Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cycle of Stupidity, Part II

Volokh Conspiracy blogger Todd Zywicki weighs in on the Jane-Mayer inspired Kock brothers kerfuffle. Surprisingly (given that we're talking about a generally conservative-libertarian site), a number of commenters weigh in with support for the Mayer piece. The general thrust of that support? That it's important for people to know these billionaires are supporting free market causes and that (gasp) free market causes may help their business interests. I'll leave it to Zywicki and others to point out the numerous cases where free market ideology works against the interests of big business. What I'm more interested is this notion that any of this matters, that disclosure matters in the idea business ... and that is what we're talking about, the idea business.

The implication by Mayer and everyone who's spoken favorably of her piece is that there's some sort of problem with people with money supporting limited government, free market ideas. It's sort of like saying that we ought to call into the motives of old people who support social security or poor people who support welfare. The larger government gets, the more people are likely to be impacted by it one way or another, and it's just ridiculous to disparage the motivation of people who claim to speak from an ideologically pure perspective based on nothing more than the fact such people could benefit from their favored policies. As I stated in the last post, why should money matter more than the quality of ideas? Why is knowing so much about where ideas might come from more important than the ideas themselves? Once you get into the source disparaging business, there's no turning back to the arena of honest intellectual debate.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cycle of Stupidity

Earlier this week, Reason's Matt Welch brought to my attention what he referred to as a "hit piece" by the New Yorker's Jane Mayer on the very libertarian, ultra wealthy Charles and David Koch and their "secret war on Obama." Read the New Yorker piece, take a look at the links, and read Welch's criticism, because I'll only lay out the basics here:

The New Yorker piece is a conspiracy-oriented, connect the dots, info dump on the Koch brothers and their long history of donating money to libertarian and limited government causes (including the Cato Institute, which they helped to found). Apparently, lower taxes and limited government is good for the bottom line of Koch Industries ... so ... connect the dots. As Matt Welch points out, Mayer refers to left-leaning think tanks as "non-partisan watch-dogs" while free-market think tanks are "part of some covert, nefarious plot." I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

Fast forward to the weekend, where Sunday's New York Times ranthis column by Frank Rich, about the "billionaires bankrolling the tea party." Rich points his readers in the direction of Mayer's New Yorker piece and worries that the "Koch agenda is morphing into the Republican agenda," thanks to the tea parties. (Reason's Matt Welch has an additional response to Rich's piece.)

So where does that leave us? Matt Welch was pretty concise in nailing the think tank double standard and then there's the obvious response that a more free-market, libertarian-leaning government doesn't always serve the interests of big business. But conspiracy theories about following the money and other nuttiness aside, what does all of this say about the debate over the nature of our democratic system of government? Ultimately, not much. However serious a tone Mayer's initial New Yorker piece tries to take, it's an inherently unserious topic. A real hit piece would point out that the policy wonks, economists, and scientists working for, say, the Cato Institute are falsifying data and research in their various endeavors. But because that would be a ridiculous accusation for any legitimate think tank of any political stripe, we instead get to read about the Koch brothers and their funding. This isn't to say there's no value in disclosure, but just as in political campaigns, this sort of intense focus on money only comes at the complete disregard for any discussion of actual ideas.

What we end up with is this, culled from the comments of Frank Rich's Times piece:

Hypothetical questions, and no, I am not naive, I'm just posing the questions.

What do these billionaire and multi-millionaire people want to happen in this country ?

What is their vision ? How do they view this country if everything they want actually takes place ?

Let's assume that all social programs are eliminated.

No more social security or medicare, resulting in millions of seniors becoming indigent. Where do they go ? LIve on the streets and then, when they cannot do that anymore because they're too sick from old age, to some kind of euthanasia program like the death panels that some of you invented to try to kill the healthcare legislation ?

No more welfare (AFDC), which is supposed to be only for children, even if the program has been significantly abused, and no more medicaid, resulting in millions of already lower-income people becoming totally broke and unable to get any health services. Where do they live ? On the street ? And, if they get sick are they turned away from the emergency rooms at the local hospitals ?

Let's assume that there is a change in power in Congress and the new Congress, including incumbent GOP members formerly deaf, dumb and blind about the deficit, and the new Congress absolutely refuses to add to the deficit and insists on balancing the budget.

