Letters

Spring 2010
Sponsored by Somebody

To the editor:
I’m still not convinced [Bradley A. Smith, “In Defense of Political Anonymity,” Winter 2010]. Campaign contributions large enough to grab access (at a minimum) and influence are the preserve only of the rich and of corporations. Whether or not there is an airtight, demonstrable connection between large contributions and political influence, there is no need to offer such an obvious avenue to potential corruption. And even those anonymous writers of The Federalist Papers were well aware that the wealthy can exercise a disproportionate effect on polities and need to be reined in. If the floor threshold for disclosure needs raising, so be it. But there is a clear public interest in being able to see who is making large political contributions. Ask yourself: Would you be calmly content to know that George Soros had decided to inject, say, $1 billion anonymously to sway an election? Or that Microsoft had decided to put billions into anonymously pushing for the election or appointment of judges and SEC personnel who it figured would be kind to its point of view? Remembering, of course, that anonymity is protection from public view; the beneficiaries will know well who is buttering their bread.

Howard Isaacs
Brooklyn, NY

Bradley A. Smith replies:
Americans have spent most of our history not knowing who was contributing to political campaigns. People did not know who contributed to the campaigns of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, or John F. Kennedy, or to the Senate campaigns of Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, or the other giants of that chamber. In fact, few Americans really pay any attention to disclosure information today. Would I be content to know that George Soros injected $1 billion into an election? Well, as it is, I know now that he’s injected millions into elections, and it doesn’t bother me terribly; nor would it bother me terribly not to know this. I look at the candidate.

Mr. Isaacs’s hypothetical is, in any case, unrealistic: no corporation or individual in U.S. history has ever injected anything remotely close to $1 billion into a campaign. He also ignores the type of natural remedy that might exist. The injection of such large sums would surely spark news articles: Who is funding candidate X’s ad blitz? The public could then discount the message as it saw fit.

Now, maybe a $1 billion (or even $10 million, or $1 million) contribution should be disclosed. The point is that, as in most of life, there are costs as well as benefits. At the present time, we are nowhere near such disclosure thresholds. Rather, disclosure is enforced in many states at just a few dollars, and, if anything, the pressure is on to go still lower. If Mr. Isaacs agrees with me that such thresholds are far too low (as he implies that perhaps he does), I hope he will join me in pushing for more realistic thresholds, rather than fight me on the basis of some distant hypothetical.

That Murderous Town

To the editor:
Thank you for accurately and insightfully writing about the hard realities of Chicago’s black communities [Heather Mac Donald, “Chicago’s Real Crime Story,” Winter 2010]. As a Chicago police officer who has spent the past year working in the city’s most violent neighborhoods, I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing it is to read the brave words of a journalist who has obviously bothered to get her hands dirty by interacting with the members of these communities and observing, firsthand, the complete breakdown of values. These power-hungry community groups and pastors have poisoned an entire group of people (their own group of people) by making them think that they are being singled out in their communities based on skin color. There is no demon or enemy left to fight but themselves, and that’s exactly what they’re doing—killing one another. It has come to the point where speaking to most of these young people is about as fruitful as banging your head against a stone wall. All they know is violence and anger and revenge for what has been done to them. They don’t know right from wrong, let alone anything about responsibility and duty and honor; yet they blame the government, the police, and whites. They run from the police, fight them, and shoot at them. Even fear of capture or death does not seem to quell the fury in these neighborhoods. This is the devolution of human beings before our very eyes. And these “poor schoolchildren” are becoming the most accomplished criminals. The schools are akin to free-range prisons.

Sorry, I just got off work.

We never get such honest journalism here in our own backyard—too much fear from the powers that be (Daley and the gang), I suppose. Thank you again for your honesty, bravery, and well-composed words.

Jessica M. Brady
Chicago, IL

To the editor:
I greatly admire your work and wholeheartedly agree with your analyses, with the following exception: much is made of the “disappearing” father, while too little is made of the promiscuous mother. Unless all these mothers are being raped (including statutory rape), there’s a whole lot of consensual sex going on. Yet I hear nothing of the mothers’ responsibilities to educate their daughters regarding the almost certain consequences of unprotected, premarital sex. Am I wrong? Did the advent of birth control never happen? What you overlook, I think, is that these girls want to get pregnant, repeatedly. Stop that, and the absence of the would-have-been fathers is irrelevant.

