because the early analysis of Kelo is by lawyers, eminent domain policy looks like it should be pounded only in state courts. And Kennedy's opinion endorses that option.

However, lost in the judicial emphasis is the fact that eminent domain is only one element of government-inflicted economic development and at that, the element of last resort.

The need for eminent domain does not originate in the courts. Its source is the Legislature. Given the clear blessing in the Supreme Court decision, action by the Minnesota Legislature ought to be the prime option for countering Kelo. Parallel to the national experience, Minnesota's judicial expansion of the text "public use" to a broader interpretation of "public purpose" has followed, not led, politically "progressive" legislation.

In the 1950s and '60s "public use" expanded to include private-to-private takings to rebuild blighted areas. During the '70s, public money intended to promote private investment in urban "redevelopment" justified use of eminent domain.

By the mid-1980s replacement of one private business with another was justified simply on anticipation of an increased tax base and higher employment. The '90s saw financial incentive become a virtual competitive necessity among communities to lure private investment. Today, community give-backs are considered an entitlement by expanding businesses and developers.

In that environment, new urbanists continue to push for subsidized "smart growth," "urban redevelopment" projects. Legislators push bonding pork meant to "rejuvenate" economically depressed areas. Businesses hold communities hostage for tax incentives and subsidies for new construction. To pay for those gains, communities must transfer funds meant for public use to private hands, which means higher taxes for everyone else. The "gain" is largely illusionary, but a clock tower or a corporate campus always looks good on campaign literature.

Kelo makes those legislative self-serving efforts easier. A "carefully considered development plan" for a noble or profitable purpose is all that's required of government to confiscate your property.

However, working-class families being evicted from their homes is also a reminder of the human cost of we-can-do-it-better government planners. Government may unleash the power of eminent domain, but we ordinary Minnesotans still hold the leash on government officials. We need the will to yank it. Minnesota needs to join the states with legislation that limits government's ability to confiscate private property for "economic development."

Is there a Dudley Do-Right in the Legislature with the courage to champion that cause?

UPDATE: Just received the following press release (6/29):
Responding to Supreme Court Ruling



ST. PAUL -- State Rep. Greg Davids (R- Preston) has introduced legislation that would toughen Minnesota’s eminent domain law to prevent government entities from seizing or acquiring private property for other than public use or benefit. Davids’ bill comes in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling that would allow government entities to take property and turn it over to private developers.

“What the Supreme Court did is to wrongly redefine the Fifth Amendment, allowing government entities to apply eminent domain for economic development,” Davids said. “That’s not what our founding fathers intended. Protecting property rights is vital.”

Davids pointed to the dissenting opinion of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who said that as a result of the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private property owner “under the banner of economic development.”

Davids’ legislation says that “Eminent domain must not be used to acquire real property for any purpose … if the property acquired is intended to be sold, leased, transferred or otherwise conveyed to a person or nongovernmental entity without the power of eminent domain.”

Davids said he’s unsure whether the bill could be acted upon during the ongoing special session, but he expects it would receive quick action in 2006.

“No matter what your political stripe, Republican, Democrat, Independent or whatever, you’re harmed by the Supreme Court decision, “Davids said. “Minnesota must take action to preserve the rights of property owners.”

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Which Twin Cities Newspaper is getting the better bargain?

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:37 PM |  

Courtesy of the Power Liberal.
If they wanted Mr. Sticks, why not just use Mr. Sticks?

I like Craig better.

I’m going to take this as a compliment

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:26 PM |  

A “Pioneer Press Reader” left this comment in response to a comment I made on the thimerosal issue here.
"Craig Westover likes to think he is pretty smart about thimerosal. He has the talent of being able to write in a way that makes him sound like he knows what he's talking about when he doesn't."
I like that description -- I mean I reeeeally like that. That's talent.

It’s the opposite of "He's really smart and knows what he means, but just can't express himself." Right?

I’m betting it would be tough to win a logical argument with this reader.

Soucheray on Hartman

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:55 AM |  

If you missed it, catch Joe Soucheray’s column on the overwrought Sid Hartman controversy at the Star Tribune. Since my days working as a copyboy in the Tribune Sports Department, I have never been a big Sid Hartman fan -- nor was I one of his close personal friends. Sid is an -- well, arrogant is the nicer word.

But be that as it may, for a bootstraps to riches story, his is a good one, and I’m envious of the excellence with which Soucheray captures the story and the essence of Mr. Hartman.

The piece is also a good reminder that the more an organization relies on written codes of ethics and rules of conduct rather than personal integrity the more that organization . . . well, probably needs written codes of ethics and rules of conduct.

Most shocking item in the story -- Sid Hartman is a homer!

If you've ever worked in a large corporation . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:36 AM |  

. . . you'll know today's Borowitz Report is right on the mark.

In a past life I worked as a corporate communication director. Whenever a executive officer left the company, whether to take a new job or "pursue other interests," the inevitable press release had to be written stating why losing a key person in the organization was not a bad thing. Here's the Borowitz take on the capture of Abu Faraj al-Libbi.

Madman Unveils Organizational Chart in Latest Terror Tape

In a new terror tape broadcast today, al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden dismissed the importance of an al-Qaeda terrorist currently in U.S. custody, claiming that the terrorist, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, was not the No. 3 man in al-Qaeda but was actually only No. 9.

Mr. bin Laden took to the airwaves of the Arabic-language al-Jazeera network to downplay Mr. al-Libbi's capture, saying that the terrorist had been demoted from No. 3 to No. 9 last autumn and that his role in the international terror group was "largely administrative."

Using a PowerPoint presentation of al-Qaeda's organizational chart, the world's most wanted man offered viewers a rare glimpse into the structure of the highly secretive terror network. According to the chart, Mr. al-Libbi had no terrorists of any consequence reporting to him and had been given the somewhat nebulous title of "community liaison."

"Furthermore, Abu Faraj al-Libbi no longer has an al-Qaeda expense account and does not get reimbursed for mileage," Mr. bin Laden said.

But in Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioned Mr. bin Laden's tepid appraisal of Mr. al-Libbi's importance, saying that if the captured terrorist was not in fact No. 3, he was "at least No. 5 or No. 6."

Supporting his position, Mr. Rumsfeld added, "We have credible intelligence indicating that Mr. al-Libbi was al-Qaeda's Employee of the Month in April."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

COLUMN -- Don't allow partisanship to muddy autism discussion

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:10 PM |  

NOTE: I'm posting my Pioneer Press column much later than usual today because I've spent the morning responding to email about it. It was picked up by the Schafer Autism Report, a widely distributed autism newsletter. It was not well-received by the parents with autistic children.

As regular readers know, I have very strong opinions about the likelihood of a link between thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in childhood vaccines and neurological disorders including autism. I have for some time watched as the issue has become politicized, and I have been frustrated by the cursory, if at all, way the issue has been covered locally. Those latter two sentiments were the genesis for turning the previous post into my weekly Pioneer Press column.

Of the emails I’ve received, many are vulgarly angry with me. Most are of the mind that Robert Kennedy’s entry into the autism fray is not a partisan signal. They are glad to have his voice. They see good things happening because a Kennedy is speaking up, however stridently. I’ll look at some specific objections in later posts. Below is column from the Pioneer Press.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I have been afraid of this for some time now — the politicizing of the medical controversy over the mercury-based vaccine additive thimerosal and its connection to autism. Last week "Rolling Stone" and simultaneously published a slap-upside-the-head article, "Deadly Immunity," by Robert Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy leads, "When a study revealed that mercury in childhood vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids, the government rushed to conceal the data — and to prevent parents from suing drug companies for their role in the epidemic."

Kennedy's inflammatory prose might grab media attention — the media understand political scandal better than biochemistry — but it also considerably degrades the thimerosal discussion. Worst case, Kennedy's tirade confirms a public consensus that "desperate" parents behind the "vaccine scare" are simply looking for someone to blame for their children's misfortune.

That's more than unfortunate, it's tragic.

The parents' motivation is neither greed nor vengeance. Their motivation is a need to know what happened to their children and prevent it from happening to others. To that end, the autism discussion must first and foremost focus on science.

Instead of making the scientific case, Kennedy goes for the political jugular. Absent from his conspiracy theory piece is any of the sound, significant scientific evidence supporting the link between thimerosal in childhood vaccines and neurological dysfunction.

As a public health story, the growing body of evidence supporting a connection between childhood vaccines and the incredible increase in cases of autism — one case per 166 live births — is an underreported story. For the most part, the media don't want to touch it, and when they do, it is only to report the controversy, not pursue the truth.

Having virtually wiped out deadly childhood diseases, the National Immunization Program is such a sacred cow that it is inconceivable it might have damaged a generation of American children on an epidemic scale. It's OK for tough reporting on a politically correct story like the AIDS crisis, but no responsible media outlet wants to be perceived on the wrong side of universal immunization — even if that's where good science leads.

