27 March 2008

Spitzer and Prostitution: Hypocrisy and Humor

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 14, 2008

There is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy and humor in the Eliot Spitzer debacle. For starters, it’s hard to know who’s more hypocritical: Spitzer or the Democrats.

First, consider the hypocrisy of Spitzer. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a $1,000-an-hour prostitute who went by the name Ashley Alexandra Dupré and worked for a prostitution ring called the Emperors Club VIP. According to newspaper reports, Spitzer had seven or eight liaisons with other prostitutes over six months and had paid more than $15,000 for these hookups. According to various reports, Spitzer paid up as much as $80,000 for prostitutes over last several years during which time he was the attorney general and governor. In the last one, he stayed at the fancy Mayflower Hotel under the name “George Fox” (one of his donors) and his tryst ended a few minutes into Valentine’s Day.

As a prosecutor, Spitzer aggressively pursued prostitution. For example, he vigorously pursued a Staten Island prostitution racket and got the ringleader to plead to a 2-6 year sentence, induced in part by Spitzer and company’s threat to push for a harsher sentence. Given how aggressively he prosecuted this case, his behavior seems inconsistent.

Spitzer was a disgusting person before he won the governorship. His campaign against Wall Street was characterized by public accusations that tanked a company’s stock (for example, Merrill Lynch’s stock sunk by $5 billion after one set of charges) and then led to settlements that generated massive publicity for him. This method of avoiding trial allowed the people he labeled felons to walk free. This trial by press release allowed him to reap publicity as “The Sheriff of Wall Street.” He was able to bully these companies because of a New York law, the Martin Act, which gives the New York attorney general powers that other attorney generals merely dream about. As Alan Reynolds of the CATO Institute points out, this 1921 law allows the attorney general to subpoena any document from anyone doing business in the state, denies persons called into questioning the right to counsel and the right against self-incrimination, and does not require the attorney general to show that the defendant intended to defraud anyone or actually did defraud anyone.

Spitzer had been part of an earlier scandal when New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo criticized his administration for ordering the police to keep close tabs on the whereabouts of New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno when he traveled with police escort. These records were intended to cause Bruno political damage. It is unquestionably more dangerous to the democratic process and government integrity to have the governor’s staff using the police as a political weapon than to have a governor paying a prostitute.

Second, consider the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party. Many of the same prissy little state officials and Democratic Party members who wanted Spitzer to resign opposed the impeachment and conviction of President Bill Clinton. If the difference were that Spitzer paid his woman and Clinton didn’t, this would not support throwing out only the first. Of course, this was not the only difference. Clinton also committed acts of perjury, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. His administration then followed that up with legal claims that often didn’t pass the laugh test. In contrast, Spitzer at most probably broke the Mann Act (The United States White-Slave Act of 1910) and one or two petty and privacy-invading laws about the ways in which you can pay others. The former is an outdated and almost never used law that prohibits the transportation of a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. This sloppy statute has at times been used to prosecute men for transporting mistresses across state lines, employers for driving prostitutes home after a vacation, and polygamist Mormons for transporting their wives across state lines. One wonders whether lifelong Democrats should be prohibited from teaching math or logic.

In addition, the Democrats have a long history of electing adulterers to high office. In the Twentieth Century, five of the seven Democratic President were adulterers (Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton). Even their unsuccessful Presidential nominees show a penchant for adultery, see Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, and the Kennedy boys Ted and Robert. When the Kennedys came out in support of Barack Obama on the basis that he was the most similar to JFK, no one mentioned the latter’s use of prostitutes. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) left a woman to drown when he drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts and yet in 1980 he was seriously considered for the Democratic presidential nomination. Even Democratic patron saint Martin Luther King Jr. was a serial adulterer. Given this history, Captain Renault in Casablanca would be shocked, shocked at Spitzer’s behavior.

