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By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist
Copyright 2002, The Boston Globe

May 2, 2002

Stop me if you've heard this, but:

To glimpse the cruelty that has always been a hallmark of Communist regimes, you don't have to read "The Gulag Archipelago" or "The Black Book of Communism." You need only gaze at pictures of the elderly Koreans who were permitted this week to briefly visit loved ones they hadn't seen since the Korean War divided their families 50 years ago.

The reunions, which were televised in South Korea, were wrenching. The joy of embracing a mother or brother after nearly a lifetime of enforced separation quickly gave way to the agony of trying to make up for so much lost time in just a few hours -- and then to the crushing realization that after this day, they would almost certainly never see or hear from each other again.

Communism's savagery is not only measured in murder and torture. It is also reflected in the heartbreak of millions of amputated Korean families, whose suffering serves no cause other than the sadism of North Korea's rulers -- rulers for whom totalitarian power justifies everything, and ordinary human love, nothing.

A federal judge trying to reverse decades of overfishing has imposed severe new limits on catching fish off the New England coast. The ruling cuts to 70 the number of days allowed per year for catching ground fish like cod and haddock, and closes some areas to fishing altogether.

None of this would be necessary if ocean fisheries were treated the same way we treat farmland. Because farmers own their land, they have every incentive to rotate crops and keep the soil fertilized. No one has to forbid "overplanting;" farmers don't let their land become depleted because they have a vested interest in its future productivity.

But ocean fishing areas are owned by no one. Fishermen own only what they catch, so they have every reason to catch as much as possible -- and no reason to conserve for the future. But if fisheries were privately owned, overfishing would cease. Fishermen would have an economic stake in protecting stocks; no longer would they rush to outfish their competitors. Property rights work on land. They would work just as well at sea.

Okay, so the Boston Marathon is a Boston tradition. But where is it written that tradition has to paralyze traffic and bring the city to a standstill? You want to run 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square, be my guest. But why can't you do it on a day when the rest of us don't have to work? New York runs its marathon on Sunday. It's long past time Boston did the same.

"Newspapers fall short of diversity goal," read the headline over a recent story.

Do they ever. Intellectual diversity in the mainstream media is indeed in short supply. On the staff of most big-city newspapers, you'll find very few conservatives and only a smattering of Republicans. There are almost no evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, or devout Muslims. The ranks of reporters and editors rarely include military veterans or pro-life activists or Rush Limbaugh fans. No question: When it comes to America's leading news media, diversity of opinion is pitifully hard to find.

But that headline was about something else. Sad to say, the only kind of "diversity" the major news media care about is the trivial kind: diversity of color. Hiring editors jump through hoops to recruit journalists of the "right" race or ethnicity; rarely if ever do they consider what their staff lacks in values, ideology, or political outlook. The result is newsrooms filled with people who look different -- but who mostly think alike.

If Massachusetts legislators raise taxes, they won't just be showing disdain for the 1.5 million Bay Staters who voted by a wide margin to lower them. They will also be demonstrating contempt for those who play by democracy's rules.

It was not easy to put Question 4 -- the income-tax rollback -- on the 2000 ballot. Supporters had to research the law and draft an initiative that would survive legal challenge. They had to spend thousands of man-hours collecting tens of thousands of signatures, then transport petitions to and from town halls all over the state. They had to combat well-heeled opponents -- the high-tax lobby spent more than $3 million -- and out-argue critics in the press and on Beacon Hill. They had to develop a "vote Yes" campaign, pay for advertising, and make their case to the public, over and over again.

At every step, Question 4's backers were outmanned and outshouted. But they believed the voters would be with them on Election Day. And -- just as important -- they believed that once the voters spoke, their decision would be final. They did everything that Massachusetts law asked of them. They played by the rules. To cheat them of their hard-earned accomplishment now would be a betrayal of the worst sort, and a stab in the back of Massachusetts democracy.

Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe
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