Complex science doesn't survive in the political arena of sound bites and partisanship, where reputations are devoured to discredit both good science and dedicated public service. All the cumulative science that is the "evidence of harm" from thimerosal becomes the collateral damage of political carnage.

Nonetheless, "responsible" media abdicate ongoing autism coverage to blogs, radio and television personalities such as Don Imus and Montel Williams, and political partisans such as Kennedy.

The political significance of Kennedy's entry into the fray is that he is the first major Democratic name to resolve the liberal cognitive dissonance between antagonism toward President Bush and blind allegiance to government health care.
The thimerosal issue can embarrass Bush. He has backed off a written campaign promise to support removal of thimerosal from vaccines.

Bush's family has close personal and financial ties to thimerosal patent originator Eli Lilly & Co. A number of people with strong pharmaceutical industry connections hold key Bush administration positions.

The irony is, Kennedy's conspiracy theory emphasis also raises bothersome questions about the credibility of the National Immunization Program — today and in the era of Hillary Clinton's Vaccines for Children program. It strikes at the heart of liberal faith that government can effectively and efficiently coordinate national health care.

Another irony: So far most support for the thimerosal connection to autism has come from the conservative media and conservative members of Congress. If Kennedy's effort politicizes the issue to the point where conservatives jump ship to defend the administration, the real losers are going to be parents and their autistic children.

The outcome of a political charge led by liberals is demonization of vaccine manufacturers, more government oversight and more regulation, more centralization and more bureaucratic structure. Inherent bureaucratic indifference, not, as Kennedy implies, greed and malicious individual motivation, is the cause of today's autism crisis.

The thimerosal controversy is not as simple as Kennedy would make it nor as sexy as the press would like it to play. It doesn't naturally fall into a neat political package. Covering it requires investigation and a conclusion, not merely reporting with objective indifference.

The thimerosal connection to autism is first about science. A responsible media should not let bureaucrats, politicians and even parents of autistic children, frustrated as they might be by bureaucratic indifference, forget that.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Mercury, autism and childhood vaccine issue becomes political

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:39 AM |  

I was afraid of this -- the politicizing of the link between autism and childhood vaccinations. Case in point -- my good friend Captain Ed writes today about the “pseudoscientific” link between autism and thimerosal in children’s vaccines.

ABC plans to broadcast an interview with Robert Kennedy, Jr on the supposed link between autism and thimerosal in children's vaccines. Salon and Rolling Stone paired up to run an article on this subject earlier called Deadly Immunity, which advocates the fear-mongering about the supposed dangers of life-saving vaccinations. The blog Respectful Insolence takes Salon, Rolling Stone, and Kennedy apart over the biased presentation and the scientific ignorance displayed in the article.
Describing Kennedy's article as "pseudoscience" is simplistic at best. When science enters into the political arena of sound bites and partisanship, it naturally degenerates rather quickly into "pseudoscience." Reputations are sullied to discredit good science and dedicated public service. Problems inherent in bureaucracy that have festered over decades are laid at the feet of currently elected officials. And all the good work that created visibility for the thimerosal issue is reduced to fodder for political advantage.

Politics clouds the issue, but it doesn't alter underlying truths, nor does it make the real issues go away. Dismissing Kennedy and others with the "pseudosceince" tag is as wrong as over-extending the evidence to draw unwarranted conclusions.

David Kirby, whose book “Evidence of Harm” is the “Silent Spring” of the National Immunization Program, repeatedly made this point during his Twin Cites appearances: The connection between the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal and increased rates of autism has not been proven, but there is sufficient scientific evidence -- epidemiological, theoretical, and practical scientific evidence -- to warrant further official investigation.

Kirby’s disclaimer hasn’t stopped a growing number of articles, like Kennedy’s, that make claims that exceed the evidence and paint all public officials with the brush of corruption. That’s more than unfortunate -- it’s tragic.

It’s tragic because the discussion should be about the affected children. The discussion should be about bureaucratic responsiveness. It should be about the way the government is going to manage the National Immunization Program in the future. Instead it will about who’s to blame and how can the issue be milked for political advantage.

Strip away the sound bites, and here is the crux of the issue --

To prevent bacteria contamination of vaccines, the mercury-based preservative thimerosal is added to multi-dose vials. Mercury is a known neurotoxin. The amount of mercury in a single shot is relatively small; however the relative toxicity of the mercury depends on the body weight of a child when the shot is given.

Over the decade of the 90s the childhood vaccination schedule was significantly increased and shots were given at a much younger age. Over the same time period, reported cases of autism increased dramatically at a four to one ratio, boys to girls. This increase was more than could be accounted for by better diagnosis changes in definition. According to the CDC, 1 child in 166 live births has autistic symptoms.

Following this observation, theoretical studies were done showing a correlation between autistic symptoms and symptoms of mercury poisoning. Epidemiological studies were done using government data that showed a statistically significant correlation between the amount of mercury delivered through vaccinations and an increased rate of diagnosed autism.

Subsequently, hard science supported the plausibility of a connection between mercury and autism by demonstrating how mercury is absorbed into brain tissue and how it affects nervous system development. Studies also found that testosterone enhanced the toxicity of mercury. This research did not address what actually happens when a child is vaccinated. It did, however, establish the plausibility of a mercury connection to autism.

Other researchers have established that children with autistic symptoms lack certain chemical elements that are necessary to remove heavy metals, like mercury, from their bodies. Further research demonstrated that this is a genetic trait.

A significant number of parents have treated their autistic-diagnosed children for mercury poisoning using biomedical approaches and have seen significant reduction in autistic symptoms.

When all this is pulled together, it presents a strong, albeit circumstantial, case that a significant number of individuals cannot excrete mercury from their systems, which causes neurological damage that presents itself as autism-like symptoms. When the number of vaccinations was low and given later in childhood, this trait was not evident. As the number of vaccinations increased and the age of vaccination decreased, more children reached a “tipping point” where damage and symptoms occurred.

The policy implication is not stopping vaccinations, but acknowledging that one vaccination schedule does not fit all. It requires an examination of whether or not, independent of the autism question, it makes sense to inject newborn children with a neurotoxin. It raises questions about government responsiveness to legitimate concerns. This is my issue with Dr. Harry Hull of the Minnesota Department of Health, who opts for policy consistency rather than looking at new research.

It’s failure on the part of the bureaucracy -- both government and pharmaceutical companies -- to even consider policy questions or attach any credibility to the growing evidence of harm that has brought us to the political flashpoint.

Kennedy’s entry into the fray only the tip of political iceberg. This from the New York Daily News--
Autism parents plan campaign against W

A coalition of parents with autistic children is launching a stinging lobbying campaign against President Bush today, accusing him of reneging on a campaign-trail promise to ban mercury from vaccines. The group, Unlocking Autism, will deliver letters to the White House and Capitol Hill, urging Bush and lawmakers to prohibit use of Thimerosal, a vaccine preservative that contains mercury.
On June 7, Unlocking Autism sent out an email to its “calling network,” which Unlocking Autism’s Shelley Reynolds described to me as an “old-fashioned calling tree” that ultimately reaches between 60 and 70 thousand people across the country. The email provided phone and fax numbers for the Capitol Hill Operator, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and Laura Bush’s office number with the charge to “call as often as you like.” According to a email put out by the group --
Yesterday was just fabulous. The UA/NVIC ad campaign was delivered to every member of Congress and the Senate. The packets were distributed at the National Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting and we told them that parents would continue calling and fighting for this until the mercury was removed from vaccines. We received a phone call last night from an autism community leader that informed us that the White House had contacted him and asked him to persuade us to stop interfering with the White House. He said that they asked us to direct calls to the comment line. We told that leader that we will not allow parents comments to be diverted to a recording where the can be ticked off as a piece of data and then deleted.
Think that’s gutsy for a group of parents --
We called the White House this morning and told them that we were making a decision about whether or not parents should continue contacting the White House today. We told them to get back with us with a decision maker by 8:30am central time. No one called us back. They apparently need to hear from you all again.
Numbers were provided for Carl Rove, White House Communications Director Nicole Devonish, Claude Allen in White House Domestic Policy and Andrew Card.

These folks aren’t about to be deterred.

Politically, this issue is a potential embarrassment for the Bush Administration. Circumstantially, the Bush family has financial ties to Eli Lilly Company, the patent originator of thimerosal. Several pharmaceutical and ex-pharmaceutical executives hold key positions in the Bush Administration, including homeland security. Sen. Bill Frist is one of the black hats on this issue, pushing legislation, including a section of the Homeland Security Act, to absolve Lilly of any future liability for thimerosal-caused injuries.