Bryan Heathcotte
Glendale, AZ

To the editor:
I pulled up your article hoping to read why community organizing has not stemmed Chicago’s youth violence. Instead what I get is that the current president of the United States is to blame. How dare you! What about all the other community activists who were working on the same issues during the same period—why weren’t their names mentioned? Has it become public policy to blame President Obama for every failure that has taken place over the last 20 years? The youth violence in Chicago and other urban areas is not about the president’s community organizing; it is about the economy, the lack of parenting skills, and the overindulgent welfare system that will pay a man who is perfectly capable of working $100 a month and give him $200 in food stamps. Where is the justice in that? Urban problems exist because of the disproportion of education funds allocated to inner-city schools, schools where the teachers are underpaid and overworked.

Youth violence exists because cities would rather spend money on making sure that their sports facilities are state-of-the-art or that their downtown areas are suitable for out-of-town visitors. None of that money is invested in inner-city youth programs or programs that will give these children something to do or to look forward to.

Ms. Mac Donald, I don’t know what your nationality is, but I am African-American and have lived in the inner city all my life. I have watched the city that I love decay before my eyes, and I take full responsibility for any part that I played. But to blame people who were trying to make a difference, people who more than likely had limited or no resources to make a difference, is irresponsible and is more than likely based on your dislike of the president and not on the facts.

Pamela Johnson
Indianapolis, IN

Heather Mac Donald replies:
Pamela Johnson provides a reprise of the very problem I was describing in my article. She discusses the article without once mentioning its subject matter—the inner-city epidemic of fatherlessness—just as Obama spent four years purporting to address community problems on Chicago’s Far South Side without once acknowledging the family breakdown at their core. As I stated in the piece, Obama was hardly unique in his blindness to the scourge of father absence; to the contrary, he was emblematic not only of what Ms. Johnson calls “all the other community activists who were working on the same issues during the same period” but of policymakers to this day. Chicago and every other big city invest plenty in “inner-city youth programs,” pace Ms. Johnson. But unless society figures out a way to revalorize the role of fathers in child rearing, we could give every child his own personal social worker without denting the anarchy to which the systemic absence of fathers and marriage inevitably leads.

I agree in part with Bryan Heathcotte: to the extent that females get pregnant without any expectation that the father of their child will stick around to rear the child, they are equally complicit in the breakdown of marriage. We can thank elite feminists for this widespread notion that fathers are an optional app for the extraordinarily difficult challenge of raising self-disciplined, law-abiding children.

Seize and Desist

To the editor:
I don’t disagree with much of what Nicole Gelinas has written [“Eminent Domain as Central Planning,” Winter 2010]. But while New York law might require a finding of “blight” before the property can be taken from a private owner and transferred to another, also private, owner, the U.S. Supreme Court, in interpreting the just compensation clause, has no such requirement. In the Kelo case, the New London authorities never even claimed that the residential neighborhood was “blighted.” Apparently, that wasn’t necessary under Connecticut law, nor did the Court see it as necessary. Similarly, in a previous case arising out of land held by the Dole company in Hawaii (which the state desired to turn into residential housing that would be privately owned), neither Hawaii law nor the Supreme Court required that the land at issue, which was productive crop land, be deemed “blighted.”

Also, Gelinas describes how the meaning of “public use” was stretched in the 1930s. But colonial and early state laws allowed landowners to build dams for mills on their property, flooding (and effectively taking) the land of their upstream neighbors. Similarly, privately owned mining companies were given the right to use eminent domain. And, of course, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, canal companies—and then railroad companies, even when privately owned—were allowed to use eminent-domain powers by the states and the federal government, and courts upheld it.

Ruddyturnstone
New York, NY

To the editor:
I agree with you, without reservation, that eminent domain must be curbed. But I question that there is much of a “deeper problem: government officials’ belief that central planning is superior to free-market competition.” I doubt that most government officials think that deeply. They are opportunists without guiding principles. They want advantage for powerful constituencies that will help them stay in office with campaign contributions and other assistance. I believe it’s that simple.

David Sucher
Seattle, WA

Nicole Gelinas replies:
Mr. Ruddyturnstone correctly notes that the U.S. Constitution, at least as the Supreme Court has interpreted it, holds states to an eminent-domain standard that is so loose as to be nearly nonexistent. However, in the Court’s 2005 Kelo ruling, it said that states are free to hold themselves to a higher standard. Many have done so. New York theoretically does hold itself to a higher standard. But in the Atlantic Yards case in Brooklyn, as well as in previous cases, courts have not upheld that principle. Mr. Ruddyturnstone is also correct to say that creative use and abuse of eminent domain existed before the twentieth century. However, government’s rampant abuse of “blight” and other factors to clear “slum” neighborhoods that governments coveted began then and has expanded since.