Eminent Domain

Letters to the Editor

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Who Killed Real ID?

It was a delight reading about the triumphs of Karen Johnson, Jeff Wood, and the others in their fight against Real ID ("Who Killed Real ID?," October.) For those who love freedom, lately the news seems to be nothing but bad; this was a refreshing change of pace.

In Liberty and Freedom, David Hackett Fischer made the point that liberty has risen and fallen throughout American history. People allow violations on their freedoms for only so long before their tolerance runs out, and then the tide begins to turn. Perhaps Real ID's demise marks our coming turn.

Emily Cowan
Austin, TX

Burn the "Speculators"!

"Burn the 'Speculators'!" (October) ignores recent evidence validating the idea that index speculation has contributed to volatility in the price of crude oil. Between January and May, institutional investors poured more than $60 billion into the major commodity indices, pushing oil prices up by more than $33 a barrel. Since July investors have pulled out about $39 billion, reducing barrel prices to near $90. These unprecedented price swings in just two months prove the current market structure is severely broken. The quantitative evidence related to supply and demand fundamentals, the value of the dollar, increases in Asian demand, hostilities in Nigeria, Gulf Coast hurricanes, or other variables do not account for either the price run-up in the first six months of the year or the 35 percent drop in the price of oil since the peak was reached in July.

Futures markets were designed to facilitate price discovery and to reduce price volatility, yet the addition of billions of dollars by large, price-insensitive investment funds has dangerously undermined these principles. A fair regulatory framework that reduces the role of index speculation is necessary to ensure that the price of a barrel of oil is based on global supply and demand, rather than investor exuberance. Markets work, but rules matter.

John Heimlich
Chief Economist, Air Transport Association
Washington, DC

Zoning Toward Oblivion

I enjoyed Damon W. Root's review of Michael Wolf 's The Zoning of America, and I'll have to order a copy of the book, but quoting Robert Caro on Robert Moses is like quoting Naomi Klein on Milton Friedman. Caro has spent his career on demonographies of Moses and Lyndon Johnson, decrying liberal deal cutters who fail to meet his saint-like standards of purity.

Moses didn't use zoning to wreck New York City neighborhoods. He worked through public authorities (the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority for highway and airport projects, the New York City Housing Authority for housing), which were exempt from local zoning requirements. Moses acquired land through eminent domain rather than choking neighborhoods off through restrictive zoning. The neighborhoods he condemned consisted mostly of poor-quality 19th-century tenements, some of which had emptied out as people migrated to new housing in the outer boroughs during the 1920s and '30s. He replaced them with new, high-quality, high-rise public housing projects that, at least until they started running into financial trouble during the last decade, were the highestquality housing in their low-income neighborhoods. In New York, unlike other cities, the high-rise projects worked and were not crime-ridden, so we haven't had to demolish ours.

Moses' unornamented towers in a park were grim-looking (though often nicely landscaped) and lacked retail and a street wall, but that was the era's aesthetic, even for private middle-class projects like Met Life's Stuyvesant Town in New York. While Caro demonstrates that Moses was a believer in racial segregation, other cities (Chicago was worse than New York) and the federal government (the Fair Housing Administration would not guarantee loans in integrated neighborhoods) had the same policy.

His legacy is a mixed bag. He destroyed neighborhoods (which were redlined and deteriorating for lack of capital), some of which, like the welllocated Upper West Side, might have gentrified without him. But many poor neighborhoods that he didn't demolish, like Bushwick, are reviving only now, 50 years later. Moses also left New York City with a modern highway system (Newark, which didn't put modern highways through its core, collapsed) and kept a population base in innercity neighborhoods, in contrast to many Northeastern and Midwestern cities that lost half their populations. From 1968, when Moses lost power, until about 1985, when Mayor Ed Koch inaugurated a Moses-like $4 billion inner-city housing investment program, many poor New York City neighborhoods were reduced to rubble—except for the Moses housing projects.

Zoning and a web of other restrictions, including rent control, byzantine building codes, and Mafia-controlled construction unions, helped cause New York's deterioration from 1945 to 1980. In that statist era, Moses was a bright light.

Jay Weiser
Associate Professor of Law and Real Estate
Baruch College
New York, NY

Damon Root replies: Professor Weiser is certainly correct that Robert Moses used eminent domain to rip New York apart. But Moses also sat on the City Planning Commission, which set the zoning regulations that helped with the job.

As I argued in my review, Moses was the worst sort of government thug. His Cross-Bronx Expressway, to take perhaps the most famous example, obliterated the perfectly successful neighborhood of East Tremont, despite the fact that there was a viable and far less destructive alternate route just two blocks away. Moses, however, refused to follow any plan but his own. Far from being a "bright light," he was the dark heart of that "statist era."

What Part of Legal Immigration Don't You Understand?

The hilarious yet accurate immigration flowchart in the October issue ("What Part of Legal Immigration Don't You Understand?") left out one common detour in the path to U.S. citizenship: the fiancée visa.

I wanted to marry a Russian woman in 2000, and our government's website implied that a fiancée visa was the only correct way to do this. Fortunately, a friendly immigration attorney advised me to get married in Russia and file her immigration paperwork at the U.S. consulate in Moscow. (This is, alas, no longer possible after 9/11.)

The fiancée visa process, which many of our friends have followed, soaks up huge amounts of money and time. It is often a year before the spouse can work in this country, and he or she often does not receive travel documents during that time. The day we got married in Russia, my wife became the "spouse of a U.S. citizen" right away, instead of the "fiancée of a U.S. citizen" with no legal status.

Our results: We got married in Russia on January 10th, 2001, and she arrived at JFK exactly one month later with her passport stamped "Employment Authorized." She had a Social Security card in two weeks, received a (two-year provisional) green card in two months, and was naturalized in November 2004.

We offer one more piece of advice for visa applicants: Do the paperwork yourself. Many law firms do a sloppy job, resulting in costly delays. A neat application package, punched out for a top-ring clipboard, with a U.S. Postal Service money order attached (no heavy-duty staples; ACCO fasteners or heavy clips only!) will be processed immediately upon receipt, while a loose bundle of photocopies stuffed in an envelope with a personal check invariably finds the bottom of the pile.

Bob Mitchell
Bear, DE

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