An anti-deficit platform, at the same time that fighting wars and paying, in the aggregate, trillions of dollars for drones and fighter planes and bombs and cyber-security and every possible military "necessity."

No health care reform (just repeal it). No government regulation of financial institutions (just repeal it). No government regulation of business if it means any barriers to amassing wealth. Death of unionization. No restriction on ownership of handguns, hunting guns or assault weapons. No abortions, but no aid to families with dependent children. No federal funding for any states, for any reason. If social security must survive, then privatize it, so that millions of people can be forced to make investment decisions that they have no desire or capacity to handle, and the government forces them to invest in something, even a money market fund, benefitting Wall Street ?

That's what they want ? That's what will make their lives more wonderful and their bank accounts more bountiful ? That's what will make their vision of America come true ?

With all of their money, why don't they leave, instead of trying so hard to eliminate every single protection and support system that exists to maintain a system that has multiple economic classes ? Seriously. Just leave......go.......buy several islands or take over a small country that has no defenses and no working government and and build your own perfect society. Why not ? Why spend so much money trying to change an entire country when you can so easily go live elsewhere or build a country elsewhere that has the system you so desire ?

Just asking questions, you know? There's absolutely no recognition of the fact that agree or disagree with their conclusions, think tanks do actual work and have very specific policy proposals and recommendations for all aspects of national and local government policy. And there are liberal think tanks, conservative think tanks, and yes, free market libertarian think tanks. But the effect of the Mayer and Rich pieces on some is exactly what I said a real hit piece would be unable to prove: That the other side has no legitimate ideas.

In a way, it's no different from Rush Limbaugh going on the air to explain that Barack Obama hates America and doesn't want the economy to improve. It's part of a two-sided political meme, where the other side is specifically an enemy and not an intellectually equal rival. I could go on and on, but I'm sure my regular readers get the point. The entire point of this blog is to foster discussion and lead my readers in a more libertarian direction based on the strength of ideas. It doesn't matter whether George Bush is a Nazi or Barack Obama is a socialist, what matters, what should matter, are ideas and anyone going to the trouble of convincing you otherwise is not interested in being honest with you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The conservative left

I enjoy reading Matt Yglesias's blog for the same reason I enjoy reading Ezra Klein and any number of other young bloggers from this post-Clinton generation of liberal policy wonks: because they tend to take markets and libertarian arguments seriously. Even when I disagree with their conclusions, they tend to approach domestic policy issues from a reasonably analytical perspective. So it was with great interest as I watched the debate that unfolded on Yglesias's blog this weekend over occupational licensing. It started when Yglesias took the libertarian (or perhaps liberaltarian) position that barber licensing was unnecessary and had perhaps unintended costs that far outweighed the benefits. Ygelesias's leftish readers revolted, some wondering whether he was looking for a date with a Cato staffer, others calling him just plain wrong. It led to a string of posts over the weekend on a variety of licensing issues which are all worth a read:

Barack Obama, Barbering Deregulator
Licensing and Health Care (Which posed the very interesting question of why we can't pay to get our teeth cleaned without the presence of a dentist.)
A Free Market in Legal Services
And finally, Idealogical positioning

I lept into the commeting fray myself this past weekend and was amazed by the ferocity of people's insistence that the government really ought to regulate barbers. When I brought up the fact that local health and safety regulations would apply to any licensed or unlicensed barber, licensing was defended on the grounds that it provided another layer of consumer protection, presumably from lousy haircuts. When I questioned why we needed to license the dude that cuts my hair, but not the guy that makes my sandwich, I was mocked and got some answer about the licensing being for professionals.

A few minor points before I get to my larger one:

1- As a man, I could pay more for a sandwich than a haircut and it's possible that either service could come from a sole proprietor, one of a small number of employees of a sole proprietor, or a an employee of a larger business. And to cut my hair, you need a license, whether you work for the Hair Cuttery, whether you work for Jim's Barber shop, or whether you are Jim the Barber. Yet to handle my food, an activity with seemingly far more health and safety risks, you don't need a license.