During the fall Presidential campaign, Unlocking Autism asked both presidential candidates if they supported removal of mercury from all childhood vaccines. President Bush said “yes” in writing, which significantly influenced this voting block, but since the election, the President has refused to take action despite repeated requests from parents.

Unlocking Autism is now using grassroots political muscle to force the president to enforce a 1999 directive to drug companies by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove mercury from all vaccines. They want President Bush to issue an Executive Order to compel drug companies to remove mercury preservatives from vaccines.

The significance of the Kennedy article is that he becomes the first major Democrat (if only in name) to overcome the cognitive dissonance between antagonism toward President Bush and unwavering faith in big government to effectively and efficiently deliver health care. The thimerosal issue can hurt Bush, but if it does, it will also raise significant questions about how the FDA, the CDC and the National Immunization Program did their jobs throughout the 90s, the Clinton years, and the era of Hillary’s Vaccines for Children program.

The irony is, the politicizing of this issue might do more to hurt the National Immunization Program’s credibility than the issues raised by the parents of autistic children, which if addressed when first raised (notably the early 90s by Dr. Maurice Hilleman, America’s most prolific vaccine researcher) would have today been a non-factor politically.

Another irony, as Kirby -- himself a liberal Democrat -- acknowledged (and admitted some surprise) support for the notion that mercury might play a role in autism has come primarily from the conservative media. Nationally Air American declined to interview Kirby and NPR asked to be removed from his mailing list. As noted, liberals have been viewing the issue as an attack on big government health care rather than on the Bush administration.

If Kennedy’s effort, however well-intentioned from the parents point of view, politicizes the issue to the point where conservatives jump ship to defend the administration, the real losers are going to be the parents and the children, the very people wronged in the first place by big government indifference. The likely outcome of politicizing led by liberals will be a lot of “conflict of interest” legislation, more oversight and more regulation.

The issue is not as simple as Kennedy or his critics would make it. My hope is Captain Ed and the other big guys that pick up on this issue as it becomes more political will treat it as a matter of science and not hunker down in political bunkers. It’s not about conservatives and liberals, the Bush administration or suddenly converted Democrats. It’s about big government, regardless of who’s in power. That’s the political issue that needs to be addressed.

I’ve written quite a bit on this issue, which can be found here.

Friday, June 17, 2005

A note on blog interviews

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:41 AM |  

Over at Bogus Gold, Doug comments on the interview at Kennedy v. The Machine that First Ringer conducts with newly elected MN GOP Deputy Chair Eric Hoplin. He notes that the "We hate Hoplin's guts" crowd is disappointed that Ringer didn't pull some kind of 60 minutes sting-style interview, hammering Hoplin with all their favorite accusations. Doug writes --
Since the vast majority of KvM's readers have no idea who Eric Hoplin is, the purpose of Ringer's interview is to introduce him to the readership. It's not to carry on lingering vendettas against him from those who didn't want to see him elected Deputy Chair.
It’s a point well-taken. I’ve done three blog interviews (Taxpayer’s League President David Strom, former Education Commissioner and 6th District Congressional candidate Cheri Yecke and University of Minnesota professor Dale Carpenter on same-sex marriage) and heard the same complaints.

Expanding on Doug’s comments, here is a model for interviews that critics ought to keep in mind. There are basically three types of interviews.

The first type of interview is informational. The subject of the interview is an expert, and the interviewer trying to draw out information about a particular topic. The only importance of the interviewee is that he or she has the information. Another source, equally knowledgeable, would serve as well.

The second type of interview is the 60-Minutes type, which is an interrogation. The interviewer has certain “facts” that he or she wants the interviewee to confirm or deny. The interviewer wants to get the interviewee on record with a firm denial or caught in an admission.

The third, and this is where a blog interview fits, is a personality interview. The interviewer is not out after “facts.” Rather the interviewer tries to reveal the personality of the subject through his ideas (Strom and Yecke) or provide the interviewee’s unique perspective on an issue (Carpenter).

The latter is not an interrogation. The technique that is most successful is making the interviewee feel comfortable so that he or she often reveals more than they would in a confrontational situation. The interviewer challenges points made, but as questions, not accusations. The interviewer brings a point of view to the interview that is reflected in questions and challenges, but doesn’t allow his or her personal feelings to create a debate rather than an interview. At some point, the interviewer lets the interviewee “win” and moves on.

A good interviewer will preface or conclude the actual posting of the interview with impressions that set the context. The interviewer is the reader’s representative at the interview and is therefore not only the readers ears (as reported in the interview transcript) but the reader’s eyes as well -- reporting details that enhance the spoken words.

The last style of interview is much harder to do well, but in most instance, far more revealing than a confrontational 60-Minutes style.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Poetic justice

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:32 AM |  

Be a good Minnesotan
And do as you oughta --
Go to Radio Blogger
And vote for our quarta

UPDATE: See comments for the "Battle of the Bards" and then go vote for our quarter.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

COLUMN -- Pawlenty is spending political capital like a drunken sailor

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:33 AM |  

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

[Note: Headlines are written by Pioneer Press editors. I thought this one a little over-the-top as representation of the opinion in the column.]

It's not been a great couple of weeks for Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

First, he made a surprising overture across the aisle. He backed off his "no new taxes" pledge and proposes a 75-cents-a-pack "health impact fee" on cigarettes to come up with about $380 million of new revenue for public education.

His proposal received a storm of criticism, not from the DFL, but from within Republican ranks. Not only did Pawlenty back off his pledge, said conservative true believers, his "tax" and "fee" distinction failed the smell test.

Coupled with his revenue proposal, the governor demanded that the Legislature pass at least two of four specific proposals — initiative and referendum, meaningful school choice, a ban on school-year teacher strikes and a tribal/racino partnership.

Anybody heard much about those proposals lately?

Absent any apparent plan to move the governor's initiatives forward, Democrats stole the show. The momentum shifted to their counterproposal for a 55-cents-a-pack cigarette tax, a new 9.9 percent income tax rate and closing corporate tax "loopholes" by repealing business incentives intentionally implemented during the Perpich administration.

Then, once again last weekend it was GOP opposition that burned the governor. The Republican Central Committee ousted Pawlenty-endorsed Ron Eibensteiner as party chairman. Conservative blogs read the grass-roots ouster as everything from an outright disaster to an unfortunate mistake and party betrayal of loyalty to the governor.

That would be a misreading of the situation.

Pawlenty has been spending political capital the way the state spends tax dollars — with good intentions on dubious initiatives. The governor's national aspirations and pre-election itch to "do something" have replaced the bedrock principle that put him in office — balancing the state budget and forcing real spending reform.

Instead, the governor sought more revenue to avoid unpopular spending reforms — first through expanded casino gambling and then via the cigarette tax. Instead of spending reforms, he's signed onto an increase in the minimum wage, the Northstar Line, a 20 percent ethanol mandate and flip-flopped on the stadium issue.

He has consistently underestimated the opposition within his own ranks and overestimated his strength as the de facto conservative candidate in 2006.

"Where else you gonna go?" is a political attitude that confuses obedience with loyalty and ultimatum with strategy. It assumes political capital as inexhaustible as the state's appetite for new tax revenue. And it blinds one to the reality that a magnanimous political gesture will inevitably be responded to with political self-interest.

That pretty much sums up where the governor finds himself today. Pawlenty has been flirting at the public perception punch bowl long enough, and it's time to dance with his date. It's time for him to realign with the people and the principles that got him elected. (Whatever happened to "Minnesota doesn't have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem"?)

Pawlenty has already shown signs of awakened leadership. In response to the DFL counterproposal to his cigarette tax, he said, "We were hopeful that this would be a significant response, but it wasn't. So we're kind of back to the drawing board."

The drawing board is not a bad place to be. As a result of holding the line on taxes, Minnesota tax revenues are up. With nearly a 60 percent majority, the House already passed a tax bill that holds the line on new taxes. For better or worse, the bonding bill is safely put away.

The governor made the magnanimous gesture. He put his political future on the line for the good of Minnesota by backing off his no new taxes pledge to balance the budget and fund education. The DFL rejected his offer with the indefensible ploy of playing education off against increased taxes.

Politics is about party interest, which to Democrats means sticking it to the governor even at the expense of people they purport to represent. Their constituency, however, does not tolerate betrayal anymore than conservatives do. Just ask low-income urban parents who watched Democrats spike school choice initiatives.

It's time for Pawlenty to extend his reach past politicians and into the real world, where elections are won and lost. Forget ultimatums. Don't leave the agenda up to the opposition. Invest political capital in principled issues, work a strategy and loyalty follows.

The next couple of weeks could be a lot better than the previous few.