More fundamental than the fact that Spitzer and President Clinton’s defenders are disgusting hypocrites is the fact that the outrage was misplaced. I am unaware of any evidence that committing adultery or hiring prostitutes tends to make a person less effective as a governor or official. Many Presidential scholars view the above Presidents favorably. In fact, I find it far more disturbing that someone would reject evolution or play a role in an administration that was plagued by an array of political scandals. Examples of the latter include Hillary’s presence in the administration in which illegal Chinese campaign funds were vacuumed up, the IRS was misused, and the administration sold pardons. Somehow this wanton sleaziness doesn’t disqualify Hillary, but a dalliance with a prostitute disqualifies Spitzer. Her marriage to someone has been plausibly accused of rape (see Newsweek writer Michael Isikoff’s evaluation of Juanita Broaddrick’s charges) apparently doesn’t disqualify her either. The Democrat mantra appears to be that its leaders can have whatever sex they want, even rape-sex, so long as money wasn’t involved. Apparently, that’s just too capitalistic.

Spitzer even had the common decency to not to pursue satisfaction in a public restroom (see Sen. Larry Craig, R-ID) or do meth with her (see pastor Ted Haggard’s affairs with a gay male prostitute). That should have counted for something.

A sad feature of this is how little discussion there has been of the fact that prostitution should be legal. Because persons have moral rights to have sex with whom they want and to give money to whom they choose, the combining of these acts trivially doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. In addition, the transaction involves a person’s right to control her body, precisely the same fundamental right that protects women’s right to an abortion and medical patients’ right not to have medication forced down their throat. In addition, at least one study made it clear that for some women it is not clear that it is an irrational choice. A recent study by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh found that prostitutes made $27 an hour, although they run serious risks from violence and unprotected sex. The fact that most citizens disapprove of it is no more relevant than is their disapproval of sodomy, the Mormon Church, or drinking on the Sabbath.

Eliot Spitzer was a terrible New York State attorney general and was well on his way to being an equally terrible governor. New Yorkers who voted for him showed the same sort of good sense that has resulted in New York being the 2nd-highest-taxed state in the country and the one with perhaps the most dysfunctional legislature. However, kicking out Spitzer for prostitution was unwarranted. It did, however, point out his hypocrisy and the child-like inconsistency of far too many Democrats.

12 March 2008

Political Correctness at SUNY Buffalo

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 1, 2008

Recently, there has been an uproar over the presence of a philosopher, Michael Levin, who spoke at a philosophy conference in Buffalo. The history to the fight and the behavior of the SUNY Buffalo philosophy department is a window into political correctness in academia. I should note that I have worked closely with two of the persons involved in the case: Michael Levin and Randall Dipert.

Michael Levin is a well-known and extremely accomplished philosopher who teaches at the City College of New York (CCNY). His publishing record exceeds that of any philosopher in Western New York, although others such as the SUNY Buffalo’s Randy Dipert and SUNY Fredonia’s Raymond Belliotti also have impressive records. Levin has a sea of publications, including a significant number in the best philosophy journals in the world (for example, Journal of Philosophy and Philosophy and Public Affairs) and a book with Oxford University Press, the field’s best.

Michael McDonald of the Center for Individual Rights, between 1987 and 1990 recounted how Levin wrote three non-scholarly articles in the New York Times, Quadrant (an Australian journal), and the American Philosophical Association Proceedings arguing that (1) white store owners may take rational steps to avoid being victimized by black criminals and (2) that there is evidence in support of the claim that racial groups differ in IQ. In the 22 years in which he taught at CCNY, McDonald pointed out, Levin had taught more than 3,000 students. No one had ever complained to the university authorities that his speech, conduct, or grading patterns were discriminatory. In addition, his teaching evaluations were strong.

Mcdonald described how over the objections of its own Faculty Senate and many academic organizations, the College formed a committee to determine whether to revoke Levin’s tenure (protected status given to veteran faculty). In 1990, the Dean (Paul Sherwin) created an alternative section to Levin’s introductory class for students who did not want to take his class. This had never been done before at CCNY. The department chairperson (Charles Evans) protested the creation of this shadow class on the grounds that it was immoral, unethical, and an unwarranted interference with his powers as a department chairperson. The District Court enjoined both policies because they infringed on Levin’s First Amendment rights. This case received nationwide attention because it was a clear instance how the politically correct in academia were trampling on free speech. As a side note, campus speech codes (including the one at Fredonia) are another indication of this problem.