2- In the health care licensing post, Yglesias remarked that the need for dentists to present for all teeth cleanings drives up the cost of health care and questioned whether a more free market in dental services would give us lower costs and better dental health. After all, if you could pay for the simple services of a dental hygienist, you could plan on getting your teeth cleaned three or four times a year and you could just see an actual dentist when you actually needed to. Yglesias's commenters balked at the idea: One said we needed to commission studies on the issue, while others worried about the inconvenience of having to go to a separate dentist appointment if the hygienist found a possible cavity. And my reaction was, really? The entire point of markets is to give people choices- if the thought of seeing an unaffiliated hygienist worries you, you could stick with your traditional arrangement. Not one supporter of the status quo could offer an example of how individuals could be harmed by getting a teeth cleaning from an unaffiliated dental hygienist. (And remember now, dental hygienists are licensed as medical professionals and I'm not making the ultra-libertarian argument that they shouldn't be licensed. We're simply asking the question of whether they should be able to do what they're licensed to do without having to work under a dentist.)

My larger point (that it looks like it took awhile to get to) is about the changing nature of political roles. Conservatives became associated with the ideology of free markets and small government because the conservatives of the the early-to-mid 20th century were seeking to conserve those classical liberal traditions. But since the time of FDR, the proponents of larger government have won time and time again, leaving us with the heavily regulated, heavily taxed world where we live today. And that leaves us in the rather interesting spot of free market perspectives as truly radical, while supporters of government are defenders of the status quo. I titled this post "the conservative left" because of the inherently conservative, reactionary nature of Yglesias's commenters. Yglesias titled his last post "ideological positioning," but I tend to see ideology as an intellectual framework that guides policy discussions, not a rigid enforcement of basic principles.

Intellectually speaking, I don't think the left wants to expand government just for the sake of expanding government, but for the sake of helping people and improving people's lives. But just like plenty of tea partiers and self-described conservatives have difficulty describing just what government they'd actually cut, there are far too many folks on the left who take the reverse tea party position of clinging to the existing structure of government no matter how pointless it is (and as Yglesias points out, no matter how many poor people are hurt by that structure.) Ultimately, both conservatism for it's own sake and progress for it's own sake are useless without context and further guiding principles. All other things being equal, maybe it's fair to say you lean towards preserving or altering the status quo, but all things are rarely equal.

What struck me about the defense of barber licensing was how similar it was to the defense we here of drug laws. My argument is always that you very specifically shouldn't decide on the necessity of an established law by considering the fact that the law already exists. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle where bad laws don't get overturned unless they're particularly egregious. The proper way to judge the necessity of a given law is to examine it in a vacuum, a sort of "if we were starting out from scratch" scenario. So the current legality of alcohol and illegality of marijuana is irrelevant in deciding what drug laws make sense, just as the prior existence of barber licensing should be irrelevant in deciding what professions require licensing.

In the vast majority of cases, there tends not to be a good defense of the status quo, precisely because we don't make laws in that sort of logical fashion. What we get are a hodgepodge of special interests and misguided responses to crises, mixed in with well-intentioned legislation. That the rules we wind up with don't always fit together logically isn't a surprise. In fact, given the extent of government regulation in this day and age, it would be shocking if the legislative process produced across the board regulation that fit together logically. The "conservative" reaction to defend government as it exists is misguided precisely because it reactionary and is not based upon any logical principles of how government should work.

I've blogged before about the debate over "epistemic closure" on the right and this may be the equivalent on the left. It's not just a failure to engage "the other side" but a failure to engage the intellectually curious on one's own side. It's obvious (as in the immigration debate) that the failure to engage can be at times a blatant disengagement of reality. But the sort of pernicious failure to engage by Yglesias's commenters is perhaps even worse, a rejection of logic with the facade of reasoned argument.

I tend to get worked up over these issues, no matter how small, where the empirical facts seem to dictate a logical choice. It's why (on much larger issues) I have problems with conservatives who claim to favor small government, but support a bloated, inefficient military and a byzantine immigration bureaucracy. It's why I have trouble with the inconsistency of alcohol being legal while marijuana is not, when marijuana is an equally dangerous if not less dangerous drug. And it's why I have trouble with the argument that my barber, who would have to be extremely negligent to harm me, requires government licensing, but my sandwich dude, who could get me sick by forgetting to wash his hands, does not.