Monday, June 13, 2005

GUEST POST -- Why American Liberty Says No to Gay Marriage -- by M.W. Barker

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:04 PM |  

I need to thank Craig Westover for the generous invitation to publish this piece on his blog. I also wish to thank all the participants in the civil debate of these issues that’s been held here. What follows is a summary of my thoughts in response to the posts and articles linked in the text and the comment threads attached to some of them. While I live outside Minnesota, I think the case I make stands on its merits at the state or national level. I offer it for your consideration and further debate.
--M.W. Barker

My thanks to Mr. Barker for both his comments on my initial post and this piece, which most certainly furthers the discussion.
-- Craig Westover


by M.W. Barker

Craig Westover, shadowing the opinions of Dale Carpenter, makes a “conservative case” for gay marriage in his recent post responding to Katherine Kersten’s June 2 column in support of Minnesota’s marriage amendment. I think it’s fair to summarize Westover’s argument this way:

1. Society needs stable families.
2. Marriage provides stability to families.
3. Gay families exist in our society. Therefore,
4. Conservatives should favor extending marriage to gay families.

Westover opposes the marriage-defining constitutional amendment passed by the Minnesota House, arguing that it inappropriately “legislates from the constitution” by removing the possibility of gay marriage from legislative debate.

From this position, Westover challenges defenders of traditional marriage: Given that the amendment posits the superiority of heterosexual marriage for providing family stability, how can you advocate its ratification without also suggesting that children in gay families should be removed and placed with heterosexual parents?

One must grant that by arguing for traditional marriage predominantly from its status as a beneficial social norm, as Chuck Darrell of Minnesota for Marriage and Kersten have, advocates are vulnerable to the emotional challenge of the individual case. Amendment promoters need to demonstrate that the limited definition of marriage expressed in the amendment is not an assertion of mere political power, riding a wave of homophobic public opinion, but actually offers necessary protection to all citizens. Is there such a principled answer defenders of traditional marriage can give?

Yes there is.

The answer is that the fundamentally American understanding of liberty demands both the preservation of traditional marriage and respect for the integrity of those, including gays and lesbians, who have been granted parental responsibilities where marriage is not possible. We must insist upon adherence to self-evident truth, while at the same time denying the enforcement, as law, of even strong social norms.

The necessity of allegiance to self-evident truth underlies our constitutional order and was expressed most memorably by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident...” Every form of tyranny insists on the government’s prerogative to make truth subject to state authority. (Consider as examples the enforced falsehoods behind Nazism, Communism or Jim Crow.) So when those entrusted with governing power rule that citizens must submit to a self-evident falsehood—as courts have recently done in denying the inherent and obvious distinction between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple—the people must deny their government this power.

That is why such instances require, not renewed legislative debate, but constitutional amendment. Self-evident truth is not debatable and must be placed beyond the reach of government’s coercive power.

At the same time, it must be understood that a strong and enduring social norm, while the natural _expression of self-evident truth, is distinct from it. Hence, while laws may indeed encourage conformity to such norms (recognizing the strong and self-evident correlation between certain norms and societal health) they must stop short of requiring compliance (bowing, as they must, to the self-evident reality that adherence to norms does not, by itself, determine outcomes).

So where does this leave us in the same-sex marriage debate?

Are amendments like Minnesota’s an inappropriate assertion of political power in an attempt to legally enforce a mere social norm? No. And here we must point out a fault in Westover’s assumptions. Carefully worded amendments like Minnesota’s assert only the distinction, not any inherent superiority, of monogamous heterosexual marriage. Thus they do not sanction forced compliance with this social norm. They only require the recognition of self-evident truth, which the preservation of liberty demands.

But doesn’t this deny children in gay households the stability they need? No. Here again, it is necessary to point out a fallacy in Westover’s argument. Correlation does not equal causation. Westover’s case posits marriage as the source of stability because there is a strong correlation between marriage and family stability. But it must be noted that other factors correlate with family stability as well: steady employment, home ownership, education level and maturity of the parents, etc. If marriage in and of itself guaranteed good outcomes for children, we should not just allow it for gays, we should require it for everyone.

Looking to the other side of the debate, traditional-marriage defenders must not pit an ideal against the best available option in the individual case. The correlation/causation fallacy must not be used on this side to argue that homosexuality is inherently less stable than heterosexuality or that sexual orientation must take precedence over other stabilizing factors. All responsible adults who legitimately take up parenting obligations and handle them with integrity deserve society’s respect. It must be acknowledged that conformity to a normative ideal, though of high value generally, does not guarantee improvement in every case. (For example, we do not, outside of abuse, advocate removal of a fatherless child from the care of his mother and grandmother to place him with married strangers). Gay couples can, and do in many individual cases, offer the best option our free society can provide for the care of the children in their households.

This understanding equates the societal respect due gay couples with other, non-sexual relationships. Don’t the intimate, committed relationships of gays and lesbians deserve at least an equivalent place in society to that accorded heterosexual relationships? The marital distinction afforded heterosexual pairings is rooted solely in its reproductive potential, so it’s hard to see what self-evidently unique stake wider society has in gay sexuality as distinct from other factors that may contribute societal benefits. This does not mean that many of the obligations and benefits presently given to married couples necessarily can’t or shouldn’t be extended to others who have household or child-rearing responsibilities.

As long as the self-evident distinction between the heterosexual relationship and all others is maintained, we can agree with Westover and Carpenter that these issues are properly the subject of legislative debate.


M.W. Barker is a freelance writer. He lives in North Carolina.

Response to Charles Darrell's Star Tribune opinion piece "Christians ought to do more in this debate"

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:28 PM |  

Charles Darrell writes in yesterday’s Star Tribune (“Christians ought to do more in this debate”) that the sign of a dysfunctional church is one that can't defend the obvious. The current debate over same-sex marriage is a perfect example.

Darrell argues that in a pluralistic society Christians must make every attempt to translate biblical truth into secular arguments that are not explicitly rooted in theology. Yet, he notes, a marriage protection amendment is unlikely without returning to spiritual foundations because without theology Christians do not have enough secular arguments that work. He writes --
The truth is that secularists have stolen the moral high ground from Christians through some ingenious rhetorical manipulation. Marrying the "civil rights" argument for same-sex partners with the unfounded insistence of "separation of church and state," they have succeeded in intimidating and confusing many Christians on the issue of same-sex marriage. Equipping themselves with the equally phony "helmet of open-mindedness" and "breastplate of tolerance," these secular ideologues have silenced a core of the Church with charges of "intolerance" and "hatred" toward homosexuals.
In form this is the same argument used by critics of Ronald Reagan that attributed his effectiveness to the fact that he was a “great communicator” without giving him credit for the substance of his ideas. Darrell accuses those advocating same-sex marriage of being disingenuous rather than acknowledging them as individuals believing, as do Christians, in the self-evident moral correctness of their point of view.

I infer from Darrell’s piece, that a Christian that supports same-sex marriage must be “dysfunctional” and to hold the view that same-sex marriage is the morally correct path to pursue makes one disingenuous. That attitude -- not a lack of conviction on the part of Christians -- is what hurts the case against same-sex marriage.

In essence Darrell is admitting that unless one accepts the most temporal interpretation of Christian theology, there is insufficient evidence to prohibit same-sex marriage. Regardless of one’s religious faith, Darrell’s argument raises the specter of a theocratic state in the same way that same-sex marriage raises the fear of polygamy and any other conceivable form of union.

Although I support movement toward same-sex marriage, I disagree with Darrell that without Christian theology there is no case to be made against same-sex marriage. But that case must be made to a wider audience than simply evangelical Christians, and it must be made in a language that they are comfortable with.

Doug of Bogus Gold puts it very nicely as a preface to his disagreement with my column on a conservative approach to support of same-sex marriage.
One of the outstanding features of it to me personally was that it was true to its billing – it truly was framed as a conservative argument. Where I disagree with it, my disagreements have nothing to do with a rejection of the reasoning, but rather concern some asserted facts.

Underlying the framework of Carpenter’s argument is this:

My own conservatism is rooted in Edmund Burke. For Edmund Burke, “conservatism” did not mean we never change anything. It meant that we don’t change things rapidly. We change things incrementally. And we don’t change things in light of abstract propositions. We change things in light of our actual lived experience. So it’s about pace and direction.
In this Professor Carpenter and I are in absolute agreement. This has been one of the major points of disagreement I have had with the vast majority of gay marriage proponents. Professor Carpenter approaching the issue from this perspective is speaking to me in my own language, allowing the key areas of dispute to be discussed in the clear.
Doug then continues to disagree with Carpenter and me on the basis of certain assumptions underlying the conservative argument. I submit that Doug’s response to the “ingenious rhetorical manipulation” of same-sex marriage advocates is far more productive than the theocratic and divisive approach that Darrell is advocating.