McDonald pointed out that the case was made even more absurd by the college’s refusal to go after Dr. Leonard Jeffries, the chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department at CCNY. In class, McDonald noted, Jeffries gave out booklets arguing that the skin pigment melanin gives blacks intellectual superiority over whites. He also taught his students that white persons are “ice people,” who are greedy and materialistic, while black people are “sun people” who are loving and communal. Outside of class, he argued that the Jews financed the slave trade and in Hollywood had teamed up with the Italian mafia to portray blacks in a degrading manner in the movies.

Levin was invited to participate in the October 2007 Philosophy of Biology Conference that was held at the Center for Inquiry in Buffalo. On Friday, September 28, 2007, three SUNY Buffalo graduate students (Bethany Delecki-Earns, Christopher Buckman, and William D’Alessandro) wrote a letter to the SUNY Buffalo paper, Spectrum, saying of Levin’s position that it is “immoral, philosophically and scientifically without value, and aims directly to underwrite the unhappiness of countless human beings.” They further claimed that Levin’s books “do not swell the sea of honest scholarship by a drop” and that “he did not deserve an invitation to speak.” That day, Professors Dipert and Smith were worried enough about protests enough to hire Amherst police officers to monitor the conference. Their fears were not without warrant. During the CCNY uproar, the district court found that people disrupted Levin’s class with intimidating and bullying behavior. The conference took place the day after the letter appeared in the paper.

Three days later (October 2, 2007), the philosophy department chair at the SUNY-Buffalo, John Kearns weighed in. He said, “[Levin’s] demeaning and inflammatory remarks don’t represent scientific knowledge or sound scholarship, and constitute a sufficient reason for leaving him out. I am entirely in sympathy with the letter published in last Friday’s Spectrum …” Jorge Gracia, the Samuel P. Capen Chair and SUNY Distinguished Professor, at SUNY Buffalo also noted that “[G]iven Mr. Levin’s history, it should not have been surprising to them that objections to the invitation were voiced.” On one account, the philosophy department divided on the issue of whether Levin deserved an invitation. Against his presence were some of the tenured faculty and four graduate students (including the three who wrote the letter). For his presence were Dipert, Smith, Baumer, some of the untenured faculty, and some of the other graduate students. The difference between the older and newer faculty is an interesting one, although I’m not clear what explains it.

The position of the opposed graduate students and tenured faculty was poorly thought out. First, regardless of whether one agrees with his conclusions, Levin’s work on race and gender is unquestionably excellent and some of the most interesting philosophical work on this topic in the last thirty years. It is probably the best philosophical discussion of the claims that racial differences are in part genetic, that the well-documented differences in IQ are at least in part genetic, and that this has implications for policy and behavior. Some graduate students might lack the sophistication to follow Levin’s arguments but more is expected of senior faculty at a large research university.

Second, the notion that organizers of a conference on the philosophy of biology who invite a speaker endorse all the speaker’s views is silly. In philosophy, it is standard operating procedure for faculty to invite speakers to present arguments with which they disagree.

Third, the graduate students’ letter was weak. In addition, to underestimating Levin’s work, they pointed out that his proposed talk on innateness gives arguments for “ontogenetic fixity” of major human traits. They then noted that “at great reduction,” this is “used to explain the supposed inferiority of women and non-whites …” It is hard to follow their points because “ontogenetic fixity” just refers to genetic inheritability and this is a common notion in biology (for example, this is why some persons have blue eyes). Because it is not clear if Levin is alleged to have committed the sins of reduction or explaining inferiority, the graduate students manage to defame Levin while still having wriggle room. In any case, Levin’s talk was well done and interesting (I heard it).

This pattern is a common one in academia. The radical left who dominate the faculty and administration at many state universities use an array of techniques, including discrimination in hiring, promotion, and speaking-invitations, to silence opposing views. To sort this mess out, the SUNY-Buffalo faculty and administration should have a public debate between Levin and a senior SUNY-Buffalo philosopher on whether genetics plays a role in explaining the physical or mental differences between races. I am sure that that it would be both informative and good theater. Let’s see whose ideas survive robust debate.