If you want to take the position that drugs should be restricted based upon their relative level of danger, so be it, and we can debate that relative level of danger. Similarly, if you want want to set a relatively low bar for what fields should require government licenses, then let's debate what that bar should be, but you can't even have that debate when peoples position is to support the ad hoc system of licensing that currently exists.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Budgets, part I

Reason's Matt Welch asks Can we at least have some elementary journalism in budget-cut scare stories? in regards to this New York Times article from the weekend. The Times piece tells us "Governments go to Extremes at the Downturn Wears On," highlighting Colorado Springs decision to cut costs by turning off street lights. Welch is clearly driven crazy by the same thing that drives me crazy. Can we have some numbers please:

All snickering about the NYT's slant aside, it strikes me as an elementary journalistic principle–whether we're talking about your local daily, a magazine of opinion, or certainly The Paper of Record–that if you're going to wrap even a heavily anecdotal feature around what is essentially a number (the total budget for various governmental units), you would find room within 2,350 words to, I dunno, INCLUDE THE GODDAMNED NUMBER.

This is what happens when you close school for 17 FridaysI mean, sure, we learn that Colorado Springs "shut off a third of its 24,512 streetlights this winter to save $1.2 million on electricity," and cut its police force from 687 to 643, but aside from that down-to-the-last-digit specificity we learn nothing about the city's (or even its police force's) budget, and how it compares to one, two, five, or 10 years ago. We read on three separate occasions that the state of Hawaii closed school down for 17 Fridays, but the only clue we have about either the state's or the education department's budget is the aforementioned $110 million in stimulus money. I really don't mean to sound like a dick when I say that this kind of basic numerical avoidance wouldn't have passed muster at my college newspaper.

More indestructible than Jason?Please note that I'm not asking for any journalistic outlet to agree with my POV on government spending here. In fact, it's quite possible that the inclusion of actual budget numbers in an article about the effect of budget cuts would rally readers in opposition to the kind of cold-hearted budget-slashing I prefer. But if you don't give readers even that much information to decide by themselves, how do you expect them to even begin to have an intelligent conversation about, say, which elements of state and local budgets have been swelling in recent years even while the quality of services has not swelled along for the ride?

Every single time a budget debate comes up in the context of local government, some politician will inevitably make a statement that unless some proposed tax increase passes, the municipality will be forced to make cuts to essential services. It never fails to amaze me that this tactic of putting essential services on the chopping block is not scrutinized.

I have a thought that left, right, and libertarian alike, the vast, vast majority of Americans don't know what their government does and more importantly, how their government pays for it. This is true for each and every level of government and it poses a severe handicap for anyone who claims to have an opinion on what the government should and shouldn't do. I doubt many supporters of more stimulus to help end the rescission (including most economists and policy wonks) have poured through the federal budget and decided that every federal currently being budgeted is too valuable to be reallocated for stimulus purposes. Nor have the vast majority of tea partiers and supporters of limited government bothered to pick out what specific aspects of government could be cut that would actually make a difference to our large budget deficits.

I don't particularly mean this as a criticism of anyone. The biggest problem is that the information revolution which has taken over our private lives has not had a parallel movement in government. And yes, this is a libertarian critique, because there's no reason that the very same information revolution which has enabled us to instantaneously search for every actor in every movie ever made would not enable the government to provide us with easy access to the details of what it does, what it spends, and how it spends it. My wife has access to Quickbooks online for our law practice - Why can't we, as taxpayers, have similar access to the most intimate budget decisions of government at every level? My libertarian critique is that government is a lumbering dinosaur which is years if not decades behind the rest of the country, but whether you're a libertarian, a conservative, or a liberal, I can't imagine anyone has a legitimate reason to oppose more openness in how our government actually works.

Until that point, we're all just dancing around the real issues. The left loves to list all the wonderful things we get for our tax dollars, but even if you love each and every little thing the government does, that doesn't mean we're getting our money's worth. And the big concern with the tea party movement is that for whatever political clout it has to oppose new spending, it has none to make any significant cuts to our current budget. The solution is for government to embrace the information age and become more accountable, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

What Does Gay Marriage Mean For You?

As most of you know by now, a Federal Judge in California has ruled in favor of overturning the state's Proposition 8, which prohibited gay marriage, on Equal Protection grounds and social conservatives are quite obviously upset. Legally speaking, I don't think it's an easy case and I've probably blogged in the past about the weaknesses of the Equal Protection argument as applied to gay marriage. But Reason's Jacob Sullum had an excellent post about a month ago in regards to a a federal decision in Massachusetts about federal treatment of gay marriage and I just have to echo his sentiments. The post is titled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Equal Protection Argument for Gay Marriage" and this bit below just nails it for me.