WSJ on Canadian health care Supreme Court Decision

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:09 PM |  

The Wall Street Journal comments today on the Canadian Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Quebec law banning private medical insurance.
Let's hope Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy were sitting down when they heard the news of the latest bombshell Supreme Court ruling. From the Supreme Court of Canada, that is. That high court issued an opinion last Thursday saying, in effect, that Canada's vaunted public health-care system produces intolerable inequality.
This ruling is a significant blow to Canada’s ailing publicly financed national health care system.
The Canadian ruling ought to be an eye-opener for the U.S., where "single-payer," government-run health care is still a holy grail on the political left and even for some in business (such as the automakers). This month the California Senate passed a bill that would create a state-run system of single-payer universal health care. The Assembly is expected to follow suit. Someone should make sure the Canadian Supreme Court's ruling is on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's reading list before he makes a veto decision.

The larger lesson here is that health care isn't immune from the laws of economics. Politicians can't wave a wand and provide equal coverage for all merely by declaring medical care to be a "right," in the word that is currently popular on the American left.
From former Canadian physcian Dr. Lee Kurisko --
I am very pleased with the results of the court decision. This may be the event that gets the dam to break and open things up to privatization in Canadian health care. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Martin stated yesterday in response to the decision, that their will be no two tier health care system in Canada. I am not sure how he can unilaterally rebut the Supreme Court. Mr. Martin claims that they are going to put more money into health care and fix its problems. But how? That is the same mantra that I have been hearing from the Canadian politicians for the last two decades and things keep getting worse and worse. Socialism simply doesn't work especially for something as incredibly complex as health care.

George Will on Florida school choice battle

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:28 AM |  

George Will provides his weekly vocabulary lesson while dicing the the strategy of teachers unions fighting school choice for the children of poor families in Florida, accusing them of using 19th-century bigotry and 21st-century obscurantism.

Florida opponents of Opportunity Scholarships say they violate Florida's Blaine amendment by being usable at religious schools. But, says Will, this argument has three flaws.
First, the scholarships are not "in aid of" any religious institution. Rather, they are intended to promote the general public welfare by improving, through accountability and competition, Florida's public schools. Although the program permits the use of scholarships at religious schools, it neither favors nor encourages such use, and any benefit such schools receive is merely incidental to the purpose of improving public schools.

Second, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that school-choice programs similar to Florida's "have a valid secular purpose" and involve "true private choice" because government scholarship aid goes directly to parents, who use it at their discretion. It "reaches religious schools only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals," so any "incidental" benefit to religious institutions involves "no imprimatur of state approval."

Third, although the sort of people who fight against poor children are not very susceptible to shame, even they may be ashamed to rely on the Blaine amendment, that residue of 19th-century bigotry. Hence their reliance on the "uniformity" clause.
Will further dices the "uniformity" argument and then concludes (with a message that opponents of th Hann/Buesgens Educational Access Grant legislation ought to note) --

Why do the teachers unions fighting poor families focus only on the word "uniform"? What about the other adjectives in Florida's constitution? Does anyone think Florida is providing all students with public schools that are "efficient, safe, secure, and high quality"? Can the unions assert that without blushing? Probably.

Charities fined for failure to disclose smoking ban expenditures

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:08 AM |  

The Washington state Public Disclosure Commission approved a $3,500 fine against the American Cancer society for failure to report the money it spent on ads “and other so-called ‘grass-roots lobbying’ intended to generate support for smoking ban proposals."
According to a report from the commission’s staff, “the violations are significant,” since the $64,200 the commission spent pushing the smoking ban wasn’t disclosed until after the 2004 legislative session ended. That means people watching the ads – some of which featured former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop urging them to ask their legislators to support the ban – didn’t know who was paying for them.

The smoking ban proposals, which would have prohibited smoking in bars, restaurants and most other non-tribal businesses, failed. An initiative that would have done the same thing failed to make the ballot last year, though a similar one this year appears more likely to make the Nov. 8 ballot, thanks in part to nearly $600,000 in backing from the Cancer Society.

But the society has also missed deadlines for reporting its contributions to the initiative this year, according to the commission’s report. As part of the agreement approved Thursday, if the society commits another violation or fails to meet other conditions, it will trigger an additional $4,000 in fines.
The commission also fined the American Heart Association $400 for missing deadlines to report nearly $15,000 it spent pushing the smoking bans. It fined Breathe Easy Washington, the group that pushed last year’s failed smoking ban initiative, $400 for missing deadlines to report $8,500 in contributions it received last year.

Significant in the report is the extent of support by these organizations, which rely on charitable donations, in terms of effort and dollars -- $600,000 from the American Cancer Society in a single state. Such expenditures on political issues by groups that collect money “in hopes of finding a cure” is more than a little misleading if not downright unethical.

Such actions have prompted a New York organization of business owners (New York has a smoking ban in bars and restaurants) to ask business owners to withold donations to the American Cancer Scoiety, American Lung Association and the American Heart Association. From a May 11 press release --
At issue is the charities' relentless pursuit of smoking bans in city and state legislatures all across the country -- ban legislation that the charities themselves very frequently help to write and then promote to the general public. Strongly noted too is that by using their tax-deductible donations for lobbying for legislation they are teetering on the edge of violating the IRS code for charitable organizations.

Clearly, businesses that hold fundraisers for, and citizens who donate to, these health organizations are giving to groups that then use that money to destroy and attack them.

"No more," says Audrey Silk, founder of NYC C.L.A.S.H. (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment). "We will stop contributing to Big Nanny. Why do we want to donate to groups that are out to ruin our businesses and demean us as human beings?"

Jim Avolt, a spokesman for an Ohio business group that's part of the alliance rates it even lower than that. He points out, "I feel the ACS, the ALA and the AHA should all lose their non-profit status. They were significant financial donors to the pro-ban forces at work in Toledo. And the irony of it was," Avolt continues, "they were using the same money we'd given them in donations and just handing it right over to our political opponents."

This boycott will continue indefinitely, with more groups and private citizens expected to join in.But it doesn't mean that members of the alliance won't continue to donate -- just not to those charities.

There are thousands of worthy ones out there and they'll be the recipients of contributions instead. Charities like Make-A-Wish Foundation, Mary Crowley Medical Research Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Shriners Hospital for Children are just a few of the favorites, as are people in dire medical need in each of our own local areas.

The alliance agrees that cancer and heart disease research will not suffer by donating to other same goal charities -- and maybe the trampling of our country's treasured private property rights and the right to be left alone will subside.
I am not a supporter of organized economic boycotts, but in this case, it certainly makes sense for business onwers not to contribute to groups that are, without regard, causing them economic harm. For others, it just makes sense to evaluate why one contributes to a charitiable organization and whether or not that organization is spending its resources to advance the goals that motivate contributions.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Canadian Court makes accurate diagnosis of health care system problems

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:22 AM |  

Private medical insurance in Canada got a boost from Canada’s Supreme Court on Thursday when it struck down a Quebec law banning private medical insurance. This ruling is a significant blow to Canada’s ailing publicly financed national health care system. As reported in the New York Times via the Pioneer Press --

Experts across the legal spectrum said they expected the decision to lead to sweeping changes in the Canadian health care system.

Patrick Monahan, dean of the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto and a well-known critic of the national health care system, was even more emphatic about the importance of the decision. "They are going to have to change the fundamental design of the system," he said. "They will have to build in an element of timely care or otherwise allow the development of a private medical system."
Lack of timely care is just a symptom of the many systemic problems with Canadian health care, but it is the most visible evidence that providing virtually universal and free medical care is moot if promised care cannot be delivered.

In recent years patients have been forced to wait longer periods for diagnostic tests and elective surgery while the wealthy and well-connected either sought care in the United States or used influence to jump medical lines.

The court ruled that the waiting lists had become so long that they violated patients' "life and personal security, inviolability and freedom" under the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms, which covers about one-quarter of Canada's population.

"The evidence in this case shows that delays in the public health care system are widespread, and that, in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care," the Supreme Court ruled. "In sum, the prohibition on obtaining private health insurance is not constitutional where the public system fails to deliver reasonable services."
It’s not just patients fleeing the Canadian health care system that are crossing the border. Previously I’ve written about the experiences of Canadian radiologist Dr. Lee Kurisko, who now practices in Minneapolis, his family’s critical encounter with Canadian health care and some confirming reader response.

We ought to think twice -- maybe thrice -- before looking north for the answer to rising health care costs.

Update: From former Canadian physcian Dr. Lee Kurisko --
I am very pleased with the results of the court decision. This may be the event that gets the dam to break and open things up to privatization in Canadian health care. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Martin stated yesterday in response to the decision, that their will be no two tier health care system in Canada. I am not sure how he can unilaterally rebut the Supreme Court. Mr. Martin claims that they are going to put more money into health care and fix its problems. But how? That is the same mantra that I have been hearing from the Canadian politicians for the last two decades and things keep getting worse and worse. Socialism simply doesn't work especially for something as incredibly complex as health care.

Captain to Captain . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:43 AM |  

A nice nod today from Captain Ed over at Captain’s Quarters, who paraphrases me on the sensitive balance between butt-kissing and brown-nosing. His paraphrase is close, but I was just a tad more delicate --
“The difference between butt-kissing and brown-nosing is simply a matter of depth perception.”
Captain Ed is tad more graphic, but puts the metaphor to good use to examine the hole in the Washington Post’s Mark Leibovich’s obfuscation of the actual location of where Howard Dean’s head is at. The Captain’s contention -- Mr. Leibovich may need his eyesight checked.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Howard Dean Update

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:46 AM |  

Another gem from the Borowitz Report --

Apologizes for Omitting Insults from Recent Tirade

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean apologized today for calling Republicans "pretty much a white, Christian party," saying that he failed to mention that they were "fat and ugly" as well.

Dr. Dean offered the clarification at a press conference at the DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C., telling reporters, "Any characterization of Republicans as white and Christian is unfair, since it totally omits the fact that they are pretty much the party of the fat and the ugly, too."

The notoriously outspoken DNC chief immediately drew the ire of leading Republicans who objected to his characterization of Republicans as predominantly white, Christian, fat and ugly.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) lashed out at Dr. Dean from the floor of the Senate, saying, "Anyone who says that Republicans are white, Christian, fat and ugly is only telling part of the story, and Dr. Dean owes an apology to all nonwhite, non-Christian Republicans who are skinny and attractive."

But hours later, Dr. Dean continued to stoke the controversy with his response to Sen. Frist's remarks: "I knew I was forgetting something - Republicans are really stupid, too, and Bill Frist, in my opinion, is not even a real doctor."

In the aftermath of Dr. Dean's latest remarks, leading Democrats were mulling what to do about their volatile party chief, exploring a range of options including driving him out to the country and ditching him along a secluded road.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The question I was waiting for

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:04 AM |  

From a email from a Pioneer Press reader of today's column --
In the interest of full disclosure, is University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter gay? If so, don’t you think that is important enough to include in your article?
I left Carpenter’s sexual orientation out of the column intentionally -- as I left out his religious affiliation, what he was wearing and the brand of soda he prefers. None of those things has any bearing on the logic of his argument, which is what the column is about.

Sexual orientation and religious affiliation do motivate people’s attitudes toward homosexuality. As I noted in a comment at this post, my libertarian sympathies certainly influence my attitude on the issue of same-sex marriage.

But sexual orientation, religious affiliation and libertarian sympathies are not arguments. Support for or opposition to same-sex marriage must stand logically regardless and separable from the person making the claim.

Carpenter’s arguments are no more discredited by sexual orientation than are Charles Darrell’s because he speaks for Minnesota for Marriage. The arguments must stand or fall on their own merits.

Is my sexual orientation relevant to the column?

Star Tribune has a new poll -- never mind

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:47 AM |  

I would have loved sitting in the room when this editorial decision was made.

The Star Tribune is running an online poll to collect reader’s opinions about the smoking ban. Along with the poll runs this disclaimer --

PLEASE NOTE: This instant poll is in no way a scientific measurement. It is provided purely as an interactive feature. A Web-savvy person could easily figure out a way to vote as often as he or she likes and skew the results. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to prevent such disreputable behavior.
Now a “purely interactive feature” is okay when it’s clearly meant in jest. [Nihilist in Golf Pants would have made a great pope, and I’m still fuming that the Atomizer, not I, was chosen as the “key link in the right-wing noise machine."] But although some might disagree, last time I checked the Star Tribune was still billing itself as a newspaper.

Why run something that has, by the paper’s own admission, absolutely no informational value and is not intended as entertainment? It’s not a big deal, but it does say a little something about what passes for editorial judgment at the enemy newspaper.

Vote early. Vote often.

Trouble in Paradise?

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:39 AM |  

Looks like there may be some problems with my discovered namesake institution of learning despite it's great school songs (see comments).

The Mission of Westover School is to provide an environment that inspires the intellectual, artist, athlete and philosopher in each student. Westover challenges young women to think independently, to embrace diversity and to grow intellectually and spiritually. Westover encourages in each student integrity, responsibility, and commitment to community.

From Live Journal --
I don't know whether to be angry right now, or to just give it up. I used to joke with her about Westover turning her into some sort of snob. I didn't actually think that we'd be like strangers by mid-high school. And I don't blame her school. I don't have anyone to blame but her. And myself.
At least she doesn't blame Bush. Obviously this must be a conservative school.

COLUMN -- Gay marriage is a 'deeply conservative idea'

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:42 AM |  

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter boasts a strong conservative profile. He studied law at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Edith H. Jones, a Reagan appointee to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He believes in "original meaning" constitutional interpretation and that law is "based on morality." He does not hold with constitutional relativism or judicial activism.

Oh, yeah: He also supports same-sex marriage. With good reason. Same-sex marriage is, Carpenter believes, a "deeply conservative idea."

"The problem is conservatives may be the last people in the world to realize it," he said. "Gay marriage advocates have to do a better job explaining how gay marriage is a deeply conservative cause. And we have to do that by appealing to our fellow citizens, not by running to the courts."

In a wide-ranging interview, Carpenter built an intriguing and provocative case that political conservatives not only ought to oppose the proposed Minnesota Marriage Amendment, conservatives ought to support same-sex marriage. In fact, conservatives ought to encourage it.

"There are two separate issues here," Carpenter said. "One is a matter of what the courts should do. Should the courts be involved in basically forcing gay marriage on an unwilling population? My answer to that is no.

"The second question is a policy question. Is gay marriage radical and therefore a dangerous change in marriage? My answer to that is also no."

Carpenter notes that state defense of marriage amendments, including Minnesota's, use a "bait and switch" strategy. Their stated intent is stopping judicial activism; their application is much broader.

"Even the most narrow amendments do more than just foreclose court involvement," Carpenter said. "All of them say no gay marriage, even if the Legislature were to decide differently."

It's Carpenter's position that an amendment stating "the courts shall have no jurisdiction over decisions of the Legislature regarding the gender requirements of marriage" (or words to that effect) would protect against judicial activism. That approach still leaves the Legislature, elected by the people, free to decide the gay marriage issue as a legislative issue, not a constitutional issue.

It is as unconservative a notion to legislate in the Constitution as it is to legislate from the bench.

On the subject of gay marriage itself, Carpenter believes that whatever view one takes of homosexuality, a political conservative ought to support gay marriage.
"Given that there are homosexuals in the United States, and they are not going to be eliminated by any means acceptable to the American people, what is to be done with them?" he asks.

"Are we to shut them out of traditional institutions like marriage? To marginalize them to where they become hostile to traditional values? What would conservative social theory predict would happen to a group of people cut off from the stabilizing influence of marriage?

"I think it would say a lot. All kinds of pathologies — drug and alcohol abuse, rampant promiscuity, more depression, less productivity, more dependence on government and so on. Marriage has a very powerful positive affect."

Carpenter understands radical leftist groups, out of their existing antipathy to traditional institutions, wanting to keep gays out of the mainstream. But he can't understand why conservatives would take that position.

"Why would the right act to keep this group of people on the margins of society, undermining and criticizing traditional institutions, rather than bringing them in? To the extent that we bring more people in and say marriage is really for you as well — and we expect it of you — we actually serve the cause of redeveloping a culture of commitment."

Even accepting the worst-case viewpoint that gay marriage is an abomination in the eyes of God, the conservative political argument prevails. Extending the protections and stability of marriage to gays — not all at once, but in increments — is more beneficial than marginalizing gay families and their children and consequently encouraging the pathologies that marriage is rightly praised for preventing.

Gays — conservative gays — do not want to redefine marriage. They want to participate in it. Conservatives ought to be encouraging them to do so with the same vigor and for the same reasons we encourage our children "to settle down and raise a family." It's good for individuals. It's good for society.


The complete transcript of my interview with Dale Carpenter can be found here.

An opposing view from a reader -- Charles Darrell of Minnesota for Marriage -- can be found here.

A response to Katherine Kersten's column in the Star Tribune, which supported the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, can be found here. Readers on both sides of the issue provide valuable insights in the comments to this post. The discussion is civil; thoughts on both sides are well-reasoned.

All these posts contain links to additional references.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

GUEST POST -- God and Children: Two crucial elements in same-sex marriage debate -- by Charles H. Darrell

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:04 PM |  

Charles Darrell has posted several comments to my Conservative Gay Marriage 101 post emphasizing the black experience with "non-traditional families" as evidence to support passage of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. He laments that supporters of same-sex marriage do not put more weight on this evidence. In the give and take of the comments on the 101 post, I've stated why I believe that evidence is irrelevant to the question of same-sex marriage . I've offered Chuck this space to make his case to "a candid world."