But you know what? Screw them. I am tired of defending the constitutional principles that social conservatives use to restrict liberty, because they so rarely return the favor by supporting those same principles when the effect is to expand liberty. When a supposedly principled originalist like Antonin Scalia can endorse a ridiculously broad reading of the Commerce Clause because the case happens to involve pot, why should I stick my neck out by arguing that the people who wrote and ratified the Fifth and 14th amendments never imagined they were guaranteeing equal treatment for homosexual couples? Of course they didn't, because the very notion of gay marriage would have been incomprehensible to them. But the 14th amendment says no state may "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," and the Supreme Court has long read the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause as imposing a similar restriction on the federal government. Treating all married couples equally, without regard to their sexual preference, seems to me (and Ted Olson!) like a straightforward application of this principle to a new situation, one that the authors of these provisions could not have foreseen, just as they did not foresee television (which is nevertheless protected by the First Amendment) or wiretaps (which are nevertheless governed by the Fourth Amendment).

Is this a constitutional rationalization for my pre-existing policy preferences? Yes, but I think it's a pretty good one. I would much prefer that the government get out of the business of certifying marriage altogether. But as long as more than 1,000 provisions of federal law hinge on marital status, the government will have to decide which couples qualify, and basic fairness demands that sexual preference play no role in that determination. What legitimate government interest can possibly justify preventing the longtime spouse of a veteran from being buried alongside him, simply because both of them are men? This sort of thing really is shameful.

Some people say that down the road we'll look back on this era as no different as race relations in the 50's and 60's, but I wonder if it won't be quite so dramatic. Yes there are a lot of homophobes out there, but I'd wager that most gay marriage opponents are truly concerned with preserving tradition and are just resistant to change. I think the vast majority of us will look back at the debate over gay marriage and wonder what the big deal was.

What's really interesting to think about is what this decision (and the Arizona immigration law decision) mean for the future of the Tea Party movement. It's easy to stay on-point when health care, taxes, and spending are the big issues, but now gay marriage is being pushed to the forefront. I think the tea partiers truly are diverse, ideologically speaking. I'm sure there are those who want to crack down on illegal immigration and activist judges who support gay marriage, but I also imagine there are plenty of those who actually support gay marriage and more open immigration policy, along with those who just plain don't care.

I know what the Rush Limbaugh's and Sean Hannity's of the world are going to say, but I'm more curious to hear what self-appointed Tea Party leader Glenn Beck has to say. I'm on record calling Beck nuts and a conspiracy theorist, but his anti-government rhetoric makes him all the more interesting on a subject like this. It'd go a long way to defining what he really is, politically speaking.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

What The Left Misses

Ezra Klein ponders whether business owners hate taxes and regulation because they lean Republican or if they lean Republican because they hate taxes and regulation.

As you can see, business owners are the most Republican occupational group, while managers are hot on their heels. Workers trend more Democratic.

I don't want to explain that away too much. A lot of these folks are Republicans because they hate taxes and regulations, and they hate taxes and regulations because they believe them to be bad for their businesses. As you might expect, their Washington trade groups are even more conservative, and are single-minded in their determination to weaken regulations and cut taxes.

What gets difficult in all this is separating things that are actually hurting businesses from things that Republican-leaning business owners, for reasons of ideology or personal self-interest, simply don't like. And because there's virtually no data on this question, there's really no way to tell the two apart.

Unfortunately, there's no data on the subject, so I guess we'll never know. Or we could just use some common sense. My father's a small business owner and I've been involved in the business for over a decade. Technically, I'm a small business owner with my startup legal practice. And I can tell you from personal experience that every little tax and every regulation add to the costs and time of running a business. The idea that a business owner might be for higher taxes or more regulation if not for his or her political allegiances is just plain asinine. Business owners aren't casting ballots because of gay marriage, or because of wars in Iraq or Afganistan, or because of Barack Obama's birth certificate. Business owners care about their business because that's their livelihood and how they support their families. They lean republican because they're hoping for lower taxes and less regulation and you shouldn't need data to tell you that.