OK, I give up. I can’t imagine a single example of how same-sex-marriage will affect my own heterosexual marriage, and since I can’t predict the future, the “slippery slope towards societal decadence” argument is hard to prove as well. Furthermore, as arguments based on religious faith have been banned from the public square, I must admit to rethinking my opinions.

Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions. Is my marriage the salient issue? Does it matter what happens to marriage as we know it? Is it truly a matter of tolerance and civil rights? Is it fair to frame the debate as “two individuals in a loving and committed relationship”? Do we have enough sociological or legal data to articulate a wise and informed decision?

Another Viewpoint

Yes, some people insist same-sex-marriage is about tolerance and civil rights, and attempt to draw a moral analogy between it and school desegregation or inter-racial marriage. But I hear the opposite from those with the wisdom to be consulted — the African-American community and minorities of faith in general.

Last May I attended a Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee session that heard testimony from both sides of the same-sex-marriage debate. I was struck by the solidarity of support for traditional marriage shared by leaders from African-American, Somali, Jewish, Hmong, Islam, Coptic, Catholics, and Hispanic communities of faith. Furthermore, each of these leaders based his view on God’s law.

In particular, the Rev. John R. Thomas, Jr. stated flatly that SSM was not a civil-rights issue — and was in violation of God’s law. He added that Rosa Parks did not go to the front of the bus to support sodomy. A few months ago 100 black clergy met in Atlanta to object to the comparison of same-sex-marriage to the civil-rights movement. In a Seattle Times editorial, “Gays are not the nation’s new African Americans,” Ken Hutcherson writes that even Jesse Jackson is opposed to the analogy of same-sex-marriage and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Stephen Carter in The Culture of Disbelief reveals that “reluctance to acknowledge the religious content of the civil rights movement is a close cousin to another societal blind spot: the refusal to admit the centrality of religion to most of the black community itself.” Carter cites Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” in which King states, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”

Blind spot indeed. Clearly, the moral justification for the civil rights movement was based on the “law of God.” As this same law prohibits homosexual relationships, a civil rights-based argument seems misinformed and fails to acknowledge the legitimacy of a faith-based dialogue in the public square. Perhaps civil rights is the new “civil religion.”

What about the Kids?

Throughout the entire debate, one question seems to be overlooked: How will same-sex-marriage affect children? There is a mountain of sociological data that demonstrates the best environment for a child is in a home with a mother and father. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the African-American communities where leaders, such as Starr Parker, contend that a child needs more than just a mother, or even two loving persons of the same sex. Starr points out that many blacks have attempted to raise children with a mom and grandma, and found it wanting.

In Why Children Need Father-Love and Mother-Love, Glen Stanton writes, “To be concerned with proper child development is to be concerned about making sure that children have daily access to the different and complementary ways mothers and fathers parent. If Heather is being raised by two mommies and Brandon is being raised by two daddies, Heather and Brandon might have two adults in their lives, but they are being deprived of the benefits found in the unique influences found in a mother and father’s differing parenting styles. Much of the value mothers and fathers bring to their children is due to the fact that mothers and fathers are different. And by cooperating together and complementing each other in their differences, they provide these good things that same-sex caregivers cannot.”

It seems mean-spirited to say that “people who believe that children need mothers and fathers are the legal and moral equivalents of racists.” If we are truly concerned about civil rights and diversity, then we should take steps to protect a child’s right to the diversity of a man and woman, married, and in the home.

Charles Darrell is a free-lance writer living in Woodbury. He is Communications Director for Minnesota for Marriage. He can be reached at

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Felt is no hero

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:35 AM |  

Writing in today’s Pioneer Press, guest columnist Jack Rice takes his shot at President Bush for the “sainted or tainted” action of W. Mark Felt.
I am blown away. The news that Mark Felt, the No. 2 man at the FBI, was Deep Throat was amazing. But what was more amazing to me was President Bush's response to the story. What response, you ask?

Well, the president saying it's hard for him to judge if Felt was right to leak Watergate details to the Washington Post.

Let me get this right. President Richard Nixon was a criminal. He was an unindicted co-conspirator in the break-in at the Watergate Hotel and should have gone to prison like many others involved in the break-in and subsequent cover-up. And it is hard for Bush to judge if Felt was right to leak it?
Rice’s own conclusion --
Since 9/11, many people in this country having been wearing patriotism like a mantle and that is good.

However, what is disturbing is that some have tried to use patriotism like a club against others here who might not agree with their political beliefs. Well, you know what? Standing up for what is right is what patriotism is all about.

Felt did that.
No, Felt did not.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, there may have been a reason for his passing information to a reporter in an underground garage during the Watergate investigation. However, to maintain anonymity for 30 years is not “standing up for what is right.” We’re not talking Coleen Rowley here, who agree or disagree with her actions, put her career, credibility and personal integrity on the line when she blew her whistle.

Was it good that the details of Nixon’s actions regarding Watergate surfaced? Yes. Was Felt right to leak Watergate details to the Washington Post? Perhaps. Is he deserving of praise? As much as any street snitch.

“Standing up” for what is right means accepting the consequences of one’s actions, not hiding from them.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Senator Stve Kelley to guest on Rabuse on the Right

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:53 PM |  

Announced candidate for governor, Senator Steve Kelley will be on the Rabuse on the Right radio program, 1280 AM The Patriot, 11:00 AM Saturday, June 4. The studio line is 651-289-4488.

Conservative Same-Sex Marriage 101 -- A response to Katherine Kersten's Star Tribune column

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:12 PM |  

My comments in this fisk of Katherine Kersten’s June 2, column on same-sex marriage appearing in the Star Tribune is based on the context addressed in this post and an interview I conducted with University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter, which will be posted around June 8.

The gist of my criticism is that Kersten tears apart a liberal argument for same-sex marriage, but doesn’t provide a conservative response; she merely supplies an inverse liberal answer -- We have the power; our values rule.

There is a conservative approach to same-sex marriage. It’s embedded in Kersten’s column; she’s just unaware of it. Maybe this fisk will help. She begins --
DFLers at the Legislature want us all to take a siesta on the proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Once again this year, the amendment -- which would prevent judges from redefining marriage in Minnesota -- passed the House but received no vote in the DFL-controlled Senate.
Ironically, the first misconception that Kersten attacks in her article is not a DFL misconception, but a conservative one: Specifically, that the proposed Defense of Marriage amendment is a response to judicial activism. It is not, nor is it a conservative response to the issue of gay marriage.

In the first case, if the amendment were merely a response to judicial activism it would not attempt to supply a definition of marriage, nor would it be so broad as “Any other relationship shall not be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent,” a phrase that practically begs for judicial review.

If the concern were really activist courts, all that is necessary is an amendment that says state courts shall exercise no jurisdiction over the decisions of the legislature regarding the gender requirements of marriage -- or words to that effect. If that were the language, that would leave the legislature and the people free to decide in the future if the state wants to have gay marriage, but take the courts out of it. That’s what conservatives should support, not an exclusionary amendment.
Minnesotans' opinions on gay marriage have shifted over the past year, but not in the direction that its supporters might wish. In May, a Star Tribune poll found that 52 percent of adults oppose gay legal unions, while 38 percent favor them, an increase in opposition of 10 percentage points in the past year. Across the nation, the trend has been the same.

Nevertheless, supporters of same-sex marriage seem to believe they're on the right side of history. They view the issue through the prism of civil rights, as the 2005 equivalent of getting black Americans out of the back of the bus.
Related to the point above, the feelings of the majority at any given point in time are the proper province of the legislature -- not the courts and not a constitutional amendment that binds the future to a whim of the present. Even if one accepts Kersten’s point that same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue, there is a lesson to learned from the civil rights movement.

A tactic of those opposed to integration and civil rights was to attempt constitutional amendment to thwart judicial integration rulings, which as assuredly as an activist judge’s rulings takes decision-making out of the hands of future legislators. That is not a conservative position.

Same-sex-marriage proponents employ a "commitment" definition of marriage, which sees marriage merely as society's way of giving its stamp of approval to an intimate, lasting relationship between two individuals.

If this is all marriage is about, giving gays and lesbians the right to marry each other is merely extending to homosexuals a right that heterosexuals already have. It's a simple matter of justice.

People who hold the commitment definition of marriage see themselves as an enlightened vanguard and reason that other folks will eventually come to accept same-sex marriage, just as they came to see the injustice of racial discrimination.

Kersten is right on with her analysis and argument. What she misses however is that the “commitment” argument is irrelevant to the conservative political justification for gay marriage. The refutation of it is a logical exercise, but equally irrelevant.
But most Minnesotans don't see the marriage debate as a replay of Selma, Ala., in 1965. They understand the nature and purpose of marriage very differently than same-sex-marriage advocates do.

Marriage -- the union of one man and one woman -- is about much more than individual rights, with only the happiness of two individuals at stake. It's a universal, cross-cultural social institution that is critical to the common good.

Make note here that Kersten is making a conservative argument that I don’t believe she recognizes -- marriage is critical to the common good. In the paragraphs that follow, she backs that contention with support for opposite-sex marriage.
Why does marriage exist? Because sex between men and women makes babies: the next generation. Getting men and women to stay together to raise these children is a tricky business, but the long-term survival of society depends on it.
Men and women tend to complement each other in vital ways. Both common sense and long tradition tell us that marriage is the best way of binding fathers to the mothers of their children, for the benefit of all.

Social science bears out common sense here. Kids with a married mom and dad have the best chance of flourishing on every conceivable measure, from avoiding juvenile delinquency and out-of-wedlock births to forming successful marriages themselves.
Note the word “best” and note the pathologies that marriage helps kids avoid.
Some advocates of same-sex marriage insist that family structure isn't important. So long as a child has support from two loving adults, it doesn't matter if they're a mom and a dad or two moms.

Tell that to Star Parker, a black social commentator with a special interest in our ravaged inner cities, where traditional marriage has broken down. "Most children in the inner city," she says, "have two loving adults: a mom and a grandmother. Two loving adults aren't enough. Kids need a mom and a dad."
Okay, it’s time to make the rubber hit the road on this issue. What is actually being proposed here? The reality is gays exist. Gay couples exist. Gay couples with children exist. That might not be the best environment to raise kids -- two parents of opposite genders is better. No argument. But what are Kersten and Parker proposing?

Should we remove all children from gay households and redistribute them through adoption to opposite-sex families? Should we deny all gay people child custody and guardianship? That’s a logically consistent position although incredibly cruel. But if it's "best"?

Okay, we’re not going to do that. But that doesn’t make gay relationships -- gay relationships with kids -- go away. So where is the benefit to society -- the conservative political reason for state support of marriage -- of denying a percentage of kids the security of a family in which the parents are formally committed to one another?

If social science tells us that “kids with a married mom and dad have the best chance of flourishing on every conceivable measure, from avoiding juvenile delinquency and out-of-wedlock births to forming successful marriages themselves,” then what does it tell us about kids that are denied married parents because the parents are of the same gender? They may not have the "best chance," but wouldn't they have a "better chance" than children whose parents weren't married?

Two opposite-sex parents might be the “best” way to raise children. But unless one advocates removing children from the custody and guardianship of gays, then one is left to explain why it is better to deny those children the protections afforded by married parents that to allow their parents to marry.
But how will Tom and Ed's marriage hurt Sue and Bill's?

Obviously, I won't divorce my husband if same-sex marriage becomes legal. But a radical redefinition of marriage -- recasting it as a matter of "love between individuals" rather than the social institution that preserves the nuclear family -- will change what's been called our "marriage culture," with major consequences for our children and grandchildren.
Kersten is the mark here once again, but once again, the conservative political justification for gay marriage has nothing to do with the rationale that two people love each other. Gay marriage does not destroy the nuclear family, it extends it. Why? Because stable families are good for society.
Society has encouraged marriage with norms and reinforcements because it's hard to do the things that men and women need to do to maintain strong, stable families. It's tough to stay faithful to a spouse, to stick together through the ups and downs of child-rearing. Married couples are much more likely to do these things if they know that society expects them, and if they see that it values their sacrifices and rewards them with unique benefits and reinforcements.
Kersten is absolutely correct here. But if opposite-sex marriage is “hard to do,” doesn’t stand to reason that maintaining a same-sex relationship is equally hard to do? Wouldn’t same-sex couples be much more likely to stick together if they knew that society expects certain behaviors of them -- if they see “that it values their sacrifices and rewards them with unique benefits and reinforcements.” Where is the benefit to society of marginalizing a segment of the population that shares the conservative value of stable, committed relationships?

If we adopt same-sex marriage, we'll be sending our children the message that "family structure doesn't matter" -- that kids can do without moms or dads. Instead of encouraging traditional marriage, we'll be offering them a smorgasbord of "life-style options," and telling them their choices are merely a matter of personal taste. Here's the message that will be reinforced in our schools, on television and in the movies: Society has no special stake in any family form. Do just as you please.

And if society doesn't care what arrangements people choose, why should they strive to stay faithful to a spouse? Why should they get married at all? It's much easier not to tie yourself down.

Here Kersten is confusing the liberal message with the gay reality. Yes, there are gays who support a negative view of traditional family structure, and they are sending that message right now without gay marriage. There are also other liberal “victimization” constituencies sending that message. The message has nothing to do with gay marriage.

On the other hand, there is a significant and growing portion of the gay community -- not the liberal margins but the conservative mainstream -- that desires gay marriage not to destroy the institution (that makes no sense) but because it believes in the traditional values that underlie it. Contrary to Kersten’s prediction, the desire of gays to marry and the effort they are putting in to achieve that end should be a lesson to our children of how valuable a stable committed relationship is. Would people put themselves through the public meat grinder to fight for something they held anything less than valuable and dear?

Today, in fact, the message we are sending to our kids is “You tie yourself down to a committed relationship and pay no attention to those gay people that seem to be having a heckeva lot more fun than you are.”
If same-sex marriage prevails, I suspect we'll see both a decline in marriage and an upsurge in out-of-wedlock births, as Scandinavia has.
I suspect the liberal attitude of Scandinavian countries has more to do with the upsurge in out-of-wedlock births that gay-marriage. But Kersten’s concern is still emotionally valid.

So what do we do?

Isn’t the proper conservative response let’s move slowly. It certainly isn’t beneficial to marginalize a significant portion of the population along with their children, but maybe full marriage isn’t the answer either. Let’s start with some kind of civil union or child protection measures for gay families and see what happens. If the sky does not come crashing down, let’s move a little further. Again -- that is the conservative approach to a reasonable need for change.
Here's what same-sex-marriage supporters should understand: Ordinary Minnesotans don't oppose same-sex marriage because they oppose civil rights. They don't think that believing children need both a mom and a dad puts them in the same category with people who believe the races should have separate bathrooms.

The agenda of traditional-marriage proponents is not negative -- fear or hatred of homosexuals. It's positive -- to protect and preserve marriage as the universal, socially supported institution that keeps mothers and fathers together to care for children.
Fifty/fifty on this argument. Kersten gets points for noting that ordinary Minnesotans (as opposed to “gay” Minnesotans?) don’t oppose same-sex marriage because they oppose civil rights. She might have correctly added that opposing same-sex marriage out of genuine concern does not make them bigots either. She loses points on the fear issue; conservatives are afraid, not necessarily of homosexuality, but of any change -- hence an amendment designed to end debate on the gay-marriage issue, not simply protect legislative authority from the courts.

If Kersten’s argument were truly a positive argument -- a conservative argument -- than while not necessarily accepting that a family headed by same-sex parents was the “best” type of family structure, she would be insisting that same-sex couples and their children deserve the same protection of a universally and socially supported instituion that keeps parents together to care for children. Why? Becasue it's good for society.
Minnesotans believe that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they please. But they don't believe that gays and lesbians have the right to redefine the institution of marriage for everyone else.
(To reinforce the point, gays are “Minnesotans” too.)

My final question would be, do Minnesotans really believe "gays and lesbians have the right to live as they please"?

Does that mean that while Minnesotans have a vested interest in promoting the stability provided to opposite-sex partners through marriage, Minnesotans have no vested interest in whether or not gays and lesbians are promiscuous? That lacking stable relationships they are less productive, less healthy, more depressed and have higher incidences of drug and alcohol abuse -- all the pathologies we associate (as social science generalizations) with unmarried heterosexuals?

In final analysis, Kersten’s argument is really an inverse liberal argument -- we have the power, our values rule. Even accepting the worst case viewpoint that homosexuals are evil people and gay marriage is an abomination in the eyes of God, the true conservative political argument, if one is not going to exterminate gays and/or take their children, is that it is more beneficial to extend the protections and stability of marriage to gays -- not all at once but in increments -- than it is to marginalize gay families and their children and consequently promote the pathologies that marriage is praised for preventing.

Gays -- conservative gays -- do not want to redefine marriage. The want to participate in it. And even if they didn’t, conservatives ought to be encouraging them to do so with the same vigor and for the same reasons we encourage our own children "to settle down and raise a family."

Update: My weekly column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press will discuss the conservative approach to same-sex marriage (Wednesday, June 8). In conjunction, I will post the transcript of my interview with University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter.

Update: The column is now posted here. The Interview with Dale Carpenter is posted here.

Update: Blogdex ranked this post one of the most contagious on the Internet yesterday. Thanks all for stopping by.