Ezra also asks the question of why businessmen are nervous about investing more in the current economic climate:

But the why of it is, well, complicated. Answers differ from one businessman to the next, and from one survey of businesses to the next. A lot of the answers are in tension with one another: They want to see the deficit brought down, and they also want the tax cuts extended. They need unemployment to come down, but they want to see Washington back off. They want health care to cost less, but they don't want government to touch it.

Ezra sees tension, but I see more common sense. Deficits and taxes could both be lowered through spending cuts, which, coincidentally, could all be accomplished through the dismantling of the regulatory state. And sure they want the economy to improve and health care costs to go down, but that doesn't mean they want Washington to do it. Even if you're of the mind that Washington could do something positive about unemployment and health care costs, that doesn't mean you'd be of the opinion that such fixes wouldn't impose additional costs on you as a business owner.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that massive regulatory expansions like the new health care bill have businesses terrified of expanding. Taxes are relatively straight forward things, but until regulations actually hit, it's difficult to near impossible to calculate the costs of compliance and this holds true for all taxes and regulation. And every business is different. That one business would find compliance relatively inexpensive does not mean that another business, even one in the same industry, would find compliance inexpensive. Government may have a top down approach, but businesses do things differently which is exactly why you get innovation in the free market system.

How Close Is Too Close

I'd echo Will Wilkinson's response to the overblown reaction to the "Ground Zero mosque."

The silly controversy over the downtown mosque is excellent evidence that the conservative movement has become obsessed to the point of derangement with a right-wing version of identity politics that sees everything through the lens of the assumption that American identity is under seige. The modus operandi of the populist right is patriotic semiotics gone wild. 9/11 was a Great Awakening and Ground Zero is a sacred scar representing the sacrifice of those thousands who died in fire in order to shake the rest of us into recognition of the great existential threat to the American Way of Life. To refuse to resist the placement of a mosque next to the grave of those martyred in the Great Awakening is to fail to have heard the call, to fail to understand the battle now underway, to complacently acquiesce to the forces slowly transforming America into something else, into something unAmerican, a place for some other kind of people, a place not worth fighting for. It is to, as they say, “let the terrorists win.”

I've been surprised at the extent to which otherwise reasonable conservatives have strained logic to justify the position that the Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero is "distasteful." One of the commenters from Wilkinson's piece cites the example of a Christian center near Auschwitz and the other example is that of an anti-government (perhaps a libertarian) museum going in next door to the site of the Oklahoma City bombing.

There are problems with both of those examples, but an even more pressing issue is this idea of space and just how far these "scared" areas should extend. Is a mile okay? How about half a mile? Or several blocks? No one is suggesting that a mosque be built at ground zero, so what we're talking about here is space adjacent to ground zero. If your argument is that x amount of space should be set aside as a memorial, so be it, whatever you want that memorial to be. But from what I understand, the space in question is an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory and the issue isn't about how much space to set aside for a memorial, but what's acceptable in this space near Ground Zero. What I have trouble with is the idea that a mosque is somehow offensive, but a Best Buy would be perfectly acceptable.

Virtually everyone agrees that Auschwitz should remain a solemn memorial, but that doesn't mean that a church built nearby the memorial would be any more offensive than a Starbucks. Something has to be there, at some point past the limits of the memorial and there'd be nothing wrong with a church, a mosque, a Best Buy, or a Starbucks. The Oklahoma City example is a bit more compelling, if only because it provides an interesting parallel between Timothy McVeigh's perversion of anti-government sentiment and the 9-11 attackers perversion of religion. As a libertarian, I'd probably have a problem if people complained that a museum celebrating the limited government legacy of say Thomas Jefferson, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman was objectionable near the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Because of the location, it does matter what the 9-11 mosque is all about. If it's a forward-looking mosque that preaches tolerance and works together with other religious groups in the city, I have trouble seeing what the objectionable aspect is without indulging in bigotry. If this was a mosque that preached anti-American rhetoric and expressed any sort of sympathy for radical Islam, well, then you've got a damn good reason for finding the plans offensive.

As we all learned in elementary school (or at least we did when I was in school), the very definition of prejudice means that your prejudging without having all the specifics at your finger tips. The worst part of this criticism is that it come based only on general impressions and not in regards to those individuals who are actually behind the project. I usually disagree with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (whom Wilkinson notes is supportive of the mosque) on just about everything, but he's always an adept politician and he's in the right here. I'd have trouble believing he'd be supportive of this plan if there were unsavory elements with questionable backgrounds involved.